Forking forest path
Photo by Jens Lelie / Unsplash

A quote snitched from a lovely Black woman in Colorado inspires a thought or two about leading or following... or going it alone our own way

I don't know Portia Prescott. I met her through #BlackGirlsHike, and we have exchanged the odd note here and there. Sometimes I send her articles. I am interested because of how Black hikers are proliferating in my previous home state and elsewhere. This is way overdue, but it's here.

Portia's stuff shows up on my Twitter feed, and as a result I am aware of her big wins and some of her challenges. The other day the above meme showed up on her Twitter feed and I warned her I'd be stealing it. So here goes.

The woodsy photo above really speaks to me both as a hiker and adventure traveler. It isn't just that the left hand road is all about comfort, going by car, and the right is by your own steam. It's fair to think that those roads may not meet at the end, and that the one on the right might take a lot longer. But wherever you do end up, you did it on your own merits, most especially if we are wise enough to build a community we can count on.

That's one point. Portia, like so many magnificent Black women in my life from birth to now, is very politically active. For outspoken, brave women who sport plenty of melanin, this is a dangerous road up ahead, the woods full of trolls and haters and ambushers out to make sure that she and others like her won't succeed.

To wit, witness witless Tucker Carlson questioning Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson's LSAT scores:

Tucker Carlson questions the qualifications of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and demands to see her LSAT score

I doubt he could read them, but I digress. You get my point.

At every turn, women, and women of color, and most particularly Black women get ambushed like this. Suffice it to say that at each point where the door opens just a hair to let someone with lighter skin through, it's been the habit of too many of those new inductees to The Table to protect their territory against all comers. No matter how adept, talented, capable, competent.

That's classic scarcity thinking. I am rather a fan of making the damn pie bigger, not making smaller slices. Now that I have mine, everyone else is a threat? Puh-leeze. When women fail at helping each other succeed, we all fail.

So our sisters can end up being ambushers as well. Black writers whose work I follow have been pointing this out for years. Perhaps my greatest sadness is that as someone who has been in the business of supporting women, and that means ALL of us, via supplier diversity and business consulting most of my professional career, it pains me deeply to watch all kinds of diverse women do the Kumbaya happy dance at a big conference, and then go back to Business As Usual when they go back home.

Women of particular talent have to carve out their own path. Black women both whom I know and love in my inner circle as well as those whose work I read and respect as well as those who are those Olympian writers whose words continue to scrape back the lies about our history (Morrison, Angelou, while still appealing to our humanity have fundamentally changed my life and all of it for the better. They had to make their own paths.  

Their own lanes, as it were. It's damned hard work.

The work I've done with the Southern Regional Educational Board for nearly twenty years as a speaker has taught me a lot about community. Mostly Black students stand at the lectern each fall and tell their one- minute story about how they got their PhDs, stories which would shake the living daylights out of most folks. These young people, whose academic achievements so far outstrip too much white mediocrity, have already made it through the minefields of an often unfriendly education system just to get that mortarboard.

I'm not saying in any way that all White students- or White people- are mediocre. However I am pointing out that it take yeoman's work for Black folks to find equal footing, which usually means that they habitually overachieve to get that equal footing. Just about everywhere. If you work in diversity it's right in your face.

Two years ago one woman told the audience that during her time working on her PhD, she lost eight family members. Let that sink in. Most of us would be sunk. She was up there on stage holding her degree.

Now these graduates enter a new wilderness, full of idiot Tucker Carlsons who question the veracity of their achievements, because how on earth could a Black person/woman get that degree on merit and hard work and not just because they were Black?

Ambushed. And often overqualified, simply to compete with folks with a third their education and a tenth their emotional maturity and resilience. When  folks' parents can bribe their kids' way into an Ivy League school and beat down the Admin staff to get their legit F changed to an A, excuse me? They're driving a Bentley on the low road.

Photo by Nqobile Vundla / Unsplash

Each of those people, mostly young adults, had to carve out their own path. They also had a family to bolster them, friends and faith along the way. It would be fair to say that those resources went a long way towards ensuring that All But Dissertation finally resolved into that PhD.

The way forward is just as hard, if not harder. For people like Portia, and her colleagues, and those of my friends who write about anti-racism, for my Black friends who write books and do critical work in the trauma space especially from a Black perspective, the existing community of professional folks is going to be the oasis.
That oasis will not only save lives but also careers.

Black women know how to reach behind them and lift each other up. They've been doing it for centuries. Out of slavery, out of poverty, out of bad marriages, out of ignorance, constant lifting. They've lifted us too, us White folks, and please take stock of how too many of our White sisters have thanked them.

It is my powerful belief that this community will also save America, if there is going to be one, for some of the forces at work right now have no interest in an America chock-full of Black brilliance, which outshines angry, bitter folks in every way.

Ambushes ahead.

Chelsie Krystal, a Black woman of great beauty, talent, skill and immense potential didn't make it. While I can't possibly know her reasons, based on her writing, some of it appeared to be trolling. Some of it was being horrified at turning thirty, the age when she took her life. Something, maybe someones, were the cause of that.

Whatever happened to her, the path she took didn't appear have a community strong enough to keep her on her path. To give her that sacred permission to not be all that, to be vulnerable instead of so strong for everyone else she had nothing left. Again, this is an impression. I can't know. But I have faced down suicide enough times to have some sense of what that can be like.

Not all of us is strong enough to machete our own way through the weeds, making our own lane. The easy roads are jam-packed. The lonely lanes are usually the high roads, full of dangers and sidewinders and unexpected disappointments.

They are worth every bit of the trouble, pain, blood, sweat and tears invested. The high roads, the lonely lanes demand our vulnerability, and our ability to be wrong, to be needy, take a break and not effing be Wonder Woman 24/7. When it's our turn to hit the hammock and rest, we need other Wonder Women to bar the door until we're ready to start weed whacking again.

We need each other. So many of us are out there carving our own lanes, and we need to stand for others doing that kind of work. Not push them off the path. But grab them by the arm, steady them, hand over a drink of water, a hug, and a reminder that we have their back.

Our own lanes. There's no traffic, because these are folks breaking new ground. At some point what is new ground now, will be a busy lane in the future. Somebody has to wield that machete.

For every First Black Woman _____, a new lane was cut to that point. Every one of those women needs the community of women- and that means every single damned one of us no matter our skin color- to stand with them, support them.

For the lanes these women open belong to all our daughters. From which, given those examples, they will veer off like Warrior Women into the wilderness, cutting their own paths.

There won't be much traffic. But they'll be ready.

Photo by Rochelle Nicole / Unsplash

With thanks to Portia for being out there getting it done and inspiring and supporting those around her and coming up behind her.


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