There are many things that come to mind when thinking about women of color and the journey to filling leadership roles. The dilemma that many black women face today is that of belonging. Having to physically address both her gender, and her color when entering into certain spaces; both of which are seen before anyone actually sees her. Both of which have previously been deemed as less than in this country, and in certain places she still is. Where exactly does the black woman fit that actually feels natural and supportive?
Frances M. Beal wrote on this topic calling it Double Jeopardy; being black and woman. Being a double minority means you automatically fit into a certain category that forces you to deal with your identity every day. This is a reality that I’ve come to accept, knowing that my identity is in Christ and the favor of God will always go before me in my endeavors and pursuits.
“NO MATTER WHAT THE SYSTEM IS DOING, I KNOW THAT THE LORD WILL DIRECT AND SUSTAIN ME.”
Generally speaking, most people have to figure out how they fit into a certain environment. This is because every space we encompass comes with its own context, and equally confusing pressures. What are the protocols when working in this particular field? What are the cultural norms in the Northern part of the country, as opposed to the South?
Because of this, many women of color in particular have felt the added pressure of working two times as hard, to be accepted as the standard in predominantly white workplaces. This means worrying about your natural hair. Speaking in an overtly polite tone. Or trying to seem less aggressive, even when you actually aren’t.
When it comes to leadership, I think most women would call it an honor to be able to use their gifts and talents to further the cause of whatever organization they’re apart of, by way of leading. However, the truth of the matter is that both white women and women of color have had a long journey to successfully infiltrating the world’s systems because of gender. Both groups have plenty to say about the perspectives that come from entering into these systems.
I personally, have only held leadership roles within ministry or faith based organizations which changes the dynamic of my personal perspective. I expect, and usually receive, love and support from my ministry mates because were operating on a foundational understanding of unity, the love of Christ, and personal relationship. Do we have to have hard conversations about race? Yes. Do I struggle with being the minority in ministries I serve in and lead in? Yes. But this very issue has allowed me to grow in ways that I might not have otherwise.
In my own life, I have found that most leadership roles and ministry positions I’m in are within majority white spaces. This has never been a large issue or made me uncomfortable because I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, school and context. However, I have my moments of concern because when you’re the only black girl operating in a white space, you gain a lot of attention. I wonder if I’m seen as token. I wonder if I’m the girl representing the “diversity and inclusion” effort. I wonder if people assume certain things of me. Things I may never know, but will probably wonder for the rest of my life.
All in all, leadership is a beautiful thing when it isn’t being abused or mishandled. But it is also just as beautiful when a woman is leading from a whole and secure identity. As a black woman who understands the stress of gender and racial bias, I can only be hopeful that the Holy Spirit would continue to do a work me and the type of mindset that created the bias in the first place. I pray that black women, and other women of color, would eventually be able to take on leadership roles and thrive in ministry without the weight of unnecessary pressures and baggage from the world. And until then, I will trust in the Lord and allow him to do what we cannot do.