A message to all of the sisters reading this: Do you recognise the symbolism of the following statement ‘The glass ceiling is the floor my boss walks upon’ (Agosto & Roland, 2018; Zane, 2002)? If you do then I would like you to place a comment wherever you found this blog.
The reason why I begin this blog with the idea of glass ceilings is to (re)introduce this pain that so many women endure within patriarchal environments. This is a pain of banging upwards on said glass ceiling, whilst that man, that often white, often middle-class, often heterosexual, always privileged, man sits ensconced within a position possibly earned through the networks of men’s clubs, or private and boarding schools. This is a pain of working so hard as a woman to be seen, acknowledged and valued, only to just watch an undeserving counterpart supersede oneself in the quest for the next promotion.
The idea that one isn’t seen or valued as the same is therefore a core aspect of the experience of womanhood. Yet, what people forget is that this is also the same for blackness. For example, within academia, the quest for Persons of Colour to be taken seriously and afforded the same opportunities as their white counterparts is a central tenet of the non-white academic experience (A. Johnson, 2019).
These examples though are of the institutional nature of anti, or hidden, blackness. Yet, this is also a factor in the day-to-day lived lives of so many POCs. The fact that we are ghettoised in our living situations, means that we are not seen unless it is in some kind of service capacity. During the pandemic, the rates of depression in minority communities, whilst raised in varying discourses led to little to no subsequent change (Unknown, 2020). We are ignored, and we are marginalised, experiences we all know (mirroring that experienced by so many women). Yet, we are also invisiblised into an existential and literal nothingness by not just society but by a society that values supremacy and which hides the other away where it can cause no consternation.
Messenger Notes: Yes, I am bruised. Bruised by working so hard to keep things going and my efforts to make it work, yet at the same time I just was not seen. Bruised by being as supportive as I could be, by being there as much as possible, yet I in turn was left to fend for myself. I am bruised by being respectful, by being honourable, by being faithful, yet they did not offer me the same. These bruises, these deep welts of relational pain may heal over time, but I suspect the existential ones underneath will not. They are a pain I have to live with, that I have always lived with, and that I will always live with. I guess these are a part of me now.
The sadness of not being seen for who we are, for all that we bring to the table and provide, is a symptom of most of the day to day, interpersonal personal, lives of the racial other, is the major theme of this month’s blog.
Not being taken seriously is tough for any minority group, and it is even so for Persons of Colour. Often, we find ourselves being undermined for something we have done well, we on the receiving end of someone whitesplaining our work back at us, or our experiences of hate are met by either false equivalence of white sympathy (V. E. Johnson et al., 2021). Much like the experiences of women who have their work and experiences mansplained to them, all these experiences ‘invisiblise’ us and leave us with a sense that we are not being taken seriously for the work we have done, for the years of training, research, and personal exploration undergone (Dular, 2021).
The unconscious need to dominate is always there, and will be there within the varying relationships Persons of Colour inhabit. Be they interracial romantic relationships, whiteness will often play out its dominance over the racial other; be it because a student from the working classes on a counselling or psychology course is present with those of class privilege, the fact they are working more jobs than their peers needs to be recognised and acknowledged; be it gendered relationships in the therapy room, the power dynamic between a man towards a woman always needs careful consideration.
Diary notes: Every year on the anniversary of his death, I try and do a ritual to George Floyd. These past two years, I have ventured out to Birling Gap, East Sussex, with a prayer I have written and a flask of something to poor out in libations. The reason? Because his death, his murder, reminded so many that we mattered. In the existential stillness of the pandemic and its lockdowns, the loss of one man and the subsequent protests reminded those who failed or refused to see us that we were still here. That blackness was here. That I was here. And for that, as sad as his loss has been, I am grateful
These experiences, these learnings, will inevitably become internalised for Persons of Colour. That voice which tells us we should know our place, that we should watch our tone, that we need to lower our eyes. The internalised supremacist speaks to us from our socially constructed superego.
Internalised supremacy at its core leads to the disrespect that persons of difference often feel (Golash-Boza et al., 2019). There can be a struggle to speak up in our relationships as well, because from an early age, we have been taught, buy our caregivers, by our teachers, by society, that to do so, to say what we would like, or how we feel, is too frightening for the psyche of whiteness. Much like the miss-attunement of Carl Rogers (2004) when he told a black client he was free to express his anger, an idea met with near silence, and more so the engrained compliance of a black man faced by a white therapist in power, we have learnt that it is not safe to be ourselves . We have learnt this to our detriment, so much so that when we do speak out it may come out coated with confusion and/or annoyance. Our words may stumble and fall over our tongue. When we do speak up it is occasionally too much of an effort, but we do so because we have felt ignored or dismissed within said relationship, personal or professional. We have gotten lost somewhere that should have been safe for us to be seen within (McIntosh, 1990).
The cost of this isolation, and invisibility, to us though is one of an intense, almost insufferable, loneliness (Rosedale, 2007). We, Persons of Colour, can often feel quite lonely and isolated in crowded white spaces, because that internalised voice of supremacy has been whispering to us to know our place. There is an isolation which is triggered here, a solitude which can be used for oneself, if one is able to harness it. More often though, that solitude is painful; it is a deep depressive existential abyss only salved by anything from addictions to compulsions (Storr, 1988).
Yet, how do we find a way out of the labyrinthine darkness of loneliness and despair. Well, there is an anger also tucked away in that isolation. An anger which sits alongside the sadness and the grief. An anger which also has nowhere to go, an anger which fuels so much. This is the anger which George Floyd’s death lit brightly, like a beacon on the highest of hills nearby, for example. It was a light which reminded people on many sides of the racial divide that we were here. Reminded them that we needed to be seen, that the darkness they had plunged us into by not seeing us, by not taking us seriously, was causing us pain. That the pain we were feeling was not self-created, and even though it was self-maintained, that we needed your help to burn away the fog of existential non-existence.
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Dular, N. (2021). Mansplaining as Epistemic Injustice. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.5206/fpq/2021.1.8482
Golash-Boza, T., Duenas, M. D., & Xiong, C. (2019). White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Global Capitalism in Migration Studies. American Behavioral Scientist, 63(13), 1741–1759. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764219842624
Johnson, A. (2019). Throwing our bodies against the white background of academia. Ethics in/of Geographical Research, 108. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12568
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McIntosh, P. (1990). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Independent School, 49(2), 31–36. https://precollege-summer.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/264/2018/07/McIntosh_WhitePrivilegeKnapsack-19901.pdf
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Storr, A. (1988). Solitude. Flamingo.
Unknown. (2020). BAME people are hit hardest by depression during lockdown. The Daily Telegraph, July, 2020–2021. https://search.proquest.com/docview/2419580438?accountid=9727
Zane, N. C. (2002). The Glass Ceiling is the Floor My Boss Walks on: Leadership Challenges in Managing Diversity. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 38(3), 334–353.