It's Not You Black Girl, It's the Rules: An Ode to Black Woman Creators
I’m mad as hell writing this. Not because I haven’t processed my feelings on the subject but because like Solange said, “Youuuuuu, got the right TO BE MAD.” And I do. We all do.
In a few months, I’ll be dropping a project that I know will be a game changer for Black girls. How do I know you ask? Because I know what I needed but didn’t get as a Black girl so I went and created it myself. The seed for the project was planted in my conscious mind in 2017. Since then, I’ve shared about it sparingly, mostly with friends and family but also with people that had the business experience that would help me bring the project into reality.
Earlier this month, I was asked to participate in a Wellness focused Business Pitch Competition at my alma mater, George Mason University. I agreed, willingly, submitting my application to the first stage of the process but not quite knowing what I had gotten myself into. A week later, I learned that my application had landed me a spot as a Top 5 Finalist in the competition. I was responsible for condensing my project to 5 minutes and a powerpoint slide complete with financial projections and a business model, you know “The Works.”
This is the part when I share how out of my comfort zone this whole exercise was. Financial projections? If my rent wasn’t so damn high and I didn’t have financial obligations, I’d do the work for free. Being required to think about the project as if I was selling a foam roller and not a sacred approach to lessening body anxiety for Black girls was disorienting. I’m good with PowerPoints. I am a capable public speaker. Those things weren’t the source of my anxiety. What I later realized is that my project is not inadequate, though I already knew that — The exercise was.
Let’s talk about rules. You know, the things that we’re taught we have to play by in order to excel in the game. The rules in business were created by white men. I’m not here to give a diatribe about how white supremacy needs to be dismantled, though you know I could. What I am saying, is that the whiteness and therefore the anti-Blackness of the pitching exercise was the source of my anxiety. Black people don’t naturally communicate ideas like the business world dictates that ideas should be shared. We sit around the table, figure out what we need, who we need to talk to, we put it together and we say “Bet. Let’s get it done.” We ask about the kids and put some food out and if you don’t take the food, well…you better had taken the food.
Whiteness dictates a sterilized and impersonal process. 5 minutes, with a timer and a hard stop. 5 minutes to share a project that’s taken my whole life to bring forward. But I did it and I did a damn good job, despite the ridiculous standards. 5 minutes on the dot, right before the proctor made sure to say, “Time’s Up. You have to stop now.”
Now come the “judges.” All white; 2 men and 2 women. They offered suggestions. “Take the project online.” “Consider expanding it like this.” “Have you thought about this?” “I commend you for tackling this subject.” There were no holes in my presentation despite the inevitable holes white people have been socialized to poke. “Im curious, uh, why is your target market only Black women?” I compartmentalized my offense to the question and answered it gracefully. “This is a community that I am a member of. Historically, this community has been left out of the conversation in terms of accessing information…this is why I have made the determination to specifically target caregivers of Black girls.” We moved on to different questions and I forgot to be offended until later. Quite honestly, I was simply relieved that it was over.
There were 4 Black women in the room, including me and my mother. When I walked off the stage, one of the two Black women I did not know pulled me aside with tears in her eyes and gratitude in her voice. “Thank you,” she said. “You gave me the courage to share that my business is also specifically for Black women. Sometimes it’s hard to say, but you spoke with such confidence. Thank you.” We embraced. I thanked her for sharing. I was moved by her welcoming me into a vulnerable moment in her own business journey. Moved but not shocked or surprised, because that’s what we do. We share and we cry and we get it done and we hold each other up. That’s how Black women do business.
5 finalists. 4 prizes. All announced. My project was not mentioned. This would have been fine if I didn’t kill it. My momma didn’t raise a sore loser and trust — I’m not one to claim victories that don’t belong to me. The first prize went to a white woman, whose product was half-baked. She danced around and smiled about the questions that she didn’t have an answer for. She broke the rules. But she still won. When they called her name, she threw her head back in shock. I could tell that she wasn’t expecting it.
I wanted to cry, and I did. They insisted on a group picture, typical of spectacles such as this. I stood in the middle while they captured the scene with tears in my eyes. Not because I was sad that I lost but because there was no reason that I did not win but one. Could I have identified all girls as my target market, yes — but not with my integrity. So, I didn’t.
After the photo, I retreated from the stage towards my partner and my mother, members of my support system who witnessed the exercise. “I’m fine,” I lied. I was heart broken. Again, not because I didn’t win but because I knew if I was phenotypically different and my project was targeted to different people, it would have been considered revolutionary. I got my things and walked out the room, quickly. Before I got to the door, I was met by a sister of mine, also a women of color who shared a similar experience and encouraged me to keep going. We hugged.
When I was done crying, I told my mother that I wanted to go back in to ask the “judges” why I did not win. My momma is a rider and without hesitation, we turned around and headed back into the room for answers that we never received. The two white women on the judges panel came up to me singing the project’s praises, “You’re going to go far.” When we asked for constructive criticism there was none to be given. Not “I would have like to have seen more of this,” or “The presentation was a bit weak there.” On the contrary, they loved it. They offered to introduce me to their networks, networks that were not Black. One mentioned that “We as a community need to figure out how to get this information to girls and parents.” Our communities are not the same. Despite me directly sharing my target market, they wanted it for themselves and for their girls. They loved the idea. They didn’t love that they couldn’t see themselves in it.
After taking some days to process it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have shared about the project and I know that it will not be the last time. The next time, though, will be on my terms. Not inorganic or sterile. Not in a PowerPoint and not standing on a stage waiting for judgements to be made by people who don’t have the capacity to understand their own implicit biases. The next time I share, it’ll be on our terms. And when that day comes, I hope to see you at the table.
To Black Women Creators:
Whenever you feel inadequate in this world, realize that these systems are not built to hold you. They don’t yet possess the propensity to handle you with care. Your magic, you know the stuff that runs the world, will bust through the seams and they can stay mad.