Cheering for her

Photo by Kefuoe Josenta

BY KEISHA BELL | Visionary Brief

Who is cheering for the professional success of black women?  The idea of her climbing higher in traditionally male and white industries may be applauded in public forums, but what is the “behind the scenes” atmosphere?  When we send young black women to college, are we only sending her there to find a husband, or does the plan include becoming a college-educated, independently-thinking, career-oriented torch-bearer?

Without attaching her identity to that of a man or to a child, who continues to celebrate her growth after she leaves the collegiate stage?  Chances are, as she advances in her profession, she will encounter fewer and fewer females who can relate to her unique professional struggles. If not careful, her credentials will be labeled “token” and her presence dismissed.

Who is cheering for her?

Interestingly, life presents situations that will reveal who truly supports educated women, particularly those who are black. Regularly, black women are asked to support others and their political and/or social justice causes. Should she proactively and collectively demand more in return?  By not demanding the inclusion of agenda items that directly benefit her collective self in exchange for her support, she is doing herself a disservice in many ways.

There is an assumption that “black-American issues” are limited to those of black men.  This assumption is faulty. Black women’s value is recognized when asked to support others, but who is intentionally working for her advancement—-professionally or otherwise?

According to the U. S. Department of Education, the national college graduation rate for black women is 44.8 percent. She is entering into and working within professional environments at increasing rates. Her desire for promotions for the opportunities to work at management and upper-management levels should not be hindered because of beliefs that she does not “fit.”  If you struggle to conceptualize her as senior vice-president, will you respect her as president—-of anything?

Social etiquette says that if she is qualified, she will advance professionally, just like a white male.  Actions, however, speak louder than words.  Is she advancing accordingly, or does the “behind the scenes” atmosphere dictate prerequisites that the qualifications for advancement include white and male?

Identify a black woman obtaining —-or attempting to obtain—- prestigious, professional success.  Pay attention to who supports her.

Oprah Winfrey is a media mogul and philanthropist. Raised in poverty, reportedly she is now North America’s first and only black multi-billionaire.

In 2012, Winfrey had a near nervous breakdown. She was stressed about starting the OWN Network.  In 2013, Winfrey revealed in an interview with “People” magazine that during this trying time, she asked herself, “Do I not get credit for 25 years?”

Winfrey was referencing her previous accomplishments. Millions across the world have routinely applauded her works. Still, there she was, having a near meltdown, arguably because of the added pressure of breaking both gender and racial barriers of possibility.

How many professional black women have found themselves in positions whereby, by any other standard, they would be considered qualified and therefore supported, but because she does not “fit” she quietly is left to analyze the question, “Don’t I get credit for…?”

It is always easier to cheer for black women when milestones are achieved, but who pushes her forward during the climb? Who maintains support for her after she reaches her goal? Who encourages her to dream bigger? Pay attention. Future generations will thank you.

Keisha Bell is an Attorney, author, and public servant.

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