Last night, I dined at the feet of wisdom. I had a conversation that few are privy to. For the sake of their privacy, I shall not name names. But the story is representative of many women, worldwide.
The topic of conversation? The Compromise. What is the compromise you ask? The Compromise, is the unspoken, unwritten, unverbalized cost of a black woman getting shit done. No, I’m not talking about the Cardi Bs and reality show chicks who are “doing whatever they gotta do” to make a dollar. I’m talking about the legislative staffers, not for profit directors, women’s reproductive justice advocates, city council women, chiefs of staff, state representatives, congresswoman, senators, who daily pay this ungodly price, to effect positive change in their community.
As a relatively young woman, I was taught that you can be anything that you want to be. I naively and blindly believed that. So when the calling on my heart was set to making a difference as a public servant, I armed myself with the knowledge that I was told I would need. I thought that the juris doctorate that took me two years to obtain, and the international relations bachelors degree that took me three years to obtain, and the law experience I acquired owning my own small firm, were enough to give me the credibility I needed when seeking to make a difference in my community, and “be the change” I wanted to see. I never realized just to what extent there were very powerful men, seeking to charge an added tax, to the price of my service. While on Capitol Hill, I was confronted with sexual harassment from quite a few powerful men, and I (rebelliously) declined. I looked down on the women, before me whom they had “tried” and whom acquiescenced. I concluded, based on the ease with which these men propositioned me, that the women whom they had obviously been able to successfully bed before me were weak and lacked self-respect.
What I didn’t quite understand was that behind the thick green velvet curtain of politics, government, criminal justice, the penal system, the legal industry and the judicial system are very powerful men who institute a surcharge for EVERY woman who seek to be an effective participant of the system. In this system, our intelligence is a given. But the higher cost, the unspoken cost, the compromise, the collateral damage is our bodies. Women, who trade their bodies (sexual favors) like business cards, in the name of uplifting the black community. The curvaceous ebony-hued legislators who can’t slap a powerful man’s hand when it lingers too long on her backside for fear of losing favorable support and funding for her district. The black women fighting for women who are trafficked in the sex trade often have to become sex workers themselves, in order to protect their constituencies. The very women who are beaten and coerced into sex in dark allies by police officers threatening to arrest them for prostitution, are represented by women advocates who have to let the judge feel them up in chambers in order to let the “known” sex worker go home to her children. “It would be far easier to fling my hair, tell the judge to go fuck himself, sprinkle some black girl magic, and walk away covered in pixie dust, but then who would get that cold-hearted, racist sob to grant lienency in sentencing for a woman he doesn’t believe has any value?”
At the end of the day, power, is largely still held by white men in America. Over time, a relatively small number of black men have ascended to the level of powerbrokers or gatekeepers for the white male power structure, and in exchange, they themselves are in position to wield their nominal power at their discretion. These proxies of power can choose to use their power for the people or for profit. Generally these choices are juxtaposed at opposite ends of the spectrum– a proxy can either help the people or empower the systems that make money off the the people, (i.e. legislators supporting mandatory minimums and for profit prisons). But they usually can’t do both without taking dollars out of the pocket of the wealthy structures they were hired to protect. These black men working in proxy to the power are often approached by well meaning black women, asking those men to be valiant on behalf of the people. In the great tradition of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Mary McLeod Bethune, black women have traditionally been the guardians of those disenfranchised and underserved in our communities. So when the community guardians meet with the proxies to power with an ask, and the proxy to power decides to take his eyes off his task as the gatekeeper of the white power and wealth, it is only but for a minute at the price of the guardian’s beautiful body. His allegiance has already been bought with a large paycheck, and a fancy office with his name on the door. His support can be renegotiated, but there has to be something in it for him. Like the women at my table, many black women have repeatedly had to offer themselves as living sacrifices for the betterment of their community, and in the words of hip hop’s most emo rapper “and they don’t have no award for that!”
The telling of the war stories of these women last night was enough to leave my stomach curdled, my appetite destroyed, and my faith in humankind wilted. I myself had come across many men seeking to surcharge me for what looked liked success, but had never sat face to face with the women whose bodies had paid the price. As the tears began to flow from their eyes, they recounted stories of having to Compromise for clients, for passing of Violence against Women legislation, for protection of the rights and dignity of incarcerated women. These women are heroes — modern day hidden figures– sacrificing for a better tomorrow, at all cost. What numbed me further was when we began to imagine the price our other sisters have to pay who play the game at a much higher level with much higher stakes, be it Senator Kamala Harris or even the great Shirley Chisholm herself. What are the invisible scars that these women have to carry on their soul, that never fully heal, to uplift their people.
“I don’t know a single woman, who has ever made a difference and didn’t have to in some way exploit her own body to get things done…
that’s just what black women have to do, its what we’ve always had to do.”