A couple of years ago I wrote and published my first book with a major publisher, and just before COVID I was nearing the end of a tour for said book.
After a few months of touring, I was invited by a fellow author friend to join her and others at her place in North Carolina for an event that she hosts each year. We had a ball. Her barn and property were filled to the brim with folks who have invested in her community, and I was just in awe—not only of their dedication and love for her but also her ability as the host to shower each of us with such grace and hospitality. It really was a sight to behold.
While I was prepping for my time to sign books in the barn, I could feel the anxiety and tension rising. As the doors opened and the crowd flowed in, I took a deep breath and said a quick, semi-silent prayer with my friend who was supporting me over the weekend to help ensure I didn’t miss a beat.
Would anyone come to my table, or will I have enough people who know me or even care about the message of this book to fill this time of signing? I thought to myself.
I began to shift my focus to the women who’d traveled from far and near to talk to me, have their books signed, laugh, and even receive a word of encouragement. I found myself caught up in conversation with one woman that I’d complimented—she was wearing something that I liked.
As we chatted, I noticed the woman beside her flipping through my book. She was taking breaks between flips to glance up at me. Except it was more like a soul-grabbing glare than a glance.
I did my best to remain engaged in the conversation, but I became so heavily distracted by the increasingly frequent glances. It was as though she was using the time that I was speaking with her friend to process what to say or how to say it. As my exchange with the first woman came to a close, I directed my attention to the other.
I awkwardly introduced myself by first and last name and asked for hers. After our hurried introduction, she leaned in—both hands supporting her weight on the table between the two of us—and said, “You know, I just need to tell you how encouraging and impactful it is for me [a white woman] to see a woman of color taking up space in the way that you do in what is and has really been a ‘white woman’s sport.’” (Where are those bulging eye emoji’s when you need ‘em?)
I’d love to say that I absorbed her words, thanked her, signed her book, and moved on. But I didn’t. In fact, I did quite the opposite.
As much as my brain told me to hold back, my heart just would not allow it. I burst out into the ugliest ugly cry you’ve ever seen. As tears began to stream down my cheeks (and Alexandra’s as well), I began to express my gratitude for her acknowledgment and communicated to her how deeply impactful her words were for me.
Now, I need to say: this isn’t about finally being seen by a white woman. No. This isn’t even about finally feeling a sense of worth or accomplishment. I knew I owned both of those. As I processed the events on that day, I realized just how much of a mask I’d been wearing—not just that day, but my entire life.
Like so many of us, I’d navigated the ins and outs of predominantly white spaces with my chin up and my heart out. I could code switch with the best of them well before we had a fancy name for it, but on that day my secret was out. Over the years, I’d made myself small to make myself a little more palatable. I no longer had to hide myself under the façade of “I’m okay.” I never was. IT never was.
Today, I’m finding the strength and the courage to bring my whole self to public and private spaces because I know God would have it no other way. I choose to honor Him and those before me with the acknowledgement that this world is better when I show up with my whole Black self. And now, I’d have it no other way.
When have you pushed past discomfort to show up as your whole self?Leave a Comment