|Courtesy of www.ynaija.com|
The other day, I had a very unnecessary clash with someone who has access to my work calendar. Every time I am unavailable, I block the time off in red so that no one schedules anything for me. I noticed that, even as I was moving meetings out of that time, more meetings were being scheduled, despite the fact that I had left a note within that time frame that said, "PLEASE DO NOT SCHEDULE APPOINTMENTS". I approached the person and asked, "Did you see the red area that said, 'Please do not schedule appointments'?" And the response was, "No, I didn't see it. I didn't know you didn't want me to schedule appointments." And my response was, "It says 'Please do not schedule appointments'", in the same tone of voice I use all the time, except for when I am presenting or making a joke, which is really the only time I raise my voice. Well, from that point on, I was accused of "arguing" and was told that I was not clear enough, although every time I block something in red, everyone knows that means "hands off" that time on my schedule, and again, I had written on my calendar a specific note not to schedule anything. This continued, and could have continued all day, because this person believed that they were being victimized and attacked by me and interrupted me every time I tried to express myself, so I left the room.
The following day, we had the obligatory meeting to make sure that we were all okay and would be able to work together. In that meeting, I explained that I was merely asking a question and trying to clarify the situation. The person took the opportunity to tell me that I was being rude and mean. I said, "In what way? I was asking a question." Well, the person didn't like my tone of voice. I explained that this is the way that I speak. And, in addition to several personal judgments about me and all of the things "on my plate", I was told: "WELL, YOU NEED TO CHANGE!"
I once had an exchange with a student I was supervising who also didn't like my tone of voice. Whatever we were talking about, I was being serious, not laughing or joking. He said I was being aggressive and getting angry. And I said, "I'm actually not angry at all. I'm just not laughing or joking because this is a serious conversation." He said I was being aggressive, and I said, "No, I'm being assertive and you are uncomfortable with that. You're the one whose face is turning red, and who is starting to raise your voice. I have not changed my tone in this entire conversation." I don't know if that student ever learned anything from that conversation, but I learned that, if you are a woman, and especially a woman of color, your very voice can be a source of discomfort for those with privilege.
A few months ago, I had an exchange with someone with whom I try to have as very little contact as possible. The person said, "You don't let me be a man". While he didn't offer any explanation for this, I continue to ask myself what he meant. Since I purposely avoid contact with him as much as humanly possible, I am left to believe that my mere presence threatens his masculinity.
My voice is not high-pitched. There's no "lilt" at the end that makes it sound as if I'm unsure of what I'm speaking about. I also try to communicate as directly as possible. Nowhere in these situations did I judge anyone, tell anyone what they were doing was wrong, or accuse anyone of being or doing something to harm me. I am careful in my communication with others to stay away from accusations. I learned about "I-statements" a long time ago, and I use them as often as possible, or I ask questions to make sure we are on the same page. However, in all of these situations, I was accused of attacking, being aggressive or combative.
The truth is, I am very aware of my tendency to persist in seeking clarification and truth. I am also very aware that my questions cause discomfort because people have to reflect on their actions. While I am the first person to ask myself and others for feedback on what I am doing wrong, I notice that others would rather take the easy road and place blame on everyone else but themselves. And on many occasions when I have been passive-aggressively disregarded or disrespected and decided to directly confront people about it, the very act of telling someone how I feel causes the person to say I'm being mean, or victimizing them in some way. Then, instead of being the one who is hurt, I have suddenly been labeled the aggressor.
There is a perception that I am strong. Often, I think this gives people license to push and prod at me in passive aggressive ways (because they're too scared to be direct). It's as if I don't have feelings, that I don't hurt. However, I am just as sensitive, if not more sensitive, than anyone I know.
Being in charge of a women's leadership group gives me direct contact to many young women who are learning to find their voice. It puts me in a position to demonstrate direct communication, rather than the indirect or passive communication style that has placed women in subordinate positions in society. Even men will say, "I can't read your mind", to a woman, but when she speaks her mind, he thinks she's too aggressive, or - here comes the F-word....FEMINIST (oh, the horror!). The point is, we can't please everyone all of the time, but we can speak our minds and express ourselves so that we can move forward without constantly wondering if we were clear in communicating our intentions and desires.
There are young people, men and women, who are coming to me with their pain. It is stuck within them, deep in crevices they didn't even know they had, holding them back from all that they could potentially be. And because I use my voice, my authenticity, my confidence and strength, and yes, my vulnerability, to show them that IT IS OKAY to speak their minds, and to STOP APOLOGIZING for their presence in the spaces they occupy, they are learning to dig deep into those crevices and unearth that pain, so that they can move freely in this world, and BE WHO THEY WERE CREATED TO BE.
So, if you like me or don't, I WON'T CHANGE FOR YOU. If my mere presence makes you uncomfortable or makes you feel like less than, THAT'S YOUR PROBLEM. If you can't relate to my voice - that voice that is the amalgam of Brooklyn, Nuyorican, Spanglish, Brown, Activism, and LOVE - I will not apologize. I am just sorry that you refuse to relate, because you are the one who is missing out.
I am always changing, always reflecting, always growing, always learning. But I do so on my own terms, not to satisfy someone else's comfort level or help them maintain their privilege. To the young people I love with my whole heart - when you find your voice, don't let anyone try to take it away from you. Don't change for anyone but YOU.