Navigating all white spaces as a woman of color

It is fear that you are doing something wrong, that you are taking up space. It is fear to ask questions and to look like you don’t know what you are doing. It is stares and unfriendly faces even when you try so hard to smile and to be extra courteous. It is being internally defensive and externally offensive, being extra polite and kind even when others are not.

It is knowing you do not hold power there. It is wondering when something or someone will strike. It is fear of being mistreated, looked down on, because you don’t look like them. It is standing out in the worst way. It is knowing you are not one of them. It is being an other. It is wondering if you are being paranoid or if your fears are valid.

It is expecting words that sting, words with thorns, that you must later painstakingly try to remove from your mind and body. It is changing your voice, and the words you use to match theirs. It is making sure you are not too loud. It is forced code switching. It is trying to be small and unseen. It is trying to shrink yourself. It is being timid even when you are not. It is rushing so you do not bother them. It is feeling like they are rushing you because they do not wish to be bothered by you. It is growing up as a child and seeing your beautiful mother dismissed time and time again for her accent, wild hair and brown skin so you begin to expect the same treatment because she gave you that hair and that skin you live in.

It is knowing you don’t belong in their space and wanting out, wanting to run, but it is also just wanting to be, wanting to enjoy yourself. It is seeing them take their time, feeling comfortable and calm and wanting to feel that. It is looking around searching for others like you and finding them and breathing a sigh of relief: I am not the only one, I am not alone. It is sometimes being the only one, not having any source of comfort and feeling silenced. It is not understanding why it is this way.

It is frustrating and exhausting. It is being vigilant and on guard at all times. It is not being yourself. It is feeling like you must act subservient just to be safe and knowing you are betraying yourself by acting this way.

It is not wanting to be seen, not being heard and having to lower yourself to protect their ego and to protect your body and mind. It is always wondering if they are treating you this way because of how you look. It is comparing how they treat you to how they treat those that look like them. It is worrying more about your partners safety because he is a brown man with a beard and an accent so you speak for him.

It is being more educated than most but not being taken seriously. It is having to dumb yourself down and pretend. It is knowing the answer and pretending you don’t. It is always pretending. It is always wearing a mask that smiles.

It is loving yourself outside of that space but forgetting yourself so much while there you begin to want to look like them, you begin to want to belong in their world so that you can finally just breath, and relax.

It is judging them for judging you. It is hating them because you think they hate you but not wanting to hate them because you do not want to do what they are doing to you. It is hating yourself for hating them. It is realizing you don’t hate them but hate the system that sustains them, the same system you live in. It is realizing this and feeling trapped because you know it’s not individuals that are making you feel this way but an entire social, economic and political system. It is knowing this system oppresses them too. It is knowing they are unable and unwilling to see this because they benefit from that system.

It is confusing.

It is knowing that it is their world not yours. It is knowing they make the rules and you must follow them. It is sometimes not knowing the rules and having to pretend you do. It is sometimes suffering to placate them. It is having nice things, being in nice places and being questioned for having those things, and being in those places, as if you didn’t work hard and don’t deserve what you have. It is feeling alien and strange even when you know you aren’t. It is feeling like you won’t ever belong no matter what you do or say.

It is anger about feeling this way and anxiety over feeling this way. It is feeling powerless, it is feeling run down. It is judging yourself when you try to see yourself through their eyes. It is just wanting to go home to be with people like you so you can finally be yourself again. It is just wanting them to accept you so you can finally live free.

It is tiring, it is sad; it is our life.