Caught in the In-Between: Learning to Embrace my Intersecting Identities

By Ashley Williams

“What’s a more important issue today: race or gender?” my professor asks, as a closing remark to our discussion on equal protection. I am caught off guard by this question and surprised that my professor actually wants an answer. “I just feel like, as someone in the military,  race isn’t much of an issue, it’s more of a gender thing” one of my classmates finally says. They are neither Black nor identify as a woman. I watch as my white classmates try to explain their reasoning behind one issue over the other. I take a deep breath and look over at the only other Black woman in my Issues in Jurisprudence class. She seems unmoved by the comment, but like me, I imagine she’s trying to keep it together. This was the moment I knew, I was far removed from any of my Social Work classes.

My professor’s inquiry to gain critical thought and discussion read to me as: “Which of your identities is more important?” I am still puzzled by the insensitivity of the question. Too often, I feel as though, I must choose one identity over the other when it comes to my race and gender.  There’s a sense of double pressure. A double obligation to prove that you are more than your sex, more than your gender, and more than your skin color. Unless you are a Black woman, you might not quite understand what I mean, so let me try to break things down. Not only do I feel a pressure to deface the stereotype threat of being uneducated, ignorant, and poor, I must also navigate through the loud, aggressive, and overly sexualized stereotypes too. Not to say that Black men don’t face these stereotypes too, just not in the same way. There doesn’t seem to be this same sense of duality. I must face racism and sexism everyday and the realization that my fellow Black brothers may subject me to those same sexist ideas of this patriarchal world. 

I often feel lost, like I must live in between two of my identities. Not to mention that I am not just a Black woman, but I also have many other intersecting identities that are very important to me. Why do I feel like I have to choose? In times like this, I know it is essential for me to lean onto the other Black women in my life. I often confide in my sister, and we talk about this duality and feelings of uncertainty. It’s almost like we don’t belong in this space. Yet we do. We are a part of a community of perseverance and strength. We are Black Women. This past year,  I got a tattoo of a Duafe (African Comb symbolizing femininity) with a lotus flower which can symbolize many things. For me, it’s about purity and strength. It serves as a reminder of who I am, where I belong, and the community of Black women of which I am apart. Over the years I have completely embraced the fact that I am a woman, the fact that I am quite feminine and the fact that my skin is rich in melanin. So again, I ponder the jarring classroom question: What’s a more pressing issue today? Both are equally important, valid, and deserve continuous work.

Ashley Williams is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC.

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