By Tiara Floyd
In April of 2019, people were by my side for my achievement in becoming the first woman of color in my position at my school. I was the most powerful student—the most powerful student at the school was a Black woman. I quickly realized; however, that power is violent as hell. It is extremely unwelcoming and harmful to people who look like me and act like me. By that I mean those who are unapologetically Black. To make it even worse, I couldn’t ask my predecessors for help because before me was a white man and before him was a white woman.
Vi·o·lent (adj): Marked by the use of usually harmful or destructive physical force; extremely powerful or forceful and capable of causing damage; caused by physical force or violence; emotionally agitated to the point of using harmful physical force; prone to commit acts of violence; notably forceful, furious, or vehement.
This is my experience with power.
*Disclaimer: I should note that I don’t even care for the power; I just want to do the work to make my school better. Nonetheless, I was affected by power I did not wish to even have in the first place.
Power & Health
Whew, let me tell you: my health has been damaged the most in this entire experience. Within the first few months of school being back in session, I had the normal cold everyone experiences. However, mine prolonged throughout the entire semester literally until I went home for winter break. I was sick from about mid-September to December. As soon as I recovered, I would be sick again because I never had time or space to recover fully. I was stressed, not sleeping, and eating horribly because I couldn’t go home until late.
I hit the heaviest I have ever been in my life: 220 pounds. I was shocked that number revealed itself, but I wasn’t shocked because I could see the change in my body—specifically my face. I was eating out almost every day; stress eating got the best of me; and for a brief moment, alcohol became my best friend.
My mental health has been damaged beyond repair. I’ve learned throughout college white dominated white spaces are violent, but I didn’t realize how violent until I was on the phone begging and crying to be left alone. The amount of times I cried—both in my office and in my bed—probably rivaled those of a newborn baby. I remember for about two weeks, I refused to go into my office because it became a suffocating place; it became a representation of violence for me. From my language being policed to unnecessary criticism to blatant lies being told about me, my mental health suffered and continues to suffer.
To this day, I still question whether I am good enough for this position and whether I am doing good work. There is a moment seared into my mind forever , the moment I discovered I’d been tokenized. A few weeks prior to writing this, I read an (unreleased) LTE where, within the first few sentences, white students declared:
“We’ve come such a long way with diversity.”
My heart dropped, I cried, and I screamed. All of the work I had done and all the power I had seemed pointless at that point because those who were supposed to be helping me, had characterized me as a box on their checklist—and it was checked.
Power & Respect
“With great power comes great disrespect.”
In the last few months, I’ve learned people don’t respect me at all. Despite being a Black woman with all of the power, white men and women still think they run the show; and even more so, are immune from consequences of being found out.
I don’t know how I could be clearer with this: All the labor I have given people, I’ve received no respect.
Aside from the big, blatant instances of disrespect, there were the small instances of disrespect. People would ignore deadlines and tasks given to them; white women would roll their eyes at or dismiss (subconsciously or not, I don’t care) my stories of racism and other violence at my school; a white woman questioned why I always said I was the first woman of color; I even was called a bitch—not to my face, though, of course.
The biggest disrespect (outside of being tokenization) I experienced was the assumption I cannot make decisions for myself. When there were behind-the-scenes damage control, I was left out of the conversation. One night I had to demand I be present in a room because—as everyone should have realized—I was the only one with the power to give anyone the results they wanted. Even in this conversation, I had to assert myself to all of the (majority white) men in the room. I noted that my predecessor—to my knowledge—was never disrespected as much as I’ve been. Long story short, I made an executive decision a lot of people were not happy with. In the coming days after the decision, people created the idea I didn’t make the decision for myself; in fact, they conspired I was a puppet to the white men with my decision.
This decision and the reaction (from angry white men) escalated and resulted in arguing my case with two explicit arguments of:
- I have power to make the decision I did
- I am a free thinking adult and to accuse a Black woman of not thinking for herself is racist
Yes, I had to explain (multiple times) that telling me I couldn’t make my own decisions was racist; and even then, I still got the “I’m not racist” response.
In my mind, I knew all of these things happened because I am a Black woman. I am a Black woman who speaks her mind and asserted herself in a room of white people. However, with passion and risk, I exposed myself to violence and the effects of that violence. Honestly, I am not sure I will ever heal from the violence I ensued in my position. But, with all healing, it will definitely be a journey. For those committing violence (specifically against Black women in power): whenever you saw yourself in this piece, take that as a sign to fix yourself and to do better.
FOR ALL THE BLACK GIRLS IN POWER: STAY STRONG, YOU ARE NEEDED, YOU ARE LOVED, AND YOU ARE SEEN! FIGHT THE POWER, BLACK GIRL POWER!
Tiara Floyd is a undergraduate senior connect with her on Instagram @tmiaarriae. If you’re interested in submitting a piece, please contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.