Some individuals come into your life, however brief, and leave something of themselves with you. You can see a need for women of color to say what they want to say. Why don’t they?
In meeting this young woman, what immediately strikes you, aside from her beauty, is behind her warm brown eyes, there bears the knowledge of struggle and disappointments. Despite the long hours of serving coffee to patrons, her shy reluctance is contrasted with a strong ambition to help others achieve their dreams. Ironically, this young woman nearly had her dreams taken from her.
Life’s hard because history projects onto women of color you’re not pretty enough or good enough. The slave mentality says you’re only meant to do menial, self-limiting jobs. Systemic bias in education says you’re unable to understand, which means there is something wrong with you.
Lucia is a Nigerian born woman in the process of creating an amazing life for herself.
Here is her story.
We All Have Grace as Women of Color
The greatest challenge Lucia sees for women of color are the barriers that society places on them, in addition, to the barriers we place on ourselves. This has to do with our mindset – it’s a self-propelling prophecy.
In my own life, as a woman of color navigating the child welfare system, I grew up in a group home. The white children, they were allowed to pursue what they wanted to do; contrast this to me continuously hearing try something else, this is not for you.
Your body is not made to be fluid. Instead of allowing me to try things, and then give me time to find out for myself. The message I heard is you’re inadequate. Eventually, even encouraged for me to accept this thought process; a battle I had to fight.
At the same time, I would hear don’t wear a certain outfit as it’s not for your body type.
The opportunities are taken away from me. How about letting me figure it out on my own?
To put these ideas in my head, it forced me to overlook certain avenues for my life. As you’ve (foster parent) already told me that this is not for me.
This is how success has been passed down to women of color. That job isn’t for you. But this is for you.
The muzzled experience upon settling in Canada became an ongoing internal conflict during her teen years. She internalized the conditioned thinking that sought to limit her into what she could achieve. However, Lucia sensed something else. She tried really hard to articulate what her soul kept pressing upon her — fight to self-actualize.
Self-actualization is the need for growth. We’re endowed with an inner sense of our soul wanting to expand. Regardless of the shape or size of our bodies, as women of color, our elegance and dignity is tapped into moving with the rhythm of the music that is unique within each of us.
Your Identity is Beyond Color
As a Nigerian, the mindset programmed into women of color is a slave mentality belief. Women of color are ingrained to believe their only purpose is to work for others, and not for themselves; to serve the people (work under white people). As a result, their ideas get lost. Women of color don’t see they can achieve more for themselves
To be honest it caused a lot of pain. Talking about it now, there is a lot in my subconscious and talking about it brings it to the forefront.
Youth hear they are problematic for society; a enslavement mentality. If I’m not getting to this point, why even try? Instead of taking each situation and working as hard as I can, I relaxed in a lot of things. I laid back. Okay, let people assume or think I suck at it. They put me in a difficult position while other kids of color were figuring out their identity.
Faced with this burden, a wall comes down as to what’s for me. You think, this society, is it built and limited to certain folks. There’s only one option for me. I felt lost and suffered hopelessness. I believed I had to prove myself a lot. I’m seeing where people are leaping ahead; while I’m exhausted competing against people who I didn’t have to prove myself to.
It’s important to hear positive feedback. You will succeed in what you do.
Subsequently, to be overlooked because of appearance and ethnicity can stunt a woman’s progress. Too often assumptions are made about the lack of intelligence women of color possess. Global initiatives in education of girls and women is shifting this bias. For example, UNICEF joins hands with jewellery maker for female empowerment. We are designed to be noticed and must trust in our ability to fulfill our life’s potential.
When Will Your Value Shine?
Much of how we women perceive ourselves stems from cultural patriarchy which is often unrealistic and systemic. While it goes unsaid, the cultural belief of women as being valued less than cows persists resulting in women feeling the emotional pain of economic deprivation, as the statistics from Catalyst shows:
- College-educated millennial women are projected to lose more than a million dollars ($1,066,721) because of the gender wage gap, based on median annual earnings for full-time, year-round work
- The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) cites leading causes as gender segregation in jobs and schooling, care giving responsibilities that fall heavily to women, and discrimination and bias
Women of Color Only You Define Your Dream
There exists a learning lapse for me. My education is not a priority. The focus of my Nigerian life is carrying water on my head, taking care of smaller cousins. And family members. Nobody took things seriously to say maybe this child has delayed learning.
My mom had me outside of wedlock, consequently, a lot of opinions about her. I didn’t know my dad. Mom came to Canada for a better life. She left me at the age 2 with my grandma who cared for me. I’m my mom’s only child. When we got here, I moved from house to house.
During my time in Nigeria, a lot of anger had been taken out on me. I lived in a household where I felt like a burden. I had to move at the age of 8. My jealous aunties affected the relationship I enjoyed with my grandmother. The relationship broke. They felt she was taking too much good care of me.
I felt different levels of abuse.
My family lived in deep poverty. My aunts had little kids. I know how important it is for them to eat. I don’t see it as sad. You got to have, build a good character. Especially for my small cousins, as you can tell who they are meant to be and see how it shapes them.
It hurts. People will take their issues out on others. I try my best not to take my anger out on others. You don’t know what they are experiencing in their lives. If they are being a tyrant, they must deal with it, not me.
Character Cracks the Foundation of Scorn
Just as Pink Floyd’s song resonates ‘…No dark sarcasm in the classroom…All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall…” so too did Lucia feel her education was questionable.
To begin with, I got streamed into locally developed education here. This means you go to high school and that’s the end. There is no college and university. Teachers see you as empty-headed. I said I’m out…needed to be out. I couldn’t sit in one space because of boredom. There is a lack of interest. I said to myself, this is not at your level of expertise.
Following this, I ended up at an all-girls school and I kept getting in trouble. When I got there, a teacher told me I would not make it to university. In my head, I knew I wanted to go to university. The jokes on you, I told him. I will show up with my acceptance letter. He laughed at me. I can’t be at this school if I want to be at university. The average to get is hard – needed 95%. Left there with a 98% average by working my ass off.
I then went to a commercial school – applied turned out be too easy for me. I decided, let’s try the university level, and my grades remained the same as from the other program.
A school leadership program caught my attention. I wanted to be part of the program. This meant picking a course in grade 11…a university course. I did a U of T sociology course. A professor came out to the school to teach you. In addition, I had to write an essay on why we (other students like me) should be valedictorian.
As a result, I became one of the valedictorians for that class and, also, was in the running for the school overall.
At this stage, school is important to me. I had to bust through that wall. Just had enough of people telling me I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t dumb. I’ll be fine. It became fun to prove people wrong.
You're Loved Women of Color
Lucia realized the compelling power of her ambition railed against those who were suppressing more than just her dreams.
In fact, Lucia’s capacity to forgive is fundamentally guided by love and compassion. Her innate resilience probably explains how she coped inside her foster home. She became the scapegoat for many things despite her innocence. She painfully describes a memory.
I remember grade 9. One of the foster sisters had clogged the toilet. She ran into the room to tell me. I’m working on a project about wolves. I told her to go downstairs and tell our foster mother. Our foster mother came upstairs. She blamed the situation on me. I felt guilty. She expected me to go to the washroom, said I lacked maturity, and don’t know how to take responsibility. Unknown to me, the water was coming through the ceiling below. We had two dogs, and dogs get curious about water. When she had let the dogs out the door, one of the dogs fell and broke its leg. The situation had nothing to do with me. Afterward, when I saw the dog, I blamed myself.
Another time, she even blamed me for not having the same kind of bread she liked in the home.
Later on, when my foster mother’s mom got Alzheimer’s, I helped clean her up. My foster mother doesn’t know this.
Someone had put that responsibility on me. I blamed myself for things that didn’t have anything to do with me. I’m taking responsibility for things that aren’t my responsibility. But I don’t show my frustration.
God’s purpose for me is to give. I’m always giving. The example set for me as I saw my mom send clothes from Canada to my family in Nigeria.
Looking Within Raises Self-Worth
Only until she had completed a course on critical racist theory, did Lucia put the dots together. Racism is real. All the conflicting memories and emotions she held resulted from external racial pressures out of her control. Her experience had given her a direction to make a change.
This endearing capacity to reach out to others in need is evident in her career choice as a social worker.
Growing up through the child welfare system gave her a perspective most of us rarely see. She saw the best and the worst of children with different backgrounds.
Interacting with many social workers, Lucia acknowledges she had amazing social workers solely focused on policy-based initiatives. However, they lacked the ability to be personable enough to make her feel important, and not just another kid in the system. This letdown remains with her.
She dreams to have a pivotal role at the Children’s Aid Society. Lucia’s making sure she ends up at this agency. There’s a lot of work from a policy perspective but not enough for the children. They need her. Lucia sees how her experience and background as a woman of color makes her approachable.
You've Got to Flex Your Wings
The difference she wants to make in their lives is to be the support as they go through the process of self-determination. Wherever children see themselves, she will provide the resources to get them there.
Through self-awareness, Lucia looks at how to push others to become the best versions of themselves and eventually make their lives easier. While she is no Martin Luther King, she fully acknowledges she is a work in progress, but the path to one’s character is through forgiveness.
This also meant releasing the anger she felt for her birth mother. Lucia is taking the steps to make the relationship better. The hardest part was letting go of the things her mother had put her through.
Her university-educated mother did everything she needed to, with the expectation the rewards would come easy. Subsequently, poor decisions put her mother into a dysfunctional position. For Lucia, coming to terms with her birth mother’s African mentality of ‘respecting your elders’ lifted the guilt she carried around for a long time. Her mother made Lucia feel she owed her because she brought her to Canada. According to Lucia, something in life broke her. She’s determined to be better than this.
I see myself with a good job and a house. I don’t want to be filthy rich. There is a lot of responsibility for being rich. I want to have the family experience; be in a stable relationship with no drama. No divorce, that’s not for me. Just real. Dealt with enough and hoping blessings are coming later.
I can feel everything will be great. All these things are happening because there is a purpose. Eventually, it will fit together. Every day, and every lesson, there’s a huge accomplishment coming.
Humility Despite Adversity
Lucia sees an amazing life ahead. Although the difficulties encountered threatened to derail her life journey as a woman of color, these very same challenges have shaped how she affirms her value.
This self-affirmation has blossomed from the limiting beliefs imposed by others who themselves led limited lives. When she speaks of her growth, there is no doubt she is a testament to her strength. Ultimately, she hopes to be the best person she can to others and herself.
Women of color are finding their voices despite the educational and cultural expectations which threaten to limit the possibilities of who they can become. They are doing the necessary things to allow positive changes in their lives.
What do I tell my younger self at age 9? I would say to stand up for yourself and say what you want to say. Don’t live life on other people’s perspective only your perspective.
I lived my life on what other people wanted. It would have prevented a lot of pain.
Stay motivated and jump through hurdles for yourself.
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