My mama’s fierce commitment to giving me and my brother a better life led my mama to sign us up for anything she considered an opportunity. I recently spoke about how she exposed us to every class, workshop, and educational environment she could find. Badges of whiteness. Symbols of being acceptable and respectable as Black folx living, working, and leading in white spaces.
Most of my experiences were firsts for my mama. She was guided by her intuition, love, and deep faith.
Looking back, my mama gave us the badge of whiteness.
I call it a badge because we could put it on and take it off.
I would be in white spaces during my schooling and then spend every free moment with Black folks. Black neighborhoods, Black church, Black music.
My mama always taught us to be proud of our brown skin. Our thick hair. Our left-handedness (yes, my brother and I are both lefties).
My mama wanted us to be proud but she did not believe in us thinking more highly of ourselves than others. She expected us to remain humble.
While knowing how to code-switch and successfully navigate white spaces is seen as something special to many, if we ever got too proud, my mama would make sure to set us straight. She would remind us to be grateful for the opportunities we had been afforded.
My mama taught us to put down the badge of whiteness. To not shine it or wear it like a precious jewel. She wanted us to consider the badge as a tool to provide options to a Black folx in America.
I love my mama for never making us feel like we were special because we were able to do well in white spaces. I am grateful to her for making sure we grew up proud of our Blackness.
I can’t speak for my brother but I can say that I struggled with the badge. There were periods of my career when I didn’t have a lot of institutional power where I wore the badge a little too proudly. I got a little carried away with the privilege that this badge afforded me. I didn’t realize it at the time, and while I didn’t wield the badge as a weapon, but I still caused harm.
I find it ironic that I am 20 years into my career and my focus has turned toward coaching Black women leading in white spaces. Now it’s my turn to help Black women examine their badges.
These days I support Black women choosing if and how they want to wear the badges. Many of them are questioning the badge.
They are asking: Is the badge as nice as they were told it was? Does the badge actually keep them safe? What if they take the badge off and lead from their Blackness, their wholeness?
As a coach, I don’t have the answers but I am enjoying being on the journey to freedom with the Black women.
Deep down I wonder if my mama knew that the badge was something that would serve us if we knew when to wear it AND when to put it down. What if my mama imagined a world when Black folx would not need the badge at all? What if MY role as a coach is to help Black women explore never putting on the badge at all?
While I have more questions than answers, just asking them makes the badge feel less powerful.