Dear Prestigious Black Social Organization,
I’m breaking up with you. While I will cherish the times that we had together and I recognize how incredibly special you are; sadly, we are no longer a good fit. It’s not you; it’s me.
I know that line is used frequently in break-ups, but I am sincere when I say it. Trust me. Initially, I was blaming you. My friends, fellow members, and I would get together after meetings, with our cocktails and appetizers, and discuss all of your many flaws.
But despite our problems, I was determined to make this relationship work. At one point, I decided I could “fix” you. I thought of myself some sort of Joan of Arc, saving a great institution by saving ourselves from ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that change is good and that if you see something that can be improved, you should certainly try to improve it; but, my ideas were probably too sweeping and my dissatisfaction too pronounced. Plus, any therapist will tell you that in relationships, you must focus on you, and not on trying to fix the other party.
The biggest problem, my dear PBSO (Prestigious Black Social Organization), was that for these past ten years I was spending so much time looking at you that I spent absolutely no time looking at me. But there is something about the life in your forties that not only makes you look at yourself, but makes you see yourself clearly – and then embrace all that you are.
Frankly, I’m a bit of a hippie (who just happens to like designer clothes). Hell, my blog’s name is Beatnik ( a usually young and artistic person who rejects the mores of conventional society). I cherish sisterhood and bringing Black families together; but seriously struggle with all of the formalities that often accompany these efforts when done under the umbrella of a large organization. I also understand that many of these formalities are needed to maintain order.
But while I may understand the need, the implementation, even when done well, was oftentimes irritating.
I remember going to a friend’s mother’s funeral. Three of us women greeted each other at the sign-in book before proceeding into the service to support our friend. But before we could even make it into the sanctuary, the then current PBSO president reprimanded us for not wearing white to the service. In my mind, she was worried more about the form than the substance of actually supporting our sister.
Similarly, I would literally have to grit my teeth every time there were extensive conversations about stockings or no stockings; nude stockings vs. white stockings. It just seemed that this professional group of Black women should be discussing something more meaningful that could actually help our greater community or that would feed our souls.
At the same time, walking into a massive ballroom and seeing it filled with hundreds of Black women ranging from 21 to 100 years old is one of the most beautiful and memorable images I’ve ever seen. The visual impression, the clear connection, the history was not lost on me.
Also, the statement of “being there” that my mother’s (and my) sorority sisters made by attending my Mom’s funeral was appreciated.
So, I get it. Please know I get it. I’m just not good at it.
I so often exist in a world where I am the only person of color in the room, that the artificial constraint of Robert’s Rules on what should be a time to “exhale” — seems suffocating. I craved more of a natural flow discussion, a more organic connection, a relaxed environment where I could let my hair down — because I so needed that. I was ready to sigh, and relax my shoulders when I was with family—finally. Robert felt like an intruder.
But I’ve taught my entire life and can appreciate the need to maintain order. I get it. It just isn’t me.
Even the formality of titles: Madame President, Madame Secretary and such. I’m just more of a “what’s up Sista”, “Hey Beautiful” type of woman.
But I get it – well most of it (not the titles part but that’s a whole ‘nother blog). But, I get most of it. I respect it. I love the tradition and am proud of our legacy. It just ain’t me. And understand, that hurts me a little. It would be so much easier to fit in. The teenager in me wants to do what my friends are doing; but the 40-ish year old woman knows that I have to honor and respect who I am.
This didn’t dawn on me for a long time. I don’t think that I even considered who I was, but was living rather unconsciously. In the Black world, once you have “made it”, you join certain clubs. It’s what you do. There is no consideration if the club is a right fit.
Certain income check
Certain club #1 check
Club #2 check
Congratulations, you passed. You are officially a Bougie Black person — check (now start writing checks!)
I work best without the checklist, the rules or the formalities. It’s just who I am. I’ve got to do it my way—right? I have to consider me in this life instead of what everyone else has deemed it should be.
The organization didn’t mess up; I grew up. While I still think that you are incredible, we are are not good together. But, I hope that I will get invited to attend some of your events; and I know that I will be impressed. At the same time, you have an open invitation to my backyard bbq. Come as you are. Just don’t bring Robert.