VERSION FRANCAISE ICI
Being a woman is a blessing, lots of challenges and an endless fight. I don’t see myself as a feminist but I took part to the women’s march that Saturday January 21, 2017 to make an impact. I would like to share with you, through a few anecdotes, how I made the experience of being only a woman and a woman of color.
I grew up in a very protective world where I was taught that we have equal rights and if I worked hard at school, I would have a great job and a comfortable life under the sun. Entering the reality has been obviously brutal. I would never forget that summer when someone reminded me for the first time that I was just a girl. I was 19, working in a summer camp, and responsible for a group of 10 years old kids, included a little Guy-Jean super active and a little dramatic. One day, I told him that he better behave otherwise I would have to get in touch with his dad. That child gave me that look over his glasses from bottom to top and said those words: “You are only a woman!” Followed by a duty tchip (this African mouth sound). Aya! If only it was my little bro!
Pouched (by the system) into an associate degree and after 3 years at the bottom of a fast grown corporate company where I was bored, I made the decision of going back to school. I was lucky to access a grant designed to support women in improving their carrier opportunities. As a student at ESGCI, I managed to find an internship in the Dannon Company. I found myself among young people from “la crème de la crème” of French Ivy League business schools. First, I noticed the excessive competition between the interns to impress and maybe get a long-term position. However, I was shocked, by the use of humiliation by some overstressed and stressful staff members. Ha! I was not able to set my mind to fit into they way of thinking: privilege, privilege, did I said white privilege? It was evident that for these nation’s elites, the values liberty, equality, fraternity that I grew up in, came way after networking, closed circles and the law of the strongest. I was working with a very complicated blond haired woman.
It took me literally 5 months to understand how to work with this brand manager, to anticipate her expectations and finally gain a bit of her confidence, until one day. In a meeting I said about a project: “Oh I see, you misunderstood…”. She didn’t let me finish, nope and told me those words: “It’s not me who misunderstood, it’s you who do not express yourself well”. She went too far that time. Me, the little African girl, closed my notebook, declared the end of this meeting, and walked out the door with confidence. I mean, whom shall I fear? By miracle, the last month of my internship went well with a more respectful attitude. This is how I learned to manage my Manager and knew when to say NO!
When I moved to Senegal, West Africa, in no time I was surrounded by the ideal place of Women in African society. Make yourself beautiful, keep competition away, but don’t forget that Men are the chief without power sharing (or let them believe it). From the foreigners visa officer, who spoke to my husband from A to Z about my application in my presence (I kept my mouth shut but you can’t imagine the fire inside of my Parisian raised heart), to my driver who clearly let me know that my husband was his boss and not me, not a woman, it took me forever to try to understand the way of thinking of African Men. To be honest I dropped that case.
However, what I noticed was the attitude of some person coming straight out from the France-Africa of the 50’s, with priorities and privileges. Standing in the line was not made to be for white people, and they won’t event notice how much they are favored in Africa. On a closing day of a conference in Dakar, I was in charge of giving away flash disk to participants after they had completed their evaluation. An observer sent by the French Embassy thought he could take a short cut by coming directly to me; putting pressure on my shoulders to get his sesame seed by force. That day, with a clear and firm voice, I sent this guy back to his duty and to the end of the line.
Later on in the lobby, this man told me those words with a very sarcastic tone: “You are not an easy one. You better watch out. If you apply for a visa for France, you may not get it!” Huh. I asked him what made him believe that I would need a visa to go to Paris where I spent 27 years. Nevertheless, when sending the conference results report, I wouldn’t forget to add a note at the attention of the French Ambassador with regrets regarding the quality of the observer’s deliveries. His face turned white. Walay bilay! The biter been bit up by an African woman.
However it’s in Washington DC, that I finally understood that being a woman and a woman of color means gaining your respect by force or by force. Black women, I mean those who are not lightskin enough according to some people, have been pushed back to the bottom of the society from generation to generation. On a Friday, I was with my boys in a McDonald’s, and an old crappy guy turned back on me, handing over me his pennies change and said this: “That may help you in paying your tax”. Couldn’t have been a bigger stereotype of the black baby mama living on a tight budget and eating junk food. That day, I just clicked on ignore, it was too big. Lol!
Did I tell you about how many times my colleagues, including Africans, assumed that because I am coming from Africa, this poor continent as shown in the daily newspapers, I shouldn’t know a lot. Ha! God used my skills to save them from last minutes tricky situation to open their eyes: Africa got Talents oh, including me. Last case, I said to my husband that anytime I take the car to services by myself, I have noticed that the black American man in charge of our car has always a proud attitude over me, in a bad way. I though maybe he was going through a bad day. One day when I was having a serious issue with my car, I had no time for his circumstances. I simply asked to talk to his Manager, a blond man with wrinkled bleu eyes. Since then he put more respect on my name. Sorry Bro, now we can talk!
I put aside all the verbal sexual assault, that as a black woman I should be a hot girl, really? I am sure that if I was a white blond haired girl I would still face daily issues and other stereotypes as a woman.
Stereotypes and discrimination against women and women rights are persistent. However it’s urgent to do something now: Refuse this common idea that it is what it is, we can’t do anything. Put it on your prayer list right now. Whatever the circumstances are, any challenges can be turn into opportunities to make an impact around us, every day, at our level. Women are more than precious. See you soon.