Honoring Your Authentic Self: How Black Woman Can Stand Upright in a Crooked Room

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by Shonda Lackey Ph.D.

As Black women, we are often faced with stereotypes that don’t reflect the complexity of our multi-faceted lives. More often than not, in society, Black women are depicted through a stereotypical, one-dimensional lens.

In order to remain centered, you may find yourself constantly reaffirming your identity. Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry refers to this phenomenon as the Crooked Room theory. As noted in her book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America the Crooked Room theory is based on experiments in field dependence. During these types of studies, participants had to determine which way was up, even though they were seated in a crooked chair within a room where the walls had been altered to form crooked angles.

Much like finding your way in a crooked room, you can reclaim your authentic self despite being bombarded with distorted images of Black women. Here are some tips.

1. Remain grounded. Start by examining how you define yourself. Here are some questions to get you started: What personal qualities make you most proud? What are you good at doing? What obstacles have you overcome? How? What areas of your life are you working to improve? What causes are you passionate about? Who inspires you? What are the principles that guide your life? Once you know who you are, the key to remaining grounded involves authentic living– aligning your behaviors with your beliefs and values. If you have been struggling with issues of self-acceptance, consider seeking help from a professional such as a psychologist.

2. Think outside the box. Resist pressure to conform to narrow definitions of what it means to be a Black woman. These expectations can be particularly painful when they are perpetuated by Blacks who have internalized stereotypes. Perhaps you have been described as distant, different, or bougie, simply because your demeanor challenges stereotypes of Black women. However, Black women are diverse. A Black woman may enjoy R & B or classical music, work in corporate America or a grassroots organization, wear her hair natural or relaxed, live in an inner city or the suburbs, or any combination of these things over the course of her life. Yet, a Black woman’s identity is not entirely defined by any of these things. Don’t hide certain aspects of your identity to make someone else feel comfortable at your expense.

3. Learn to recognize crooked images. When some people meet a Black woman who doesn’t fit stereotypes, it makes them anxious and leaves them questioning their view of the world. In an attempt to soothe their anxiety and maintain their beliefs, some people interact with a Black woman in a way that conforms to their beliefs about Black women regardless of how a Black woman actually carries herself. These dynamics often work unconsciously and lead to Black women being stereotyped. For example, someone who believes the Angry Black Woman stereotype may act rudely towards you regardless of how politely you interact with them. Their behavior might become so egregious that it would be hard for anyone to remain quiet. Yet, if you become even mildly assertive, in their eyes, you have confirmed their beliefs that you are inherently angry. When you find yourself questioning your perception of events, consider the possibility that someone may be projecting a crooked image onto you.

4. Create a supportive network. Everyone is not going to understand you, so don’t spend energy trying to change the perceptions others may hold of you. Instead, seek out those who nourish your spirit and accept you for who you are. Being part of a supportive network also gives you an opportunity to support other Black women who are facing similar challenges.

Despite the crooked images Black women often face, you don’t have to accept them as truth. Remember, the key to finding True North starts with honoring your authentic self.

Photo: iStockPhoto


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Dr. Shonda Lackey is a clinical psychologist and freelance writer in New York City. The information provided in this article is for educational purposes and does not imply clinical treatment. For more information about Dr. Lackey, please visit her website and follow her on Twitter @ArtofIntrospect.

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