Excuse me. Excuse me. I have something to say!

Excuse me. Excuse me. I have something to say!

In this virtual world, how can women and women of color find voice?  How can we be heard?  We are in a space, even more removed from our general invisibility.  Women and women of color know that often in meetings in-person, we are ignored, marginalized and invisible. We are often sometimes the only one.  So, we become both hyper visible and hyper invisible – a strange paradox of identity.   We have been silenced in many meetings. 

In the Christian tradition, today is Good Friday. A day a voice was silenced, muted. An analogy and metaphor that reminds me that we, as women and women of color, often feel cruxified, in our daily lives, daily meetings, daily spaces and places of existence, beaten and bloodied, trying to speak and share messages of hope and love and grace.

Silenced.

Many women and women of color know that our voices in the room are often ignored.  We speak and we wonder if our words actually came out of our mouths.  We know they did.  But no one responded.  And then a man says the same thing, often in the same words. And, then, there is a discussion of the man’s idea.  And, we sit there, in shock and awe, didn’t I say that? I know I said that.  I know the words came out of my mouth. Every now and then, a brave ally, often another woman, on rare occasions a man, may jump in and remind the team that Woman A said what Man Z said.  But, that is rare.  Woman A is left to her own mind and confusion and questions. And, then, frustratingly, the post meeting chatter is about how Man Z said what Woman A said, and Woman A is always wondering why no one spoke up in the meeting. I remember many, many meetings where this happened.

I look and listen in meetings and watch. I’m a sociologist and I study race and gender. Everything is sociology.  Every meeting is a data point. Every meeting is a sociological study. What do I see in our new virtual world? What questions naturally come to mind?  Hmmm, what is the diversity of the virtual room?  Who is showing their face?  Who is a black screen with a name?  Who has a pretty virtual background  that sometimes seems to be almost live?  Who is actually showing their real background vs. a virtual background? What is that picture on the shelf in that home?  Is that their library, for real, or virtual? Are they in their bedroom, the only space they could find? Are they on their bed, with no office, no table, no chair?

Why do they never show their face?  Is it their face or the background that they are trying to hide? Is it because they know they will be judged? And of course, they will, because that is what society does…all the time.  We assess, try to determine if our stereotype and judgments of a person match the reality we have created about them.  And so, we wonder, some of us, often the more marginalized of us, what is it ok to show to the world? 

And will the “world” pay more attention to my background or my words? 

In this virtual sociological study, we as sociologists study culture. I often wonder what is the culture of the “zoom community”? Some cultures encourage the use of chat, so you can “speak” through that.  Some encourage you to “raise” your hand, another Zoom feature.  And some allow a free for all. Speak up when you ready.  Unmute yourself and have at it.  Some in the zoom room are unmuted the entire time, ready to speak whenever a thought crosses their mind, not even wanting to give up the five seconds it takes to unmute oneself.  And, I am seeing that women and women of color need to be even more “aggressive” in trying to speak and share ideas.

As time goes on, fewer people are comfortable showing up “polished and professional,” especially since barber shops, beauty salons, and nail salons are non-essential businesses.  Yet, I notice that women of color, in particular, still feel pressure to show up, looking “put together.”  There’s a culture of respectability and presentability in communities of color. Some of it is a hegemonic legacy of a culture of White and male domination and determination about the expectations of women and people of color, and women of color.

We, as women and women of color, are socialized into what is “right” and acceptable in terms of our dress.  And so, in this virtual world, since the hegemony is so strong and defining, we as women of color don’t even know why we are always dressing up, in our little suits and shoes, when men are in hoodies, tshirts, casual wear, and yet we are still combing hair, fixing our  dreads, putting on jewelry or pearls, trying to look “presentable.”  And, yes, every time I write women, I have to include women of color, for our invisibility and marginalization is even more pronounced because of our intersecting race and gender status.  The cultures for women of color are different.

And, then, on top of trying to “look” like we belong, we want to behave as we have been socialized. There’s a culture that women are socialized into in schools of raising hands and being called on.  Women follow the cultural norms.  Men just speak.  Rules don’t apply to them; they just made them for others to maintain the dominance and hierarchy of power.  For even when we did raise our hands, we weren’t noticed or called on.  I remember many classes in schools when women just sat silently, with much to say and contribute, that went unsaid, uncontributed, unvalued.  

Excuse me. Excuse me. I have something to say!

Because when we are finally given the “floor”, so to speak, we really don’t have the floor.  Most men never really “cede” the floor.  They will stand in the same space in front of the mic at a podium made for them, where women can barely see over, while “acting” like they have “ceded” the floor to us.  And so, before we can even talk, we have to adjust the space for us.  We have to adjust the mic, stand on our tiptoes to reach it, even after lowering it, feeling as if we need to elbow the men out of the way.

We spend valuable minutes just trying to make the space fit.  And, then, after all of that, when women and women of color, sometimes with just a little confidence, but often with much insecurity, quietly start to share our profound thoughts and contributions that would have been transformational and revolutionary, we are often interrupted, mid idea, mid sentence.  We are not even allowed to pause to catch our breath, to gather our thoughts before we are interrupted.

Women and women of color have been trying to get “in the room” for a long time.  And then, when we fought, and often reluctantly were added to the room, we were not able, allowed, to get a seat at the table.  We were confined through culture, glances, and pressure, to sit around the periphery of the room, in the chairs that ubiquitously seem to be positioned for the “other.”  They were different chairs, added for those who didn’t belong.  Hard, rough, uncomfortable. 

And then, when we were able to get a seat at the table, again, reluctantly, we were silenced, by culture, by the loud talking men, by pre-meetings that didn’t include us where decisions were made, and then excluded from post meetings that debriefed and made plans for more meetings at which we weren’t included.  Because whether we are in the room, and even at the table, we are invisible, one of my friends, a woman of color, tired of meeting after meeting of being ignored, actually climb on top of the table in the meeting.

Excuse me. Excuse me. I have something to say!

YES STOOD ON TOP OF THE TABLE. She had to turn the world upside down. So, that is what we must to be heard, to be seen. Like this painting from my son, Emmanuel, called “South Up Map Projection”: a revolutionary view understanding and challenging the assumption of the “world” order.

South Up Map Projection, Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke painting

The current crisis has turned the world upside down. It invisibilized, distanced, marginalized everyone from everyone. Yes, in crisis, we often want to say that everyone was affected.  It is true. EVERYONE IS AFFECTED, SOMEHOW. But, in that ubiquitous “everyone,” we fail to acknowledge that some, because of their identities, are more affected than others.  And those identities include race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, physical appearance, ethnicity, disability, and other more visible markers of difference. And so, this crisis will have and is having a disproportionate impact on some. 

And though we were all banished from the room and the table, many of us actually were never in the room or at the table.  And those of us who were, women and women of color, we are now in a different playing field with a different game and different rules.  And, we are still silenced.  But, now, the implications and consequences of our silencing are even more profound.

Our inability to speak in this time is a critical obstacles to viable solutions affecting the world.  The world of teachers, k-12, has been the world of women.  The world of nurses, healthcare workers, and assisted living facilities has been the world of women.  The world of daycare workers has been the world of women. The world of cleaning hotels and homes and buildings has been the world of women. The world of cooking and serving food to the masses has been the world of women. The second shift in the home and caring for children has often been the world of women.   And so the worlds of women are even more impacted in this current crisis, but yet, the world of men is making decisions without the words of women.

Excuse me. Excuse me. I have something to say!

I have never heard a man say excuse me.  Men rarely ask for permission to talk. They just start talking.  And so, what will our strategy as women and women of color be for our voices to be heard? For our thoughts to be shared? For our ideas to have space? What will be our strategy for transformation, revelation, and even revolutionary ways of being and doing and hearing the voices of women, not only now, but into the future?

Excuse me. Excuse me. I have something to say!

Note that we often have to repeat ourselves, our request for presence, acknowledgement, voice.  Excuse me, excuse me. Perhaps the manners that we are socialized to adhere to should be replaced with shouting, screaming, expletives!  When women scream and yell, we become quarantined and socially distanced in our own communities.  Yet, when men do so, they are catered to and allowed to remain the dominant voice and the bully.  This is why #MeToo started.  The louder and deeper and more belligerent a man’s voice, the more fear he created, and the more authority and dominance he was given. Yet, when Supreme Court justice candidates accuse and attack the accuser and actually become hysterical, they are given a pass, and though the woman accuser remains rational, factual, and emotionless, she is invalidated. So, women and women of color who are often stereotyped as hysterical, emotional, non-rational, can neither be that, nor be rational, calm, and collected.  We often feel that we cannot win as women and women of color in the world. 

Excuse me. Excuse me. I have something to say!

In today’s world, we cannot be blank, dark screens to one another. The world needs to see our humanity and our emotions.  We need every voice in every room, especially the voices of women and women of color.  Look around the zoom meeting room.  Where are the women and the women of color?  Are they in the room?  Are they leading the meeting?  Do they ever speak? Do you call on them to have the “floor”?  Or are they absence, quiet, silent logging in to document a presence without a voice.  Surely, in today’s time, women and women of color need to have the floor or actually the table, even if we need to stand upon the virtual table.

Excuse me. Excuse me. I have something to say!

What about our girls of color in elementary, middle, and high school, now in virtual classrooms, are they heard or visible? Ironically, they may be more safe because the actual classrooms were often unsafe spaces where their bodies were policed and their voices sanctioned. But, more safe, doesn’t mean more visible, more empowered.

And so, next Saturday, the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy conference will happen. And, we, women of color, will become empowered, supported, visible. We will take the stage, even if virtually, and we will feel valued, supported, and affirmed. And I hope we will start to plan, individually and collectively, for transformation, radical transformation.

For we, as women and women of color, with men who want and are able to be allies, must create a new world in which there are new rules, and even unwritten rules and subversive strategies that enable our voices to be heard so we can say what we have to say. 

Sometimes zoom allows the moderator to mute everyone. In our world, we all have symbolically been muted, isolated, distanced.

I think we actually need more silence in the world, especially now, so we can hear what the world is saying to us, in the whispers of the wind, the flowering flowers, the pink moon, the floating clouds. The world is speaking. Can we hear her?  Mother Earth is speaking.  Can we unmute her, give her the floor, the table, and the world?

Amazonis Planitia by Emmnauel Pratt-Clarke

May we no longer allow the world of men to make decisions without the words of women and women of color.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *