Is there a Grey Area between Integrity and Money for Black Women?

Artwork By: Laurie Cooper, “Timeless (Female)”

The recent conversation between Steve Harvey and Monique brought up an even more interesting conversation between me and my husband: can we as black people live in a grey area between what is seen as integrity and money? Meaning, can we honestly live our black selves and maintain the financial foundation we’ve already established or want to create.

For those who may not understand what our “black selves” mean (mainly those who are not black), let me explain further. Every black person, much like others in different cultures have a very unique upbringing. A lot of other cultures celebrate their pride and traditional joyfully in public but it’s been extremely hard for a lot of black people to do so as almost everything that brings us joy (slang, our music, our dancing, our food, our confident and direct tones) have been chastised in a way that is demeaning and “uncivilized” to other. But it is who we are, so instead of living our pride outside in public, some of us keep it within our personal circles and households. You know, we don’t want to scare anyone.

“We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.”
-Except from “We Wear the Mask” by PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR

We’ve done this since we were brought to this country. And those who chose to show themselves were hunted, hung, jailed, beat or broken. Our great-grandparents watched and endured that and soon learned how to wear a mask well. They passed that mask down to their kids, who in turn passed it down to their kids, and so on. A new tradition of, what is now called “code-switching,” became another layer of black people.

So here lies where our conversation turned. Without taking sides or even getting deep into the details of what Monique did or did not do correctly, we dove into who and what is expected of us.

Steve Harvey represents how a lot of black men feel, including my husband. He is the protector and provider of his family and he must maintain a certain status quo to manage and continue to successfully grow his legacy.

Monique has been categorized as the woman who has gone too far. You know, “how dare she feel or say some of the things she has said? She broke her status quo, particularly in her own community.” A community who has learned how to meticulously wear a particular mask to move about society, and work to grow or change behind those closed doors.

“Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.”
-Except from “We Wear the Mask” by PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR

But why have we accepted wearing these masks? And as black women, do we ever get a break from wearing them? What was difficult for me to get my husband to understand is that we, black women, are exhausted. We’ve been the birthers of a nation, the wet nurses to our oppressors, the partners and healers to our broken black men, and the “unnatural” or savage sexual beings of the world. We are constantly switching masks from work to the public and then sometimes back at home. And we are exhausted.

So, in the case of Monique, I think she was tired of trying to be and just started being. She did what she felt and acted as she wanted, no matter what was to come as a result. Which is were the conversation now lives; should Mo had stayed quiet and done things behind doors to hold on to money or was it worth living her truth to maintain her integrity?

A hell of a question right? Especially since we look around society, and even at the administration, and see so many people, of course not of our color, living their truth and still making a ton of money. So, I want to pose the question to my sistas out there; can we live in the grey area? Is there even a grey area to live in?

Don’t get me wrong, they love our truths in our music, or in our clubs, on the movie and t.v. screens, hell even in books or on YouTube, but being face to face with it is something else. Those are doses of who we are. Is it time to push society forward more, pass our looks on to our voice? I mean really let them hear our honest thoughts on a continuous basis, not just when they want to hear it, but when they NEED to hear it which seems to be all the time.

“We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!”
-Except from “We Wear the Mask” by PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR

Because of the job and opportunities my mom loss because she finally used her voice, and the three daughters that I am raising who I pray can live their true selves one day, I’m willing to start using my voice to create a grey area. Women like Ava DuVernay, Amanda Seales, Toni Morrison, and others have given us examples of how it can be done. Now it’s time for us to use our particular channels and platforms to do our part.

I’m willing to seek that grey area so we, my family to yours, don’t have to choose one end of the spectrum over another. It’s all about living and teaching. We must teach our country, and the world, about the love and power that lives within a black woman. It’s only then that we can live in a world, designed to flourish in inclusivity and diversity.

Will you join me?

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