While this issue is not unfamiliar to me personally, as I have been faced with similar concerns, as a well-educated professional Black woman who has intermittently found herself “hiding her Blackness” in order to be accepted in broader-cultured professional spaces, it has recently been brought to my attention that another “hiding your Blackness” phenomenon is more common among Black woman professionals than I was previously aware. That is, the navigating of internal fears, worries, and concerns surrounding dating or marrying a Black man who does not aesthetically or professionally match who outside others expect you to romantically partner with.
As a highly-educated Black woman who embraces diversity, it is difficult to admit to myself that this has been a common point of concern throughout my professional journey, let alone discussing it with my non-dominate culture-assimilating, incredibly loving, intelligent, and absolutely worthy of public recognition, Black male partner.
I have come to realize that for multiple Black woman professionals, including myself, although the “side eyes” of outside others are usually not vocally expressed to your face, the non-verbal confusion, pre-judgement, and shifted perceptions are often sensed, particularly when you are present in non-Black-dominate-cultured professional spaces.
Even more disheartening is the silent pre-judgement that is also often imposed within the Black community, by other Black members who have intensely assimilated to the norms of “code-switching” and aesthetic assimilation tactics, as an effort to disarm poor character-related Assumptions that may prevent them from gleaning respect and approval from non-Black professionals and dominate-culture-conforming Black group members as well.
I recently spoke with another highly educated Black woman who expressed that her partner questioned, “Are you ashamed of me?” The question was presented when she hesitated to invite him to a professional event. While disheartening to admit, this momentary internal “pause” prior to responding surfaces many thoughts and feelings for many professional Black women. The fact that this type of question from our non-dominant culture-conforming Black male partners is even necessary challenges Black assimilating women professionals to confront their own minority-pathologizing, dominate-culture conformity. She may internally struggle with the question, “Am I ashamed of my Blackness (in this case my Black love)? If so why? Why do I fear bringing my unapologetically Black partner to professional spaces?” This is a question that I have admittedly grappled with throughout my academic and professional career, where many times I was situated in non-Black-culture dominate professional spaces, as well as, at times, within Black-dominated professional environments that heavily assimilated to dominate-culture beliefs surrounding what a “respectable Black man” looks like and is.
When this issue was brought to my attention by another Black woman it broke my heart, because I reflected back on my own professional evolution, where many times I subconsciously chose to love my non-assimilating, yet highly intelligent and successful, Black man in private , due to the concerns of how my professional competence, credibility, and professionalism might be called into question due to the appearance of the man that I chose to love and who loves me back. Had I begun to internalize these faulty pathological pre-judgments?
Today, as a business owner, I have more agency and less concern about what may happen to my professional image if I apologetically show up in my Blackness, in both public and professional spaces. I have cultivated a private practice that embraces diversity and empowers all of my clients to show up as their authentic selves, assuring them that who they really are does not diminish my perception of them. I have also grown to dismiss the “silent pre-judgments” of outside others related to who I choose to love and how he may appear to the world, resting assured that if outsiders could have one conversation with him, it would become abundantly clear as to why I love him so much and that they should not judge a book by its cover.
As I continue to heal from long-practiced assimilation and code-switching—behaviors that I learned as a survival mechanism during my college tenure and professional hike, I have come to embrace showing up as my authentic Black self, no longer fearing if my Blackness may call my competence and professionalism into question. I have learned to allow my work to speak for me. I have learned to enjoy disproving faulty pre-judgments of outside others by being the exact opposite of what they assume, being very intentional to demonstrate professional excellence. I have also grown to love my non-dominant culture-conforming Black male partner, unapologetically and out loud.
When this topic was presented to me, a surge of urgency ran through my body. I knew I had to bring this issue out of the internal shadows of Black women professionals like myself and into the light, in hopes that it will provide insight into pre-judging outside others and empower other Black couples who may experience this. I admittedly hesitated to write about this, but these types of minority experiences can greatly impact minority mental health and relationships. Therefore, it is a worthy discussion to be had. Today I am open, loud, and proud of my Blackness. I wish I could say I no longer experience this concern at all, but I can say that I experience this issue less. I hope that those who have or have had the fears mentioned in this post, throughout their professional tenure, may come to know this same level of authenticity and more.