By: Tina Dube
So this is what my father meant. This is what that strength is for us, what it might continue to be for the generations after us. This is one of the perks of being a descendant of slaves, garden boys and maids; the gift of self-control, of keeping your head down and being unnoticed.
Typing “My apologies” when what you really mean is “You’re a piece of shit”. Smiling and saying “Yes, I understand” when you quite simply don’t. Fake-chuckling at jokes about your kind over drinks and networking because the jackass who fixed his mouth to share them has the power to decide whether your bills will be paid this month or not.
Quiet strength is about giving them a warm smile, playing the chirpy, plays-well-with-others teammate even when it feels as if the topics of conversation are designed to exclude you because you need that promotion. It’s when you witness a man older than your father being called names that his own children would get a hiding for saying out loud. Watching his calm exterior as he walks away and knowing that the sound of your heart breaking is as loud as that of his blood rushing to his ears from rage ,and yet you will both do nothing, say nothing. It’s about locking away the feistiness that your loved ones know you by to outside of the corporate environment .Working five times as hard, juggling ten times as many balls to get paid half of what others do.
I remember times where I have tried and failed and grew frustrated with my parents for the disrespect that they took, the way they would bend this way and that to accommodate, to tolerate and to compromise their pride. To downplay their intelligence, dumb it down. To speak when spoken to.
I understand it now. You give them what they want so that you get what you want. You do it because your family has to eat and you need a roof over your head. You do it because if you don’t, someone else will. Yes you do it in a pencil skirt and heels or a collared shirt and formal pants instead of a maid’s uniform or shackled feet, but you do it. Because you are told that people with no sense of belief in themselves will do anything to avoid fixing themselves and that includes going out of their way to turn you into one of them. It sounds like an utter lie but that is what you’re told.
So like your mother and father and the people before you, you master this art of the quiet strength. Sure, you might fire back a sharp retort every now and then or fail to hide the “I will slap a bitch” look on your face quickly enough. But you learn. Boy, do you learn.