When I was four years old, the head of State of Nigeria, Yakubu Gowon got married to a woman named Victoria. She was beautiful. Her dress was flawless. The wedding was televised and it was spectacular. In my child mind, I can still remember her white flowing dress. In fact, that dress probably filled my girlhood fantasies of what I would want my wedding dress to look like.
But this is not about a wedding dress.
This is about the fact that, as a four-year-old, I lived in a country where I could relate to the leader and I could relate to his wife. As I grew up, I knew of women ministers and other high-level professional women. I never, for once in my life, had to question if I could possibly be the wife of a president or be a president. It was a given if that is what I wanted. My father always told me that I could do anything I wanted when I grew up and the larger society supported that vision he seeded in me.
This week, when Michelle Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention, black women throughout America were proud and were glowing. It was one thing for the Obama’s to get into the White House. It has been another thing for the Obama administration to have excelled wildly beyond anyone’s expectations. Michelle’s presence in this administration has been spectacularly healing for many black women.
It occurred to me as I read through my timeline that although I am proud of Mrs. Obama, I probably do not feel the depth of pride that many of my African-American sisters are currently experiencing.
Don’t get me wrong, I like her. A whole lot. She is my #1 favorite person ever!!! But I did not grow up with a visceral knowledge of her reality: The impossibility of her living in the White House built by slaves as she raised her two black daughters. I grew up seeing a black man marry the woman of his choice as he ruled a country, which happened to be at war. You see, I grew up in an environment that envisioned possibilities for my life. She did not. Neither did most African American women. Therefore, her ability to overcome her bubble is a phenomenon to be reckoned with.
Our environment, our society, mirrors possibilities for young people. Many African American women my age did not grow up believing that a wonderful black family could inhabit the white house or even a woman could be president.
So I choose to be sensitive, extra sensitive, to those around me as I recognize that their lineage is different from mine although they overlap.
Your lineage, how you were raised, what you were taught, the normative stereotypes drilled into you – all these things affect how you see and interpret the world.
You see, how you engage the world and those around you is limited to how you see. Unless you do the deliberate work of “seeing” how others may see a situation, you will lose out. You will continue to live in a bubble.
This week, Elizabeth Warren, another spectacular woman, was referred to as “Pocahontas.’ Well, I knew it was an insult but I glossed right over it. I kinda know what that name refers to. Maybe a Disney movie. Maybe some sort of kids story (can you tell I don’t have kids?) Well, a friend of mine, Pamela Slim is married to an Indigenous American and she expressed offense at this insult towards Elizabeth Warren. I, on the other hand, glossed right over the insult because I had not developed the sensitivity to “see” that this was not ok.
I am not a “bad” person for not knowing that it was a hurtful statement to some people. I am not racist. I just have to gain awareness towards that group and what their sensitivities are. I have a couple of Indigenous American friends but I have never sat down and had conversations with them about their unique perspective of being an American.
The same concept applies to those that do not understand what Michelle Obama means to black women in this country. Yeah, you could say, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” Or you could say, “Explain to me what this means to you and why it is so important to you? I want to know.”
See, a leader always wants to expand his or her bubble. You cannot do the work your soul must have if you do not intentionally expand that bubble. Such expansion makes you a better human and thus, a better leader. It is also an intentional habit that you have to cultivate. What are some of the ways in which you have experienced
What are some of the ways in which you have experienced expansion of your bubble?