Friday, May 6, 2011

Conformity at What Cost?

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."- Dr. Seuss

So,  I'm a huge fan of Curly Nikki - an awesome guide for all curly headed individuals (especially naturals). But Curly Nikki also interjects posts about staying healthy, positive body image and image perception. Today there was a post (which is clickable from my post's title) talking about how black women in particular are perceived through media - especially reality TV. Traditionally, black women are cast in the angry black woman role. You know her, she's the one doing the constant side eye, neck rolling, finger wagging (and/or snapping) and ready to "throw down" at the drop of a dime. In general - usually not a great way to be characterized.

Now, this is not a post about the ills of reality TV. In my opinion, almost no one, regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity or socio-economic background will walk away with a positive perception from the general public if you're on a reality show. Reality TV is about extremes, and encouraging people to behave badly just for the all mighty Neilson rating score.  My post is from reading a response of a young woman who said (and I'm paraphrasing) because of her fear of being perceived as having all the negative AA stereotypes, she basically lives her life trying to appeal to the masses. Meaning, she goes into stores and is nervous that someone is following her around - so she doesn't really bother to look through the racks unless she plans on buying something. If she's out with friends and someone laughs too loud she shushes them.

My heart goes out to this young woman because think about how much in life she might be ultimately missing out on because she's constantly concerned with how others will perceive her?!

So my question is: At what point is wanting to be liked or seeking approval interfering with your ability to be yourself? Or, more importantly, why are we focusing on what "everyone" thinks instead of the thoughts of the few who actually will have an impact. 

My explanation is below:

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of people being loud and obnoxious just for the sake of it. Nothing irks me more than being stuck on the NYC subway just after the high schools let out - and being forced to hear students (typically minorities) shrieking and hollering at each other just for the sake of hearing their own voices. That to me is extreme ignorance. No, you don't need to whisper, but you don't need to let the entire train car hear your conversation either.

My point is, there's a point where you have to just "do you" and not spend all your time trying to earn approval from people who, for the most part, won't matter. In my opinion, there are two types of people in this world:

1. Those who have stereotypes and are unwilling to change them - even if confronted with proof that their beliefs are wrong.


2. Those who have stereotypes, but when confronted with proof that those beliefs are wrong, are willing to change or at least reconsider their original beliefs.

Everyone has biases or stereotypes. It's a fact of life, we're reared listening to our parents or relatives making statements which will ultimately shape how we view the world. And it isn't until we finally get to meet people through school that we either confirm or disprove the beliefs that we've been taught. On the flip side, as a minority, I definitely had my head filled with the "you have to always be perfect, always be the best, and always be ready to defend yourself (verbally - not physically)" because as a minority - and especially an AA - people would already assume the worst of me.

Have I met people who automatically assumed I was up to no good just because of my skin tone? Sure, but nine times out of ten, those people were never in a position to threaten my hopes, dreams or goals - so there was no need for me to stress myself trying to please them. Hence, the opening quote from Dr. Seuss - who's books are actually quite profound: Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.

All the people who I wasted time as a youngster worrying about whether or not they liked me (just as a person - not even talking about romantically), or if they thought I was pretty enough or worried about whether they thought I wasn't black enough (since apparently I spoke "like a white girl") are not effecting my career and personal goals today. Yet, all the people I deal with today which is literally an international patchwork quilt - don't give a rat's ass about my background but about my ability to perform and make good on the business claims that I make.

It's nothing for me to deal with people from the US, the UK, Israel, Saudi Arabia, India, Japan, China and Korea (and I'm talking about people actually from the region - not ex-pats) on literally a daily basis. And yes, these people all know that I'm a young African American woman. Never once has it prevented me from making strides professionally. But that's also the difference between the business world and the general public. In the business world, you could probably look like the frog prince (prior to getting his kiss) and people would gladly work with you if you have a strong pitch and positive success rate. And that's also the reason I don't waste my time worrying about what the guy/girl next to me on the subway thinks of me.

So, I made this uber long post to say: I don't believe in wasting time worrying about impressions that you might be creating on people who you don't even know or who will probably have no effect on your life. In my opinion, that's no way to live - and ultimately you'll end up missing out on life because you were creating a self imposed filter when it wasn't even necessary. Anyone who's going to think negatively of you just because you giggled a bit too loudly one day or dared to pull a dress off the rack to get a better look at it - aren't the kind of people that you want to be associating with anyway. I'm a big believer in people getting back what they put out. I walk in confidence, and I speak with a self-assuradness (some would say swagger). I put out a personality of "this is me - take me as I am or keep it moving". I'm positive, polite and respectful - but I will never act apologetic for being young, a woman or African American. And as a result, I almost never find myself dealing with someone who's too small minded to get past their personal opinions about me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent insights on this post - I've been lurking for a while (on your sister's site too) - but this is my 1st comment. Thanks for verbalizing (really, writing) thoughts I've often had myself. :)