I’m a Black Woman and I Don’t Know How to Celebrate My Accomplishments

You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams, you are the epitome of what Martin Luther King Jr. marched for,” said my friend Steven. 

This statement took me back for a second. I knew what he was implying with his statement, I just didn’t know how to feel about it. During that moment, I started to think about how this a common feeling I had since I graduated high school. Hearing these words brought back a lot of feelings that have plagued my mind since I started my undergraduate studies. Were my accomplishments really that powerful that I made my ancestors proud? Was I really “making my ancestors proud”? Which is a popular saying in the Black community. I always had some of my family and friends hype me up about the opportunities that I have been fortunate to have. But honestly, I always felt like I still wasn’t good enough. It sometimes felt like I was living a double life. I was successful, put-together, and happy on the outside, but on the inside I was crippled with self-doubt, anxiety, and self-pity for some of the decisions I made and how my life turned out. 

Feeling like I “made it” gave me sorrow about Black people who would never know the feeling because they had the opportunity to live to see their full potential. Feeling like I “made it” gave me doubt about what my future held since I accomplished a lot in my early 20s. The feeling of accomplishing a goal was never an easy feeling for me. I would feel immense gratitude for how far I came, and then a rush of sadness came over me because it was a voice in my head telling me I just got lucky and one day it would not always be that way. A feeling of self-doubt would tell me that I was not worthy of the dreams I had in my head. Anxiety told me that I was only achieving my dreams because I was the token Black girl and I made white people feel comfortable. Not knowing how to celebrate my accomplishments started when I was in elementary school. 

 

Were my accomplishments really that powerful that I made my ancestors proud? Was I really “making my ancestors proud”

 

In elementary school, I loved reading, and my mother did too, so we would go to the library every weekend to find a good book to dive into. Reading became my safe haven from the world and let me explore life beyond the subsidized housing I lived in. I was able to put myself in someone else’s shoes for a short period of time. I was able to learn about things that “project kids” never had the chance to learn or experience. Since I loved reading, this helped me excel in school and get ahead of many of my peers. I was always praised by my parents for my good grades and excelling in different subjects in school. 

 

It sometimes felt like I was living a double life. I was successful, put-together, and happy on the outside, but on the inside I was crippled with self-doubt, anxiety, and self-pity for some of the decisions I made and how my life turned out. 

 

The praise and congratulations went on into high school and college. I was always made to feel like I was on top of the world. In retrospect, I have learned that this was a contributing factor to why I felt like I couldn’t slow down and appreciate my wins. I always felt like I had to achieve more, go harder, and not settle too much on what I had accomplished or the opportunities I had opened up doors for me. I always had to think 10 steps ahead, and never get too comfortable with what I had. This is a problem that not only I deal with, but the reality of what people of color, especially Black people, have to deal with. When you are a Black person—a Black woman—society and systematic oppression make you feel like you no one cares about what you accomplished and that you need to always stay on your toes. If we celebrate, there is always something in the back of our heads telling us that it could be taken away or we don’t deserve the fruit we bear because we are not worthy of hitting that “glass ceiling” (whatever that means) that we see so many non-people of color hit. 

 

I always felt like I had to achieve more, go harder, and not settle too much on what I had accomplished or the opportunities I had opened up doors for me. I always had to think 10 steps ahead and never get too comfortable with what I had.

 

I recently spoke to a friend of mine who expressed on social media that she always felt like she wasn’t doing a good enough job at work and the pressure she always felt at work, regardless of what her superiors told her. She said that the hardest part about being a Black woman in corporate America/non-profit is, “We aren’t afforded bad days, passion, frustration, or disappointment. Every negative emotion we may have is an attitude of aggression. We aren’t even allowed to be introverted or shy because then we are mean, stand-offish, or unapproachable. This is especially problematic in the non-profit sector because of the emphasis put on the donor opinions and experiences.”

When Black women constantly feel this way at work, it often seeps into our personal lives. We often think our accomplishments or wins won’t matter when the dust settles because it’s always “what’s next.” We never get extended the grace to reel in what we accomplished and the life we have built for ourself. If we get the job, the house, the man, or the promotion, we always get the rebuttal of “When are you going to get a man?” or “What do you even do?” I asked my same friend, “Would you say you know how to celebrate your accomplishments? And she expressed to me it is difficult for her to acknowledge them. “Honestly it is difficult. A lot of times I look at things like ‘this is what I was supposed to do.’ This is no different than what Black women also feel in their personal lives. Society looks at us as being the “strong” one because of what they have made us endure and what we keep allowing. But when you feel like you are already a minority, you already know you have to work 20 times harder than anyone else, Black and white people included, we often feel like being strong and enduring what is thrown at us is what we are designed to do. 

 

When you are a Black person—a Black woman—society and systematic oppression make you feel like you no one cares about what you accomplished and that you need to always stay on your toes. If we celebrate, there is always something in the back of our heads telling us that it could be taken away or we don’t deserve the fruit we bear because we are not worthy of hitting that “glass ceiling” (whatever that means) that we see so many non-people of color hit. 

 

In most of my jobs, relationships, and friendships, I always felt like I had to know how to take pain and suffering as the first step in order to reap the rewards. As I sit back and think of what I have accomplished and how I accomplished it, it all was derived from pain. I wanted to excel in college because I know most people like me don’t get the opportunity. Pain. I moved to New York to have better opportunities and felt ostracized and dealt with systematic racism. Pain. I found one of my passions for working in Diversity and Inclusion, but if I had not attended a predominantly white graduate school and faced racism and prejudice for the majority of my days, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But it was all derived from pain and suffering that America chooses as a weapon to make Black women feel inadequate for what they want to accomplish.

 

We never get extended the grace to reel in what we accomplished and the life we have built for ourself. If we get the job, the house, the man or the promotion we always get the rebuttal of “When are you going to get a man?” or “What do you even do?”

 

Sometimes it’s hard to decipher whether something is right for me if I didn’t have to suffer first to get it. This is an ongoing struggle for not just Black women, but also Black people. We always work 20 times harder, we are always thinking about our next goal, what we are going to do next and if suffering or obstacles are not attached to them—it feels too good to be true. 

Black women don’t get the same grace from a society that we give everyone else. It is a never-ending cycle that we have to go through in order for people to see our worth. Just because you think we are strong, doesn’t mean we have to always showcase that trait every day. 

 

Black women don’t get the same grace from a society that we give everyone else.

 

There is no right solution to make Black women feel like they don’t have to wear the weight of the world on their shoulders. It is a learned habit that America and the people who have made up their own idea of what a Black woman is before getting to learn them. It will take years and decades to untwine the idea of what a Black woman is or is not. 

Black women deserve the same dignity, rights, protection, and grace that is given out so freely to everyone but them. In order for Black women to get the chance to heal, feel, celebrate, and accomplish their desires, society has to change the narrative that has kept Black women in a box.