Written by Penelope Farthing
You are judged as soon as someone sees you. For being black, for being a woman, for having the audacity for being both simultaneously. You are judged by your speech, your attitudes, your preferences, your political leanings. Being women, we are judged across the board for everything, ranging from our appearance, style, and even the way our hair grows naturally out of our head. We are judged according to our career path, what we studied in school, or if we opted for a nontraditional career path. Literally everything. I’m not sitting up here on my high horse. I judge people too. And people judge me. That’s the nature of the world, and is simple human nature. People need to be judgmental – consequences of not being a little judgy can include getting stuck in a job you hate, a terrible friend circle, all the way up to catching something lifelong and incurable.
With all those things (and WAY more) in play, that means that you are competing with seven billion other people for whatever it is you want.
Life is a competition. It may not feel fair or right or moral, but it is what the fuck it is. And when you are competing, you should compete to win. No half measures. Perhaps due to an overwhelmingly religious background, many black women balk at the thought of competing. Or, they think that due to centuries-old white supremacy, they might as well not try at all, since the white man already secured his place at the top centuries ago. That attitude of defeat will earn little but loss. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t take turns who gets to be on top. You have to fight for your place, and when you are on top, you’ll have to compete to stay there, or fall. This approach to life may represent a paradigm shift, but a shift I hope catches on with the collective of black women. But what does it mean to compete? And what should you take into consideration when embarking on this competition of life?
You are competing with everyone, depending on the circumstances. In this age of hypergamy, everybody is competing for a man. But an attractive, affluent husband is not the be all end all. Hell, it’s not even the beginning. You are competing with everyone for the best for yourself in all areas, with or without a partner. After all, a man can stray, mess up unforgivably, or die, and if you don’t have a contingency plan, then you’re out of luck. You are competing with other black women, nonblack women, black men, and nonblack men for whatever is the object of your desire.
I’m going to take men out of this competition talk – there is more to life than dickventures.
Have you ever applied to a job you were only barely qualified for? But you felt the fear and did it anyway? And you made it through to the interview portion, and you scope out the competition? If you showed up to the interview looking like you rolled out of bed, don’t be surprised if you don’t get that call back. Interviewers, just like anyone else, make judgements based on your appearance. Whether it is how you are dressed, or your weight, or how you passed the time in the waiting room, you have to get in the mindset that you are playing to In a similar vein, you are competing with others for the raise, for the promotion, for the transfer to a different location, for the chance to go on that business trip that could monumentally change your career.
Similar to above, you are competing for the chance to do something. If you don’t put yourself out there, the opportunities afforded to other people who may be less qualified than you may just pass you by, because you might exist in the world letting things you can change just happen to you.
Again, I’m not talking about relationships with men. You are competing with others to associate with the cream of the crop, whether that could be exclusive access to your local country club, or a networking opportunity with thought leaders in your field, or even the connection to somebody who knows somebody that could establish you and your family for life. You are competing so that YOU stand out above the rest, and preferential treatment is given to you to make those connections that could have a long-lasting impact on your life’s trajectory, and the trajectory of your bloodline as a result.
Finally, you are competing for recognition. There are still so many achievements that black women have not claimed – there is the opportunity to be the first black woman to do something amazing, and being a leader in your field, be it your career, your business, your community, is a great goal to shoot for.
There is a culture of defeatism that permeates heavily through the black community. This is evidenced by statements such as “white people won’t let us do that” or “What makes you think you can beat Becky?”. Not because someone is on top means they’ll be there forever. Chaos is a ladder, and a savvy black woman can and will use any sort of unrest to supplant herself as queen of the hill.
Depending on what you’re competing for, you can jeopardize your chances at winning in a variety of ways. Having children out of season can literally throw your whole life into disarray, and negatively impact not just you, but your children, and even their children if you did not course correct. Let me pop a trigger warning in here – I’m about to touch on a very difficult topic. Appearance plays heavily into competition talk – some people may view a woman with thigh tattoos and acrylic nails out to there as ratchet, and make judgments from that. A crazy looking Rapunzel weave is not doing you any favors. And though it might be painful to admit, carrying an extra 130 pounds can also damage your winning chances, regardless of the reason it is there. An external locus of control will also reduce your winning chances: if everything is someone else’s fault, then there is no accountability for the actions YOU do that hurt your chances.
Competing is hard work, but there are ways you can still get in the game without a huge amount of effort. Cultivate your appearance – whether that is taking care of your natural hair, or ditching the plastic-looking kanekalon wigs for a more natural complementary texture. Boycotting all fast food for more fruit and veggies will positively impact your health. Developing hobbies like writing or photography can craft a valuable skill, and maybe develop into a full-fledged side hustle. Take that (positive) risk at work, challenge yourself to do one new thing a month – even if you fail, just fail fast and remember the lessons learned for next time.
First place can look like anything you think of. It may be the year you take home a six-figure income after taxes. It could be the day you finally threw off the shackles of the black group think and sought out some therapy for deep seated issues stemming from childhood. It could be becoming an entrepreneur. Graduating law school. Not getting triggered with painful truths, or deflecting when the truth hits a little too close to home. It could be cutting off some terrible family members. Maybe you started a business and are turning a profit. You define what first place looks like, and it is up to you to do what needs be to get there.
Black women are a bit too hopeful that things will be “fair” in the long run, but that’s not how it goes. Rather than getting in your feelings when a light is shone on painful truths (or when the mirror is held up, to use Kendall St. Charles’ metaphor), get in the game, and play to win.
What strategies are you employing when it comes to competing?
Disclaimer: This blog was written by me, Penny, and my ideas are not necessarily reflective of Christelyn Karazin or other writers on this platform.