In part one of my blog post I discussed the focus groups I conducted about relationships between Black and white women.
I held five focus groups and I have also held this discussion with high school students and recent college graduates. Each conversation gave me new insights on the topic.
I was surprised about how open many of the women were about their family dynamics, their challenges romantically and in the workplace, and their hesitation about working with women of the “other race”. The majority of the women in the focus groups were African-American or Black.
I expected the narrative about white women dating Black men would dominate the conversations. In the past few years there has been an emphasis on a profile of the unmarried, highly educated Black woman, partnerless, because there are no good Black men for her date. They are either in low paying jobs, have too many children (and past girlfriends), or in jail.
As a child of a military family, I expected other women who were exposed to the military would be much more open-minded about race. I predicted that their opportunity to travel and experience different cultures, as well as the relationships they would have developed with other diverse military families, would have given them a more open perspective.
From my experiences at the University of Florida, I knew that Caribbean women could not completely identify with the same racial discrimination concerns as African-American women. There is an ideology that African-Americans are lazy, and have not achieved their full potential in the United States. As immigrants, Caribbeans often come to the US with a strong work ethic, and may not have the same baggage as those who are born in this country.
My research begged the question, “Do men experience similar challenges when interacting with each other?” I presumed that there would be less barriers and more opportunities to connect with each other around mutual hobbies, sports, etc.
The most spirited conversations arose while discussing hair. I knew this was a huge topic, but I did not realize just how pivotal it is. As a Black woman, I have always felt that my natural hair was something that I should hide. It was this conversation that I felt allowed the Black women to bond with each other, and provide insight to non Black women in the room.
In terms of men, the issue of interracial relationships did come up, but more surprising to me was the notion of men and women in the workplace. Some women expected Black men to protect Black women at work, and one participant noted that white women “control” the office. Now, this is different than the role that a strong willed Black woman may play in terms of actually running the office, no matter what her position in the department. For white women, it was more of an emotional stance, as if her feelings and thoughts mattered, and could steer the direction of major decisions made by men, or other women.
The first memories and families were also critical. One participant described being the first Black family in a neighborhood in the South. Another became emotional describing the burden her brothers bore of “driving while brown” vs. the white privilege of other families who were ambivalent to the need for the “talk”.
In terms of men, there was not much discussion on how they were able to handle any challenges across racial lines, but the most humorous conversation in groups was about how men do bond over greeting each other with extensive “dap” and “half hugs”.
My purpose in conducting these focus groups was to provide suggestions for how Black and white women can work together more effectively as advocates.
Organizations are a large part of Black social and community life. Organizational leaders across racial lines should create stronger public relationships and encourage joint programming at each level. All national women’s groups should make a commitment to not only have diverse panel discussions and talk about these issues, but they should also actively encourage all members to reach out to other organizations at the local level, especially when they are conducting the same types of segregated programs. We have much to learn from each other, and it starts by doing what one participant said. She noted that while she appreciated many of the efforts to “accommodate her”, she wanted to be embraced, not accepted.
“If you approach each new person you meet in a spirit of adventure, you will find yourself endlessly fascinated by the new channels of thought and experience and personality that you encounter.” — Eleanor Roosevelt