“My attachment to success prevented me from doing the one thing that I value the most in my life, which is showing up for other black women.”
Amber Phillips is a storyteller, creative content strategist, and reproductive justice activist whose work imagines a world where Black womanhood is an expansive overwhelming experience of safety, pleasure, and joy.
It is the middle of June 2018 and I am sitting on the stage of an Episcopal Cathedral with two friends, the Rev Broderick Greer and the writer Austin Channing Brown. We are discussing Austin’s new book, I’m Still Here – Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, a beautifully written memoir that pulls back the curtain of a Black woman’s experience in white spaces. She writes things like, “It's work to be the only person of color in an organization - bearing the weight of all your white coworkers’ questions about Blackness. It's work to always be hypervisible because of your skin - easily identified as being present or absent – but then for your needs to be completely invisible to those around you.”
I read aloud from her book, Broderick shares his own insight, Austin says something hilarious.
When it comes time for audience members to ask questions, a young Malagasi woman, a woman I know, who is filled with effervescent joy every time I see her, is first to speak. But she doesn’t. She can’t. Not a single word gets past her tears. She apologetically shakes her head. I watch as Austin calmly walks down and embraces her while the woman sobs. Austin tilts her head gently so to have her own voice picked up by the standing mic. “This hug is for all of the Black women here tonight,” she says. “I just want to say to you: you are not losing your mind. All that stuff that is hard about being in white spaces – you’re not imagining it. There is nothing wrong with you. It feels impossible to get it right because it is. It is set up that way.” She speaks for several minutes, using her words to see the other Black women in the room.
It feels sacramental. A holy moment. A priestly act.
When Austin’s done signing the books, and consoling and laughing with the fans, we go get some profoundly needed ice cream.
But I am uncharacteristically quiet.
When I finally say something I say: “Austin, here’s the thing, that young woman, her name is Ihoby. And she’s actually my parishioner, and in all this time as her pastor I’ve only ever seen her joy. I’ve never once seen her pain. Until tonight. Her needs, as you say, were invisible to me as a white woman, even though I’m her pastor and I love her.”
As the movement for Black lives grows, each day seems to bring another personal account from another Black employee talking publicly about the pain of working in largely white organizations; Universities, arts communities, publications, reproductive rights organizations, and even my beloved distributor, PRX.
They’re speaking publicly about experiences of racism in the workplace, and of their needs being invisible or just disregarded.
My guest this week opens up about the reality of being a Black woman in a largely white organization, and a moment that she failed to act in way she wishes she would have.
Join me and Amber for a live chat!
Friday Sept 18th, 5p PST/ 6p MST/ 7p CST/ 8p EST Amber and I will have a chat live on my Instagram. Just click on the circle with my image on the upper left. Join us!
Here’s the Poem, “What Women Deserve” by Sonya Renee that Amber mentions:
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