How often, and in what context, have you heard the term "shattering stereotypes?" Perhaps, you've heard it be used to describe trailblazers, (racist) suffragettes, civil rights activists or anyone from a "non-traditional" background, who's doing something that isn't expected of them.
While this label is received positively, it can also be very dangerous when used loosely.
Marginalized people in this country are caged into stereotypes created by systems of oppression and people with historical privilege and influence. These destructive systems: whiteness, patriarchy, heteronormativity, ableism, western imperialism and their gatekeepers have set the premise of how various marginalized groups act and behave (i.e Black people are inherently violent, Muslim women are meek props, etc.)
They market these misconstrued images of us, and enforce them as the norm.
When you come from a minority background and try to do something outside of these oppressive binaries, you are applauded for the work you do, as you should be. Going above and beyond in your line of work and being exceptional as a BIPOC person in this country takes a lot of dedication and resilience. It shows that against all the odds, you've persevered and are doing whatever the hell you want, which is a radical act within itself.
The problem, however, lies in our motives of wanting to "shatter" negative tropes about us. I get it: it's hard to move through this world in our skin, and because of the way this country has been set up, we've internalized that it's our job to prove ourselves. That it's our job to show the majority, usually cishet, white men, that we don't fit into the stereotypes they've created and upheld about us.
Anti-blackness, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Ableism and Islamaphobia all preach that we are incapable of achieving success without a handout, affirmative action or playing the victim and utilizing 'identity politics' to our advantage (never mind the fact that white identity politics and fear has been the driving force behind the current presidential administration).
In turn, BIPOC people and other marginalized groups buy into the idea that in order to mobilize and advance our communities, we have to "shatter" these negative images about us and "break the glass ceilings." But, it begs the question: why are we expected to prove ourselves? Why are we the ones who have to destroy oppressive stereotypes, especially when the creation of those stereotypes was not our doing, but theirs?
The problem with the phrase "shattering stereotypes," or aspiring to do so, is that it puts the oneness of dismantling these systems on us. We are considered the problem, therefore, we must fix it. It's a tiresome burden we shouldn't have to carry. If people in positions of power can't see past the very archetypes they've created about us, then it's their problem.
They must look within and do the anti-racist work they've been preaching about these past couple of months and fix it.
As for the rest of us, we deserve to live our most authentic lives free of these obstacles. Just as how they have the privilege and mobility to live their most authentic lives without having to answer to anyone, we deserve to have that as well... on our own terms.
As a Black woman, I refuse to play by the rules of anti-blackness, patriarchy or Islamaphobia. I refuse to operate on the premise that I must prove I'm not an "angry Black woman," "a docile push-over Muslim woman" or a woman who isn't capable of being a leader. I am a multi-hyphenated person who happens to be a journalist, writes to convey her truth and works to show those like me that we can do whatever the hell we want.
I do this work because I'm passionate about it and love it.
To my Black, Muslim, Indigenous, trans, non-white, disabled and other marginalized sisters and non-binary family, I hope we can collectively see past those tricky, toxic mind-games and realize we don't owe anyone anything. These systems of oppression and their foot-soldiers know how influential we are when we mobilize and band together, that's why they work overtime to keep the fabric of those systems intact.
We are not subservient to white people, to men, to cishet people or to anyone who has never had to question or defend themselves, their dedication, their motives or their very existence in a space that wasn't traditionally meant for them. We shouldn't make it our life's work to "get a seat at the table."
Forget their table, and create your own table, boo.
Invite the misfits, the troublemakers and those who have no regard for societal stereotypes to join. Fight the good fight, not the one of proving how you don't fit into a certain binary because that uphill battle was designed for you to never win. Fight the fight where you elevate those who are like you and show them they can do whatever they want, authentically and honestly.
The great Toni Morrison, may her soul rest in peace, put it eloquently when she said:
"The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn't shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing."
Don't let the various systems of oppression distract you into thinking you have to break their mold. You are not the problem. You are not the embodiment of their negative stereotypes, far from it. You are a powerful magical being who is capable of excelling and doing so much.
When you truly decide to live your life on your own terms, without having to prove anything to anyone, without being hyper-conscious of how you'll be received, and you strive to uplift those around you, that is when you'll truly be free.