Black people share a history of trauma. The trauma transcends our upbringing. Even if you have grown up in a wealthy family, with parents who loved and nurtured you in all the ways that a child needs. You still share the ancestral trauma of slavery, colonialism and apartheid. I don’t know about you but when I watched the video of the murder of George Floyd, I felt the trauma of being black in America. He was me, he looked like me. His life didn’t matter, mine didn’t.
Due to racial oppression, most of us come from a life of poverty. Yes it was hard but it was not all misery. We found joy in our sense of community. We shared the little that we could and found moments of joy. Our trauma bonded us to each other. We were the underdog, fighting against a system that sought to keep us under. Every black child who had ambitions to succeed wanted to do it to save her family from poverty and to help her community.
Just like every beautiful thing, this bond has a shadow. It has its toxic side. If we bond over suffering, what happens when I am not suffering anymore? What happens when I make money, hold seats of power, what have I in common with my people? Trevor Noah in his book talks about this in his book ‘Born a crime’. He talks about how the township seeks to keep you in it, even if it means sabotaging your own success. He makes an example of a friend of his who had left his job after a short time just to fit back in with his friends.
As unbelievably as it may seem we do sabotage our success because of loyalty to the shared bond of suffering with our people. I have coached people who can’t spend money on themselves because they feel it’s stealing from others. Who can’t speak about their success because they don’t want to seem like they are bragging. Who keep themselves from earning more money because they are afraid to say no to those who ask them for money, they’d rather not have it so they don’t have to lie. People who avoid upgrading their lifestyle because it would look like they have a lot. Women who hold themselves back because they are afraid of being too successful to attract a man or to outshine their man.
Is it possible that one of the reasons we don’t have enough black women in positions of leadership is because they sabotage their success in order to belong?
Author: Busisiwe Hlatswayo