The success of Black women exists as an entity beyond our personal achievements. The pressure of opening new doors for all women who look like you creates an unhealthy resistance to failure. Black women are often the first, or one of a few, learning to navigate spaces that were not systematically designed for their advancement. This role as a precedent in spaces that makes one the universal representation for all other Black women doesn’t leave space for failure. If you mess it up, you close a door that might never be nudged open again.
Within school environments and professional spaces, Black women have to debunk stereotypes that are placed on them from the jump. There is so much hesitation about how to present oneself without seeming too loud, too “ghetto,” or too angry. Belonging in a space should give you the license to exist in your truth. Yet, these spaces don’t allow for Black women to be their authentic selves, because of our fears of stereotypes that demean our abilities and existence. Once again, being one of the only Black women in a space makes it feel like all eyes are on you to represent that whole group.
It seems as though the pressures of success are heightened because the world is expecting our failure. NYT bestselling author Luvvie Ajayi writes, “our failures are considered the rule and our success is considered the exception.” Failure becomes the ultimate worst outcome in any situation because it feels like it is all that happens. We cannot afford to fail because we are rarely given the chance to succeed. The problem is, you are not often given another chance at success if you fail. If your win as a Black woman is a win for all Black women, then what does that make your loss? Failure would be letting down the community of women who support you, made you, and now depend on you.
This notion of opening doors and continual success propels to the conversation of legacy. In the world, one of the greatest markers of success is looking at what transcends you, what you can leave behind. For Black women, you are tasked to leave behind a legacy of success amongst trauma, suppression and blockage.
From the youngest age, Black girls often feel the pressure of fighting. It is a different world you are born into. When you constantly feel like the whole world is against you, so much needs to be done so the next generation doesn’t. The urgent need for change spurs up guilt in resting. You can feel like you aren’t doing your part, or like you get a luxury others can’t partake in. Rest can often feel like failure when time is so unreliable.
Now, I haven’t defined your terms of success. Truthfully, I have no way of knowing what that is. Success looks different on every Black woman, and it wouldn’t make sense to limit yours with mine. I think society’s measure of success comes in monetary value. Money is critical to survive under capitalism, and generating wealth leaves future generations with a stable foundation. As I was writing, I was thinking a lot about success as occupying well-accomplished institutions where so few look like you.
But success can look like happiness- fostering a healthy environment so other Black girls have an example to follow. If that is the case for you, you might feel like being upset is a failure. That being upset is an ungrateful act that traps you into another stereotype. I suppose in some ways being upset or angry would be a “rest” period for you. However, you have been conditioned to despise a natural human feeling.
Failure, though necessary for growth, is a privilege Black women don’t feel comfortable enough to indulge in. Under the pressures of success, the consequences of our failure does not just fall on us. When given the opportunity to open new doors for Black women, it leaves the possibility of sealing those very doors. This is an unimaginable burden to carry with your every action.
We need to start allowing space for failure by realizing how messed up the world is for having us in this predicament. It should not be the case that everyone else is warranted to make a mistake in the world but Black women. We are not otherworldly, we are not supernatural beings. At the end of the day, being human entails making enough mistakes- even if not for us to be able to learn, at least for the next.