It's time to get real about how poorly we sometimes treat each other.
"We are like simmering pots waiting to boil over at any moment." "We are like hammers looking to drive nails." "We love to go off on one another." "The so-called Christian sisters are the worst. They praise Jesus all while slamming you against an emotional wall of unforgiveness." "Church Sisters will cut you deep." "It has been 20 years and I still have not forgiven her for what she did." "Why do we hate each other so much?" "She just stopped speaking to me, and she never looked back. To this day I don't know what I did wrong." "I cant tell her the truth or she'll cut me off. I'm afraid of her." "Our envy and jealousy of one another runs deep; its a real barrier to us being supporters of one another." "Every time I try to work with and support another sister I get burned, badly." "I am just done with us. I refuse to be friends with Black women. They are not worth my time." "I give up on us, we are a lost cause."
Sisters, STOP! Put a pin in it as I like to say. Let's get a hold of ourselves and rethink this. We are talking about us here, us! Beautiful, brilliant, bold, courageous, loving, nurturing, kind, compassionate, sensitive, giving, dedicated, strong, resilient, transformational, God-fearing, church-going, Bible loving us.
The above words pierce my soul and raise deep concern for me as a Black woman who has dedicated the last decade of my life to being an advocate for the cause of promoting positive Black female images. I wrote down some of the above phrases from a recent panel discussion titled Black Women Redefined that I was part of with Jacque Reid, Wendy Raquel Robinson and Melyssa Ford on the Tom Joyner Fantastic Voyage Cruise, and from a recent Twitter chat I hosted this week along with some other sisters groups entitled #SistersHeal.
Our topic was of course how we as sisters treat one another, and how we need to get serious about how we 1.) Handle our friendships, 2.) How we handle conflict, and 3.) How we work together to build businesses and better collaborate in this new age. All of us have at some point in our life's journey been deeply wounded by a sister-friend we loved, adored and admired. Or we had injured someone in a moment's anger with our words and cut them off. Sometimes the loss of a valued sister-friend hurts worse than the loss of a love interest or spouse.
Although, this subject of how sisters mistreat one another has been addressed many times, I am profoundly concerned about the countless stories I am hearing daily while on my national book tour of colleges and Fortune 500 corporations, as well as on social media about the overt hostility, abuse and cut throat behavior between sisters that rages like an unbridled fire.
In all honesty though, I am writing about this topic today, because it's personal for me. It's personal because I am going through it right now with a close girlfriend I love, and I am truly shaken by what was a very manageable event that resulted in angry texts and emails being traded that has left our friendship in ruins. Sadly, countless other women were dragged into it (some of who have tried to actually help us mend things) that have willingly poured gasoline on the fire, and watched it and us burn out of control. Sadly, the two of us know better and have violated every tenant of every value we both preach to others as highly visible women leaders about how to resolve conflict respectfully, how not react in anger but respond in love, how not to bring in other people who fan the flames, and how to forgive, release and heal; so that we both emerge better, stronger, transformed people with a powerful witness for sisterhood.
Sisters, it's time to heal. And I am speaking to me most of all. You know that when I write about anything I am writing from firsthand experience, and how I can best turn my wounds into wisdom for myself and for all of you. I pride myself on being transparent and authentic. It may not always be pretty at times, but real talk is something missing in the sisterhood, and it is something we need to allow ourselves to engage in freely with love and respect, particularly around the topic of how we treat one another.
My goal in part I of this series is to help make us conscious of the fact that much of the lashing out we do at each other is a result of how we have been defined, and how we have internalized centuries of mischaracterizations, abuse and stereotyping about us. As James Baldwin says, "[I]f the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do it to yourself." So let's break down what Audre Lorde wrote so eloquently in her famous poem "Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred and Anger."
"Every Black woman in America lives her life somewhere along a wide curve of ancient and unexpressed angers. My Black woman's anger is a molten pond at the core of me, my most fiercely guarded secret. I know how much of my life as a powerful feeling woman is laced through with this net of rage. It is an electric thread woven into every emotional tapestry upon which I set the essentials of my life; a boiling hot spring likely to erupt at any point, leaping out of my consciousness like a fire on the landscape. How to train that anger with accuracy rather than deny it has been one of the major tasks of my life. Other Black women are not the root cause nor the source of that pool of anger. I know this, no matter what the particular situation may be between me and another Black woman at the moment. Then why does that anger unleash itself most tellingly against another Black woman at the least excuse? Why do I judge her in a more critical light than any other, becoming enraged when she does not measure up? And if behind the object of my attack should lie the face of my own self, unaccepted, then what could possibly quench a fire fueled by such reciprocating passions?"
What Lorde raises is at the heart of what ails us. She is speaking truth about how we all look good on the outside, we all say the right things, do the right things until our anger is provoked. We all go to great lengths to cover up the boiling anger inside, the weariness, and the brokenness. And sadly, when we unleash on another Black woman we do so with such a fury that the subject of our ire is left devastated and beyond repair. I know I just had it happen to me and I am wounded badly. Worse, we don't even have enough sense when we realize what we have done to go to that sister in humility and apologize. Talk it over. Pray about it. Seek healing.
Understand that we have internalized the notion that "we are not worth it." Don't miss this. We "go off" on one another over the most foolish, petty nonsense and we feel justified in doing so. How about showing some compassion? How about asking your friend to explain herself? How about looking at what is on her plate is she overwhelmed, was she dealing with something that day, was she tired, weary or ill? All of us exist in a context. Take the time to find out what was in your friend's heart before you decimate her and destroy a relationship. There are always two sides to a story. Always.
To my sisters like me, who are in leadership, pastoral or in coaching roles let me be respectfully direct: the young sisters watch what we do, not just what we say. We cannot profess to be mentors, give guidance, build healing ministries and then break the very rules and virtues we ask others to embrace. I cannot begin to recount the stories I've heard of sisters gone rogue in the workplace or worse, in the church on other women. There is something dangerous about wanting to put another woman in her place or to take her down a notch so badly that you resort to threats, blow business alliances, take her to court, ruin her future, or damage her reputation (or yours) simply because you disagree or don't like something she did.
Sister, woman up! Put your faith into practice and talk to her like a person. Correct her, and most importantly allow yourself to be corrected. Remove the speck from your eye first and in doing so you both will grow as human beings. Bring in mediators if need be. Fight for your friendship. Don't throw something precious away in a moment of anger or disappointment. We are not disposable Dixie cups! We are human.
The bottom line is this: we all need to understand that it is at times of strife when we truly need to honor what we claim to value most: our sisterhood.
Part II will run next Sunday and will explore ways (using life coaches & expert advice) that we can actually shift away from this behavior and learn how to resolve conflict in ways that heal, restore and move us forward.
Sophia A. Nelson is a contributor to Essence.com and is an award winning author of the book "Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama," to be re-released in paperback Fall 2012.