Three-Fifths of a Person. 100% of the Burden

For those who may not know, before we had the first mixed race President of the United States (a fact that can and should be argued), the first Black congresswoman or astronaut, we had the Three Fifths Compromise.

Often misinterpreted to mean that African Americans as individuals are considered three-fifths of a person or that they are three-fifths of a citizen of the U.S., the three-fifths clause (Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution of 1787) in fact declared that for purposes of representation in Congress, enslaved blacks in a state would be counted as three-fifths of the number of white inhabitants of that state (Simba, 2014, Online Resource). 

On the surface, amidst conversations that start with, “I don’t see color”, one would think that we have traveled to the proverbial mountain top, and all of our racial reckoning dreams have come true.  As a person who self-identifies as a woman of color with a mixed cultural and ethnic heritage (born to a Hungarian mother and a Black father), I am often left speechless and bear 100% of the burden of being seen as less-than in a colorblind society.

 And I know that I am not alone.  I think of the stories and images that captured the attention of communities across the globe just within the last year.  Stories that highlight the heartbreaking disparity of the value of black life, being slowly extinguished under the knee of a white man. A man raised within, and encouraged by, multiple frameworks that reinforce the idea of the compromise.  Every day I go to work afraid to make mistakes. Fearful of wearing my natural hair because I may remind the person in power of images that reinforce or trigger microaggression; unconscious attacks aimed at the very soul of my being. They are just being authentic but my instinct to defend and uphold the constitution of Tiffany is seen as aggressive. Loud.

How tricky is this trigger.

The anxiety that rests upon the doubt is heavier than the fear that grips each footstep; the sounds that echo every morning when my feet hit the floor. I cannot be late.  I have to wear clothes and a hairstyle that looks the part they are comfortable with.  I have to speak their language and get used to using the tools they have in their toolbox lest they realize that my toolbelt provides me with the agility and flexibility to respond to any job thrown my way, not just the ones for which they think I am prepared. You begin to think that maybe, just maybe, your success rate, ahead-of-time project completion timelines or compliments called in from other community-based vendors will provide enough validation on your behalf to be taken seriously as a member of the executive team. Then, the colorblind statements stalk your soul and reinforce that the fact that the people you work with are not mentally or spiritually prepared to see you as anything other than three fifths of who they are. Who they expect you to be.

After a while, beyond the hope of holding out long enough to pave a pathway, cemented with patience and understanding for others to step into the same sole of opportunity, it is easy to see how the burden becomes too heavy.  For me.  For anyone who can read this and understand how we carry 100% of the burden to be more than what they will ever become.  How I carry the burden to be 100% of who I was supposed to be.

By Tiffany Rae Reid

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