I walk to the front of the room – stand tall and state with a forceful voice “Hello – my name is Dee and I am intimidating”. “Hello Dee”
I distinctly remember the first time that a white man called me, a black woman, intimidating in a professional situation as a means of control. The absurdity of the accusation caused me to laugh in a girlish and confused way which not only enraged him, but in his mind and in his words proved his point.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to intimidate means to make timid or fearful: frighten; especially: to compel or deter by or as if by threats <tried to intimidate a witness>. Wikipedia explains that intimidation is intentional behavior that “would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities” fear of injury or harm. It’s not necessary to prove that the behavior was so violent as to cause terror or that the victim was actually frightened. How convenient… both these seem to provide ‘catch-all’ provisions that allow the wretched be wretched.
I like that the accuser does not have to support the accusation. In the situation where I first became aware that the accusation of intimidation was the weapon of choice for racist, misogynists and homophobes, I had voiced a strident objection to the behavior of the music teacher toward my son. I had demanded redress and apology. The teacher in question was owner of a private music school that came into my child’s elementary school after hours offering violin lessons. He was 6’3” with a slender athletic build weighing about 210 lbs. I was 5’5’’ and weighted about 150 pounds. We were seated in a meeting with the principal, in her office to whom I had voiced my complaints and with whom I had demanded the meeting. Upon solicitation the music teacher announced smugly that I was intimidating and that he feared me. Other than my involuntary laughter I had neither said nor done anything remotely suggesting violence or intent to intimidate in any way. What I had done was to articulate a transgression on his part and advocate for the reparation required.
That was intimidating enough.
The music teacher like many white men in America had a collection of approved and comfortable stereotypes of “BlackWomen” in his mind and when he could not place me in one of those categories he was in fact fearful and confused. I wasn’t a Mammy or Jezebel or Sapphire or La-a (pronounced la dash a). Despite my education and profession I was also not “trying to be or look or act white”. There was no place in his world for me and he banished me from being by saying that my very existence was impossible.
The next time I was confronted by this choice of words as a form or racial and gender marginalization was with an assistant principal in my son’s high school. I met with the East Indian assistant principal and the black piano teacher about the manner with which the piano teacher dismissed and punished my son because of prior musical education and experience. When the men suggested that I was intimidating I took it quite personally. I calmly but forcefully suggested that the problem was theirs and not mine. “If my vocabulary intimidates then read a book, develop your mind. My articulation of the problem and demand for redress makes you limp and weary, go to law school, and develop your advocacy and critical thinking skills. But do not condemn me for your shortcomings, your premature inability to successfully penetrate a thought to an augmentative climax is not the fault of the listener, but the speaker and as such, having come up short, failing to reach the desired conclusion, you can’t blame me”
Needless to say, that went over like an entire ton of bricks but my point was made and I was convinced that in future I would not tolerate that particular accusation anymore.
This brings me to the present and now my daughter is being told that she is intimidating by white men in positions of authority at her school. Now I must address the racist and elitist and misogynistic men in that environment as well as make sure that their attempts to break her spirit are not successful. You see, my daughter is brilliant and beautiful and dark brown skinned. She is tall, graceful, and articulate. She is talented and opinionated and sexy. She wears her race proudly, albeit differently than I. She is thoughtful and open and warm. Her hair is natural and sometimes looks like a huge cloud of black cotton candy. It has not been fried, pressed or weaved into submission and much like her soul and her mind, it is wild and free. She obliterates all of their stereotypes of what a young black woman is and they have labeled her to attempt to contain her – Intimidating. No Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, La-a. No wannabe mixed chick, wannabe white girl, wannabe anything but what she is and that is changing every day as she grows.
The point of this post is for the other young Black Women out here. The egregious thing about most of the labeling that young women face is that it comes in the school or other environment from people, especially men in positions of authority. The hateful thing about this is that it may be equal parts sexism and racism and that as targets of both we may never truly know if either is greater in the equation, aggression, discrimination and marginalization. That we the great Queens and Grande dames of the black community cannot send our princes and princess out with knowledge and clarity, a shield and a sword.
And when they called her intimidating, she mentioned it at dinner and shook her head as I ranted. Because she understands that people, little sad people, seek to control label and destroy that which they do not understand. And that is why she is so intimidating.