Where is your Worth?
Last summer, Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open. A month later, Simone Biles exited the Tokyo Olympics. The reason? Mental health concerns. They perform on the greatest solo stage anyone has ever witnessed. All eyes locked on them, commentators critiquing every mistake or misstep. When they chose their mental health over sport, the viewing public lost its collective mind. These women were mocked and shamed for valuing who they are over what they produce.
In the 2021 Netflix film, In Our Mother’s Gardens, filmmaker Shantrelle Lewis brilliantly captured this sentiment in interviews with BIPOC women across cultures and continents.
“Our worth is in our work…We are not applauded until we produce something for someone else. We’re not celebrated or validated until we do something for someone else.”
Rev. Dr. Theresa Thames, In Our Mothers’ Gardens, Netflix
PREACH. When what we produce is devalued by those we serve, our worth is discounted. Our esteem takes a hit, our ego is bruised, and we feel unappreciated. But when we exercise agency, those who rely on our labor, skill, and talent employ various tactics to keep us performing. If we stop performing, they stop applauding and start criticizing. That gives rise to self-doubt and drives us to give 200% and earn back the cache. The climb is slower than the fall, and we work ourselves day and night to regain position.
Culturally, Black women are conditioned to serve. We care for parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, and church members but rarely is the care reciprocated. We zip around like Rosie, keeping plates spinning and balls floating until such heroics steal our peace, diminish our joy, and threaten our health.
Research from McKinsey and Lean-in indicate that Black women are overlooked, undervalued, and ignored for promotion. On the journey to level-up, Black women endure microaggressions, public criticism of performance, and dismissive leaders. We continue, stony-faced, resolved. They will not break me. Our inside voice drives outward performance, and the price we pay is both physical and emotional.
A 31-year-old BIPOC woman recently shared her experience:
I realize I only have anxiety when I’m at work. Before I end my shift, I rearrange our workstation the way ‘Barney and Fred’ want it to avoid their passive-aggressive emails. I recently went to urgent care because my heart was racing. My dad had a heart attack when he was only a few years older than I am now.
Her story was familiar. A few years ago, while on vacation, I awoke with severe chest pains and went to urgent care. After a battery of tests, the physician recommended rest. It was clear: the stress and anxiety of a toxic work environment manifested physiologically; a change was critical.
Like the woman above, I was paying an emotional tax every day. The impact to my body was unhealthy. I let her know she is paying a tax they are not; they are showing up as themselves daily. They are not accommodating her needs, but she is contorting herself to meet theirs. This is often the case. We adjust for people to avoid conflict and that creates an unnecessary emotional burden.
In November 2021, 180,000 Black women left the labor force. The reasons are multifaceted and complex. Balancing return to work, parenting school-aged children, and the shifting sands of the pandemic led BIPOC women to reconsider their choices. As the pandemic ushered in waves of uncertainty, the tide also carried the permission we needed to extricate ourselves from toxic workplaces.
Maybe it’s due to pandemic uncertainty or a desire for better, but there is a shift among Black women. We are reconsidering how we play the corporate game, finding therapists, and redefining self-care. Our tolerance for unhealthy environments has plummeted and we are finally saying, “I choose me over you.” I will find joy in my passion, I will “protect my peace” (come through Mess in a Bottle) and do what works for me.
The message from Naomi, Simone, Dr. Thames, and every woman In Our Mothers’ Gardens is simple, choose you. You deserve to rest. You have earned a break. Your mental wellness is worth a time-out. It’s time to raise your deserve level, exit situations that drain your emotional tank, and prioritize your wholistic health. You are worth that much and more.