Black women can be assertive. However, our assertiveness has (mostly) throughout history been for the benefit of Black men. Black women have always had a well-defined place in the anti-racist struggle, even if it has been in a subordinate position to Black male leaders. Black women’s activism, organizational skills, and outspokenness has always been accepted if it in keeping with Black hetero-patriarchy.
That is a huge caveat. Black women, in other words, have been used and made to believe that we are leaders if we are leading causes for others. But we have never been accepted when we attempt to lead for ourselves. A very prominent example of this is the presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm. She was despised by white women and Black men because she refused to compromise or divide herself by race and gender.
Black women do not often specifically consider the ways in which we might espouse leadership, assertiveness, and boldness wisely and on our own behalf in everyday life. Mainly because we do not think its possible.
Subconsciously, we know that if we do not capitulate to the controlling image of the Mammy/ Zora Neale Hurston’s “mule” that our presence in many spaces where we are barely accepted as it is will no longer be accepted at all.
We know that in many cases we are only able to “sit at the table” because we are sitting there on behalf of others. And we hope that if we stay at the table long enough to do the work of others that one day we will have the opportunity to do work on our own behalf.