Reflections from Michelle Hill

February 02, 2022
Michelle Hill

Walking the Tight Rope

Deep breath. Walk slowly. Smile. Don’t be “too” anything—too white, too black, too much, too little. Find that balance; be just enough.

This is the tight rope I have walked as a professional for 25 years—10 years as a youth pastor, and the last 15 as an administrative coordinator. Despite the differences in the careers, the question has remained the same: am I enough?

I am light-skinned, and colorism has plagued my entire life—especially my career. White coworkers have called me “Oreo”—"she’s black on the outside, but white on the inside”—in an attempt to ease their own discomfort of proximity to a black person. Some have labeled me “angry black woman” whenever I show negative emotions or don’t behave exactly as they expect; I’m being “too black.” I’ve been punished with work-mandated counseling for showing any negative emotions, while white men and women around me have yelled, cried, and acted as foolishly as they desire.

Many black coworkers often think I am “too white” to really understand them or their struggles. I have been told that I act “too white” or that I don’t “wear my hair right.” Some have not befriended me because I have experienced too many advantages and not enough shared disadvantages. And while I understand and acknowledge this is true—there are some advantages, I also know that I didn’t choose to be light-skinned, and it feels unfair to be maligned within my own culture because of it.

Navigating this on a daily basis is exhausting, and while I try to stay true to myself, even within my professional environment, I remember that for some people, I will never be exactly what they want me to be. I will always be “too” something and “not enough” something else. And I am okay with that—because I only want to be me.

But still, I will continue to walk the tight rope…hoping and praying that one day I will be able to be accepted just as I am, enough and wholly me in my black female body.

Michelle Hill and her sister

Michelle pictured with her older sister.