I’m proud to be a black woman. I love who I am and I understand the rich history of how I came to be.
I’m ashamed to be a black woman. I understand the stereotypes and the implicit biases that follow me and my name wherever I go.
I’m not ashamed to be myself and I’m proud to be black but when you couple my blackness with my womanhood, I cringe. I know that once the two are discussed in conjunction with each other, I have suddenly become a little less human and a lot more invisible. A caricature, I am at once over-sexualized and also rendered hopelessly undesirable. To be a black woman is to be a paradox. Perhaps I could live with the stereotype if I was just superficial and played on my looks, but it digs deeper. As a black woman, I am ghetto, conniving, selfish, and angry. It’s amazing to belong to one of the most educated demographics in this country, yet still find myself constantly struggling to prove my intelligence and humanity. Recently, my husband was playing a video game online with his friends. As he played, I talked to my sister on the phone. We were having a discussion about my graduate school course work. What happened next is baffling. As my sister and I talk, I hear my husband say “That’s because she is black.” I don’t know why, but my heart rate immediately went up four or five beats. I felt myself getting tense. I asked him, defensively, “Are you talking about me?” My husband nodded and said, “Yeah, the guy I’m playing with said you sound black.”
So, listen. I’m educated, but I’m super humble. I recognize that in many ways, I have been afforded privileges that my peers in similar socioeconomic circumstances have not. I also know that I busted my ass through all my degree programs and always had to fight for a seat at ANY table I sat at. As a black woman, twice as hard was never enough. As a black woman who, empirically, is attractive, I have had to work 5 times harder to prove that a)I was not coasting on good looks b)I earned and deserved all my academic achievements. Maybe it’s because of the struggles I endured to achieve all that I have that I snapped. Maybe it’s because I know the negative connotations of what it means to have someone say “you sound black.” Maybe it’s because I have worked so hard in spaces and society to find a voice that suited me between black and white. I can’t really unpack in one sitting why I got so mad, but I was triggered. I went off. I got on a high horse and started talking about my degrees. I was offended. I felt disrespected. I was irate. My husband tried to play peacemaker but it was too late. The friend tried to apologize but it was too late. He wanted black and I was there to give it to him.
The next day, I couldn’t shake this deep feeling of sadness I had. When I thought back to the night before, I began to question why it was so shameful to sound black. Sure, it could be those good ol’ respectability politics in place that made me shudder to think that I sounded how I look. It could be that sounding black has never meant anything good and I have so desperately wanted to be good enough. Smart enough. Beautiful enough. Deeper reflection proves that I cannot win. If I “talk white”, I betray my culture and myself and my conformity confirms that I am unworthy and my skin is less than. However, if I “talk black” I perpetuate and personify all that the world had told me I am. I just want to be me. I’m going to be a black woman. I embrace and love that. I have learned to love my naps and my nose and my lips. Can’t my voice be my own though?
There it is…the root of the issue. When black women get lumped together, we lose the identity that we work so hard to cultivate in a world that tells us we are nothing. When you tell me I sound black or white, you have decidedly taken away my voice and the individuality that comes with it. Maybe I can be ghetto and ratchet and educated and passionate and angry and tender and witty and funny and all of those things and just be me. I’m going to be black. I’m going to be a black woman. The world has already taken so much and promises to take more. Can I just keep my voice?