Monday, August 8, 2011

WE are up against them. So who are YOU?

So many things have happened under the mass media's watchful eye lately - things that highlight the distain for our kinky hair and our acceptance of our features, bodies and our complexions.

You've got the dude Satoshi Kanazawa.
You've got the recent comments by Andre Walker
You've got the TSA searching a woman's hair because it "poofs away from her body."

And this in just in the past few months.  Let's not talk about the ongoing debate on whether we are marriage material, aka what we are doing wrong to turn suitors away.  How our painstakingly re-constructed positive self image of our bodies harbors a cultural norm of unhealthy eating and inactivity. How we have all the babies out of wedlock, or even how we are the carriers of Herpes - transmitting it with abandon and ignorance.

The word I have seen used as we try and try to respond to these finger wagging reports is fatigue.  Indeed I too never even finished what I began to write each time one of these stories hit the news.  Instead I told myself it was OK not to respond, publicly here or even in private convo. I'd ignore it, and not give it any credence. The attention itself is just fueling our predicted "angry black woman" response, thus making it infinitely more entertaining for the media.We try to come up with our own stats to defend ourselves. We turn the blame on our black men (our sons husbands and fathers in effect).  We try to shed light on the pervasive vilification of our self acceptance and marginalized aesthetic.

But really- we just live and exemplify to those around us what it means to be a black woman.  Or maybe we don't.  Maybe you look like me and other black folks and many non-black folks think you are not black.  Maybe you have natural hair and thus the people who meet you think you are enlightened or otherwise separated from the rest of your kind.  Maybe you are married, or rich or have an advanced degree and thus simply "lucky" or "the exception". 


That is what it means to be a black woman.  We are very interesting and diverse women.  We are all different, with different backgrounds and vices, and talents, and goals and priorities.  We look different- a million complexions and body types.  Our hair varies greatly from head to head.  BUT I'm sure everyone can conjure up the vision and description of a "typical black women" in nanoseconds.  Does the woman you conjure up look like you?  That is my question.  Is she like you?  Who are you?

Because she is you.  I am a typical black woman.  My readers are typical black women.  The blogs I tend to follow are written by typical black women, as are my real life friends.

I think many of us attempt to separate ourselves from "that" woman they are all talking about.  To distinguish ourselves and our experience from the "norm." 

"but I am fair skinned with straight hair"
"but I am a virgin"
"but I am married"
"but I am ebony skinned with an accent"
"but I come from a long line of educated women"
"but I am not american"

Really? How does that make you different?  How does that make it not you that they are talking about in those articles?  How does it make it not about me?  Why didn't any body ask me about STDs, or my relationship, or education level?

Because, yes, you are a "black woman." You are counted in the reports and stats and any refutation of that fact puts you square IN the dag gone stat.

SO what do we do?  We are individuals but we are a group.  We claim not to be personally affected by the latest report, but the ongoing reporting has an effect on us all. I see two ways of reacting.

1. We try to self reflect on our behavior. Perhaps we support each other to break out of these traps of anger, solitude, single motherhood, and diseases.

This, however, gives some credence to the the stats and the portrayal of us in the media. Some of us reject these claims entirely, and thus are unwilling to act on the potential truth behind the lies.  I mean, who wants to publicly admit- "yes we have issues"  particularly when individual black women don't have one or any of the so called issues.  Black folks as a whole have a history of home doctoring ourselves.  By cover of night and code words we self police our crimes, and eating habits, and we chide ghettoness and countryness.  These are things we keep to ourselves and try not to expose as potential weaknesses or failures.  That's human nature, particularly when we are being attacked and chastised by the predominant culture.  We try to stand tall and project a stronger more unified image than what we keep to ourselves on the B roll.

There are examples of this strategy however.  We have initiatives like the Noweddingnowomb site for instance.  It catches flak because it inherently admits "we have a problem" and works to address it.  For women who have children out of wedlock the words "mistake", "wrong", and "shouldn't have" are not forthcoming, nor even true, on a case by case basis. (this site does a great job of highlighting health, stress and culpability as well). 

So will this strategy work?  Perhaps.  Will it be adopted by and large as a means for us to do better?  Not by the light of the sun I say.  We already flip out over public disagreements on natural hair forums or youtube.  *clears throat*  Many of you will remember a recent triangle, (hexagon? oxagon?) when the motives behind some of the natural hair care channels was questioned.  "We are supposed to be unified! an example of strength in the face of adversity! If we are falling apart, how can we convince our sisters to be like us???"

So pheww. That is one way.  We could do more of that, work together, shed any feelings of shame or pride... But what else can we do?

2.  We champion our true diversity and achievements. 

The problem with this is that it can be viewed as sweeping our troubles under the rug, forming elitist circles, painting a picture using an impossibly beautiful model.  Kinda like the self inflicted version of what the mass media is already doing to us. If the models we hold up to be exemplary are not relatable, we loose our audience.  

Now I admit, the natural hair world provides a very biased scale with tons of examples of black positivity.  You have the companies themselves. Oyin handmade, with their adorable family and the self made business women behind many of the brands we all know and love (too many to name!). You have "revolutionary posts" (sorry lol- I hear soapbox voice in my own head here) like the Love is in the Hair contest that was like whoa- these women all found love!! I could go on and on, the beautiful vloggers we watched and all these tech savvy women online writing and postulating or *ah hemmm* pontificating on all things pretty and healthy and beneficial. (sorry- LOLing at myself again. yes, that IS what I do, I think).  The fact I live in this online space makes it really easy for me to forget that "hey! I'm 31 and unmarried, cohabiting in fact with a divorced man and sometimes his 8 yr old son." OR "hey, I can't bust through this damn salary ceiling. is it... my hair?"

BUT- and here comes my point- to a young woman who is still coming of age in an environment where "salaries" and women over 25 without children are as rare as good hair days, all of my blathering on may be very, VERY interesting. I think we ALL have stories to tell and positive examples to set.  There are single moms who are DAMN GOOD moms.  And women without diplomas who are friggen RICH.  That is not to say you promote the very actions you know you would do over if you had the chance, but it is to suggest that for each woman there is something she can show the woman next to her, or coming up behind her.  For instance, this post = I acknowledge the media and the stats and what they are saying about ME.  But I'm talking to ya'll right now.  Whoever you are, meet me.  I have what I have and I am who I am.  Who are you?

Outside of the hair world there are some sites putting in this type of work as well. Black and Married with Kids is a site I go to to see how it could be for me still. (That's more of a sore spot at my age) For you still. For us all, still.
So, if you are still here, still reading, what do you think?  Method one or method 2? and why and why not.  This is my small slice of the inter-webs as a public platform for my response, so you can probably guess what my stance is.  I have my dukes up.  I have lil cards that have my blog name on it.  I talk to the young women around me, heck you have seen a few of them right here on this blog lol. I think we can all do us some good by just being average.  Get it? BEING average. So I ask again, who are you?


  1. Great post. I touched on a tiny part of this in my post today. What's so beautiful about being black is our experience. It's not always positive. And it's damn near always a struggle. Sometimes we fight each other and it's almost always because of an external lens we have turned on each other and ourselves. I see my people struggle every day on my way to and from work. I also see my people act a fool in Gallery place. I also see my people helping the homeless when they are a paycheck away themselves, in the classrooms, boardrooms and work place having to work twice as hard for .50 less. That's our experience. And to help our community get out of that takes a realization that we are NOT the people THEY have painted us as. We are so much more. And when we realize our power, our wealth, our strength we will be a force to recon with!

    Until then we will continue to tear each other apart. I've spent most of my life seeing myself as others have seen me. I let that define me to a small extent, keep me down to a larger extent. I don't believe championing our achievements means we're hiding our problems, but rather celebrating what we have in spite of everything. And acknowledging the stats isn't giving it legitimacy, it's already there. What we do with it is where it takes us. So it's both and its neither.

    Off my soapbox. This topic has been on my mind lately so my thoughts are random and unorganized! I'd love your thoughts on my post from earlier today. It was hard for me to out myself on some of that, I held back with the hopes that it would start a conversation.

  2. Great read! I am who they speak of. I am the negative - the positive and everything in between. No matter how much I try to distance myself from the foolery and the shucking and jivving and from the negativity that plagues our black image - I am still her. Why? Because of the hue of my skin, the spread of my facial features and the kink of my hair. Did I just channel some of Ms Maya -- yeah I did -but she said it so eloquently. And of course Ms. Sojourner Truth's profound "Aint I a woman" poem resonates today - just wish it was louder -- you feel me? Sigh - it's a sad state we are in when no matter the good and profound, we are still lacking in certain areas in the eyes of it seems, everyone -- including our own. As black women we are always facing struggles that often times begins in childhood. We have to struggle with peep pressure at all ages. We also have to learn the hard way when it comes to passed up dreams and opportunities lost. "When will opportunity come knocking at my door? How can those women on Bridezilla get a ring and I can't? Do I need to act like they do? Because it seems my way of being debt free, eduated, property owner, no children, career minded - is not appealing!" lol.
    Anyhoo - your strategies are both good ideas - but the thing is finding those who will latch on and propel a movement that seeks to rethink the question "Aint I a woman" and when the answer comes, let's hope we all have an answer!


  3. The fact that you are thinking about these issues is the beginning. The thoughts that lead to words that lead to actions that lead to change. Change happens one person at a time. May young people like yourselves prevail in this world.


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