“Brown skin, you know I love your brown skin. I can’t tell where yours begins, can’t tell where mine ends.” India Arie
I am passionate about womanhood and I am always asking myself what it means to be a woman. Looking for answers in the Bible, looking around me and reading up online and in books.
Most recently I have been asking myself the question: What does it mean to be a black woman. This post will contain some strong generalisations but I am ok with that. Because I think the majority of black women fit into these generalisations. If you disagree, please comment! If you agree, comment too!
I have just asked myself why I am writing this post. I think it is because it is my way of understanding who I am and what has shaped me. And perhaps to help anyone who is curious to understand what it is like to live in this skin.
Why do you have to make it about colour though? It is not really comfortable to say this but my opinion is this: we cannot avoid the colour thing. For a black person, being black is such a big part of your identity. For black people in Africa, I believe that that has a lot to do with the colonial legacy. When you/ your parents/ your grandparents are a part of society that distributes income, housing, education, even freedom according to the colour of your skin, the colour thing is not just something that goes away because the government has changed. It goes deep.
For many of us, being black is our primary identity, whether we’re aware of it or not. Is that how it should be? Well, that’s up for debate! Everything I write here is up for debate, these are my views and I look forward to hearing yours.
Here are my thoughts on why being a black woman is not easy.
Most of us grew up with absent / abusive / unfaithful fathers.
I have chosen to make this one a launching pad because the first place a black woman learns what it means to be a black woman is in our childhood home. The pattern of our experiences in childhood become defining moments, for better or worse.
I don’t believe that should hate our fathers. I do believe that we should face the facts about them. How many black women do you know whose fathers are decent, loving and present in the home? Most of us just have a blank space where our dads are supposed to be. Or if he was there physically he was violent, verbally abusive or emotionally absent.
I have had many a conversation with my guy friends about their issues with black women: “Hayi (no), you guys are too strong! You leave no room for a man in your life!” Black women have had to learn to be strong, to not ever have to rely on anyone, certainly not a man for anything. For a black woman, this is not a cute ideological tag on to our lives, we feel it is necessary for our survival!
Most of us will admit that we do not really trust our fathers to be there for us when we really need them. We love our mothers to death, they have their faults. But we love them because we know that they had to be both the mother and the father, they were there when our dads couldn’t/ wouldn’t. The consequences of this is that we either really struggle to trust men, to connect with them
because we have trained ourselves to harden our hearts. On the other end of the spectrum, we may spend all our lives looking for affirmation in men, we long for their love, we trust too easily.
Most of us have serious self image issues.
Ok, granted this is a general woman issue. Or even a people issue, men included. But if you will allow me to, I would like to argue that things are a bit different for black women. For example, where I live there is an area where there are many little hair salons lining the streets. It is common to see a hairdresser standing outside trying to convince women to come and do their hair – braid it, weave it, relax it. Each time I walk past, without exception, one of these women will ambush me and tell me about all the ways they can “fix” my hair. You see, I have an afro. A big and untamed one and it is always amusing to see the look on their faces when I explain that it is not something I want remedied! It is how my hair naturally is and I want to keep it that way.
Yes, yes, we know that all women face a lot of pressure to conform to a certain standard of womanhood but many black women learn from a very young age that their hair is a problem and the lighter in complexion you are, the prettier you are. If I had R1 for every time the teenage girls I live with have complained about how “ugly” they look because they had to spend all afternoon in the sun, I’d be as rich as Kenny Kunene!
Most of my white friends do not have to worry about whether their natural hair will count against them in a job interview but that is a reality for many black women. Whether they look “professional” enough. I really love hip hop and R ‘n’ B but I realise that the portrayal of women in that genre is really harmful to women, particularly black women. I have seen it in the way that girls long to have a butt and boobs like Nicki Minaj, the pressure that black men put on women to conform to the hip hop candy/ video girl ideal. Skin lightening creams, hair extensions and hair relaxers are big business where black women live! Sadly, most black women will spend their whole lives reaching for a standard of beauty that is urealistic and unattainable.
Most black women are achievers and their male counterparts lag behind them.
Listen, I am by no means a man basher and I hope that I do not come across as one. Many black women have resigned themselves to the fact they will never meet and marry/ have a long term relationship with a man who is “at their level”. I see this amongst my relatives and my friends. Most black women I know, at different levels of income and education, are hardworking, disciplined and can take care of themselves. Many of us worry that we will never find a black man who is the same. We look around and all we see is boys. Boys still living off their momma’s money, boys with their jeans hanging way too low, boys who have no vision for their lives and are really not going anywhere.
I have seen this problem played out in church. The black women are in the ushering team, set up team, tea-serving team, the choir and the decorating team. The black guys (who probably make up about 5% of the church- I exaggerate!) are the guys who arrive late, sit at the back and leave as soon as the preacher says, “Amen!” Black men seem to struggle with spiritual topics and are really weak in that area. For spiritually strong women who think it is important to find a partner they can connect with at this level, this is really important! Most of us have given up on black men altogether and set our affections on the “white brothers” instead but in our heart of hearts we believe that we hope in vain!
Being a black woman is not easy. The understatement of the year! Being a black woman is a fight!
What are your thoughts?