Black Women - What's All The Fuss About?
I wake up exhausted, tired of fighting, tired of trying to reason, and tired of explaining myself. I don’t remember when I started to be so fearful that my baby brother as I know him would be seen as “just a black man”, at risk of becoming another statistic, but the thought is never too far away every time he leaves the house.
I have always been aware of my race. The fact that I am black announces itself as soon as I walk into a room, long before I have a chance to speak. An entrance is always followed by an awkward introduction and the inevitable “Oh, that’s an interesting name, is there a nickname for it?”.
“Oh, that’s an interesting name, is there a nickname for it?”
Before fully understanding all of the different boxes you’re put into, you learn very quickly that your boxes are undesirable. Western standards hypersexualise black women but in the same breath classes her as masculine and aggressive – all of which lead you, a black woman, to shrink yourself and your features which are “too big” or “too sexy” to hide in plain sight. As a young black woman, the cost of being comfortable in my skin seemed to come at a price I couldn’t afford.
It wasn’t until university that I started correcting people who pronounced my name wrong and embracing all aspects of my heritage outside of the four walls of my home and social group. The part they don’t tell you in the university brochure is that getting in is the easy part, fitting in is something else. After a university lecturer shared how surprised he was that I spoke such good English (despite it being my first language and being raised in the UK) I realised that there is nowhere I can escape the fact that the colour of my skin is louder than the content of my character or the merit of my work.
“I realised that there is nowhere I can escape the fact that the colour of my skin is louder than the content of my character or the merit of my work ?”
But surely the workplace is different, right? Once again, key details were left out of the sales pitch. What they don’t tell you when you get the job is that, not only are you expected to outperform your colleagues just to be seen as good enough, but your role also doubles as a chief educator, cultural ambassador, and representative of all those who will come after you, depending on your current behavior. I have lost count of how many times my British accent and African names have amused or confused colleagues – or how many times the question “Where are you really from?” seems the only natural response to hearing me say “I am British”
In the wake of everything that has happened recently as I scroll through my social media, I am reminded that just below the surface of my little microclimate, the bubble of the big city, are the scars of a much darker past, a history that people often forget or claim to be unaware of. But these are more than just headlines. It is my lived experience – and although the world is waking up to “shocking” scenes and human rights abuses, it’s a reality that I know all too well. When you’ve spent years silently screaming you’ll have to forgive the lack of applause for those who have finally taken a seat at the table.
So what do I do? The colour of my skin does not afford me the privilege of switching off this exhaustion, closing down the emotional heartache and turmoil when the screen goes down and the notifications turn off. My reflection is a constant reminder that I am not fighting for equality but rather just to be treated as a human being.
“My reflection is a constant reminder that I am not fighting for equality but rather just to be treated as a human being.”
So what is the point? It can be easy to get caught up and lose sight of hope, but when I do, there is something that always brings me back.
One Christmas, I gave my little cousin her first black Barbie – she was obsessed with the franchise, so I thought why not get her something that looked and felt a little closer to home, something I had always longed for as a child. Although only five years old at the time, when she opened the doll her response to the afro hair and darker complexion was, “Wow mummy, this doll looks just like me!”. At the age of five she was shocked, at the age of five no one had to teach her that this was special, at the age of five no one had to tell her to be grateful, she just knew. At that moment I really understood the power of representation. I saw what I was fighting for through the eyes of a five-year-old girl, and as tears streamed down my face I realised that I must keep going for a better world where this isn’t a rare moment of awakening but “the new normal”.
In my life, I’ve been surrounded by black women who doubled as modern-day superheroes: a mother who has lived through civil war and abuse and yet still has a song in her heart, and sisters who remind me daily that black is beautiful and my natural hair is a crown rather than a curse.
So, yes – I am tired, I am exhausted. I am frustrated that, more often than not, I am the only black person you know. But this is the comma and not the full stop in our story.
I AM a BLACK woman,
I am resilient,
I am hopeful.
I am encouraged and challenged to become a better version of myself so that I can affect real change. The rest of the world may just be waking up but I am already on the next chapter of this story.
When sleeping women wake, mountains move” – African proverb
Change is not only possible but it is a certainty when you have superheroes on the front lines, so hold on to your capes and crowns queens as tomorrow we live to fight another day.