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I AM: a Black Woman, Ain’t I?

I always struggle with the celebration of black history month. On the one hand it’s an opportunity to honor those whose shoulders we stand on. We think back upon black firsts and contributions to the betterment of society. On the other hand we spend the majority of the month looking backward and not celebrating enough of where we are and where we’re going. I believe the best way to honor those who tore down barriers for us is to continue to tear down barriers and lift one another up. Let’s talk about the black future and how we need to turn around the daunting statistics for black women.

You’ve heard it enough, that black women are the least healthy, have the least wealth, the least likely to get married, etc. It’s stressful being a black woman. The eyes of a nation are at once on us but averted in the same way you can look at something and not see it. There’s much discussion about colorism lately, particularly that between light and dark skinned black women. The tension among our own group mounts as the standard of beauty looks less and less like us. Incidentally, it’s a standard assisted by modern-day technology that even white women struggle to attain. Oprah’s Lifeclass dedicated and episode to the topic with co-host Iyanla Vanzant. Many of the dark skin women on the show were relating their experiences growing up of being called names thinking that the light skin girls (lighter than a brown paper bag) had it easier. A woman of fair complexion stood up to say it wasn’t as easy all that. They were called names too, not just by white people but by other blacks.

I am fair now, I think I was lighter growing up. As happens some people do get darker with age. I can attest to the horrible names I was called by my white classmates, my black classmates and my white teachers. I spent my formative years in a far suburb outside of Chicago that embodied racism. I was one of four or five black students. I was the only light skin girl. I was tortured by more than just whites. The teachers of the school fell in to two camps – “get Nile educated” and “deny Nile an education”. My teachers thought nothing of giving me a low grade or referring to me with racial epithets in front of the class. I’ll reserve saying the name of the school and city….for now. You see, I was the only black student in advance classes. Folks this is the late 1980’s I’m talking about. My parents eventually moved so I could attend one of the best public schools in the state in Oak Park, IL. My grades soared, my life soared.

Being a member of what feels like the most reviled demographic in America has been stressful but a blessing. Yes, I have to work 10-20 times harder than everyone else to be seen as equal. If I express a dissenting opinion in a professional manner I’m angry or negative. I own a home so I’m too independent. No desire to be a size 0, so I’m fat and lazy. I want a marriage with someone who brings as much to the table as I do, I’m a gold-digger or looking for a “come up”. I don’t discriminate if he comes in a white package, I’m a sell out. So why do I consider this a blessing? Because it is my purpose to excel, bust through doors and leave them open for others. That is what I’ve learned from black history month. What am I doing so that 2, 20, 200 years from now it’s easier for another black woman?

Several years ago I earned a coveted position at work through shear determination and force of will. The majority of my support came from white men and women in leadership positions. They simply saw talent. I received just one congrats from another person of color. Others just gave me that look…you know the one “who does she think she is?.”

I talk about all of this today because I am so excited about the opportunities for greatness black women have. Check that…continued greatness. I love the skin I’m in. I love the purpose God and the Universe has chosen for me. I’m giving you a sneak peak of an essay I’m working on entitled Under Siege: Black Women At the Tipping Point. I see myself as a Black/Womanist. Feminism has felt to be more of a white woman’s battle simply because we’re in very different places in society. It was about opening doors for white women to have careers outside of the home. Black women have always worked outside of the home. I like the word womanist because it gets to the issues that overlap for us. It’s untarnished and fresh. Think of it as venn diagram. I’m focused on the issues that impact all of us such as pay, health care, and so on with a specific interest on how those issues disproportionately impact black women.

Obama has talked a great deal about closing the wage gap for women versus men. He mentioned it during his State of the Union address. What about the wage gap AND career gap of black (and latino) women? According to the National Partnership for Women & Families the breakdown of that $0.77 to a man’s $1.00 has black women worse off at $0.70. The disparity makes a difference. I felt so strongly about it, I tweeted him.

whitehouse tweet

I discuss this and more, including my theory that black women and white men are socialized very similarly which may contribute to the rift in society. Become a member of the New Black Chick community to be the first to get a copy of what promises to be a provocative look at black women in America.

 

 

I leave you with the words of Sojourner Truth – Ain’t I a Woman

Wall, chilern,
whar dar is so much racket
dar must be somethin’ out o’ kilter.
I tink dat ‘twixt de nigger of de Souf
and de womin at de Norf,
all talkin’ ’bout rights,
de white men will be in a fix pretty soon.
But what’s all dis here talkin’ ’bout?

Dat man ober dar say
dat womin needs to be helped into carriages,
and lifted ober ditches,
and to hab de best place everywhar.
Nobody eber halps me into carriages,
or ober mudpuddles,
or gibs me any best place!
And ar’n’t I a woman?

Look at me!
Look at my arm!
I have ploughed,
and planted,
and gathered into barns,
and no man could head me!
And ar’n’t I a woman?

I could work as much
and eat as much as a man —
when I could get it —
and bear de lash as well!
And ar’n’t’ I a woman?

I have borne thirteen chilern,
and seen ’em mos’ all sold off to slavery,
and when I cried out with my mother’s grief,
none but Jesus heard me!
And ar’n’t I a woman?

Den dey talks ’bout dis ting in de head;
what dis dey call it?
‘Intellect,’
(whispered someone near).
Dat’s it, honey.
What’s dat got to do wid womin’s rights
or nigger’s rights?
If my cup won’t hold but a pint,
and yourn holds a quart,
wouldn’t ye be mean
not to let me have my little half-measure full?

Den dat little man in black dar,
he say women can’t have as much rights as men,
’cause Christ wan’t a woman!
Whar did your Christ come from?
Whar did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.

If de fust woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn de world upside down
all alone,
dese women togedder ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!
And now dey is asking to do it,
de men better let ’em.

Bleeged to ye for hearin’ on me,
and now ole Sojourner
han’t got nothin’ more to say.’

 

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