I AM: An Ugly Black Woman

Ugly Black Woman, Nile Harris, New Black Chick

Ugly Black Woman, Nile Harris, New Black ChickIf you watch Being Mary Jane you know exactly where this statement is coming from. Something that was simply a well-scripted monologue on a popular television show got me thinking though. That monologue could serve as an executive summary for how the world perceives me not as Nile but as a black woman and more broadly as a woman. I’ve known since childhood that I would always be treated differently based on the color of my skin. This was evident when my teachers in a majorly white school referred to me with racial slurs in front of the class as a means to humiliate me. The only problem being that I was too young to get most of the references. I would have to ask my parents what those words meant. This of course resulted in one of my Mom’s famous visits to the school. And there were a lot of visits. I am an ugly black girl.

I was smart, still am. Above average reading, writing and comprehension skills and a fine athlete as well. I played the flute and the violin.  There were many teachers who didn’t like that I was in advanced classes and was asked to take the SAT in 6th grade. I wasn’t brilliant but I wasn’t the dumb black girl they tried to create. So every semester there was a request from teachers to remove me from their class for some new made up reason. My Mom’s favorite excuse being that I made the other students uncomfortable. After a while my parents moved to another city where I could attend one of the best public high schools in Illinois. My parents gave me a choice of starting in 8th grade or waiting until I was a freshman. I choose to move for 8th grade. My Dad took me to register where he asked the woman to put band on my schedule. The woman looked at my dad over the top of her glasses and said “oh, she’ll need to take a reading and comprehension test first. Band is only for students who are academically qualified”. Mind you my transcripts said I was in advanced classes at my previous school. My dad leaned in and met her gaze with equal incredulity and said “Put my daughter in band. She plays the flute. She will continue to play the flute. If by some strange freak accident of nature my daughter who reads at an 11th grade level who took the SAT last year can’t pass the assessment feel free to remove her and I’ll come down and apologize to you”. Band was on the schedule when I left there. I am an ugly black woman.

Fast forward through many many incidents of discrimination and racism to present day. I now understand what all of the references mean. No, I don’t have children with multiple men. Yes, I own a home. No, I don’t speak ebonics I speak the King’s English and I expect you to speak it to me. Yes, I have Masters degree. No, I didn’t get my job through affirmative action – if they had a quota to fill, it must be extremely low. No, you may certainly not touch my hair, I’m not an animal at the zoo. The media would have people believing that black women are fat ugly shrews that are unlovable. We are always on the verge of some explosive head-twisting tirade that will emasculate black men and leave the white women crying. But Mary Jane’s point so eloquently stated is that while people are so busy pointing the finger at us and telling us what’s wrong with us that they miss the media also telling them that they are no better than us. It’s easy to pick on black women because it’s easy to believe the negative stereotypes about us. But just because the world isn’t as blatantly cruel toward white women (or others) in the same way they feel entitled to the massive bullying of black women doesn’t make them better. So as Mary Jane said, you are an ugly black woman too.

The two most powerful words in the Universe are “I AM”. And because the Universe doesn’t realize I’m using this statement as title and not a declaration, let me set the Universe straight. I am a beautiful, smart and awesome black woman, woman and human being. And so are you. My point is we are more similar than we are different. What is said about me can be said about you. There isn’t any scientific proof despite the ramblings of a Psychology Today blog post that black women are less beautiful. Nefertiti has long been held as a symbol of beauty. The original Statue of Liberty was a black woman, a slave to be exact. It’s a myth we’re less desirable. I would argue it’s not that men, white, black or otherwise, love to hate us but rather they hate to love us. There has always been some inexplicable shame around the love of black women that we could explore until the end of time. 150 years after the abolishing slavery black women are still in chains while other races have gone on to create new narratives for themselves.

If I’m not married and never have been it’s not because there is something wrong with me it’s because there’s something right with me. I have never wanted to settle. I have met wonderful and good men of all races who at the end of the day I either didn’t see a future with or they didn’t value everything I brought to the table, or they over valued it, meaning they let it eclipse them. No one can ever truthfully claim to have heard me say I don’t need a man. I can survive on my own because I have to. I have to eat. I need somewhere to live. And why not do that in such a way that doesn’t require a man for me to have the life I want? I want to choose a man and have that man choose me. I want him to pursue me as God pursues me. I want him to see my strength as an asset and complimentary to his own. I have no interest in being a man that’s why I need the man to be the man. I am not a shrew. I am a boss. I am a leader. I am ride or die. And when it’s necessary I make the same tough calls in the same way the guys do. And I will not hide my light under a bushel because it makes others feel more “comfortable”.


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