What I Learned as a White Woman When I Attended an Event Geared Toward Black Women

Earlier today, I gained perspective from Black women when I attended an event held by the Ladies Society of Collegiate Success, "Conversations of the New Black Woman." Before today, I was ignorant about the emotions and issues that Black women face every single day. I had never attended an event or heard someone speak about these issues before.

The even opened with a poem written and presented by LaNia Cole, which gave me goosebumps and let me know I was about to gain some serious knowledge. I have transcribed it at the end of this article.

This poem led to the first point that I learned about Black women:

1. Black women are more susceptible to depression, insomnia, anxiety, and other mental disorders.

Black women have so many standards to uphold. "Don't get too emotional. Stop being loud and obnoxious. Be strong all of the time—don't let yourself be vulnerable." More importantly, "don't let anyone see your vulnerable side."

Can you imagine holding all of that in and working every day to fit the standards that society has set for you?

Does the fact that I can't imagine that feeling mean that White women are held to a different standard than Black women?

Kiera Butler and Amber Arthur discussed this with the audience. They pointed out that a woman holding all of this weight on her shoulders by herself is what could lead to her becoming depressed and even suicidal.

I learned about the importance of those who go through this to talk to others about how they feel. Cole said that when she talks to her friends about an incoming anxiety attack, her friends actually help her "squash" her anxiety. This helped me realize the importance of being the listener for my friends and helping them combat this issue.

Next, Auburn University professor Dr. Julia Charles walked on stage, encouraging hoops and hollers from some of her students. Many know her class for being eye-opening and life-changing. She taught me my next point.

2. Black women (and women in general) are hypersexualized.

People expect women to be sexy, but not sexual.

Although the general population of women has to deal with men policing their bodies daily, I learned that Black women who are on the market for a job are policed even further.

In today's standards, women who want to look smart, kept, and successful should wear a pencil skirt. They should have neat hair. They should speak properly.

What if your body didn't fit that mold?

As a skinny White girl with straight hair, I do fit that mold. But what if I had thick, curly hair that didn't fit into a neat bun or long, thick braids? I might get questions about my hair—and Charles has gotten these questions. She also talked about how if she wears a pencil skirt, she is going to show a lot of her thighs. In the job market, potential employers may think this is over-sexualized. But why? It's a question I couldn't answer.

Last, Charles spoke this quote, which shook me to my core:

3. "We think men and women are equal or we don't. There is no in-between."

I always thought that women were somewhat equal with men because we have had some awesome wins since the feminism movement started. But you can't be almost equal to something. Four isn't almost equal to five. It either is... or it isn't.

This call to action left me with a need to get out and do more. I'm glad I made the decision to come to this event because I gained some perspective that I never even considered before.

 

Read Cole's poem below:

I am not human.

I can't possibly be.

I'm stuck in my own world, I'm stuck in my own head, I'm stuck in every social situation that I've had.

My life is a series of locks and the inability to escape like I'm an animal, a criminal, or specimen in a cage.

I am not human.

Because as a child, they told me to hide, told me to lie, disregarded me as being something called too emotional, over-stressed.

The only stress that I have comes from the weights that my own brain is piling on my shoulders

and instead of holding me up, you're just telling me to get stronger

because no man wants a weak woman.

No man wants a sad woman.

Who just complains about problems that aren't even her problems

Because her problems can't ever compare to his.

She's just over-sensitive, over-dramatic, over-analyzing

She's over people over-generalizing her as crazy.

She's tired of being labeled depression and anxiety, bipolar, some other over-diagnosed disorder.

They don't even listen.

They just tell us to pop pills until our problems don't give us pain anymore.

I am not human.

I can't be human.

But maybe that's a good thing

Maybe it is not me who is crooked, distorted

Maybe my words are beautifully worded

My thoughts are strokes on a blank canvas

There's beauty in creation

And in all of this madness, my touch is gentle because I have been broken

I speak out because I am soft-spoken, I am sturdy because I know what it is like to fall

I have been abandoned so I love with my all.

I am not a woman with a disability.

I am a woman with a mental ability to think beyond, dream beyond, and be beyond the person I ever thought I could be.

And if a man doesn't want a woman like that, well, that's fine by me.