My Existence is Resistance: A Shout-out to the Exceptionally Un-Average Black Woman

Location: 
Toronto
Canada
56° 7' 49.3176" N, 106° 20' 48.3756" W
CA

I truly feel as though the months of February and March were made for me. Every year, on the first of February, I feel myself grow a little bit stronger. Not only is it my birth month (shout-out to all of my fellow Pisces), but throughout this 28 (sometimes 29) day period, the world takes the time to honour the black historical and cultural icons of the past; every year throughout Black History Month, we’re reminded of and inspired by the actions of the Martins, Malcolms and Rosas who’ve made the way for the continued advancement of black folks and our globally influential culture. For myself, along with many other black women, this trend continues through to March; Women’s History Month marks a time where women around the world celebrate our ideas, innovations, and overall inspirational presence throughout history. Recognizing those who came before us and are currently leading the way is of course not only important, but absolutely necessary; by studying and appreciating our icons, we can integrate this knowledge into the construction of our future. However, during these times of appreciation it often seems as though the rest of the world tends to ignore the contributions and experiences of a very specific marginalized group, namely, black women.

Now, when I say this, it doesn’t mean that I’m overlooking the impact of the space that’s currently being held in pop culture by women like Beyoncé, Oprah and Michelle Obama. I love and appreciate them all, but the simple fact is that I’m not writing this article about those who are hyped as icons, tastemakers and faces of the culture. I’m talking about those who practice resilience as a way of life; those whose influence may not be one day recorded in a history book, but whose very existence is rooted in the strength, boldness and bravery from which both Black History Month and Women’s History Month stem. I’m talking about those like me; the exceptionally un-average black women of the world.

This Little Black Girl was Lost

Before I get into this, I think it’s important for me to say that black women, like black people in general, are not all one and the same. We are not a monolith, and I want to acknowledge that I’m speaking on the experiences of myself, and those around me, and not speaking for all black women as a group.

For me, growing up as a black girl meant perfecting a balancing act. I had to learn the careful art of trying to showcase myself and my personality without showing too much. I couldn’t get too emotional, or else I was seen as being dramatic. I couldn’t get too upset, or else I was seen as angry or mean. If I was too quiet, I was rude or uptight, and if I had a differing opinion from those around me, or if I even mentioned race, then it was said that I was killing the vibe, and making everybody uncomfortable. From a very young age, I had to walk on eggshells with my behaviour and tiptoe around the threat of becoming one of the stereotypes that the world seemed determined to project onto me. If I stumbled, or I made one slip-up in my acting game, that’s it; I would be labelled as “that” black girl forever, and there would be no going back. Eventually, however, it happened; I became known as the funny, dramatic black girl, the one who was good for a laugh and some entertainment, but not much else. Honestly, I was so caught up in my act that I didn’t even realize that I had already been cast in my role, or even what caused it (although in this case, ignorance really is bliss, because my knowledge of whatever incident caused me to be the “dramatic black girl” would’ve undoubtedly resulted in a ton of sleepless nights consisting of me laying in my bed, horrified, as I replayed the disastrous moment again and again in my head).

 

This process is one that many black women go through in their early years, and through the constant vigilance that it requires, these self-questioning tactics seep inside of us and force us to second-guess not only the weight of our behaviour, but the validity of everything about ourselves; our clothing, our hair, our bodies, our skin, etc. In my case, this resulted in going through most of my formative years riddled with insecurities and self-doubt. My uncertainties made it impossible for me to both be at peace with and truly discover who I was, what I liked, and who I wanted to be because I really couldn’t see past what the rest of the world was thinking about me.

Looking back now, it wasn’t until my late teenage years that I was able to drop the tired and exhausting act and begin to embrace my blackness fully. This was due largely to my friendships and relationships formed with other black women like myself, whether it be family, friends, coworkers, etc. Perhaps the most impactful of these began with the arrival of another brown-skinned girl (just like me) into my classroom on the first day of grade six. She, along with many of the other black women that I’ve been blessed to call my friends and mentors over the years, opened me up to a world of self-love and acceptance that I had no previous knowledge of.

I’m Grown Now (It’s About to Go Down)

Fast forward to the present and at age 22 … well, you really can’t tell me nothin’. For the past few years, I’ve been growing more and more in love with myself every day; the strong, intelligent and beautiful being that I’d always seen in my mother, my aunties, my cousins and my grandmothers now stares at me when I look into the mirror, and I can see that I’m everything that I’m supposed to be and getting better every day. Granted, there are many barriers that still affect me as a black woman, and the stereotypes that have haunted me since I was a young girl still exist, but my insecurities no longer rule, and that has made all the difference.

Unfortunately, stories like mine are similar to those of many black women around the world. Growing into yourself within a society that tells you that everything you are and were born to be is wrong is hard, to say the least; it can take a long time to find yourself, and some of us, sadly, never do. But, if and when you do make it to that point, it feels like you’ve been renewed; it feels as though you’ve finally given yourself the gift of blossoming into who you were always meant to be, which, given the exceptionality of black women as a whole, is most likely a unique and powerful light that frankly, this world really doesn’t deserve.

Roses from Concrete

Now, for those who are reading this that don’t identify as being a black woman, please understand that this isn’t to say that there still aren’t difficulties; embracing our black womanhood internally doesn’t automatically change or negate the external factors that are constantly aimed at tripping us up. On average, we’re paid less, subject to prejudice and stereotypes at every turn, and are left out in the cold by not only other racial groups but members of our own black community as well. Sometimes, it feels like it’s coming at us from all sides.

We’re made to feel as though we’re required to choose between our blackness and our womanhood; I’ve had numerous black men tell me that feminism is for white women, just as I’ve had many racist experiences with non-black women who would describe themselves as feminists. So in circumstances like these, what’s a black girl to do? With misogynistic black men telling us one thing, and racist non-black women telling us another? Well, we do what our sisters, aunties, mothers and grandmothers have been doing for generations.

In my humble opinion, we do the damn thing ourselves.

As black women, we stand at the intersection of race and gender, of blackness and womanhood; we should never be made to choose between them. We should never have to feel as though we are devalued by any part of our identities. The combination of these identities are what make us so very exceptionally un-average; the world gives us every difficulty, barrier, and roadblock that it has, in the form of backhanded compliments, insulting stereotypes, and racist/misogynistic micro- and macroaggressions and yet, we still manage to survive and thrive as a community.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say here is that ALL black women, not just the ones who make headlines, deserve all of the shine that the world has to offer. In a society that tries to break us and reminds us daily that it doesn’t want us around, we still show up, and we are still here. And that, in and of itself, is a powerful act of protest. So, to those who are reading this that aren’t black women: give us our space. Allow black women to be as vulnerable, complex and emotional as we’d like. Let us be black, let us be women, let us do us, and spare us of your attempts to regulate our feelings and responses (because it was never your place to try to do so in the first place).

And to my black queens reading this, a shout-out to us; continue to be as loud, angry, and exuberant as you’d like. As black girls, our magic doesn’t lie in our ability to perform heroic and iconic everyday miracles; it is inherent within us, and therefore it’s presence is apparent in everything that we do. We don’t have to be CEOs, superstars or activists to be seen as important or impactful; we as black women have nothing to prove because our continued collective existence is the greatest form of resistance there is.

Happy Women’s History Month ladies, I’m rooting for y’all.

(P.S. this article was written by a loud, dramatic, angry and hilariously unapologetic black girl who’d like to thank you for reading.)