Black Women: Where Do We Stand in The Pool of Isms?
In the brotherly city of Pennsylvania, my racism did not bang on the table or step on my shoe. It did not spit in my face or scrawl mean words all over my desk and locker. My racism never told me to take my shit and get the hell out of the room, it did not tell me to go back to Africa. It had never broken down my dormitory door or I would have filed a report against it. It never called me a nigger.
My racism was always sent in between the lines, almost like I had made it up in my mind. It squinted its eyes and wore a patronizing smile as it asked me, “How did you learn your English ?”. It gave me rides to Target because the new African girl must have been lost without her family here. It looked at me like a three-legged puppy and tried to save me.
My racism could not see me. When the teacher announced that the next project would require groups, a thunder would rise in my throat because everyone would scramble to each other, across the room, colliding with the four walls of the room like atoms, with the desks and the scrawled books, jumping over tables and me. Like I too, was furniture.
My racism left condescending notes on my Blackboard. It marveled at my ability to complete my English project on my own and advised me not to move too quickly, lest I be lost in the class. It asked me how I was able to perform so well. It never saw my nine distinctions in my Final Exam, my 99th percentile in the SAT, my blog on Medium, all it saw was my third world country.
My racism would deny itself over and over again. It gave itself other names- care, special attention, fascination- nothing that could ever be found in the Student Conduct book, so my racism always won against my dignity.
My sexism slapped me in the face with no remorse. There was no need for introductions or shy appearances. It had been given every right by religion, media, and society. It followed me in the market and demanded my attention like a toddler.
It came in church sermons where I was asked to stand up and tell the congregation why I wore a spaghetti dress in a tropical country. It came in assembly lines where it would stand behind me hoping to get a grope or two. It came on the television screen where the girl that went out too much was taught a lesson by the boys in her area and found dead in the gutters.
However, the bluntness of my sexism had taught me how to fight it and by age twelve, my armor was ready for anyone that dared to cross my path. When I was told to go back home and change my colored vest, I had stared down the teacher and walked away. When I was asked to pick up the broom and take responsibility for the sanitation of the classroom, regardless of my own assigned duty, I had the courage to say, “No.” That is what brutal oppression does to you: it teaches you how to build whether you want to or not. When the ropes slash against your back, you learn to grab it as it falls and pull it out of the hands of the oppressor.
You learn to teach other girls to do the same.
AS A BLACK WOMAN, you belong to everyone.
When you hear the sirens on the corner of Chestnut street, you quickly stomp or your friend’s stick and shout at him to run. “The Feds are coming, nigga!” In the hot afternoon, as the sun scorches your face, you raise the “Black Lives Matter” even higher in honor of your ancestors that faced even worse.
When your curly-haired friend, Rachel, talks about how Hilary will *always* be the President of her family house, you nod in agreement. After all, you too, had dreamed of being elected President of your school club only to be relegated to second place by pigeon-brained boys because you were a different gender.
AS A BLACK WOMAN, you belong with no one.
You see,once the 7pm Daily News is over and your husband spreads his legs on the living room table, you cower in preparation for the night storm,”-they’re doing in America, treating black people like animals. Chai! If my father was alive to-where is my food, woman?”, his face contorts with disgust at your tardiness.
You grab a drink at the kitchen counter as your friends lead you to the dance floor after a long week of studying. A black male creeps up behind you and gropes your ass. You turn back, staring into his eyes that dare you to protest, to claim that you’re nothing but his “bitch”.
During English class, your professor asks the new black girl to sit next to you since you are both “sistas”. She asks if any of you would need special attention after class since it must be hard for you to fit in. “Your English sounds reaaaallllyyy good, how do you speak so well for…you know?”, the word hangs in the air, dances on her pale lips, feeds on the tension in the room. For a nigger. You had a perfect SAT Score.
When you ask why the Black Lives Matter protest evokes solidarity and support from those who ridicule Womens’ protests against rape and murder, you are told to “sit the discussion out”.
There is a special kind of survival required to navigate the world as a black woman. You strive forward in the next movement that dares to question your existence, and you glance backward hoping that your strength will not be read as a threat.
I have searched the world for a home,
but I always found it on lease.
“Welcome,” they announce,
as I sweep the room and make my bed,
as I present a burnt sacrifice
as I begin to lay my head and seek rest,
I am reminded that I am nothing but a tenant,
my dignity as payment.
Whether by snarky comments from teenage boys in public forums about how seeking consensual sex from a man would have me “raped” or the ear-splitting warning from the preacher’’s megaphone telling me to “cover up or face the consequences”, I am told everyday that to be a black woman means to be blamed for every breath I take.
If I am beautiful and sensuous, I am nothing but a Jezebel black woman begging to be humbled by a man.
If I am smart and confident, I am nothing but an aggressive black woman who intimidates everyone else in the room.
If I am defensive and protective of my boundaries, I am a sassy black woman who is bitter, hurting and nursing wounds from a man.
If I choose to date within my race, I must be a nurturer, a builder, a Nubian queen to stand behind my black king whose faults must never be exposed to the white public- broken bones passed off as careless missteps, temper tantrums pacified on dinner tables, the ideal black love.
If I choose to date outside my race, I must be nothing but a white man’s whore, a betrayer of the Black Love dream. The one that will marry an oyinbo and have oyinbo children. The one discussed at family meetings, whose presence is trailed by sprays of anointing oil, warding the evil spirit of waywardness away.
To be a black woman means to have a torch in your fist and hear the cries echo at your side when you raise the flag of blackness, when you recite the words of Malcolm X, Tutu, and King.
“When you are silent in the face of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
To be a black woman is to hear the bass voices that chant Tutu’s words on Instagram stories and Twitter tell you to sit the conversation out when the face of the oppressor is a black man.
I find myself standing up for black men yet silently praying everyday that the one who I raise a “black lives matter” placard with will not stab me for not cooking fast enough. I find myself screaming with my classmates when we talk about colonialism and the injustices done to us on sugar plantations but I go two tones lower when I rant on artistes who abuse women. When I tweet on racism, I do so without hesitation because I know that everyone will support. When I tweet about sexism, I find myself rewriting and checking my tone, because I know that not every black rights activist on my timeline is a black woman’s rights activist. I wonder how many black women feel like I do.
I love feminism and will always fight for it, but sometimes, I don’t feel 100% accepted in to the club. While we may all agree on how much we love Hillary Clinton and want the orange man out, I feel uneasy to talk about black women issues with non-black feminists, because I wonder if I would make one of them feel uncomfortable.
And I wonder, where do black women lie in the midst of all the -isms?
In the very center.
We stand in the middle of it all and marry the movements because whether we like it or not, we are affected by all of them. I look at my world and I realize that I am located right in the middle where the Venn diagrams intersect. And so I say to black men, please pull us along in the fight for black equality. Pull up every sector of the race, especially the black woman. I say to feminists, help the black feminist out. When you see the bar going low, help us. Sometimes, we need a little assurance that we have a home in every movement that we belong to.