In the grand scheme of things, we women are more alike than not. We’re mothers and grandmothers, aunts and nieces, daughters, sisters, and granddaughters. We’re capable of giving life which makes us unique, powerful and strong. It’s because of all the things we must be and do as women, that we’re able to develop a sisterhood. Yet just like any real and true “sistership,” there comes a time when we feel we’re not being treated fairly…and as we mature and grow we try to have more open conversations about the things that may have shaped or affected our relationship. We talk things out honestly, so we can better relate to one another. It’s only in trying to understand our unique perspective on certain issues, that we can have a real bond.
One Voice to Hear
My unique perspective comes from the many things that have made me who I am today. I’m a mother, and a business owner. I have a passion for travel, reading, and writing (when I have the time). I come from a biracial mother who is German and black, and a father who is black and Native American. Nonetheless, despite the many, many things that I am, the part of me that the world will always see first, is that I’m a black woman, and it’s because of this that I’ve had unique experiences that my non-black friends will never have. These experiences have been challenging, disheartening, and downright pissed me off at times, but have also made me that much more strong and proud of who I am.
So, in honor of true friendship and sisterhood, I’ve put together five key things I believe black women would like their white friends and colleagues to know based upon our unique perspective. Maybe it will shed some light on things you never knew, or just make you more aware of how we have to move through this world. Overall, I hope it opens up the lines of communication so that we as sisters, can better understand each other, and stand together in a true fight for equality and inclusivity.
The Fine Line
We appreciate when you enjoy aspects of black culture, but want you to understand there is a fine line between enjoyment and appropriation. Black culture has always had a major influence on popular culture. From music and dance, to fashion and beauty, to body type and even skin tone, there are so many things that are natural to, and originated within the black community, but are often viewed negatively when worn by us. They then become adopted by popular culture and are suddenly “all the rave.”
Full lips, bigger butts, cornrows and braids, darker skin tones, and yes…even twerking, are aspects of black culture that black women have been ridiculed, over-sexualized, and judged for. To see these things taken over by white America, and deemed as the latest “trend” is more than frustrating. We have no problem with appreciation. We do have a problem when we feel aspects of our culture, and things that we have had to make painstaking strides to embrace, are being used as a costume or fad.
Black Women Are Not Intimidating
We want to stop being viewed as intimidating. Black women (and men) are often seen as intimidating, for no other reason than the color of our skin. My entire life, I have heard this accusatory judgement made from co-workers and colleagues. I’ve had friends and family members who have also been called intimidating. I’ve been told to smile more when I walk in a room, or stand in a more welcoming way to make others feel comfortable. My younger self would try to do these things to accommodate people around me, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to the conclusion that how others feel about my mere presence is not my issue, it’s theirs.
Don’t Misinterpret Our Passion As Anger
We’re tired of not being allowed to be angry, and don’t always want to have to take the high road. It’s all too often that for black women, our passion is mistaken for being angry. When we are approached with a situation where we feel we need to voice our opinion and stand up for what we believe in, we are socialized to handle it with kid gloves for fear of being deemed the “angry back woman.” What’s more, we’re not allowed to express a natural human emotion. If we do find ourselves in a contentious situation, we’ve learned to “go high,” as Michelle Obama so famously stated. Yet, sometimes that can be hardest thing to do…especially when you know you are right.
A Win For Some Is Not a Win For All
A win for white women, isn’t always a win for us. Lately, there has been more and more recognition for the womanist movement, as opposed to the historical feminist movement. That’s because feminism has a history of putting civil rights issues exclusive to black women on the back burner, to better advance the cause. Womanism is a social theory based on the history and everyday experiences of black women. It’s a term coined by writer Alice Walker in a short story she wrote in 1979 (check her out here). In history, black women have had to choose between the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, as neither truly fulfilled the needs specific to that of the black woman.
As stated by Paula Giddings, historian and author of the book, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, “The modern civil rights movement and the women’s movement evolved contemporaneously and black women were asked to choose between the two.” (check out the book here) In the long run, if we only focus on gender issues without also addressing the fact that women of different backgrounds face different issues, then we’re leaving out an entire group of people, and doing a disservice to the group as a whole.
Despite What You Think, the Playing Field ISN’T Even
We’re taught at an early age that the playing field is not even, and we hope you’ll teach your children why. I remember as a young girl my parents sat me and my siblings down and gave us the speech that all children of color are given. We’re told that no matter how hard we work, how much we achieve, or how much success we attain, we’ll always be judged differently and will constantly have to prove ourselves. It’s a harsh reality that is ingrained in us, to prepare us for the harsh world. We must live by a different code, or set of rules as discussed in the points above.
We’re taught that we’re going to be tested and tried in ways that others won’t ever have to. No matter our economic or social status, everything from our hair, to how we dress, speak, and act will constantly be judged. These are conversations that our parents had to have with us, their parents had to have with them, and we will have to have with our children. The hope is that our white friends will do the same and teach their children why that is, so future generations will grow up in a world with more empathy and understanding.
– Written By Victoria F. Hall, Founder and CEO of WORKINGURL
One For Women is honored to have Victoria F. Hall, Founder and CEO of WORKINGURL share her voice and her important message as part of our One Voice to Hear series.