Sometimes certain events cause me to reflect on my experiences. I’ve had such an experience recently, thinking about Black womanhood and what it means to be a Black woman in the West. I contemplated things I’ve faced, and how I’ve grown. Through speaking to my other Black female friends and family members, reading blogs and other autobiographical writing, it was affirmed to me just how hard it is to be a Black woman; it truly does involve struggle, both internal and external, inside the community and outside of it.
It’s disheartening when our experiences aren’t listened to, when we as Black women, marginalized people, have to fight and struggle to have our voices heard, to confirm that we have feelings and emotions, to prove that we’re worthy and that we are not caricatures but living, breathing beings. Many of us were raised between cultures and are caught in the middle, yet our struggles have made us stronger and more resilient, stimulated our creativity, and made us more determined to share our voice. Black experience is not characterized solely by struggle, but at least for me a part of being a Black woman in Canada has involved struggle in a city where I feel relatively isolated from blackness, where I feel my issues are rarely addressed adequately.
I’ve spent over 3/4 of my life as a visible minority in the West. I am aware of my surroundings, the social structures, and often, like so many of us, I am just tired of what I’m seeing, hearing and experiences. In recent times I look for some sort of respite, and to be honest it’s hard to come by. It often only comes when I am with family and like-minded friends, when the television is switched off, and when the magazines remain closed, otherwise I am bombarded with images, lies, and sobering statistics. Like all the Black women I am on close terms with, I have struggled (and I’m still struggling) in many ways; there have been the identity issues, beauty ideals, exotification, being made to feel invisible, the list goes on and on.
The Black female experience is different for everyone, but for those of us who have lived in the West so many things are common, from the sexualization and harassment experienced from a young age, to being told to stay in the shade so that our skin colour doesn’t get dark and “ugly.” It also means that as adults we are having to remove all those internalized lies about ourselves, and accept the fact that although flawed we are human and we are worthy.
Being a Black women affects so many aspects of my life; it means I plan things differently, I have to be more strategic about certain things. The Black experience is not meant to be a trend or a fad; for us living it it’s our reality and it dictates so much including how we are seen, how we are treated, and the health issues we face.
The co-opting of race as a costume is what I see as essentially an erasure of history, culture, and racial experiences. It’s not about admiring a group of people or feeling an affinity with their culture, which happens all the time and is perfectly valid. This is about believing one can just decide to wear another race like it’s a dress. Blackness is about more than outward appearance; those who use the Black women’s aesthetic often go for the stereotypical aspects, thus further insulting our image. Black people have struggled to get to where we are, and so many of us are still working hard. This is not a fair world, especially for us.
Yet, still, here we are, thriving regardless of all these obstacles. But it’s been a journey, one many of us are still on. The journey illuminates the Black woman’s experience so well: a journey of honesty and vulnerability, admitting many things to oneself, decolonizing one’s minds. Before this journey I was quite naive, a hopeless idealist, believing people had what was best for me at heart, believing that we live in a colour-blind society, believing media lies, ignoring what was going on around me, and refusing to name the micro-aggressions I witnessed. Since embarking on this journey, I have met people on a similar journey, people with whom I can commiserate. These are people who understand issues that others might see as inconsequential, for example getting hair braided, not being able to find the right shade of foundation, having to deal with people touching and prodding you without asking because they don’t see your humanity. This journey obviously affects the psyche in a profound way.
Survival has always been about finding ways in which to escape from and survive in this land that oppresses us. We have worked hard at doing so. We have worked hard at empowering ourselves and other black women, and finding freedom at all costs for our sanity, in order to grow, and perhaps to prove something to ourselves and to others. For those of us who are immigrants, our vantage point is different than that of our parents; not only do we have a generation gap, we also have a cultural gap. And that makes us stronger while making our lives ever the more complex. We are excluded from so many areas of life yet we do our best to squeeze in, to occupy more space. Our experiences are often negated but we are determined to speak.
My racial experiences cannot be understood fully by the reading of books, nor by spending time in Black spaces. It’s not something one can catch by breathing in the same air as me; it’s only something that can be completely understood by being me, or someone like me: a Black woman.
“No man can feel the iron which enters another man’s soul.”- Hazel Carby