How My Little Cousin Learned About The “One Black Girl Complex”

January 16, 2013  |  


Last week, Kerry Washington gave me yet another reason to love her. Not only is she a talented actress and an advocate, she proved that she understands how important it is for black women to support each other, even if other people consider these black women to be competitors. During the premiere of Meagan Good’s “Deception,” Washington reached out via Twitter to congratulate Good on the launch of her new show. Good was grateful and humbled that an actress she admired would take the time to compliment her. It gave me warm fuzzies too. Finally, it seemed that women, black women, were getting past this notion that if we’re in the same field, only one of us can be successful at a time. Kerry was showing us all that there is room for both.

And it wasn’t just Kerry who felt this way, “Deception” pulled in great ratings last Monday. When we shared  that news on social media, there were a few women who immediately jumped on the defensive, asserting that even though they hadn’t see it, “Deception” had nothing on “Scandal.” Ok that’s a valid opinion. But when I asked these women if there was room for both? They said no, there wasn’t. Hmm…warm fuzzies frozen. I just ended the conversation by saying that we were just happy to see two black women gainfully employed in the very competitive, racist industry that is Hollywood. The thing is, this belief that only one black woman can shine at a time is something that’s learned from a very young age.

Right now, and for the past couple of years, my nine year old cousin has been dealing with the same type of issue. My cousin, we’ll call her Sandra, who has grown up in a house full of older brothers and been surrounded by older cousins, is pretty advanced for her age. She’s still able to socialize with the girls her age. She’s interested in tea parties and Barbie dolls and all of that; but she really has no patience for goofy, obnoxious behavior… especially when she’s at school. She goes to a private school, where there aren’t too many other black girls there except for another one, Lisa, who’s close to her age, though they’re not in the same grade. Initially, Sandra and Lisa would talk to one another at school. They’d eat lunch together, play with each other at recess. But Lisa is a little immature. And her idea of fun and games usually includes something that involves harassing my cousin. Nothing violent but she’ll pull her clothes, irritate her and run away or attempt to boss her around.

Every other day, Sandra was coming home, telling my aunt about how Lisa was bothering her. After weeks of this, my aunt decided to call Lisa’s mother and see if she could resolve the problem. As two black women, she began the conversation suggesting that they both talk to their daughters about working on their friendship, so as not to inspire unnecessary and mean spirited competition between the few black girls in the school. Lisa’s mother responded with a simple, “No.” She would not do that. Instead of explaining why she wasn’t down with this idea or suggesting an alternative, she began to talk about her experience of being an AKA and having light skin and long hair. That’s all I know about that conversation because shortly after that completely unrelated and unnecessary sorority shout out, my aunt tuned out and shortly after that, ended the call.

Seeing that the situation with Lisa was beyond repair, my aunt told my cousin to tell Lisa that she didn’t want to hang out with her anymore because they couldn’t seem to get along. Lisa responded by saying that her mother didn’t think my cousin or her mother, my aunt, were Christians anyway… Sandra really doesn’t need friends like that.

Fortunately, for my cousin, she has other black friends, both girls and boys, from her baton twirling group and church. She knows that black girls can be friends. She knows that true friendship doesn’t mean one party is constantly being harassed and annoyed. She knows that just because one black girl, and eventually woman shines, it doesn’t mean the other is irrelevant. A few weeks ago, I came across a profound truth on Twitter from @BossChicks, that said “A real woman isn’t threatened by another woman’s shine, because she sees her own reflection in the success of another.” My cousin is only 9, but I hope this and other experiences with black girls and later women, teach her that while all black women won’t be here to see you succeed, you should never use that as an opportunity to shun other black women. If another black girl is doing it, it’s time out for getting discouraged or disgusted. If someone who looks like you made it, you know it can be done.

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