Emma Gray wrote for the Huffington Post a brilliant list of 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing. The list is so relevant that I feel that most women of all stripes, who might be feeling a little unsure of themselves (and who hasn’t at some point in life, right?) should print it out, post it somewhere visible, and recite it once a day, until they have it memorized or until it becomes internalized practice.
While thinking on the list, I wondered about ways in which this list could be altered to make it more germane to the challenges faced by black women specifically. Based upon my own observations in the world (yup, that’s a disclaimer), I could think of four. As such, here is my list of “Four Things Every Black Women Should Stop Doing – In Addition to the 23 Things…List” Yes, I know it’s a long title, but let’s just consider it a work in progress:
Stop Fearing The “Angry Black Woman” Label. In Gray’s 23 Things… she mentioned how women shouldn’t no longer fear being labeled as “crazy,” as its only aim is to discredit or silence women into submission. I feel the same way about all the various inferences to the “Angry Black Woman.” Every day I meet black women, who in some way or fashion, temper their character out of fear of being perceived as loud, having an attitude, or otherwise, being uncouth. As such, they also end up limiting their wants, desires, and overall potential in the process. As the always profound Zora Neale Hurston once said: ”If you are silent about your pain they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” In other words, you better learn to yell and scream if you expect to be heard in this world, particularly this country, which ranks black women as largely invisible. From personal experience, I’ve been the quintessential “proper lady” and I’ve been the girl, who could care a hot damn what folks think about my decorum. I felt the latter to be personally freeing, and I tend to get more things done. Besides, what if you are angry? So what? Hello racism, sexism, homophobia. What about unequal pay and the disparages in healthcare? Or the other ways in which we are marginalized? As far as I’m concerned, we have a right to not only get angry, but to vocalize our displeasure. How else is this world supposed to get better?
Stop Worrying About If And When You’ll Get Married. Of course, this bit of advice could apply to most women of all ethnicities and colors, especially because since childhood we have all been taught that finding a good husband is our only true aim in life – regardless of our other desired worldly achievements. However, as of late, there has been an exceptional interest by both the media, and the general public alike (after all, the media would stop putting this stuff out there if folks, including many black women themselves, would stop sharing it) in the love lives of black women. In particular, there have been news reports, films, and even special television programs all geared to the exploration of the widely circulated statistics that 72 percent of black mothers are unwed and 42 percent of black women, in general, never marry. Of course, the “marriage crisis” among black women has all been debunked many times before, but that’s not why I think you shouldn’t concern yourself. Instead, the martial status of a woman should never be used as a barometer to gauge the success, fulfillment, and most importantly, value of a woman’s life. Little in these discussions about how worthy of marriage we are, is there concern to how prosperous a woman is within either status. How’s her health? What about her financial situation? Most importantly, is she happy? These questions, as it pertains to black women and marriage, are never asked or answered. After all, you can have a woman be married to a man who beats and cheats on her constantly, and then you can be an unwed mother, who is happily in a loving relationship and not be married. Or you could be single, with no kids, hoping to one day get married – when the time is right – but for now, be content with just dating. Therefore, the constant emphasis on marriage ultimately serves as a distraction for what we should be ultimately focusing on, and that’s how fulfilled women find themselves in these roles.
Stop Being Scared to Travel – Particularly Alone. Speaking of society’s warped ideas about black women’s desirability, who says that black women can’t get a man? You know how many countries there are in this world with men in them? I suck at geography, but I’m guessing all of them. And based on my experience as a traveler overseas, there is no shortage of multi-national admirers of the dark skin. However, this is one of the nominal reasons why I have been a big proponent of solo traveling – not so much about finding a man, but seeing the world in a different perspective. In my experience, it is my black female friends who often have a harder time breaking free from the pressures and presumptions forced on us about what are supposed to be our “safe” places in the world, whereas my white female friends have been told that the world is their oyster, and have traveled the planet, from very young and often times alone, accordingly. I can’t tell you how many confused looks I have received from sistas who have been intrigued by my stories of solo traveling. And yet, they will ultimately express a similar desire to do so – especially for those trips, which a travel mate can not be found – if not for the fear of being “alone.” However, traveling alone is the greatest expression of independence as if only for a short while, you can live your life (or vacation) completely on your own terms. Don’t want to just hang out at the resort? Want to do something nerdy and extremely touristy as going on a museum hop around your vacation city? Want to be on some ole’ hookie I’m-going-to-find-myself-overseas like in the movie (also book) Eat. Pray. Love? Go for it! Who’s gonna check you, boo?
Stop Being Afraid of the Word “Feminism” – Even If You Don’t Want to Call Yourself a Feminist. I get it: white supremacist ideology. Folks like Margaret Sanger and even Susan B. Anthony were known for mixing their fight for gender equality in with their racism. However, the system of patriarchy is an old system and there have always been women throughout history, who have resisted or sought to shift gender equalities. As such, white women did not invent – therefore could never take ownership of – the concept of feminism. Likewise, black women (and men) were not excluded from the formations and progression of any of the American woman’s suffrage movements (first or second wave). Just ask Sojourner Truth; Ida B Wells; Elaine Brown; Angela Davis; Rosa Parks, etc., who were all just as concerned about ending gender oppression in addition to racial inequalities. And here are some other considerations: The black family is led overwhelmingly by black women; religious leadership in our communities institutions, while mostly led by men, is upheld by congregations of largely women; and black women outnumber black men in colleges and university. Clearly, black women are the economic and developmental backbone of the community. However, our religions tell us to know our places, which is under the rule of a male thumb; despite our education, black women are still paid and valued less than both our male and female counterparts (quick: name a contemporary black woman leader? Now compare that to the list of Obama, Sharpton, Jackson, Smiley, West, etc., who are often cited as black leadership); and there is still this widely held belief that seeks to attribute all blame for dysfunctional families on single black mothers (as opposed to the wayward and otherwise absent fathers and national public policies). If anyone needs reprieve from male dominance and privilege, it would be black women. Yet feminism is not just about some battle of the sexes, which is how these discussions usually show up online nowadays, but rather challenging a framework of hierarchy, which places white Anglo Saxon straight men at the top of the food chain. In essence, it is through the black woman’s fight to help women in poverty; through violence prevention; and with health and reproductive rights, we have found and continue to find liberation not just for women, but also men, who find themselves unable to live up to and meet the narrow definitions of manhood.
So there is my list. I know, some of y’all are gnawing at the bits to counter point or add points of your own. As usual, list them in the comment section below.