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As I boarded the bus yesterday after getting off work I noticed a young lady staring at me as I made my way towards my favorite seat in the back.  I figured maybe she thought she knew me and I even glanced to see if she looked familiar, but I didn’t recall her face from anywhere.  After about five minutes I could feel her eyes burning through the side of my face and I looked up to see her staring at me with the nastiest scowl.  For a minute I started running down why this complete stranger might have issues with me. “Did I hit her with my bag when I passed her?”  “Do I look like someone her man was messing with?”  Homegirl stared at me even as I stood up to get off at the stop the driver almost blew through.  I was proud of myself for not being that girl who could’ve been like, “What the hell are you looking at?”  But it was a sad reminder of how “normal” it is for interactions between black women to be so negative.

I wasn’t always so rational.  There was a very long time in my life where I assumed every woman who didn’t like me was jealous.  There was this need to prove to myself I was pretty by instantly assuming every woman that wasn’t a fan of my outfit or took a jab at a bad hair day was just mad she couldn’t be me.  I realize now this mindset said more about my own insecurity than anyone else’s self-esteem.  More and more I’ve noticed how women will seek any and every opportunity to discredit what we see as our competition. “She’s pretty, but she ain’t got no ass.” “I’m better because I buy bulk Indian remy and not BSS hair.”  “Yeah she’s got a BMW, but why is she rocking that cheap ass bag?”  What we fail to recognize is that if we traded every insult in for a chance to recognize one positive quality in the women we feel the need to judge, we’d not only build our individual self-esteem but our esteem as a community.  Trust and believe, the media misses no opportunity to discredit our beauty and behavior, so it’s up to us to build up one another. And before I get hit with, “It’s not just black women, it’s women in general,” let me be clear that I understand that cattiness and pettiness have been unfairly labeled as female problems.  White women probably have these same problems, but as a black woman all I can take ownership of is how WE choose to behave.

Last summer after his famous “leg drop” incident, Singer Miguel expressed some brutally honest insight on the black community’s pre-occupation with degradation.

“I’m proud of my heritage but honestly, black people are the most judgmental people in the world. Ish is sad man.”

“Of course EVERYONE is judgmental. I just PERSONALLY believe WE are the most critical of our own.”

I won’t get deep into how we are victims of the historical influence of the white man dividing and conquering our culture, but I do think for many of us there remains a deep trace of self-hate and a need to justify our beauty and worth by picking apart the flaws within one another.  One thing I love about black women is how proud we are, but many of us have traded in humility for pride.  Instead of looking to one another to learn and uplift, we end up trying to reason why the level we’re on is better and trying to convince others to join us no matter how low it may actually be.  I’ll never forget when my fiancé first started his business and tried discussing his frustrations with a close friend who had been laid off.  Instead of finding a way they could work together, he tried to convince him to give up and get on unemployment.

A long time ago when I was hanging out with a family member who made it her own hobby to tear down any other woman she spotted in public that made her the slightest bit insecure I asked her, “What it is about that woman that makes you uncomfortable?”  A long time ago I challenged myself that every time I felt compelled to insult another woman to find something positive about her and tell her.  It takes two seconds to say, “I really like your hair.”  It was crazy how many of those scowls turned into actual conversations.  What I noticed, one compliment at a time, is that I felt better about myself and black women in general.

I would have loved to been able to sit down with that young lady on the bus and ask her why she seemed so pissed at life, but I fear that many of us aren’t ready for that conversation.  Who knows, she may have even been trying to figure out what kind of curl I had in my head or where I got my boots from.  But instead of asking she just sat there with her eyes rolled and lip twisted leaving me with the only assumption that she was just another bitter ass black woman. It’s disappointing because it really doesn’t matter who’s wearing beauty supply hair or who’s rocking a Kate Spade purse, if we’re all looking at each other with the stank face none of us are as pretty as we’d like to think.

Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a  passion for helping  young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health.  She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

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