American black women have always been painted negatively in the U.S. media, which also influences the international community. From the Mammy to Jezebel to Sapphire, these stereotypes have affected society’s view of the black woman, setting the tone for her treatment by other communities before she is even given the opportunity to prove otherwise.
I remember when I first started middle school in the predominantly white community of Midlothian, Texas. Not only was I one of a handful of black students, but our family was the only African family in the entire city. Having to make friends turned my stomach upside down, as somebody who had always been very shy. The fear of rejection was too difficult to get over in my mind. I was drawn to quiet, intellectual individuals like myself. Even at that age, I was very focused, thanks to a mother who drilled the importance of academic success into my head day and night. I found it difficult to relate to my African-American classmates due to our cultural differences.
My first encounter with a fellow black female classmate was a nightmare. I had taken my hair out of braids for the first time, and she accused me of wearing a wig. She began jabbing in my hair and yelling out to the whole class that I had a weave on. At the time, I did not understand that she was simply a bully and that bullies can be found across all racial groups. I allowed myself to carry this particular memory with me throughout school, and did not have a single African-American friend until years after I graduated. Now I find the whole idea to be ridiculous, but it made sense in my mind at the time, due to the preconceived notions my family had about American black women.
Read more of Nancy Laws’ letter to Black women at BlackVoices.com