When Black Women Attack Each Other: The Problems With Kim Lute’s ‘Problem With Black Women’ Essay
Yesterday, the Huffington Post published a piece from accomplished writer Kim Lute called “The Problem With Black Women.” In it, Lute, a lighter complected woman, talks about how she’s struggled to make and maintain friendships with darker skinned, Black women all her life.
She makes it known early in the essay, which you should definitely read in full, that she sympathizes with darker skinned women who have had to bare the burden of colorism. But she always explains that there are struggles on the lighter side of the spectrum too.
The unwritten rule is that the darkest women are the most burdened while lighter black women are, I suppose, damned to “house Negro problems” that equate to mere hiccups in days that are perpetually long with happiness, job promotions and our pick of viable suitors.
But not only that, Lute asserts that one of the biggest issues with being a lighter skinned woman is the rift it’s created between herself and her darker-skinned sisters.
I’m going out of my cotton-picking mind trying to convince my darker sisters that I’m not their competitor, and that loving who I am, and what I look like, isn’t a condemnation of darker women.
The meat, and perhaps, most problematic part, of the essay came when she described why her relationships with Black women have failed in the past.
The unvarnished truth lies somewhere between my own emotional hang-ups and the fact that most of the darker black women I’ve met are competitive, strident, pushy and critical of my decisions. As such, it’s been easier to socialize with those women who value my friendship without stipulations and constant backtalk. Thus, my friendships with white women are neat, unfettered and based solely on our likes and dislikes. And instead of forcing my friendship on black women who want nothing to do with me, I’ve allowed my other relationships to develop organically even if it meant there was a glaring absence of color that would cause my ancestral foremothers to spin in their unmarked graves.
Though her life has been mostly devoid of long-lasting Black friendships, it’s still something she desires.
In fact, every time I see a gaggle of darker black girlfriends I can’t help but long for their camaraderie, their sincere compatibility. Over the years, I’ve had numerous friendships with black women of all shades but only a precious few resulted in true amity and enlightenment. Sadly, most of these “friendships” were beset with backstabbing, hurtful rumors and instances of fierce rivalry from both sides.Have I ever encountered these same headaches with my non-black girlfriends? Of course, but black women have disappointed me in far larger numbers than white women. Could it be my fault that I don’t have black social circles? Likely.
Then, in perhaps one of the most illuminating parts of the piece Lute talks about growing up in a house where her mother doted on and praised her darker-skinned sister.
To grow up in the shadow of a sister who is forever deemed smarter, more accomplished, prettier and more popular has certainly instilled prejudices that I’m ashamed to own, and have been slow to acknowledge.
And at the end, Lute asks herself some very necessary questions.
Is my lack of black girlfriends due to my childhood? Or am I naively assuming my interests are exclusive to white women? Or is it because I’ve allowed other’s preconceived notions about darker black women to wedge a divide between us?
Honestly, I feel sorry for Kim and I believe her when she says she doesn’t have Black friends. Because if she did, and ran this pitch by them, certainly one of them would have suggested it wasn’t the best idea.
First, the title alone is hard for any Black woman to swallow. And though reading is fundamental and you can’t always judge a piece by the title, it seems that Kim is trying to distance herself from the group to which she claims to proudly belong.
Sadly, the rest of that essay follows in that same vein. Though I doubt this was her intention, the essay reads just like every other attack on Black women from the mainstream media. Ironically, these are also the same sentiments Black men share when they explain why they don’t date Black women. You’ve heard them before and you read them again in the excerpts, Black women are “strident”, a nice synonym for loud, “critical”, “pushy” and offer “constant backtalk.”
I can’t help but wonder if Kim is lacking Black friends because she’s grossly unaware of the challenges Black women face in this world and the attacks that have been lodged against us for centuries now. What else could explain her reliance and rehashing of these racist, and frankly, misogynistic stereotypes? As nicely as she tried to package this, her essay was yet another attack on Black women. And in addition to being especially hurtful coming from one of our own, it’s also terribly unoriginal. While I believe we need to have more open and honest discussions about colorism, one in which character attacks aren’t lobbed, only serve to escalate an already monstrous problem.
Then to drive the point home further, Kim expounds on the ways in which her friendships with White women are better because they’re neat and free.
I hope I’m not reaching when I say that our friendships with other Black women are more likely to involve honest conversation and critique because, the behavior of your fellow Black woman, for better or worse, is oftentimes a direct reflection on you as a Black woman. White women, thanks to White privilege, are able to live more individualistic lives because they are the majority and the actions of one rarely negatively affect the image of the whole group. Furthermore, if you’re invested in that woman’s growth and development, there is bound to be “backtalk” when she talks to you about decisions with which you don’t agree, regardless of race.
And that’s what I mean about her piece having a misogynistic undertone. The notion that your friend, a grown woman with a mind, should be seen and not heard when you tell her something is ridiculous.
As I stated, the most insightful part of the essay came when Kim revealed that her sister, who was darker complected was her mother’s favorite. Childhood baggage and projection are real. And I wonder if the deep rooted issues that prompted this essay would have been better written in a diary or discussed with a therapist. (And believe me, that’s no ‘Black people don’t do therapy shade. A lot of us could benefit.) In short, this just wasn’t right for this forum, where readers, like myself, have to search and scrounge for the good intent in and behind this piece.
At the end of the day though, it does truly seem like Kim would like to have genuine, Black, female friendships. And as someone who has benefitted immeasurably from my friendships with Black women, I hope she gets to experience that incomparable sisterhood.