Despite being a rather opinionated woman, I’m typically not one to voice my thoughts on a lot of things in the company of strangers or even acquaintances. I’ve always been more of a listener than a talker, and the idea of debating has always come across to me as a way to enjoy the sound of one’s own voice more than to come to any common ground or expanded understanding of a particular topic. It’s for these reasons — and a general dislike of having to defend my beliefs — that I tend to watch and listen rather than talk and try to make others learn.
Until recently. Lately, I find myself unable to let certain comments go. I hear myself calling people out more often than turning the other cheek. I catch myself doing the very thing I say I hate: debating.
A few weeks ago, I walked into a workout class with my hair out instead of in its usual bun. A couple girls took note of my big ‘fro and my curls and paid me compliments, one guy told me I look like that scene in Love & Basketball where Monica needs to get her hair done. Being that he’s the class clown type, I let his jab go — it was one of many he’d thrown at me over the course of our casual tit-for-tat relationship, but when he called me Buckwheat later in the class, it didn’t strike me as funny. In fact, it kind of hurt.
When he hit me with the same nickname in the next class I said, “You know that’s disrespectful as hell right?” He didn’t get it then and he didn’t get it a few weeks later when the topic came up again and I told him as a Black man he should know telling a Black woman her natural hair looks like Buckwheat isn’t a good look. It was at this point a white woman (to whom we weren’t speaking, it should be noted) interjected to inform me, “He doesn’t mean it to be offensive.” I can only surmise the good Lord himself placed his hand on my tongue and stopped me from cussing her out. Instead, I replied, “But it is.”
Fast forward to this past Sunday when I found myself DM debating Floyd Mayweather because a man took issue with my taking an issue with the way in which he was being heralded as the great Black hope after defeating Conor McGregor in the ring. For me, his glorification was a manifestation of how unbothered people are by domestic abuse and general disrespect of women and that bothered me. I tried my damnedest to make this acquaintance see that, but we never even got past him being able to fathom the allegations of abuse against Mayweather could be true. I gave up. Defeated.
When I thought about the situations above later, I realized I spoke up because those topics are personal to me. I’m “sensitive” to them as the men I argued with would say. But the same can’t be said of my shutting down the crude R. Kelly jokes I’ve borne witness to since his predatory ways have made headlines again or the transphobic and homophobic comments doused in fragile masculinity that I’ve addressed. Seeing something and saying something has slowly become a way of life for me and I don’t know if that makes me a better human being or simply a combative individual. I also feel like there’s a third option that leaves me somewhere in the middle, debating this topic for no other reason than the fact that I’ve bought into the angry Black woman rhetoric and I fear I’ve become the personification of that stereotype.
It’s not lost on me that most (or all) of these debates I’ve had as of late have been with Black men. And, again, I don’t know if that’s because they need so much educating or I let too much of their behavior push me over the edge. The thing is, I wanna be the cool girl. The woman who can go with the flow, have a chill time, hang with the boys — which I do — but there always comes a point where someone says something sly and I have to question, do I speak up or do I let it go?
It’s kind of like the time I was hanging out with a mixed race group of people and the word “ghetto” was used one too many times by a white woman and always in reference to areas with people of color. At 3pm I let it roll off my back, by 6pm I was straight up annoyed, and at 10 pm I had to call ol’ girl out. I didn’t want to be the sensitive Black girl buzz kill in that moment, but I also couldn’t help but think, what kind of Black woman are you to sit in the presence of this kind of conversation and not correct it?
Perhaps this is just another of the many burdens of being a Black woman– never not offended, always perplexed about what to do about it. I believe in picking my battles and I also believe sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it, which makes the line between correcting and being combative a little less blurry. But considering the world we’re living in, checking folks might be a lot less costly than letting ignorance go unchecked. In fact, I don’t know if seeing something and not saying something is something I or anyone else can really afford.