Being a black woman is definitely a unique experience and the only people who can truly relate to the experience are other black women. From low pay to high domestic violence rates, the black female experience is more likely to be wrought with difficulty than any other demographic.
That being said, these things don't have to stop you from living your best life and they're only one side of the black female experience. From our coily, vivacious natural hair and gorgeous sun-kissed skin, to the strength of black female friendship, black womanhood can be joyous and beautiful and awe-inspiring. Here are some truths about being a black woman to keep in mind as you navigate through your daily life.
1. We Can Reach The Top (And We Deserve Acknowledgement When We Do)
Black women make only sixty-six cents to the white man’s dollar and receive fifteen percent less pay than white women. This isn’t something that should discourage us, but instead motivate us to make improvements in the way we demand to be treated. For one, being upfront about your salary with coworkers and refusing to settle for low pay is one way to keep from being taken advantage of and reach the top without burning out. Even if you’re a freelancer, don’t settle for clients who are unwilling to meet your rates. Allow yourself to be confident in all settings, accept compliments and enjoy your life to the fullest.
According to Psychology Today, imposter syndrome is a psychological term that describes the condition in which people continually doubt their achievements and have a persistent fear of being exposed as unworthy and a “fraud”. I’m someone who suffers from this syndrome and I’d be willing to bet that many other black women do too, particularly as more of us begin to exist in spheres traditionally dominated by white men. But whether you’re in the entertainment industry or a banker on Wall Street in New York, don’t allow imposter syndrome and other insecurities to keep you from feeling worthy of succeeding and doing everything you can to reach the top. You are just as deserving of accomplishments and celebration as anyone else.
2. We Are Vulnerable
Some of us—many of us, actually—are soft-spoken, timid and reserved. Contrary to what the media would have us believe, we’re not all sassy, obnoxious, loud and strong-willed. The image of black women as feisty and untameable only contributes to the strong black woman trope, which contributes to our depiction as invincible, masculine and able to withstand whatever comes our way.
Not only does this lead to a society that continuously justifies the abuse of black women, but it leads to a society where anyone can abuse a black woman and not face any consequences from the law. The media’s portrayal of black women as manly, resilient and almost superhuman is dangerous, and increases rates of domestic violence and police brutality incidents.
Black women, don’t fall for the trap. If you’re in an abusive relationship, seek help and make a plan to leave the relationship. You are amazing and beautiful and valuable, but that doesn’t mean you have to be strong or magic. You are human, like everyone else. Therefore, reaching out for any problem you may have does not make you weak, regardless of whether you’re struggling with mental illness or domestic violence.
Reaching out prevents you from becoming a statistic of another black woman killed by assault or death by suicide. According to an article in Time Magazine, we [black women] are nearly “three times as likely to experience death as a result” of domestic violence and intimate partner violence than white women. Moreover, 22% of homicides that result from domestic violence and intimate partner violence happen to black women, despite the fact that we only make up eight percent of the American population.
We’re amazing at giving compassion to other people and being the face of movements that benefit others. Let’s start directing some of that compassion inwards and demanding that others treat us with the respect we deserve.
3. We Don’t Have To Choose Womanhood Over Blackness Or Blackness Over Womanhood
You can be both black and a woman at the same time. You don’t have to prioritize one or the other. Often times, black women feel the pressure to focus on white supremacy and racism, and ignore the ways that we are affected my misogyny. On the other hand, the feminist movement is notoriously racist and focused on the equality of white women only. White feminists are often deafeningly silent on issues that pertain to black women specifically, even though black women are some of the biggest proponents of the movement.
Thus, I would argue that it’s not a good idea to choose one or the other. There is a unique duality and intersection of blackness and womanhood and we are allowed to define what that looks like, without feeling the pressure to choose one side and pretend the other doesn’t exists. Equality for black women looks different than equality for white women and the effects of racism are black men vary from the effects of racism on black women.
4. Our Desire For External Validation Is Courageous And Valid
University of Houston research professor Brene Brown has spent almost two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. Her entire research is based on the importance of true human belonging and she often speaks on the need for people to find real connection among others. If you’re one of the three people who haven’t yet watched her TED talk, I’d recommend you stop what you’re doing immediately and dive in.
According to Brown and other psychologists, internal validation and a strong inner sense of high self-worth is vital to a healthy view of oneself and the world. However, our need for belonging, empathy and acceptance from others is just as important. As innately social beings, we cannot validate ourselves alone, and especially not in a world that is simultaneously trying to tear us down. Even the strongest person would falter.
Yet, this is what is being asked of dark-skinned black women every day. We’re asked to accept our lack of representation in the media, to stay quiet when we’re abused emotionally or physically, and to suffer from mental health problems in silence. We’re expected to fight for everyone else’s fights first and foremost, in the hopes that change and improvements will somehow trickle down to us and benefit us in the long-run.
Grace is a freelance writer and blogger from Canada. Her work has been featured on HerCampus, 21Ninety, Read Unwritten. She is a voracious reader, a dog-lover and a self-professed pop culture junkie. Her other hobbies include watching sappy romantic comedies, consuming too many strawberry-filled doughnuts and people-watching. Grace currently attends university, where she is working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Pre-Law.