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The Complicated Space Black Womanhood Resides In

May 29, 2020

Guilt shaming black women into acting against their own best interest to everyone else’s benefit, happens at the family, community, and societal level. We see this play out in black homes across the US where we “love our boys and we raise our girls,” noted first lady Michelle at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago a few years back. 

In our communities, black women are demeaned and shamed for putting their needs before the “communal needs” (read the desires of black men). Jewel Woods, an author and gender analyst, lays out many of the privileges black men enjoy, at the expense of black women, in his article “Black Male Privileges Checklist.”Society as a whole has benefited off the labor of black people and this of course includes the often misrepresented, if not completely unacknowledged, black woman. 

Everyone wants to enjoy the benefits of having the support of black women, but no one wants to compensate the black woman for her labor. This kind of relationship is parasitic in nature and I’d argue that it contributes to the high rates of anxiety and depression that black women suffer from. Just as the “Strong black woman,” and “angry black woman” tropes contribute to the rates of mental health issues that black women suffer from.

As a black woman, I can corroborate the tales of familial, communal, and societal exploitation referred to as “muling”. Luckily, I’ve always had enough of my wits about me in order to challenge these efforts and consequently protect my mental health. However, it took some personal development in order to get to where I am today. I had to stop practicing doormat tendencies and start practicing self-preservation. Black womanhood existed in a complicated space for me until I made it more simple.

People pleasing or putting the needs of other consistently before your own, or the inability to say no are all what I would consider doormat tendencies. Just like the name sounds, doormat tendencies invite people to walk all over you. Women in general are more likely to have doormat tendencies as we have been “found to be more agreeable than men.” In other words, in an effort to keep the peace, or maintain social relations, women are more likely to put aside their interests so that others can be happy.Agreeability isn’t a bad thing to have, but as always, anything taken to an extreme can have deleterious effects on a person’s quality of life.

We as black women occupy a unique position in society that allows us to empathize with the misfortunes, desires, and wishes of others. In the Souls of Black Folk, a book of essays written by W.E.B. Dubois, Dubois coins this term double-consciousness in order to express this split state of being that black people exist in due to their unique standing in society. The state of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” or only being able to see yourself as others see you is something I know many black women are afflicted with. It becomes apparent when you look at the hordes of black women who measure their sense of self-worth by how much of their identity they’re we’re willing to give away.

We give away the black identity to anyone who doesn’t identify with white at the moment, because we empathize with their plight. We know what it’s like to be rejected by the dominant society for factors you can’t control. We give away our female identity to the trans community because we know what it’s like to be forced into a sex you don’t identify with. Black women are routinely forced to identify with masculine roles and masculinity despite being women. Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman speech is as relevant today as it was in the 1800’s. Can you believe that? Since the 1800’s black women have been calling out the forced masculinization of their bodies.

Black women are a group of incredibly empathetic and selfless individuals. Despite how wonderful those traits are, it’s important that we learn to practice self-preservation alongside those traits. Asking who benefits from my labor is an important step to achieving this goal. When your sense of identity resides outside yourself, that invites inner turmoil and self-destruction. You can see it in the hordes of fully black girls who don’t understand why it is that they and the Rashida Jones’ of the world are part of the same group, yet they don’t get the same benefits as the Rashida Jones.’ 

Black women cape for mixed women because they identify with mixed black women, but most mixed black women aren’t reciprocating the love. They just accept the love. They identify with their blackness because there’s tangible benefits to it that aren’t even as easily accessible to the people giving them the benefits. (If it’s accessible at all.) The Doja Cat fiasco is a timely example of a white identifying woman only claiming black, when it appears that the money she receives from black women and the black community, is in danger. The trans community is notorious for putting their demands before that of the women they wish to emulate for vague and "spiritual" reasons akin to the ramblings of white-jesus worshipers. And many black women will toss them the keys to their house. At least with the trans community many reciprocate the care given to them.

Black women are a very powerful group with the ability to shift the country at the share of a tweet. I’ve noticed more and more black women coming into their power. They recognize that should they take the energy that they put into making sure that black men and mixed women have their needs met, and catered to their needs, they wouldn’t have to deal with half of the problems that come with a split identity; a double consciousness. Black womanhood exists in a complicated space in society but it doesn't have to be. Not everyone who says calls you sis is a brother or sister black woman.

Lilith is a blogger with an emphasis in writing and reflecting upon social agendas that effect black women. When not at her computer writing she is more than likely still at her computer, programming. On the rare occasion that Lilith isn't at her laptop you can attempt to find her exploring the Chicago food scene or attending workshops in creative writing 

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