art by Debra Cartwright
I originally started writing this about three months ago, after watching a spoken word performance by Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad, entitled “To Be Black and Woman and Alive”. It’s a powerful piece describing the sad reality that some of the strongest hate black women receive today comes from black men.
Today I was motivated to go back to this piece, after seeing last night’s Emmy Awards where actresses like Viola Davis and Uzo Aduba walked the stage looking absolutely beautiful in their own skin.
As I see these beautiful, graceful, talented women accepting their awards, the admiration of the crowd is clear. I log onto social media and see that, for the most part, the admiration remains.
But sprinkled liberally in between the supportive comments were the expected comments from members of the black community, particularly the men, on these women’s appearances. Tearing them apart as “ugly” or “bald-headed”… All this in light of the outstanding achievement these women were on stage being honored with–most notably, Viola Davis just became the first Black woman to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
The poetry video references black men, and this letter does too. But I write this also in reference to all people who perpetuate these messages for black women.
I write this for the black women who feel undervalued. Who are made to feel like their hair, skin, and features are displeasing, or somehow inferior.
I want to make it resoundingly clear that it is not your job to make the world okay with you. And I urge you to spend that energy becoming okay with yourself…as Viola Davis and Uzo Aduba proved last night on the Emmy’s stage, the world will come around once you do.
A Letter to my Queens: Black Men (& Others) Who Don’t Love You Are Not Your Problem
I never knew anything about creams, lightening with lemon, etc., even though I spend all year a beautiful chocolate brown.
I spent the majority of my youth in braids, twists, or cornrows.
My father is Nigerian, and I’ve heard my share of African jokes from people of all races.
And I too have heard my fair share of ignorant comments from sad, confused black men.
But I’ve never looked at it as anything needing fixing within myself; I approached it with a sense of pity, as I watch a man who looks like me blindly preserve the same damaging ideals and standards that, historically, serve to subjugate him too.
It never occurred to me to lighten my skin–because of proper self-esteem, education about our past, and empathy for the struggle that we all face if we don’t consider how our behaviors today were shaped in the context of a very racist yesteryear.
I watched the poetry performance and was saddened, realizing that this is the experience our women have when they fixate on the love they aren’t getting. When they focus on being undervalued by certain groups. And I couldn’t help but wonder if my ability to turn a blind eye to these experiences reflects my choice to fixate on the opposite.
What a difference it can make in life, when you shift your focus from what you lack to what you have.
Black women are hurting. But we need to direct our focus to the many who love us, prize us, and would never question our beauty.
Imagine how our mindsets could change if, instead of begging for acceptance from the backwards people, we opened ourselves up to the many others who see us for who we are: beautiful, resilient people with so much love to give.
I’m tired of the victim narrative; not because black women aren’t constantly victimized in many areas, because we are. But I’m here to remind you, Beautiful, that all we have power over is ourselves. And we must lead by example.
Raise your head high, and turn your cheek to those statements about not being light enough, or thin enough; about your hair being displeasing. We are goddesses, and we will not be bothered by the opinions of sheep…of mindless, blind followers of a history that, in many cases, hated them too.
Rise above, and redirect your attention to all the positive feedback you receive about your placement on this earth. Your family that adores you. Your children who cherish you. Your peers who respect you and your gifts. The many men (they’re out there, everywhere!) that see your pride and unapologetic self-love as irresistibly authentic and beautiful.
I simply fear that we have become a self-fulfilling prophecy: unwanted by others, which in turn makes us slowly blind to the value in ourselves. I believe it’s absolutely critical to shift our focus here, for our own well-being and survival.
And as we begin to value ourselves and reflect that new energy within and back out into the world, our haters will see their foolishness. They will. But we need not grovel for their attention in the meantime.
Let them find out the hard way–if they insist–the beauty and value of our black queens. It is not our job to convince them.
– ♥ Sade