Tag Archives: strong black woman myth

The Joy(s) of Being A (Black) Woman

18 Apr

I taught a class of Black Women’s Stories this semester and it culminated in a moment of clarity and a recognition of joy. When speaking with a black woman scholar whom I both admire and respect, I shared some of my concerns about the course and how while the stories are certainly powerful, many narratives of black womanhood concentrate on pain, including my own.  I shared that I was excited about the class because it allowed me to collect all of my favorite black girl/woman stories and teach them—teach myself—but that I did not want anyone to walk away feeling like black womanhood is an altogether negative experience/reality.

After acknowledging the importance that such a class exist, particularly in an institution that might otherwise render black womanhood invisible and insignificant, my mentor asked a poignant question: “What about the joy of being a black woman?”  She said, “With all the struggles attached I have never wanted to be anything other than a black woman.  I have never wanted to be a man.  And I have never wanted to be white.”

While I had escaped penis envy all my life, as a child I did wish for whiteness—though my memory does not distinguish if it was the skin or the privilege attached to it that I most longed for. 

My mentor challenged me to have my students read a story about the deliciousness of black womanhood and not just the struggle/s and oppression/s.  When I asked what book she was talking about she had no answer, but I realized that every book written by a black woman about being a black woman contains this bliss—even though it is sometimes hidden and tucked around survival and sacrifice.  I realized that the things and women we read, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Joan Morgan, Cheryl Clarke, Ntozake Shange, Rebecca Walker, Meri Danquah, Patricia Hill Collins, Marita Golden and others, were writing about being (fully feeling/loving/embracing/learning) black and female.  An acknowledgment of the discrimination is not a rejection of all that we are.

While there was a repetition of pain fostered in an inability to not break (resisting or embracing strongblackwomanhood) stereotypes, ambivalence about love/relationships/life, witnessing  loveless partnership, experiencing passionless sex, fearing forced celibacy and loneliness, the inner workings of incest, anger, secrets shared, abandonment, mama and daddy issues, and depression…we read a range of pieces from my life.  “Strongblackwomen” “in search of our mothers’ gardens” with “home girls” fighting “the myth of the superwoman” and declaring “a black feminist statement” while “using anger to respond to racism” and finding the need to face ourselves in our sisters, “eye to eye.”  Dreaming of “blue eyes” and “the days of good looks” when “lesbianism was an act of resistance.” “Lusting for freedom,” pouring balm on “wounds of passion” while the “willow wept for me,”…with me, I found myself in “Sula” because she wanted to make herself, not somebody else, just like me– and fought off “whitegirls” “shifting” through “bone black” ashes on my brown black skin and fighting with and for “endangeredblackmen,” realizing finally that this experience was “For Strong Women” and “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.”

From Barbara Smith’s Introduction to Home Girls to Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought to Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider to Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost we analyzed black women’s experiences of discrimination but also her experiences of joy.  Pleasure.  Power. Love.

I asked my students to go back to every thing we had read and pull out the joy!  The joy of being a black woman.  And we assembled in a classroom circle calling out how the stories teach black girls to be unapologetically themselves and find joy in friendships and relationships with other black women, even unconventional black women.  How romantic relationships begin with hope and anticipation, anxious waiting and “good love” and good lovin even if it sometimes ends.  About sisterhood and friendship and moments of escape and dreams—finding love, inspiring love, writing love, loving yourself, being erotic in every endeavor and enjoying life. Finding power, yes power, and loving black men (and women) as friends (and lovers) and the good side of mothering—and art as an escape and poetry as a medium and being sexual and sexy “like a grown woman” before you are grown and how blackness defines blackness and there is pride and purpose in being a black woman feminist revolutionary. Being free and beautiful in your own self. Moving to music and making love through song, we found black women to be innovators, spiritual healers, inheriting creativity and security and using tears and each other to move forward and on.

I can borrow their words or use my own but we realized in that moment that all along we had been reading about joy, hidden beneath pain, in the everyday experiences of being a woman of color.  It was beautiful and telling. And above all JOYFUL!

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How To Say No: The “B” side to Self-Care

14 Mar

(This post is in response to Life Is Not A Fairytale:  Black Women and Depression, one of our earlier and most popular posts.)

It took me years to unlearn the habit of saying yes automatically when someone asked me for (or to do) something.  So often had that single syllable fallen from my tongue that I would often agree to things before people even asked.  In time I realized that I had spoiled the people around me to the point that they assumed I owed them a response of agreement, no matter how inconvenient and unreasonable it was.  Many times, if I was unable to concede, they would be agitated and annoyed—and I would feel guilty.  To this day I find that when I tell someone no, even a stranger, they seem surprised, almost offended, at my nerve.

And perhaps it is nerve.  And the fact that saying yes all the time got on my very last one, and kept me on edge.  I would say yes because as a self-described superwoman and strongblackwoman it was the only word I knew to say.  I would say yes because I was flattered at the request(s), anxious to people please, and focused on making other people happy.  I would say yes because it felt like the right thing to do, the polite reply to any well-intentioned question, and evidence that I was a good/nice/sweet/reliable/thoughtful/friendly/generous person.  I would say yes because I felt like people were taking score, and I wanted to always be on the plus side (even though, as is general with people who perpetually say yes, I hardly ever asked anyone for anything).  But the yeses nearly took me out.  I realized that saying yes to everyone else was in essence saying no to myself.  No, my personal time and space wasn’t important.  No, sleep was optional and it was reasonable to expect me to accomplish multiple tasks in a day.  No, I don’t deserve a moment to breathe or a moment of reprieve.  No, I’m not important—everyone else is.

When I learned to say no, I realized that it did not require an explanation and that “No” is an adequate one word response.  There didn’t have to be a substantial reason why.  No.  I didn’t need an excuse or grand reason that I didn’t want to participate in an event, or guest lecture in a class, or attend a workshop, or go to dinner, or review this book or this article, or go out on a date, or join a club or support group, or be a mentor/advisor/reader.  No.

Sometimes it (the no) is because I am simply tired, overwhelmed, depressed, moody, PMSing, jonesing, or otherwise distracted.  Other times it is because my plate is already full, overflowing with the residue of other unintentional or well-meaning yeses.  And sometimes, it is because I simply don’t want to, don’t have any interest or desire to, and would prefer to indulge in doing something else or nothing at all.

No, I don’t have other plans or a laundry list of chores to accomplish first;

No, I am not sick or bedridden;

No, I don’t have a deadline or a stack of papers to grade;

No, I’m not caking or sexing or crying;

No, I just don’t want to.

I don’t feel like it.

I have a date with my damn self, bubble bath, glass of wine, mellow music and all, and I’m not breaking it.  I have had a long day/week/month and I just want to chill.  I need some personal, one-on-one, just me and the reflection in the mirror time.  No, no, no!

So, in the spirit of knowing how to say no… I have the following suggestions that I have learned over the years (post 30):

1.   Always say “no” first.  Do not allow “yes” to be your default answer.  It is easier to go back later and say yes, than it is to go back later and say no.

2.  Never agree to do something on the spot.  Always take some time to think about it and consider whether or not it is going to be an imposition.  If it is, say no.

3.  Limit yourself on how many things you agree to do (beyond your comfort zone) every month/semester/year, etc.  I say “yes” to three things beyond my regular responsibilities every academic semester.  After that, I almost always (depending on the request) say no.  NOTE:  I said beyond my regular responsibilities, which already leave me with limited personal time.

4.  Never compromise your peace.  If you have a full plate, acknowledge it.  Don’t try to overcompensate for a previous “no” with a present “yes.”  Never agree to do something you are not comfortable doing or that will stretch you beyond your limits.  You do not owe anybody anything!

5.  If you have a choice (and clearly, sometimes, whether it be for personal or professional reasons, we don’t), reserve the right to decline or say no.

6.  Save some “yeses” for yourself.  Women have the tendency to put other people’s needs and priorities above their own.  Self-care is not selfish and even if it were, we deserve self-indulgence every now and then.  Don’t say yes to something that is essentially saying “no” to yourself.  Take care of yourself.

7.  Don’t apologize for saying no.  You have every right to decline a request or refuse an opportunity.  You should not feel like you are doing something wrong, being rude, disrespectful, or obstinate.  No is the other option to yes.  It is a neutral response, neither positive or negative (regardless of the requestor’s reaction).

8.  It is not a sin to change your mind.  Don’t feel locked into something just because you may have agreed to do it in the past.  Circumstances change.  Your #1 obligation should be to yourself.

This blog is also posted on blogher, http://www.blogher.com/just-say-no-first-crucial-step-selfcare

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