By Basia Alicia Powell
I am a black woman. I have always embraced my color and race. The word black was never too strong or offensive to describe myself. I never tried to dilute my blackness by trying to disguise myself as mixed. (As I am not only of African decent.) I am also married to a black man, of light skin countenance. I have observed first hand how the difference in our blackness has afforded us different opportunities and treatment.
For women of color, particularly those who look like me, our complications started from childhood. It was handed down to us by our mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and even the men in our families. Ask another black woman who taught her that her complexion or hair was not good enough. A family member in most cases. To be quite honest, the first time I was described as beautiful as a young woman, was by a person of a different race. It takes a very confident black woman to tell another black woman she is beautiful. We were not trained to compliment each other. I have gotten the hardest fight from black women. (Just keeping it real.)
During my childhood, I knew, and I was told that, “Black women are not seen they are heard.” Right away, I realized that a good education was my path to being seen. Even though I pursued Degree programs I never used, it did not matter, as the goal was to be seen. I soon found out that it was still an uphill battle to be seen. A great education still was the gateway but not the solution for me, and other women who looked like me. When we found our “educated voice” we became known as, “Angry black woman”, or ” Who does she feel she is?” I was told, “You are pretty for a black girl!” ” She forget where she come from.” No I did not forget; I am not trying to go back! Am I not allowed to grow?
As time went on, I did not stop to throw stones at every dog that barked at me. I needed to get to where I was going, regardless of the opinions of others. (By the way, many of those “dogs” were black). The “fight down” continued, they continued to tell me how to wear my hair, what career I should choose, where I should live, who I should marry, and what I should say. The noise got louder.
In my early early twenties, I started to notice that the women who were less educated than me, with much lighter skins and softer , straighter hair, got the pick of the draw when it came to choosing a husband. This led me and many other women who looked like me to accept bad relationships or grab our first marriage proposal from men who truly did not know our worth. I was fortunate because God held me steady and was always there to remind me of my real value.
My obvious stunning physical attributes were always met with some form of “pushback”. Most men wanted to sleep with a woman who looked like me, but back then, I was not considered the trophy wife. It was clear to me back then, that I had to develop some kind of “worthiness package”. My natural beauty, was not enough. I had to be really “bright”, more educated, and poised to meet a man who would “find me worthy” to be “his queen”. Afterall, no man was looking for an uneducated black woman to even make her a housewife. My dark skin black female friends, who are married to white men or successful men, all have degrees behind their names. Yes! Some are now stay-at-home moms. Would these men have married these women, if they were not well educated? By the way, I am asking myself the same question😎.
As smart black women, we have to be the force in our homes, without being too forceful of course. We are excellent financial managers, investors,interior designers, cooks, prayer warriors, wives, mothers and the list goes on. However, our contribution goes unnoticed by the outside world. When they see us, they don’t see our worth, all they see is our complexion and of course the fact that we made it, if our husbands happened to be lighter skin than us.
I have been told by a few who cared to share, that I am “lucky to have my husband”. My response to this is, “They know nothing about my marriage and what has been required to keep the engine of this marriage running for two decades.” Why is a man put on a pedestal for simply doing the right thing and taking care of his family? On the other hand, a woman is expected to “come correct.”
Another example of the race , color gender dynamic is the former First Lady, Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama. I heard several people express how lucky she is to have him. Why is she the lucky one? Again, have you seen her and her resume? I feel certain that he consults her on everything. However, for many, she will always have two strikes against her. “One strike for being female; the next strike for being black.”
Today, I am proud because I did not allow anyone from any color of the rainbow to define my perception of my worth or beauty. I also realised overtime through my travels, that it did not matter what shade of black you are, black is black and being black can be complicated.
I always knew, as Beyoncé puts it in song, “Black is King.” More importantly, that my black is queen, even when people from my own race tried to tell me otherwise. Today, I observe many people shouting at the top of their voices “blacklivesmatter”. I appreciate that, and I agree with them. However, the truth is, some of us always knew that we were more than good enough. So we don’t have to shout. Welcome to Wakanda!
As a young black woman, I always strived for the best, because I felt like I deserved it. Even when you tried to tell me that I do not, by your stares and with your words. Even when you placed barriers for me to rise as a woman, in the corporate world, and made it even harder because I was black. My response to your “pushback” was to create my own business and build my own table and take a seat.
And to our black men, some of you did not make it easy for us. In fact, you made it even more complicated by your rejections. You dishonored us with your obvious prejudice and by refusing to see the beauty in our diversed shades of melanin.
As recent as two years ago, when we were moving into our new home, a delivery driver came to deliver a fridge I bought, and as he entered our home, I was standing there with another woman, who the builder hired to clean the property, and for some reason, it was logical for him to assume she was the owner. She was definitely light skin with straight hair. The black man addressed her and said he had a delivery for her😎. His lack of judgment, said more about him than it did about me.
While I recognize, that we have some ways to go, I must acknowledge that we have made some progress. However, to members of my community, if you want us to reach further, don’t pull us down when we are trying to climb. Drop us off at the foot of the mountain and watch us climb. When you are ready to climb , pull up! Understand that when you are envious of the progress of another brother or sister, it really says more about how you feel about yourself.
It’s complicated being a black woman, particularly if you are ambitious. You cannot be too outspoken, or too quiet. If you remain silent you are giving consent to be overlooked. However, when you speak up, you are angry. It’s a very grey area, but my choice is to speak up and introduce myself properly. You will not tell me who I am. I have never believed in ” Speak when you are spoken to and answer when you are called.”
Over the years, the complication associated with my physical appearance continued, but it never affected me. I was dripping in “race esteem” and my sel-esteem knew no boundaries. It was so much in tact that I assumed that everybody liked me. Perhaps more than anything, I suffered from hearing loss when it came to race. I either did not hear negative remarks and racial innuendos or I was so high on being black and proud, I was not paying attention.
My wish for the world is that we would focus on building the self-esteem of all our children (of every race). Instead of teaching them to become racists, tell them how beautiful they truly are. More importantly, beauty comes in different shapes, sizes and color. If you are trained to think that you have to feel superior to others to feel beautiful, there in lies the problem. Don’t rely on the streets to teach your children what they are worth, because they may hear it from the wrong person. They should hear it from you first.
During my childhood one of my favorite songs I learnt at Sunday school, that stayed with me tbrough out my life was:
” Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Everybody’s beautiful in their own way, like a starry summer’s night on a cold foogy winter day.”
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