I’m sure most of you have seen Jesse Williams’s powerful acceptance speech after winning the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards on Sunday (6/26/16). He made two statements that I want to address in this post and both speak to the experiences of black women.
“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real”
#BlackGirlMagic has been a wonderful; it empowers black women to embrace our power, beauty, strength, and ability to make something out of nothing. It is inspiring to look through the #BlackGirlMagic Tweets, Instagram, and Facebook posts and feel affirmed and inspired by other black women and proud of being a black woman. And, what William’s captured in his speech was the importance of recognizing that being magical does not make us any less real. As black women we bleed, hurt, feel pain, get anxious, depressed, and stressed like all other humans. “Don’t air your dirty laundry” has been a prevailing directive in the black community. This mandate was aimed at countering the negative portrayals of black people in order to help prevent violence and discrimination against us. However, we are still being treated poorly and continue to be portrayed in dehumanizing ways. One negative consequence of believing it is unacceptable to show signs of vulnerability or suffering is that some of us have internalized ideas that experiencing depression, anxiety, mood swings, etc. means that we are weak or worthless. In response, we feel shame about the difficult aspects of our human experience and are less likely to seek the help and support we need.
We must claim and assert our humanity. Let’s fully embrace our magic, while also fully acknowledging that we are real; that we struggle, that we need support, that we need love. This is not for acceptance by mainstream society, we must do this for ourselves because we deserve to live freely and fully and not be forced to play into respectability politics by only showing the strong, beautiful, magical sides of ourselves. We must do this for our sanity; silent suffering makes difficult experiences worse and does not give us the space to heal. The next time you are having a tough time, remember that experience does not negate your #BlackGirlMagic.
“Now, this is also in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.”
It is sad that it’s so rare for black men to acknowledge that black women deserve to be treated better. While many black men thank their mothers in acceptance speeches and on Mother’s Day, this gratitude does not go far enough. It is time for black men to stand up and fight for the rights, safety, and protection of black women just as they do for themselves. It is time for women to be affirmed as essential members of the black community. It is time that black men are called out for abusing and raping black women. It is time that these behaviors are acknowledged as tearing apart the fabric of the black community. It is time for more of our brothers to call out gender-based injustice and sexism. I am not saying that all black men are sexist or abusive but I am tired of the worn out assertions that black men are the priority. I am tired of the competition between black men and women about who has it worse. I am tired of black women being attacked if they dare accuse a black man of rape or some form of abuse. The issues of sexism and abuse are not unique to the black community but let’s not make that an excuse for inaction. Thank you to the black men who get it, thank you to the male black feminists, thank you for those of you who work just as hard for the rights of black women as you do for those of black men. Black women deserve and need better for our health, sanity, and well being.