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.
Sankofa is a Ghanaian term that signifies the importance of drawing on our past in order to move forward. While some of the current struggles that we experience as black women are unique to our time, there are similarities to the challenges that our female ancestors faced. I believe that reflecting on the strengths and experiences of black women who came before us can give us insights into how to endure what we face today. In particular, one common challenge involves balancing our identities as women and black people in a social environment that often pushes us to prioritize one identity over another. In this post, I will review the experiences of three black women and highlight the lessons we can draw from their lives.
In her famous speech “Ar’n’t I a Woman?” Truth argues that women and men should be treated equally because they can perform the same tasks as men and at times endure more than them. In her argument she calls upon her experiences from slavery saying that she has “plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me.” In this statement she is countering a common narrative about women being feeble and arguing that we are just as capable as men.
Lessons from Sojourner Truth: Assert Your Value
It is important for us to acknowledge and assert our strengths. Truth gave that speech in 1851 and unfortunately, the need to articulate the value of black women continues today. I encourage you to be outspoken about what you can do as a black woman. Whether you’re taking the lead as an organizer, negotiating for a raise or higher salary, or making sure you get appropriate acknowledgment for supporting your family, don’t shy away from highlighting your strengths. Let’s strive to communicate our value with finesse and grace so that others can hear and acknowledge what we bring to the table.