By Ahlam Ali
Dear black woman,
Like you, I am painfully aware of the high price tag of black womanhood. In a world heavily hijacking our looks (see here, or here) while hating us, we’re often bound to fall prey to self-esteem issues which then become a daily struggle.
As a dark skinned woman, I was either completely excluded from the mainstream beauty conversation or dragged into it for all the wrong reasons; bestowed with the title of “exotic” and having the “bits” that make me “pretty for a black girl” showcased.
Perhaps your sense of beauty has been constantly fluctuating like mine. And this must be dealt with accordingly.
During a recent conversation in which I opened up about my clouded sense of beauty and confidence, a friend made a statement that has been stuck with me for the past few days. He said, “In a world that keeps subtracting from black women, you can’t subtract from yourself.”
Hell yes! We can’t afford to lose any more ground and retreat to the corners of being passively misrepresented. The message is urgent. We have every right and need to reclaim black womanhood, by any means necessary.
In order to work through the intersectionality of our pain as women of color, and ultimately to just be UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK, we have to come to a place where we no longer (nor are we expected to) apologize for our Blackness. We need to revel in that shit! We need to put it in people’s faces in ways that have previously been seen as being unacceptable or just ‘too much’. And we need to have a space for that Blackness to be our own. – Samantha Blackmon
From art to everyday life, a major shift in consciousness and presentation is happening:
- Yelista Jean-Charles, the creative director of the company “Healthy Roots”, took it upon herself to create a model of self-love and acceptance by designing natural haired Barbie dolls, planting the seeds in the minds of black children that blackness can be beautiful in a revolutionary way.
- Buhle Ngaba’s book “The Girl Without a Sound” is a modern-day fairy tale for black girls, presenting them with a central character whom they could relate to, someone who looks like them.
The limiting vocabulary of stereotypes is losing its mythical power because we are fed up. Fed up with the constant objectification of our black bodies that are either completely hyper-sexualized or dismissed as non-existent, depending on the convenience of the situation.
We’re tired of the constant policing of our physical expression and with equating the slightest move and appearance to a moral narrative of good vs bad. We’re tired of being labeled according to patriarchal moral standards: the shorter her clothes, the looser she is, she’s clearly looking for attention, if she rejects your advances then she is playing hard to get.
All of these reminders are necessary for paving the way of our liberation, and every effort made to make them constant realities has an impact on the course of our lives.
While we sip on refreshing lemonades, healing our inner wounds with ancient soulful love practices, and bask under the glory of new forged pacts of sisterhood and unspoken yet agreeable codes of conduct, we defiantly stay winning. We rise higher than the shackles of an oppressive and morally void system attempting to constrain us.
What a time to be alive! Navigating through the different forces that are trying to break us down and shove the remnants of our defeated and injured selves into tiny boxes of expectations, we keep choosing the narratives of renaissance and revolutionary existence, because that’s the heart and core of a revolution. We can abandon the premeditated limits and boundaries altogether and enforce a new language and way of being, one that is unapologetic and unyielding.
I see you, sister, and I very much know the price of the struggle and the bittersweet taste of it. It’s not an easy feat to push against the stream, being run down by the ripple effect of the multiple scars you bear while standing in solidarity with your comrades. Yet you keep taking the leap, and you do it majestically and passionately.
One of the most drastic of those leaps is the way we have managed to find a ground of acceptance, relinquishing the deeply ingrained toxic standards of beauty, redefining what it means, and embracing the alienated and stigmatized margins of it. We are recognizing that being is beauty in and of itself.
Authenticity and pride in who we are away from mainstream respectability politics is how we stand tall and firm from now on. Through mantras of self-acceptance and awareness we create gates to our emancipation of the mental slavery preying on the undeniable presence of our intersectionality. The old man–made rules are no longer applicable because black women need room to breathe and flourish against all odds. That can only be done by drawing our own borders.
“As we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny, and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us.” – Audre Lorde
We’re taking charge of our destiny, extending the hand of divinity and reaching out to every shade of blackness there is with a touch of compassion and understanding. Every one of us is allowed to feast on the vibes of everlasting sisterhood and that is something I plan to devour and enjoy for the rest of my days.
No matter who you are, your fight against the system is never a one way street. You are doing enough by merely existing and refusing to bow down to someone else’s definition of obligation and heroism.
Social activism is a wide playground and it’s not all about slogans or protesting. Find the things inside of you that need urgent expression and take it from there; be they a kind word or messages of encouragement. Plant new seeds on the road to complete liberation, pave it slowly and steadily and beautify it with the memories of ancestral inspiration so that you shall not forget the sacrifices that made it possible for you today to rebel and act.
Yesterday, the Goddess Mother Ntozake Shange said in her classic For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, “but bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma / I haven’t conquered yet.” And today we are tirelessly weaving the fabrics of new structures and realities. Thriving and holding onto one another before giving the wheels to the next generation of black women excellence.
Ahlam Ali is a freelance writer and an introvert nomad who finds peace in books. Writing is the only therapy she needs. Small talk is her Kryptonite.