As a Black woman in America, I am very familiar with some of our most common obstacles, as well as our triumphs. This is not to say that the experiences of every Black woman in America are the same, but I believe that many of us share many of the same experiences and can relate to each other. We have a very unique, specific set of challenges that we often face, but these challenges make it that much sweeter when we succeed despite them.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York during the 80’s and 90’s – this was during the height of the crack and AIDS epidemics. There was a severe breakdown in urban Black households during that time because many Black parents were lost to the streets, leaving children to raise themselves. Single mothers were offered Section 8 and other public assistance to help them take care of their children. Still, this could not take the place of having a father present in the home. Those children (myself included) suffered as a consequence, resulting in many of the young Black women of today. Many of our mothers were hurt, disappointed, afraid, and left to fend for themselves and their children. They had no choice but to go into survival mode for the sake of their children. Some of our mothers were lost to the streets as well, creating even more of a hardship for those children.
It seems that the 80’s was a pivotal point for Black women in urban America. While many of our grandmothers instilled in us and encouraged the ideas of marriage, being a housewife, and taking care of a husband, many of our mothers felt quite the opposite. Our mothers preached to us the importance of independence and not needing a man for anything. Now, don’t get me wrong: as a woman, being independent is extremely important to me. However, I don’t think that should mean that we cannot depend on a husband for help. Unfortunately, we as Black women have had the ‘independent talk’ beat into our heads so much that it has jaded us. It has caused us to believe that marriage is a farce, no man (especially a Black man) is good for anything, and that raising our children alone is normal.
Fast-forward to the present: very few of my Black female friends are married, yet most of them have children. These are intelligent, successful women and wonderful mothers. We often talk about why they aren’t married. I’ve gotten many answers: I don’t want to get married; we already live together and have kids together, so there’s no reason to get married; a man cannot do anything for me that I cannot do for myself. Many of the Black women I know simply do not see the need for or the importance of marriage. Personally, I’ve been married before; I do not believe that marriage is for everyone, and it may not be necessary for happiness and fulfillment. However, I do find it quite interesting that all of my White female friends have been married since their early to mid-20’s, but most of my Black female friends are single and never married well into their late-30’s and early-40’s. In my opinion, there definitely seems to be some cultural relevance to this pattern.
Love and marriage are not our only struggles. We sometimes struggle to be accepted in society. Not only are we Black, but we are women – two minority groups packed into one awesome package. I have struggled to be taken seriously in the workplace in the past. Where my White colleagues, both male and female, would be promoted three times within five years, I would still be in the same position, constantly passed over, even though I was just as (sometimes even more) qualified. When I would ask for an explanation as to why I was passed over, I was never given a reasonable response. It is unfortunate in this day and age that these things still happen. It is even more unfortunate that there are people who do not believe that these things still happen, and that we as Black people are imagining these things. In the corporate world, the higher up I have risen, the less I would see women, and even less Black folks – it is discouraging, to say the least.
Black women also struggle with self-hate within our very own communities. Since I was a child, I can remember the ‘light-skinned’ children being looked upon with more favor than the ‘dark-skinned’ children. The brown paper bag test was often done on the playground (if you were lighter than the paper bag, you were considered light-skin). Even now, light-skin is equated with beauty. The phrase “you’re pretty, for a dark-skinned girl” is, unfortunately, still in circulation in some circles. We sometimes separate ourselves based on skin tone, which is totally ridiculous. At the end of the day, we are all Black – we suffer the same injustices, share the same heritage, and share a sisterhood.
Being a Black woman is not all awful though. In fact, for the most part, it’s pretty damn great. I love being a Black woman. It comes with its set of challenges, but those challenges only make us stronger and prouder.
I am so proud to see so many Black women embrace their natural hair. The natural hair movement of today is even bigger than it was in the 70’s, in my opinion. For one thing, the hair care companies and beauty supply stores have taken notice that this movement is here to stay. There are more natural hair care products than ever before.
We have also made some major strides in education. Even while fighting both racism and sexism, Black women have become the most educated group of women in America (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). From Associate’s degree all the way up to the Doctorate degree level, Black women surpass every other race of women in America in degrees earned.
I was determined to not become a statistic of what I believed America expected of me. Although I grew up in poverty, dropped out of high school, and became a single mother at a young age, I rose above those obstacles. I now have a Master’s degree, a career, a home, and I am raising my son in a safe, stable environment. I am proud to work for a successful company that is owned and operated by a Black woman. Although I sometimes struggle with raising my teenaged son (on my own) to become a well-adjusted young man, I know that he knows that I am putting my all into raising him right. Being a single mother, no matter the race, is a very difficult job. But being a single Black mother presents a whole other world of challenges. I teach him right from wrong. I teach him the importance of treating women with respect. I teach him that it is ok to have feelings. I teach him the importance of education and going to college. On the other hand, I have to teach him the cold reality of the world and what being Black in America means. I teach him that racism is still alive and very real. I teach him how to interact with the police. I teach him that we have to work twice as hard because of the color of our skin. I teach him that things don’t always go as we plan or as we would like for them to go.
Black women truly do carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. But we continue to thrive and overcome adversity at home, at work, and in society. We do it with style and grace. We work, go to school, cook, clean, raise children, volunteer – all while looking like the fierce, beautiful queens that we are.
Cover Image via Beyond Black White