“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” Malcolm X said these words in 1962. 58 years later, nothing has changed. At all. As a matter of fact, one could make the argument that with the advent of the internet and social media, it’s probably gotten worse. The Black woman’s body for centuries has been a topic of ridicule, scorn, lust and fetishization from both Black and white men and white women. The Black woman’s intellect even more so. Black women have been ridiculed as not being as smart as Black men, when according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black women make up 64% of all bachelor’s degrees earned by Black people in the United States, and 67% of all associates degrees earned, statistically speaking. Black women have also been leading revolutions and carrying on movements when Black male leaders were either slain or imprisoned. The burden of the colour of our skin that we have had to shoulder, amassed with having to raise families, take care of elders and maintain social standing and our mental health is and has been beyond taxing.
Being a cisgender Black woman, I’ve always had a sensitivity that my body was the target of either lust, scorn, or both. I’ve been shamed for my weight gain most of my adult life. I’ve been praised and fetishized when my body was in its prime form in my late teens-early 20’s. Many people have no idea how many years I took diet pills in my teens and did unhealthy fad-diets all to look thin. I eventually stopped when it started making me sick and through a series of unfortunate/fortunate events (depending on how you choose to look at it), I ended up having two gym classes in 12th grade of high school so I worked out 5 days a week. Literally through daily exercise and because I walked everywhere, my body naturally came back into balance. But no one ever told or showed me the healthy way to do anything so I learned a lot through trial and error. As a young Black Caribbean child, I was constantly surrounded by diet teas, detoxes and “magic” diets that would solve all your ailments. No one ever demonstrated to me what healthy eating habits and exercise looked like. It wasn’t just with my weight. When I had marks or scars on my body, bleaching creams and soaps were recommended to fix any imperfect blemish. Stretch mark creams and other bleaching products are a staple at most Asian owned Black beauty supply stores. As a young Black child, my hair had to be perfect at all times. White and other children of colour, could wear their hair out and run free in the wind, but my hair had to be properly maintained even during play. I wasn’t allowed to run around with a “wild head.”
Black women are constantly being judged and held to incomparable standards than any other ethnicity of women. Specifically around beauty and what is considered beautiful, most of this is rooted in racist European standards of attractiveness that have impacted all women of colour. Long straight hair, lighter, bright clear skin, and European facial features have been long regarded as what is considered classically beautiful. Right now if you Google beautiful women, you will pull up a cacophony of images of white or white passing women. Honestly, do it. Right now, go and Google beautiful women and tell me what you see. Apparently Lupita Nyong’o is the only beautiful Black woman the internet could find with natural hair. As you scroll through the images of what is considered “beautiful,” you will notice for the most part, all these women look the same. Light coloured eyes, long European style straight hair and light skin. Where does a young Black girl go to find a woman who resembles her and is considered beautiful by the world's standards in her natural state?
This is a challenge that many young Black girls grow up having to face. Factoring in when Black parents gaslight them as having “attitude” without understanding in some cases why, what we have is a box that Black girls and women have now been put into that the world refuses to let them out of, all setup masterfully by the patriarchy. For having any kind of emotion and exhibiting it, we are told we have “attitude.” So when every emotion that you show, whether it be anger, sadness, humiliation or pride in oneself, you are told you have attitude and this is reinforced by the Black men and boys in your community, it leaves little to no room for you to safely and healthily share your emotions with anyone. Which then leads to lack of trust, both within and without your community. Not only do you have to deal with some Black boys and men tearing you down, but you now also have to deal with the outside world doing it to you as well. I cannot even begin to tell you how many ugly, vulgar names in my life I’ve been called by Black men, all because I didn’t want to engage with them or give them my number or respond to their aggressive catcalling. It was insinuated to me that I was a whore at 14 years old by a Black man. I was molested in that same year by another Black man. When I tried to tell someone, I was shamed and told it was my fault…by a Black man. I remember two young Black men who at the time were my best friends doing unspeakable harm to me emotionally even when I had time and again protected them because I thought they were my real friends. I remember them spreading falsehoods and lies to others and then lying about it to me in my face when I confronted them. I’ve been harrassed and physically groped without my consent by Black men while other Black men have stood there and did absolutely nothing or in some cases even joined in, then blamed me later and said I asked for it. I don’t share these things to shame or discredit Black men as a whole. I just need them to understand that this is behaviour that almost every Black women can relate to and has their own sickening story of verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse from Black men.
To be clear, because we have now become a society where very few people seem to understand context and like to make generalizations, this is not to say that all Black men are like this. I’ve had incredible Black male role models in my life who have shown me nothing but genuine love, support and affection in a non-sexual way. I think about my former high school English teacher, Corey Seeley, who completely changed my life. Not only was he an incredible teacher and educator who opened up my eyes to Black literary authors such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Ralph Waldo Ellison, but he genuinely believed in me and my abilities. When there were issues at the school with another teacher who didn’t like me, he was one of my staunchest supporters when she was trying to tear apart my name and character within the school board. He never once accused me of having attitude or being too much. He listened, corrected me if I needed correction but let me know unequivocally that he had my back. As a young Black adolescent in a predominantly white school, I can’t even begin to express what that meant to me. Another incredible Black male role model I had that I recently lost is my maternal grandfather. While during his life my Grandpa accomplished many incredible feats and contributed so much to both his community and culture, he was also a very imperfect person and made some mistakes. There were things he did and in some cases didn’t do that he deeply regretted. But towards the unbeknownst end of his life, I got to develop an incredible relationship with him. Between his years of 70–81, I got 11 years of a very different type of relationship with my grandfather, one in which I was old enough for him to discuss adult things with. In the last few years before his untimely death earlier this year, I had gone through some of the worst challenges I had ever experienced and my Grandpa and I talked a lot over those years. He shared things about his life and past that I never knew about that really helped me deal with my struggles. He also let me know no matter what, he was always there for me. He never needed me to act a certain way or behave in the way he needed me to in order to love me or show me love. His love was unconditional and through that, he taught me strength, courage and bravery. By owning his mistakes and really having the self awareness to know where he could have done better, it demonstrated to me that I could be imperfect to, but that didn’t mean I was worthless or had no value. It showed me that self awareness and owning my unhealthy decisions and the consequences of them is everything. It also showed me that people can change if they choose to and that nothing is too far gone for you to say you’re sorry and own your stuff.
There are incredible Black men in this world doing dope things; Black men who are responsible fathers, husbands and partners to their loved ones. Black men who acknowledge the power, beauty and strength of Black women. As a matter of fact, the majority of Black men I know date and marry Black women, so I’m not here to push a narrative that all Black men are Black women-hating. They are not. Having said that, there are some serious issues within our communities we need to address. There have been a series of social media posts recently that have really disturbed me on many levels as a Black woman. I’ve seen Black male celebrities, some of whom I love and follow, have a propensity to constantly degrade and demean Black women and their bodies. There are Black young men who have made whole careers tearing down Black women in memes…meanwhile, they have young Black daughters and sons watching them do this, and whenever someone challenges them on the fact that they are exacerbating negative stereotypes about Black women in particular, they attack those people and defend their actions. They seem more interested in getting “likes” for money than being socially and culturally responsible about the content they are putting out. These same men almost never put out content tearing down or making fun of Black men. You can scroll through their previous posts like I have, and clearly see that whenever they make fun of anyone, it’s usually Black women, followed by white women. Very rarely do they make fun of Black men and if they do, it is never about their bodies or appearances. With Black women however, all bets seem to be off for them. They use their social media platforms and jokes to exorcise their pain and hurt from Black women in their lives, and they call it entertainment. If anyone questions them about it, you are automatically attacked so there’s no one they are accountable to. I recently saw from one social media page I follow, a Caribbean man making fun of a Black woman’s body who went to the beach and her buttocks were not the typical Instagram-worthy shot of “perfect” ass. This Black woman in the video, proudly took off her cover up to lay down and was filmed and openly shamed on the internet by both men and women. I remember a few years ago Fay-Ann Lyons, one of the biggest Soca stars out of my ancestral home of Trinidad & Tobago, got dragged on social media because of a beautiful picture she took where her feet were out. Black men and women went IN on her and shamed her relentlessly about her feet. This is a woman who is a mother, a wife to one of the most talented and beautiful Black men ever created, the daughter to one of the biggest Soca artistes in history, and in her own right is one of the biggest female acts out of Trinidad, and all people could focus on were her feet and how they felt about them. Snoop Dogg, one of my favourite rappers in history period (he’s in my top 5), called Gayle King a “bald-headed bitch” and for the most part, got away with it. I love Snoop and everything he does, but that was not one of his finest moments. And while he has repeatedly apologized and was held accountable for it and I even truly believe him that he was and still is sorry, the fact remains that he got to say what he said, and outside of the amazing people in his life that have held him accountable, there has been no real repercussion from the outside world.
Because at the end of the day, society at large does not care about the disrespect lobed at Black women. It is not a blip on most people’s radar. I unequivocally attribute the contempt, disdain, scorn, disregard, ridicule, discourtesy and derision that Black women have shown to them on a daily basis by white and other people of colour is directly linked to the way they perceive Black men to treat Black women. If our own men are not going to protect and vouch for us, then why should they? We teach people how to treat us. Simple. So when they see Black men doing the things that they do openly on social media, they believe that this is acceptable behaviour. When some Black women participate and perpetuate atrocities against other Black women, this seals the deal. Shows like Love & Hip-Hop, created by Mona Scott-Young a Black woman and sold to VH1, that show Black people at their worst and at their lowest in terms of spiritual or emotional growth or development, give white people and other people of colour the interpreted “lease” to treat Black women (in particular) however they want. These shows and others like it like Black Ink Crew bake in the already negative stereotypes that white and other non-Black people of colour have about both Black men and women. While these shows and others like it in the past were viewed as huge wins for Black television, I’m not sure what exactly we are celebrating when we are inadvertently giving people license to treat us like garbage because they see that this is how we treat each other. I have never seen shows on television in the US featuring Asian, South Asian, LatinX/Hispanic or any other ethnicity of people of colour portraying their people in the ways we portray each other on TV when given the opportunity. Part of this sick cycle is that we know this is what sells and so we exploit ourselves and our people for money, fame, celebrity and validation. We have fallen into the very trap that the white corporate world wants us to. We are still trying to even the playing field and some of us will sell ourselves and each other out to do so.
We continue to push unhealthy beauty standards such as waist trainers and bleaching products on young Black women so that they don’t love their bodies as they are. Young Black women then feel the need to change themselves because they believe they would not be loved or accepted as they are. Female rappers have now become copy cats of each other, all looking the same and rapping about the same stuff because sex sells and everyone knows it. We have allowed the ways the world operates to dictate how we then choose to move within in; instead of seeing how the world operates, acknowledging it and that this is not how it should be or how we want it to be and then going out and doing everything in our power to live our authentic truth and change things by literally being the change we want to see. Some of us have not yet realized that we were put on this planet to shake shit up. We are change makers. That is why there is a Black Lives Matter Movement. That is why there is a Black Women’s Movement. That is why there is a Black Trans Lives Movement. We are change makers. We didn’t come here to continue pushing the status quo. We came here to mess up and then learn from our mistakes, and then live the truth of that and teach others how to do the same. So we need Black men to do better. Black women need Black men to stop using money as an excuse to profit off of the pain of your own Black women. We need Black men to stop disrespecting us, even when there are some Black women who show no respect for themselves. Sometimes the best way to show a person where they are is to treat them the way you treat yourself, with totaly love, compassion and respect (if you are a healthy person). As my favourite, therapist says, no one can press a button that does not exist. So if a Black woman is coming out her face to you, that is not a reason to retaliate. Anyone who attempts to push you emotionally is doing so because they do not know how to get their own emotional needs met, therefore they project and attack others whom they believe it is their job to meet their needs. There are many different reasons for this which I won’t get in to, but the basic premise is do not give away your power. And do not use some of the unhealthy experiences you’ve had in your life to permanently shape how you view everyone. In the same way that you as Black men do not want Black women making generalizations about you and lumping you in with unhealthy Black men, Black women are asking for that same courtesy. Do unto other as you would want done to you. This is a lot easier said than done, especially when you are dealing with a huge group of generationally traumatized people. However, we have to start somewhere. We as a Black people and community cannot continue to allow each other to be disrespected, either publicly or privately. There is a way to communicate your anger and upset without degrading another person. As Black people, we need to learn how to control our emotions. We need to learn how to separate behaviors from people and personhood, and we need to learn healthy communication standards for interacting with each other. We are never going to get anywhere if we do not start healing the very deep wounds that exist in our communities. Healing is an inside job. It starts with us.