on black women

When I was a child the last thing I wanted to do was grow up and be a black woman. All the examples of black women were of companionless souls and I didn’t want that to be my fate.  It wasn’t that they lacked beauty or kindness but something was missing.  The balance of feminine with masculine was missing.  As a child, I noticed that white and Latina women had mates, husbands, partners.  Being alone seemed to be an attribute of being black and female.  It seemed as much a part of black womanhood as skin pigmentation or curly hair and I really didn’t want to accept this as my destiny.

It was very painful to watch; I could not verbalize it, I didn’t have the words to do so, rather, I internalized the feelings.  To this day, it is difficult to verbalize or get people to understand what it is that I see.  When I speak about it, people often respond defensively or dismissively.  But it is something that has been very real in my life, something I have witnessed, felt and experienced.  As a child, I didn’t know what was wrong with them, the black women; I didn’t know why the men seemed to steer clear of them.  I wondered if it was because they were unworthy of partnership or if they lacked a desire for it.  I wanted to be worthy of partnership and, even as a child, I had this deep desire to grow into partnership and into a companion.

As I aged, I inevitably developed into a black woman.  I did anything I could to avoid it; I did not want to become another single, lonely, partnerless, black woman.  But, there was nothing I could do to avoid it, save die.  And no matter how little I wanted to embrace it, to become it, it was irrelevant because I was it; I was a black woman.  It didn’t matter how I dressed, where I worked, how I wore my hair, or what kind of education I received, I was faced with the reality of my feminine blackness.  There was nothing I could do to reverse these things, to be some other kind of woman, one worthy of partnership.  And so I sat in the unbalance of my estrogen-ridden form.

Over the years, people have said things like, ‘there is nothing wrong with you’ or ‘he is the one missing out’ something deep within me knew otherwise.  I saw and felt the loss and I knew that I was connected to it.  The men who rejected me had not lost in the exchange; it was I who had lost.  I knew that I was not good enough for them.  I was not good enough for any of them.  I was a black woman, one of the women worthy of solitude.  I was worthy of single-motherhood; I was worthy of one-night stands and a cold and empty bed.  I knew this, even as a child.

My dread was real but these chants that people would spew, ‘he is the one missing out’, and ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’ were lies.  They were not malicious and intended to harm, they were intended to comfort and soothe.  But I was not soothed; I was far from soothed.  Along with the chants people would give me examples of black women who were married or they would give me examples of white women who were not married and often suggested that my blackness had nothing to do with my status as a single woman.  Between the chants and the examples I felt deep pain.  I felt as if I were invisible.  I was unheard by the majority of people, as they could not look at what I had been watching all of my life.  They could not see what I had seen and, rather than admit this, they often discounted my experience.  Even with the pain and frustration I knew that there was something in it for me.  I knew that I was touching my destiny.  It was the thing I tried to avoid as a child and it was the thing that engulfed me so completely as an adult.  And with all the discomfort and will to avoid it I knew that there was something important in the experience of it.  Once I was able to quiet the soothers and escape from the culturally conditioned responses to the experience of being inadequate or inferior, I began to discover a deeper and more complex understanding of my direct experience as well as something that was happening nationally.

The issue was beyond me, this was clear, but it did not mean that I was not a part of it.  As I began to sink into it, really enter it, rather than try to avoid it as I had done for so many years, I began to see trends.  I understood that the black woman was clearly not favored but the reason for her lack of value to society was obscured.  She was a good nanny, cleaner, a fair mother, a person who would carry others, and a good lover, but a partner, she was not.  In her natural form she was not a beauty, the more she resembled a white women, the more beautiful she was.  The more she valued the things that white women valued, the greater her value.

As a black woman, I knew that I was inferior to white women as a partner.  I knew that, as an object of beauty, I was inferior.  I knew that there were cultural preferences, which seemed to stem from the idea of being or becoming civilized, cultured, culturally advanced and/or superior.  And this idea of superiority began to make more sense to me.  I saw so many people strive for some sort of superiority or advancement and it seemed clear hat this was at the root of so many of our social and global ‘problems’[1].  This was at the root of the inferiority of black women.

What I began to understand was that my difficulty was related to cultural preference.  It was related to civilization, in its modern form.  I understood that it was systemic and, what I saw as a child, was the result of a national drive for equality.  What I felt was the dread of facing my path and living with the weight of my responsibility to carry.  I felt the dread of having to see through eyes of a different colored lens.

I knew that, as a black woman, there was something about me that failed fit into the much-desired state of happiness.  It seemed clear that it was not the fault of anyone in particular but I was an unwanted black woman, unworthy of partnership and I needed to sit with that truth.  I needed to embrace the fact that, as a black woman, many things in society would fail to work in my favor.  It meant that love would be challenging to attain and I had less than a 30% chance of having a partner.  It meant that my children would always be black boys and girls and they would grow into black men and women.  They would be facing certain challenges in a society that favored certain ways of being and neither my children nor I would easily fit into these favored ways of being; and yet I would love them as my parents loved me.

It wasn’t until I embraced this, it wasn’t until I really embraced the idea that I was not good enough, I was inferior, and not favored, that anything began to shift.  I decided to allow this to be.  It was truth manifesting in the natural world.  As one who was less preferred on the basis of my skin, which represented a root to a different way of being in the world, it would have been beneficial for me to ideologically assimilate.  But, I never had enough grace to do a thing like that.  This, I shared with many other black women.  I, as I manifested in the world, was unworthy, inferior, and would remain alone.

There was truth in this understanding no matter how uncomfortable it was for people to hear and no matter how unpopular these words are to speak.  I needed to acknowledge these truths so that I could understand my life more fully.  I needed to acknowledge these truths and understand my reason for taking birth in this form, my reason for taking breath.

By accepting the fact that I was inferior, I was able to think about the black women in a different way.  I was able to think of them/us in a less tragic way. I started thinking about the black people in this different way, in a less tragic way.  As the idea of inequality set in, I was able to consider my life in the context of the larger culture.  Rather than finding myself occupied with thoughts of my personal discomfort I began contemplating preference and superiority vs inferiority and inequality.

I realized how we balance the world through our preferences, our global values and the cultural values that clash with others’.  Genocide, infanticide, and racism began to make sense.  I started to see their necessity as manifestations of ideological preference.  These were behaviors acted out of, not insanity as I had formerly considered, but from necessity.  One thing will always be superior to another and in our drive to equalize will are and will continue to be forced to eliminate those who we consider inferior.  We will eliminate them through silencing, censoring and killing.  We will eliminate them by forcing them to participate in certain ideological trends. We will eliminate those who do not think or believe as “we” do.  They will be considered evil, mean, bad, intellectually inferior, ignorant, and stupid.

How is one to find his or her path if one thing is not superior to another?  In the world there are hierarchies and women are not exempt from this, black persons are not exempt from this, I was not exempt from this.  It seems an unintelligent move to try to eliminate this hierarchy, as it is necessary in the world.  In order for me, as a student, to learn, I must hear from, see, and understand those who are superior to me.  They do not always come in the forms we imagine; it could be a mendicant on the street or a PhD professor.  It could, and often has been my children.  It has also been my father, my siblings, and the list continues on.

We are taught, in this culture, to get the best, to be the best.  There are strong suggestions for what the best is.  In terms of women, the white women are clearly at the top of the list.  But, once the best is taken the others are left.  I understood that, while I was inferior to white women as a partner to men, it did not mean that I was inferior in all things.  I was not equal to white women; I was not equal to any woman.  This was not because she was superior in all things but she and I could not be measured with the same instrument.  The importance of my life was different from that which is important in a partner for a man.  As a black woman I had this in common with other black women.  I had this in common with the black women I studied as a child.  We are the carriers of this story.  We are the women, the companionless women and we hold this, and we carry this.

If one must be un-favored, why should it not be I?  Why not be inferior, why not be less than? It wasn’t until I really started to understand and accept this that I began to accept and embrace my life.  Then, something truly opened up.  It wasn’t that I became happy; I was never one for happiness, but, something within me opened in such a way that I was able to embrace what I am.  I was able to embrace the rejection of a nation, the hideous, black form, the dry and nappy hair, the attitude, the inclination to dark and uncommon thoughts, the willingness to carry, the desire to challenge, the inability to assimilate, the loneliness, the ability to hear the one and to make a clean move, and the strength, truth, and wisdom that came with all of this.

It was no longer this thing to be sad about or to cry about or even try to resist.  It became something interesting to understand, to bring curiosity to, and to examine.  I began to really consider what it was about my path that brought me here.  I began to contemplate the reason I took birth as a black woman.  I began thinking of how I manifested in this world in this way with whatever struggles attract me.  The loneliness became my friend rather than an enemy to avoid.  I began to contemplate ideas and wonder why, as a culture, we find the experience of inferiority less important than the experience of superiority and so everyone tries to believe they are either superior or equal thereby discounting the truly superior and ignoring the truly inferior.  This seemed to be at the root of my childhood struggle.  This was at the root of my desire to become a woman other than black.  I had the irrational desire to be favored.  It was something that was taught by the culture, women were equal to men, blacks were equal to whites, homosexuals were equal to heterosexuals, children were equal to adults the intellectually unsound were equal to the intellectually sound.  I could never embrace this because these things were not true.

You cannot compare a woman to a man.  By doing so you bypass what is truly great about her and what is wonderful about him.  By trying to equalize them you dilute them both getting mediocre rather than superior.  In some things he is truly superior and in others she is truly superior.  The same was true as I went through the list of ‘disenfranchised’ groups.

As I began contemplating this I thought of religion.  Religion has been hit, so hard, by this movement of human ‘equality’.  People complain that it encourages the ‘underclass’ to stay stagnant and for the bourgeoisie to stay in ‘power’.  It seems, however, that religion is encouraging man to understand what I, after years of struggle, began to understand.  There is no equality.  This is not because one thing is completely inferior to another but because they are not equal.  Each thing brings something to the world.  And, when one is in an inferior position, what does s/he do; fight, try to gain status, accept and understand why, find the purpose in the life of the inferior individual/s?

This journey has been interesting.  So many people have resisted my contemplations about this.  People want to be happy and they want to burden me with happiness.  They wanted this because they value it and want me to have the best.  They often felt terrible and didn’t want to entertain the though that I wasn’t good enough, I was hideous, men didn’t like me, being a colored woman meant something in the world, it meant something to the men and it meant something to me.  These things were hard for people to stomach because they wondered what it would mean about them.  Or, they loved me and didn’t want me to feel these terrible feelings of inferiority.  But what if inferiority is no less painful than superiority or equality?  What if equality is more painful than superiority and even more painful than inferiority?

As I journeyed through these ideas I began to find the wonderful things about my life.  Although I am an inferior partner there is something important about my experience, my position in society and the way I view the world.  While many may feel as if my view is unbalanced, as I admit my inferiority, I do not believe this is the case.  I am not pathological or even illogical.  My experience was and is real and the work I did to understand has been difficult for others to tolerate, as I am difficult for others to tolerate.  Even with my difficulty, however, there is something important that I bring.

There is something precious about my life and the lives of the black women I didn’t want to join.  There is something the world needs from our lives, our experiences, from us.  We could not bring it if we were playing house in a plush and cozy environment.  We could not realize it unless we began to see the truth. And we could not see the truth if we were masked with happiness and comfort.

[1] I put this in single quote because the idea that these things are problems is debatable.  As a culture we seem to think these things are problematic yet we continue to engage in behaviors that perpetuate them.