“Oppression of black women has become such a norm that the few who speak and stand out are seen as either revolutionary or a nuisance..”
Patriarchy in all its forms has created and continues to nurture a volatile culture that attacks black women, only to further bash them when they retaliate. It has created a system that has groomed black women to be apologetic, to self-hate and participate in their own subjectivity. We never know to stand up for each other when situations arise, we seek praise from men whom we’ve watched dehumanise ourselves and other women.
It has served to torment the black women’s spirit only, in turn, to congratulate the white women for misappropriating the very thing the system has taught black women to hate about themselves. Cornrows are unprofessional until they are a crown of glory on Katy Perry or Kasi Mlungu’s head. Big bums are a sign that you are fat until Kim Kardashian blows hers up. Traditional African attire is “primitive” until it’s promoted by a Western model on the cover of Vogue or a similar publication. Wearing a duku, aka head wrap, is not acceptable in the workplace until Sarah Jessica Parker makes it a “must-have accessory of the season”. This is a problem.
Black women were socialised into a demeaning system that has taught us to be wary of all forms of masculinity and to question our capabilities in the presence of whiteness. A system that leaves us out of conversations, even when they concern our bodies and wellbeing. Where our invitation to “sit at the table” has been reduced to just a headcount. It’s a system that refuses to acknowledge our complex and diverse nature without asserting labels that fit into its pre-existing notions of what we ought to be. The system has created images that categorise different “types” of black women, we are either angry man-haters and powerful, or “slutty” and dependent on some rich man, or a poor baby mama with fatherless children.
Where are the non-condescending strong but feminine representations of black women? Our complex identities have been reduced to redundant images that fit the “social mould”, to be easily consumed and understood by the mainstream. Our whole identities have been falsely manufactured in isolation, thus we’ve been robbed of the ability to have and express variation.
Often being accused of being aggressive and loudly off-putting even though nobody pays attention when we politely ask for permission. We are critiqued and judged for being angry even though we have every reason to be angry. Not once have we been left alone to simmer in our anger without being shamed, let alone “been given” some time to “get over it” (whatever “it” is).
In the past and present, black women are being abused, raped and abducted, their bodies dropping like flies, and yet the narrative is that, in order to survive, the responsibility for our safety is put in our hands instead of there being more effort made to stop the perpetrators.
Our sexuality has long been oppressed and then fetishised for the pleasure of men. We are berated for speaking “too loudly” but also get paraded for breaking the “glass ceiling” when it shouldn’t exist in the first place. The few that make it become the token of all our success. They are the case studies society produces over and over again to make a point about the “empowered black woman”.
“If you sense nuances of anger and resentment when we speak, remember, that’s what centuries of oppression sound like. If we come off angry, then let us be angry..”
Oppression of black women has become such a norm that the few who speak and stand out are seen as either revolutionary or a nuisance. The social conditions created and perpetuated by this system have birthed the same Black Feminists that it represents today. Being a Black Feminist has become an exhausting duty, a survival strategy that has unfortunately given others leeway to turn those fighting for the struggle into a spectacle or into mere bodies for entertainment.
We have been socialised into a system that has paralysed us into submission. What we call “getting the point across” gets misconstrued as being “dramatic” or “blowing things out of proportion”. We have been reduced to bodies that “cry wolf” even though all the evidence points to our subjectivity. Society has little regard for black women, their contribution and place in the world. We are treated as though we ought to be grateful for the few crumbs that are allowed to fall into our laps. So if you sense nuances of anger and resentment when we speak, remember, that’s what centuries of oppression sound like. If we come across as angry, then let us be angry.
Let us for once exercise our right to express ourselves as we wish without oppressive backlash that continues to render us “ratchet”. Stop mislabelling our passion and wokeness for aggression. Stop asserting that our identity as Black Feminists somehow means “we hate white people” or “we hate men” because that would prove once again that privileged patriarchs found a way to make our oppression about their fragile egos. Society needs to stop monopolising black women’s opinions.
And once again we need to be reminded that black women raising their concerns aren’t a dismissal of white women’s struggles with patriarchy. It’s not either or, #allwomenmatter, but at this point in time society has, unfortunately, put the black woman’s needs at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. The system has failed black women.