a word on free Black girls/women
if you are reading this, i ask that you read/say the next four lines aloud.
these are the names of four Black women (women including non-binary, queer, and transgendered) who have been murdered by unchecked violence.
whether by police brutality, toxic patriarchy, or transphobia, the color purple has never rang more true: “a girl child ain’t safe in a family of _________.”
i left the end of the sentence blank because i will not stop at saying we, Black girls/femmes/women, are not safe in a family of men. because the reality is that it’s hard to feel safe anywhere.
so, let’s talk about it. this misogyny that hates us so much that it ends lives, rapes, pillages, silences, denies, and denigrates the existence and fullness of Black women just so it can continue to roam free - like a scavenger seeking whom it may devour.
it doesn’t just show up as an officer yanking you out of your car because you refuse to be polite (#SandraBland) or unrelenting bullets breezing into your bedroom after a no-knock warrant (#BreonnaTaylor). it doesn’t only show up as a Black man who is a predator pretending to wear savior’s clothes (#OluwatoyinSalau). it doesn’t only show up as those who are disgusted enough to kill women whose bodies betrayed them when they were born (#BraylaStone).
it also shows up as subtle tokenization of Black women in your all male/all white clubs - knowing you would never give her room to take up the space that is due her because you are fearful once she starts walking in her power, there would be no more room for you.
it shows up as preferential treatment for petite redbones and yellow chicks with long and wavy over and against big girls/women with dark skin and full figures and even fuller afros.
it shows up in sis/queen culture wherein you believe yourself to be an ally because of your proximity to, or the appearance of, friendship with Black women who are woke but you would never give up your seat at the table for any of those so-called Black queens and sisters you hold so dear.
and, sometimes, it even shows up in the circles that should be sacred - spaces created and curated by Black women and for Black women - marked by complex layers and nuances of supply and demand, popularity and proximity, mentor/mother blurred boundaries, and generational dissonance.
i’ve seen it in so many variations. on the job. in the academy. in the church (good God, in the church). growing up. in my home.
but no matter how many times i experience misogyny or misogynoir (if you are unfamiliar with this terminology - which refers to the particular oppression faced by Black women and coined by Black queer feminist, Moya Bailey, please follow the link to learn more), what always strikes me is the both infinitesimal and ingratiating way misogyny makes one look at themself.
after all, one need not be a Black woman to be shaped by, changed by, impacted by misogyny.
yet, because i privilege my writing first and foremost for us (Black women), i will spend the bulk of this essay explaining how misogyny has made me look at myself (and, certainly, other Black women). in the hopes that it will enlighten others who are not Black women to do the work they need to do to interrogate misogyny, internalized and otherwise, for themselves.
the 1st lesson misogyny taught me - is how to play small. a survival mechanism which helped me be inconspicuous when necessary but suffocatingly good at silencing my own wants, needs, and desires so as not to wrinkle the status quo. it wasn’t that this “playing small” was ever explained to me as a behavior to aspire toward. rather, it was a way to avoid conflict or confrontation at the hands of those more powerful - and served as a means to keep me safe from harm (both perceived and real). after all, what does a little Black girl do to resist dangerous labels or hands from being placed upon her? she behaves. and she becomes the Black woman who is uncomfortable with taking up space, owning her brilliance, and standing in her truth.
the 2nd lesson misogyny taught me - is to be the exception. be so close to perfect, that no one would ever be able to speak ill of me. i know, i know. it sounds kind of silly. everyone knows no one is perfect. yet, the stereotypes about Black women - created by white supremacy - enticed me to attempt to outperform what was believed about me (and all other Black women). it bred in me an unhealthy and unnatural pension for competition. a need to be the first, the only, the brightest whatever there was to be. and, when i had arrived at these desperate platitudes and places of success, i was met with an imposter syndrome that gnawed at me like a thorn in my flesh. after all, what happens when Black girls become Black women who have been shaped by a scarcity model of exceptionalism? she achieves - but oftentimes in darkness and isolation. and, without a strong village of friendships and support, there is no good/easy way to remain confident in one’s achievements once you’ve clawed your way through God knows what to get there. this lesson has been vicious - though i am thankful that i was never so far gone as to not have a solid circle of friends and loved ones to keep me grounded.
the 3rd lesson (and final lesson *for now*) misogyny taught me - is to fear freedom. not just any freedom - but my own freedom (and the freedom of other Black women), in particular. the rules of engagement for misogyny depend on Black women to do their parts, stay in their lanes, and, never step out of line. it says Black women must be made complete by their partnership with men. it holds that our value must never originate in us but must, instead, be determined for us. it begs us to forsake the God who loves and lives within our female-ness for some other form of ashiness that will only break us when pressure is applied. and, lastly, it judges us by violence that is passed off as virtue. these rules - that prescribe a fear of free Black women - are the reasons that the death of #BraylaStone have been mired in untimely and painful discussion about her sexual ethics. they are also why people have been secretly blaming #BreonnaTaylor and #OluwatoyinSalau for their murders - because they chose to go with/be in the presence of men that ultimately brought them harm. free Black women know that our agency is our highest gift. and, in this knowledge, misogyny cannot easily co-exist. so. it does what it can to make us fearful enough to never choose ourselves (or eachother) over and against the status quo.
understanding these lessons as something that i simultaneously wrestle with and against has been/continues to be hard work. just because i am aware of a thing does not make me less prone to silent complicity or willful participation. and, my admission of playing along within the structures of power that make misogynoir a thing does not make me a terrible person. it just points to the holy work mother God calls me to so that i can help myself and others unlearn, relearn, and live a little mo’ betta (as the old folks would say).
for the colored girls and the misogynoir that hates us.
i say this.
we can and must resist.
we can and must continue to take up space.
we can and must insist on taking err’body Black with us.
we can and must embrace liberation, even if it scares the shit out of us.
we can and must win.
generations of free Black girls/women depend on it.
oh, and one last thing. now is still a damn good time to arrest Breonna Taylor's killers - since they are still free.
*photo credit: Jill Jasuta, Harriet Tubman Mural “Take My Hand”, by artist Michael Rosato