Black Don’t Crack: The Early Years
I know I’m not alone in my whispers or shouts of, “Yaaasss Queen” or “Slay Momma” when I see pictures of Angela Bassett, Sade, Nia Long , Miss Tina (Beyonce’s mom) or other black women who effortlessly defy time itself, and make all other women cower in a corner of crow’s feet and laugh lines, crying in defeat. I’m awed by Cicely Tyson’s illuminating smile that says, “I know I look 35 but I’m actually 100 years old; bow down biishes.”
It all comes back to the oft-repeated phrase: “Black don’t crack,” explaining the nonexistent aging of black goddesses. It’s real science (I think) and, I mean, it’s the least God could do for us after, ya know, everything.
“I know mainstream feminism ignores you, and oftentimes black lives matter seems to equal black (cis, male) lives matter, *shakes fist at people’s ignorance of intersectionality * so here is a dash of melanin for stuntin’ purposes. Sorry about all of that.
XOXO — God”
So thanks big man, but this gift is not all roses and lack of Botox. Oh no, there is a dark side to this blessed gift, and it’s the early years.
I’m impatient for the praises my future kids will get of, “Your momma looks so young,” because right now I’m not 50, not 40, not even 30, I am 25. But not ONE person has ever told me that, because I look like a teenager. I know what they all say, “You’ll love it when you’re older.” But I’m not older, I’m 25, so shut the hell up. Ugh! Don’t they see? “I want to stunt on people NOW!” I lament in my Veruca Salt voice.
As a teen, I imagined the baddie I’d be in my 20s. I’d imagine my tempting sashay in the cutest flare jeans (lol eww), unbeknownst to me that I’d look the same as I did back then, now, just with slightly better fashion choices. My face looks the same! And dear God, my body does too! What kind of evil curse have I stumbled upon? Is this some awful prank? Is Satan going to run out from the bushes wearing a Von Dutch trucker hat with a video camera and obnoxious laughter? Is this some type of Book of Job* suffering that I must endure now because my menopausal years will be so fab?
I’m just a bit distressed. See, this used to make me laugh. I could shrug off the comments of, “You look like a baby” as just a minor annoyance. “Haha okay, yes I’m short and I have adorable face-cheeks and a dimple too, but don’t talk to me like a child, you habitual line-crosser you; it’s not that funny.” But now, it’s very near rage. Very, very near rage.
What is a day in the life like for people like me, who suffer from this premature gift? When I go and order a margarita after a long week and someone stares at my ID for a ridiculously long time, I’m often sitting there wondering what snarky comment they’ll make this time. Once it was, “This is a good fake.” I was like, “Biissh whet? Hold up, I do not appreciate the implication that I am anything other than a law-abiding citizen. Do I look like a criminal? Is it because I’m black? How dare your old pale, too-old-to-be-holding-on-to-that-stringy-ponytail ass even think of formulating those blasphemous words on your thin lips?”
I said that all in my head, obvi.
As a middle school teacher if I had a dollar for every time someone walked into the classroom and said, “Where is the teacher? yuk yuk yuk.” “Hey, I thought you were one of the kids!” howls in laughter. Then I’d have, like, twice my salary (Ok ok, let’s be real, three times my salary). People are annoying AF and when they think they’re funny it makes me want to do them lasting physical harm, but I just smile and awkwardly wave.
“Hey, over here!”
“Ha-ha yeah, I’m short!”
“Yeah, baby-faced Jess, that’s me!” Insert: Eyeroll to the heavens.
I was visiting my parents over a holiday break and one of their friends asked what I did, and he was all like, “You teach middle school? You look like a middle schooler!” How in the world is that to be taken as a compliment? Even 12-year-olds don’t want to look like 12-year-olds! I know you look like the crypt keeper and would love to have my cherubic melanin glow, but keep it to yourself and shut the hell up.
Not even one student believed my lie age of 30. “Ms. Edwards stop playing, you 18.” How Sway? Am I the female Smart Guy? Why must my flawless skin betray me?
Once I was out with my mans and went to see a movie, the movie was rated-R and the ticket woman asked for my ID before she sold me the ticket. So… she thought I was younger than 17, YOUNGER THAN 17?!? I couldn’t even enjoy the movie. WTF, I was pissed.
Speaking of men, the amount of times high-school-aged boys approach me makes me sick to my stomach, and then it makes me question the creeper status of all the men I’ve ever dated like, do you think I look 13? Do you think 13-year olds are sexy??? Oh Lawd, I’m getting a complex.
I could go on…and so I will.
Even my friends bother me. When I dress up to go out they are like, “Jess you look so cute.” Cute? Cute?! Am I a puppy now? Am I a chubby baby with bite-able cheeks (is that weird?)? I did not change my outfit about 50-leven times into this curve-hugging masterpiece to be cute. Miss me with that. I’m fine, sexy even!
I know I’m more pissed than perhaps your average young-looking woman. Maybe it’s because I know ageism is real, and when I’m looking for jobs, or men, or respect, I want to look like a competent adult, and not a child in big kids clothes.
I’ve gotten my fair share of suggestions from friends, tired of my, “I’m a full grown adult, respect me please” rants like:
- Makeup — Great suggestion, friend, but here’s the deal: Only when I’m feeling extra fancy (weddings, Olive Garden, etc.) do I hit up that good-ole tinted moisturizer. But, since it is leaps and bounds beyond my usual water and cocoa butter routine, it makes me feel like a dolled-up pageant queen, like an actual toddler in a tiara, which, needless to say, is creepy as heck. So… nah.
- High heels — Valiant effort! I get it; I’m short and no child walks around in heels all the time (unless they’re the aforementioned creepy toddler in a tiara). So, it seems like a good idea right? Wrong again. What do you think this is? You think my bomb-ass complexion gives me nerveless feet? My feet would hate me, I’m not doing that mess.
- Drinking heavily — Finally! You’re using your brain this time. Drinking apparently ages you. But for the past *mumble* years I’ve tried this suggestion over and over and over… and over, but still, nada. My Lime-a-ritas have betrayed me.
So keep in mind that those flawless, older, brown-skinned beauties went through a harrowing journey of, “No, how old are you really?” before it was meant as a compliment. Understand the struggle, and for the love of God, pretend I actually look my age. Because until I find a solution or resolve to peacefully wait about 10 more years when these comments will make me smile, just know I fantasize about strangling you every time you mention my extremely youthful appearance, and I wish horrible biblical plagues on your family as I smile and awkwardly laugh.
* Job is the Old Testament book of the Bible where God is all like, “Aye Satan, check out how much Job stans for me. I’ll allow you to ruin his life and he’s still finna be down. No kids? Check. No property? Check. Pestilence and disease? Check. and check. Still faithful? Check! Told ya! *hits heavenly nae nae*
Jessica Edwards has spent her entire adult life as a middle school educator, having taught English, social studies, math and science. She enjoys sharing her experiences as a black woman in America both with humor and with a more serious tone in her poetry. Her poems can be found on her Tumblr www.lyricalcatharsis.tumblr.com as well as her Instagram @lyrical.catharsis. Her Twitter is @JessKickinIt_.