To the girls who dance when there is no music. The girls who see pretty flowers and think they would be perfect in her 'fro. The girls who stay in their beds for days watching Sci-Fi shows on Netflix. The girls who go to midnight premieres of Marvel movies, because that is the only way to see them properly. The girls who actually did not find Courage the Cowardly Dog creepy as a child. The girls who own box sets of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Naruto. The girls who still belt the lyrics of "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence. The girls who still listen to Avenged Sevenfold and Jimmy Eat World. The girls who are unapologetically themselves. Also known as the 'weird' black girls — this is for you.
Society has an idealized perception of a black person. They feed into the stereotypes and think that everyday black people are loud, obnoxious, "ghetto," etc. If someone does not fit this description, they are an outsider. This also holds truth within the black community on a smaller scale. Some black people think that all black people should act alike, and if one person strays away from the way we are "supposed" to act, they are abnormal. The ideal black woman, for instance, is not one that engages in cosplay. She does not LARP (live action role play). She is supposed to listen to the same music, care about the same things, and engage in the same activities as her counterparts. If she doesn't, she is judged and not considered “normal.”
My taste in music, books, clothing, movies, etc. forced others to label me the “weird black girl.” From kindergarten until the end of elementary school and even now,people called me weird. I was unlike many girls in the black community, and it made me insecure and uncomfortable and even brought tears to my eyes. For years, I even tried to assimilate into this idealized black community and suppress my likes, interests and mannerisms in order to be accepted. I have, however, discovered that just because I stray from the norms and the stereotypes, I am not weird. I am simply myself despite the fact that I might like reading comic books or shopping in Hot Topic or binge watching X-Files or listening to "Bodies" by Drowning Pool sometimes.
When I started to embrace that I was ‘weird' was when I started to notice that I was not alone. There are plenty of weird or eccentric black girls that have the same interests as me. It is also socially acceptable to be different. When I arrived at Washington University in St. Louis, I was greeted with a note that said “The truth is out there” on my suite door courtesy of the student-run newspaper, Student Life. The reference is from The X-Files, one of my favorite television shows. Most people find my obsession with The X-Files strange, but coming to a new place and having that be my first encounter was great, and I felt like it was more acceptable for me to be myself.
So to all my 'weird' black girls: You are not alone. It's okay to be yourself. It's okay to be different. Like what you like and do what you want. Don't let anyone tell you that you are strange. Be unapologetically yourself, because being the weird black girl is so much better than forcing yourself to be like everyone else.
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There are shared awkward experiences that happen to even the most magical of black girls — things we just can't escape. Check out four things below that might have happened to you, too.
Being forced to weather the storm that is your name mispronunciation: Do you remember when the substitute teacher absolutely butchered your name? Or providing phonetic name cards for graduation ceremonies? The struggle was real. But as Uzo Aduba's mother eloquently said, "If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky and Michelangelo, then they can learn to say *insert beautiful ethnic name here*!"
Being perpetually ashy: So I was definitely one of those kids who was slow to figure out why the Gross Sisters were blue. They perfectly mirrored my elbows and knees after a long hard day of playing outdoors. It's like my childhood activities sucked the moisture out of my life, regardless of how much lotion I lathered on my skin.
When your braid falls out: It happened just as my 10-year-old niece was about to attempt her first overhand serve at her volleyball game. Her braid fell out of her kitchen like a leaf off a tree. She was mortified, but after the game I told her about the time my ponytail fell off in front of my beige crush at the Sandy Lake. Hey, it happens to the very best of us. #TumbleWeave. But press on. Just remind yourself that it could even happen to Beyoncé.
4. Perm burns: While we're on the subject of hair... It was all fun and games when you could flip your hair after that perm. But when you messed around and scratched the one spot on your scalp that was too relaxed? Game over.
5. “You’re pretty for a black girl.” *Heavy sigh* I just...can't.
Memories, huh? Share some of your most memorable awkward #coolblackgirl moments in the comments below! ...
The arts present opportunities for us to be deeply uncomfortable and yet totally safe. And for me they have become a space for radical transformation. Most recently I was reminded of this during Lupita Nyongo’s performance in Eclipsed, a story of the women of the Liberian civil war, at the Public Theater. The moment she stepped on stage I felt an incredibly familiar dread. Her hair — unkempt and knotty — splayed around the top of her face like a crown of a displaced queen. Her clothes, dirt-caked, torn rags, dingy and barely covering a pair of bony knees. My heart ached and my breathing became shallow and she spoke to a pair of women, one young and pregnant, the other solid and braiding her hair inside a structure that could barely be called a building. I wanted to get out of my seat and leave the room. I wondered how could they have agreed to be in this place, to be so wrong in front of an audience. Especially this audience.
When I was in the lobby I played my favorite game, “count the black people,” and came up with a number that fit on two hands. This was a primarily white audience and the thought that they, too, could were watching these women in such a state felt like too much. When black bodies are on display like this I experience a genuine fear that these white people will forget that this is a story and it will reinforce their thoughts that we are only worthy of their pity and compassion, rather than equality.
But what does it say about me, that my immediate reaction to these characters was a desire to cover them up, to present them as clean, more refined and genteel?
I have been a “safe” black person for my whole life. You know, the black person that white parents meet and think, “Oh what a nice, articulate black woman.” They assume that I received some scholarship to go to a nice boarding school, got into some liberal arts school with the help of affirmative action and will never be a danger because I’m “well behaved.” That’s not my story – but for my entire life, I’ve derived pride from being a “good black” person. I am the kind of black person who goes to events at the Harvard Club, has a weekend place and is an arts patron. Some people would call me bougie. I would call them right. But even the bougie yearn for liberation.
Unfortunately, we are choking on respectability politics. We are bound and struggling and need a path out. More now than ever we need to be brave, honest, real and ready. Because our lives and the lives of those that we love are constantly threatened. And we must use our comfort to secure and advocate for those who are not in the same circumstances. Because we can afford to.
Over the past few years, in light of the video evidence of police brutality, there has been increased coverage in popular and niche media of respectability politics. And I have been grateful for this but also have felt dismayed, for they offer no solutions. No ways out. Just a terrifying reminder that my fanciness won’t save me. And more importantly that my pretense alienates me, makes me uncomfortable in the hood, unsure of what to do when I’m in all-black spaces.
Well, it did, until I found a door to the community and the movement – an entry to sisterhood. I remember when I saw Carrie Mae Weems retrospective at the Guggenheim, there was a single photograph, titled May Flowers and produced in 2002, that made me weep. Standing in the white rotunda, I cried because I had never seen little black girls as art. And we were beautiful. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life and opened me up to realizing how committed I am to the lives of black girls. How much I yearn for them to have comfort, security and, more importantly, justice.
I remember the first time that I saw the brilliance of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's "Urban Bush Women," a dance company that tells the stories of women of the African Diaspora through movement. The dancers' bodies were so strong and present. It made me so uncomfortable and yet I was fixated in finally seeing a figure like mine and with such power and comfort. I envied their freedom and was inspired to reclaim my own physicality.
The arts have given me space to heal and Eclipsed gave me space to hope that by being in community, we can create new realities. Even when times are tough. So this is a thank you to Lupita and playwright Danai Gurira for their revolutionary courage.
It may be fair to say that black women are and have been a force to be reckoned with in the fashion industry. Take a look below to examine that theory through pictures, and admire all of the #blackgirlmagic that has been sprinkled throughout the industry by decade. Enjoy!
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