Struggles (Perspectives from a Black Woman)

Alex explores what it means to be a black woman and the unique ways in which black women struggle.

The ‘black’ woman is a separate entity in itself.

White and black are said to correspond to the binaries of ‘purity and filthiness, virginity and sin, virtue and baseness, beauty and ugliness’.[1] If we take binaries into account, the black woman is automatically classed in a category different from her counterparts.

The ‘black woman’ is perceived to be strong, independent, angry, and other adjectives that emphasise her flaws unbearably.

If one was to look beyond the surface – the anatomy of the black woman is explored seamlessly – we wonder:

What makes her smile, and what makes her tick? What makes her palms sweaty and her heart heavy?

What causes her worry, and what makes her sometimes feel so empty?

The ‘black’ woman is perceived to be strong, independent, angry and other adjectives that emphasise her flaws unbearably.

Intersectionality, as defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in Demarginalising the Intersection of Race and Sex, is an approach aiming to criticise the ‘single-axis framework that is often reflected in feminist theory’. Mainstream feminist theory, according to intersectionality, fails to account for lived experience of those outside the white, middle class framework.

Intersectionality essentially focuses on how different oppressions are constructed to shape one’s life experiences. Social identities are therefore interconnected, creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination that are often ignored.

Race and gender intersect to create systems of inequality.

This, as a result, would then imply that being a woman is hard, but being a black woman in this world is an incredibly difficult reality.

In this reality, they struggle.

One has to wonder: what is struggle to the modern black woman? Is it pain, is it anger, is it internalising those inner troubles?

Is struggle defined as the inability to communicate those troubles that they face?

Black women are often taught to confine all their worries and fears in a private space, because the appearance of the ‘strong black woman’ is more important than confronting the struggles they face.

This can even be traced back to the period of the slave trade. In that period of struggle, black women were viewed as unfeminine, uncivilized and animalistic, while white women were the most feminine and pure, black women were at the ‘bottom of the gender hierarchy’[2]. Such stereotypes still pervade in today’s society, through the classroom, the university accommodation, the street and media portrayals.

Serena and Venus Williams, who are champions in their own right, are constantly aligned with the narrative of the ‘ghetto Cinderella’, and so the list gets busier and blearier.[3]

The black woman in popular culture is ‘materialised and sexualised’, so if she does not ‘twerk’ or become a single mother, then the stereotype is made weaker.[4]

From the beginning of time, black women have struggled to exercise self-agency against these images and social practices that are harmful and malign.

Is struggle defined as the challenges of defying the stereotypes already ascribed to them?

In the realm of dominant discourse and social hegemony, why is it difficult to see the black woman as being separate from the ‘baby mother’ ‘over-sexualised’ holotype?

The hair of the black woman is not a source of astonishment, shock or amusement but a site of growth, self-care and confidence. Touching their hair is not endearing but plays with their legacy; a hands-off approach would allow the black woman to feel safe and care free.

Then again, is struggle defined as the invisibility that black women undergo that make their experiences almost an unreality?

There’s a perception that the agony of police brutality is synonymous with males, but one can also recognise that these black females fall victim to this reality.

After all, the black woman is a strong, fearless, ‘don’t need no man’, resilient, independent, contemporary Amazon.

Do they not know the effect these killings have on them, alongside their male counterparts?

Whilst they are not males, they feel every stab, bullet, pain those men take.

They are clearly not men but, alike men, they are subjected to the same oppression and hate
By those police officers who are meant to protect and exercise discretion?
Sandra Bland, Tanika Anderson, Natasha McKenna, Sarah Reid, Korryn Gaines.

Just five of the women who have fallen victim to a violent policing system, our hearts stiffen; police brutality has no gender code.

The black woman has slowly ‘become’ weakened, desensitized, fearful, dragged through the ground, her independence harassed and her courage snatched.

And so she slowly begins to crack, dismissing the stereotype that is attached to her.

Diamond Reynolds and Quinyetta McMillan were both women, both black, shootings left them numb, face blank.

These shootings further desensitized them, left them digging for feelings only God could completely understand.

Diamond, Philando Castile’s girlfriend, had livestreamed his blood-covered arm, and we felt every trickle and final breath.

Her later arrest was salt to existing injury, how could she compose herself, suppress any feelings of fear she might have had?

His daughter, four years old, in the backseat, played a painful witness to her father’s unjustified and unlawful death.

Is this fair?

Nightmares of her father, terror she forever harbours, the bullets from the trigger missed her, but her memories of her father are blood stained.

The stereotype of the ‘strong black woman’ is projected onto a young girl who is clearly pained, but has to show ‘strength’ and restraint.

Quinyetta, mother of Alton Sterling’s eldest son, now bears the burden of raising her son alone; lone mother, and scarred son.

She is an expected pillar of strength, but will this remain? She is clearly pained but has to show ‘strength’ and restraint. They bear the burden of uncertainty, futures determined by those who project coercion. Both females, although not shot, not wounded, felt the after effects of that gun.

Again, the ‘black woman’ is perceived to be strong, independent, angry, and other adjectives that emphasise her flaws unbearably.

How, in these socio-political circumstances, can they maintain their strength in these situations of pain and uncertainty?

These women are confused, infuriated, distraught, numb and, in these circumstances, the black woman tragically crumbles.

These women, and black women around the globe, share a collective struggle, share solidarity in these cross-border troubles.

The struggle of the black woman is essentially universal, from London to Lagos, America to Anguilla, internal, external and hurtful are their everyday struggles.

As black women, as a collective they suddenly fear, panic and feel the pain every black woman clutches close to her chest.

As black women, they collectively identify with their fears, and understand their intense feelings of despair,

Oppressed they are, distressed they feel, heartbroken, they sink.

Alex Otubanjo is currently a Second year Politics and International Studies student. She has an interest in race, gender and sociology which she likes to express through spoken word poetry and prose.

[1] Collins, P. H. (2005). Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. New York: Taylor & Francis.

[2] Collins, P. H. (2005). Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. New York: Taylor & Francis.

[3] Johnson, H. & MacKay, J.. (2014). Pornographic eroticism and sexual grotesquerie in representations of African American sportswomen. In G. Dines, & J. M. Humez (Eds.), Gender, race and class in Media: A critical reader (4th Edition ed.). United States: Sage Publications.

[4] Collins, P. H. (2005). Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. New York: Taylor & Francis.

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