A friend of mine recently told me of a Facebook status she came across. Written by a black woman, it was a declaration that many hold as truth: ‘Black women do not get along with each other. Women of other races do, but we don’t and never will.’ The status was liked several times by other black women.
I chewed on it for a while because on some level, it feels intuitive. I’ve always been quirky and was often a target of bullying as a child, primarily by other black girls. Being a sensitive spirit, I cried at the slightest insult.
Outside of school bullies there were other traumas, professional and personal, inflicted by black women in my 20s and beyond. In some sense it feels easy to nod and agree that black women do not get along. That we are threatened by each other, resent each other’s success and have a ‘crabs in a barrel’ mentality. But that’s only part of the story.
By the time I got to college the overwhelming conservative whiteness of my school drove me into the arms of black girlfriends, who carried me through my four years. When I got my first real journalism job in Chicago, a black woman mentored me although it wasn’t part of her official responsibilities. When I transitioned to blogging black woman friends and colleagues read my website and spread the word about it. When I launched my shea shop black women were the first to sample the product. Black women make me laugh on and off of social media. They make the music and culture I enjoy. They are teaching my son in public school, and my daughter in private daycare. They’ve created a culture of ‘black girl magic’ that is affirming to me personally, and a cultural space in which I can raise my daughter to love herself.
I buy black dolls, head wraps, and hair products made by black women. The writing of black feminists has helped me to make sense of my place in the world. And everything I have learned about the importance of self-care has been from black women. When it comes to the construction of my character, black women have done some heavy lifting.
How could I overlook all of this and jump to the conclusion that I never have and never will get along with black women? Because culture often socializes us to see black women as dangerous, invisible or not enough.
I remember being subtly shamed in college for having mostly black woman friends. “But why do you only hang out with the other black girls?” white students would ask in disapproving tones. I struggled to answer the question, often pointing to the fact that I had friends of all races. But there was no doubt that the black girls who had non-black friends were seen as superior. While the black girls who hung out with each other were seen as simple. The implicit assumption, of course, was that it wasn’t ‘enough’ to just have friends who were black women. That you were lacking in some way because of it.
And it’s something we accuse black men of all the time. When a black man says that his preference is non-black women, our collective instinct is to wonder how he could ignore women like his mother, sister, grandmother, teachers and friends. But we do it too — generalizing the negative experiences we’ve had with black women while ignoring the social and emotional safety net they’ve built for us.
Black women are not perfect. We are not saints, we are not a monolith and we will not all be friends. But we can acknowledge all these things while also respecting the communities and connections we build for and with each other that help us through life.