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.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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18 Comments on "The Problem With the Eternal Debate On Whether Black Women ‘Get Along’"

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Susie White

A clear case of con­fir­ma­tion bias. Once you believe some­thing, you’ll keep find­ing infor­ma­tion to sup­port it. It’s always amazed me how men fight over 90% of wars again­st each oth­er, form gangs to kill each oth­er etc & yet some­how we are to believe that it is wom­en that can’t get along. Black wom­en have had a sis­ter­hood with each oth­er that pre­dates slav­ery & col­o­niza­tion. It’s sur­pris­ing we are made to believe that’s not the case.

luv
Stereo­types once again. I have learned that wom­en from oth­er races can be just as hard to get along with. In fact it seems that black wom­en can be sin­gled out the most by black men and oth­er races because of the stu­pid stereo­types that some peo­ple like to believe. I also would like to say who cares about what black men think about black wom­en any­ways, who are they to judge, most men from oth­er races are fas­ci­nat­ed by black wom­en and will­ing to do right by the wom­en and fam­i­ly. Don’t let any­body put into your brain that… Read more »
luv

Also I am not say­ing black wom­en are hard to get along with some peo­ple you get along with some you don’t. I think the stereo­types are just an agen­da any­ways you know the say­ing” divide and con­quer”. Stay pos­i­tive don’t believe the stereo­types ok.

Treasure79

I wish we would take race out of the pic­ture. In gen­er­al, wom­en have more con­flict with oth­er wom­en. Some of this is just because we are more social, some­times more sen­si­tive, and we get closer to each oth­er. Men tend to brush things off more eas­i­ly. Why does no one ever say — white wom­en don’t get along, Indi­an wom­en don’t get along, Asian wom­en don’t get along? We are peo­ple. We have con­flict just like any oth­er race. I would ven­ture to say its more about being wom­en than black wom­en.

Japanese.Lunch.Time.Rush.
Japanese.Lunch.Time.Rush.
I feel like this is just the result of liv­ing in a world that likes to put lim­its and quo­tas on our exis­tence. We (black wom­en) bul­ly each oth­er as chil­dren because we’re taught that noth­ing about us is quite right and there’s noth­ing we can real­ly do about it. We are bul­lied by soci­ety, by fam­i­ly, by our peers, all with vary­ing inten­tions; whether it’s to out­right hurt us, hold us back, or out of ‘con­cern’ for our well being. Any­one who tries to stick out gets ham­mered down by those who don’t know any bet­ter or by those who do… Read more »
Paris

This is an issue that I hold dear to my heart. I’ve rely let a few black wom­en friends of mine go because of this issue. I’ve noticed that, some­times, we black wom­en come at each oth­er with hos­til­i­ty that usu­al­ly stems from jeal­ousy. It hurts when I walk up to a wom­an that is sim­i­lar to me in many ways, with friend­ly open­ness, and I get stank face from them for no rea­son. I would like to know if any one else has this issue and how do you com­bat it.

Treasure79

Can we also acknowl­edge the fact that some­times we make up sto­ries in our minds about peo­ple? Some peo­ple are nat­u­ral­ly ‘awk­ward’ in social sit­u­a­tions. For oth­ers, may­be they have some issue going on in their lives that have noth­ing to do with you or race or jeal­ousy. Some peo­ple my be jeal­ous. That’s their issue to work out. But please know that some­times it has noth­ing to do with you — they could’ve lost a fam­i­ly mem­ber, pet, bad news from a rel­a­tive, etc.

Nikki

I have expe­ri­enced it, but I find it most­ly from Amer­i­can black wom­en. I do not com­bat it. You are not meant to be friends with every­one regard­less of their race. It took me a long time to under­stand that; so I don’t hold a grudge. I just write them off. I refuse to waste time with some­one who obvi­ous­ly don’t want to be both­ered. Now if you deal with this at work then hope­ful­ly every­one is mature enough to focus on the job instead of per­son­al feel­ings.

Cindy

Well said.

Idongesit Ekpo

Leila, this is the best thing I have read all day. Thank you.

Ivie

My friends are A PLETHORA OF CHOCLATE and CARAMEL lol and I would not have it any oth­er way.…

TWA4now

Wow! Nice arti­cle. WE can get along but NOT always…maturity lev­el helps.. I can­not wait for part 2, PLEASE!

Claudette Young-Davidson
Claudette Young-Davidson

Inter­est­ing arti­cle. In the UK even when black men exclu­sive­ly date white wom­en, their friends are always oth­er black guys.

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