Soft, tender – these aren’t words we usually hear to describe us Black women and girls. I’m always thinking about our journey, especially here in the Western world. Growing up as a British Barbadian girl I felt so many emotions while growing up in the UK. From being at school, to social interactions to the workplace- the softness and vulnerability of Black women is often ignored. Never considered. It’s like we are in a category of not quite feminine but neither male.
So there’s this feeling like we’re in a third group, which sometimes receives feminine privileges. Where and how did I develop these thoughts and conclusions?
Invisible from an early age
While at primary school and going through to my teenage years, it became clear to me how differently we were seen and treated. Everywhere I looked, there were white faces staring back at me. The books we read at school and every image on television – not a black face was seen. Looking back it definitely felt as if we were invisible.
From being at school, to social interactions to the workplace- the softness and vulnerability of Black women is often ignored. It’s like we are in a category of not quite feminine but neither male.
When it came to hair and beauty – it was always images of pretty white girls and women shown to us. I always remember the hair ‘nit’ inspector at primary school, poking my head with her index finger and not wanting to touch my hair and scalp; while running her fingers through the hair of my white friends. In the pages of magazines it was rare to see a Black face looking back at me. In this we were being given a message that the only beauty which existed was white beauty. We were invisible and were never seen as tender, feminine or soft. Our beauty wasn’t talked about. It was something never mentioned and swept aside.
A Black woman’s lifestyle didn’t matter
When it came to the women shown enjoying nice things, happy lifestyles – they were always white. From being at the hairdresser, to being pampered and enjoying fun times like holidays, a Black woman was never seen in these images. So the social narrative was allowed to continue that Black women never have anything good happening on their lives. That we are not favoured or loved in the same way as white women.
I always remember the hair nit inspector at primary school, poking my head with her index finger and not wanting to touch my hair and scalp; while running her fingers through the hair of my white friends.
Do Black women have healthy relationships?
When it comes to relationships – husbands and wives, boyfriend and girlfriend – again us Black women were never shown as the woman of choice. Recently, we’ve seen a trickle of adverts showing Black women with the kids and being in the relationship. So yes there’s been a shift. But for so long, there’s been an unspoken dialogue saying that Black women are not loved or cherished in the same way as white women.
We are vulnerable at our core
Being strong is a label often used to describe us Black women. A lot of us know those times when we’ve had to find strength, when we didn’t feel like we have it. Facing racism at work, being under-paid, side-lined and not recognised for our achievements. This often means we’ve acted strong not because we wanted to but because we had to. But this doesn’t mean that us Black women lack the ability to be gentle or show kindness. This has created for me the need to unlearn these messages from British society.
So the social narrative was allowed to continue that Black women never have anything good happening on their lives. That we are not favoured or loved in the same way as white women.
The division within our communities
From within our own communities the assumption of Black women being ‘hard’ has grown over the years. The divisive argument saying that Black women with lighter skin and wavy hair are more beautiful and valuable than a dark skinned black woman with short natural hair. Yes our communities are guilty too of creating an impression that Black women are lacking in femininity.
We’ve acted strong not because we wanted to but because we had to. But this doesn’t mean that us Black women lack the ability to be gentle or show kindness.
I’ve written in the past about my belief that because our women worked like men, were brutalised and raped during slavery and have come from a legacy of struggle, this continued a trend of rough treatment towards us. The belief developed that Black women can tolerate more pain than white women. There’s been an opinion that we don’t need to be given the space to express our softness and vulnerability. This belief has been embedded in the Western world.
The battle still continues
It feels to me like we’ve been fighting this battle from the day we are born. Fighting to prove we are equal and that our vulnerability exists too. While we continue walking like we know we deserve to be treated better, we’re constantly pushing back the tide of racism that keeps rising.
Our women worked like men, were brutalised and raped during slavery, continuing a trend of rough treatment towards us.
A renewed debate about racism
The recent death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests created a renewed conversation about race, for mainstream society. We have been having conversations for years. All of a sudden companies and celebrities have been taking the knee and using #BlackLivesMatter. But when the white world decides to switch off, us Black people will still be having these race conversations.
This renewed conversation created a new time and space for Black people to speak openly about racism and the changes we need to see. More tv programmes about Black people are being arranged. Companies are issuing statements to say they ‘stand with us’. Black people as consumers are being recognised. But has the softness and vulnerability Black women been recognised? Is our femininity being recognised too? It’s early days and time will tell, but I hope that we do not wait for the world to treat us with the tenderness we deserve. Above all, I’ll keep hoping that us Black women give ourselves the softness and love that we have always deserved.