She Taught Me: Lessons I Learned from Black Women

by Britni Danielle

Toni Morrison & Sula

Aside from James Baldwin, few authors know how to weave an engaging tale quite like Toni Morison. Her ability to mold language into a living, breathing, true-to-life thing that damn-near leaps off the page has kept me in awe since I read The Bluest Eye back in high school. But it was Morrison’s novel Sula that really made me sit up and take notice.

Sula wasn’t afraid to be herself, and she for sure wasn’t concerned with what those in Bottom, her tiny town, thought of her. She did what she wanted, entertained whomever she wanted, and lived life on her own terms, no matter what others said behind her back. Although Sula’s life wasn’t easy and she made several questionable choices, she—like her last name—inadvertently brought peace to her community. Through Sula Morrison taught me that above all else, you should be yourself—even when those around you pressure you to change.

Clair Huxtable

You couldn’t grow up in the ‘80s without being a Cosby Show devotee. While everyone obsessed about Denise’s fashion sense, Rudy’s cutesy charm, or Theo’s transformation from gangly teen to too-fine man, I was focused on Clair.

Clair Hanks-Huxtable was the epitome of fly and reminded me a lot of my mother—tough but loving, unbelievably beautiful, and seemingly able to hold down the home and the office with ease. Was she perfect? No. She struggled to take time for herself, sometimes let her temper get the better of her, and had an all-to-familiar obsession with Mexican food. But by watching Mrs. Huxtable balance her kids and work, flirt unashamedly with her man, and still look amazingly stylish I was reminded about just how versatile and multifaceted women can be.

Joan Morgan

There comes a time in the life of every hip-hop loving conscious woman when she begins to feel guilty for listening to music that rarely has her best interests in mind. Although I’m an avid hip-hop head (I love the ‘90s), I’m also a feminist and often times those two worlds clash in dramatic ways. Like singing your heart out to Ain’t No Fun at the homie’s house party, but daring any man to step to you sideways like he’d approach one of the women mentioned in the song. Loving hip-hop and being a woman is sometimes akin to being in an emotionally abusive relationship. You know you should leave, but sometimes he makes you feel soooooo good.

Enter Joan Morgan and her book When Chickenheads Comes Home to Roost which explored the very conflicts I debated in my head.  Morgan’s tome articulated in print everything I had been thinking and made me realize that I wasn’t the only woman struggling to reconcile her love of hip-hop with her growing consciousness as woman. Moreover, Morgan’s brand of feminism distanced itself from the oft-too-white world of man hating and random bra burnings, and embraced a brand of self-love that understood that men were our allies, not our opponents. Through Morgan and Chickenheads I found the language and ability to think critically about the culture I loved and my place in the world.

Which women have taught you valuable lessons throughout the years?

  • Shannon C. Smith

    I really enjoyed this piece

  • Jess

    Oprah taught me two profound things that I carry with me:

    1. When you know better, you do better

    2. When people show you who they are, believe them.

    Invaluable advice.

  • NinaG

    From middle school, I started to read (almost) exclusively books from black women. Veronica Chambers (in high school), Tricia Rose (as I was just beginning college), and bell hooks. Lately, it’s been more fiction that I’m learning life lessons from (Shay Youngblood, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat). I call them my literary mothers. They really did help my mother raise me.

    Love this article.

  • Christa

    I loved this article. So many times I see that we as Black women get a bad rap in the media, but what about the women that are doing great things. They are living life and being a huge influence to girls like me. Just a few that make it to my vision board are: Mary J Blige, Queen Latifah, Oprah, Michelle Obama, Demetria Lucas, and you Britni. I love to see us doing our thing!

  • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin’)

    Toni Morrison is a jewel. I bought her new book yesterday.

  • Dalili

    My mother she taught me the meaning of grace,, humility, kindness, joy, how to wear panty hose without ripping them, the importance of moisturizing my skin, in essence, how to be a woman. I worship the ground she walks on.

    Maya Angelou: Few authors have affected by personal life with their literary works as she has. Even The Stars Look Lonesome is by far my favorite book by her, it’s a treasure trove of life lessons. Love her!

    Wangari Maathai: One of the most powerful yet humble human beings to walk this earth. Her biography ‘Unbowed’ shifted the way I thought and think about life’s hiccups.

    Oprah: Her magazine and show are/were awesome.

    My friends: They showed me the the true meaning of friendship over the years and not just by being a friend to me but by the way they treat their other friends.

  • dirtychai

    I’d have to say Oprah Winfrey taught me so much about the broader spectrum of humanity. As a survivor of sexual abuse, her show helped me understand so much about what I was going through emotionally, the benefit of forgiveness, and how to turn pain into strength. As much as I used to want to deny it, she has been an influence on my life.

    Maya Angelou taught me about grace and love.

    Black Women have taught me about sisterhood, style, strength, and accomplishment. We’re the best!

  • serwaah

    I like this article – except the portion where tribute is giving to “celebrities”
    i don’t look up to celebrities – they are only known to me because they are on t.v, movies or write a book. instead i look up to those i see everyday, know their triumphs, tribulations, accomplishments.

    My mother, grandmother, mother in law, sister, aunties, in laws and some friends are those that I look to for lessons.

    lessons i’ve learned as woman: love yourself first, with that you’re loving God and the people around you. Be positive, and when times get hard count your blessings in health, mind, spirit not just material things.

    just my thought

  • Ms. Information

    Zora Neale Hurston – so underated as an American author that it is not funny…

    My grandmother – to forgive and then forgive again

    My mother – be yourself and don’t apologize for being different

  • Chic Noir

    This photo just reminded me, NYmag did an interview with Toni Morrison this week. I’m sure you ca check out the entire interview, very interesting I must say, online.

    Hurriet Tubman- This tiny blk woman with epilepsy was bad enough to escort other blks to freedom via the underground railroad. She also worked as a nurse during the Civil War. Hurriet Tubman is without equal in my book.

    Shala Monroque- Blk woman living well. Shala is the epitome of elegance. Shala picture can be found in the encyclopedia under the word comportment.

    My great-grandmother- From then to now. The grandchild of a slave, she has taught me so much about what it means to be a woman and a lady.

    Naomi Campbell- For just representing for Blk women(before attitude issues).

    Oprah- for just being Oprah and showing what’s possible with the right backing and a friend who has your back. Without Gail, there would be no Oprah.

    Michelle Obama- For just being Michelle Obama.

    Lena Horne- Had you just “passed” like studio heads told you to, you would’ve gone far in Hollywood. You have integrity.

    Angela Basset- For having integrity and not taking any ole mammy rachett role that Hollywood thru to you.

  • Chic Noir

    Britini this was a good post, thanks :)

    Enter Joan Morgan and her book When Chickenheads Comes Home to Roost

    I’ve got to put this on my list. I’ve been meaning to read this book for years.

  • Chic Noir

    another Shay Youngblood fan here.
    *high fives Nina G*

    Black Girl in Paris changed my life.

  •!/clnmike Tonton Michel

    Buffie “The Body” Carruth taught me to never trust a big butt and a smile.

  • binks

    Agreed! Sure I get motivation/inspiration from powerhouse black celebs, public figures, etc. But my source of life lessons, knowledge, grace, and all comes from the great black women around me as well.

  • Chic Noir

    Why did so few people comment on this post? Geez I know positive news doesn’t do so well but yall need to comment here. We blk women are complaining about how our men don’t value us yet we aren’t showing each other love on a post written for us.

    I bet if this was ♫ I’m dark-skin and so sad♫ post, people would be burning it up.

  • H

    Great post.

    @Chic Noir – People like drama, so they like negative posts. That’s why crappy reality shows are so popular drama, drama, drama. That’s why negativity is always on the news. It gets views. It is why the media constantly attacks black women.

    Readers will say that all the articles on the site bash black women. They just don’t read the uplifting ones.

  • C

    Great piece, Danielle…until that loving hip hop or coming to terms with it crap. No thanks. I really want no part of it and it cancels what you wrote in this article. A cop out if I ever saw one and partly explains why this genre wont end…some women like you.

  • Bridget

    My mother, both my grandmothers and my aunties. They all have either taught me how to be or how not to be.

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