I woke up this morning and needed to say this.
Black women are amazing—not because of our race or gender, but because of our humanity. And it is our humanity that is routinely ignored. Society would rather debate why more of us are not married or whether our sexual freedom is killing the black community. When we need help, we are ignored. People must be reminded to say our names along with those of the black men killed by extra-judicial violence. And when we are awesome—like 33-year-old tennis champ, Serena Williams, who won her sixth Wimbledon title earlier this month—people are quick to remind us where they think we are lacking.
I spent three years interviewing more than 100 black women for my new book, The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America. And with every conversation, I was reminded of the many ways that women like me are marginalized and disrespected. In researching the book, I was also reminded of the problems that often come with being both black and a woman. It is enough to wear a sister down, as one woman I spoke with shared.
Fatima Thomas said, “At this point in my life, I’m fed up!” She remembers as a young girl wanting to distance herself from blackness. “If I could just be smarter. If I could just work harder. If I could be more honest and more of a good person…. If I could do all of that, then I wouldn’t have to deal with all of the bad stuff said about black people, and black girls and women, in particular.”
More importantly, though, listening to black women share their experiences, hopes and fears reminded me—and I hope everyone who picks up a copy of the book—how defiantly and brightly black women continue to shine within a society that loves neither women nor black people.
Deesha [Philyaw] says, “The racists and the sexists have failed miserably in trying to convince me that I don’t matter, that I am less than. I spent the first thirty-five years of my life feeling that way, and not even because of racism or sexism. I decided that I didn’t have any more time to waste living in fear of what other people thought of me, which really isn’t living at all. Defining myself for myself and not giving that personal power away is what makes me alright. Not needing a racist or sexist person’s permission for any fucking thing is what makes me alright. Not needing anyone to like me or approve of my politics or my aesthetic is what makes me alright. I have to be alright because I need my daughters to know that they are alright.”
Jamyla Bennu says, “I am completely happy with my identity and it has never occurred to me not to be. I am in love with my black woman self. I am in love with black womanhood.
“I exalt in how many ways there are for us to be uniquely beautiful—the shapes and shades in which we walk the world. I love our laughter and fierceness and care and energy and exhaustion and brilliance and creativity. That perceptions other than this exist is honestly puzzling to me.”
Right. I emerged from the experience of writing The Sisters Are Alright puzzled that so many people fail to recognize black women’s awesomeness. Or perhaps they see it all too well:
“I’m alright,” says Heather Carper, “because I understand human nature. [For so many people] to have spent so much time, effort, and expense to denigrate, defile, and destroy us, I know that my black femaleness must be ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ as the old church folks say. It cannot be bought. It cannot be imitated. And it cannot be destroyed.”
Yes. Despite all of our challenges, black women are alright. Better than alright, we are brilliant. We have facets like diamonds. The trouble is the people who refuse to see us sparkling.
Sparkle on my sisters.
Tell us why you are alright in the comments. Best response wins a The Sisters Are Alright Audible audiobook, narrated by actress Tamberla Perry. To learn more about Tamara Winfrey Harris please visit www.tamarawinfreyharris.com.