As a Black woman working in white spaces, my perception of racial dynamics has been questioned, minimized, or denied altogether. Over time, the experience of not being believed, especially by people I thought were my friends, wore away my sense of self. As I entered the professional world and sensed this happening to me, it became vital to remind myself daily of why I love being a Black girl:
I am enlivened by our stories of survival. Even though white folks tried to steal our histories — our lives, our labor, our culture, our origins — we recover the records. We find the census, the photos, the certificates, the inscriptions. Thanks to my grandmother, I am filled with stories of triumph over slavery, over lynching, over Jim Crow, because dignity was too strong to crush. I have felt the cast-iron pot of my grandmother and held the Bible of my great-grandmother. I sit at the feet of my elders and listen to them honour our shared past.
When I begin to doubt myself, I remember that we are creators. We are pioneers of language itself. We invent new words and kill old ones. We smash syllables together and watch them reverberate across the nation. We have a language we share with one another. Though our words are stolen and often misused or misapplied, we know the depth of our vocabulary when used among ourselves. Our conversations are call-and-response. Someone uncoloured might assume we are cutting each other off, interrupting — but all we did was move church outside the building walls. We will shout "Yes, amen" and "You better say that" in affirmation of one another.
Natural or relaxed, braided or dreaded, twisted or knotted, cornrowed or weaved — our hair believes in being free to do what she wants.
When my body stands out and I am tempted to forget my own beauty, I close my eyes and remember the feel of my father's fingers against my scalp, braiding each perfectly parted row while telling me I am not tender-headed so stop squirming. There was the cooling sensation of Blue Magic and Pink Lotion and the smell of hot curling irons as I learned about all the special things my hair can do.
Natural or relaxed, braided or dreaded, twisted or knotted, cornrowed or weaved — our hair believes in being free to do what she wants. When I rub cocoa butter into my skin, I remember the warmth of my mother's hands when she used to tell me to get all the hidden spots — behind my ankles and around my knees. The memories of her care for my body are a reminder of the care my body deserves.
Black women are the backbone and muscle of every church I've attended. They are prophets speaking a word when it seems God is silent. They are hospitality, welcoming with food and kindness, with a seat at the table, with a place you can call home. We are capable of building community anywhere — not just at church or at work, but also in the "ethnic" hair care section of stores, in lifts, and other random places where we take the opportunity to simply say, "I see you."
I love being a Black woman because we are demanding.
I love being a Black woman because we are demanding. We demand the right to live as fully human. We demand access — the right to vote, to education, to employment, to housing, to equal treatment under the law. And we do it creatively: Sit-ins and die-ins, signs and songs, writing and filmmaking. We demand because our ancestors did. We demand because we believe in our own dignity.
I could go on and on. I haven't touched the poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Lucille Clifton, and every southern grandmother who ever urged her children to keep on keeping on. I haven't covered the hugs and head nods and compliments from strangers; the Black cool of our photographers and dancers, politicians and teachers, and the everyday folks we love. There is so much beauty to share. But my point is this: I love being a Black girl.
Reprinted from I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness © 2018 by Austin Channing Brown. Published by Convergent, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.