Recently, I had a conversation with a young black man of 19 years old. I have known him since he was a child and after years of not seeing him, it was great to see how much he had grown up. We discussed a wide array of issues including alternative education for young Black British students and his future career endeavours. Eventually, the conversation took a turn and we ended up discussing the black family unit and reasons as to why there are so many that fail. It is here that the conversation turned sideways. I won’t go into the specifics of what was said, but just know I wan not amused. After hearing his warped view, I said to him, “you know what, it was nice speaking to you, enjoy the rest of your evening and I’ll see you soon.” I got up and joined the rest of the party.
After hearing all of the nonsense he had to say a few things occurred to me; the first being that I shouldn’t take the conversation so seriously as he still has a lot of growing up to do. I was neither saddened nor surprised by the lack of respect for black women because let’s be fair – we deal with it everyday. What I found most unsettling was that I had just lost 20 minutes of my life that I will never get back. In fact, I hadn’t lost those 20 minutes – someone who did not deserve my time had stolen it – and under no circumstance do I ever want that to happen. Ever. Again.
Right now you may be thinking, “How on earth does this story relate to the title of this piece?” It’s quite simple really. The conversation I had that evening clarified not only the importance of feeling completely comfortable with who we are as black women but the importance of empowering ourselves and essentially, empowering each other – because no one else is going to do it for us.
In a still capitalist, white patriarchal society, it has never been more difficult for black women to hash out a space in which we can be entirely and unapologetically ourselves. Everything we do and say must come with an explanation. We are not beautiful unless they tell us we are. Oh, and God forbid we ever seek happiness through self-validation; we have to wait for them to give that to us too.
There’s a reason they say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Truer words have never been spoken. However, there is another truth that has been constructed by society and that truth looks nothing like us. As a young black woman, how can you even begin to love and accept the skin and body you were born with, when so many tell you that it isn’t enough? That it doesn’t belong?
In an episode of young British-Jamaican filmmaker Cecile Emeke’s Flåner, this idea is explored further. Fanta eloquently explains, “The problem with truth, is that it may not be true, like, objectively; but in our society it has been constructed as a truth. So it’s really hard to escape it.” Fanta then went on to say, “I’m still struggling with having a better image of myself. I don’t think I’ll ever think, ‘yeah, I look good, I’m really beautiful.’” This comment completely resonated with me. Society does indeed make you feel as if there is no escape from this warped and absolutely cruel way of thinking. It is very easy to feel as if you are alone in what feels like entrapment. However, the fact that we have all felt this way at any one time is enough to believe that together we can find the key to our own empowerment and begin to break down the walls that society has built up around us. The key is togetherness.
In a society that is fast becoming extremely individualistic and is reminiscent of the “Me generation” (a term dubbed by American writer Tom Wolfe), the need for togetherness has never been more important. It is so easy to feel lost when you feel as if you are treading a difficult path alone. We are stronger in numbers.
The work of Cecile Emeke has definitely begun to deconstruct society’s warped perception of black lives – the lives of black women especially. Each episode of Strolling highlights the differing experiences of young black people of the African diaspora, the majority of whom are women. Her work reflects the idea of togetherness and how essential it is for us to support one another. Currently in London, there has also been an increase in black creative collectives and groups, which is both encouraging and necessary. In the past, we have seen black feminist organisations such as the Combahee River Collective and the NBFO successfully work together to not only make huge steps for black feminism, but also create a safe space for black women alike to be completely honest and authentic.
In a world that has turned its back on us and makes us feel as if we are invisible, we must lean on one another. We must call each other not friends, but sisters, because this means so much more. When you call someone a sister, you vow to completely trust her and to completely believe in her potential. You promise to have her back and fight together. You promise to help her on her journey of self-love and acceptance and thus allow her to assist you in yours. Our empowerment must be intergenerational, as we can learn and unlearn lessons from those who came before us and those who came after us. When we become empowered, our whole community benefits from it, becoming empowered and wholly human. Although we may have the shared experience of being black women, we all have something unique to offer in our journey towards empowerment.
With different talents, strengths and skills, we can come together to form a matriarchal tribe equipped with an arsenal of knowledge. It is only once we strengthen our bond as sisters, that we can begin to unlearn and deconstruct the societal truths that have for so long been our downfall.