I grew up in a family where race was never discussed in-depth. Of course, we all knew that we were Black and we all agreed that racism was a thing. But, we made sure to blend as best as we could into the predominantly white society of western Canada.
At times, I remember hating my Blackness and I remember letting it hold me back from loving myself. As I grew older, I began to grow into it and to appreciate my unique beauty as a Black woman. Along the way, I’ve learned some lessons about Black womanhood that my mother never told me. Here is a list of eight things I wish I’d known sooner:
1. Divorce rates and single motherhood rates are high, so choose your spouse wisely.
A study by R. Kelly Raley, Megan M. Sweeney, and Danielle Wondra compared the marriage patterns of Black, white, and Hispanic American women. They discovered that Black women married later in life than both age groups and were overall less likely to ever marry. Lastly, Black women’s marriages tended to have higher rates of “marital instability.” Black women had higher divorce rates than white women, at all stages of life and ages.
The researchers believe this finding pertains to the idea that Blackness is still associated with economic disadvantage. Economic factors hugely impact marriage and marital stability, so the rate of marriage in Black communities has fallen and a racial marriage gap has emerged.
What can Black women learn from this study? One, do not determine your worth and value based on whether you are attached to a man. A man (or woman) should add to your life and bring joy, wealth, and more. But, you are whole on your own and you always will be.
Lastly, Black women must understand that we enter the dating game with a real disadvantage. For numerous reasons, the marriages we enter are far more likely to fail than those of our white, Asian, and Hispanic counterparts. This means that we need to choose our life partners extremely wisely.
2. If you can’t get along with other Black women, you just might be the problem.
Although the media frequently displays Black female relationships as dysfunctional and problematic, the truth is that Black women are all we’ve got, and Black female friendships have the potential to be some of the deepest friendships you’ll ever develop. Black women share a unique experience in this world, since we’re the only ones who understand the special intersection of femininity and womanhood and Blackness.
As a result, we know what it’s like to face two systems of oppression: misogyny/patriarchy and racism white supremacy. We know what it’s like to fear not only the police, but to fear the reality that our spouse (usually a Black man) will leave us as single mothers in today’s cut-throat economy.
We know the struggle of getting our hair “done” and the ridiculous cost of being a Black woman and trying to live up to today’s beauty standards. Black women are not any cattier or pettier than other races of women. So, if you’re struggling to make Black female friendships (the best kind on Earth), you may need to have a heart-to-heart with yourself to figure out why you’re struggling to make those meaningful connections.
3. Choosing a life of activism and social justice may cost you.
Black women have become the face of Black activism. When you think of Black Lives Matter, more than likely an image of a Black woman holding up a sign comes to mind. However, few people are willing to talk about the mental side effects of dedicating your life to fighting social injustice.
For one, the amount of time spent focusing on all the wrongs in the world is simply not healthy for any individual, and while it’s a great idea to pay attention to the way the world mistreats you as a Black woman, it will eventually weigh on you. Instead of allowing yourself to get caught up in the movement of Black Lives Matter and the injustices committed against Black women on a regular basis, focus on acting in concrete ways that will truly impact the community.
For example, supporting Black female business owners and companies that uplift and promote the Black female image. Support images in the media that present Black women as valuable, and worthy of protection and respectful treatment. Buy from Black-woman owned companies, stream the music of dark-skinned Black women in the entertainment industry. Make sure that you are consistently supporting your own.
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4. Black women aren’t invincible, so seek help if your mental health is suffering.
Many Black women feel down and depressed… and clearly, it’s happening on a more regular basis than we know. Why wouldn’t we? From our high rates of death during childbirth to the rates of domestic violence in the Black community and the low pay that Black women receive compared to our white, male counterparts—the world is truly not the most accommodating place for Black women.
And to make it worse, well-meaning loved ones often respond to any mention of sadness with the phrase: “leave it to Jesus, he will take your pain away.” This line of thought is so dangerous because it implies that religion can fix your depression, which is—might I remind you—a mental illness that often needs professional treatment. Seeking help from a doctor or psychologist doesn’t make you a lesser Christian, or even a weak person. In fact, it’s actually a sign of strength, so don’t be afraid to seek support and help if you need it.
5. The phrase “strong Black woman” is not a compliment.
Ever noticed the way people treat strong things? Ever noticed the way the “strong” friend of the friend group rarely gets asked how she’s doing? This is because people expect strong, durable things to withstand large amounts of pain and remain OK. And Black women have allowed ourselves to be attached with the “strong Black woman” label for too long.
It’s time that society allowed us to be vulnerable and soft and personable and dainty and silly and feminine. We shouldn’t have to be strong all the time. “Strong” is just a label society gives us to justify our continued mistreatment and abuse, and enough is enough. Black women aren’t “strong” or “magic” and we’re certainly not “superhuman.” We’re people, and that’s enough.
6. It’s OK to feel beautiful, even if you don’t live up to the media’s idea of beauty.
You get to feel beautiful. Yes, you—even if your skin isn’t fair and your nose isn’t button-shaped and your hair isn’t straight and smooth. And you’re not beautiful in spite of your features, but you’re beautiful because of them. While typical Bantu features aren’t appreciated in society and in the media often, that doesn’t mean you should feel down on yourself or even think about getting surgery to change your features.
Be proud of your plump lips and your shapely figure. The best way to overcome the media’s unhealthy (and frankly, racist) ideals of beauty is to reject them and rock your natural beauty confidently and proudly.
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7. Your health and wellness is precious, so take every precaution to keep it.
Black women are struggling with obesity. You can see the centuries of slavery we’ve endured on our bodies. From our high cholesterol and blood pressure rates to the higher risk of breast cancer and diabetes, it’s important to be extra vigilant about our health. If you can afford it, don’t skip your regular visits to the doctor. Go for screenings and mammograms every year. Maintain a healthy diet and implement regular exercise into your daily routine. Not only will your body thank you, but your mind will too.
8. Imposter syndrome is a liar, you deserve every bit of success you have and more.
Imposter syndrome is the feeling of being undeserving of your success and the achievements you’ve made, and boy do Black women feel this in our professional lives. In fact, imposter syndrome is more commonly found in women, Black people, and other non-white racial groups. There’s a feeling of being an imposter that overcomes us when we step into spaces traditionally held by white men. Even so, you can’t let imposter syndrome win and convince you out of seeking positions and promotion that allows you to shine.
Remember that you are every bit deserving of the success that you’ve achieved and that you deserve to reach the highest heights. As a collective of Black women, we need to begin to feel deserving of and to demand better and more regular promotion of our beauty and worth and value as women in the media. One or two Lupita N’yongos in the entertainment industry will simply not do. We need dozens and dozens more.
Being a Black woman can be tough. As a result, we need to be extra smart and discerning about whom we welcome into our lives and the way that we speak to and treat ourselves. We need to value ourselves in everything we do, so that we can be our best, happiest, and healthiest versions of ourselves.
This article was originally published on Sorella Magazine, the ultimate online resource for Black women.