A blog reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Meagé Clements. This post is an expansion of her statement in the UMBC Women’s Center and Women of Color Coalition’s “I’m Not” anti-stereotype campaign for the Telling Our Stories project, which we posted about here.
It’s been over a year since I first read recent UMBC alumna and former Women’s Center student staff member Bria Hamlet’s blog post Blackish: Telling My Story and her words continue to resonate with me. She described how she often felt that her blackness was invalidated by others because she didn’t fit the “stereotypical Black mold.” Her blog post made me recall my own experiences with microaggressions and respectability politics, even before I had words to describe what I was facing.
Upon thinking about my “favorite” microaggressions to include on my anti-stereotype poster for the Telling Our Stories Project, a million ideas popped in my head; several about my name, a few about my natural hair, but most were about me being — or not being — “Black enough,” and how other people often take it upon themselves to decide when I am capable of being associated with my blackness.
Growing up, I attended predominantly white schools, but I had always surrounded myself with a small yet diverse group of friends. I remember several times when my Black and non-Black friends alike would joke about how my “Black card should be revoked” or how I was “barely Black” for any number of reasons.
Most often, it came down to the fact that by being an introvert, I couldn’t possibly be Black. Because I wasn’t the stereotypical “loud Black woman,” I wasn’t Black enough. Because I grew up in a two-parent household, I couldn’t be Black. Because I “spoke like a white girl,” I wasn’t deemed Black enough.
Since when did each of these things become associated with Blackness and why were they the determinants? What exactly did it mean to be “Black enough?”
Due to stereotypes associated with being Black, people often assume that there is a singular Black experience and that there is a set of definitive criteria to test one’s blackness. If someone doesn’t appear to conform to X,Y, and Z, they are deemed less Black. At the same time, it seems as if people regard stereotypical white traits as “good,” and stereotypical Black traits as “bad,” which further perpetuates harmful dichotomies.
Consequently, Black people become torn between the societal pressures to assimilate to “mainstream” culture and the pressures to embrace their cultures and express themselves freely. My grandparents are Black, my parents are Black, and I have always identified as Black, too. Yet as I grew up, I found myself constantly attempting to “prove” my blackness in one way or another.
However, I soon realized that this was useless. Living in a society where appearance and first impressions are so influential, I learned that no matter how I act, I am always going to be Black and I am going to continue to experience the discrimination associated with being a Black woman. Whether I “speak like a white girl” or not, my voice coming from my body is still subject to scrutiny. I am going to continue to experience discrimination because of my “Black-sounding” name, and, regardless, I am going to continue to embrace being a Black woman.
Most importantly, I learned that no one is capable of defining me but myself. I’ve always been Black, I’ve had the experiences of a Black woman and I have nothing to prove. People need to recognize the diversity that exists among Black women. We have different skin tones, talents, quirks and, most importantly, we have different personalities and traits that make us unique. Instead of policing Black women and attempting to define their blackness with a finite set of traits, we should “celebrate the fullness of Black womanhood” and realize that we are more than the media misrepresentations, the stereotypes, and the assumptions.
To talk more about this topic and other issues impacting women of color, Women of Color Coalition meets weekly on Tuesdays at 5pm. This Women’s Center discussion-based program is open to all self-identified women of color in the UMBC community.