“Barely Black”

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.

Meagé Profile PicIt’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?” Continue reading

Telling Our Stories at NCCWSL

On May 27th-30th, I went to University of Maryland, College Park for the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) to present the semester long Campus Action Project (CAP) Women of Color Coalition’s Telling Our Stories in a Workshop dedicated to combating women of color stereotypes. I, one of CAP team members, along with Megan, the advisor of the CAP, had fifteen minutes to talk about the semester long project and how our project addressed the stereotypes women of color are associated with and just importantly how they can reject it in favor for more nuanced stories and counter-narratives.Before I get to the presentation, I would like to talk about overall conference and its inner workings. These include the workshops, the keynote speakers, and the feminist camaraderie.  Continue reading

I Am

A reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Bria Hamlet

I’ve got a gap in my front teeth,
I make a mess when I eat,
I’m always late,
I’m hard to date,
I think Eminem is my soulmate

I rock an afro with piercings,
I exaggerate my feelings,
I watch YouTube instead of TV,
I choose to stray from normativity

You’ve just read my spin on Mary Lambert’s song “Secrets.” The melody has been stuck in my head for hours now. She sings about herself, throwing out the good, the obvious, the hidden, and the complicated. She tells us that she doesn’t care how the world perceives her and what they have to say about who she allegedly is.

Girl, I feel that.

I am really, really getting comfortable with no longer explaining myself to everyone. If I didn’t personally harm or wrong you, you get no explanation. I am giving myself permission to wear red lipstick to work, listen to Nickelback and then the Roots on the way, all while sporting a tailored skirt and Converse. Let me live.

BriaAs a Black American woman, I am subjected to harmful and negative stereotypes constantly. If someone isn’t policing my blackness, they’ve surely fixated on my hair. The next target is my complexion, followed by my clothing, and their personal favorite, my diction. I can’t just be Bria, I must be whoever you all think Bria is supposed to be. I am really tired of making everyone else comfortable. I don’t have to make “figuring me out” easy. I’m not easy.

And you, stop being lazy.

The Telling Our Stories project has given the members of the UMBC Women of Color Coalition (myself included) the opportunity to reclaim narratives that were written without them. It has challenged us to think critically about labels and microaggressions. We’ve discussed where these stereotypes come from and then participated in workshops to unearth the true natures of who we are. We are sisters, artists, intellectuals, comedians, introverts, extroverts, and progressives. We are ourselves.

I will now and forever continue to be unapologetically myself.

Women of Color – Telling Our Stories: I’m Not/I Am

WOC Telling Our StoriesWe’re proud to announce that the Women’s Center at UMBC and Women of Color Coalition were recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the American Association of University Women (AAUW). The 2014–15 AAUW Campus Action Project (CAP) grants, sponsored by Pantene’s Shine Strong campaign, fund student led projects that fight stereotypes and biases.In addition to the AAUW CAP grant, we were also awarded a $500 community project grant from BreakingGround to help support this ambitious campaign. 

Our project, called “Telling Our Stories: I’m Not/I Am,” aims to 1) raise awareness and reject stereotypes about women of color, and 2) create space for women of color voices and counternarratives. Following a series of consciousness-raising discussions over the past year, many of our students saw the need to promote visibility and community-building among WoC in order to stand in solidarity against racist and sexist microaggressions. First-year student Jahia Knobloch vividly describes the harmful impact that stereotyping can have on women of color: 

Women of color are blessed with so many gifts: our beauty, compassion, ingenuity and grace are unparalleled. But too often our gifts are ignored, with ruthless stereotypes and myths being built around our existence which casting us into either unthreatening or highly exoticized and eroticized roles.

1601492_335695699910799_4361420869028764493_nMy first realizations about what it means to be a woman of color came, as so many realizations do, because of discrimination. Around the age of fourteen, I began receiving attention from boys and men. Many of these attentions were flattering; some were offensive and others downright menacing. But some of the most memorable comments I received were from non-POC boys and men. These comments were memorable only in their flabbergasting ignorance about what being attracted to a women of color apparently means in the minds of non-POC boys and men. Some examples: “I’ve never been with a Black girl before,” “You’re so pretty because you’re mixed—you’re lucky you only got the good features of being Black,” “I love your hair, it’s so dark,” and the jaw-dropping “I love the way your dark skin looks against my white skin.” Really dude?

I came to realize that as a woman of color, you are forced by proxy to represent the exotic “other”—a taste of a world in which non-POC men dare not venture into past a certain point. Even with our own races, we can be subjugated to lesser roles because of our status as women. Yet what those who wish to make us less-than do not see is that we can be the strongest of champions: not only for ourselves, but for our people and all those who are oppressed. We are a force to be reckoned with.

For me, dismantling stereotypes is so important because it gives us as WOC a chance to show that there is no “other.” We will not be your African, Asian, Latin, Native American or interracial vacation to the dark continent. We will not be a stop on your experimental college road trip for you to regale your friends about. We will not be a tourist attraction, an item on your bucket list or a milestone. We will only be us: beautiful, intelligent and independent. We will only be as strong as we have been made to be from centuries of oppression. We will continue to carry our status as WOC not as a burden, but as a gift. We will tell our stories. We will be heard.

By launching the project with the “I’m Not” poster campaign, we hope to disrupt the misguided assumption that racialized gender stereotyping is not a problem for our campus community. Click here to see the latest posters from the campaign! 

WOC Telling Our StoriesThe second phase of the project consists of creative skill-building workshops which will culminate in a “Telling Our Stories: I Am” showcase. We intend to go beyond challenging the misrepresentation of women of color and actually create a platform dedicated to their authentic self-representation. Women of Color Coalition member-at-large Bree Best explains the importance of storytelling

Not only does telling your story tell people who you are but It give a different perspective of how to view things. These stories are needed and you, woman of color, have the pen in your hand ready to write it.

At the end of the showcase, I don’t want the conversation of women of color telling their stories to stay stagnant. I want this to continue because there are many “untold stories” in the woman of color sphere that need to be heard. These need to be heard so that they can help heal the multigenerational hurt that women of color have accrued. I believe if we tell our stories people will understand better how to heal or not hurt us through racial interactions.

The Telling Our Stories showcase will celebrate the creative self-expression of women of color and empower them to reclaim their own narratives. The showcase will be held on Wednesday, April 29th from 6:30-8:30pm in the Commons Sports Zone. 

Be sure to like Women of Color Coalition on Facebook and follow us on Tumblr for more news and updates on the Telling Our Stories project!

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