My Blackness, and Lady Parts
A story of Black Body Consciousness
I became aware of my blackness when I was in the 8th grade; oh, excuse me, I became aware that I was African American in the 8th grade. It seemed as though a great majority of the black kids I grew up with in school discovered their ethnicity that year. You see, I started to hear things like "I'm not black, I'm Jamaican." or "I'm only half black, I'm mixed with..." or even "My family is from Ghana, but I was born here. I'm African, but not African American."
Oh the joy of trying to understand ethnicity, when all I was taught in school was a warped interpretation of race. At that time, I had only heard of being black to have meant being African American. Later in life I learned otherwise, but unfortunately in my experiences, saying that I was black and meaning African American, meant that I could possibly be treated as an other; even by black people from other cultures. So by the end of 8th grade, I had come to the conclusion that nobody wanted to be black; more specifically African American.
I'd become aware of my body however, two years earlier in the 6th grade. Boys took notice of my developing breasts and high butt. I was a dancer and very athletic, but honestly didn't understand what my body meant to the opposite sex. It was a gift and a curse, both wanting and not wanting the attention from hormonally charged boys five days out the week. I knew one thing though. Any boy who dared to touch my butt, would get slapped in the face. I knew from then, to not allow unwarranted gropes and grabs, but my blackness and my lady parts left me vulnerable in a way I would only learn over time, and that I would now understand as an adult.
Black is arguably the only color that has strong negative connotations attached to it, but is also greatly used for positive benefits. Black is associated with evil, bad, dirty, dark, ominous, threatening, and scary. However people love black things; black clothing, black cars, black furniture/appliances, hell even black animals. Black isn't good, but it can make you and the things around you look good. Black is exotic...
Exotic literally means foreign, and is a word I learned to associate with wild-like, yet beautiful and tropical things. Fruit can be exotic, animals can be exotic, flowers can be exotic, and most exotic things are protected by laws and governments because they are endangered species. And yet, I had no idea that my blackness made my lady parts exotic...therefore constantly in danger.
Oh but wait a minute...I'm not just black, I'm African American. And there's no way I can be exotic...
That was a lesson I'd learned from countless silly boys who rejected my blackness as if they didn't come from a black mother. But because I wasn't from an island or another country someplace else, somehow my blackness equated to uncontrollable neck rolling, finger snapping, and talking back. Ghetto.
As if rejection from boys who had the same skin as me wasn't bad enough, I'd learned that not only was my blackness, my African American self, not exotic, but it was also not delicate, not feminine, and therefore not good enough to be protected from exploitation, sexual harassment, and human trafficking. Though I have been blessed to not have experienced the latter, African American women in this country are suffering these abuses and more every single day. Sadly, other black people sometimes remind us of the little value that's placed on our lives.
I'd once felt as though my existence wasn't enough after a quick exchange with a college professor who was a black woman. She was from Grenada, and she reminded the class that she was from Grenada every chance she got. One day she had asked each and every person in the class one simple, yet ignorant question. "What are you?" She was referring to our ethnicities. When she had got to me, the conversation went like this:
Her: What are you?
Me: African American.
Her: No, but where are you from?
Her: No, but where are your people from?
Her: (a low hmph.)
In my extremely brief exchange with her, it was subconsciously reiterated to me a lesson I had learned back in the 8th grade. NOBODY WANTS TO BE BLACK, AND MORE SPECIFICALLY AFRICAN AMERICAN.
African American women are strong, but we're strong because we've been left vulnerable in a world that views us as disposable. Becoming aware of my blackness means becoming aware of my vulnerability. It means noticing how women like me and how all black women are portrayed on television and on social media. It means being strong for black men, even though some black men may resent black women for our strength. Becoming aware of my blackness and of my womanhood means living in grief; learning how black women were surgically examined without pain medication because it was believed we didn't feel pain. It means learning how black women today are still at a higher risk of death while giving birth to new life. Becoming aware of my blackness means not negating another black life because they're from a different country. And if you felt as though at any point in this story, this was a jab towards black women from different cultures, you are sadly mistaken.
This is a call to action. ALL BLACK WOMEN must be protected and treated like the queens that they are. Not based on your desires, fetishes, and preference. Not based on if she's light skinned, brown skinned, or dark skinned. Not based on if she's Caribbean, African or come from the United States. ALL BLACK WOMEN. If you had no idea that differences were even made between us, try having multiple conversations with black girls from different cultural backgrounds. I promise you will learn a lot more about sexual harassment; you will hear about rude comparisons and judgment, and you will learn a bit more about colorism.
Becoming aware of my blackness means understanding that my skin will affect how others treat me as a woman...but it also means I don't have to tolerate that shit.