My little sister is in 9th grade, just starting high school, and it’s homecoming season. Originally, she said, uncharacteristically, that she was going to skip it and go to an indoor water park with her friend. Today she calls me and says that she is shopping for homecoming dresses but still doesn’t know if she wants to go or not because all her friends are going but they’re all getting asked and she knows she won’t be.
In that moment, not only was I transported back to my own insecure freshman year, but I also felt the immediate call to action. I was not going to let me sister deal with the common plight of the black woman in dating life so soon.
Even though she didn’t explicitly say it, anyone could tell my sister was a little bit upset about the fact that nobody would want to ask her to homecoming. My sister annoys me from time to time but I admire her personality and liveliness so much that it hurts to see something as inconsequential as a homecoming dance bring her down. She’s already getting the taste of having to watch all of her friends get the attention of high school boys while she’s seemingly left behind. Having to go to school in a community that implicitly and immediately ranks you as a less attractive woman for your skin color alone is something no young girl growing up should have to go through, yet it happens everywhere, all the time. She even tries to hide her incredibly defined arm muscles because she doesn’t want to “look too strong”.
From personal experience, it’s infuriating to know that so many people exclude black women from their dating pool based on “preference” (a.k.a thinly veiled and coded racism). Black women are incredibly hypermasculinized as they are stripped of their femininity and perceived as aggressive, loud, and/or “ratchet”. Our facial and body features are either viewed as ugly and undesirable or entirely hypersexualized (black booty ring a bell?). I’ve written and researched extensively on the fetishism of POC women, but black women, especially the dark-skinned black woman, are counter-fetishized like no other, and boy are we aware of it. The internal shame you feel when you start to like a guy but then take it back because you know there’s no way that he likes dark-skinned black girls is a hallmark of our lives. These beliefs are ridiculous but they’re instilled at such a young age for girls like my sister and I who grow up around girls who look nothing like ourselves. Both my sister and I deeply regret chemically relaxing our hair in order to have hair that was more “normal”, only for our hair to be damaged and fall out soon after, but what I regret most about it is that I stripped away a part of my own black natural beauty, solely in order to fit the white mold that would always cast me out. (Note — there’s nothing wrong with relaxing your hair if it’s your choice)
And the worst part is, that even when you recognize the problem, there’s so few people around you that can empathize or sympathize, that you just have to quietly accept it as part of your life and hope that one day you’ll find your “white savior” (or any race of man because even black men are incredibly guilty of “defeminizing” and dismissing black women) who actually give us a chance, praying they don’t have some fetish or something. Additionally, talking about this issue with non-black women, to me, has always felt like I’m coming across as bitter that I’m not getting the boys’ attention that I “so richly desire” (*insert eye-roll*), but deep down inside, we all know the issue is so much deeper than the individual. I’m so exhausted of this standard being so common and so hotly defended, and I’m so done living in a world where I have to constantly fight for and prove my own femininity by dismissing my black identity.
Back to my little sister, I want her to know that she is beautiful and that no guy in her white, rich, conservative suburb can make her feel otherwise. I want her to know that she does not have to settle for whatever slimeball-leftover-boy her friends try to set her up with so they don’t feel guilty about her going alone. I want her to have the confidence to flirt with guys and ask them out and not immediately think of rejection before she even tries. And I’d like to think that the buck stops in white suburbia, but it exists even far outside its reach, as I can tell living in one of the most liberal states in this here union. I know it’s going to be a tough road for her because I lived it, but she deserves an adolescence that’s defined by her embracing her own femininity and feeling confident, empowered, and beautiful, as ALL black women are and deserve to feel.
Note: this is definitely from a heteronormative perspective, and I apologize but my point is less about the man/female relationship and more about the self-worth of Black women.