A Letter To My Sister(s): Don’t Let White Suburbia Strip Away Your Femininity

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.

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How to Succeed in Bigotry Without Really Trying – A Forensics Kid’s Qualms with A Horrible Debate Topic

If you’re not familiar with high school parliamentary debate in the state of Pennsylvania — congratulations! You’re just like the rest of us. As a member of my school’s speech and debate team, I’ve run the gamut of events, competing in Lincoln-Douglas, Congressional, and Public Forum debate, as well as Duo Interpretation, Poetry, and Declamation, but my main event, for the time being, is the Parliamentary debate event. While I don’t have the time nor energy to explain parliamentary debate, its distinctions from the more common forms of debate in the state of Pennsylvania include the following:

#1) Topics are released per tournament rather than monthly, bimonthly, or yearly (a true pain in the ass)d

#2) Our rounds can either be prepared or impromptu

#3) The rules literally change every 5 minutes

#4) The topics are not as rigorously vetted as the national topics from the National Speech and Debate Association for Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas.

I’ve learned to deal with grievances 1-3, but #4 continues to vex me and has caused so much ire among my fellow teammates that I felt compelled to write. For example, take a look at one of the topics that I have to prepare arguments for this weekend.

This House believes that public universities should be required to adopt gender-neutral pronouns.

It’s not that I’m not open to tackling controversial subject matter (the fact that this topic is controversial confuses me in all ways), but the arguments against gender-neutral pronouns in the public discourse are, in my opinion, illegitimate and appalling. Furthermore, the setting in which we are debating this is not conducive to any sort of educational experience and the victor of the round is heavily based on the political opinions of our judge, who is often a parent or coach unfamiliar with the nature of parliamentary debate. Having to prepare both sides, my research for the opposition is largely comprised of arguments by people whose concerns are inherently selfish, disrespectful, incendiary, and lack any basic regard for the rights or considerations of non-binary students who greatly benefit from the security of having gender-neutral pronouns. For example, here is the reasoning behind such a policy from the University of Michigan.

‘You can’t always know what someone’s personal pronoun is by looking at them. Correctly using someone’s designated personal pronoun is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.

When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric (or, often, all of the above.)’ – University of Michigan

You would think that this wouldn’t warrant any sort of backlash. It’s a proposal that doesn’t harm anyone; all it does is simply ask professors to refer to students as they would wish to be referred. Students have a right to not feel “disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric…”, yet our country never ceases to disappoint as a student, Grant Strobl, responded in protest to the policy by forcing his professors to call him “His Majesty”, clearly exploiting the policy and undermining the concerns of non-binary students on the grounds of “absurdity”. Even worse, hundreds of students at the University of Michigan joined the student’s protest, validating his disrespectful behavior.

After the policy was implemented, Strobl said, he joined “hundreds of students” who “changed their pronouns to protest the university policy.”

“Students have been calling me His Majesty, those that have read the story, and it really does illustrate the ridiculousness of the policy in ignoring the English language,” he told CNSNews.com. “It just creates more complexity, more difficulty for our society as a whole, and it goes against the university’s mission to pursue truth.”

In an interview with Fox affiliate WJBK he said, “We are really happy that we are spreading the absurdity of this policy.”

 

Yet, as he cries “absurdity” at the implementation of this new policy, I cry absurdity at the fact that Strobl and hundreds of other students have so quickly dismissed non-binary students everywhere for their own trivial concerns, These students are inadvertently perpetuating a culture that incentives students to wallow in their insular beliefs, rather than consider the benefits such policies or proposals have on others. And while I’m criticizing theses students for their behavior now, I’m going to have to defend their arguments and viewpoints legitimately in debate rounds, without sounding bigoted and rude. I have my work cut out for me, but when a debate topic makes you contemplate what ways you can debate a topic without being a total jerk, there’s a major issue at hand.

I don’t understand the logic of some debate coaches in my area who choose these topics that are not only clearly one-sided and controversy-ridden, but are also either shrouded in scandal or lack any legitimate debate. Several of our topics in the past have been so obscure that we often can’t even find people online who would even suggest advocating for or against our topics. I understand exploring topics that are hotly debated and contentious, but shouldn’t there exist some reasoning for choosing topics other than “I heard it debated on Fox News last week”. Let us not forget the fledgling debaters who won’t be able to come up with arguments against gender-neutral pronoun policies outside of what is readily available on the internet and ultimately end up spewing the sentiments of extremist hotheads. I’m preparing for particularly ugly rounds this Saturday, and I’ll be sure to update this post with the gnarly outcomes.

In the meantime, I should probably start working on cases, or at least a strongly worded letter voicing my concerns.


Disclaimer: my personal views come out pretty strongly in this piece, and if you inherently disagree with me, I’d love to hear your side — I’m not for alienation based on people expressing their own opinions civilly, but I myself cannot stand for incendiary or blatantly rude claims

Source for the University of Michigan controversy: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/10/07/a-university-told-students-to-select-their-gender-pronouns-one-chose-his-majesty/?utm_term=.88d0c6b63cc0