Issues

What My Blackness Means To Others

By: Lauren Banton

As a black woman I’ve often found myself working very hard to not fit stereotypes imposed on me, which was difficult seeing as many stereotypes can fit any human of any race. For example, I can be loud- but only in social situations. I can be angry-but only if I’ve been upset or I’m passionate about something, I can be opinionated- because I don’t want to sit on the fence, but these things are only a part of who I am. People need to realize that black women offer a lot more than what other’s preconceived notions of them include, and we shouldn’t be defined by a caricature stereotype.

Many times I’ve met people and their comments suggest their opinions are based on stereotypes. I don’t recall every occasion, but there are definitely some standout moments.

1. “You don’t seem like the type”

Recently I went to a job interview for a role that required me to be upbeat and outgoing. It was an assessment day where they observed people’s personalities to see if they fit what they were looking for. One activity required us to stand up and state two truths and one lie about ourselves.

When it came to my turn I stated that I had spent a day with Beyoncé, I play the flute, and that I’d been rock climbing. I was the only black woman going for the job and the rest of the room was made up of white men and women. They decided the lie was that I played the flute; their reason for this was I “didn’t seem like the type”.

I translated that to mean, “you couldn’t possibly play a classical instrument because you are a black woman”, although, I wasn’t aware there was a particular type of person that played a musical instrument! I didn’t know whether I should be flattered or concerned that they thought it was more likely that I’d spent a day with Beyoncé (I’m British by the way and I live in England). Black women can do the same as their white counterparts; race doesn’t limit people’s capabilities!

2. “Teach me how to twerk”

Why do people assume all black women know how to twerk? And why do they think black women are their designated twerk coaches? I’ve had many people come up to me at parties and other social settings asking me if I can twerk and to teach them how to do it. Believe it or not, this is not how I like to spend my spare time, I do many other things-twerking isn’t even my preferred dance move!

In my first year of University I was at the bar on campus, it was the beginning of the year when everyone was getting to know each other. Most people go through the usual questions of, “where are you from”, “what are you studying”, but instead I was asked, “Can you teach me how to twerk?”.

It seemed as though they weren’t interested in me as a person, but more into the stereotype they were projecting onto me. This confused me, as I couldn’t understand what made her think that I could twerk and would want to teach her. I realized she was being friendly, but it seemed as though she didn’t make the effort to get to know me outside of the stereotype she decided fitted me.

3. “Black girl attitude”

I wasn’t aware there was a label that described every single black woman’s personality, but apparently it is a universal description of a particular attitude. Unfortunately, I’ve heard this on more than one occasion. Although I realize it was used not to cause offense, I wondered why people felt comfortable to assume I understood exactly what they were describing.

I distinctly remember being 15 and in the back of a car with my non-black friend, who was describing one of her other friends and stated she had “a typical black girl attitude,” and continued on with the story as if she perfectly explained what the girl was like.

When she finished the story I realized that a “black girl attitude” described someone who was self-absorbed, aggressive and obnoxious. While incorporating many negative stereotypes attached to black females, it fails to acknowledge other aspects of their personality. There was obviously more to the person she was talking about, however it wasn’t mentioned. I didn’t know what to make of the situation as it made me question what does she think about me? I’m assuming she didn’t think I had a “black girl attitude”. But I do, I’m a black woman, who has an attitude- just like everyone else!

These are only three examples of several incidences I’ve had throughout my life. I’ve been conscious of how I come across to others; there have been times where I thought to tone myself down due to fear of being labelled as obnoxious. I’ve made the effort to being cheery but not overbearing, serious but not miserable and forthright but not rude. I shouldn’t have to edit or censor myself because of negative stereotypes that are ingrained in people’s subconscious, but that’s the reality for many black women. Black women are considerate, intelligent and understanding; we are more than a person with a bad attitude who likes to twerk everywhere we go.

With all this said, my advice to you would be to educate these people and then ignore them! It’s easier said than done, but take a deep breath, find your patience and gently remind them you are more than they think you are. This isn’t something to be angered by, think of it as ignorance and assume if they truly understood the impact of the words they said then they would reconsider these exchanges. Unfortunately you will encounter this for the rest of your life, so the sooner you find a way of dealing with it the sooner you will find peace.

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