Cheers to the Serenas of the World
I’ve never been accused of being too lady-like or too classy. In fact, for as long as I can remember, I have been told to tone it down, whatever that means. Don’t get me wrong, there was a period where I thought that I may be too much; that I needed to talk less, curse less and generally be more reserved. That did not last because it’s simply not in my biological makeup to fit into any mold created for me. It didn’t take me long to realize that those assertions came from patriarchal standards promoting respectability. This basically means that in order to be respected in America, black women must combat their inherent nature as promiscuous and angry women and practice morally acceptable behavior like white women, the obvious standard of virtue.
I feel the need to state that neither of the aforementioned is true: black women are not inherently angry or promiscuous and white women for damn sure are not the moral standard. What is true, however, is that the black woman’s full existence is political. Let me break it down. There is always a discussion on how a black woman dresses, what she does with her hair, who she has sex with, when to have sex, her role in her family, her role in her job, etc. She must always be strong – able to endure the worst things, slow to anger, and swift to forgive – anyone can say or do anything harmful to her and she had better respond in kindness or else.
That is bull shit. Complete bull shit.
And we have got to stop buying into respectability and perpetuating it among ourselves. Just this weekend, for expressing her disapproval of the umpire’s rulings, Serena’s response has been labeled as a “meltdown” and women of color are maintaining the “time and place” argument all over social media. Same thing for Cardi B; she charged at Nicki Minaj for whatever reason that matters not, and the primary reaction is she needs to be “classy.” This sort of reasoning is rooted in matriarchal adherence to respectability politics. Cardi is no less worthy of respect for charging at Nicki at an industry fashion party and Serena is no less worthy of respect for calling the umpire out at a tennis match with the world watching. If anything, public spaces are the place to let people know you are not to be tried.
The sooner we stop feeding into this notion that we must regularly be happy black women who are willing to endure, the sooner we force people to respect us for our individual experiences. Our experiences as black women are not singular. So, with both Cardi B and Serena in mind, I want to affirm you.
Black woman, you are allowed to be angry and call people out on their bullshit. You are allowed to stand up for yourself when you feel you have been disrespected. You are free to express your emotion however you see fit and wherever you see fit. You don’t have to be “lady-like.” You don’t have to be kind to people who cause you harm or don’t value you. You don’t have to handle adversity with grace if you don’t want to. You don’t have to sit there and take it when someone challenges your character. You don’t have to “kill” people with kindness, you can absolutely kill them with words or these hands if you feel so compelled. For the literalists, no I am not promoting violence. Anyway, free yourself from the burden of stifling your self-expression. You do not represent the whole race, you only represent yourself.
Shall we discuss?