I was bullied a lot in middle school. I never really understood why I was being bullied in the first place, until one day some of the girls walked up to me during gym to tell me why I was really being bullied.
It wasn’t just the fact that I didn’t wear the right clothes or have the right hobbies; according to them, it was that I didn’t act like how I was “supposed” to act, at least by their standards.
I knew by then that compromising who I am in order to fit in wasn’t for my benefit, and it never will be. It’s a bit trickier when people come up to you not to tell how you’re supposed to act, but to tell you how surprised they are that you’re not acting how you’re supposed to.
Let’s be honest: we all judge people on a daily basis. We judge each other by the way we dress, the way we talk, and the way we act when in a public setting. But for black women in particular, there is this preconception that they all share the same personality, the same mannerisms, the same attitude, and the same behavior. To see a black woman who doesn’t fit that mold seems to be the equivalent of seeing a dog driving a car or a talking unicorn.
One comment that I always get about the way I act is how I talk. I’m not so much insulted by people complimenting me for being well-spoken as I am confused. Is it really that surprising to hear a black woman talk without using everyday slang? You know that they’re trying to be sincere, but they come off as underhanded insults. On the flip-side of this, you have something similar to my middle school experience—other people of color ridiculing you for not acting like how a typical black woman should in their eyes. Out of the two scenarios, I find this one to be more troubling as it just shows another level of ignorance that I don’t think should exist in the black community in the first place.
The two scenarios are very different, but they both stem from the same source—racial stereotypes. The people who compliment me for breaking away from the “common traits” of a black woman come off as if I’m making a statement of some kind, when really I’m just being myself. The people who put me down for being myself come off as if I’m ashamed of my blackness despite the fact that I’m actually proud of my roots and where I come from.
Thankfully, I’m coming across these experiences much less, and that’s because I’m speaking up about it more often. While our culture does play a huge role in our identity as black women, our personal experiences are not the same. We grow up with different hobbies and interests, with certain values instilled in us. These help create the unique personalities that we have, and they should be recognized as such. Making people more aware of not only what they’re saying, but how they come across will help get rid of that singular image society has when it comes to black women. The best way to get this message across, however, is to be your own person. We should be defined by who we are and not by anything else, so don’t be afraid to show the world what you have to offer.