Monday, December 20, 2010

O, Black Women!

As salaam alaikum,

One of my old Xanga friends posted this article on facebook, and I had to respond to it...and I did, but a comment box on facebook readable by others in their newsfeed means that I couldn't give the topic justice as I'd wanted to. So okay, I'm going to do that here.

It's been a while since I've been inspired to write anything at length, right? So here it goes.

O, Black Women! Long suffering, long misunderstood black women. Hello. I am one of you, and I love us. I wake up every day glad that Allah (swt) put me in this body. I am grateful, and since I was six years old and realized for the first time what it meant to be black in America, I have had unwavering pride in the beauty that Allah (swt) has bestowed unto His people, us, men and women. My hair was straightened before I could come to hate my hair, before I knew that I loved my hair, and now it's back, it's mine, and I love it. I love the brown of my skin, how it changes with the seasons from caramel to bronze.

My intended is dark chocolate, and I love the contrast.

I love everything about me, from the blunt of my nose, the kink of my hair, the brown of my eye and the high of my cheekbones. In my face, I see my mother, descendants of those who were taken from their homes, and all of the Nigerian women that I'll never meet but who I look to, in old pictures of pictures taken from home, looking into their eyes, straining to see a reflection of myself. I am African American and I'm Nigerian. I love my tough nails and thick skin. I love my wide feet and prominent arches. I get my body from that side of my family.

I love it, but let me tell you something that I don't love. I don't love imagining myself to be a victim.

Some of us are, but so many times we don't have to be. Victims.

I'm not a victim of anything. I came up in a house of plenty, with so many opportunities at my feet, a mobile family that had the power to move out of a neighborhood for a better one, with better schools. If my parents before me hadn't I certainly have arrived. I am not in want of anything.

But I could imagine myself the victim. I could imagine myself a victim of the country run by the rules of "forefathers" who were content enslaving my forebearers. I could imagine myself the victim of the legacy of Jim Crow, of the failings of the Civil Rights movement because it was not adopted by the next generation. I could imagine myself the victim of a culture of violence against black women, from within and from the outside.

My own mother told me that black women were the least desired women on the planet. In the world, she means. And for a little while I believed that.

But if I may quote Bruce Hornsby, "Don't you believe that."

So I no longer believe that.

Black women are actually not the least desired of women on the planet, and I don't need an article to tell me that my ethnic group, Igbo women, were the most desired women by slave masters, to tell me that. I don't need the fact that my white male classmates in high school liked to watch BET music videos to see the black women to tell me that. I don't need to hear black men and non-black men alike rave about the beauty of Beyonce to tell me that.

I don't need to be loved by someone in defiance of their family and their cultural mores and what their society in general believes about black tell me that.

We may be relegated to certain stereotypical roles in mainstream society, we may see the faces of lighter skinned women with straight hair and other features than our own on television, magazines, movies, lauded everywhere, and not us...but my mother taught me years ago how to navigate the entertainment industry and advertising before the term "media literacy" was coined.

And that, black women, is what we need to do for ourselves so that we're sure we can do that for our daughters.

The ideal woman in the eyes of Western mainstream culture may not look like me. I don't care! And as much as I love it, my intended didn't have to love me being a black woman for me to love me being a black woman.

As a Muslim, I can't be bothered with a lot of what Western mainstream culture thinks about women, because it relegates us to less than what Allah (swt) made us to be. And the West is not unique in this relegation, lest you get it twisted!

But sisters in ethnicity, sisters in Islam, sisters in belief in God, sisters in the struggle of life...we are beautiful, we are desirable, we are desired by so many who do not have the courage to step out of cultural confines to be with us. It shouldn't matter, but to many of us, it does.

But sisters, o dear sisters. Let's be good to ourselves first before we expect a man of any ethnicity to be good to us. This is not making ourselves good for them. No. It's making us good for ourselves. Not only physically, but emotionally.

If you knew that next month, you would meet the man of your dreams, how would you want to look? What would you want to fix and what would you want to have in order? And then think--you want to do all of this for a stranger that you've never met and may not know that he exists. Why can't you do that for yourself?

O, Black Women! Some of us are victims, yes, victims of circumstance, victims of poverty, victims of an unforgiving society, culture, relegating us to a place before we can even begin to understand our organic state and why we should love ourselves. Some of us know nothing different. But many of us who have voices because we have that agency...can also choose not to be victims.

And those of us who are no longer victims can then take the rest of our agency and do things to help our daughters, or if we're not that old, our little sisters...sisters in ethnicity, sisters in God-fearing, sisters in the struggle that is this life...

That, after all, is the meaning of life as I understand it: helping each other live and navigate this life, in health and security. Whether we believe in God or not we're here, whether we believe there's meaning or not, we're here. I see no better way to spend my time than actually helping others instead of just absently giving lip service to movements whose underlying meaning I'm not privy to.

So, insha'Allah, forward I go.

O, black women, sisters, let me know if there's anything I can do for you. If it's all right, for me, it starts with prayer.


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