In a society rampant with racism and sexism, Black women have a lot to deal with. It can feel as if no one is in our corner except other Black women. Unfortunately, many mainstream feminist movements end up catering only to white women and many mainstream Black movements often end up catering to Black men, thus leaving Black women’s rights by the wayside.
Bill O’Reilly mocked Representative Maxine Waters’ hair, calling it a “James Brown wig”, which he seemed to find more noteworthy than what she had to say. Throughout Obama’s time in office and afterward, Michelle Obama was called an “ape in heels.” Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones encountered so much hate on social media that she had to take a break from Twitter. These are just a few of many instances of misogynoir, or a type of misogyny experienced by Black women in particular.
With all of this going on, many Black girls learn at a young age that society thinks we aren’t beautiful, capable, or smart. As we mature, we slowly learn that we are more than society’s expectations. But many of those with privilege don’t feel comfortable with that, as is clear from the backlash that Black women get after reaching success. Society often makes Black women feel guilty simply for existing. Here are a few things Black women should never have to apologize for:
1. Not Idolizing Celebrities that Advocate for White Feminism
It’s not uncommon to see white female celebrities speaking about feminism in a way that excludes women of color. This perpetuates white feminism. White feminism is a term used to describe a movement that fights for the rights of white women without regard to the fact that women of color have their own unique struggles. Oftentimes, mainstream feminist communities idolize public figures who spread white feminist ideals. Furthermore, some of the biggest “feminist icons” have made some pretty racist comments. Amy Schumer wrote and deleted, a tweet implying that men of color catcall more. She has also given somewhat of a non-apology for her racist humor, which seems ironic since she has called people out for making slut-shaming “jokes” toward her. If she understands that “jokes” can be offensive, why can’t she apply this to her own humor? Lena Dunham made a joke about New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. that perpetuated the hypersexualization of Black bodies. Miley Cyrus decided to shift away from hip-hop just a few years after using twerking Black women on stage as props. Women putting each other down may hinder progress, but criticizing a woman for the lack of inclusivity of her feminism is not putting her down. It’s fighting to raise all women up.
2. Wearing Natural Hair
European beauty standards permeate our society in many ways. One of those ways is the stigmatization of natural hair. We all remember a couple of years ago when Zendaya was made fun of by Fashion Police for wearing locs. This is one of the most public criticisms of Black hair, but it happens in schools and workplaces all of the time. Many reports have come out about teachers not allowing students to wear their hair naturally. In addition to this blatant rejection of hair the way it naturally grows out of a Black woman’s head, there exists an unfortunate phenomenon of people freely touching Black women’s hair. This occurs especially when the woman in question has natural hair. While it may be meant as a compliment, it can make a Black woman feel as if she is being treated like an animal at a petting zoo. No part of anyone’s body — that includes Black hair — is another person’s to freely touch.
3. Wearing Straight Hair
Black women truly can’t win. Not only do we get shamed for wearing natural hair, but straight hair and weave are criticized, too. Some people even falsely equate it with cultural appropriation. Marc Jacobs made this faulty argument after he was criticized for having a predominantly white group of models wearing faux locs during Fashion Week. Black women wearing straight or blond hair may be assimilation, but that is very different from appropriation. Society directs so much shame toward women who change their appearances to fit European beauty standards and no shame toward the society that makes us feel the need to do so. We also have no way of knowing one person’s reason for wearing their hair a certain way. A woman’s choice to wear a weave or straighten her hair does not indicate that she “wants to be white”.
4. Dating A Non-Black Person
Many people think that a Black woman is required to date a Black partner. Many people who believe this also assume that this partner needs to be a man. Implying that a Black woman needs to date a Black man is essentially stating that Black women owe Black men something. This is pretty ironic when you think of how little Black men stand up for Black women, especially those of marginalized identities. A Black woman choosing a non-Black partner does not mean she is a self-hating racist. It means she is attracted to a person who happens not to be Black. The important thing is that the people involved love each other and that the non-Black partner isn’t constantly spewing micro-aggressions without getting called out.
5. Struggling With Self-Esteem
Black women are beautiful, but society doesn’t always make us feel this way. Light skin and straight hair are glorified in the media. Black women with dark skin and natural hair even get criticized within their own communities. A woman’s body type and size can also play a role. The larger Black woman is a person whose sexuality is often viewed as a joke, dating back to the tropes that came out of the slave era. The point is, it’s not surprising that there are Black women out there who struggle with self-esteem. When Lil’ Kim got plastic surgery that made her look similar to a white woman, plenty of people criticized her. Idolizing women who get plastic surgery isn’t always beneficial for anyone’s self esteem, but it isn’t right to put Lil’ Kim down for her choices. For all we know, the people criticizing Lil’ Kim could have actively or passively contributed to the European beauty standards that pushed her to make these changes.
6. Speaking Up When A Movement Isn’t Being Inclusive
Feminism is a movement for equality, which means all women should be included. But that’s not always how it works out. While no two groups have the same experience, the way women of color feel in a white feminist context is not unlike the way that white women feel in a sphere dominated by white men. If we see that a movement is advocating for white women’s rights in a way that is stepping on the backs of Black women, we’re going to call it out. A woman of color’s criticism of white feminism is a response to her exclusion. If you truly want to fight oppression, you should be thankful for these conversations because they are helping you make your feminism more inclusive. This also applies in the context of Black rights movements that focus on the rights of Black men.
7. Calling Out Misogynistic Black Men
It is all too common that we hear the mentality that women need to put gender aside and just focus on racial equality. This is a coded way of elevating Black men without regarding the unique type of oppression that Black women face. Black women are often silenced in discussions of race. Whenever a Black man is misogynistic, Black women are expected to stand behind what he says. When a Black man is accused of sexual assault, we are expected to say that the media is simply framing that Black man, whether he’s Bill Cosby or Nate Parker. The idea that Black men are predators is a racist ideal that has been in existence since slavery. But some of the misogynists and rapists out there happen to be Black men, and we can’t stand behind them on the basis of race.
8. Being Angry
Women in general get told we are “crazy” and “dramatic,” but Black women have our feelings invalidated to a particularly high degree. The “angry Black woman” trope can be seen all throughout the media. Whenever a Black woman gets angry, it is attributed to this stereotype. But there are plenty of reasons for Black women to be angry. Black women are some of the most oppressed and overlooked people on Earth. If a Black woman is LGBTQ+, socio-economically disadvantaged, disabled, or in any other way oppressed, she has even more systems working against her. Many think of police brutality as an issue that solely affects Black men, disregarding the Black women who have been killed by police. This is especially problematic considering the Black Lives Matter movement was started by Black women. With all of this injustice and erasure, how could we not be angry? If you’re a Black woman, don’t let anyone tell you your anger is invalid.
9. Loving Ourselves
As this list has shown us, it can feel as if Black women are shamed for quite a lot. So naturally, when a Black woman loves herself, people consider her “cocky.” The media finds many ways to tell Black women that our appearances aren’t beautiful, that our opinions are invalid, and that we are worthless because of our race and gender. It has been said that loving yourself is the greatest revolution. Self-love is tricky and it’s okay if you aren’t there yet. Just remember that any form of self-love is a big accomplishment in the face of systemic oppression.
Exercising your basic rights and valuing yourself shouldn’t be viewed as things to apologize for. If you’re a Black woman who is made to feel guilty for having feelings, for making your own choices, or for living your truth, just know that you matter. Your worth is not determined by society’s litmus test. Black women deserve every right that privileged white men have, and we’re not sorry.