“Radical black female subjects are constantly labeled crazy by those who hope to undermine our personal power and our ability to influence others.” –Bell Hooks
I remember the day I had enough. Where it just did not make sense. Where I questioned the perception of my existence not because I had an issue with it, but because other people did. Where my face scrunched up because people who looked like me were telling me to turn my back on what was right, only because disrespect didn’t hurt as much than if they were to punch me in the face.
I was a freshman in high school still holding on to my dreams of being in the Olympics in 2000 for gymnastics (as all the other limber girls ages 6-16), and I was at one of my away meets. Admittedly, I wasn’t that good. I was good enough…but not good. I was lazy with my training, liked to eat, and was pretty much ok with my booty being a little bit plumper than the other girls. “Is there any other way [for it] to be?”, I said to one of my teachers one day after she pointed to my growing bottom. You couldn’t do double back handsprings with the ass I had.
Anyway, I was ready for my floor routine. That year I had chosen John Tesh’s “Barcelona” , which I had shortened the music myself using my my amateur dj-ing skills on a cassette player (so chop and screw that!). Standing up straight, raising my right arm at attention did not replace how nervous I had always gotten. Sheesh, I prayed, just let me place something. Looking into the stands, my parents and my friend’s mom were there, usually cringing each time I fell off a bar or toppled over a beam. That day, I remember finishing and feeling good.
The score was 8.2. I’ll take it.
Up next, was a small, petite white girl with some trendy song in pigtails and flashy unitard who busted her ass on her backhand spring back tuck.
Money! I know I shouldn’t be celebrating her downfall (no pun intended), but the possibility for me to actually win something was keeping me on the edge of my toes (pun totally intended). People said “aww” in the audience, but I just waved it off. To me, it was just part of the game. You fall, take off points, make it up somewhere else. But she didn’t have to after seeing her score.
Whoa, excuse me? I tugged at my coach’s arm. What do you mean we got the same score? She fell, I didn’t, and we get the same score?! I know I’m not that good, but don’t take THIS away from me. I worked hard for mediocre! My pride, my effort, my parents! Talk to the judges, this isn’t fair. You know it and I know it! I stood there, waiting for my justice, for him to walk over and inquire, basically, what the hell was going on.
Yet, he gave me a different reaction. My coach, skin like mine, I remember giving me the saddest look. Like the sadness looked at me as if nothing could be done, or rather, it would have hurt him more to say something than not. The scrambling in his face showed me that he didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. It will be ok, he said, next time. I told him I was taking a break from gymnastics. I walked out. And never put on a uniform again.
* * *
I just couldn’t understand why girls…black girls…smart black girls…all black girls, took whatever they were given, or even told. As a result, I was always the odd colored out. Black girls don’t swim, but I joined the swim team anyway. I was usually the only one in in the pool who’s hair puffed up at the sight of moisture. Me constantly wiping dripping water off my face because the “Just for Me” in my hair burned as it slid into my eyes.
The way I felt was almost unworldly…an absence from the essence of humanity. I was walking, living and breathing in flesh, but it’s like my spirit never really settled down to the constructed ideas of “black girl”. I never really got a hang of slang. It’s hard to keep up if it’s forever changing and means something different to everyone. I just couldn’t keep up. Between the cracks of my cornbread fed ass or the annoying crevices in my face from the tortured acne of teenagehood, my spirit always fought to fit by coming out of my pores. I did get the black girl neck down though, but all that seemed to be negated by the higher education that shaped the dialect in my voice.
Yet, one thing that I secretly connect with was comic books. Obsessing over the bright primary colors, the sharp detail lines and dots that described war, heroism and justice with its small boxes. My young self constantly carried around colored pencils, comics and tracing paper. I always wondered why Superman underwear was never made in girl sizes (but as an adult, settled with getting them in the men’s section). Wishing I could be spunky like the X-Men’s Jubilee, glowing eyes and flowing hair like Storm (my modern day Oya), and have a chance to gaze into the eyes of Gambit (who could resist a man with a smooth Louisiana accent?). Something always captured me about them. They did whatever they wanted. There were villains, mutants and freak. Hell, Wonder Woman always won. Justice was served and she didn’t even dirty up her spandex.
Ironically, it flowed into my obsession with the Black Panthers. They were unstoppable in my eyes. They didn’t even have to show their weapons to make a point; they just had to show up to save the day. Just breathing put fear into someone’s eyes. Who didn’t want to run out and get a leather jacket and a Kangol hat? They made you remember who they were, and that they were proud to be themselves, unquestionably. It’s like they took the ill interpreted aggression society put on them, and turned its crux into power, the kind we as black girls are afraid of using. For both superheroes and the Black Panthers, to question them was like questioning their own existence and purpose on Earth, and made you wonder about yours.
Why do we continue to allow instead of shatter the ideas that seem to ill appropriately shape the world’s the ideal of “black girl”? As with superheroes and the Black Panthers, out of fear. Out of nail biting, hard rock music hiding, pink hair dying, face piercing, fear. Fear due to the lack of acceptance to the outside world, black or white, where we would instead be built by pieces of us melded together by opinions, history, media and disapproving snares. I refuse to change, we ALL should refuse to change because me is all I have in this world that’s mine. I’m hoping my light radiates to another young girl or grown woman, who wants, or has lost, their sense of individuality. Teach them to enjoy the black as it is, and not that black is a darker form of a whole other identity.