Ask me why i made this shirt
You are a woman of color walking down the street minding your own business. If you are like me you are less walking as you are strutting in your own mental music video that no else can appreciate but you. Up ahead you notice another woman of color walking your way; she notices you too and you lock eyes for a moment. You pay her no mind and continue on because Trey Songz is about to get to the good part. But something doesn’t feel right. You look up; she is still looking at you: stern face, forceful strut, and defensive eyes. You are confused as she looks at your hair, shirt, pants, shoes, back up to your face and you can see that she has rated you, judged you, as she passes by rolling her eyes. You continue down the street confused, vulnerable, and kind of irritated. What reason did she have to give you attitude? You did not know her. Why did she assume you to be her nemesis in mere seconds leaving you to feel under attack?
This has been my experience for years. Each instance feels trivial in the moment, maybe one woman with a is having a bad day or the sun caught her eye. But it happens regularly and is an example of a multifaceted problem among women of color: we spend less time building each other up and more time sizing each other up. Every time we do this, we break each other down. Why? Why is it that I can pass almost anybody else and offer an easy smile but with women of the same skin-tone or similar, it is an all-out silent war of who is better? The sidewalk is not the place to be battling for space. I’d like to save that fight for spaces that matter, for spaces we as women of color have been pushed out of like politics, feminism, and social justice.
For a long time I was pushed out of many circles myself for not being “black-enough” or “ghetto-enough” or “straight-haired enough” or “dark enough”, the list goes on. As a result, I was always the one looking in from the outside, an observer to the black woman experience but not feeling whole as a black woman myself. Not until I went to an all-women’s college was I was able to experience a different type of sisterhood, a sisterhood that mainstream black media talks about during award shows but is lacking in real life. I was able to build up myself by building up others. “Black woman” no longer meant what I wore, whom I was with, or how my hair looked. Instead, it became the value in my voice and the inspiration in my character. I found women of color that supported success and did not feel the need to compete for scraps; we were all going for the four-course meal, and we were going together. And those who chose not to build that sisterhood, stuck out like tacky, rusted metal in our indestructible chain link. Once I found sisterhood I no longer had to worry or question the black woman in me.
But college is only 9 months out of the year, and soon I was cast back into the psyche of systematic oppression fed by mass media. There I found I was still the Imaginary Enemy. I was challenged every time I reached out for sisterhood, I was called “bourgeoisie", “white-washed”, and more. I could not understand why. As much as we women of color fight for deserved spaces, win them over, and claim them for ourselves in this country, seldom do we ever share them with our peers of color. Instead we fight each other like we are on rations, like there is no more space to share, so f*ck off! This is called self-defeat. In trying to find ourselves we get mixed up in what America calls us to be: loud, defensive, uneducated, hyper-sexualized entertainment. We contaminate our own movements with gossip and betrayal because that is what young women are taught being a “strong black women"means. Then we look at each other as the competition and tear at each other's strengths until we are fed with another's confidence.
So the short answer: Why did I make this shirt? To inspire the conversation. Especially during times of media-covered action, we like to pretend the black community is one when in reality we have our own hurts to heal from before we can move forward. Each time I have worn this shirt I have had a conversation about women’s experiences of finding space to be together without bringing each other down. It is not a sufficient goal that black media display sisterhood and offer award shows one night a year as hope. What is needed is a lifestyle of sisterhood . It should be easier to find a sister among people of color than an enemy. Today, I choose to walk by a woman of color and pay a compliment instead of negativity. Today, I choose to call the animosity for what it is and begin the conversation one shirt at a time.
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Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...