Ask Me why i made this shirt
You are walking down the street as a woman of color minding your own business, listening to your music that blends with the day in every way (most recently for me it’s been Trey Songz, don’t judge). And then, up ahead you notice another woman of color walking your way as she notices you. You pay her no mind and continue on in your mental music video. 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 as she has passed by rolling her eyes. You continue down the street confused, vulnerable, and kind of pissed. What reason did she have to give you attitude? You did not know her. Did you? Why did she assume you her nemesis in seconds?
This has been my experience for years. Seems trivial, maybe one lady with a bad attitude. But really it is an example of a multifaceted problem among women of color (and really women period): we spend less time building each other up and more time sizing each other up and breaking 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 in milliseconds? 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.
For a long time I was pushed out and suffered in many circles for not being “black-enough” or “ghetto-enough” or “straight haired enough” or “dark enough” and the list goes on. As a result, I was always the one looking in from the outside, an observer to the black women experience not feeling whole as a black woman myself. It wasn’t until I went to an all-women’s college that I was able to experience a different type of sisterhood that mainstream black media likes to talk about. I was able to build myself up by building up others. Black Woman no longer meant what I wore, whom I was with, or how my hair looked it was the value in my voice and 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, together. And those who chose not to build, stuck out like tacky, rusted metal in our indestructible chain link. Once I found that sisterhood I no longer had to worry or question the black women in me. But college is only 9 months out of the year and soon I was casted back into the confused, biased, ignorant psyche of the U.S. And there is where I found that I was still the Imaginary Enemy.
I was challenged everywhere I looked for sisterhood, I was called “bougie”, “white-washed” and more. I could not understand why. As much as we fight for 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! That is self-defeat. We compare and rate ourselves on mainstream America’s scale then place that right on our sisters. We contaminate our own movements with gossip and betrayal because that is what being a “strong black women means” to the media. Then we look at each other as the competition. So why in the world would I want to join hands and fight oppression with the same person who wants my head? Answer: I choose not to until we mend the relationships within our own community. Once we stop biting off empowerment from others we can begin to heal as a unit. Alone we are a movement, but together we can be a revolution.
So why did I make this shirt? To inspire discourse. There is not a day I wear this shirt and not have a conversation about experiences of women breaking other women down instead building each other up. It is not a sufficient goal that our voices only land on BET ears. It is not sufficient to boast change when one hasn’t changed their own views towards people in their own communities. It is not sufficient that this is not talked about at every rally, walkout, and demonstration. What will hold us back are not only biased systems, but also ourselves; me included. So next time you are offered attitude instead of a smile, as one friend told me, offer them a compliment. Build them up, one stranger at a time and they will see that who they have been fighting is not the enemy for it should be easier to find a sister than an enemy in this country. And if this piece of fabric gets the conversation going, I’ll never stop conversing.