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This Is How We Can Learn To Embrace The Collective Black Woman Experience

No more crabs in a bucket lifestyle.

Human Interest

As a Black child growing up in America, Blackness can look like many different perspectives based on different locations. Oftentimes, cultural conversations are had in separate rooms with only one culture in the room – making it very easy to see Blackness subconsciously as a monolith. I'm from Brooklyn, NYC, the home of the second-largest Afro-Caribbean migrated community in America, second to Florida, according to the Migration Information Source. So as a child, the first massively Black population I was exposed to was the Afro-Caribbean community.


Then, I moved during the middle of middle school to a predominantly white neighborhood in P.A., and it was a complete culture shock. I immediately felt out of place and missing referencing Caribbean cultural topics with my friends back home. In high school, my family moved to a mixed neighborhood, and it exposed me to other types of Blackness, Afro-Latinas, Black Americans, Africans, etc. It wasn't until after college that I thought to myself, wow, I really only know one Black community in-depth, and that's the Afro-Caribbean culture because of how I was raised and moving back to Brooklyn, and it's still my main friend group.

Looking back to what I learned in my history classes, there was very little information given regarding Black history, that's only taught about 8-9% of the school year. So, 1) we're robbed about learning about majority Black American pioneers; and 2) Black immigrants' stories are often misrepresented from Black media and literature, which leaves our learning about each other through who we grew up around, self-educating ourselves, and traveling, which is another luxury in itself.

For way too long, we have been learning about every aspect of whiteness, from Italian, French, British, Germans, etc., and they are all allowed to take up space and be celebrated as separate white cultures globally. But when it comes to Blackness, we're often looked at as homogeneous and robbed the access to all those resources and tend to go off of stereotypes of each other or comparing struggles of each other's journey.

So let's be open to healing from these stereotypes and learn about our actual cultural journeys. Take a look at some of the resources below to be more informed about the collective Black women experience through the lens of various Black cultures like Black American, African, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinas, Bi-racial black women, and transracial Black women experiences.

How To Learn More About The Afro-Caribbean Experience In America

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The Afro-Caribbean community in America started increasing in the 1960s throughout the country. Many immigrants moved here thinking the "American dream" is accessible to everyone, when in reality, it's just a scam. Back in the 60s- 90s, it wasn't cool to be from the Caribbean; they were often told to go back on their banana boats to their countries because, in Black Americans' eyes, they were robbing their opportunities, but that was never their goal. They fled from their home countries that didn't face many racist issues but faced classism and economic issues.

Unfortunately, many people weren't educated enough regarding how the Black American community was treated at the time; Afro-Caribbeans heard stories of how intense segregation and Jim Crow Laws were, but hearing about it and living it are two different experiences. Like many immigrant communities, they tend to flee from their countries to spaces that many other people from their communities are, so some of the biggest Caribbean communities in the States are in Florida, NYC, and Atlanta, but they are also sprinkled throughout the nation as well.

Some books to read to familiarize yourself with the Afro-Caribbean experience in America are Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream by Christina M. Greer and Black Identities: West Indian Immigrant Dreams and American Realitiesby Mary C. Waters. You can also check out a phenomenal documentary series called Small Axe, directed by Steve McQueen, based on the initial migrating Afro-Caribbean community in the U.K. called "Windrush generation."

How To Learn More About The Black American Experience In America

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You would think learning about the Black American experience is easy because they are the dominant Black community in America. However, we live in a timeframe where Black culture is celebrated more than Black history. And often, Black history is ostracized from American history, so it's harder to access it if you aren't self-learning.

The community that deserves the most flowers for paving the way for all Black people in America is Black Americans – for all the doors they've opened thus far.

I think it's essential to read some older books based on the Black American experience from the past few decades prior to be more effective with combating issues in the present. Frequently, patterns of oppression repeat themselves but through new ways in a different generation.

Some of my recommendations for every Black person to read is The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written by Malcolm X, and Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by Bell Hooks, which is an informative read about the history of Black feminism in America. There are countless recommendations regarding the modern-day Black experience, likeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The New Jim Crowby Michelle Alexander. The latter thoroughly explains today's modern-day slavery in the nation's mass incarnation system that disproportionally targets Black men.

How To Learn More About The Afro-Latina Experience In America

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The Afro-Latina experience feels like such a new age sub-culture of Blackness because for so long, I just heard several Latinas say they were just 'Latina' as if it's a race, or they would say they are Black, but they just speak Spanish based on where they come from. But the truth is, Afro-Latinos collectively have existed for generations. According to Pew Research Center, "for a long time, several Latin countries didn't collect official statistics on ethnicity or race, especially from populations with African origins." It was only within the last few years it's been recorded because of the high demand of minority groups requesting it. This means that many people aren't fully aware of their racial background from those countries.

Afro-Latinas, like Haitians, have another layer of an intersectional Black experience in America because their first language is Spanish, French, or Portuguese. Anyone coming from Hispanic countries, inclusive of the Caribbean, Central America, South America, that comes from African descent are Afro-Latinos. Their race is Black, and their ethnicity is Latinx.

An educational documentary series I watched recently called Black in Latin Americaopened my eyes to the lineage and discrimination of Afro-Latino communities in Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Brazil. And a great read to get acquainted with to learn more about the Afro-Latina experience in America is The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United Statesby Miriam Jiménez Román.

How To Learn More About The African Woman Experience In America

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African women are a unique group of Blackness because they aren't included in the Black diaspora because they come from the motherland. So to all my African-American sistas, you aren't the only ones that don't know where you come from. Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Latinas also don't know our full roots because we were brought to these western countries based on colonization and slavery.

Don't let our new flags, foods, and cultures fool you; we have always been digging to learn about our African roots too.

They also come from predominantly Black countries that are more fixated on classism and don't deal with as many racist issues as Afro-Caribbean countries. Africans have another intersectional Black experience to deal with in America; many of them speak languages other than English as their native language, like Igbo, Hausa, Oromo, Yoruba, Portuguese, Francophone Africa, etc. An enlightening read to start with is Voices of African Immigrants of Kentucky: Migration, Identity, and Transnationilty by Francis Musoni, Iddah Otieno, and Angene Wilson.

How To Learn The Black Bi-Racial Woman Experience In America

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Being a Black Bi-Racial woman in America is a subjective experience based on how you were raised, if both partners were in your life, and what race you look more like. Black bi-racial women are perceived and treated very differently in society based on how dark or light their complexion is, as well as what their hair and facial features like. What could be perceived as two people from different backgrounds in a loving relationship and having a child in the world brings forth a range of conflicting issues to deal with once this child is born.

Most individuals in the world aren't mixed, and they often want their child to choose their race more than their partner's race. I've been there myself because I'm a bi-racial Black woman, that has always identified as more Black based on how I was raised, the parent I was closest to, and what I look like more. But my experience isn't apples to apples with other bi-racial black women that may look less Black or identifies more with her non-Black side.

Then, there is the you're never Black enough to lead the protest, or you can't speak to the Black women experience because you're not "fully" black conversation. And there is a long list of bothersome fetishes as if we chose our racial ethnicities or our existence is some hip trend. Overall most bi-racial people never feel like they truly fit, and we're interrogated of whether or not we are being Black enough or enough of our other race. An informative read exploring the Black bi-racial journey isHalf and Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural by Claudine Chiawei O'Hearn. You can also check out this documentary called Armor: Biracial in the Deep Douth directed by Sarah Gambles.

How To Learn More About The Transracial Adopted Black Woman Experience

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Transracial adopted Black women are Black women that are adopted by non-Black families. This experience isn't often spoken of in-depth, and it was brought to my attention when I listened to an episode on the Therapy for Black Girls podcast where Dr. Joy Bradford interviewed Judith Sadora about the transracial adoption process. People often see adoption as something to be grateful for, but it's more responsibility to adopt a child outside of your race. It becomes the adopted parents' responsibility to teach and provide resources for their children based on how the world sees them and is going to treat them.

However, many people aren't aware of the additional responsibility and just raise them as their race. And because of that, transracial adoptees often grow up with a lot of identity issues, having no biological parents to reference for things that speak to their direct racial issues.

Some good resources to inform yourself about this particular journey are tuning into the bonus episode of Therapy for Black Girls podcast interviewing transracial adoptee Angela Tucker. You can also tune into her podcast, the Adoptee Next Door Podcast. Also, one of my favorite shows currently streaming on Hulu, called This is Us, is a heartfelt show that features a transracial Black man growing up searching to connect with his Blackness all throughout his life.

There is so much power with learning our stories! It's an unfortunate reality that the world is currently complacent with obsessing over Black culture rather than they are about learning about all the beautiful layers of the Black lineage. The more we are open to learning about each other's specific journeys allows space for less criticizing and the more empathy that we can extend to each other. No more crabs in a bucket lifestyle; we need to change the narrative because it's always gone against us with every other culture working together to help each other, not hold each other back. We all have unique qualities to contribute to the collective Black lens.

As brother Malcolm would say, "Without education, you're not going anywhere in this world." Without learning about each other, it limits our collective growth when staying in segregated cultural Black communities, so be the pan-Africanist you want to see in the world.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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