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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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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

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It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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