My hairdresser, whom I’ve know for 31 years, sent me this beautiful message…
On Thursday I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Maria Rodrigues on her Woman to Woman radio show at Premier Christian radio. I am always amazed at how nervous I feel before an interview, as if it’s my first and then I start to speak….
Maria was great, really warm and friendly and, as I found out during the morning, that she is childless too so it felt extra special to have been invited to share my story knowing that the woman on the other side of the microphone had a story of her own that she could have easily shared in place of mine.
My friends told me afterward that no matter how many times that they hear my story it touches them as deeply as the first time they heard it. So here is the link for those of you who missed it and for those who’d like to hear it again…. (click on the picture below)
I went to a lecture in London earlier this year that was presented by Professor Helen Milroy. Helen is a descendant of the Palyku people and talks about using art as a form of healing and about her research/ work around Aboriginal mental health that includes recovery from trauma and grief.
Reflecting on her experience, and the experiences of the other Aboriginal stories that she told, Helen mentioned that “unless you hear the stories and give some sense of validation the womb will remain open…” “…stories need to be heard in order for us to be understood…” Helen talked about the need to understand the cultural context around peoples stories and the need to strengthen cultural knowledge especially when children have lost their elders, their language, their generational stories and their culture.
Helen presented her observations from the experience of the Aboriginal community who have the tragic history of child kidnapping and ethnic cleansing (much like our history of slavery) to better the Australian race. As Helen spoke I found myself identifying with the generational trauma she was talking about. I felt like she was describing my experience as a black woman in the UK. My experiences of being seen as the angry black women , being dismissed and over looked because of my gender and/ or skin colour or being told that I’m being over sensitive (to what I perceived as a racist situation). Now I realise that not every white person is being intentionally racist towards me (or other black people) but when I think about the genetic memory that black people carry (as a result of slavery) I wonder what genetic memories white people carry that then impacts on their unconscious treatment of us being different to them???
I spoke to a white women recently (not that this is unusual for me) who relayed her experience of a black women (as she described it ) ‘playing the race card’ – I’ve been accused of playing the race card in my past – lets face it, what black person hasn’t? I have a tendency to reflect on conversations days after I’ve had them, and when I thought about this conversation I realized how dismissive the term ‘playing the race card’ can be. The term (which may actually be over used) can stop us from fully exploring the back-story to the situation where that person felt that ‘it’ was racist. If you think about Helen Milroy’s comment “…stories need to be heard in order for us to be understood…” especially regarding their cultural context you can see how we can miss the truth to someone’s situation especially when you take into account that transference (a situation where the feelings, desires, and expectations of one person are redirected and applied to another person) plays a part in our everyday interactions.
I understand how unjust it can feel to be accused of something that, for you, is just not true but unless we take the time and care to deal with our feelings (in our own time) we will not be able to listen to the story in front of us, we will not be able to validate that person’s experience. Without asking, how can you understand the cultural context around that persons experience that reminds them of their past in that present moment. Ok yes I realise that it also relies on emotional intelligence – from the person asking the question and the person providing the answers without blame or being in victim mode – but I hope that you get where I am coming from here???
“People need to be able to tell their stories so that they can move from surviving to thriving” and this means making a long-term investment and committing to listening and understanding. As Helen Milroy said in her talk “…bearing witness to someone’s pain is part of their healing too”.
I saw Jada Pinkett Smith’s latest Red Table topic talk today with Kristin Davis from Sex and the City – I just love both these shows. The title ‘Should White People Adopt Black Kids?‘ did intrigue me as it’s something that I’ve questioned myself over the years. As a black women and facilitator for the Gateway Women Reignite weekend workshops I have come across black couples who have been rejected from being adoptive parents so I do get angry when I hear that (or even see) white women have adopted black children. Ok yes I get the ‘its about love’ aspect of this argument but is love enough when the black child is being subjected to racism and the white parent can’t help them, or the white parent doesn’t get it so plays it down because their white privilege is preventing them from truing seeing what is right in front of them.
I saw Jada Pinkett Smith’s latest Red Table topic talk today with Kristin Davis from Sex and the City – I just love both these shows. The title ‘Should White People Adopt Black Kids?’ did intrigue me as it’s something that I’ve questioned over the years.
As a black women and facilitator for the Gateway Women Reignite weekend workshops I have come across black women/ couples who have been rejected from being adoptive parents so I do get annoyed when I hear that (or even see) a white woman (or couple) have adopted a black child. Ok yes I get the ‘its about love’ aspect of this argument but is love enough? What happens when the black child is being subjected to racism and the white parent can’t help them, or the white parent doesn’t get it so plays it (the racism) down because their white privilege is preventing them from truly seeing what is right in front of them.
I guess my question is do white people really understand the complexities of bringing up a black child? Do they get what is involved? Will they disregard that childs’ culture?
Listening to the interview it was good to hear Kristin say that as a white person she doesn’t understand what a black child culturally needs or experiences. White people can only look into our lives (as black people) but their white privilege can (at times) prevent them from seeing the reality of that child is experience. White privilege can make people say “we don’t see colour” which can be such an undermining statement in itself. For me being black is part of my beauty that is disregarded if you chose to not see me for who I am. White privilege can silence my experience.
This is a hot topic that has many layers and after listening to the Red Table conversation I realised there is a layer to this that I had not experienced before. One of my concerns is that the black children being adopted will, at some point, loose their identify because they are being or have been brought up in an all white environment. From the conversation I now realise that there are white people who see that it’s not just about love (although it’s the start) it’s about embracing all who that child is and knowing their own (cultural) limitations leading them to putting in place the support systems for their black children to also know who they are too.
Here are some other links on this topic…
I was talking to a friend about God and religion (as you do), pretty much telling her that I don’t believe that God plays chess. I don’t believe that God picks and chooses who gets what blessings and when just because that person prayed for it or because they are ‘more favoured’ than the next person. Nor do I believe that God withholds blessings because that person didn’t deserve it or it wasn’t the right time for them.
After leaving the charismatic church that I went to for over 10 years, where I was pretty much taught these lessons, after being so hurt and confused (on so many levels) by the process, it left me with a lot of questions. I was left asking ‘why were other people more blessed than me when I was praying to?’ ‘why didn’t I deserve to hear form God like they did?’ after all I was doing what I was supposed to be doing (by their rules), I prayed, I tithed, I used the approved language, I had faith…. I sadly believed that God didn’t hear my prayers, that He didn’t see my heart and that I wasn’t good enough.
I guess that the only way I could survive that hurt was to redefine who God was and what God meant to me. Amongst other things I decided that God wasn’t vengeful and that He wouldn’t punish me for operating in the capacity that He created me to be able to operate in – He created me with a mind, with the ability to think and make choices – therefore could I really be wrong (for my actions) in His eyes especially if my intentions were honourable???
I decided that He created us (humans) in all our glory giving us one of many simple rules… ‘You reap what you sow’.
For me this means that there are consequences for everything we do, every decision we make. From experience the concept of a consequence always seemed to be a negative thing, something bad that would occur from a bad decision for example. I am not sure why people chose to only see a consequence as only being ‘bad’ but I realised that any outcome/ consequence to our decisions can be both positive or negative why not let it be what it is and find my learning in that experience. This for me became a kinder way of navigating my way through life. I went from feeling ‘not good enough’ to knowing that I am good enough because He created it to be so. Simple put ‘we reap what we sow’ or ‘as you sow so shall you reap’.
Anyway during the conversation my friend asked me ‘So is it my fault that I didn’t get a husband then?’. We didn’t get to finish the conversation but I have been thinking about her question for some time now so thought that I would attempt to answer it here…
Thinking about my own dating life that resulted in my marriage I questioned what it means to have a husband. I looked up the word husband (via google), being the curious person that I am, and came across the English dictionary’s definition – Late Old English (in the senses ‘male head of a household’ and ‘manager, steward’), from Old Norse húsbóndi ‘master of a house’, from hús ‘house’ + bóndi ‘occupier and tiller of the soil’. The original sense of the verb was ‘till, cultivate’. Ok I am none the wisher here so will continue with my own train of thought around this. I do find it difficult to get away from the idea that marriage became a societal expectation, which in some ways is about control. As beautiful and fulfilling as the experience is who can say that others who didn’t get married have not experienced or do not have the same relationship as a married couple. I have come across a number of people who have had relations that have lasted longer than some marriages and in many ways have been more fulfilling. So why should that not mean anything just because they did not sign a piece of paper. Why is my experience as a married woman more valued than the woman who had a beautiful, meaningful relationship in the absence of vows in front of God being witnessed by others?
I have come to this point in life, mainly because of the grief work I’ve been doing as a result of my childlessness, where instead of focusing on the negative experiences and the sadness around them (which can really be a source of learning and growth), I am choosing to let a situation be what it is, honour it and hold onto the good memories. Just because I got married I do not see myself as more than someone who didn’t especially where that someone has experienced love and all the joy that came with it. In that moment (no matter how long it lasted) they had the commitment of their significant other, which may have lasted for a short time or may have lasted for longer – show me a marriage that hasn’t followed this path too.
So in the vein of ‘we reap what we sow’ we’ve all had a committed partner at some point in our lives and will have that again it, these relationships flourish depending on what we sow into it. I spent too long rejecting a perspective partner because he didn’t come in the package that I believed that he should come in (based on the messages I received from the world I lived in over the years). All relationships serve a purpose and some will last longer than others. I read once that not everyone has a ticket to ride your train so now I want to be open to what life has to offer knowing that I can make the choose to stay or go depending on what my heart leads me to do and to take all the good memories along with me. So to answer my friends questions No it is not your fault that you don’t have a husband, all it takes is a shift to be reminded that you have already experienced a husband, he served his purpose for that time. You are now in the process of preparing (because or your growth) for a new relationship that will better suit the woman you have grown into.
Everyday I am touched and amazed at the opportunities that are coming my way…
A few weeks ago a friend forwarded an article from the The Guardian newspaper titled “Why dark-skinned black girls like me aren’t getting married”. I don’t remember ever wondering why dark-skinned black girls were not getting married or if in fact there was any issues with dark-skinned girls having relationships but I was reminded of the messages I received growing up including the ones I heard well into my 20s.
Although my parents did wish that I was darker (more representative of their skin tones) and actively encouraged me to sit in the garden when the sun was out, I do remember hearing (from other sources) that I would go far and had a sense that my complexion would afford me certain privileges that I may not have otherwise experience if I was darker. Sitting here today I question if I ever thought that being darker would disadvantage someone in anyway.
If I am being truly honest with myself I’d admit that I used to be more attracted to lighter skin men thinking that they were somehow more beautiful than men of a darker complexion. I guess the messages I got as a child played a big part in unconsciously forming this framework however although my levels of attraction have changed I must say that in some ways I wasn’t that surprised by what I read in the article.
Growing up I was seen as different because, within my immediate family unit I am the lightest in complexion, to the point where others would question my parentage asking if I had one white parent or if someone else was my mother because that women (a family friend) was closer to my complexion that my mother is. My younger brother even asked (when he was about 5 years old) why was I so ‘peachy brown’ when everyone else was dark. So whilst reading the article I found myself dealing with so many mixed feelings around this topic that I decided to send the article to some friends and asked what their experiences were/are around this topic. These are some of the comments from the discussion that ensued…
Disclaimer…. the following comments are from a small group of friends and do not represent the whole of the black community….
“Colourism is a real thing, and I believe it exists in terms of casual dating. But in terms of darker women marrying less than lighter skinned women? No. There can be so many other factors at play.
Also, if you believe nobody wants you because you are too dark and then someone says they like dark skin women and your immediate thought is: fetish, you won’t find anyone.
People who judge your worth as a wife based on the tone of your skin colour aren’t deep people and not worth your time.”
“What a sad world we live in. 😢😢 I don’t want my 2 beautiful girls to have ANY part of their lives hindered because they are “dark skinned”. 😞😞😞 Right now they don’t see it. I’d love it to stay like that.“
“Growing up in the states in the 80s I can 100% say colourism was there. I was always made to feel I was too dark, especially by black people! 😳 My confidence in my complexion was not there and having a mum with a fairer complexion didn’t help. But moving to the UK I began to embrace it. It was not as bad here. Not sure why….. but if it ends with our own people then there will be more chance of it ending full stop.”
“Colourism is definitely a problem, we may not have started it but our communities have to be the ones to address and end it. I’m glad that people are starting to talk about it.
In the US it is worse than in the UK. African American men do predominantly go for the lighter skinned women just like the more petite or “exotic” women are preferred. I believe that darker skinned women are probably less likely to be married here. It’s sad if we look at our celebrities we see it all over. Even in Africa lighter skin is looked at as more beautiful. The question is what would it take to change it?””…. we as black people really do stereotype when it comes to the different shades.”
“Growing up I saw that a lot in Jamaica and even to this day you have black ladies bleaching their skin- as society makes it seem as if it’s more acceptable… I even had members of my family laughing at me when I’d visit Jamaica from London and would sit in the sun because my legs were too pale. When I said I needed my darker complexion back…. I was told I’m crazy”
“It’s gonna take the black community to stop hating themselves enough for others to take note.”
“I’ve seen two siblings who look exactly alike but people think the lighter complexion was more beautiful.”
“I think about the images that the media puts out there. They are the ones who set the standards of beauty. We’re conditioned to think of the European standard of beauty to be the absolute best. I can count on one hand (actually 3) dark skinned models that I know by name.”
“It’s existent even in Africa, at least in my experience. People of a lighter complexion are considered more beautiful and given more opportunities than their darker counterparts. I just wonder how all this started?“
“To be fair he (the white man) may have started it but we have been doing it to ourselves for a really long time“
“I agree that colourism is still there and going strong even with some of the steps forward we have taken. I follow a lot of black and black hair pages on my socials but even then when I see black women like my shade or darker with my type of hair 80% of the time it’s a video of them taming their hair with copious amounts of gel to look smooth and then adding in loose curl extensions to seem like they have the attributes of their lighter skinned counterparts. Even when we have the platform we are still conforming to a “whiter and lighter” beauty standard to an extent. It started with the white man but we are allowing it to be perpetuated which allows others to think its still ok.”
“Yes it started with slavery and I believe that slavery lives on in our genetic memories and the messages that have been passed down from generation to generation. I don’t think that the cycle will break unless we acknowledge this and talk – yes it starts with us being able to discuss that and find solutions for ourselves. ‘It’s gonna take the black community to stop hating themselves enough for others to take note’ “
Reflecting on these comments and having watched a video where black women discuss politics of light and dark skin I was amazed at how much this reminded me of my own past thoughts and experiences. I am aware of the unconscious conditioning that we have experienced as a race and believe that we are (generally) accepted (by white people) because of the parameters that we fit into, whether its the way we speak, how we dress or how we wear our hair making us more acceptable (and safer) in their eyes. I have experienced white men dating black women where, the women were not necessarily of a fairer complexion but they did have a more European look that, to me, represented ‘white-ness’ and acceptance.
Personally I do not think it’s just about how we see ourselves (although important) but about how we are perceived (by white people) and what that then means for us. From my own experience and the research I’m doing (with my work around the WoC experience and infertility) black women are negatively stereotyped. I myself have been treated like I’m ‘the angry black woman in the room‘. In my 20s I was told that I would have been a house slave and that I’d get far because of my colour/ shade. I also suspect that I’m where I am (on the public forum) because of my complexion and the general ‘safeness’ that I represent. I think as a race we (men and women) need to be conscious of the generational messages that has been passed down so that we can break this cycle within our own race. If colourism plays out in our everyday lives (unconsciously or not) how much is it playing out in our personal or professional relationships? I can’t say that darker skinned black women are less likely to get married but I’m painfully aware that black women are low down on the pecking order. Even writing this blog and expressing my feelings in this way I feel like I will soon be labelled/ stereotyped as the ‘militant black woman’ but if I was a white women talking in this way I would be described as passionate about my beliefs… 😖