On Black Girlhood: A Guideby Candice Lola
It just helps if you are born light-skinned. Not too light-skinned, obviously, because then people will think that you are white and tease you for it. You should be a nice honey or peanut butter color. It will also help if you have light-colored eyes. Green and blue are the best. Hazel is ok if your skin is darker. But they need to match your skin tone, or at least, other people need to think so.
If you do end up being born darker skinned, you might still be ok. You will have to do a little extra work but it’s not impossible. You will probably have to make up for it by being born with softer hair and looser curls. In some rare cases even kinky hair is allowed, but only if you have a lot of it and your mom has the time and the skill to style it. Depending on your age, this is unlikely. Before a few years ago kinky hair care wisdom had to be passed down through the generations. I suppose no one cared enough about it to write it down, but it’s most likely more complicated than that. If your Mom does know how to braid or can send you to a braiding shop you could be ok, even though if she does this too much your edges won’t be. If your edges are gone then you won’t be worth anything, no matter the hue of your skin.
If you are born with darker skin and kinkier hair and aren’t lucky enough to have someone comb it for you in it’s natural state, you might have to get a relaxer. It will be fine. A relaxer is a strong chemical that smells bad and burns your skin off if you aren’t careful (and sometimes even if you are). If you hair is both thick and kinky then your relaxer will be “extra strength”. If you weren’t born with a high pain tolerance, I’d hope that you soon develop one.
Life should go better for you if you were born to parents with money. It will go even better if they have the foresight use that money to enrich your free time with skills that you will use later in life, like dancing or art or cooking. I hope that they know that it’s too early for you to start playing sports, though. If you start too early then you might become too talented and beat the boys and then hurt their self- esteem, and then who will want to marry you? Marrying a good man is central to your purpose, as you will soon internalize. “Good” men don’t like women who challenge them too much. You wanna grow up a “good woman”. Not an “extra” one.
Now, if you are indeed one of the lucky ones, all of the hair styling and parental attention and enrichment may have you feeling pretty good about yourself. I am so happy for you. That’s adorable before you start school. If you are very lucky, no one has taken advantage of your trust for their own selfish reasons yet. If you are very, very lucky, you have family members that tell you how amazing you are and how you can be anything that you want to be. The TV shows you watch will tell you that too, probably, if you have someone making sure you are watching the right things. Mostly you’ll hear that encouraging stuff on TV, but they won’t be talking to people that look like you, even if you are peanut butter colored with green eyes and curly hair.
You’ve made it to Kindergarten. Now the real work begins. You will probably start getting more familiar with the concept of “boyfriends” even before you are familiar with sexuality at all. You might start watching fairy tales and whatever the popular TV shows are along with your elementary school peers. You’re definitely going to see fewer representations of people like you being “anything they want to be” and more of them being who other people want them to be. As you get older, you’ll notice that lots of people don’t expect you to be much of anything. You’ll probably internalize that long before you are even aware that you are observing it.
You will definitely start to notice that unless you are extremely talented at something i.e. the dancing/singing/art that your parents hopefully enriched your free time with; most of your power will lie in your looks. This is where being lighter skinned, lighter eyed, and softer haired will come in handy. It will behoove you to have lost any adorable baby fat by now.
If you are going to a Black school and you fit the aforementioned beauty standards, you will probably be one of the more powerful girls in school. Not more powerful than the boys though. Power for you means that the powerful boys are attracted to you first. If you are astute you will learn that you have to wield your power through them.
If you don’t go to a Black school then even if you are the right color and hair texture, you have less power than nearly every other non-Black girl in your age group. The amount of money your parents have, weight, ability, likability, style, and even talent can help you move up in status. Hopefully you have all of that in spades. Even if you do, prepare to be scolded by teachers and your friends’ parents more than other non-Black people in your class, just because. You should probably start learning to smile a lot and apologize for just existing now.
Hopefully you’ve been watching the popular culture for your age group and have the money and the attention span to start dressing like the celebrities your generation and culture idolizes. You are going to have to find and become very familiar with the right kind of music too, and the right TV shows, and will have to cultivate the right interests. To make things easier, here is a list of what is acceptable to like at your age and gender presentation:
- Teen dolls
- Dancing. But not too sexually. If you don’t know what dancing too sexually is, start dancing the way you like and wait to be yelled about it.
- Popular hip hop. Not too much rap. That’s for boys and if you like it you’ll be a poser because girls can’t like rap (if you listen hard enough you’ll notice that a lot of rap doesn’t like you, either).
- Pop music is allowed if you aren’t at a Black school. This is forbidden if you are.
- Celebrity teenage boys, but only with your girlfriends. You’ll hear boys talking about celebrity girls they find attractive too, all the time, to and at you, but it’s not ok for you. Their egos are being delicately constructed to be fragile, so don’t threaten them with talk of who you find attractive. Remember also that you aren’t allowed to be attracted to the celebrity girls or any girls, even if you are attracted to them. If you insist on being attracted though, despite my instructions, push those feelings far, far, far down and away with all that crap about self-esteem and ambition you were fed before Kindergarten.
- Makeup. But only natural makeup. Makeup so barely there that it ruins the fun of putting on makeup at all. Makeup can’t be about you or your creativity. It’s about what the boys like. You’ll find that it’s always expected to be.
- Hair. But only the right kind and texture. Don’t get to creative and have fun with it. Once again, your hair isn’t about you.
- Cartoons. But the princess ones. Not the superhero or anime ones. Again, quit being a poser. Also, don’t like the princess cartoons too much.
- Jesus. Depending on your environment it’s either really good to be religious or really bad. You should really figure this out before say anything about it. As a matter of fact, start learning to figure out how people are going to feel about what you have to say before you say anything EVER. Make sure you say whatever you say with a smile and an apology. You are a Black girl so everything you say will be taken as mean otherwise. Can’t be helped.
- You’ve gotta wear what everyone else likes. Now, you will get some hints if you have the right parents and they have money and you are watching the right shows and shopping at the right stores and live in the right city, but you’ve gotta have the right body type too. How do you know if you have the right body type to wear what everyone else wants you to wear? Well, by now all those shows and books telling you to be confident and free will be replaced by magazines and TV telling you what the current trendy body type is, and how to fake it if you don’t have it naturally. Also, the boys and sometimes even the grown men around you will oblige you with their constant opinion. You should probably walk around with a notebook to keep track of it all.
If you are lucky and hit puberty not too early and not too late, you don’t have to worry about this until about middle school. When you hit puberty in hopefully late middle school or early high school (because otherwise you are a fast, mannish hoe) you should grow a curvy body. You should have curvy hips, a round butt, a small waist, flat stomach, and decently sized breasts. Again, if you are extremely talented, likable, rich, stylish, or were smart enough to have cultivated a posse that has been with you since elementary school, you might have worth and power even if you don’t have the right body. Despite this, you should always be prepared to have someone point out your obvious shortcoming.
You can’t have acne, or any pimples, really. No hyper pigmentation is allowed. You may be required to wear makeup if you don’t have perfect skin, but only enough to cover said imperfect skin. You’d better not be having fun with colors and whatnot. Better not. Also, if your complexion falls below that honey-colored one we discussed earlier, good luck finding foundation or concealer that you can actually afford with your allowance. You should probably prepare to pay $15-20 for foundation, probably what your lighter-complected peers pay for all of their makeup combined at this age. If you have very deep skin, just get a part time job. Your foundation is like $40 a pop. Hope you weren’t saving for college or anything. No matter what you look like but especially if you are deeper-complected, expect boys to announce their preference of or not of you. Expect this opinion to be unsolicited. It will probably be followed by a “no offense”, so you aren’t allowed to let it hurt your feelings.
There is a silver lining though! It’s now okay for you to start being athletic. Congratulations. You still aren’t allowed to get as sweaty or as stinky as the boys, or as hairy. I hope that you have somehow learned how to shave because otherwise you can forget all the social power you’ve amassed up until now. Also, congrats, you get to vie for the attention of a boy! Remember that fragile ego society has been building up for him? It’s your responsibility now. Yay you! Also, you still aren’t allowed to like anyone other than boys, even if you do. I repeat, yay you.
Your hair should be regularly straightened. If your hair curl is looser then it’s ok to wear it straight most of the time, and curly some of the time. If your hair is kinky, get it permanently straightened and don’t look back. Get rid of all the pictures of you with your natural texture after the age of…. let’s say four. Just to be safe. Also if your hair is unfortunately kinky, refer to your cooler ex-kinky haired peers for references on what hairstyles are pretty. Do not lean on your own understanding. Your texture isn’t allowed to experiment too much without ridicule.
Don’t expect to see a single positive representation in media of what kinky hair acts like when it’s permanently straightened, like, at all. The famous people that have your hair texture are rich enough and smart enough get extensions (which, by the way, you aren’t allowed to get until you are in college because otherwise you won’t be naturally pretty enough to compete for the boyfriend you need. This does depend heavily on your school culture, though) and now their hair looks absolutely nothing like yours. If you are at a Black school, you might fair ok. If you aren’t a Black school, good luck.
Now, maybe your parents were smart enough to permanently straighten your hair earlier in life but didn’t have the exuberant funds to keep it professionally maintained, so you are probably dealing with a lot of breakage. Hopefully you can afford to hire braider who doesn’t kill your edges (because remember, it’s all over if that happens) or are super talented at something cool or curvy or light skinned or have light colored eyes. Because otherwise I can’t help you.
If you’ve done everything right, high school will probably maybe be ok for you, maybe. It is possible that you’ve done everything too right and now you’re too confident and therefore a hoe. Calm down, but not too much. Be the right amount of confident, an allowance that will change constantly depending on who you are around. Even though you may notice that all girls are subjected to this, you may also notice this; the farther from the beauty standard you are, the less confident you are allowed to be. If you are of a bigger size and have deep-colored skin, and your hair is kinky and you aren’t extremely talented at something or even if you are, people will get really mad if you love yourself too much. You’d better calm down.
Please note that the beauty standard changes all the time depending on trends in pop culture and where you live. So yeah. I’d hope that you aren’t in any demanding AP classes or really invested in any hobbies or anything. You’ve got more important stuff to keep up with, like what it’s ok to look like from day to day.
You have to get the right boyfriend and he has to be nice to you, but if he isn’t, it’s your fault. You should hope that no one spreads nasty rumors about you, especially ones about you owning your sexuality, because that would also be your fault. Also hope that you don’t hurt a guy’s ego enough for him to attack you or anything, even a grown guy, because again, that would be your fault. Maybe just get a tattoo reminding yourself that any way a man acts towards you is your fault. The way everybody acts is completely under your control. Forget his home training or your shared culture or his socialization or his mental illness or his friends’ influence or anything else. It’s up to you to control his carnal nature. And while we are on the subject, don’t come off too smart or bossy, even under the huge responsibility of his and every other man’s actions. I mean, you are already bossy and rude because you were born that way because you are Black. You can’t have a leadership personality on top of that. What are you, mad?
Oh and never get mad at anyone. You are already scary enough.
If you are at a non-Black school and get into a fight with a white girl, you started it.
If you are getting bullied at a non-Black school and fight back at all, you are the bully.
If you stand up for yourself at all, you are yelling.
If you are at a non-Black school, observant enough, and are at a high school where the idea feminism is floating around, that isn’t for you. You’re too..something…for feminism fight for you. Be less…that thing, and we can talk.
If you are at a Black high school ya’ll aren’t allowed to be feminists. Moving on.
Depending on your high school environment you may be allowed to explore your sexual preferences now. Your school culture will determine how unapologetic you can be about those preferences. For example, maybe you can be a lesbian now, but quietly. And maybe you can date boys that fall outside of the narrow masculinity trope, but not too proudly. Be prepared to defend his masculinity constantly otherwise you aren’t loyal. If you are dating a girl you should probably be prepared to defend your girlfriend’s masculinity too. That’s the only way your relationship will be valid-ish.
Don’t have sex but also do have sex but not with the wrong person, who might only be revealed as the wrong person after you’ve already had sex with them. If you are at the right school, no one is going to talk to you about birth control or safe sex or anything, but you had better already know enough about it to not get pregnant. If you do, you should marry the father, except if he doesn’t want to marry you. Then you should just disappear into cloud of smoke. Use all that knowledge about wielding your sexuality (wait, did you miss that class?) and find a mediocre man that will provide for you both. Don’t expect him to help you outside of money and strained companionship. Praise him when he is a decent human being. If you want to go back to school or have fun or even sleep, you will need a baby-sitter. If your parents have enough money to have free time and haven’t disowned you, which they could, and if they are able bodied, and you trust them around your baby, maybe they can babysit occasionally. Not too much thought. That would make you are a bad mother and a hoe. The amount of baby-sitting that is too much, by the way, can be determined by anyone who feels the need to pass judgment.
Another note: never ask the father of your baby for child support. The baby is half his but everything is your responsibility so don’t expect a check. Do expect to have to answer to all his demands about whom you see and what you do, though.
If you don’t get pregnant and make it out of high school, yay for you! You can go to college, even out of state if your parents don’t mind. You don’t want to be too uppity though. Don’t come back from school with any new knowledge or anything. Like, who do you think you are?
You can however become a feminist, date who you want, and actually be who you want to be!
So long as:
1) You don’t threaten masculinity by being too smart or funny (ha, you actually aren’t allowed to be funny unless you’re like, super funny) or opinionated.
2) You aren’t concerned with having equal rights of the well-being of other Black women. I mean sure, you turned out ok, but most Black women are ugly and fat and bossy and mean and ghetto and probably deserve whatever current abuse they are enduring.
3) You look good. Thankfully now, the definition of beauty has broadened depending on where you are. You are even allowed to be fat, but only the right kind of fat. You can also be more confident than you were in high school, but you’d better watch it.
4) You respect respectability politics. Sexuality is now more of a minefield than it was in high school because there is no more supervision. Now you’d better be having sex you stuck up prude, but the sex can’t be too freaky or too much or with the wrong people. Again, there is a chance you might only figure out the wrong person is the wrong person until after the sex. Don’t worry. If you took my advice and already accepted that everything is your fault, to just add this to the list.
If you in a place where you are around people from lots of different backgrounds, you will be allowed to be more true to yourself, if you’ve even had the time to figure that out this whole time. You probably should though, because you don’t want to be accused to being fake while you are exploring your identity.
Don’t celebrate yourself too much, like ever. Your man can celebrate you, if his friends let him. But you can’t throw yourself a party or make an extravagant entrance or invite any fanfare yourself, like ever. Not unless, your peers give you permission.
You should quietly do excellent in school. You should be gracious and smiling all time. You should work out but not too much, lift but only just enough, and lay off too much protein because like we talked about before you started Kindergarten, you can’t be intimidating to men at all, and that includes being stronger than them. You are already big and too manly because you are Black. You are allowed to work out just enough to be sexy. That’s your cap. You can also wear weaves now and be more creative with your makeup, but again, only within parameters that will change constantly. Also, if you get married, you should probably only be as decorated as your partner is comfortable with. After all, you do this for them. You really should marry within your race, especially you, and especially if you are defiant and decide to speak up for any rights that could result in your self-preservation.
Facing all of this might understandably develop fairly deep insecurities in you, and probably other Black women you know. That’s good news! Now, if you date the right man, you can get paid to have those socialized insecurities exploited on TV for the entertainment of anyone with access to the internet. You will definitely be judged on the power of the man you are attached to and how well he treats you. In fact, the man you are romantically attached to will be so central to your public identity that the word “wives” may even be in the show responsible for your rise to fame, whether the two of you were ever married or not. Again, unless you are super talented or have a great, expensive, supportive team behind you, good luck escaping image that if you ever decide to pursue any ventures outside of your relationship, even if it is over.
Let’s see, anything else? Only gently lend your opinion, even if you are more qualified to handle the problem at hand. If you stand up for other Black women then you are probably bitter and will be labeled as such (stand up for Black men though, even against Black women, and you are a temporary heroine. That is, unless a man’s achievements erase your contributions and in that case, oh well). If you excel in sports and you’re probably too manly. If you are too ambitious you are just trying to distract yourself until the right man comes along. If you stay where you are then you are too ghetto. Don’t ask your baby’s father to support his child, and don’t ever use government assistance if he doesn’t. Talk sweetly to non-black girls, no matter how wronged you were or passionately you feel. Otherwise they will say that what you said doesn’t have value. Work on being classy but just enough so that no one is threatened by you. Learn how to cook from scratch and do it all the time, and also keep that kitchen spotless. Allow men to dictate your stance should be on issues that affect only Black women, and not them (hint: no matter what the issue is or your experience with it, you are always overreacting). Allow men to tell you where to go, what to wear, what to look like, and what opinions to have.
If you are a Black woman lesbian, stay out of the way.
If you are a Black bisexual woman, either be open to several threesomes whether you like that stuff or not, or just be straight already.
If you are a Black transgender woman, cease to exist.
If you are a Black transgender man, cease to exist.
If you are a Black gender non-conforming person, quit trying so hard to just be yourself and stuff yourself into a socially acceptable category already.
By the way, being super talented and famous from this stage on doesn’t save you from sexist scrutiny. In fact, you are gonna be subjected to much more of it. Expect whatever success you have to be easily overshadowed by your romantic relationship status, and then your childbearing status. Hopefully you will have learned by this point that everyone expects you to be here for them, and not for yourself.
If you are still confused, you could just not care. You could join the numerous Black women that boldly defying the guidelines and breaking all the rules. The ones that refuse to remove their weaves or stop wearing makeup or straighten their hair to do things that they don’t want to do. Insufferable women who won’t stop having sex or who won’t cover up their bodies, or who refused to feel ashamed despite all the people trying to shame them. The ones who realize that they will be judged no matter how they live, and so they decide to live however they want to. Those selfish woman are working to change the conversation around the things they are passionate about, and around black women themselves.
You could be one of them. You could.
But who wants to go through all that just to be happy?