To: Max. May you always get an answer to your “whys.”
Back in June, everyone with taste’s fave, Janet Jackson, wrote an open letter about her failed relationships and her struggles with depression and her self-esteem on her journey to happiness. It was a feature in Essence magazine that I didn’t even know had happened until earlier this week. Though I’ve chided the open letter as a late-stage revenge tool in the past, I was very impressed by the honesty of the letter and felt that it could serve as comfort and/or inspiration for Black women who have dealt or are dealing with the same thing.
However, what I did not like was the several responses from Black women who haven’t achieved one one-hundredth of what Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty) has. Apparently, it’s not okay to show your scars; even when doing so stands to help hundreds of thousands of women all over the globe. There were allegations of Black women having a need to share their low points for “validation.” There were the, “ugh…why’d she have to let everyone know that bad shit happens to even the rich and famous?!” One pointed out that she wants the image of her favorite stars to be high and mighty. Janet revealing this low-point, in this commenter’s estimation, will take away the sense of obligation of Black women to make “better choices.” Someone even said something to the effect of her needing to keep that to a journal.
I sat back and shook my head. Most of the women making these comments are a part, at least by extension, of the Black Women’s Empowerment club (called BWE on social media). I can’t help but ask myself how anyone, Black, white, short, tall, able-bodied, or in a Hover Round, can suppose that they are going to “empower” anyone by only showing the romantic and happy parts of their life.
They must have forgotten that Janet Jackson is a human being. To act like she hadn’t had that struggle would have been a lie, an affront to those who helped her escape (even if it was herself), and a grave disservice to the woman, whoever she may be, who needed to hear Janet Jackson’s story so that she could see there is a light at the end of her own self-image tunnel.
Three years before my marriage went to hell, I had the pleasure of meeting an older (yet not old) woman on Facebook. We spoke through messages and she told me that she had been married before but her marriage ended in one of the most horrid ways possible. I admired her because, at the time, I could have not imagined going through the situation she went through. I was in awe at how she managed to bounce back from the immense betrayal and fuckery that her first husband had put her through. I appreciated her sharing something that she could have easily pretended never happened.
Little did I know that three years later, my marriage would end in pretty much the exact same way. When that happened, it was hard; excruciatingly hard. Besides the obvious, you see who is and is not your friend. You realize who the friends and relatives are who will back you eternally and those whose empathy has an expiration date.
But what I knew was that despite the emotional kamikaze I was about to experience, I would make it.
Why did I know I would make it?
Because of the woman who wasn’t too embarrassed or ashamed of what happened to her to share her story with a virtual stranger at the time. She was my rock years before I knew I needed one and I am forever in her debt.
For the good that the various BWE movements have done, there remains an underbelly of hateration (inside and outside of the dancerie), hypocrisy, affectation, and to be quite honest, delusion and self-esteem issues that started out funny but is now simply sad. In one thread, someone who hasn’t worked out since they were in 5th-grade gym class will be talking about how fat Black women are and why these fat Black women are often visually represented in certain stories. In another thread, a woman will have the nerve to express her displeasure that another Black woman chose a career path that’s 10-steps ahead of her own and has far more potential. In still another conversation, some woman will be lamenting the fact that a Black female celebrity was seen running errands at the Quik Trip without makeup because, of course, it’s a natural thing to do contouring before you go pick-up a 44oz. frosty drink in a Styrofoam cup.
For all the conversing, article-writing, and analysis, many of the women in the BWE crowd have failed to grasp the concept of humanity, even their own. It’s a sad statement when women who claim to be for the empowerment of other women like themselves can’t be happy to get a glimpse of an award-winning actress because in the photo, she was wearing a jogging suit. Further, it doesn’t bode well when these women can’t recognize the brokenness inside themselves that allows them to fervently bash or critique other women who are on the same level or higher than they are, usually over minutiae.
What you will hear as a rebuttal to this is that since Black people, Black women, in particular, have it harder, we can’t “get away with” the same stuff that white women do…like running to the grocery store without makeup intact. To that, I say, bullshit. I’ve often said that I refuse to carry the totality of Blackness or Black womanhood on my back. I will not be embarrassed by the AAVE and Ebonics-speaking witness to a fire on the local news. I won’t be ashamed by proxy of the young Black woman who is single with 3 children in an article about welfare reform. Why? Because I know who I am. And because I know who I am, I don’t worry about a bunch of people I don’t know pigeonholing me into a character I don’t portray.
What I wish is that the BWE “movement” was filled with women who aren’t afraid to show their scars as inspiration or motivation for the other women who have or, unbeknownst to them, will go through similar situations.
For it is the showing of scars that sets people free.
I wish that instead of living in a fantasy land of what people think happens in the real world, there were more voices who not only have a following but the experience that merits the crowd. I wish more of the critiques were of things that matter and steeped in logic and evidence (even anecdotal) instead of the wide-eyed idealism of a 14-year-old who doesn’t know anything but what she’s seen on television dramas. I wish the women barking about what a Black woman should look like, were something to look at. I wish the women lamenting when and who a Black woman chooses to entertain, had, themselves, experienced a relationship that went above and beyond your standard late-teens/early twenties 6-month fling. I wish there were more voices willing to say, “Hey, this is where I fucked up. Don’t do like I did.” Or, “I grew up in a fucked up situation but here’s what I did to make sure it didn’t affect me and hinder my success….”
To me, that’s so much more empowering. To the women who do this, you have my respect.
To those so deep into the BWE-ness that they don’t realize that they’ve fallen victim to the nonsense, I urge you to start paying attention to whether or not the fruit on the messenger’s tree matches the seed that they’ve been planting in you.
“I ‘members that day I was in the store with Miss Millie – I’s feelin’ real down. I’s feelin’ mighty bad. And when I see’d you – I knowed there is a God. I knowed there is a God. And one day I was gonna get to come home.” – Sofia from The Color Purple
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