“I’m exhausted by how much the world hates us.”
They were just a few small words, overheard by a friend having a conversation with another friend. Two brilliant Black women exhausted by the burden placed upon us. They hit me simultaneously as both a bang and a whimper. An articulation of the truth which we all know, but the one from which we all blindly run. That to exist as a Black woman in America, in many ways, is to exist without a home, tossed out by a society that demands your silence. To be a Black woman with an opinion, therefore, is to exist in a space where there is a persistent and hungry desire to destroy you.
Black women are not afforded the privilege of nuance. We are not allowed to express ourselves. To be angry. To demand respect. Or love. Or balance. We are discouraged from challenging. From asking for support. From fighting for our equality.
To be clear, we are not victims. In fact, it is a testament to our strength that we thrive the way that we do. Black women are the most educated people in America. We are lovers and mothers and sisters and friends. We are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs. We are CEOs and executives. Teachers and pastors. Artists. Architects of a destiny we snatched from a world that wanted to give us nothing. We took your crumbs and we built kingdoms.
Yet, Black female greatness is, for so many, the bitterest of pills to swallow. Because it is in our success that we hold a mirror to the world, reminding everyone of the magic we have made out of nothing. But like in all dark fairytales, magic comes at a price. The resentment of our thoughts, our imperfections and for speaking “out of turn” is at the very lifeblood for the hatred toward us. And like all life, it cannot be contained. It is the monster under our beds, always hungry, and always chasing us.
Consider the danger of the beast of resentment toward Black female opinions with two very different headlines that speak to the very same issue.
First, the audacity of comedienne Mo’Nique to ask her fans to boycott Netflix, the veritable juggernaut of streaming media and everyone’s beloved way to spend a Sunday afternoon, over what she felt was unfair pay. She told anyone who would listen that she would not accept the $500K they offered her for a special in the wake of them offering comedienne Amy Schumer $11M and Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock both $20M for similar deals.
Almost immediately, it became the “put your foot down” moment heard ’round the world. Here, a plus size Black woman, already rich when so many of us are trying to just make do, whose label of “difficult” has been accepted without question, daring to ask for what she thinks she deserves. Mo’Nique’s immense talent, her legacy, her DECADES-long career that includes her own television show and an Oscar, seemed suddenly irrelevant in the conversation. Almost immediately, her decision to express her opinion birthed the grimmest of professional outcomes. Barely a moment after the words had passed from her lips, all the world could focus on was an alleged bitchy, middle-aged Black woman, whom the Hollywood machine was ready to toss away, no longer playing by the rules. The rapid pace with which we were ready to dismiss and discard her, all because she wouldn’t shut up and take what she got, was downright frightening.
But understand that this goes even beyond the destruction of a career. This beast can even hunt Black women all the way to the end of their lives. Consider the recent news about Korryn Gaines, the beautiful, strong-willed young woman killed by Baltimore police in 2016. In the weeks leading up to her death, Korryn had publicly talked of police trying to kill her. In a defiant voice, she recorded diatribes against America’s beloved “Boys In Blue,” then dared to arm herself up until her final moments, when she was fatally shot in front of her 5-year-old son.
In the aftermath, the common and persisting thread was that she was “crazy” and “brought it on herself,” all of which was deduced from less than 10 minutes of internet footage. But just last week, a jury of 6 women awarded her family $37M in a civil suit, noting that the officer who delivered the fatal shot to Korryn and injured her young son in the process, violated both of their civil rights.
I could write volumes on women with similar experiences. On Sandra Bland, who died in police custody after being jailed for little more than having “an attitude.” On Natasha McKenna for suffering from mental illness. On women like Marilyn Mosby whose careers have been sidelined for challenging the justice system. On millions of Black women every day who are labeled “lost causes.” Whose colleagues or partners call them difficult, disrespectful, has-beens, greedy or sassy.
To use your voice as a Black woman is to bring any and all consequences on yourself. And, oh, how so many take comfort in that belief. At best, blaming Black women for how the world feels about us appeases the feeling that one hasn’t done enough in the quest for equality. At worst, it masks the ugly truth that so many simply don’t want to do anything at all.
And yet, Black women show up to battle each day, both for ourselves and each other. We are generals in our crusade for respect, our melanin a beautiful armor bestowed upon us from the ancestors. Black women’s strength, cultivated by daily steadying of hands, raising of voices and fueled by the fire in our minds, has always been the true vibranium. It is the shield that deflects the insults, the abuse and the indifference.
We know we will not win every battle. There will be days when we walk and grow weary; when the weight of it all will seem too much to bear. When our tears will sting our eyes and our wounds will need time for healing. But we will always persist, arm in arm, as sisters. We will drown your disrespect with our opinions and bring you to your knees with our greatness. You can hate us. But you will never break us.