August 16th 2014 04:10
By Tayllor Johnson
You are walking down the street as a woman of color minding your own business, listening to your music that blends with the day in every way (most recently for me it’s been Trey Songz, don’t judge). And then, up ahead you notice another woman of color walking your way; she notices you too. You pay her no mind and continue on in your mental music video. But something doesn’t feel right, you look up; she is still looking at you: stern face, forceful strut, and defensive eyes. You are confused as she looks at your hair, shirt, pants, shoes, back up to your face and you can see that she has rated you, judged you, as she passed by rolling her eyes. You continue down the street confused, vulnerable, and kind of pissed. What reason did she have to give you attitude? You did not know her. Did you? Why did she assume you to be her nemesis in mere seconds?
This has been my experience for years. Each individual judgment seems trivial, maybe one woman with a bad attitude or having a bad day. But it happens regularly and is an example of a multifaceted problem among women of color: we spend less time building each other up and more time sizing each other up. Every time we do this, we break each other down. Why? Why is it that I can pass almost anybody else and offer an easy smile but with women of the same skin-tone or similar it is an all-out silent war of who is better, launched in milliseconds? The sidewalk is not the place to be battling for space. I’d like to save that fight for spaces that matter, for spaces we as women of color have been pushed out of.
For a long time I was pushed out of many circles for not being “black-enough” or “ghetto-enough” or “straight haired enough” or “dark enough” and the list goes on. As a result, I was always the one looking in from the outside, an observer to the black woman experience but not feeling whole as a black woman myself. Not until I went to an all-women’s college was I was able to experience a different type of sisterhood, a sisterhood that mainstream black media talks about but that seems lacking in real life. I was able to build up myself by building up others. “Black woman” no longer meant what I wore, whom I was with, or how my hair looked. Instead, it became the value in my voice and the inspiration in my character. I found women of color that supported success and did not feel the need to compete for scraps; we were all going for the four-course meal, and we were going together. And those who chose not to build that sisterhood, stuck out like tacky, rusted metal in our indestructible chain link. Once I found sisterhood I no longer had to worry or question the black woman in me.
But college is only 9 months out of the year, and soon I was cast back into the psyche of the broader United States, a psyche that is oftentimes confused, biased, and ignorant. There I found I was still the Imaginary Enemy.
I was challenged everywhere I looked for sisterhood, I was called “bourgeoisie,”“white-washed” and more. I could not understand why. As much as we women of color fight for deserved spaces, win them over, and claim them for ourselves in this country, seldom do we ever share them with our peers of color; instead we fight each other like we are on rations, like there is no more space to share, so F*ck off! This is self-defeat. We compare and rate ourselves on mainstream America’s scale then place that right on our sisters. We contaminate our own movements with gossip and betrayal because that is what being a “strong black women means” to the media. Then we look at each other as the competition. So why in the world would I want to join hands and fight oppression with the same person who wants my head?
Answer: I choose not to until we mend the relationships within our own community. Once we stop biting off empowerment from others we can begin to heal as a unit. Alone we are a disjointed movement at best, but together we can be a revolution.
So the short answer: Why did I make this shirt? To inspire the conversation. Each time I have worn this shirt I have had a conversation about women’s experiences of breaking other women down instead of building each other up. It is not a sufficient goal that black media display sisterhood; what is needed is a lifestyle of sisterhood . It should be easier to find a sister than an enemy in this country, and today, I choose to walk by a woman of color and pay a compliment instead of offering attitude.
Coming Soon to an Educated Woman Near You!
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