“You don’t know, and there’s no way in the world for you to find out, what it’s like to be a black woman in this world…”- Ida Scott, from James Baldwin’s Another Country
The globally trending Twitter hashtag #HowItFeelsToBeABlackGirl reminded me of the quote above, and it’s true. Without being a black woman, it is impossible to know of and associate with their experiences, which, no matter how “integrated” our society is, will be vastly different from the experiences of others.
The trend was inspired by a YouTube web series, which the creator Jada Mosely hopes will become a networking tool for African American women.
#HowItFeelsToBeABlackGirl has since been tweeted over 21,000 times in the last 24 hours.
#HowItFeelsToBeABlackGirl: Braids? "You look like a child." Weave/perm? "You trying to be a white girl?" Natural? "You look like a slave."
— Lexi (@LexiFC) June 20, 2015
#HowItFeelsToBeABlackGirl when people don't realize "you're pretty for a dark skinned girl" is not a compliment.
— Jasmine (@jasminefrrr) June 18, 2015
The need to reassert the strong black female voice comes hot on the heels of news stories that have shocked the African American community, such as the tragedy in Charleston and the revelation that NAACP member Rachel Dolezal was falsely posing as a black woman.
Many felt anger towards Dolezal because they felt that she was trivialising the experiences and struggles of a true black woman. Deciding to identify as black, is like “adopting a race and not carrying the burdens,” according to one writer.
Whilst her commitment to her cause is undeniable, many are left confused and baffled at the possibility of a radically new concept that you can identify yourself as a different non-biological race.
But it’s not a radically new concept to me, which is why I cannot bring myself to use the #HowItFeelsToBeABlackGirl hashtag.
Let’s get one thing straight. I am a mixed raced woman, with mixed white and black Caribbean heritage, and I identify myself as such. I do not identify as white or black.
I do however, know many mixed raced women of black and white descent who identify themselves as “black,” or in rarer cases, as socially “white.”
One of my friends acknowledges that she is mixed race, but identifies more with “white” culture because she was raised by her white family, having no contact with her Indian heritage from her Father’s side. She however, realises that the colour of her skin will prevent her from ever being accepted to identify as “white.”
I consider myself lucky that I have had equal appreciation of my white and black heritage, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced racism, or other social, political and economic struggles from being “coloured.”
As much as I associate with many of the #HowItFeelsToBeABlackGirl tweets (with hair being a big talking point- if you wear it natural, you look like a “slave,” if you wear a weave or have it relaxed, you’re “trying to be white,”) I feel the hashtag unconsciously excludes girls of various racial backgrounds like me, who do not identify as purely “black.”
There will never be a #HowItFeelsToBeAMixedRaceGirl hashtag, because everyone of mixed black and white heritage is assumed to be “black,” everyone from white and Chinese/Indian heritage is assumed to be “Asian,” and the list goes on like that, no matter what racial combination you use.
People don’t know how it feels to be a mixed raced girl even less than they know what it’s like to be a black girl.
I have always identified as being mixed race (#tbt)
They don’t know that when I walk down the street with my white mother, some people are assuming that my Dad up and left, when he is actually happily married to my mother and has supported me and my family my entire life.
They don’t know that people ask if my brothers and I have the same father/mother because we all have slightly different skin tones.
They don’t know that I was nicknamed “lighty” for a short period at school, and as a result was excluded from the predominantly black group.
They don’t know that people always put my looks down to my mixed heritage, like God overdosed on the beauty potion when he created all mixed raced people in the same melting pot.
These are just a few of the reasons as to why I can’t use the #HowItFeelsToBeaBlackGirl hashtag; not just because I don’t identify as black but also because my experiences as a mixed race girl are different from that of a black girl.
And why should mixed raced women be denied the same liberation as black women?
Maybe it’s because the society likes to, quite literally, see things in black and white. Maybe if we saw all the equally beautiful colours in between, we wouldn’t be a society so hell bent on division.
I’m not excusing Dolezal’s actions, and I’m not comparing her to the struggles of racial identity experienced by mixed raced people. But she is a white woman who believes in the voice, freedom and liberation of black women.
And maybe women of all races should liberate each other, rather than female liberation being reduced to a racially exclusive hashtag.