I’m walking through a busy train station and a man stops me to tell me that he thinks I’m beautiful. Now I’m not one of those women who don’t know how to take a compliment, so I smiled and said “Thank you,” but before I can continue walking he asks me, “what are you?” I’m a bit confused by this question so I’m looking at him like what do you mean? He responses “are you mixed with something?” Tired of these types of questions I said, “I’m just black.” Meaning that I am Black American. 

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Nothing to see here….just being black. Whatever that means.

If I had a buck for every time a man asked me “What are you?” as if I’m some foreign creature after giving me a compliment…I’d probably be able to pay off my student loans and believe me, that’s a lot of money. But every single time a man…mainly a black man gives me a compliment on my hair, my skin, my eyes, or my figure…it’s immediately followed by “what are you?” My response is always “I’m just black.” They never believe me for some reason so they start throwing out nationalities as if my answer of being “just black” is going to change. “You Jamaican?” “No.” “You Haitian?” “No.” “You African?” “No…I’m just black.” It’s as if I have to be something other than just black…meaning Black American in order for their compliments to be validated. Why can’t all the things that make me beautiful be okay on a just black woman? What does “just black” look like anyway for it to be unbelievable that I am? It’s bad enough that black women have to put up with European beauty standards as is, but why do I get a disappointed “oh” when they finally accept that I’m just black. It made me realize that the beauty standards in the black community, amongst the black community, within the black community are just as bad as European expectations and it’s usually rooted in biases that comes with one’s nationality.

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Perplexed by this and curious, I brought the topic up to a male friend and he was confused at first because his idea of “just black” was the same as mine. I’m not mixed with anything nor am I a first generation of any other cultural background therefore, I identify as “black,” but when I told him the scenario, the multiple scenarios of me being asked “what are you,” he had some sort of an “ah ha” moment because as a Jamaican man he realized what I meant by being a “just black” woman. According to him, as a West Indian man, there is a stereotype or a stigma attached to women who are just black. For whatever reason, he claimed that most men of other cultural backgrounds usually prefer to date within their culture because there is a negative view when it comes to the upbringing and the mannerisms of “just black” women. He painted the picture of a just black woman as a LL Cool J type of ghetto around the way girl as if she’s loud, unappealing and difficult….clearly I’m far from all of that so I was a bit bewildered, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. African American women have been at the bottom of the totem pole for as long as we’ve existed despite all of our accomplishments and magic. Within our own culture, we are often victims of shadism, we deal with backlash because of our nationalities, etc. In conclusion, he said that maybe I looked approachable, unlike most black women.

This brought me to my next question. I looked “approachable unlike most black women,” what do most black women look like and how do you make a clear distinction of someone’s nationality just by looking at them? I wondered how am I supposed to look? The point is, as a unit…as people of color…as the essence of blackness, we have to do better. We have to do better in-house and change the way we view each other because we are a powerful people and it doesn’t matter if you are Jamaican, Haitian, African or just black. The standards of your blackness doesn’t change just because your nationality is different and of course because black is beautiful.

The video above is one of Tiffany “New York” Pollard expressing her issues with colorism after being offended by a remark made by someone on the same show as her. She said something that’s stood out to be since seeing this clip months ago. She said:

If you are going to stand in it [blackness], stand in it in ALL shades.

That statement alone summed up exactly how I feel when a “BLACK” person, regardless of nationality fixes their lips to speak down on another black sub-nationality. Yes, take pride in being African, take pride in being West Indian, but you are also black so take pride in standing in that as well.

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Whenever I find myself in a bind or need some advice, I always assemble what I call the “think-tank” comprised of my closest friends. I can’t help but feel like i’m assembling the Justice League at a round table to solve a crime, but in reality I get the mass 9-1-1 emergency group text going as sit back and listen and get the full perspective of all my friends. I couldn’t imagine where I would be without the sisterhood in my life and why it’s so beneficial.

Women are often stereotyped with being “petty”, “drama-queens” and it is said that we just don’t get along with each other. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a young lady state that she does not like to hang around other women because it’s too much drama. We as women need to reestablish what it means to be a sisterhood no matter what parts of life we stem from. There are several benefits of having a strong sisterhood.

Sisterhood helps to build accountability relationships. Whether you are struggling financially, spiritually, physically or academically you can depend on your sisterhood network to help you through it and hold you accountable to your growth plan. Having someone call you up or check in on you to make sure you are holding up your end of your solution plan is necessary. When times get rough we all need the cushion of sisterhood to fall back on. We all need a sisterhood support system to point us in the right direction to getting help for anything in our lives.

Sisterhood helps us improve our self-image and create our own identities. As women we often are our own worst critics when it comes to our appearance. We also become body obsessed with images of “perfection” according to what we see in different mediums. Being around other women helps us to feel good about ourselves and confident in embracing our individuality. A great example of this would be the national campaign launched by Dove that focuses on women of different sizes and colors. The campaign was one of the first to challenge beauty standards in USA. It’s forced women all over to work to redefine what beauty is in the hopes of boosting self-esteem in all of us.

Sisterhood can be very uplifting and empowering which in turn offers great support systems. These support systems help us learn about our own selves and get us through the toughest of times. They also help us celebrate the good in our lives as a unit. We embrace our struggles, celebrate our accomplishments and our cultural heritage.

Sisterhood teaches us a great lesson on love and patience. As women, we are biologically more emotionally driven than men are which means that the way we resolve conflicts are different. Sometimes we get emotional and say or do things we shouldn’t. It takes a lot of patience and love to get through even the worst of times together.

I also realized how important sisterhood was to my spiritual journey. As someone raised on Christian principles, I have always found myself teetering between the practices of the faith and just completely distancing myself from it. I’m constantly warring between what I’ve been taught to believe and the beliefs that I’ve formulated myself. Whenever I find myself at a crossroads or at a standstill spiritually I know that I can always rely on some of my network of sisters to help me find clarity, pray with me, for me or do a devotional with me to help me through. When in doubt and when I want to push them away, I’ve learned to pull them closer.

So before you consider knocking friendships with women because of drama, think of all the benefits that come along with it. As women we need to learn to stick together against all odds and call on our own Justice League “think tank” from time to time.