By Ngozi Kemjika
Picture this — a hot summer afternoon in New York. My skin is sticky from the humidity, and I can’t wait to get back to my apartment to take my second shower of the day. As I walk through Harlem—internationally known as one of the Black meccas of the world—I’m greeted by newly gentrified pockets of the neighbourhood (a thesis we shall leave for another day).
In the midst of what some have deemed the “end of Black Harlem” I stumble across blackness in one of its purest forms. Black girl joy.
Racing in and out of a nearby waterfall blasting from a hydrant, laughing with one another, is a group of black girls, no older than 6 or 7.
I can’t help but smile. My heart suddenly warms. There’s something so special to me about seeing black girls filled with joy. Maybe it’s because I remember the years when I was young, black, and carefree. The years when I didn’t have to think about the implications of race.
I’ve always loved my blackness, despite not always feeling self-confident. Growing up in a 2-parent Nigerian home, I was taught to be proud of who I was and where I came from. I knew that my blackness was something to celebrate. Nevertheless, when I stepped outside the comfort of my home, societal constructs slapped me right in the face.
Being born and raised in a predominantly white British city, where at the time being a black female was not valued or considered attractive, was oftentimes a difficult cross to carry. Being proud of the history of my skin and being self-assured actually walking in my dark skin, felt almost mutually exclusive. Naturally this took a toll on my self-esteem, which took me some years to rectify.
That’s why it is so important to me, to let young black girls know that they are wonderful, worthy, multi-dimensional beings, able to be anything they put their minds to.
A few days later, The Lion King: The Gift (otherwise known as the latest Beyoncé album) dropped, and I heard “Brown Skin Girl.” When Blue Ivy belted out her lyrics, my eyes filled with tears. Dramatic, I know. But I knew that this was the mainstream song I needed to hear when I was a child. Thank God for those Knowles sisters!
all roads lead to society
I don’t have the capacity (or the word count) to go into all the details of why there is so much societal pressure on black girls that would require a thesis and a history lesson. But Google is your (and my) best friend. To give you a head-start, I’ve listed some links below:
- A Twitter thread about nightlife and Black women
- An article about how real life prejudices towards Black women transpire in reality TV
- An article about a 9-year-old Black girl who committed suicide, after racist bullying
- A Twitter thread on subtle racism and how a British platform portrayed Serena Williams
Of course, I cannot speak for the entire population of black women. We all have different life experiences, but for many of us our blackness, coupled with growing up in the West, has been something in which we have had to learn to stand boldly.
We live in a world where the vast majority of women who are celebrated by mainstream media look nothing like us – where we face racism, colorism, and sexism every day. In addition, black women can also be reduced within their own communities (again, another thesis).
We cannot ignore the effects that society has had on black women, but we can work to dismantle the systems whose sole intentions are to damage our self-esteem, and socio-economic, buying, and political status (the list goes on).
I would argue that having to consistently face these challenges affects black women and how they perceive themselves differently than any other demographic. I would also argue that how black women manage this self-perception can birth 1 of 2 outcomes: self-sabotage or self-love.
the strong black women — myth or reality?
Whilst I cannot deny that the idea of the *strong black woman* also comes with its own negative connotations and implications on mental well-being, it goes without saying that whatever the world throws at black women, they always seem to transmute that darkness into light.
There is much we could ALL learn from the tenacity of black women, because to be honest, to survive and thrive in this world as one is an achievement in itself. Black women have revolutionised what it means to love yourself — because we’ve had no other option.
dear black girl
I hold on to that image of the black girls playing.
Call it utopian, but I hope that they never have to stop brimming with the joy I met them with. I hope that if society does try to infringe on their joy, they will have the tools to know their value. And for the times they forget, I hope they find this reminder:
When they break you down—
think of Rosa Parks and how she stood up for what she believed in.
When they build walls—
think of Lisa Price who created her own dream in her kitchen.
When they close doors—
think of the efforts of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963.
When they tell you, you aren’t good enough—
think of Oprah, and how she was demoted when she first started out.
When they write you off—
think of yourself, and all the doors others fought to open just for you.
We do not wait for the world to tell us,
What we already know.
For we have seen over and over again,
that the world is often late to catch up to greatness.
So we uplift ourselves.
We love on ourselves.
Through it all.
we encourage one another
to do the same.
We celebrate our blackness,
like everything good can come from her—because—
Ngozi Kemjika is a Speaker, Writer, and Life Coach. She is also the author of 'Before the Butterfly Wakes,' a collection of poetry and prose focused on self-love, healing and transformation. She uses her platform to speak to people about the importance of self-acceptance, growth, purpose and the potent power that lives within us all. Ngozi’s work has been praised and featured on platforms such as Well+Good, Whitewall Magazine, Teen Vogue and Soho House. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @simply_ngo.