Reclaiming My Black Womanhood: Lessons My Daughter Taught Me

By Harris, Charlie Lollis | Journal of Colorism Studies, October 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

Reclaiming My Black Womanhood: Lessons My Daughter Taught Me


Harris, Charlie Lollis, Journal of Colorism Studies


"Hello, my name is Charlie and I am a recovering Black woman." My stereotypical masculine name means "free man" which I facetiously laud as a good thing because I have grown up in a society that has often denied my black womanhood. Over the past three years, I have been on a reconnaissance mission to recover it. In a seemingly progressive quest to understand gendered and racial inequality, discussions and depictions of race and gender often center around people of color and women, but less often people of color who are women. Not only are Black women presumed to share a universal experience with Black men, our heterogeneity as women, is relegated to a stereotyped one-size fits all expression of our womanhood. When the topic of womanhood is the subject of academic discourse, frequently it is reserved to denote the experiences of white women or at the very least when it is more inclusive non-white women are presumed to share similar values and ideals. In my field, this is salient in body image research that does not always address factors salient to black girls and women such as skin color, body size, and hair when we are included in multiethnic samples. This ethnocentric perspective invalidates the womanhood of women of color, supporting theories of intersectional invisibility. The invisibility of black womanhood is also ever-present in popular media and culture. Shug et al. (2015) recently studied gendered race prototypes in print media. Their analysis of over 8,500 depictions of individuals in 30 issues across six popular magazines, found that Black women proportionally were less likely to be depicted compared to other gendered race groups.

Raising a black girl has made me sensitive to these and other issues related to black womanhood and the potential negative impact of not seeing ourselves reflected in the eyes of our mothers and the social representations of black women in larger society. As a mother, I feel it is my responsibility to discover and reclaim my Black womanhood so that I can teach my daughter that she is special because she is black, not in spite of being black which I fear is the nuanced message she receives being raised in a majority culture. Capodilupo & Kim's (2013) qualitative inquiries documented that young Black women feel that social assumptions and experiences are impacted by their hair and skin, and that these experiences influence their body image. Specifically, concerns and experiences that communicate that longer hair and weaves and lighter skin tones are more desirable is internalized as an important part of their self-concept, making some of them feel that they may not be as beautiful with their natural hair while concurrently causing others to feel guilty for being light-skinned.

Interestingly enough, my mission to recover my natural hair was for the benefit of my daughter and stimulated by comments she made about her natural hair. About three years ago, I was wearing my hair straightened from a chemical relaxer and debating about reverting to my natural hair again. Years before my daughter was born, I had liberated myself from my attachment to chemically straightened hair by cutting it and wearing a short natural. After a few years, I wanted more variety and flexibility in my hair styles and began relaxing my hair again, growing it out and wearing weaves when I wanted a new look. Straightening and weaving my hair was not a reflection or expression of my "blackness" and did not suggest that I inherently saw long, straight hair as more valuable, but my daughter was too young to appreciate this distinction. She wanted "hair like mine", the straight hair she saw when she looked at me and the images of women in shampoo and make up commercials. These images did not reflect the one staring back at her when she gazed into the mirror and saw her short, unruly, cottony hair. After she told me she wanted hair that looked like mine, I recovered my natural hair. It was one thing to tell her she had beautiful hair and another to show her. …

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