Did White Women Deny Black Women “Womanhood”?

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If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.- Audre Lorde

MYTH: White women denied cis Black women “womanhood”.

One of my sermons by my home church Pastor has to be the one where he preached these words: “Stop worrying about people who have no heaven nor hell to put you in.”

Contextually, he was speaking about how often we human beings allow worrying about what other people will think or say, stop us in our tracks.

I heard that sermon two decades ago and I still mentally refer back to it when I am tempted to return to my old ways of being overly concerned about the thoughts and opinions of others.

Something has always bothered me about people in everyday conversation about women saying: “White women denied Black women womanhood.”

It never set right because this statement isn’t true. Black women were not denied our womanhood by white women. White women don’t own womanhood. Most Black women know this. You can’t deny what isn’t yours to give.

FACT: White women have denied Black women of solidarity, access to opportunities, platforms, empathy, and their voices…their presence….their action on issues of significant importance to Black women.

As a longtime student of Black womanhood,  I have yet to see, read, or hear of a Black woman celebrating her “womanhood” because a white woman acknowledged it, or gave it to her. Unless of course, that white woman happened to be a relative whose opinion mattered to her. Rarely will you come across a Black woman who believes that white women own “womanhood.”  That some white woman holds the key to her, a Black woman’s “womanhood”. Have you met Black women?

Are we aware that a lot of white women don’t see Black women as delicate? feminine? lady-like?  That a lot of white women see Black women as being angry without justification? too loud? a little too confident or bold for their comfort.

Yes. AND white women, in spite of what they may have a difficult time believing, don’t have a trademark or exclusive license to “womanhood”. This would be as absurd as believing that white people are the owners of what it means to be human, and Black people throughout the world are waiting for some kind white person to bestow “humanhood” upon them.

Now granted, there are a visible and vocal few Black people who are doing just that, but we just continue to pray they get delivered from their delusions.

No one can give you permission to be you. You are you. Period.

It’s an important lesson in both courage, resilience and self esteem.  You are who you are whether anyone acknowledges you, supports you, gives you access, uplifts you, etc…

It’s the message healers & speakers often leave with people struggling

……people who have little hope of ever leaving prison are still people.

……..people who may not ever repair some of the broken relationships of their past are can still be lovable, and build new stronger relationships that meet their individual needs.

…….people who will likely never again be connected to their families of origin because abuse blocked that road a long time ago, can still build and create new families and strong friendships.

……in my time working with people who suddenly found themselves with disabling limitations, an important message to our clients was….you are still a fully formed human being with likes, dislikes, preference, hopes and dreams.  I didn’t give them humanity. They already had it. Our job was to provide support while they discovered it for themselves.

Years later, as a person who acquired a disability, I later had to embrace this understanding for my own life.

Speaking of……..a therapist doesn’t give you healing.  They are a knowledgeable person who supports you as “you” heal and discover your own inner strengths.

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.- Audre Lorde

From the movie: Dr. Detroit (1983)

“That girl is COLORED!”

Thelma Cleland:
“Honey, nobody ‘colored’ me! I was born this way!”

I had no business watching Dr. Detroit at the young age that I did. BUT, it was funny and I loved it.  My favorite scene is the courtroom scene where a young Lynn Whitfield’s character informs the judge that she is not colored.  That scene spoke to me because she was familiar. She was my aunt, grandmother, mother. That was a fiery spirit that I was extremely familiar with.

My mother, aunts, and grandmothers were and will always be my models for Black womanhood. In fact, I distinctly remember my own mother reading the feminist must-have books of the times, then soundly rejecting them as being “not my story”.

Sure, it was some women’s stories but not hers. That didn’t mean her own story wasn’t a story of womanhood.

It didn’t mean that their story wasn’t a story of womanhood. Both were.


Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story: “The theft of brown women’s narratives is not only an injustice placed on them, but also one extended to their male counterparts; by insisting they need to be liberated from their ‘barbaric’ civilization, Laura [Bush] summoned the colonial assertion that brown women need saving from brown men, when, in actuality, brown women have suffered at the hands of white men more than at those of any other oppressor in history.”

Black women have been denied the listening ear of white women.“As white women ignore their built-in privilege of whiteness and define woman in terms of their own experience alone, then women of Color become “other,” the outsider whose experience and tradition is too “alien” to comprehend.”
― Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Black women have heard the silence from white women on issues pertaining to Black children, our spouses, uncles, fathers, …..our entire families.

I like the way that Reni Eddo-Lodge puts it in her bestselling book, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”.

“Who dares to create a space “I don’t want to be included. Instead, I want to question who created the standard in the first place. After a lifetime of embodying difference, I have no desire to be equal. I want to deconstruct the structural power of a system that marked me out as different. I don’t wish to be assimilated into the status quo. I want to be liberated from all the negative assumptions that my characteristics bring. The same onus is not on me to change.

Instead, it’s the world around me..”

Having had the privilege to spend a lot of time with older Black women, this is a sentiment I was familiar with seeing wise Black women walk proudly in.  I’ve had the privilege of being an eyewitness to Black woman living out the words of Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

People continue to steal and appropriate from Black women while leaving the lessons of the creation behind. If they would get the lesson, they may actually have a better chance of never having to steal, plagiarize, nor appropriate in the first place.

Black women haven’t historically created styles, trends, and inventions because it would be pleasing to man/men. Instead, they decided against all the odds, naysayers, and haters to do what was pleasing to them. To create what made their lives easier. To invent what they wanted to have.

To dress, wear their hair, and behave in ways that felt beautiful and/or comfortable to them.

What would I do if I could count on the same group of people getting angry, offended, confused, or outraged anyhow?  Who would I be if I already knew a certain segment of the population would hate me on-site?  Generally, since most Black women already have it in the back of their minds that no one comes to the rescue and protection of Black women anyway……you might as well “just do you.”

If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency. bell hooks

Quietly observing the exchange of sass, slang, recipes, tips, and laughs between these women; It seemed to me, that no one had to give them permission to be, they just took it upon themselves.  And, yes, a whole lot of correction and fussing was a signal to me that they expected me to grow up and do the same.

Or as Audre Lorde puts it: I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

Black women have been denied opportunities by white women

  1. Black women have been denied platforms by white women.

How can they give something back that they don’t believe they have? I don’t either.

WW denied BW access, equality, solidarity, listening, fighting w/us for justice, opportunities, & platforms.

For Black women as well as Black men, it is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others — for their use and to our detriment.

I’ve had white friends and colleagues ask me variations of: “How are Black women so self-assured?” “how are you so bold…so confident”  

They didn’t mean that we don’t experience human emotions like worry, sadness, discouragement, hopelessness. For indeed if they knew me well enough to be comfortable asking this question they knew that have experienced all of these emotions.  The only way you can succeed in a world that views your humanity as less than is to hold onto your humanity even more tightly.  To be self-assured in your humanity, your womanhood, your invitation by a divine being not just to exist but to have joy and thrive.

I’ll have you know that as a group, Black women determined long ago: I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.-bell hooks.

“I can’t believe my good fortune. I’m so grateful to be a Black woman.

I would be so jealous if I were anything else.”

– Maya Angelou












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