One time for my LA sisters
One time for my LA hoes
Lame niggas can’t tell the difference
One time for a nigga who knows
J Cole’s catchy chant in “No Role Modelz” reminds us that there’s a difference between hoes and sisters. This meme reminds us that there’s a difference between queens and peasants. I am reminded of how commonplace it is to evaluate Black women’s worth based on how we choose to represent ourselves. And that makes me feel some typa way.
The intention of these messages is to promote self-respect in a society that has profited from demeaning us. To celebrate images of Black womanhood that are not predicated upon hyper-sexuality and one-dimensional tropes. But, for me, the intention is lost in a tone that echoes sentiments that were used to dehumanize Black women during slavery and to distinguish them from their white counterparts post-slavery. A Tumblr author called blackfemalepresident puts my feelings colorfully and concisely, stating:
“if your ‘pro-black woman’ movement does not include hoodrats & ratchet black women, because ‘theyre not queens/theyre setting black women back’, your movement is bullshit and I want no part of it
any movement that segregates my sisters into ‘good and respectable’ and ‘bad and deserves disrespect’ categories is harmful and bullshiterious”
In her book Killing the Black Body, Professor Dorothy E. Roberts introduces her text by expounding on the ways early narratives written about Black women served to justify controlling their reproductive liberties. She writes,
“Whites believed that Black mothers needed the moral guidance that slavery once afforded. Eleanor Tayleur, for example, argued that deprived of the intimate contact with their morally superior white mistresses, freed Black women displayed uncontrolled passion and ignorance. ‘The modern negro woman,’ Tayleur complained, ‘has no such object-lesson in morality or modesty, and she wants none.”
So, according to Tayleur, when given the agency to control their own bodies, Black women are reckless, promiscuous and dumb. I was most struck, though, by the last line: “The modern negro woman has no…morality or modesty, and she wants none.” I swear to you the moment I read it, I sang in my head to the tune of “No Role Modelz” (borrowed from Project Pat*) “Don’t save her. She don’t wanna be saved.”
At a moment when many of us are attempting to deconstruct and dismantle systems that dehumanize Black people globally, employing divisive ideologies that mimic the logic of the oppressor does not serve that mission. But I understand why it’s challenging. Sometimes it feels like a catch 22. Over time, we have accepted and adopted a lot of the ideas projected onto our communities by oppressors. How can we encourage change in our behavior and resistance to those ideas without reinforcing some of those same narratives? There isn’t a simple answer, but I have some thoughts.
- Avoid class-shaming, culture-shaming, and lifestyle-shaming within oppressed communities in tandem with confronting discrimination from the oppressive class. People become defensive when they feel that their environments, loved ones, and personal liberties are being judged, even in the name of community uplift. Black women in particular are all too familiar with external scrutiny and judgment under the guise of a noble cause.
- Support and share diverse, alternative representations of Black womanhood. The uprise in Black women wearing their natural hair and African-inspired styles is symptomatic of having access to more images, which has led to sharing more stories and tips with one another, which has led to a transformation in the Black haircare product industry, which has led to blooming digital and physical communities dedicated to this aesthetic. Hair is a cosmetic subject, but it has fostered new dialogues about beauty standards. It is merely one example of how combating dominant ideas by showing alternative options is more effective than simply wagging a disapproving finger in the face of a woman who wears weave, for instance.
- Be transparent about your own versatility and contradictions. Don’t get so drunk off of your own kool-aid that you have to be dishonest about the things that amuse you, be defensive about your personal choices, or be secretive about the things that bring you joy. Also, don’t be blind to the ways that you, too, are implicated in oppressive tendencies. Guaranteed, you have habits that are products of your privilege. You have become dependent on certain luxuries that come at the expense of someone else’s suffering. You’ve been entertained by something that offends someone. But the key is to recognize that this doesn’t negate your ability to make real changes for the greater good. On the contrary, being conscious of where you are positioned in the system will inform your tactics for making change. And being unapologetic about your complexity will assure that you remain whole.
I’d like to see us stop classifying one another based on some of the same criteria slave masters and mistresses, “scientists,” “sociologists,” and “politicians” have. I’d like to see us express love for one another by validating our individual agency and celebrating our collective diversity. Ultimately, what we want is a society that is just despite how we represent ourselves, not in reaction to it. Right?
*The lyrics to the chorus of Project Pat’s “Don’t Save Her” are “Don’t save her. She don’t wanna be saved. (Ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the money and power).” Cole’s iteration of the song excludes that line.
What other ways can we encourage self-love without being judgmental? Share your thoughts!