She Who Blacks Best: a psychology and a phenomenal lie.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Originally this post was titled ‘She Who Blogs best’ and it had been one of those write-ups described in my post on self-censorship, relegated to forever dwell unpublished, in the darkest depths of my drafts. But after getting my life from the earth shattering, existentially affirming force that was Black women at the 67th Annual Emmy Awards, I realised something. The content of this post transcends She who blogs best. It’s pertinent to Black women who blog, write, act, sing, dance, photograph, model, research, study, or run a business. It’s pertinent to those of us who undertake a role in any space – professional or otherwise – where we are underrepresented, where we are tokens or model minorities, and therefore where our achievement alongside one another can seem like zero-sum game. This one’s for all of you, my sisters.

Ok, let’s go.

I personally feel pressurised to churn out content as I see other young everyday women joining the blogging community each week, especially young, everyday Black British women. These are the women in my lane, women with whom I want to identify and connect. They all have such inspiring designs and captivating content, making me look at my barely-there blog and think “ew. You’re doing it wrong, dear.” Upon reflection, I realised that “it” was a code word, a code word I was using to obscure what I really meant, lest cognitive dissonance were to kick in and make me uncomfortable. “It” is ‘Black British woman blogger’ i.e. taking up a space, as a Black British woman.

I’m uncomfortable with the reality that for all of my self-awareness, I had internalised the phenomenal lie that states, “there can only be one,” a lie that betrays a psychology wherein Black Womanhood is a competition in which we can only tear one another down. Among those of us who have internalised this lie, there are two reactions I have noticed. Some shrink away from taking up space, like I have in the past. Whilst I could support and be happy for those Black women who were already there and taking up a space I wanted to be in, I subconsciously felt that there was no room for me.

After all, what could I possibly add? There’s already a Black woman over there. That’s enough. She’s doing it best. I couldn’t stand out. I wouldn’t thrive.

But what a grossly unfair burden to load my fellow Black women with! How can they as the one or the few that are already there doing “it” possibly encompass all of the nuances of Black Womanhood? And what a disservice I do myself!

The other reaction is that some recognise other Black women as their competition in what they perceive can only ever be a zero-sum game. A situation in my former workplace comes to mind. I was new, polished, well dressed, ‘articulately spoken’, reportedly good at the job, and evidently a Black woman. My entire team met me with enthusiasm and cordiality, except for one person, Yvonne, the only other Black woman. She didn’t so little as accept the hand I extended for a shake. Instead she tilted her head to one side and with a cool indifference said, “no one told me she was Black.” Not wanting to entertain abrasive energy during my first hour at my new job, I turned to face another colleague and changed the subject. I suspected many reasons for her hostility and the undermining campaigns she would soon make. But during a post-work drinks session, I overheard the reason that I had hoped against; it was because I was another Black woman. She imagined my existence in that space to be a threat to the fullness of hers. She imagined that my Black Womanhood in that seemingly limited space would best hers.

But consciously, I’m against that psychology and that lie. Black Womanhood is not a competition. There is room for more than one. There is a need for more than one. I confidently know that we are able to support one another and have been doing so for a while yet.

Of late, two powerful sets of images have been reminding me of how true all of the above is. The viral gif at the beginning of this post is one such example. At the 1992 AMA Awards, Natalie Cole won Favourite Adult Contemporary Artist after years of continually finding herself in the same category as and losing to Whitney Houston. In her acceptance speech she spoke on not succumbing to the mean-spirited competition that can often be created by this dynamic. What’s more, Natalie Cole cemented her moment of achievement in friendship. In that triumphant moment, she made enough room for sisterhood with another Black woman. She said:

“Whitney, I know you share this with me.”

Black women, are you taking this in with me? Just look again at the euphoric energy they created.

Natalie Cole and Whitney Houston, 1992 AMA Awards.
The second example was etched into history this glorious Sunday just passed. * Allow me a minute. I need to compose myself. * Ok.

This glorious Sunday just passed, images of Black women being one another’s greatest fans at the 67th Emmy Awards ruined me emotionally. As I write this, the alacrity alone, with which Taraji P. Henson supported other Black women for the entire evening, is still sending me shock waves.

Regina King was announced Outstanding Supporting Actress. Taraji like a proud sister, held her hand, walked her over, and gave her the most intense embrace. She, being the hype-woman par excellence clapped and hollered for her fellow Black woman taking up a space, even after the audience had stopped.  


Before Viola Davis could even begin her Outstanding Lead Actress acceptance speech, Taraji gave her a standing ovation.


Viola Davis then ascended the stage to not merely accept her award but also to pay reverence to and celebrate her peers, fellow Black women. In her speech, she shone a light on: Taraji, Regina King, Uzoamaka Aduba, Kerry Washington, Shonda Rhimes, Gabrielle Union, Nikki Beharie, Meagan Good, Halle Berry, and women like them. She did not have to, but she shared her historic moment of groundbreaking achievement with her Black sisters.


The tears Kerry Washington humbly shed, bittersweet in their acknowledgment of the trials Viola faced as a Black woman to get to this point but also tears that were raptured in the sheer triumph of the moment. Kerry, like a true supporter readily bared herself, freely giving her empathy and her compassion to Viola.


Each of these Black women’s words and gestures resonated with me so profoundly. The raw, benign sisterhood in these images is poignant, and so inspiring to observe. Have a look at a couple of the gifs:

via Giphy
via Giphy
via Giphy

Black women, did you feel all of that with me? Did you watch and remember the importance of supporting one another with me?

If you did, I congratulate you. I congratulate us because in learning this, we set each other free once again to continue taking up our respective spaces, confidently. We free each other to continuing being the best we can, undiminished by one another’s greatness. We free each other to continue being the more that we can - the varying nuances and persons of Black Womanhood - until all that we can is free.

We do all of this in the knowledge that it’s not a competition of She Who Blacks Best, but that there is room for more than one woman to be a Black woman.

Filed under: ENVISAGE.

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  1. I had many "yaas girl" moments whilst reading this ☺️��

  2. I'd be lying if I said I've never felt to compete with my black sisters in any space because I thought there can only be room for one.

    It was drummed into my brain that as a young woman looking to enter an already competitive field of work & my color being a disadvantage, I must be astoundingly excellent to be successful and I must be better than my peers.

    Whilst I don't discount this as it is good advice, it did foster envy & jealousy towards black women I've encountered in the past. Why? I was taught that I needed the approval and aid of a white man/woman to truly succeed, but they can only help a few of us, s you must be the best. You must out do. Which is what made me so uncomfortable to be in a space full of black women doing exceedingly well in their field. It made me feel insubordinate and reluctant to celebrate their success with them.

    I've learned to appreciate black spaces more because of this. The supposed necessity of catering or moulding yourself in order to cater to white audiences and their "aid" has fostered and festered unhealthy and sometimes unecessary competition.

    1. Wow, Teju!

      The candour of your comment is so refreshing - I appreciate it. The incredible thing is how this psychology has manifested to become self-sustaining - when you look around and realise you are a token or you only see singular images of Black women succeeding, you don't need to actively 'delude' yourself that there can only be one, it seems real and true. It then becomes increasingly difficult to break out of this mode of thinking but I'm glad we both found a way to (Black spaces surely being one of them.) I'm sure you'll agree that the growth is liberating!

      Thank you for reading and engaging with such honesty.

      Esmé Xo


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