Following Chinny’s post on black female bodies, Naivasha Mwanji reflects on what it means to love yourself as a black woman and how your foundations can make a huge difference. Looking back at her relationship with her father, a man who identified as Feminist, and experiences at work, Naivasha explores her black womanhood and her growth. This is the second and final post of today’s double-dose.
I giggle to myself as I write this, thinking of all the times people have told me that I come across ‘arrogant’, ‘intimidating’ or ‘over confident’. It seems that for some people, confidence and self-appreciation are problematic because you don’t need their opinion to validate yourself.
We live in a world where power is a pertinent desire that dominates the hearts and minds of many people. Power is a structure that frames many institutions, theories, and paradigms and black women are often led to believe that we are powerless.
I have unlearnt this.
The belief that all black women are powerless stems from the belief that we all have the same narrative, thus, will probably have the same outcomes – wrong. I know many black women and have heard many stories and what empowers me is knowing that everyone has a different story that has framed their lives in different ways.
Though I am not the type to constantly bring out the race or gender ‘card’ ; there are times that the card gets pulled out for you.
I have had to learn to understand that I am doubly oppressed; because I am black and because I am a woman. Not only are we oppressed by white men but also by white women. This includes white feminists who may believe that their feminism gives all women a voice yet their voices echo the white female experience and their voices are the only ones that are heard.
I believe that knowing this puts me a few steps ahead.
It allows me to understand that I am not the problem and in order to be able to deal with the problem I must acknowledge how I am perceived by some parts of society.
I always think that the reason black women are doubly oppressed is because we are actually the most powerful players in this game. Why? Because we have the capability, the determination, the intelligence and drive to dominate every industry and sphere and this is clearly a huge threat to those who seek to marginalise us.
Take Serena Williams for example; a black woman at the top of her league in an industry where black women are zero to none but her success is seen as threatening and as a result the world tries to tear her down by comparing her ‘masculine’ black body to her white female counterparts. I’m sorry but I have to take it there and say that this is the same kind of narrative that slave owners used to demoralise black women and then rape them!
When you empower a woman, you empower a generation. When you empower a black woman, you empower a black generation; this is what the white world fears the most. Black men play a pivotal role in the foundation of empowering women but the sad thing is, most of them don’t realise this and continuously drag us through the mud. When I talk about black men I mean all black men: our brothers, cousins, partners and most importantly, our fathers.
Structures are important – but not as important as foundations. A structure cannot sustain itself without having a foundation that is essentially indestructible. We all have foundations; the foundations that have been built for us and the foundations we build for ourselves.
My first foundation was built by a father who identified himself as a feminist and a mother who didn’t change her last name when she got married, because she believed her identity was in herself and not in her partner; I call this foundation the base. I was taught to question everything; to never compare myself to anyone else and that my voice is valid in every sphere. Here I met strength.
Having parents that encouraged me to be my own person and find strength in the colour of my skin and power in the fact that I am woman, was critical in my development as a ‘woke’ person. My mother always tells me that the first six years of a child’s life are crucial in shaping who they become as an adult. Though my father passed away when I was seven, the person I am now is strongly connected to the things he taught me as a child.
I spent a lot of time with my father and he would often take me to work with him; from going to his office to sitting in on his radio interviews – I was made to feel that I had a right to be everywhere he was. I have never believed that there was anything that I couldn’t do because of who I am, and my relationship with my feminist father has shaped this belief. Though a father may not be able to teach a girl how to become a woman but his relationship with his daughter is the cornerstone for the many relationships she will develop. This includes the relationship she has with herself and the encounters she will have with boys/men.
My second foundation has been built by society. This is the layer – a society in which I am apparently at the bottom of the food chain and this foundation has created walls that I have had to climb in order to succeed. Here I met privilege.
I once worked for an organisation where I was the only black woman in the entire building! This was a very interesting time for me. I had just finished a three year degree which not only cultivated my mind, but reminded me that white supremacy really does exist. I was also trying to find my ‘feminist’ feet. I never really understood privilege until I saw it for myself. We read about privilege; we talk about privilege but sitting in an all-white male meeting room trying to speak only to realise that you’ve been sitting there for two hours practically gasping for air because no one is letting you speak because of who you are – this…is tasting white (male) privilege.
My last foundation, the finale , is the foundation that I am building for myself ; the foundation that is making me indestructible. Here I met peace.
Have these foundations strengthened my structure? Most definitely. My base taught me how to deal with my layer and my layer prepared me for my finale.
Some believe people who seem naturally confident just wake up one day and fall madly in love with themselves but this is not the case. It is a journey that everyone should go through and it’s a journey that takes time because you have to unlearn everything that society has taught you to hate about yourself. You essentially have to grow new skin.
I have had to learn that, at least for now, I will always be running a race against the rest of the world; running faster than everyone else and still failing to catch up.
I have had to learn to deal with my headaches; the headaches from knocking my head upon the glass ceiling only to realise that the glass ceiling is actually a glass roof and I am constantly reminded that there’s no room for me at the top. I have learnt to be my own cheerleader and shake my own pompom; to understand that my “rubber” lips are not cool until they are appropriated by someone who doesn’t look like me. I have unlearnt to compromise because it makes people feel comfortable; unlearnt to soften my assertiveness and I have unlearnt to accept that beauty is defined by blonde hair and blue eyes. To put it plainly; I now have natural hair and embrace my curls; I speak my mind without fear of being called an ‘Angry Black Woman’ and I measure my level of beauty against the reflection I see every day.
Self-love and appreciation of self is a process; a process that has taken me years of learning and unlearning. The biggest lesson I have learnt, is to continue to love myself even though they don’t like me.
Spend time working on your foundation and making sure that your structure is indestructible because there may be many destructive forces in your way.
Naivasha is a 20 something British-Congolese writer, poet and diversity professional. Her experiences are a catalyst for her thoughts and she believes that as a writer, she has the responsibility to change the world one mind at a time. Naivasha is still trying to find her feminist feet but is enjoying the journey in search of them. Naivasha enjoys conversation on gender, culture and identity and is passionate about changing the status quo of black British women. Naivasha will be launching her website later on this year but in meantime you can connect with her on twitter @bantukongo.