It’s a story as old as time: whenever a Black woman realizes her potential and experiences success, there’s a problem. We’re too sexy, too loud, too Black. The truth is, society hates confident Black women. Unambiguous, confident Black women, at that. Fat, dark, short, tall, curvy, brown, slim; it doesn’t matter what our defining characteristics are. There’s something inherently terrifying about the confident Black women. And what do people do with something they fear? They try and destroy it.
The question is: why is a confident Black women so damn scary?
Before we can answer that, we have to examine where this idea of the “strong, confident Black woman” comes from. I think I first heard about this particular trope in early 2000’s studies about teenaged girls and body image issues (of which there were many, society had just started to dive into the effects of media on the developing mind). The studies basically said the same thing: while the media had negatively impacted how adolescent girls felt about their bodies, BLACK girls were less affected. In a 1997 study, 32% of white girls and 34% of Black girls were classified as obese, however over 10% more of the Black girls studied were more likely to be “somewhat, or very happy about their body size.” What these studies showed, over and over again, was that Black girls and women did not measure ourselves against white standards of beauty. In fact, research reveals that by and large, white people “do not contribute significantly to the formation of Black self-esteem.” We been out here creating our own standards of beauty and that’s where our confidence comes from.
Now, here is where my theory starts to form (so, stick with me) — between the angry Black woman trope, the Black superwoman image AND our own community-forged self-confidence? We’ve been set up. Our greatest gift, and mental protection against white supremacy, it turns out, was also a curse.
This is where Chloe, Lizzo, Megan, Serena, Michelle, Et.Al. come into the equation. Like me, you’ve watched ALL of these Black women unapologetically share themselves with the world, only for the world to volley back hatred.
We saw Harvard-educated FLOTUS Michelle Obama referred to as “an ape in heels.” One of the greatest athletes of all time, Serena Williams had ONE emotional outburst on the tennis court. It prompted an Australian cartoonist to portray her as a grossly-exaggerated caricature throwing a tantrum (never mind the fact that John McEnroe has had multiple, well-documented, temper tantrums on the court).
Even Beyoncé got it when her music began exploring themes around unapologetic Blackness and womanhood, “I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” she proudly proclaimed on 2016’s Formation. That was the same year several police unions called for a boycott of her world tour because she supported Black Lives Matter.
So, color me unsurprised, but still extremely frustrated, when 22-year old Chloe Bailey (one-half of the dynamic singing duo ChloexBailey) recently took to Instagram live to defend herself against negative commentary about her image. Like any other 22-year old, Bailey is in her exploration phase; and apparently, people don’t like that. They seem to hate it, actually. Bailey was overcome with tears trying to not only defend herself, but all confident Black women.
We saw the same old song and dance play out with musician Lizzo (who’s fatness is literally an affront to some small-minded people, never mind the fact that you literally don’t have to look at her), except in Lizzo’s case, because she’s fat, there really wasn’t a huge uprising to protect her *sips tea*. And we have to mention hip hop’s latest phenom, H-town Hottie Megan thee Stallion, who’s 5'11" frame continues to be a gender punch line, even in the wake of being shot last July. Fashion models are routinely over 5'10" and yet I don’t think I have ever heard anyone refer to Kendall Jenner as a “ man.” No, those remarks are reserved for us; Black women who refuse to shrink, step back and take up less space.
And I guess that’s really the problem — it would be easy to just dim our light, or live within the box society has assigned us and not succeed, not grow, not flourish. Even other Black women sometimes struggle to rectify their feelings towards confident Black women — and sadly, it’s understandable. How many times could you be shown, and proven, that you’re less than, before you start to believe it? The world hasn’t been kind to any of us, and too often that becomes ammunition from the very group of people who should understand MOST of all. Internalized misogynoir has taken a toll on us, and confident Black women bear the brunt of the backlash.
But does that stop the confident Black woman? No. Hell no. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know my grandmother didn’t claw her way out of racist rural Houston, the daughter of perpetually poor sharecroppers, for ME to dim my light. Yes, society does have a problem with confident Black women, but that’s society’s problem; not Chloe’s, not Megan’s, not Lizzo’s and not mines.