“Oh she may be weary
And young girls they do get weary
Wearing that same old shaggy dress
But when she gets weary
Try a little tenderness.
– “Try a Little Tenderness” Otis Redding
“We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit because what was native has been stolen from us, the love of black women for each other. But we can practice being gentle with each other by being gentle with that piece of ourselves that is hardest to hold, by giving more to the brave bruised girlchild within each of us, by expecting a little less from her gargantuan efforts to succeed.”
– “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger” Audre Lorde
How many times have you walked into a public service office, allowed your eyes to scan the room, and almost immediately decided you didn’t want “that black bitch” to assist you? It could be something as simple as the way she chews gum – the fact that she chews gum at all – that makes you decide that any interaction you have with this woman will be difficult and combative. Her skill set is irrelevant. You don’t have time to deal with this black bitch and her attitude. So you approach her, visibly annoyed, a black bitch with an attitude in your own right.
Ms. Lorde, in her essay addressed the disdain black women show towards one another, as well as how we are inoculated with this hatred virtually from birth. Strength is massaged into our scalps with rough brush strokes and sharp words, as though we’re penalized for the very act of having hair. Our rites of passage are quite often mixtures of gruff love. The compulsion to break the spirits of our girls, as ours were at one time or another broken, only to continue to ensure they remain such as women, troubles me greatly. No one wins here.
I experienced my first wordless gaze war in middle school. Neither myself, nor my enemy combatant knew why one was “gritting” on the other; yet neither of us could stop, for fear of losing. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes down to what we were actually afraid of losing. Our pride? Some patch of earth where the powerless refuse to be moved? It was painfully confusing.
As burgeoning black women, so many of us have hated each other so long, we never came face to face with what actually angered us. Ourselves. We were so angry with the tenderness that wasn’t bestowed upon us, or with the the fact that we didn’t demand it, we refuse to grant it to anyone else. This holds especially true for those who look like us. When I saw other black girls, I saw thinner, fatter, taller and shorter versions of the knocked (and occasionally ashy) kneed girl that I was. Loud for no reason other than the idea that being mute was almost as bad as dying. These silent wars were more about the ache of being pushed so far for so long by anyone who deemed themselves my superior, than any actual dislike for the strange feminine eyes insolently gazing back at me.
Of course, it’s 2011, and rather than bus seats and mall stare downs, we have social networking and rude comments. Regardless of how it’s dressed, it’s the same pack of wounded girls, not completely sure of the source of their anger. We exchange hateful words with people, and especially women we may never even physically meet face to face. I can’t reconcile that in my spirit.
So I quit girl war. I forgive myself my shortcomings, and I pray that I can be forgiven. I use every day as an attempt to be better. In so doing, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to meet and befriend women who are brilliant, amazing, beautiful, strong, and wounded. Hell, I’m wounded. But you’d be surprised what happens when you throw down your armor, and just interact with sisters on a human level. My dear friend Feminista Jones said that you really don’t know what a person’s story. People who stop their day to be rude, angry or hurtful and direct that toward me already have enough with which to contend. They don’t need me to be part of the problem.
Originally I viewed this stance as weak. I need to let people know that I’m not to be played with, right? I need to prove my strength. Except, I don’t. I know that I am strong. I know that I am powerful. Making you feel small does not make these assertions any more factual. It’s not even about being the bigger person. It’s about knowing that this life kicks us in the ass enough, so kicking one another is self-defeatist.
So, sisters, I love you. Not in the abstract way. In the way that makes me do everything I can to smile if I meet your annoyed stare, and strike up friendly conversations just because we always need friendly conversations. I have yet to be charged a fee for trying to be positive and nice. I’m a sassy ass firecracker, so I don’t always succeed at this, but I so want to be part of the solution. I don’t want to fight you. I’ll do everything in my power to avoid it. You’re already fighting so much. I know this because I see the same weariness in your eyes that I feel in my bones after a day full of being over-worked and under-valued. I would much prefer to fight with you. I’ve installed my own alternator and fed a family of three on $37 for a week and a half – I’m probably the type of chick you want on your team. Could you imagine a whole team of us gang banging on white privilege and patriarchy rather than each other?
I’d love to see that.