An American Girl in Washington

A Dangerous Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Posted in Politics- as I see it by AGinDC on 26 April 2011

When I was 15 I was one of maybe three black girls in my high school of 2,000.  The wealthy, white Seattle suburb was a great place to go to school and raise your kids, if you lived in a gated community and weren’t concerned with the values of diversity.  Sadly, we didn’t and we were.  But the public schools were phenomenal and we couldn’t afford private education, so we stayed.  Which meant that I came of age in a school and a community that didn’t value me as a girl.  As an academic superstar, yes.  As an athlete, definitely.  As a member of the dance team, a student chosen for special groups and committees and a valued member of the arts community, sure.  Even as a leader I was part of the “chosen” group.  But as a girl?  No.  I was friends with everyone, an active member of the community and tracked in the AP classes with the rest of my group.  I always had someone to eat lunch with in the cafeteria.  But I didn’t have a chance at being voted the Daffodil Princess (who had been white since 1845), I would never be Homecoming Queen, and I always went to the high school dances that I helped plan, decorate, and clean up after, alone.  I never got asked out on dates and was perpetually single until I was finally wooed (yes, he was sort of an old-fashioned romantic and actually wooed) in my junior year.  And I dated him for most of that year and part of the next (his parents, after commenting that he had a black friend in the first grade too! moved him out of state for his senior year of high school).  It ended tragically, as these things do, and I wasn’t asked on a date again until college.  Late in college but that was more the fault of having attended a women’s college in the middle of nowhere than anything else.

If I had paid attention I would have seen that my best friend who was too tall for her age was also always single.  I would have seen that my best friend who was a little on the chubby side was always single too.  I would have even seen that the thinnest, blondest, prettiest party girls pretty much only dated the same round of guys over and over again.  But, I didn’t.  Just like every teenage girl I chose the most obvious baggage and held onto it like a vintage Louis V valise with a matching train case.  And what was my baggage?  Well, like I said, I was one of 3 black girls in a school of 2,000.

To be fair, there was a lot of racism at my school (so much that I wrote a play about it in college) and I definitely had to face my share of f*d up sh*t along the way.  But when I picked up The Bluest Eye in high school I read it in a way that reinforced my way of thinking: everyone hates me because I don’t have blue eyes and I will always be sad and alone because of it.

Where did I get this idea from?  Well, church to start.  That haven of bitter, middle-aged black women too busy dressing up for the pastor to recognize that they’re the ones who are ruining their own lives love nothing more than to destroy a young girl’s Cinderella dreams (this was before Princess Tiana) before they buy their first pair of kitten heels.  My family also had a lot to do with it.  My mother’s side is all female and we come from a long line of divorce and premature death that has left us bitter and discouraged.  My aunt used to tell me that there was a curse on the women in our family and as a wide-eyed seven year old, of course I believed her.  And the media didn’t help.  Everywhere I looked (this was pre-Tyra, pre-Obama, pre-Vogue Italia) there were pictures of beautiful women who looked absolutely nothing like me.  The 80s were a scary place for a little black girl, and by the time I reached high school I already knew that I could be a lot of things, but pretty and loved were not one of them.

Eventually (in law school), I met DH, who patiently counseled me for two years on where all of my thinking on the subject had gone wrong.  He showed me that all  of the negative thoughts from all of those years had built up such a wall that by the time I walked into a room it was obvious what I was thinking, even before I said a word.  He made me realize that black women have turned a small (but yes, existing) barrier into a brick wall so thick that no one can climb it.  We have already decided that we will never find love and so we don’t.  We’re doing it to ourselves.

Now, this isn’t to trivialize the numbers game.  As a girl who went to law school with 13 black women and 3 black men, only one of whom was straight, believe me, I know.  But the thing is that the numbers aren’t as bad as we think (a), that (b), we make the numbers a little worse when we drive people away with our own negativity, and that (c), if we’re going to be single we have a choice between being happy and fulfilled in our lives or becoming those bitter, awful old church women.

I wrote this post because, as usual, another round of why-black-women-are-single-and-pathetic-and-going-to-die-alone articles is flying around inboxes.  And I have to admit that this argument sounds just a little trite in a post-Obama America.  Right now the most revered and idolized woman in America is the black wife of a black man with black children.  We finally have a black Disney princess who works hard to get what she wants out of life at the same time that a real princess is getting crowned on Friday who couldn’t be more of a throwback to the fifties if she was vacuuming in glass slippers.  At the same time that Kate was literally sleeping her 20s away, waiting for a prince to bring her to life, black women have been taking over the country, and the world.  We’re on runways, in magazines, on television, in academia and running the White House (if anyone doesn’t think Valerie Jarrett runs the White House, you haven’t been paying attention).  As a black woman, I have never felt more confident, capable, beautiful or affirmed.  And with all of the young black men out there “looking for their Michelle”, I see black relationships everywhere (especially in DC).  Of course, I am still single.  Very much so.  But I absolutely love my life, love where my career is going, and love my vibrator (JimmyJane ladies).  And I don’t feel bitter or unattractive or unloved and I don’t blame it all on being a black woman.

After my two years with DH I re-read The Bluest Eye and I finally understood.  Pecola Breedlove wasn’t sad and alone because she was black.  She had a lot of problems in her life, a lot to overcome, and a lot to get through.  But instead of seeing her life for what it was and finding the best way to overcome the obstacles, she got stuck on the (fake) Shirley Temple image and rode that train to her own destruction.

We need to recognize that the obstacles in our way, while unfair, exist to be overcome.  That we deserve to be happy, successful, and loved.  And that we are the only ones in the way of our own happiness.  And we have to believe it now, before another generation of Pecola Breedloves are destroyed by myths of their own making.



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