The Five Things Every Black Girl Experiences Growing Up7/01/2014
I have been thinking of what it means to “grow up”. In one month, I will celebrate my 25th birthday...
I have been thinking of what it means to “grow up”. In one month, I will celebrate my 25th birthday. I plan on singing and twerking to Beyoncé’s “Grown Woman” first thing in the morning. Still, most days, I do not feel very grown-up at all. As this is the time of year when seemingly everyone on my social media feeds are graduating, getting married, or having children, I especially feel more “growing” than grown.
I worry that I am a late bloomer. Or that I am maybe experiencing an especially strong case of arrested development. My homegirls reassure me that I am not. They, too, are caught up in the season-induced nostalgia. We reflect together. We share our own “growing up” stories, recalling all those formative moments that have brought us to the here and now. I feel less alone, as I realize certain aspects of growing up Black Girl are universal.
We all have hair woes.
Every Black Girl I have ever known has had a journey with their hair. It does not matter the texture or style, we all go through some shit with our crop. For many of us, our identities are woven into our hair as finely as the braids we sometimes rock. Until college, I had always been the girl with “good hair”—long, straight hair that I whipped around so often, I’m surprised I don’t have a permanent neck injury. Then, I cut it all off. For the past five years, I’ve worn my natural curls. Like so many of us, I have had to learn and re-learn that “I am not my hair”, while rejoicing in the fact that I can use my hair to express and represent myself.
We all have to learn to redefine beauty.
Growing up in the very white suburbs of Southern California, mainstream images of beauty often did not reflect me. The girls in the Limited Too catalogues were thin, white, and blonde—the antithesis of everything I was. So often, us Black Girls have to learn how to accept and celebrate our own beauty. What our white friends become hip to in college feminism 101, we’ve been learning and refining since birth.
We all encounter racism as much as we encounter sexism.
I love being Black and Woman. I think the two go together marvelously. But I am often reminded how impossible the two can be when people go around saying things like, “Woman is the nigger of the world!” I am both. I still remember the first (and second and third and fourth) time I was called a “nigger”. I remember all the times I someone never used that word, but their intent was still to make me feel inferior and “Other” because I was Black. I remember every time I have been sexually harassed by men as I waited for a bus, walked down the street, or simply dared to exist.
To survive, we often have to be chameleons. We are one version of ourselves at home. We are another version of ourselves among our peers. We are another in the work place. We code switch. The language I inhabit when I’m with other Black folks is not the same language I inhabit in a meeting with colleagues. Sometimes, this is exhausting: this idea that who I am culturally is not who I should be professionally. I yearn for the day when I do not have to compartmentalize myself.
We all need the divine sisterhood of our fellow Black Women.
Most of my closest friends through high school were not Black. They were White, Asian, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, and mixed. Some were Black, sure, but not many of them. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve sought out the companionship and friendship of Black Women like one does water in the middle of a desert. We all yearn to belong to a tribe of people who understand us completely. And as much love and support as I’ve gotten from my non-Black friends, there is a sacred bond between me and my sistafriends that is deepened because of our shared cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, performer, storyteller, and teaching artist currently living in Southern California. She is a graduate of NYU's Gallatin School for Individualized Study. She has performed in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Washington D.C., and Southern California. For more information, please visit her website: michelledenisejackson.com.