#CarefreeBlackGirl Black women classism representation respectability politics
Trap Queens and Freak Hoes: On Exclusivity in the Carefree Black Girl Movement9/30/2015
By Ashleigh Shackelford The Carefree Black Girl movement has taken the world by storm over the last two years. We’ve seen selfie tags, gifs...
By Ashleigh Shackelford
The Carefree Black Girl movement has taken the world by storm over the last two years. We’ve seen selfie tags, gifs, and memes go viral of Black girls dancing, Black girls laughing, Black girls rocking pastel colored hair, Black girls as mermaids and unicorns, Black girls with flowers in or around their hair, and Black girls squad deep carefree-ing. It’s safe to say that the definition of a Carefree Black Girl is the freedom and enthusiasm of existing lightheartedly as a Black girl in a world constantly seeking to destroy you. It is the cherishing of the ethereal and simplistic moments that often go underrepresented for Black girls.
This movement and attitude is very necessary in a world that seeks to limit Black girls and Black femininity before we ever have control to decide who we are for ourselves. The carefree identity was created to defy all labels of the racialized, hypersexualized, and class stigmas surrounding Black girls, women, and femme identified folks. The liberation behind claiming “carefree” is powerful and revolutionary but also flawed in implementation.
In our very necessary attempt to provide more nuanced depictions of Black women in the media (and the world) outside of the stereotypical trope versions of the Angry Black Woman, we’ve also forgotten that some characteristics of these same tropes can be a part of who we are. If our ideas of carefree center on challenging the limitations of our identities and dimensionality, then we also need to validate that we can embody the same qualities we’re running away from. Anger, sexualization, class status/depiction, and unapologetic attitudes are all a part of our complex Black girl pathology and existence.
So are all types of Black girls considered “carefree”? Based on the theme of the Carefree Black Girl movement hashtag, the representation of who is carefree reinforces an idea of respectability and palatability. We continuously see natural hairstyles, idealized Afropunk fashion, Tumblr-esque creative photo aesthetics, respectable accomplishments (college graduation, winning awards, etc.), beauty standard acceptable popular culture icons (Solange, Willow Smith, Janelle Monàe, etc.), class status, nice clothing, etc. Rarely do we see girls in the hood, carefree-ing at a gas station buying a roll-up and a forty. The class status and respectability politics of the carefree girls we’re uplifting speaks volumes to who we’re ignoring as not-so-carefree.
What about the trap queens, the squad up girls, the round-the-way girls, the freak hoes, thotties, and the bald-headed scallywags with no edges to speak of? Are they capable of being carefree? Do we permit the identity of carefreeness to Black girls that aren’t rocking fros, riding bikes, and wearing flowers? Do we give license to carefree identities to be loud, poor, unpoetic, fat, permed, scowling, no formal education, unkempt, ain’t shit, or ratchet?
If we’re not praising and uplifting Black girls that wear quick weaves, have three kids, impoverished, selling rock, doing drugs, do not look like afrocentric-beauty standard Tumblr models, or don’t smile because they just don’t want to, then we’re not giving empowerment to all sides of Black girls. Some of us embody qualities of these stereotypes we’re denouncing. It doesn’t mean we’re failures or one-dimensional in our identities the way anti-Black misogynistic institutions have made it seem. But it does mean that we are complicated and it’s okay to be a Black woman who happens to be angry. Yes, we need to see more than just the Angry Black Woman archetype played on repeat. But what about the complicated nature of Black women who are angry who can also be carefree in those same moments? The sexually liberated Black woman who fucks unapologetically? Or the carefree boss ass bitch who sells drugs to survive and provide for herself? Or the Black girl who works at a fast food restaurant and listens to trap music while she waits for the bus?
It’s time we lift the limitation upon our ideas of happiness and freedom in how we challenge the stigmas of being a Black girl. In claiming our identity as a source of confidence and empowerment, we have to recognize that what/who we praise as carefree is politicized too. Carefree can be the exact opposite of the stigma and shame codified upon our bodies, but carefree can also be exactly what we’re running away from. We can be sexual, angry, loud, petty, too much, and simultaneously carefree. There is no Black girl in the world that is not carefree in some way, shape, or form. There is no surviving, yet alone thriving, as a Black girl without being carefree. There are 50 million ways to be a Black girl and 50 million ways to be carefree.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a radical queer Black fat femme writer that resides in Baltimore, MD. Ashleigh is a pop-culture enthusiast, a community organizer at Black Action Now, and the founder of a body positivity organization Free Figure Revolution. She is currently pursuing her master's degree in African American Studies at Morgan State University.