black girls black womanhood friendship and sisterhood
Why Black Girls Need Black Girlfriends3/14/2016
by Syon Davis @syononae I had a great childhood. Looking back, I never seemed to mind being the token Black kid in an elementary school fi...
I had a great childhood. Looking back, I never seemed to mind being the token Black kid in an elementary school filled with mostly white and Chinese students. At times, I think I even preferred it. It was just one more thing that made me feel special. This isn’t to say that I was exempt from typical nine-year-old token Black girl frustrations (like not being able to wet my hair at slumber parties and feeling uncomfortable when my peers would ask me if I was related to MLK) but overall, I was fine. I thrived both socially and academically and genuinely loved my friends and my life.
I did, however, have another life, outside of my Monday-Friday routine filled with GATE classes, girl scouts meetings, and a sea of pale faces.
“When are we gonna start the discussions?” Twin number one impatiently questions as the rest of us stuff our faces with chocolate-filled crescent rolls and physically fight over the blue sour patch kids.
We are at a sleepover.
We are grown ass women.
The term “Discussions” is the Twin’s formal way of referencing the unplanned, yet inevitable, lengthy and usually heated conversations we end up having at these things. These “discussions” have always been a highlight of our sleepovers, second only to quoting Mean Girls in its entirety.
Somewhere around ’96 or ’97, we all began dancing together at a small, Black, Pentecostal church and somewhere around ’99 or ’00 we started having sleepovers every summer and winter, a tradition that we continue to this day. During the early years of our tradition, since we saw each other 4 or 5 times during any given week our sleepovers always felt like a capstone of sorts, celebrating another successful few months of being friends, of dancing, of going to middle school, to high school, to college. A time to argue about boys, complain about parents, and pry secrets out of one another.
But now, we’re lucky if we see each other every other month. Our sleepovers have shifted into something equally fun but more intentional, weighted with a tangible significance, a time to celebrate weddings, babies, career moves, a time to cry about failures, losses, and relationship mishaps.
Having black friends is important, y’all.
This may seem like a given, but it’s something I didn’t realize until fairly recently during our last sleepover when we were time traveling and laughing about stories from our almost two decades of knowing each other.
Shame on me, I know. But better late than never, I suppose.
Growing up with a solid group of black women as friends has empowered me in ways that I am still discovering. Here are a few things I’ve discovered so far:
|Kenzie Kate Photography|
It is important that Black women have a space where they can be an angry Black woman without being labeled and written off as an angry Black woman.
I am afraid of being a stereotype. In non-Black circles I overcompensate often. I speak of my love of country music and swimming, I enunciate well and emphasize my i-n-g’s. I limit saying anything that could be interpreted as me using the (non-existent) race card. I fear being labeled an angry black woman.
At our sleepovers, the subject matter is always candid and nothing is off-limits. We make our disapproval for someone’s significant other known, we debate the perks and downfalls of going to an HBCU, we talk about Black men dating white women, we talk about why we should move to Atlanta, we talk about why we should not move to Atlanta. We don’t have sidebar conversations. If two people are arguing, we are all there. If someone is crying, we are all there.
It is important to have a space where you don’t feel like you are speaking for the entire African-American population.
Whether in corporate America or in a university classroom, as a black woman voicing any opinion, you are speaking for black women (and sometimes black people) everywhere. People will take your opinion as truth, as “the black perspective.” I have literally been asked to give “the black perspective” on multiple occasions. That is a LOT of pressure. I do not know all of the black people in America.
Yes, I have insight into A black perspective, but too often, people mistake it as the only black perspective.
On many past occasions, as a result of being the sole black perspective, I have failed black people. When given the mic, I have been quick to say the easiest thing, to make the people around me comfortable, to manipulate the truth, to not be the downer in the room.
When I’m with my girls, I am only required to speak for myself. My opinion only belongs to me. There’s so much freedom that comes with that.
It is important to have a space where you don’t ever feel like you could talk about race “too much” and a place where wearing a scarf to sleep is the norm and ain’t nobody wettin’ their hair.
Whether we like it or not, hair is a big part of a young girl's’ life in America, no matter what race. Your hair is your beauty, your hair is your identity. I now know these things aren’t true, of course, thanks to the 2005 hit track by India Arie, I Am Not My Hair, but as a little girl with barrettes, as a preteen with cornrows, as a high schooler with braids, it was my truth. It was all of our truth.
On the playground, I remember my nine year old self filling with envy whilst watching all the little white girls put their hair up in a ponytail to play soccer, and then take it back down and splash some water in it to go back to class. It was magic. My hair had to stay in its four ponytails, hair balls hanging on ends, lest I receive a beating when I got home. My hair was not magic.
But on Saturdays, as we’d prepare to dance at church on Sunday morning, my mom was running a pressing comb through all of our heads, gelling down our kitchens, changing afro puffs into curly ponytails, loose edges into defined twists. Our hair was magic.
Even still, as adults, we revel in each other’s hairstyles: the bobs, the braids, the afros, the twists, the locks, the ongoing discovery of how our hair can shape shift into something else. Our hair is magic.
We are magic.
Little did I know that growing up with black girlfriends, meant growing up surrounded by mirrors. Reflections that looked just like me and constantly showed me who I was and who I could be. Mirrors that know me for me and constantly remind me that I am fucking magic.
We don’t see each other four times a week like we used to and our phone calls and text messages are sometimes far and few between, but we hold on tightly to our bi-annual sleepovers, because we know that we need each other to survive in this world. Black women need each other in this world.
Syon is a writer living in Los Angeles, CA who hates kale as much as she hates traffic. She loves Beyonce and considers Black Twitter to be her family.
Header Photo: Kenzie Kate Photography