Sisterhood in Action: What It Means for Black Women to Really Take Care of Each Other

by C. Imani Williams

As black women we are both blessed and a blessing to others. And often, we choose to share our blessings with one another in the form of sisterhood. This sisterhood in action is witnessed by taking care of each other. But what does taking care of each other really mean, when we so often see examples of black women tearing each other apart in the media? I offer that it is when we place value in our ability to bring a moment of peace and connection to another sister in distress. After all, we never know when the tables will turn and we’ll find ourselves needing a sister’s hand. We should do this for and with each other from the heart and with good intention, for good returns good.

Our kinship through sisterhood is deeply rooted in generations of mystical relationships that served to help us survive life’s many challenges: from family dysfunction; to rumors and mean-spirited ploys (real and imagined); and anything else that threatened to impede our growth. We must accept and reclaim the traditions that black women before us used to build community. By doing so, this will bring us closer to our purpose. By following the examples of our ancestors—who were able to build and sustain through incredible odds—we can accomplish so much.

We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Often, Black women are the village.

The village is supposed to educate on both self-love and agape love, as well as the meaning of being our sisters’ keeper. But are we managing this task well? How often do we not include a sister based on an “-ism” that we can't quite ignore? There are too many to list, but they can include ageism, classism, and colorism. We all carry personal biases that come dangerously close to resembling ego, vanity, and an “I'm better than her/them!” attitude.

That doesn't work. True sisterhood is inclusive of our diversity. It loves, teaches, and encourages its members to strive for the best with a connection to self-balance; spiritual connection to the past, present, and future; connection to the universe; and a willingness to engage in realness and compassion for others. This means, sisters, that the door is open for us to to be, give, and receive more freely the agape love that is available to us on a daily basis.

These special girl-to-girl, woman-to-woman bonds are grounded in the need to connect with a sense of familiarity. As black women, we are found in every part of the world, building new lives across the Diaspora in order to advance our families. Advancing our families also applies to single women who choose not to parent, and women in same-sex marriages and relationships who elect to abstain from parenting. In both cases, many of these women “mother” nieces, nephews, cousins, and godchildren. They help put folks through college, mentoring them along the way. They contribute to the well-being of the young people in their lives. Their connection to their sisters as a whole is beneficial for all parties.

I think it’s also important to speak on deepening the relationships between straight black women and their bisexual, lesbian, and trans sisters. I've been in the struggle as a queer-identified black woman. And I'll tell you, it has been interesting. When I came out 15 years ago as a lesbian, I didn't know that I would travel the sexual continuum again to eventually identify as bisexual (bi-attracted), and a queer black woman who has been celibate for the past five years. I also didn't know who would stay and who would flee, each time I shared my self-exploration. For the most part people stayed and worked to understand how a sista-friend they “thought” was straight as an arrow could possibly be anything but.

They had questions, and I answered honestly. There were some who had conditions: “We love you, and we can do social things with you, but I don't think the girls are ready for a whole bunch of y’all at once.” This came from a dear friend who I love like a sister. When I lost my mother and really needed her, she did mix with all of my other friends, family, and loved ones—straight and gay.

That's true sister-friendship to me: when we work to better understand those in our lives and grow from it. She stepped out of her comfort zone to comfort me. This is how putting sisterhood in action works.

This same friend eventually shared with me and others that she learned a great deal from me. For one, she no longer looks at diversity as simply “black and white”: her definition of inclusiveness now welcomes LGBTQ and same-gender loving folks of color. To put it frankly, “That's what's up!”

We must remind ourselves to consistently do the individual and collective work of making sure we are not further marginalizing our sisters who struggle to be seen and heard. I recently attended a 50th birthday bash for a sister in the black lesbian community and it was a beautiful event. I made sure to introduce myself to a stunning wheelchair-bound sister. I connected with her and appreciated her willingness to come out and mingle. It can't be easy for differently-abled people to connect socially, and yet she still did as a black, lesbian, differently-abled woman.

To truly be sisters to one another, we must take care of ourselves as well as taking care of each other. It is my desire to do work on self in efforts to build strong communities with my fellow black women. As a grandmother, I am interested in helping kids keep the twinkle in their eye that they come here with, for as long as possible. As as mother, I'm interested in helping my adult children by supporting their dreams and goals. This is the torch I will pass to them. As a sister in my community, I am interested in building sustainability through everything from art to affordable and healthy food choices. And as an educator, counselor, facilitator, and writer, I am interested in doing my part to change the world, one conversation at a time.

I encourage all of us to find space for close sister-ships in our lives, as they can help us tackle life’s difficulties. Erykah Badu warned us about “carrying all those bags.” Lighten your load and taste the sweetness that comes from solid friendships. If you hold all of the hurt and negativity too close to your heart, it will continue to manifest the same. Break the cycle and increase your circle, but know it can be a process.

We are not meant to exist alone. We are not meant to exist in closed boxes that don't allow our spirit to grow and expand. Maya Angelou reminded us that we’re all phenomenal women. So claim it. And while you’re claiming it, remember that we must take care of each other.

Photo: Shutterstock

C. Imani Williams is a freelance writer and human justice activist. She holds an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and a Masters in Guidance and Counseling from Eastern Michigan University. Her work has been published in Between the Lines, Tucson Weekly, The Michigan Citizen, Harlem Times and with various popular culture, health, news blogs and magazines.

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