How a Sense of Lack Tricked Some Black Women into Thinking We Can't Get Along

by Michelle Y. Talbert

A few weeks ago, The Huffington Post ran an essay by a light-skinned Black woman titled, "The Problem with Black Women." The author details her own perspectives on colorism, as well as her experiences being mistreated and judged by darker-skinned Black women due to her fair skin. The piece received quite a bit of buzz on the Internet, and many For Harriet commenters were upset when we shared the essay on our site. But the truth is, some Black women do have a hard time befriending and supporting their fellow sisters.

We’ve all been wronged. Let’s just call it like it is. Many of us are walking around wounded from pain inflicted upon us by our sisters. We’ve been harmed. Now what?

In the Bible, there is a concept of recompense that goes beyond what we’ve lost. Job is the personification of suffering, but he is then blessed with “double for his trouble” by God. So too is the case in civil law. When one harms another person unlawfully, the plaintiff can seek what is termed “treble damages,” meaning triple the value of the harm perpetrated.

So what does this have to do with Black women? The answer is simple: LACK.

There are generally three areas in which Black women tear one another down: (1) romantic relationships; (2) style and appearance; and (3) the workplace. And we do so because of our own perceived lack in these areas.

How We Wrong Each Other When It Comes to Romance

For the majority of my late teen and adult years I did not like women, specifically Black women. As a little girl, I was chubby, and I have what is colloquially termed a “lazy eye.” I was the perfect target for the "mean girls" and bullies in school. And for those of you who’ve experienced bullying, I’m sure you know that girls can be vicious.

When I started to date, a few of them cheated on me with my so-called girlfriends, sisterfriends, and homegirls. I now recognize my poor choice in both male partners and women friends, but at the time I directed my wrath and placed blame only on the women who were supposed to have my back. I expected my man to cheat with women “out there,” but not with my friends because those were MY GIRLS.

I never forget that scene from Soul Food when Vanessa Williams’ character says: “F*ck the family… the family f*cked my husband!” Her husband’s infidelity with her cousin always resonated with me because for a number of years that had been my reality as well.

The reason why my “friends” would be a willing participant or even actively pursue the men in my life? LACK. They didn’t think there was a man out there just for them. Maybe he made them feel attractive because he pursued them. Maybe they just felt like I had something they wanted. Who knows?

Conversely, my reason for being angry at my friends, while forgiving the guy in some cases also came from my own sense of LACK. I felt like I wouldn’t find whatever value that particular boyfriend had in another, but I could definitely find other women “friends.”

To stop the breakdown of our relationships with each other, we have to (1) recognize our own value; (2) believe that we deserve a partner who will respect and care for us; and (3) understand there are enough men on the planet for us to have the relationship we desire. This accountability for ourselves and to our sisters applies even those women we don’t know. Sister solidarity should be universal.

How We Hate on Other Women’s Swagger

Black women are known to hate on each other when it comes to our style—including all aspects of outward appearance. This extends to colorism and the ongoing, deep-seated pain attached with the light skin vs. dark skin competition that plagues us to this day.

When we share our stories of pain inflicted upon us at the hands of our sisters with regards to appearance and style, it is so clear that the assailant had some perceived LACK that manifested as anger, jealousy, and/or bitterness. Whether perceived or real, believing a sister who looks differently than us has had special favor bestowed upon her because she is pretty, or curvy, or fashionable, or whatever else comes from a sense of LACK, at its core.

Instead of hating on the next woman, we need to love on ourselves. It’s not about the other person; it’s about us. We must accept ourselves wherever we are and however we look. The journey to heal our issues must be inward. We must let go of the fact that our society favors a Westernized, European aesthetic that has also co-opted how we see our kinks and curves. For our survival, we must love who looks back at us in the mirror—in all of her glory—and then extend that love to our fellow sisters.

How Some of Us Can’t Stand to See Another Sister Get Ahead

Have you ever heard a woman say, “I hate working with or for women?” Of course you have. This is a phenomenon that I think permeates every minority, especially in the white collar workforce and among executive ranks. For centuries, upper-level professional positions have been dominated by white males. As people of color and women ascended these ranks, it became clear that many of the positions made available to us were tokenized, and thus, would only be afforded to one or two “lucky” souls.

Of course, this perception—or reality—that there are only a few prime positions available to women of color creates another situation of LACK. So what happens? If you want to obtain and keep the sought-after position you’ve worked hard for, you may feel the need to make sure that no other person who looks like you is in line to take your place. After all, if there’s only few opportunities open to us, then we view anyone and everyone as our competition—and thus, we have to keep our knowledge to ourselves.

Whether or not you believe the veracity of Willie Lynch speech or not, the outcome is real: Creating mental barriers or physical barriers to resources turned us against one another. In her popular TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states that women competing against one another for jobs—instead for the attention of men—would be a good thing. I disagree. We shouldn’t compete against each other at all.

Instead, we must support positions for all whom are qualified, regardless of their ethnicity or sex. We must believe there is a place at the table for other Black women, and we must see each other as colleagues and allies.

I believe that if we inhabit physical and mental spaces where resources are plentiful, then we will create spaces to love ourselves and one another. I am not naïve. I’ve been through the fire with my sisters, and I understand the pain some of us carry. However, it is because I am now part of an amazing community of women who support one another’s triumphs and have one another’s backs during challenging times that I can write from a place of love and understanding.

It’s On Us to Stick Together

You know the one thing we don’t lack? Pain. Our pain from past hurts at the hands of others runs deep, and has pitted us against one another. But what I personally have found is that together we can heal and create ABUNDANCE, receiving all—and more—of what we may have previously lost. (Much like Job when he received “double for his trouble.”)

We can do this sisters. We MUST do this—for ourselves and for each other.

Photo: Shutterstock

Michelle Y. Talbert is an author, recovering attorney, and host of the Her Power Hustle Podcast. She’s passionate about networking and relationships and is a regular contributor to For Harriet. Click HERE to listen to her conversation about sisterhood and support with Caroline V. Clarke of Black Enterprise’s Women of Power TV show.

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