Today I Woke Up and Decided to Be Both Black and a Woman

By J.Q. Hendrickson

Black. African-American. Female. Woman. Male. #TeamLightskin. #TeamDarkskin. Mixed. Other.

These labels were posted all over the room as we were asked to stand near the label that we identified with most. I glanced over at woman, female, Black and African American before eventually deciding that Black is what I am and always will be. My male professor who I deeply admired was there and I remember thinking “Malcolm X would identify as Black” so that’s where I should be. While I did glance at woman and female, I quickly dismissed those because to me my race was more important. I eventually chose Black. I didn’t want anyone to think I was one of those people who shied away from being labeled “African.” I was deeply proud to be called an African American but I wanted to identify with Black people throughout the Diaspora, not just in America or in Africa.

You see, this was a time where I was newly fascinated with my blackness. I just made African American Studies my second major about a year ago and I was learning about Black people who fascinated me. Black men. Huey P. Newtown, Malcolm X, W.E.B DuBois, Muhammed Ali, Marcus Garvey, Cheikh Anta Diop, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Kwame Ture, James Baldwin, Fred Hampton, Mansa Musa, Bobby Seale, George Jackson, Bayard Rustin, Paul Robeson. It was the strength, courage, bravery, brilliance, compassion, pride, and determination of these men that made me so proud to be Black.

It was my belief that Black men had it the hardest in this country because they had to deal with things that we as women didn’t like police violence and mass incarceration. I didn’t want to turn my back on them by not identifying as Black. My race was what was important and something that you couldn’t take away from me.

Four years later, I have to take a break from social media every few weeks because the misogyny and disdain for Black women is overwhelming, so overwhelming that it’s brought me to tears on numerous occasions. I also have to take a break from social media and all news sources because the hate, racism, and oppression of Black people has brought me to tears and given me anxiety. I sat on my floor crying when Robert McCulloch announced that Darren Wilson wasn’t going to be indicted for the murder of Michael Brown. It was the patronizing way that he spoke, the hatred in his voice, not just for Mike Brown but for all of us.

I called in late to work and stayed in bed crying when the video circulated of a 14-year-old Black girl in a swimsuit being pushed to the ground and dragged by a McKinney, Texas, police officer. I’ve had numerous heated debates and discussions about Bill Cosby and why I don’t have to stand behind him because he’s Black and why I believe the word of dozens of women over him. I’ve shed tears of countless Black women being murdered by their spouse or attacked in the street by Black men because they’ve refused to give them the attention that they wanted.

The systematic oppression that all Black people face every day is something that I will tirelessly fight against. I will attend every protest, participate in every action, and educate every member of our youth that I can on the injustices that we all faces and the history and greatness that we are, not just what we’ve been through. I will fight against and talk about the disproportionate number of Black men and women in prison.

I will also continue to uplift the names of the Black Women who came before me, whose radicalness, tenacity, brilliance, fearlessness, and beauty continue to inspire me. Fannie Lou Hamer, Elaine Brown, Harriet Tubman, Hazel Scott, Assata Shakur, Mary McLeod Bethune, Daisy Bates, Angela Davis, Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Claudia Jones, Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks, Nikki Giovanni, Kathleen Cleaver. I will fight for the freedom and safety of Black women even if it is at the hands of a Black man, even if that means putting a Black man in jail. I will not only uplift the names of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham and Eric Garner but also the names of Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, Miriam Carey, Yvette Smith, Meagan Hockaday and Natasha McKenna.

Hundreds of hours of learning and four more years of life experience has brought me to a place where I now identify as a Black Woman, both labels simultaneously. These identities run concurrent: I am both, and it is how I exist in this world; it’s what influences my political decisions. Black men aren’t forced to choose between their manhood and Blackness and I am not going to choose between my womanhood and my Blackness.

Today I woke up and decided to be both Black and a Woman.

Photo: Shutterstock

JQ is Temple University student majoring in African American Studies and Public Relations. She's a story teller who believes that the light and power of people's stories can change the world. You can follow her on Twitter @__JQ_.

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