“Why do you act so white?”
“That’s not very lady-like!”
Black women are often held to unrealistic standards that entails a lot of bending over backwards to fit any box besides the one that you want to fit. If you’re opinionated then you’re loud and aggressive. So the natural solution would, of course, be to become gentle and unassuming, losing our voices and our identities in the process. If we like things typically associated with the black community, it’s ghetto and we get shunned. If we go on to like things like anime, comics, punk or indie music then we’re trying too hard to be white. Yet our outward blackness still prevents us from being fully accepted by our white peers.
But then artists like Rico Nasty burst onto the scene. She’s brash, she’s loud, she’s aggressive and unapologetic. But she has a softer more emotional alter ego in Tacobella, a contrasting alter ego for more serious moments. Her dressing ranges from ripped jeans with platform boots to Clueless style suits. Her clothes, like her music, can and often does change on a dime. Artists like Rico Nasty, Princess Nokia, Janelle Monae are pretty major icons when it comes to alternative culture and they offer a wide array of creativity and a unique outlook on what it means to be a black woman. Yet, their femininity and their blackness are often called into question.
Why can they not just be?
I think of these women and how they inspired my own individuality and that of the people around me but I am all too cognizant of the judgement that we as black women face when we dare to be ourselves; separate from any box.
The notion of blackness didn’t come from black people and conversely, the notion of black femininity didn’t come from black women. For centuries, a Eurocentric society has tried to put people of colour in boxes and in those boxes we stayed because to be outside of the box is to be white and to be white is to be the enemy.
A failure to align to either side of the binary, whether it be blackness and whiteness or femininity and masculinity, has birthed a third culture. The in-betweeners who don’t fit in anywhere but with each other. United by the quintessential, almost cliche feeling, of being misunderstood. Trey Ellis says in his article on The New Black Aesthetic:
“Alienated (junior) intellectuals, we are the more and more young blacks getting back into jazz and the blues; the only ones you see at punk concerts; the ones in the bookstore wearing little, round glasses and short, neat dreads; some of the only blacks who admit liking both Jim and Toni Morrison.”(1989)
There is the rather insidious implication that to embrace things not typically seen as tenets of black culture and associated with the diverse people in these alternative cultures is to forfeit one’s blackness and in the case of the black woman forfeit our femininity as well. One too many piercings or one too many tattoos and suddenly there are “concerned” men asking you why you would do that to yourself because it’s “not lady-like and men don’t like it”.
But the whole point of alternative culture is to provide a community where people can go against the grain and make your own definitions. Black women can decide what it means to be black and a woman in any way that they see fit. If you’re black and a woman, congratulations! You’re a black woman. No amount of dubbed anime will ever take that away.