Self-Acceptance is Radical for Black Women
And it can take time to achieve it
Today I’d like to talk about the radical idea of accepting yourself as a Black woman. It takes work, because the world often tells us there’s something wrong with us. While I’d like to think that is changing, just look at the comments that people like Serena Williams get - the hatred and vitriol simply for excelling and being unapologetic.
As women, we’re often socialised to avoid taking up space and to be ashamed of the things that make us us. As Black women, even more so. Our hair, our clothing, our “attitude” all seem to be up for question, usually by those who feel we are “too” something (though perhaps they should really look at the fear inside them that’s driving their criticism of us.)
I’ve mentioned it before, but one of the earliest criticisms I remember was from the nun running the school I attended who thought that my exuberant 70s afro was just too much. Luckily, my parents didn’t allow her opinion to stand.
Not long after that, I remember unflattering comparisons with my lighter skinned sister. It seemed one could either be pretty or clever, not both. We both hated that attempt to divide us.
There’s also the issue of visibility - or lack of it. Growing up, it was rare to see myself represented in the fashion mags - on the rare occasions where there were Black models and actors it was big news. White people take that kind of visibility and representation for granted, and while there are issues with the kinds of representation that’s common, think about not seeing yourself at all. How does that help you accept yourself?
I had to look in the pages of Ebony, Essence and Jet to see people who looked like me. Meanwhile, the mainstream kept people who looked like me largely on the periphery. Thankfully, that’s improved a lot, though it could still be even better. (Representation matters; and the right kind of representation matters more.)
In personal relationships, there was always something wrong about the way I wanted to be. I know many people can relate to that feeling that for others who you are is not ok, and to the temptation to go along just to make the comments stop. What felt most comfortable for me was not regarded as necessarily appropriate for a girl or young woman, as I was then, in a pretty conservative and patriarchal society. That’s why there are photos around of me in long dresses, high heeled shoes and dangly earrings - all things I avoid today. I’ve even had long hair a few times.
One of the liberating things about getting older is that I worry a lot less about what other people think of who I am. In fact, I generally please myself, which means no make up, stud earrings or none at all, and other jewellery is a very optional extra.
I live in the tropics, so shorts and tees are my daily garb, with trousers to protect me from the evening mosquitos. I went back to short natural hair a few years ago, and I think it’s here to stay. I also discovered this year that the clothing that feels most “me” in temperate climes is a tunic top and jeans and Doc Martens.
It’s taken a few decades, but I’m finally comfortable in my own skin, even though some still think there are other ways I “should” be. I reject them all, and say to all Black women: who you are is absolutely ok and you can choose in every moment without limits. We have to learn to love and accept ourselves as we are. And really, that shouldn’t be radical at all.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.
I am an anti-racism writer, educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. If you value my perspective, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.