Culture - Mental

A resource for the black girl specifically on how to navigate racism and oppression.

The Journey Begins:

Written by Odein Princewill

I hope this letter shows you that you are not alone in your journey.

From the beginning of time the black woman has always had to endure more pain than any other socio-grouping. Pain that is both psychologically and physically manifested. In the socio-hierarchical structure of the world, men are placed above women and white people are placed above black people. With the intertwining of race and gender, the white man is placed above the white woman, who is in turn placed above the black man leaving the black woman at the very bottom of the hierarchical structure.

A graphic drawing of two black women holding the earth, with a caption stating "Black women always had to endure more".

I am reminded of the words by Oprah Winfrey, “Where there is no struggle, there is no strength”. The idea is that the world has positioned the black women to struggle for recognition and respect, in a manner that is not experienced by other socio-groupings. It is this struggle that moulds our strength and resilience. However even with such strength and resilience our ventures into new experiences and environments can threaten the very efficacy of such strength.  In the midst of such trying environments, no matter how tough you think you are, you will need to shed that skin and give room for the re-birth of a new skin. A skin with a resilience that needs to be custom made to suit that environment. You need to be able to strip yourself bare and allow yourself to absorb the initial shock that comes with a change in environment. Then you need to let yourself absorb the shock that comes with being a black person in that environment. Finally, you need to let yourself absorb the shock that as a black woman in that environment, your playing field is about to become even more distorted, than previously experienced.  By allowing yourself to experience the initial series of shocks, you begin to train your skin to toughen up, so that you will be prepared for anything that comes your way. All the shock you absorb will eventually be released in the form of resilient and courageous character traits, the two things that are key to surviving as a black woman in the world as we know it.

The greatest mistake you can make as a black woman is to use the skills you’ve learned in one environment to survive in another environment. Look at it from this perspective, even though all winters are universally characterised as cold, different regions abide by different measures to survive their respective winters. You can’t expect the jacket you wear in Cape Town’s 15 degrees’ Celsius winter to protect you in New York’s 4 degrees’ Celsius winter.

Likewise, just because you have experienced racism in one manner, does not mean that you can withstand racism in another environment with its many facades; sorority racism, institutionalised racism, racism disguised as sexual preference, classist racism, and even the “I have one black friend so I’m not racist” racism.

There is an Igbo saying in my country: Nwaanyi muta ite ofe mmiri mmiri, di ya amuta ipi utara aka were suru ofe. Loosely translated the phrase means that one should learn to change one’s tactics to suit a situation. Adaptation is essential for your survival as a black woman in this world . Learn to adapt to your current or new environment, but not with the intention to assimilate into that culture but with the intention to gain the skills necessary to withstand whatever that environment throws your way.

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