Happy Black Girl Day x Assimilation x Whiteness

by Guest Contributor Renina Jarmon (M.Dot), originally published at Model Minority

Black assimilation is premised on being accepted by White people and making them feel comfortable.

In reading Kevin Mumford’s brilliant book, Interzones, I learned that the Urban League and the NAACP are historically rooted in making sure that country Negros from the south, who moved to the north, didn’t make aspiring middle class Black folks look bad. These two groups monitored Negro behavior on the streets, went door to door teaching folks about “personal cleanliness” and monitored Black sex workers.

I am excited about #Happyblackgirl day because it is about us affirming ourselves and not looking to mainstream media to do so.

I am grateful that @Sistatoldja took the time to make it happen. The 7th day of every month is now, Happy Black Girl Day. Wooter.

Last week I tweeted “Black women are awesome on 55 million different levels. CNN can’t capture that and I don’t expect them to. It ain’t they job, its ours.“

I see those reports and roll my eyes because I know that when CNN does their Negro reports they are simply doing their job, which is to serve the interests of the shareholders and of the white power structure.

Don’t get me wrong, if CNN was like, can you come on and talk about Black women’s sexuality, global economy or gentrification, I would roll, but I highly doubt that phone would ring, lols. Renina the pundit. Ha!

Back to the hair. Black women needing to straighten their hair to increase their chances of getting a job or a mate, is a manifestation of structural domination.

In other words, if White women had to go through what we did ever 4-6 weeks to turn their hair into naps, in order to try and ensure their survival as employees then the conversation about Black hair would be different.

Last fall when Alison Samuels was talking shit about Zahara Jolie-Pitts napps, all I could think was can this child live? Can I live? Sidebar: I haven’t combed my hair since late December, I never just rocked the fro, and it has been an
illuminating experience. I am more self-conscious, always touching it, and it’s just really BIG and unruly and I get stared at. Who knew? Talking about the self presentation of Black girls the politics of respectability, Samuels writes,

But even the mothers who spare the hot comb still have to put time and effort into keeping hair healthy: Any self-respecting black mother knows that she must comb, oil, and brush her daughter’s hair every night. This prevents the hair from matting up, drying out, and breaking off. It also prevents any older relatives from asking them why you’re neglecting your child and letting her run around looking like a wild woman. Having well-managed hair is not just about style, it’s about pride, dignity, and self-respect. Keeping your daughter’s hair neat is an unspoken rule of parental duties that everyone in the community recognizes and respects.

Hair that is nice, neat, and cared for also gives African-American girls the confidence that they can fit into the world at large without being seen as completely different.

There is a lot to unpack here, so first lets have a little primer on whiteness. George Yancy Writes in Feminism and the Subtext of Whiteness, “whiteness goes unmarked” yet “it assumes to speak with universal authority can truth.”
He goes on to say,

Whiteness assumes the authority to marginalize other identities, discourses perspectives and voices. By constituting itself as the center, non white voices are Othered, marginalized and rendered voiceless.

When we think about assimilation we have to think about whiteness because the two are related, in this country. Furthermore, what are the political, social and spiritual consequences for a Black person assimilating into a system that is historically rooted in oppressing that person. Yancey goes on to write quoting Ruth Frankenberg,

First whiteness is a location of structural advantage or race privilege. Second, it is a standpoint a place from which white people look at ourselves, at others and at society. Third “whiteness” refers to a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked, unnamed.

Now that we have a working definition of whiteness laid out, we can get into Zahara and assimilation.

Black peoples respectability politics make my ass itch and Samuel’s comment is the embodiment of Black respectability politics.

There is no greater freedom than being about to be yourself, and I cannot be myself assimilate for Whites at the same time. Or perhaps I should say it is a tenuous challenge to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is a dance and I have changed my self presentation in order to pursue opportunities throughout my life.

We constantly adjust our Blackness in order to make White folks feel more comfortable.This is the essence of QuestLove’s piece about bout “The Little Things” and the ways in which he adjusts his presentation of Black masculinity in the presence of White folks.

We do what we have to do in order to survive. Wigs, perms, weaves and God knows what else. Jonzey says that I put too much on White perception of our hair in the workplace. And I may, however, if it comes down to me and another candidate and her straight blond hair is perceived as more attractive then my black napps, twists or straight hair, then I lose, and this, is structural domination.

What would our hair look like if we didn’t need to straighten it in order to keep a job?

The Gods to honest truth is that Zahara Jolie-Pitt, for all intents and purposes is a member of the American elite, and one of the benefits of being member of the elite is that your “deviance” is not susceptible to being punished the same way that it would be if you are low income. Which brings me to the social costs of assimilation.

Assimilation has a price. This is one of the reasons why I liked the conversation around “Bitch is the New Black“ because I would frame it as a one about the social costs of assimilation.

As I read the article I thought, class wise, do working class heterosexual and queer Black women have the same dating and marriage statistics and challenges?

Do affluent queer and heterosexual Black women and have the same dating and marriage statistics and challenges?

When I hear middle class heterosexual folks talk about the “dearth” of similarly position Black men to date, I think of public education. What does it mean for heterosexual Black women when Black boys are placed by a White school system on a punishment/jail track at six years old, in first grade, and what are we going to do about it? Why in the name of apartheid is this acceptable?

Historically, America has been premised on both the notion of Democracy and the material reality of Black oppression and the denial full citizenship to all African Americans. Peniel Joseph’s new book from Black Power to Obama gets into this. The fact that we have been denied full citizenship is why the “Are West Indians/Black beef is so deep?” This is why all immigrants are compared to American Blacks.

The notion is, if you can’t BE White you sure as hell don’t want to be Black.

Which leads me to ask, when can we just be, just simply be able to live and be ourselves?

We were never meant to survive, so for us to be talking about Happyblackgirlday is revolutionary on levels that I lightweight can’t articulate right now but I am trying.

When will we be able to be happy, joyous and free?

As Black women we put our lives on hold for our lovers, our mommas, our families, our kids, guess what, that life will never come unless we claim it. Sitting in Tuesdays, waiting for the Chicken Bone Bus on New Years Eve, White dude who Loves Black women strikes up a conversation with the me. He brings up the “Bitch is the New Black” article. I listen. And then while talking about his Black women friends, he says something profound, when he mentions that we “seem to put our lives on hold.” I get that sometimes we have to do it, to push through. However, every time we put our lives on hold for someone or something else, this is a willful act. We are not objects, we are human.

I could give a fuck about what a Steve Harvey or anyone else has to say about Black women’s marital statistics. Anyone paying their rent talking shit about us can miss me with those. Rather than tell our story and reduce Black men to being only worth what they can pay for on a date or in rent, how about writing about his OWN relationships with his family members, his mother, his daddy, his children, his narrative, his journey. Hmmp.

Happy Black Girl Day.

With Love, Resistance and Desire.