A few weeks ago, I wrote about being a carefree black girl, and what it took to get to that point. Where did the concept even come from?
Although the term originated in America, I strongly believe that the concept of being a carefree black girl can and should apply to black girls, women, and femme-identifying people everywhere. Indeed, the founder of the blog by the same name describes her Tumblr as “A safe space for black girls across the globe and beyond to share their diverse fashions, passions, conversations, and cultures without any drama—and a home away from the various struggles we face in the real world”.
Although the stereotypes about black women in the villages, towns, and cities across Africa may differ from the ones that persist throughout the media in the diaspora, one consistency is the expectation for us to put everyone else’s needs above our own. Although society pretends to laud self-sacrifice, it’s not truly expected for everyone to put themselves at the bottom of their priorities list. Although no women are able to easily escape the patriarchal conditioning that we’ve received — as the former favorite, now somewhat deservedly soon-to-be-excommunicated from black feminism Chimanda Adichie said in We Should All be Feminists, “we teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man” — this goes double for black women. From the mammy stereotype that persisted from the antebellum American South until today, to the backlash that black women receive on social media for simply speaking their truth, the idea that we don’t even merit an afterthought in our own minds is pervasive.
While community and social ties are an important part of every culture, every society, and putting others’ needs ahead of our own, even to our detriment, is one that can cause serious psychological harm to those on the receiving end of it. And let’s be clear: not everyone is on the receiving end of it. People are so accustomed to seeing black women and other women of color in service to others that they expect it, even when it’s not our responsibility. We are frequently mistaken for being the nanny instead of the mom, or for being employees when we are clearly customers. Or told that we are responsible for other people’s decisions (although it never goes the other way around).
That’s not to say that no white person hasn’t ever had this experience, but it happens more frequently to those of us who are more melanated due to these pervasive stereotypes. While not overt and violent acts, these microaggressions chip away at our self-esteem, our self-worth, and our ability to practice self-care.
Social media, for all its ills, has also allowed black feminist critical theory from academics of old has to become more accessible to people around the world. Although these women are not always cited by name, their ideas — as well as the ideas of the new guard — are reaching more people, and also teaching us, that no, we aren’t anyone’s mules, and yes, putting priority on our own mental, social, physical, and economic health is our right.
It may be difficult to understand or believe this if everything you’ve been taught is contrary. And many women don’t have the time to seek out black Twitter feminism because they’re busy trying to make ends meet. Some women — known on African feminist Twitter as “patriarchal princesses”— wholly believe that a woman’s primary purpose is to marry, procreate for her husband, and spend her life in service to him.
Although I never consciously bought into the idea that that was my role, I certainly haven’t always been immune to patriarchal brainwashing. I suspect that even the strongest feminists among us, at some point in their lives, have done things they didn’t want to or even believed that they should do, have still done unreasonable things because a man, whether their boss, father, or just a guy they (thought they) liked demanded it of us.
Getting older (and hopefully wiser), though, has helped me lean into the person that I was probably always meant to become. This means that even though the well-being of the people in my life, as well as people I may never meet, is important to me, that shouldn’t come at my own expense. People who work tirelessly to make the world, or even just their world, a better place for everyone are admirable. That shouldn’t mean, though, that they have to put themselves last to do so. A more just world shouldn’t come at anyone’s expense, and the world’s injustices are hardly the fault of those with the least privilege. Everyone is deserving of a life of dignity and security, which means that black women and femmes shouldn’t be sacrificing themselves at the altar of white supremacist and patriarchy.
If you’re aspiring to be a carefree black girl, the first thing you need to do is take care of yourself with the resources you have available. That might be your friends, family, or your excellent health insurance plan. It might mean reaching out for help, or finally making that dentist appointment. It might mean telling your partner what you need from them to make your home life more fulfilling, or even just mean taking 10 minutes for yourself each morning before getting your children ready for school.
Start making time for yourself, and carefreeness will follow.