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« In Which We Ever So Tightly Grip the Glass »

And the Divine


I am a Tragic Black Woman. Don’t let my confidence, or self-esteem, or self-assuredness fool you. Everyone else believes this to be so, and so it must be true. Unlike the average Black male, I am not part of a “dying population” so much as a future bereft of happiness, wealth, and love. Love is the kicker, you see. It is what it all comes back to, and the media – the newspapers, the magazines, the television shows, and the bloggers – are making sure that I don’t forget what it all comes down to: my lack.

It is not a health ailment as much as it is one, something that befalls me from birth, a “burden” I must carry as I mature. It is the color of my skin, the stereotypical physical attributes I took on without control in the matter. You see, the Tragic Black Woman is not so much a new phenomenon as a re-introduced one. She is a character to bemoan by the Black female population as much as a character to pity.

lorna simpson

If you are my mother, you exist outside of the online media universe, and so these articles and the angry blog posts they create, are things that she does not understand. But if you are like me - a former aspiring journalist, a current publicist, a person with a voracious appetite and a wealth of outlets to consume essays and articles and rants - then it can quickly become all you think about. I am without the privilege to read such information and not get affected. For a while, the Black woman as nonfiction character was blatantly ignored, and so these reports, however emotionally debilitating are still…still interesting (to say the least). We seem to be in vogue and so every week, something else comes out to remind us of our place. You are a subject of our fascination, yes, but there is still something to be left desired.

Unlike my white peers, we all fit under one umbrella. It does not matter that I know many women not like the articles. As a Black woman, as a woman of color, your public identity is homogenous, regardless of how much you may argue. If something fits within the popular idea of what it means to be Black and female, then it will be accepted, and if it does not, then its existence is a matter of who chooses to seek it out. I frequently stomp my feet at the number of gross, misguided, stereotypical and ultimately troubling articles that suppose who I am, and how I feel, and what it means to be young, and Black, and a woman, and yet I am boxed in, something to be pitied from birth. And unlike weight or hair color, the circumstances of Life While Black (Female Version) are so binding that the most open-minded of friends and colleagues but especially writers can’t help but perpetuate the myths (of our lack of beauty, of our lack of wealth, of our lack of wealth).

And unfortunately, these articles also perpetuate stereotypes about how unfeminine and without value Black women are. Without total regard for a modicum of accuracy, they instead perpetuate the idea that Black women are inadequate and will never live up to the successes (however miniscule) of our peers.

When the movie Precious first came out, a small uproar came from certain members of the Black community. Yet another Tragic Black Woman? Yet another sad tale about what it is like to be Black in America? And, yet again, we are praising this stereotype and routinely ignoring anything that does not fit within this mold. At first I rolled my eyes and thought, here we go again, criticizing one film as if it represents us all.

But now, after being “reminded” of how unloved I am, how physically unattractive I am, how desperate I am and how worthless I am, I can’t help but take a step back and try to grasp the picture that has developed. If the only positive public representations of women in my race are a billionaire talk show host and the First Lady, I should feel grateful, and yet I stand confused. These women to me are almost unreal. Their race comes second to everything they embody and for an average Black woman like myself, that is difficult to grasp. The stories about what it’s like to live in the middle of these two public figures – the Tragic and the Divine – are simply not there. Without them, I am left confused, angry, and subject to the opinions of those only familiar with what populate the media the most.

One night, I sat at a bar with a good friend and we discussed things you normally discuss when you’re twenty-two: friendships, job prospects, and relationships. The dating thing always seems to come up. It rears its head, and eventually the conversation stays there, stuck in an endless loop of griping and frustrations, miniscule problems overblown in the time between when they actually occur and when we confer with friends on the nature of our grievances. I remember drinking a really good, really sweet beer, something that was reasonably priced and would appeal to my candy-coated palette. I remember holding the glass, gripping it real tight and nervous-like, afraid of what would happen if I let go and needing something to do with my hands besides wring them dry in apprehension.

Sometimes I do this thing where I bring up a subject to stop thinking about it entirely. I am not looking for an excuse to further a conversation but a means of quickly expelling the thoughts that have run through my mind since first thinking about them. It is a means of not grazing the surface in conversation, a less and less sporadic oral retardation of this generation.

And so I began talking about dating and self-esteem and what it means to be a Black woman, a Black woman in the United States, a Black woman in Chicago, a hyper-segregated metropolis of epic proportions. It all came out very rapidly until I finally stopped, and then I tried to change the subject, but my friend did this thing with her head, a small tilt, and she blinked very quickly. She sighed the sort of sigh that represents not understanding or sympathy but pity that translates to, “Oh how sad for you.”

Apparently, just living and breathing near her, interacting as an old friend was not enough to convince her of an alternative to the narrative. “I read a lot about that. It’s different, and difficult, right? I know…it can be hard…for you,” she said.

Brittany Julious is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here.

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Reader Comments (3)

yea brittany -- so many SAT words, such a short space...

awesome work, dude!

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdana stewart

Thanks for this piece! It's great.

March 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterYvette

Dearest Brittany,

We have never met but we've exchanged a few words and likes via tumblr. I simply adore your writing and I am starting to believe that it is very possible that either you are a clone of myself or I am a clone of you. This piece was great! Really expressed my own sentiments regarding being the "tragic nappy headed ho" (as I like to refer to it). Well done.

Lola Smalls

May 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlola smalls

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