by Shannon Williams
Dorothy Height, chairwoman and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women once said (I’m paraphrasing) that African-American women are very unique. We rarely do what we want to do, but always do what we need to do.
As soon as the words left Height’s mouth, I heard myself say a very heartfelt “Amen.” It was at this time that I began to reflect on various Black women in my own life, from my mother and sister, to my girlfriends, relatives and even the different female bosses I’ve had over the years. As all of these women crossed my mind, one word seemed to be a characteristic that they all possessed: strength.
Each of these women’s individual stories varied tremendously, yet they all embodied an undeniable strength.
There are so many roles that a Black woman has to play—the role of mother, wife, caretaker, employee, employer, activist, motivator and sympathizer—the list can go on and on. The challenging aspect of all of these roles is that we almost always have to execute them with an asterisk over our shoulder. You know—not entirely the way we’d like to do things, but definitely the way that benefits others more than it may benefit us. This speaks to a Black woman’s undying ability to be selfless. It’s the spirit that was reflective in Sojourner Truth’s decision to repeatedly risk her own life (and freedom) for others; it was reflective in Myrlie Evers’ fight for civil rights, and even Michelle Obama’s quest to be a successful triple threat as wife, mother and career woman.
Because Black women are so strong, selfless and generally have to be tolerant during tough times, we should always be treated with the utmost respect. But the treatment of respect begins with the view we have of ourselves.
I was recently filling my car with gas when I observed a young Black woman who appeared to be in her early 20s. This woman’s appearance was deplorable. Her pink (yes pink) hair was all over her head, the too-tight shirt she had on exposed a great portion of her abdomen, the jeans she wore were unzipped, and her thong underwear were obviously visible. In addition to her appearance, she was talking loudly on her cell phone as she entered the gas station.
As I watched her, I couldn’t help but wonder why she felt it was OK to be in public in such a disheveled manner. My mind instantly went back to a time before my birth when Blacks, young and old, took pride in their appearance. Look at any picture from the civil rights era and you’ll see males with pants that fit, crisp shirts and sometimes even ties. The females would be dressed in modest-fitting clothes.
Where did we go wrong?
While respect is something that shouldn’t be given simply based on how one dresses, we should all aim to dress respectfully.
As women we are not only reflective of ourselves, but also each other and those who came before us. The way in which we carry ourselves lets people know how they should approach us—it should be an unspoken expectation, a characteristic that exudes from within us.
With that said, Black men should always hold us in the highest regard. It pains me to hear a Black man speak disrespectfully to a woman or behave in an inappropriate manner—this includes maltreatment and abandoning responsibilities such as raising children.
While Height says Black women rarely do what we want to do, but always do what we need to do, I hope women who find themselves wanting to stay in adverse situations, do what they need to do to get out of the situation.
Black women are the backbone of the family, but that family unit can be compromised if the woman doesn’t adequately fulfill her role.
To all my sisters, I salute you. To those who are doing what they need to do in life, I commend you. For the Black women who still have a way to go in her walk, I encourage you to be steadfast in your attempt to be the woman God wants you to be.
Always treat yourself and others with respect and demand it in return.
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