“You are my smart, strong, beautiful, caring, loving leader who is a proud black girl. Mommy and daddy love you.”
I utter these words every night as I say prayers with my beautiful, feisty, precocious 2-year-old daughter before she goes to sleep. While she is no doubt beautiful, I intentionally lead with the fact that she is smart and strong before concluding with the reminder that she is a proud black girl.
Dear black women, I see you. I appreciate you. I love you. I stand with you and recognize your greatness. I am here to do what I can to stand with you in pushing back against our white supremacist society which constantly seeks to silence you despite your constant displays of wisdom and resilience.
Before you continue reading, I want to give full disclosure. My wife of eight years, and my daughter’s mother, is a white woman with whom I have been friends since second grade. I respect your right to stop reading here or dismiss my words, but I chose her because of what she brings to me and our family, not as a rejection of black women like my mother.
The recent controversy involving Serena Williams has forced a long overdue conversation on sexism and double standards around male and female conduct, especially regarding emotions. She shrewdly limited the conversation to sexism to gain maximum support in a country club sport. I will take it a step further and acknowledge the intersection of sexism and racism that black women experience when expressing themselves.
As a black man who was 6-foot-2-inches and 185 pounds with a booming voice by the time I was 14, I learned early on how to make myself smaller and less intimidating, especially when dealing with white people. I did this out of fear for safety, the calling of authorities, and picking up life-altering charges for simply expressing legitimate frustration.
Now that I am older, I have worked to strike a balance between not evoking police action and voicing a greater forcefulness on matters of oppression. Not only did I watch what happened to Serena, but I also witnessed and listened to firsthand accounts from other black women about their experiences of being “tone policed.” I felt that it was important for someone besides black women to highlight these realities.
In many ways, there are great things happening regarding black women in America. We see record numbers running for office, winning nominations, and being the first to hold specific positions, like our Charlotte mayor. Even with these gains, black women are pressed to overcome landmines in order to gain success. While my mother taught me I had to be twice as good to get the same credit, the reality for my sister and other black women is you have to be three times better.
The angry black woman trope is used to dismiss legitimate points. But let’s stop and think for a second. What’s wrong with being angry? If you were brought here, raped to bear children as slaves then separated from those children, all while constantly having your trauma overlooked generation after generation, wouldn’t you be angry?
I’m constantly angry, yet it doesn’t make my points any less valid.
Within the past couple of years, I have been given space to push back and challenge the status quo in this community while being invited to speak frankly in a way that, at times, even surprises myself.
I plan to speak up for — and more importantly, alongside — the smart, strong, beautiful black women who have not always been given the same freedoms as myself. The black women who have been shut down when they’ve hit the truth too closely. The black women who have been pushed to smile and to offer sweetness to things with a long-lasting bitterness. These are the black women who my wife and I want our daughter to emulate when she grows up.
Justin Perry is the founder of Perry Counseling Healing and Recovery where he treats people struggling with insecurity, shame, and personal relationships. He’s also an activist who chairs OneMECK, a group dedicated to promoting mixed-income schools and housing.