Competition, the word is never really said out loud outside of the context of sports, but it manifested itself everywhere. Growing up in a poor, predominately Black and Latino/a/x neighborhood, competition unconsciously (maybe consciously) informed the interactions most of the neighborhood kids had, but why?
I never understood, nor did I really even notice that my perceived “biggest competition” was other Black Womyn. This meant we were constantly one upping each other with clothing, hair, sneakers, (even with relationships) just to prove that we were the “it” girl. It also meant that when another Black womyn walked into a room the first thing I would do was stare at her up and down to see what she had on, and then maybe give her the fakest grin of acknowledgment.
When I got to college the struggle continued when other Black womyn were the first to question the legitimacy of a high test score rather than congratulate me. It was not until getting to graduate school at another predominately white institution that I become conscious of this.
It was during graduate school that I experienced the magic that could happen when Black womyn stop viewing each other as competition and started seeing each other as support, as lifelines, as people whose liberation was bound to one another. The magic that I am referring to is that of healing. These women celebrated my victories even when I did not feel the occasion warranted a celebration. These are the same women who introduced me to group counseling, something that I was absolutely resistant to because that was not something Black people did. Clearly, I had internalized my parents understanding of mental health as just an “American thing”.
We made it a point to counsel once a week, and created intentional systems to support one another even when we no longer shared the same geographic location. Healing is a lifelong process but I can honestly say I am a much better human being because of the incredible sisterhood I share with those women. This experience taught me that I DID NOT need to be strong, having always viewed the “strong Black Women” narrative as a positive thing, I finally learned to unpack it for myself. This idea of strength was getting in the way of my healing.
Negative depictions of Black women in the media is not new, but reality TV continues to only highlight us as drama seeking and individualist humans, when that is not who we are as Black Womyn! Capitalism in collaboration with reality TV (and so many other things in the world) would like to you to believe that we are each other’s competition, but we are not. We are stronger together than we are divided.
Consider this a Call to Action.
Next time you see a sister walking down the street, say hi (even if it’s in the middle of the brutal Northeast winters)! In a world that is constantly trying to strip of us of our humanity, it is important that we humanize each other, and the easiest way to start doing this is by saying hi.
And if you are going to eye her outfit first like I used to do, at least let her know that she looks cute!