‘To be Black Woman and Alive’ (2016)

Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad’s To Be Black Woman and Alive (2016), is the embodiment of the millennial black woman’s call for awakening. By exposing the black community’s internalisation of white patriarchy, both speakers tackle institutional racism in both mainstream society and the black community exemplifying its monumental influence on black women’s identity.Initially, we are confronted with the objectification of women. As Jihad explains that ‘a nigga’s biggest weakness is a white girl with a fat ass’ she simultaneously exposes the double standards of beauty, through the superlative ‘biggest’. Black women are stereotypically depicted by whites, as having large buttocks this is repeatedly sexualised and cheapened.This contradiction is so internalised within black society that the speakers, mimicking black men, say in unison ‘these black girls better watch out; cuz white girls is winning.’ Both speakers exclaim this in unison to emphasise how millennial racism manifests itself through men’s provocation for women to compete.

Both speakers, continually mimicking black men, then speak alternatingly about the different races of women they fetishize, ‘like that latin type’. The inclusion of these different ethnicities affirms black men’s preferential treatment of mixed women. As the women revert to a feminine tone to describe the black mothers who birth these ‘oriental mixfish[es]’, they simultaneously detail the plights that black mothers have endured. Jihad refers intergenerationally to the history of African-American women who ‘came from sugar cane and segregation,’ in order to exemplify the political and physical degradation black women have overcome. By exposing how her origins are ‘from too much pride and not enough perm,’ Jihad uses intensifiers like ‘too much’ to emphasise the defiance of black women. This line focuses on black woman’s hair and mentality: during the Black Panther movement the afro was symbolic of black pride and defiance, those who wore it refused to destroy their heritage in order to conform to the eurocentric norm. Valentine’s description of  ‘mama from the gutter from section 8,’ directly criticises how gentrification has marginalised black women. By comparing ‘the gutter’ and ‘section 8’ she exposes how Section 8 of the U.S housing act led to the inflation of rent and left many African-American’s in squalor. Consequently, both women go on to describe ‘HOODRAT BLACK BELLY’. The intertextuality of this phrase goes deep into the  African-American women’s trauma. The “hoodrat’s” ‘the main purpose is to provide sexual favours’ for money’ (Collins 2009:91) – this is a direct consequence of the abjectification of black women. The way the speakers use alliteration of the plosive ‘b’ emphasises the violence that black women continue to endure. This reflective tone is interrupted by their reversion to male mimicry as they proclaim: ‘I DON’T FUCK WITH BLACK GIRLS.’ The way the speakers declaim in unison emphasises the disrespectful mentality of black men: because they have internalised negative images of black women they disregard them as ugly.

Consequently, the speakers use their own voices to describe the detrimental outcomes of this intra-racial hatred. As Jihad describes how the ideology of “light is right” has embedded itself into her psyche, she confesses that she ‘know[s] four brands of hydrocortisone by heart.’ Hydrocortisone and ‘lemon juice recipes’ are skin damaging methods that black women use to lighten their skin. The fact that Jihad reveals this taboo, supports Valentine’s confession as she exclaims that ‘too dark is the answer to a question [she’s] given up asking’. Again the intensifier “too” to highlights the socio-cultural influence “lightness” has on beauty. As Valentine explains that ‘to be woman and black is to know your beauty does not belong to you’ she separates gender and race in order to assert the “double oppression” that black women face. Enduring this oppression both women describe their vital tool for survival, self-love. By describing how they are ‘the first and last [people] to love [themselves]’, Valentine describes the methods of self-love. Alternatingly, Jihad describes why self-love is crucial by disclosing that they ‘are not desirable to [their] own kind.’  

Both speakers contrast this sombre tone with empowering language and affirmation. As Valentine proclaims ‘to be woman and black is to be magic’ we hear a celebratory scream from the audience. This line refers to the hashtag ‘Black girl magic’ which a is a concept and movement that was popularised by CaShawn Thompson in 2013. The themes of endurance and trauma correlate in the alternating lines: ‘is to survive the white man with his needles and their nooses, and the black man with their hearts and their knuckles,’ as the speakers express that they are not cherished anywhere.

As the lines: “TO BE BLACK AND WOMAN AND ALIVE IS TO BE RESILIENT, MY VERY EXISTENCE IS DEFIANCE”  are shouted in unison the speaker’s message is emphasised by their use of tone, half rhyme and personal pronoun (my). These lines are exemplified throughout the poem. They empower, enlighten and enrich the millennial black woman.

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