Tori Sprott is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.
There is wide scope when discussing and dissecting women’s liberation. Whether it be academic, spiritual, emotional, sexual (and so forth), liberation is what you make it. One woman’s idea of liberation may differ from the next based on her life experiences, therefore it isn’t progressive to shun a woman for the way she chooses to liberate herself. On the flip side, it also isn’t progressive to put one kind of liberation under the microscope, making no room for others that perhaps marginalised women are seeking. I will be speaking more specifically on emotional liberation and vulnerability, and how it can be difficult to have freedom of speech as a black woman.
Being a black woman, there is a heightened pressure to be a certain way at a certain pace and time. We are often labelled as ‘women’ from a young age, and with this comes being sexually objectified by older men. Many times I have seen men refer to the shape of a woman’s body rather than her actual age when judging who is a suitable partner, which is extremely problematic. Young black women are often taken advantage of for this very reason.
As black women, we are expected to have everything together, not only from a young age, but also consistently throughout our lives. Our shortcomings are magnified and criticised on a greater scale. Take Dianne Abbott for example; a few blunders and she is thrown out to the wolves. Whilst I completely understand political accountability, owning up to and rectifying your mistakes, to say the way she has been treated is unfair is an understatement. It is not very often that you see her white counterparts criticised in such an insidiously personal way that is almost way beyond politics. She has received 31% of the overall abuse thrown at female MPs on Twitter. It is her appearance, her blackness that rubs many up the wrong way. But why? Why can’t we be great? Why can’t we be great and make mistakes? We are human beings too.
As much as I am an outspoken person and stand on my own ground, often I silence myself, as there is always a slight fear of being seen as an angry, bitter and aggressive black woman. It is also frustrating to see privileged white people deny that this label functions as a method of oppression towards black woman. Being vulnerable to both misogyny and racism is a lot to take on, and often we stay silent in order to avoid harsh judgement from those who don’t understand us. Even in spite of our silence, we are still judged.
Explaining this to ignorant people repeatedly is labour in itself, and it is not a job that we should have to commit to in order to prove ourselves. I know my experiences, and there is nothing that anyone can do to negate that. Although the ignorance of others isn’t my burden, it indirectly silences us and we constantly feel as though we have something to prove to people who will still continue to undermine us way after we have made an attempt to make things clearer. A white woman told me that I would never in my life experience racism as much as she has because she was kicked out of her home for being with a black man. What she failed to realise is that she was not the victim of racism in that situation, her boyfriend was. She told me to not take things so seriously, to smile. The latter infuriated me more than her trying to make it a ‘who has faced the most oppression?’ competition. Being condescending and patronising is to be expected when speaking on such topics, but the carelessness from some is astounding, and links to the fact that black women in general feel silenced, as we are made to feel like party poopers when serious personal issues are discussed.
Vulnerability is frightening, especially due to the fact that our weaknesses are magnified, much to wider society’s enjoyment. To be liberated emotionally is to pave the way for more emotional security within ourselves, and to then use this confidence as a means of expressing our views publically without fear of being seen in a negative way. I believe that being a vulnerable black woman is to be a strong black woman.
Rather than viewing vulnerability as a weakness, let’s change the dialogue and understand that being openly and willingly vulnerable is a strength within itself. Vulnerability can be rather empowering once we come to this realisation.
1986 picture of Diane Abbott (BBC News).