Blavity — one of my favorite blogs — recently ran an article titled, “To All My Weird Black Girls.” As soon as I saw it on my newsfeed I was excited, because I knew this article would speak to me. But then I read it in its entirety.
The writer spoke plainly about being an outlier in the black community because she loves heavy metal, anime and Star Trek. She says, “I was unlike many girls in the black community, and it made me insecure and uncomfortable and even brought tears to my eyes.”
In some ways I could relate to this. My first album was Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill and my first cassette tape was No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom. I have memories of opting out of recess just so I could curl up with a good book on the benches and catch up with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps or Sweet Valley High. I played with slugs, loved making fart noises and didn’t know who Tupac was when he died.
I was a weird black girl and wore my weirdness as a badge of honor. I also received my fair share of bullying for being an outlier. I’ll never forget my fifth-grade bully, Ladonna, chasing me around the playground calling me a “wannabe white girl.” Despite praying that I wouldn’t get my ass kicked, I remember feeling a great deal of pain for being accused of “acting white.” It was confusing because in my mind I just wanted to be myself and I wondered why that wasn’t enough.
But Jaya’s article was problematic for me. In one part she says, “Society has an idealized perception of a black person. They feed into the stereotypes and think that everyday black people are loud, obnoxious, ‘ghetto,’ etc. If someone does not fit this description, they are an outsider.”
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Throughout the article, the only traits she associates with “typical” black people are negative. She admits that she didn’t truly feel accepted until she went to college and met people with similar interests. One of the main points of the article was, if you didn’t conform to this narrative of blackness, you were considered weird. Being someone who sees both weirdness and blackness as incredible gifts, I beg to differ.
Although I was a weirdo, I was still accepted by my core group of black friends. We listened to Usher, The Fugees, Next and Tamia and and danced to their songs in talent shows. Even though I was criticized for “acting white” by a couple of bullies, I was also taught to be proud of my blackness from an early age.
I celebrated Kwanzaa, played with black Barbies and Kenya dolls, and had a huge crush on Langston Hughes. In fifth grade, I won first place (by a landslide) at my school’s Black History Bee. My mother spent hours helping me study, and it gave me great pleasure to learn about the amazing accomplishments of people who shared the same hue as me. On the other hand, I also loved rocking out to Korn and Matchbox 20, but I never felt the need to reject black culture to embrace being eclectic. Both realities existed within me simultaneously and created the curious, creative and weird little girl that I was.
The movie Dope attempted to address this conundrum of black identity as well. The lead character Malcolm gets beat up and bullied for liking “white people shit.” In his application to Harvard he poses the question, “Am I a geek or a menace?” This question contains racially charged, hidden language that really asks questions like, “Do I identify with white or black culture?” or, “Do I want to go to college or to prison?”
Identity within a racial binary framework seems to always ask you to choose a side — and no matter which side you choose, you’re forced to tell an incomplete story about who you are. Although some parts are relatable, Jaya’s “To All My Weird Black Girls,” along with the movie Dope, subscribe to this racial binary of either/or rather than subverting it.
In their stories, black people are only valued or considered “special” if they embrace dominant white culture. Identifying with white culture isn’t synonymous with being “special” or unique because the dominant culture has never had a monopoly on weirdness; if anything, it’s been the “other” — it’s people forced to live life on the margins who have engaged in the most innovation.
Accepting black culture doesn’t equate to conformity; black narratives are filled with individuals who have created themselves for themselves, despite popular consensus. Black women are multi-faceted and there are tons of weird black girls out there who embrace both their weirdness and blackness. In many ways, they are one in the same.