written by Leandra Williams
Inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant once said, “We are women. Everything we do matters. I am not my sister’s keeper. I am my sister.” With society disproportionately painting negative images of Black women interacting with one another, it’s no wonder that we continue to have issues with effectively communicating with each other and treating our sisters well. As a Black woman, I strongly feel we want a closer bond with our sisters, but with institutionalized classism, colorism, and ageism, society continues to dictate what we believe Black women should look and act like. Often, this stops us from making a genuine connection with other black women.
In my experience, some Black women will treat their sisters poorly be it in the workplace, being petty on social media, within educational institutions, or in other spaces. Some black women have negative interactions with other Black women because they perceive their sisters to be “less educated.” Although having an institutionalized education does not mean someone is smarter than someone who does not, this occurs. Negative interactions between Black women even happen in the workplace. For instance, a Black woman graduates, gets a great new job, only to find that her Black supervisor acts coldly toward her and may even be intimidated by her presence. And then, there’s the interactions between Black women on college campuses. I remember when I first began college at Northern Kentucky University in 2009 (a predominantly white institution, or PWI) and how excited I was to see other Black women on campus. One day before classes started, I intentionally walked around campus in order to speak to my sisters. Unfortunately, once I began saying “Hi, how are you doing?” I was met with strange looks, and no replies back. It hurt my feelings, because in my mind I didn’t see anything wrong with speaking to people, especially my sisters. However, I learned very quickly that all Black women don’t feel the same sense of urgency when it comes to speaking and being polite to other Black women.
A few observations came to mind after that experience and also after working with different Black women over the years. Some women are genuine and love being around other Black women; some are in competition with their fellow sister and others enjoy being the only Black person in a space; some Black women tend to stay to themselves, and while they aren’t rude to you, they don’t necessarily connect with you either. These experiences and observations led me to this question: Why is it that historically we’ve been able to fight, survive and love one another, but over the course of a few decades, we’ve turned our backs on our sisters?
Sociologist and author Katrina Bell McDonald wrote a piece back in 2009 titled “Black Women Behaving Badly,” and she dove deeply into the disconnection that Black women are facing today in society. She explains that not only is there a certain type of expectation the media wants the public to believe about Black women’s interactions with each other, but, this in turn causes Black women to struggle with our internal selves. Have you ever found yourself being snarky to your fellow sister? Did you ever question why and the reasoning behind your actions? Have you ever been envious of a black womans accomplishments and participated in trying to bring her down? Are you annoyed by other Black women in your space, or are you not sure how to interact with new sisters that come into your life? If you tend to have a high expectation of fellowship and warm relations when it comes to communicating with your sisters and you consistently aren’t met with the same kind of energy, this can lead to constant disappointment.
My question now is, how can we turn this around and start being there for our sisters? How can we reverse our own past actions and call out other Black women who don’t interact positively with our sisters? Not only do I believe we should first start to treat our sisters the way we want to be treated, but we can also go the extra mile to ensure our sisters feel comfortable and protected in our space. Sometimes we can’t change the world, but we can definitely change ourselves and watch the domino effect take place. Change begins with us. We can get on Twitter and Facebook to complain about our interactions all we want, but if we aren’t leading by example, are we really changing anything?
Let’s embrace our sisterhood, because let’s be honest…we are all we got out here. Yes, we have allies, but no one understands the pain and depths of a Black woman like our own sisters. With sisters we fight, we disagree and argue, but the main key is to always come back together and love one another. That’s my challenge to you: to reach out, get out of your comfort zone, and start being kinder to your sisters. We need to have conversations about this, whether it is within our school and academic systems, our work spaces or our everyday home lives. By doing this, we can start incorporating positive change and communication styles, and we can slowly change the “mean Black girl” narrative. Don’t get caught up in the media and hype. Examine your own personal relationships with other Black women outside of your circle and see how you may be acting toward them based on what the media has conditioned you to believe, then figure out what you truly believe. I’ll leave you with this quote from one of my favorite Black women:
“The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you’re very courageous: be strong, be extremely kind, and above all, be humble.” --Serena Williams