It is an unspoken truth amongst women that every woman has a “dumbed-down” version of herself. A version that doesn’t speak up in group discussions or voice the thoughts that run around her mind. This is true amongst almost all women, whether this dumber version displays itself knowingly or unknowingly. Unfortunately, this dumber version of oneself is a permanent reality for many Black women.
Black women are quite literally seen as the epitome of “doing too much”. Black women can do every single thing a white woman does, but when a Black woman does it; there is the addition of the “too”. When I spoke up about racial inequalities in the midst of my predominately white class during a group discussion I was “too loud.” When I told the group of boys I was paired with for a lab that they were in the wrong even after we had gotten a confirmation that I was right, I was “too aggressive.” When I voiced my joy in my achievements I was “too cocky”. There is always something that is “too much” about the actions of a Black woman.
Being a high achieving Black girl in a predominantly white school is like a race every day that you know you will lose. With every statement I made, a quick “but I’m not sure” or “I could be wrong” was always added to it, just for good measure. When students would become passionate about their arguments in class, I always kept my cool. I would always tell myself “do not be the angry Black girl, just shut up.” I always felt that I had to lock up the side of me that always became “too passionate.”
But why? Why as Black women do we always feel the need to suppress our thoughts, or feelings, our intelligence for the general population? Why do we continue to allow white people to determine our capabilities & run with it? Why do we steer away from intellectual conversations because of the looks we receive when we express ourselves? Why is the expression of a Black woman’s thoughts any different from the expressions of those of a white man or woman?
I feel that this mindset is deeply rooted in the minds of young Black girls, even before they have the opportunity to send it to its grave. The truth is, Black girls aren’t pushed in school as much as other kids are. Their talents and intelligence are overlooked, they aren’t developed and treated with care for them to grow.
People become so accustomed to assuming the characteristics of a Black girl just because she’s Black. Young Black women are usually not seen as bright or hardworking. I’ve had people assume I wasn’t interested in school or I was “too ghetto” to be into school. It always made me wonder- did they even want Black women to succeed? Black women constantly suppress their intelligence. They do this so much, that at some point it becomes a lifestyle. This is probably why most young Black girls give up on the thought of school completely. Those who don’t often walk through life bringing themselves down just so her peers won’t think she’s too successful.
It seems like some Black girls may also dumb themselves down because of their beliefs that their intellect is not worth anything. This also goes along with my observation that Black girls aren’t encouraged to do well in school. I have seen too many times young Black girls getting into trouble in or out of school. I have also seen white students do the same. The difference is this: when that white student gets into drugs or gets pregnant or flunks out, they get support. They get counseling and encouragement from their teachers- telling them to better themselves and make something out of their life. They can pick themselves up from that low point with the help they receive from everyone around them and the fact that they know that they have people who believe in them.
On the other hand when that Black student does the same- that’s it for them. They fall and hit the ground and are left there. The fact that many Black students have parents who never pursued an education doesn’t help either. So it makes sense that the young Black girl who was left on her own would fail out of school, or develop a belief that her intelligence is worth nothing compared to that of her peers.
Even for girls like me who never experienced anything like that, I still never saw my intelligence as anything compared to that of my peers. I too sat there as a young girl thinking Black girls were stupid. When I finally began to believe in myself, it was too late. I had doubted myself for so long with nobody to assure me of my intellectual worth. It was hard to finally stop doubting myself, but it was even harder to get my peers to stop doubting me when they started doing so after seeing that even I doubted my capabilities.
Because of that, I could never get to the position that I would have been at if I had just started with confidence in my intellect. It is a very hard thing to set yourself up to the point you know that you deserve to be at when you’ve never been reassured that you truly deserve to be at that point. Being a Black girl who is passionate about her education is a struggle. For a lot of Black girls, it’s just them against the world. For a lot of them, every step forward is accompanied by doubt and 5 steps back.
We as Black women must stop putting ourselves in little boxes. We must stop trying to paint ourselves into the picture that so many people have chosen for Black women. We must speak up in the midst of those who want us to keep quiet. We must express our thoughts as they come to us, along with our emotions because in the end, we are human.
To educators: let all your students feel like their knowledge is worth something. Encourage all your students to speak their minds, have doubts in their intellect.
To students: Embrace the power of your minds & never make anyone feel as though their opinions are too different or unworthy to be heard.
To all the young Black girls out there: Walk into every class knowing you are more than capable. Every single day. People may doubt you but never doubt yourself. Never give them that power over you or you will always spend the rest of your life falling short trying to fight for a position that was always yours.
To all the Black women in the world: be that cocky Black woman. Be that assertive Black woman. Be that bold Black woman. Be unapologetically “too much.”