I’ve been living in a mostly white New England state for over seven years now. Prior to moving here, I spent eight years living in a less-white, but still white-as-hell Midwestern state. I moved to these places for school, and then for a job. For the past four years, I’ve made a conscious choice to stay in this white New England state – even took on a career change to make it so. I often find myself questioning my choices around this progression into whiter and whiter spaces, but often become overwhelmed when I stare at it too long. It’s the whole “Is that mole growing?!” kind of conversation. I made a conscious choice to live where I live because this state is full of healing natural beauty, and I stand firm in my belief that white people shouldn’t be the only ones who get to access beautiful and healing nature.
But, I cannot lie, living in a majority white state is ROUGH. The vast majority of people in this large state do not live anywhere close to Black people, so they don’t have the opportunity to interact with Black people on a regular basis. Not only that, there are some white people in this state have probably NEVER interacted with a Black person. Hell, there are days when I don’t interact with another Black person!
A big part of my survival and ability to thrive in this state is my connections – friendships and otherwise – to other Black people. In my experience here, I’ve found that Black women (and women-identified people), in particular, have always been there to support me, advise me, and reflect the reality of my existence back to me. I am unable to always be in the company of Black women, but I strive to prioritize my connections with them because I have an unwavering belief that we must love and support one another (as Assata Shakur told us to do).
Here’s how I try to connect with Black women in a white majority area.
Find Other Black Women:
I have always been here for Black women and women-identified Black people. I was raised by a strong and creative Black woman. I was taught, both formally and informally by Black women. Black women speak a language that affirms me. Black women leave me messages in the stories, poems, and essays they write. My precise experiences, my faith system, and the general way I live my life may not line up with all the Black women I come into contact with, but I know that when I lock eyes with another Black woman across a mostly white room, they read my face and we share a certain kind of knowing. And sometimes, those Black women I find may not want or need the same kind of connection I need, but that’s okay. I try not to let that stop me. Black people, in general, are the only strangers I’ll smile at in public when I’m in a white space. Black women, in general, are the only strangers I’ll walk up and talk to when I’m in a white space. I will always keep looking for that connection.
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Support Other Black Women:
June Jordan’s “Poem for South African Women” ends with the line: “we are the ones we have been waiting for.” Former President Barack Obama made the line reach a wider audience after uttering the words in a speech back in February 2008, but I always think of these words as being a message to Black women, buried in a poem about Black women, written by a Black woman. Living in this white place, when I want to see Black people reflected in any of the scenes I frequent, I try to find the Black women who are already occupying those scenes, no matter how marginalized they are. In most cases, there is always a Black woman in a (for example) fitness scene, an artist scene, a music scene, a theater scene, a small business scene, who is holding it down for the culture. Whether or not they are specifically looking for support from other Black women doesn’t matter as much. In this very white state, it often feels like all we have is each other, so if my Black face in a crowd can make someone else feel like they’re not alone, then I try to show up.
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Create Space For Other Black Women:
I am an introvert and a curmudgeon. Let me say it again, for the people in the back: I am an INTROVERT. And. A CURMUDGEON. Like most introvert-curmudgeons, my domestic space is the place where I like to retreat and regenerate in solitude. I have never considered myself someone who will casually open up their living space to guests whenever and for whatever. I open up my domestic space for Black women whenever the opportunity arises. My space is comfortable and warm. It is something I have to offer, and I am happy to give it. I hope that it’s a space where Black women feel like they can be themselves – whatever that may mean to them. I know that there are similar spaces that other Black women create, cultivate, and hold in this very white state. I am grateful for all of these spaces.
When formal spaces aren’t an option, create pockets of informal space. If I’m attending a “community event,” I try to figure out which other Black women are going. And when we roll up, we find the other Black women, we congregate (if we can), we create our pocket of space. If the “community event” involves Black folks on stage, we move to the front – we make sure we’re seen by the Black eyes on stage.
This is not a perfect formula. When there are few Black women to connect to, it can be easy to feel as if there’s an imperative to make connections with every Black woman, regardless of whether or not you’re actually feeling them. I believe this is a myth. I believe that this is a scarcity idea that is a byproduct of white supremacy. I believe this is the same line of thinking that has white people believing that all Black people have similar wants/needs/desires. Black women are not a monolith.
When I find other Black women, support them, and make space for them, I do it while maintaining my boundaries and my sense of self. I don’t have to be friends with every Black woman in this white state. I don’t need to share the same values as every Black woman in this white state. (I do need to be able to have a real conversation with a Black woman if their values are oppressive). What I need to do instead, is focus on the fact that my deep and universal love for Black women transcends my feelings about any one particular Black woman.
[Featured Image: A person with curly chin-length hair. They are wearing a black shirt and a gold bracelet. The back of their head is leaning on their hand and they are looking to the left. Behind them is a door, steps and window. Source: pexels.com]