How To Be The Perfect Black Woman

Do you think that there is any added pressure on Black women in genre fiction to be “a certain way”? For instance, do you think it’s more difficult/less acceptable for Black women to be portrayed as:

  • Uncertain
  • Insecure
  • Vulnerable
  • Quiet
  • Submissive
  • Add your own adjective

There are some books, specifically those in which the female lead isn’t Black/African American, where I see those types of personalities. These books do extremely well. As a matter of fact, it’s more than “some” books. Whereas, I’ve read critiques or have had feedback shared from other authors/readers that it is a little bit like a field of landmines trying to navigate the intricacies of a non-self-assured Black woman in a way readers will enjoy.

Taraji P. Henson recently released a mental health video where she poses the question of whether the “Strong Black Woman” identity is far more damaging than we realize. Personally, I’m someone who has questioned whether or not I “fit in” in certain circles because of my reticence. It often feels impossible to be strong and shy at the same time; to stand up for myself some days and remain quiet others; to not constantly worry about whether I’m portraying myself in the “right” way. To not hide certain things about myself in order to fit in lest I be exiled to the island of Elba.

As a child, I was a fighter. I used my fists, my feet. I had no concept of “lady.” I had an intense thing about people messing with my friends or anyone shorter than me, and words were not my first choice in the heat of battle. Anyone who had a problem with it could suck lemons.

It was then drilled, hammered, and sewn into me that “ladies are to be seen and never heard.” There was to be no more hanging upside down on monkey bars, no more dirt under my collar, and no more competitiveness with boys because it made no sense to me how “being a boy” somehow meant they were automatically better at anything. If I was sitting and my thighs started to sweat, I dare not part them, even a smidge, unless I wanted to be welcomed immediately into the Kingdom of Whores. 

This was what it meant to be a holy girl. A “clean” girl. A good little Black girl. 

On the flip side, once I entered my late teens, I was informed shy and insecure isn’t what it’s meant to be a Black girl. This escalated to: never let them see you cry. Never let them know you struggle. Hide your anxiety, your depressionYour eating disorder, your self-harm. Speak up for yourself all the time, every time. Never “need” anyone. Forget what Bill Withers said…lean on no one but Jesus. Maybe your mother if she thinks the reason is valid. 

Black girls simply do not…

Which way is the right way? The reformed child pugilist or the child prizefighter?

How can she be strong…if she’s shy? If she’s quiet? If she’s afraid of confrontation? If she cries in the shower? If she wants to feel safe in a man’s arms? If she wants a man to tell her she’s beautiful? If she truly doesn’t want to do all of this, in life, alone? If she has anxiety? If she struggles? If she’s awkward? If she sometimes needs? If she doesn’t like the way she looks? If she hurts herself? If she second-guesses her role as a mother or partner? If she admits she’s wrong? If even one of those resonates with her?

How does she know the version of her that feels truest isn’t an embarrassment among the population of other brown-skinned ladies? 

So, are we expecting a certain image when we think of what it means to be a “strong black woman” in our literary choices? Can we accept characters who don’t automatically fall for the hero’s advances, who second guess themselves, who cry, whose character arc may need to start at meek & insecure…etcetera, etcetera?

This is what I was told as an author: Write characters the way they need to be written. No one is going to enjoy everything you’ve written, so it’s impossible to write to please everyone. Write to be authentic to your story, and to reflect the nuances of the human experience.

It sounds lovely in theory, but it gets a little tricky on paper.

xoxo,

Alex

Note: At the end of the day, I’ll keep writing my characters as they are, so you guys don’t have to worry about a major shift. I’m proud of every one of them, especially my fighters like Mo & Sam. My nerds like Tia & Kerah. My strugglers like Larke. And my unique ones like Roux.

20 thoughts on “How To Be The Perfect Black Woman

  1. Yes!!! Please don’t change a thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the reasons I enjoy your books is because you are unafraid. Where some authors in this genre seem only vested in light skin, light eye and hair no where near 4c, and non monoracially Black women; the Black women you write about run the full spectrum with regard to skin color, hair type, height, weight and national it national origin/ethnicity and you let them have the full range of human emotions. It’s not only refreshing it makes your characters real.
    Your readers understood Taylor’s insecurity about not “snapping back” immediately after having a baby. Mo’s questioning/blaming herself after her miscarriage and so on.
    Keep writing as and how your characters want you too..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At the end of the day, we’re all vulnerable in some way, right? The way I see it, if it resonates with at least one person, that one person feels seen and heard, and there’s very little better than being SEEN.

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  3. To be honest, it is easier to provide my answer verbally rather than written wise. Yes, we are placed in a rock and a hard place. Constantly criticized no matter which side of the spectrum we are personality wise. Even “model” black women are criticized – personally, looks, roles at work, roles in the home, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know you said it’s easier to verbalize, but in short, do you think it’ll ever go away? That judgment we get?

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  4. I’m glad you don’t plan to change how you write your stories. It works for you and your readers. I think it’s one of the reasons we continue to support you and wait “patiently” for each best seller. Writing shouldn’t be cookie cutter. I love reading books where the characters look like me and have some of the same or similar traits. I think a lot of your readers identify with more than a few of the descriptions you listed above. I know I do. I would love to meet, love and be loved by the man that is for me. I can be me 1000% because I feel safe enough to do so and there’s someone to lean on. I always thought I was awkward and for years was convinced that I was the only awkward black girl. I’m shy but outspoken when I need to be. The older I get, the more I have to be more outspoken because people like to test me because I am naturally quiet. Ultimately, please continue to be you and write the way you feel you need to. We will be there to buy your masterpieces.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel like I could have written this myself! That’s the thing right there—somebody who loves you as you are. It’s so simple but so hard to come by! Thank you for the compliments, and thanks for reading xoxo

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  5. I’ve been reading and loving your stories and wonderful imagination for the past several years, since I read ‘The game of love’. Ever time I read one of your blog post, my heart sings and I get excited. I’m happy because those thoughts and feelings I was conditioned to have are now being blasted wide open. The darkness is finally allowed to see a glimmer of light. This pandemic has been a nightmare for many people, but for me it has been a huge blessing. It has allowed me the time and space to reconnect with me. More importantly, it has allowed me the time and space to unlearn a lot of the things I learned from wounded people. So please continue to use your stories, imagination as a tool to break through the outdated stereotypes about what it means to be a ‘perfect black woman’
    Love and blessings

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m originally from Trinidad and Tobago, grew up poor in terms of material wealth, but extremely happy and free to just exist and enjoy life. A lot of people often said I was to loud , that I was too serious, that they didn’t like me for one reason or the other. I really didn’t KNOW who I really was until I said FUCK all the outside voices and truly listen to MINE alone.I AM JUST ME and I LOVE ME, whether it’s allowing my husband to lead or speaking up for myself or making fun of myself,my husband nursing me back to health. At the end of the day my higher mind and my shadow self have BALANCE and I’m at peace with ME.Loads of LOVE to ALL my sisters out there 💜💜💜💜💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t realize I had so many fellow Caribbean sisters out here! Love this energy. I’m trying to bring this into 2021.

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  7. DeepBlueSeaOC 01/17/2021 — 10:46 am

    It is a difficult thing to be view as strong black women. We are told to do this and that but never how to be vulnerable and what to do when we are. I have anxieties, I’m shy and insecure at times but I am still strong.

    I love all your characters cause I relate to them all. Btw…the nerds are my favorite lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL! I love me a black girl nerd. Thank you for sharing and yes, you can be shy and strong. All day, every day.

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  8. Yes I agree that we a judged for whatever personality traits we choose to exhibit in any situation. Just be true to yourself and your journey in life. XOXO.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You have to write characters the way you want to. Yes, not everyone will like it, that’s life.

    As a strong black Jamaican woman; I am also shy, I suffer with depression, I have severe panic attacks. I love being held by my husband.
    In a crowd sometimes I choose to be seen and not heard (I learn a lot about people that way).

    What does being strong black woman mean? Not having any emotions.

    Yes, I am going to fight you if I have to (mostly with words). I am going to stand for what’s right and won’t back down or let someone back me into a corner; but at the same time I get depress and cry all day not knowing why.

    That’s me a strong black woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Like

  10. Thank you for these beautiful responses 💙

    Like

  11. Uncertain
    Insecure
    Vulnerable
    Quiet
    Submissive

    I find these attributes unrealistic when writing about black women. Unless she is wealthy. When has a black woman ever been allowed to be any of these things and yet able to stay alive? Sure, these attributes can be worked in a black woman character’s personality but they need to be balanced out with the strength black women are well known for. I see nothing wrong with this strength. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It has served the black woman well. I don’t think black women characters should be stuffed into the traditionally mold of white women. Their experiences weren’t and still aren’t the same.

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    1. I see your point, but mine isn’t that a Black woman has these characteristics unilaterally; she is just as diverse as anyone else. She can be vulnerable and quiet. She can be insecure. She is.

      It’s continually decried that, “We are not a monolith,” and yet we still don’t give the space for certain tenets of diversity. I believe we should be careful about tying real human emotions and conditions to race. It tells Black women who might find themselves feeling insecure and quiet that they’re not representative of what it is to be a Black woman. It tells them that they’re not *allowed to be.*

      It is the 21st century, and we have books where Black women are in fantasy roles or paranormal roles; yet, the idea that her emotions and personality can run the gamut still seem to come across stranger than fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know exactly what you mean. I agree, a particular emotion shouldn’t be tied to a race. That’s true. I’m not saying that a black doesn’t feel insecure at times and wants to be quiet at times but historically she hasn’t been given that luxury to indulgent in these emotions. It is not that she doesn’t have them. She’s human. All humans have them. I’m saying that it is a good idea to present black women as authentic as possible because we do not yet live in a post racial society. Writing often serves as a role model for the younger generation and the reality is that young black girls are not going to be given the luxury to freely express these emotions as freely as everyone else. I do wish it was not true but it is.

        “It is the 21st century, and we have books where Black women are in fantasy roles or paranormal roles; yet, the idea that her emotions and personality can run the gamut still seem to come across stranger than fiction.”

        Yeah, you would thinks someone writing about a black female character the writer was talking about some alien from another world from the way a lot of readers response. The reason her emotions come across as strange is no one want to admit to the hurt that has been inflicted on her.

        Liked by 1 person

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