“Fear of a Fierce Black Woman”


I have literally been too angry, frustrated, and depressed to write this blog but it really is as necessary as breathing. Over the past month I have witnessed the blatant and vicious attacks of Black women both on their personhood and their bodies. The first example comes from the ridiculous and racist social media attacks on tennis super star, Serena Williams. Serena is “guilty” of one thing—beating the short pants off of every great White hope the tennis world puts up against her. Serena beat their darling, Maria Sharapova to make it to the finals of this year’s Wimbledon Tournament. In the finals Williams was up against Garbine Muguruza, another blonde from Spain who allegedly had the “athleticism” to match Serena.  In the beginning of the match it looked like Muguruza was up to the task of upsetting Williams. But, the piece of tennis competition that the pundits never factor in regarding Serena Williams is her MENTAL strength! Serena knows what she is up against whenever she steps on a tennis court. She is playing a sport dominated by White people—the competitors, the fans, and the organization. Most of the spectators are rooting AGAINST her. But Serena (or Venus for that matter) has never worried about what the crowd was up to. She understands that tennis (like most competitive endeavors) is also a mental challenge. Winning tennis matches is Serena Williams stock and trade but often it is what happens OFF the tennis court that is infuriating to those of us who cheer her on.

This year Serena’s win was accompanied by a flurry of insults all over social media. She was castigated for “looking like a man!” Seriously? The same “Twitter-sphere” that celebrated Caitlyn Jenner and how great she looks claimed that Serena was unattractive and masculine. As we like to say, “haters gonna hate” because we realize how small the lives of most of these people are. They typically have accomplished nothing in their own lives so you can only look at them with pity. But, the final straw was tennis player Caroline Wozniacki playing a mock tennis match against Sharapova where she spoofs Serena Williams (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uTTWnoW5Mk). In her “imitation” of Williams, Wozniacki stuffed things in her top to show off exaggerated breasts and something else in her pants to create an out-sized butt. Some will claim it was “all in good fun” but “good fun” usually takes place in front of the person one is teasing. Instead, these two women who have struggled to compete honestly against Serena Williams figured out the way to ridicule her was at the expense of her body…her very Black body! Serena Williams strikes fear in the minds of racists because she has come to prominence on her OWN terms. She is not trying to imitate or embrace whiteness because her Black excellence is just that…EXCELLENT!

Serena Williams does not need me or any other blogger to defend her. My defense of her right to be herself is more directed at my lovely granddaughters who are athletes—one a basketball player at a Division I university and another a high school volleyball player. I don’t want them to believe that they have to re-make themselves in order to be accepted or successful. My defense is aimed at all of those Black girls who compete and want to compete in sports or anything else. I want them to understand how worthy they are on their own.

The other example of a fierce Black woman is a much more tragic case. Sandra Bland, as many people know, was stopped by a Texas police officer for “changing lanes without signaling.” This “terrible violation” soon escalated to a situation with Sandra Bland being slammed to the ground and being taken off to jail. Within a few days, Bland was dead. The autopsy report claims she committed suicide. How does a minor traffic stop (remember it was all about changing lanes without signaling) end up in death? How does a Black woman end up on the ground and carted off to jail because she failed to signal her intention to change lanes?

One of the talking heads claimed that Ms. Bland was at fault because of her “attitude.” He called her “arrogant.” This is reminiscent of Geraldo Rivera’s rant about Trayvon Martin’s hoodie being the cause of his death! Since when does asserting one’s civic rights make one arrogant?

Much of what happened in Sandra Bland’s jail cell may never see the light of day. But, we did see a police dash-cam where the officer asked Ms. Bland to put out her cigarette…a cigarette she was smoking in her own car. When Ms. Bland challenged the request by reminding the officer that she did not have to put out her cigarette, the policeman went ballistic. He demanded that she get out of her car, threatened to use a taser on her, and ultimately slammed her to the ground, despite her letting him know she was epileptic.

I can only surmise that Sandra Bland is no longer with us is because of the fear her fierce Black womanhood presented to this man. To be a Black woman in this society is to exist without any shred of protection, dignity, or respect. You can be the world’s BEST tennis player or a sister driving down the street changing lanes. In any circumstance it is your BLACKNESS that provokes fear in White people and apparently gives them license to act in ways designed to destroy you. The whole system fears a fierce Black woman!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Three Cheers for the Red, White, and …Black!”


Well, I imagine that many of you will be celebrating the traditional 4th of July holiday. You will go to picnics, barbeques, or cook-outs (as we called them in West Philly). You will enjoy family and friends and pick up softball and volleyball games. You will sit in on multiple hands of Bid Whist, Spades, or if you’re from Philly Pinochle. You will laugh, eat good (as long as the right Aunt makes the potato salad), and perhaps hang out long enough to enjoy some fireworks. But, you probably won’t think much about the actual meaning of July 4th.
I can’t avoid thinking about it. I used to teach US History and could not skip over the Revolutionary War and Thomas Jefferson’s (as the main author) document known as “The Declaration of Independence.” I also was born and raised in Philadelphia—
The “Birthplace of the Nation.” I’ve done the Independence Hall tour (in fact I once applied for a job as the Independence Hall teacher…. I didn’t get it!). I’ve walked in and out of the entire Independence Mall complex seeing the relocated Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ house, and strolled Elfreth’s Alley. As much as I appreciate history, the 4th of July always leaves me with ambivalent feelings! As a Black woman I know this holiday celebrates a set of events that very deliberately left my ancestors and me out. White freedom was predicated on Black bondage (and the theft of Red lands).
While the colonists were preparing to fight for their freedom, Black people were looking for a way to make the fight an opportunity to regain their own freedom. Virginia’s Lord Dunsmore, a loyalist was promising “freedom” to any enslaved Africans who fought on the side of the British. This was just one of the many broken promises African Americans would experience on these shores. There was never 40 acres and a mule. There was never equality for fighting in subsequent wars (1812, World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, Gulf Wars, etc.). Indeed, Frederick Douglass’ speech, “What to the American Slave is your 4th of July” given in Rochester, NY in 1852 is the most prescient and insightful commentary on the Independence Day celebrations. In his own words, Douglass said:
“Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilant shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, ‘may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!’
To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs and to chime in with the popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. “
So today we are in the midst of a national debate about the place of the Confederate flag…are we serious? Eleven treasonous southern states decide they would rather keep people in chattel slavery than be a part of the nation and we legitimate their symbols? And for everyone who says that flag represents heritage I say it represents the treason of your ancestors. More important, we know you have long used the flag to intimidate Black people and assert your white supremacy.
But there were African American “patriots.” We know the name of Crispus Attucks who is thought to be the first American casualty of the Revolutionary War. And there was also Austin Dabney, Joseph Ranger, Caesar Tarrant, and Oliver Cromwell whose names show up on the rolls as soldiers and sailors for the revolution. Lemuel Haynes, Salem Poor, and Prince Whipple were noted for their bravery but once the smoke cleared and the Americans claimed their freedom, liberty, and victory, Black people continued in the horrible state of enslavement.
So, I’m not trying to be a killjoy. Eat your ribs, grab another hotdog, and hamburger. Have a slice of apple pie if you’d like. But while you’re hoisting your “adult beverage” as a part of the national celebration take a few minutes to recognize what fighting for this nation has ALWAYS cost us!

Stay Black & Smart!