This is the era of popularized black intellectualism. Twitter is teeming with emboldened minority youths who call out cultural appropriation, xenophobia, and American society’s racist tendencies. Millennials don’t see rappers like Chance as just rappers anymore–they’re social activists, they’re intellectuals for what they reveal about black culture to white audiences. I’ve had multiple discussions in different settings about . People who don’t identify as black or African American are raving about the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and I haven’t even been yet. Are you really woke if you haven’t read Between the World and Me?
With the rise of black intellectualism comes a bombardment of statistics about subconscious racism towards black women—the tendency to discriminate against black people of which many aren’t even aware they’re guilty. These statistics show the truth that I, a black girl who grew up surrounded by whites and Asians, knew in the back of my mind all along to be true.
Black women are seen as and less in need of protection than women of other races. On , black women are seen as the least desirable option by people looking for potential matches. And new findings like these are everywhere, popping up all the time to further fuel the anger of the young generation of minorities who want an end to discrimination.
I feel a certain sense of validation when I read articles from HuffPost Black Voices, because now I have statistics to support what I feel to be true when guys pick my white friends to dance with first at Shooters or when my friends don’t insist on walking me back to my dorm at night. I feel knowledgeable, even slightly empowered when I tell my friends about microaggressions I’ve experienced for years that they never considered before.
On one hand, it’s good to be woke, and it’s good that we as a society are beginning to acknowledge implicit racism. If we weren’t aware that subtle acts of racism were still happening, it would be a much more difficult problem to address. And now that this information is out in the open, both those who are aware and who were previously unaware can reflect on what we deem “attractive” when we scroll through social media or go to parties.
But when being a woke, conscious black girl is the hip thing to be, it can also come with a toll on self-confidence. I know that black and brown women are beautiful. Should I still double-check my makeup or worry about if my hair is frizzing every two minutes if guys are going to look right past me anyway? How do I walk out of my dorm with confidence into a world that doesn’t think girls who look like me are pretty? Or even if some do, their attraction to black girls or brown girls is often considered a fetish–especially if they themselves are not black or brown. White beauty is the standard for attractiveness, the norm of who to like, the expectation for the girl heterosexual men should pursue.
The truth is that all of this wokeness and this constant intake of literature touting the prevalence of racism can lead to an over-analysis of social situations, at least in my case.
There are some instances in which, even if subconscious racism did occur, the healthier thing to do is to let it go. And this doesn’t just apply to attraction. At a restaurant, why was my order the one the waitress forgot to put in, even when I saw her write it down? Why are people who come to visit my family surprised that we live in “such a nice house?”
It’s hard because now that I have the tools to recognize instances of implicit racism, I feel that in every instance I’m supposed to take a stand, not to sit there and accept it. Now that I’m “woke,” I’m supposed to figure out how to make instances of racism less common. I want to be aware when instances of racism happen, but I don’t want to be the “angry black girl” who constantly broods over racial injustices, a monster alter-ego that lurks just below the surface of my thoughts. I don’t want to be so hyperaware of every result of “,” that I forget to live a life with joy and self-confidence.
I must choose the battles I want to fight against discrimination, because trying to fight or even mentally analyze all of them takes too much mental energy, can take away too much peace of mind. And as of right now, I don’t have the answer for how to cope with beauty standards that don’t take black women into account, with preferences that are all based on the same European features. So I keep checking to see if my curls are still intact, and I keep dancing.
Victoria Priester is a Trinity first-year. Her column, “on the run from mediocrity,” runs on alternate Fridays.