We’ve all seen the movies with the white protagonist who has a gaggle of sidekicks. One of them is usually the tell-it-like-it-is black chick. She is not the main character in the love story, but she’s in close proximity, offering sage advice and witty comebacks. You’re thinking of her when you say, “I have diverse relationships” but really mean, “I have this one black friend.” Many black women are used to occupying that space.
I was that friend as a single — the brown-skinned girl who stuck out like a sore thumb in a sea of white, Reformed faces. I got used to answering questions about my hair (“Can I touch it?”), my skin (“Do you have to wear sunscreen?”), and my views (“Is this racist?”). And I got used to the protective shell that so many single black women living in white spaces learn how to wear when it comes to romantic relationships.
Now, married to the husband I used to pray for, I still feel very deeply the effects of those thought processes and environments I faced as a single woman of color in the church. I still find myself looking back and wishing that my white friends knew — or at least admitted — some of the unique struggles that I had to face and that I still watch so many of my sisters in Christ face every day.
1. We don’t fit the mold.
The other day, I ran into WalMart for some hair products. I scoured the shelves for shampoo that wouldn’t destroy my hair. I doubled back three or four times and passed row after row after row of options before I realized that my products weren’t even on the same aisle as everyone else’s. They were one aisle over, contained on four meager shelves.
My hair does not fit the mold of the industry standard. And while hair like mine is gaining representation, my strands are the perfect illustration of what it’s like to be a single black woman who lives in white space. When you think of the smiling soccer mom who will homeschool your kids or bolster the women’s ministry at your local church, you think of the row after row of white options, not the little ethnic shelf in the corner that you have to be looking for to spot.
2. We are not “the ideal.”
Somewhat connected to that point, there’s a reason people don’t think of melanin when they think of the soccer mom: one of the stereotypes that so many imbibe is the fact that single black women are inherently attitudinal and un-submissive. Claire Huxtable is seen as a poor substitute when the ideal woman is portrayed as being the consummate June Cleaver.
My husband and father were both raised by strong single moms. They worked because they had to keep food on the table. They were strong because there were not men in their lives to bolster them. And yet their brand of strength is consistently overlooked for the stereotype of the docile woman.
3. Black men often overlook us.
Black women are not the only people who find themselves living as minorities in white Reformed spaces. Our brothers of color are learning how to survive these awkward situations as well. Unfortunately, often, that survival mode includes trying to find a wife who looks more like the stereotype than like their mothers.
I have spoken to more than one single black man who winced at the idea of marrying a black woman. “I just need a wife who is going to submit to me.” Not, “I need to be the kind of leader who can encourage and spur on whoever my wife is, regardless of her skin color” – not, “I want to marry a woman of character, and if she happens to be white, black, or purple, to God be the glory.” But, rather, “I want to marry someone who I can control… and a black woman won’t go for that.”
4. White men are afraid to bring us home.
It is natural for us to gravitate towards people with similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds to our own. When it comes to a lot of Reformed black men, this natural inclination is supplanted by a desire to fit in. More often than not, though, when it comes to interracial marriage for majority culture, similarity rules the day.
I have had a courtship turned on its head and wondered if my brownness had anything to do with it. I have been told that, if I were white, I would be such a great catch. I have been attracted to non-black men who were equally attracted to me but did not pull the trigger because of the color of my skin.
The hurt of being good enough to be a friend but not good enough to be a wife still lingers.
5. We are less likely to get married.
This is a statistical fact, but I did not need to see the numbers to know that it was true. In a world where the standard of beauty is not usually a woman who looks like we do (Beyonce and I have nothing in common), it makes sense that black women would get passed over.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Eight things single black women living in evangelical white culture wish you knew.” quote=”Eight things single black women living in evangelical white culture wish you knew.”]
I got used to the idea that I would forever be the side character in someone else’s romantic comedy — because my friends would pair off two-by-two according to their melanin count and I might be left out of the running for future wife, in part, because of the color of my skin. And at the risk of being a downer, it’s not something I ever felt comfortable admitting.
6. You think about the children.
We are black women. My kids were going to be marked by my melanin whether I married a Swede, a Puerto Rican, or a Pakistani. The reactions to the prospect of “mixed” children were often fearful: Will they always feel displaced? Will they have identity issues?
Sometimes, though, they were met with fetish: mixed kids were seen as more valuable/adorable than just “plain” black kids. I should marry a white man so my kids could have blue eyes and fair skin and “good” hair.
Regardless of who I married, I was going to be passing on both my melanin and its baggage, in some degree, to my children.
7. We come with complications.
As I’ve numbered off these issues, I’ve had to fight against the reflexes I developed over the years. Whatever you do, do not make the majority uncomfortable. Do your best to be the cool black friend who isn’t the oversensitive race baiter. Make them comfortable -keep the “black pride” to a minimum.
I feel a bit more freedom to be honest now that I am married because my husband knows what all men eventually find out: it doesn’t matter what color a woman’s skin is, she comes with baggage. It might be emotional, it might be spiritual, or it might be ideological. But trying to avoid the baggage of marrying one of the black women who has spent her entire life hearing society tell her that she’s not as worthy of love as her white counterparts is just adding to her baggage.
8. God Made Us In His Image
Thank goodness we can lay our baggage at the Cross.
And I don’t say that as a pat answer for the unique struggles that my darker-skinned sisters in Christ face. That’s been done before, whenever I have had the nerve to broach this subject. Inevitably, someone will tell me that there is neither Jew nor Greek and that we are all one race, the human race.
However, this Pollyanna view of race relations in the Church would be no more helpful than if Paul had just let the Judaizers run amuck. The way women of color have been treated throughout our nation’s history (particularly black women) still impacts us today. Those wounds are realities that we don’t do ourselves any favors to overlook.
Sisters: the Lord crafted your skin to bring him glory and honor and to herald his image here on earth. He would have just made you green if it weren’t important to him that you were a black woman. He had a plan for your rich history and your rich pigment, in spite of the hardships it so often presents.
We Wish You Knew
I wish that we discussed these realities more often in our churches. Some of the black women who are sitting in your pews feel this way. Some of these women want to be cherished wives and devoted mothers. Nevertheless, they are consistently thwarted because of the assumptions made about them.
Men reject these women because others seem like they would be easier to deal with. Men overlook these women because their complexities are seen as too nuanced and too large. They often gravitate towards one another because no one else understands or want to understand their plight.
See them. Pray for them. Search yourself for these Gospel inconsistencies and root them out. If they lurk in your heart, you are isolating an image bearer of the Most High God. And it hurts.
Update (April 12, 2017 at 4:48 PM CST)
Jasmine recently addressed questions and concerns about this article via Facebook Live. You can watch it on her Facebook page.
I’ve been in Atlanta all week with my husband. We’re here half for ministry (for me), part for work (for him), and part for some quality time with just us two. We left on the heels of hosting my family all the way from Zambia. In fact, seven of my siblings, my mom, and my dad are back in our eighteen hundred square foot home with our sons. I should be laying in a hotel bed binging Parks and Rec with my husband. And I will be soon. But I have something to say about motherhood and mom guilt.
A few months ago, I wrote an article for Legacy about friendship. In it, I tried to be as honest as possible about the struggle of being a transplant in Mississippi’s foreign culture, and my own hang-ups with making new friends. I hit send. Weeks passed. A couple of months. Then the article went live. And I had more than one friend reach out to me and ask me if we were okay. “I thought we were friends!” Undercover Trust Issues I’m not a journaler, and I try not to use my articles as thinly veiled diary entries. However, there…