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Speech: "Everyone Hates A Black Woman Until They Need One"

Saturday I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker at the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter's Annual Torchbearer's Breakfast. I wanted to post video of the speech but for some reason the audio goes wobbly after about 5 minutes into my 18 minute speech. So, at the request of quite a few women at the event, I'm posting a transcript of my original speech here. Unfortunately, I did quite a bit of ad-libbing, so not all the parts of my speech from that day will be in this text, but you will get the gist of it. The speech was half original material and half a post I wrote a year ago for Clutch Magazine Online entitled "Black Woman: It's All Your Fault (Not That You Care)"

Check it out.


Good morning.
First off I want to thank you all for inviting me to your wonderful breakfast today to speak about us, black women, and what we’re facing in the future. And I think if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we’ve got some obstacles – unemployment, crime in our communities, poor schools, access to better healthcare. Yet, strangely, these typically aren’t the things people like to focus on when they talk about the “problems” of black women. 
If you consult the press (and certain black men whose names I won’t name for their own protection), black women are: 
A) Too fat
B) Unlovable
C) Of poor means and poorer attitude
D) Can’t find, get or keep a man
E) Pregnant or on their way to be pregnant without a husband
F) Unwanted
So you can only imagine the confusion when The Washington Post did a study last year and found that black women didn’t tie their self-esteem to their weight and, in fact, felt pretty good about themselves,. This despite us all being fat, unmarriageable harpies who nobody likes. It seems strangely that black women like themselves. They think they’re pretty competent and smart. And they think their bodies are beautiful and curvy and diverse. This despite hundreds of years of social engineering telling us the equivalent of Shug Avery shouting “You Sho Is Ugly” to every black woman and girl in the world. Yet the Washington Post talked to a 1,000 black women and they all basically knocked the dirt off their shoulders, looked in the mirror and proudly announced, “I’m still cute” and kept it moving. 
My father, when he was a young boy growing up in Texas, used to hear this saying all the time that the only people who were “free” were the white man and the black woman. My father, being a child, took this in and didn’t question it, thinking it sounded like something neat to say. It was meant to be a gripe about the black woman’s perceived “status” in the black family, in her household and her community, that dislike of how black women have always believed they deserved their seat at the table as much as any man because often it was a black woman who put food on the table, set the table, decorated it and cooked the meal. 
The least she could do was get to sit down and eat. 
But that sense of self was greeted with all the enthusiasm of a pot of burnt beans by some black men. So you had sayings like that, that black women were “free.”
Years later, as an adult, working in St. Louis my father repeated this saying in front of a black woman and she asked, quite pointedly, “Was your mother ‘free?’” And my father admitted he had honestly never thought about what that saying really implied. His mother had to work as a maid to support him and his brothers. Her husband, while willing to work hard, could not read or write and never made much money as most black men back then were denied the better paying laborer jobs.  She was the only one who could keep steady employment. And my father did not see his mother as “free.” She worked all her life, was sick often and died when my father was only 18, never seeing her son grow up to go off to college and graduate, get married, have children or own his own home. Despite being bright and educated and loving and kind, his mother was bound by the same rules that kept his father from finding good work. 
But because women like my grandmother were opinionated, were bright, knew their worth and the worth of their children, she was lumped in the same bucket we all get lumped in. That we’re too loud. We’re too opinionated. We’re too much everything. If only we could be a little less, the world implied. Then … well, the world still wouldn’t want us but at least it wouldn’t have to hear our mouths.
I have a friend who I often joke with about how all the things people think are black women’s “problems” are actually compliments.
Black women are too loud. Why yes, I do feel like I deserve to be heard!
Black women are too bossy. Well, sure, I do have a lot of leadership skills so I’ll be in charge if you insist!
Black women don’t know when to shut up. Well, it is true that I feel very passionately about things and have strong opinions. I’m not going to stay silent over things that matter.
Black women’s hair is too nappy/full of weave/over processed/too curly/too big/too much. Why yes, I do find that my hair is very versatile and lends itself to many different and exciting looks!
Black women think they know everything. That is so sweet of you to remark on how smart you think I am. It’s true, I am ever-so-smart.
Black women won’t let a man be a man. If by being a man means you subjugating me and treating me like garbage, no, I won’t let you treat me like garbage. Sorry.
Black women are too independent. Why yes I am a self-starter who gets things done, a mover, a shaker, a maker who makes things happen, and yes, I don’t necessarily need to be dependent on anyone else. Isn’t it bad to be overly dependent? What if you lose your job? The black unemployment rate is more than 14 percent. Looks like I might need to be independent, you know? Just in case.
Black women think they all that. And we are. And then some. And more. 
Often imitated but never duplicated incredible black women.
So for the sake of our critics, let’s just say, we’ve heard what you had to say. We’ve sat down and thought about it. Had a few symposiums and talk therapy sessions. And we’re just going to pass on absorbing any of the nonsense you are trying to feed us. We’re sorry. That dog won’t hunt. That horse won’t drink. That shoe won’t fit. It’s not going to happen. You can’t make me hate me. 
I joke about the things that people say, the stereotypes, because you have to laugh at them to keep from being mad. Because it’s not fair. We’re human. We’re women. And like any other woman we have wants and dreams and desires and fears. We’re more than the sum of a few punchlines about hair weave and attitude. We’re beautifully complex. 
Our problem isn’t in our mouths. It’s in our minds when we let others dictate who and what we are. It’s in that great, all encompassing, paralyzing fear that holds us back. But as black women we rarely admit we’re afraid.
That deep down, some of us have internalized the poison that has been fed to us and believe the hype. 
That we’re the problem. But the same people who tells us we’re the problem, blame us because they also believe we’re the solution.
And that’s the true paradox of being a black woman. That’s the real insult that’s secretly a compliment. 
People needs us, then hate us for needing us. And in turn, we start to hate ourselves.
A while back I was having a conversation with a black man old enough to be my father. Up to a point, it was a very good conversation. We were talking about the state of the black family.
While I’m super open-minded to all the different ways anyone can have a family, there is a part of me that is Cosby Show, Huxtable-style old school, desiring to see more black families like the one I and my sisters, cousins, classmates grew up in – two parents, married, either both working or a father working and a stay-at-home mom. Old dreams die hard. No amount of Liberalism or feminism is ever going to make me let go of it, although I can understand why some would choose differently.
So this guy was appealing to my inner Huxtable, going on a rant about how he felt too many young black men were “selfish” and uninterested in settling down. I don’t like to hear anyone talk about anyone as a monolith, but I was curious to hear the rest of his perspective on this and asked him to continue. I asked him what he thought caused so many of the young men he encountered to be so disinterested in building up their families and communities and he said:
“It’s their mothers’ fault. You black women spoiled them and now they’re no good.”
Oh … well then. Of course. 
Now, I understood why he thought this problem was “our fault.” It’s not a new idea, the notion that some black mothers raise their daughters but love their sons to the point of the boy’s inertia. It’s about as old as a Jet Magazine from 1975 on the exact same topic. But did you notice what the real dig was there? Black men would be better men if their mother’s raised them better. Meaning their mothers are the solution. Their mothers are the problem. Their mothers, not the men themselves or their fathers. All the faith is put in the one who showed up. And I’ve never seen a woman push out a baby and go, “That’s not mine. I’ve never seen that baby before in my life! It doesn’t even look like me!” By default, we’re in this game whether we want to be in it or not. People expect miracles of black women because they think we’re magic. When we don’t make the magic happen something must be wrong. We just be broken. Rejects. Because you can’t be a person, you have to be a prototype. You can’t be people, you just be paragon. It can’t be personal. Has to be perfect.
So it’s easy to criticize the person who showed up. I mean, no one else showed up to raise these kids. So those who aren’t there are not there to be held accountable for when the children don’t turn out as perfectly as people would like. But black women are here. We’re always here. We’re always present. So why not yell at us and tell us it’s all our fault? We’re committed to the cause, so we’ll listen. 
It’s easy to demand introspection, retrospection, comments and corrections out of someone who shows up. Meaning, of course you can have a lengthy discussion on whether or not black women do their sons a disservice in how they raise them. Black women are always talking about these things, whether with men or among themselves. 
Black women get attacked because we’re there. We’re visible. From Harriet Tubman to Fannie Lou Hammer to Dr. Dorothy Height. We’re the fight. We aren’t going anywhere. And we are willing to entertain our faults. We are willing to discuss. We are invested in our families and communities and each other, so we show up, whether we want to be there or not, out of communal pride and obligation. We’ll raise our kids. We’ll raise OTHER people’s kids. We’ll put everyone through college and let grandpa set up his hospital bed in the living room. We’ll support you when you’re a community organizer. We’ll support you when you’re President of the United States. We’ll have your children, raise them, then get into a lengthy debate about whether or not we’re fat because we’re either A) trying to keep the President of the United States interested in our sexy or B) don’t want to sweat out our perms.
We’ll have the conversation because we care. We read. We organize. We show up. Even if we hate the conversation. Even if we’re sick of it. Black women stand up for what they believe in. Their family. Their career. Their sorority. Their neighborhood. Their church. If you go missing, you better hope some black women come looking for you, calls Al Sharpton and organize a search, otherwise you’re just S-O-L. Everyone hates a black woman until they need one. That’s just how it goes. Come rescue me so as you’re saving my life I can complain about the quality of this rescue. Did you HAVE to come get me with that do-rag on your head? I know you just wear it so when you go to work your hair will look “nice,” but still, that’s really taking me out of the moment as your saving my life. I can’t concentrate on the life saving while worrying about you securing moisture on your hair through a synthetic scarf.
But please wear that scarf. Because if your hair looks bad, that will take me out of it too. Just be perfect. Why can’t you do that, black woman?
In the 1965 play, “A Day of Absence,” all the black people in a town disappear, causing a panic. While these people were invisible to the majority white populace, they controlled so much of their lives that once gone, it was a terrifying prospect they couldn’t overcome. Black women, while seemingly invisible if you’re a TV executive creating a non-reality show based program, are highly visible in many other aspects of our lives – largely because they are so present. Yet the disregard, the conceit, the disrespect is still there. It’s so easy to criticize someone guaranteed to give you time and attention, who will write books and buy books, act in films and then turn around and support them with their dollars, it’s easy to jump on the person who shows up.  Because they’re real and they’re invested. They’re a wide swath of earth from which the world can greedily mine, because we will never stop writing, creating, consuming, and being invested. We will always want to know more about ourselves and each other. We will always criticize and question, damn and defend. Because we are present.
It would be a dull narrative for the media (and others) to talk about the reality of most black women, who love their friends and family members, who take good care of their kids, who have good jobs and live decent and law-abiding lives. How interesting is my story or my grandmothers’ story or your mothers’ story in a world that gets high of the schadenfreude of black women’s misery – mainlining some lines from the film “Precious” after snorting up some “Color Purple” then drowning us all in that “oh-its-so-sad” pity party when most of our lives are full of joy in the face of all this navel-gazing stupidity.
Unfortunately, you wouldn’t get that from the many, many stories. They just focus on what’s wrong with us. But the only reason why these stories are so popular, the only reason why they move newspapers and theater tickets is because of something quite positive about black women, something that is what’s truly at the core of their questions and wonder –
There are so many things wrong with you, black woman, they say. Why don’t you just give up?
Because that’s what they would do. They’d let the world devour them and leave nothing but the bones. And yet somewhere some black woman indifferently shrugs and just shuffles on. Got no time to entertain such silly questions. Too much work to do.


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Reader Comments (13)

So your response to everything is Black women's fault is that everything is Black men's fault.

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoeClyde

@ JoeClyde

Where in the speech does it say that? In the part where I say I don't like to talk about people as monoliths or in the part where I talk about the media being the main culprit?

September 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

Thank you for recognizing.....putting it out there. I never thought I would be a single Mom, and damn sure did not know how to be. See I grew up in that Huxtable type home as well. I was later dealt a bad hand, but what did I do? "indifferently shrugs and just shuffles on. Got no time to entertain such silly questions. Too much work to do."

Some of us just want to be acknowledged, seen....from the front of the eye not the side. We DO raise good, strong sons. We DO raise good, strong women. We have raised most of the people in America, and with LOVE. You just pointed out what I think we need most; A Nationwide if not Worlwide positive spin.

We are not angry, we are determined.........

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThezenjen1

Thank you for this. You nailed it!

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa K. Allmon

We need another March on Washington with your voice on loud speakers, for everyone to hear! You have just said some real isssh and I really appreciate it. This message is 100% real and true, " Everyone hates Black women until they need one." That is why every time one of these so called entertainers or actors use their mouth to bash Black women, I add them to my list of "those that get no money from me." I won't support their projects, attend their movies, buy their albums. They get nothing. It may not be a huge dent in their dollars but at least none of my hard earned money contributes to the demagoguery. Thanks for an excellent post!

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJAM

Very good article. Thank you.

October 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

I feel you. I won't lie and say I 100% agree, but I do feel you. I think there has been too much bashing of black women and not enough uplifting. Specifically from black men and that needs to change. It's like an ongoing battle that hasn't seemed to improve at all. I'm going to see about doing more on my end to help end that battle, but we surely have a lot of work to do.

October 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHealthy Relationships

Love this! Excellent article and speech!

November 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMonica RW

Very Very Well written.. a darn good read!

November 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterinkomation

I turned my back on loud azz, finger waving black women long ago. Thank you, but like most successful black men, I'll take a classy European woman.
Holla' at the Scholar

January 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJiggy5

Seeing this for the first time and Great speech, Ms. Belton! You hit so many points, poignantly. Thank you for this, and keep on ignoring he idiots. Dust your shoulders off and keep it moving. Doesn't matter what any of these people think of Black women (including other brainwashed Black women themselves), do you and do it well!

January 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTreece

@Jiggy5, or Jigga -a-Boo

So, you had to come to a Black woman's blog to let us know you don't want us? lol

Say good-bye for real and stay gone! Apologize to your Back Mama for ever having birthed you.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

This is a brilliant piece. It is sooooo true about how some people have no use for and nothing good to say about black women, especially the FAT ones--until they need one of us. Or we have something they want, or we're in their way and they pull their noses out of the sky to ask us to move, or they're compelled by something beyond their control and they have to open their mouths and actually speak to one of us. It is just too hard, and takes way too much effort and energy to be respectful. Just read the anti-black female comments on this thread to see what I mean.

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHatMcD
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