It’s very rare—whether online or offline—to be able to have a conversation with another Black woman (especially about something specific to Black womanhood) without interruption. Most of this interruption comes from Whites. I alluded to this before in I Can’t Have A Conversation With Another Black Woman In Public Without Interruption? in terms of interruption and derailment primarily in offline spaces and in White Women Who Seek To Dominate Black Women’s Spaces and Discourse Are Not There To “Learn” Anything in terms of interruption and derailment primarily in online spaces. Interestingly enough, both of these posts focus on interruption and derailment in conversations about Black women’s hair (but it happens in regards to almost any topic). In regards to hair, I experienced this same thing on Twitter a couple of days ago.
From Black women on Twitter, I learned about Black female comedian Sheryl Underwood’s White supremacist binary that she presented (as a “joke”) on an episode of The Talk. Basically, she regurgitated the Black hair = ugly, White hair = pretty binary. This was interesting since she was speaking of a biracial Black child, one of Heidi Klum’s sons with Seal. And let’s be clear, the hierarchy of Black hair (and beauty) exists and speaks to the problem of colourism as well. Even while some Black people of biracial parentage get insulted for their hair (as this child did and Black people in general with her “joke”), many have hair or appearance that is still considered more attractive than Black people who have a tighter hair curl pattern and/or are dark skinned.
I sent several tweets to Sheryl Underwood and Aisha Tyler (who awkwardly laughed at the “joke” but didn’t counter what Sheryl said) about this because I am fans of both (especially of Sheryl, for a long time now), and I felt really hurt about what Sheryl said. It hurt me that this happened but of course I understand the complexities of the internalization of White supremacy. Sheryl has a dark complexion and is not thin. That alone as a Black woman opens many doors for attacks on her. And as @BlackCanseco pointed out, she usually self-depreciates in her jokes. As @WeeSeeRace pointed out, it’s one of those "I’ll insult myself before you can, and control the conversation" tactics. It’s a survival tactic. But it’s still rooted in White supremacist thinking. Again, I am fans of both Underwood and Tyler, but what happened in that episode did hurt. I had some more conversation about this with other Black women (and a few Black men) online, and naturally the White Opinions started to roll in.
I don’t need sociopolitical opinions on Black hair from White people, period. None. And when conversations like these occur, I don’t even want “compliments" from White people on Black hair. It’s not the right time and it reads as patronizing and more about their White guilt than a compliment. It also reads as "look, I am not like ‘other’ Whites who are racist towards Black hair and bodies; give me cookies now!" or "Systemic issues don’t exist…I mean, I do ‘individually’ like Black hair so that solves everything!" Further, I don’t need White people who cannot see the irony in admonishing some Black people’s internalization of Eurocentric beauty norms and White supremacist thinking—that was forced upon us by the government, at gunpoint, under the whip, through rape, disease, abuse, psychological warfare, the media and even the Bible—to be the ones critiquing said internalization, especially when they benefit from White supremacy. Whites responding to conversations like this with "this makes me mad" or "shake my head" is not needed and reeks of White privilege.
A White woman would not leave my Twitter mentions alone that day though. She inserted ignorant upon ignorant opinion and even tried to claim “oh I understand.” How would she understand the politics and racism associated with Black hair? Even Heidi Klum does not understand that as a mother of Black children. She can observe it. She can be angered/hurt because those are her children. But she does not live it. She has the luxury of individually finding Black hair “adorable” because that finding is based on a distance of experience, one that she did not even have to grow up with and only confronts now as a mother of biracial children. And while it is great that she loves her children’s hair, I am not interested in making her a tolerant White hero. She still has White privilege, even as a mother of biracial/Black children.
This same derailing White woman tried everything possible to dominate and control my conversation about this on Twitter. I ignored most of her tweets. But when a few Black women and I discussed Whites shoving their unneeded opinions into this space, she came to collect “ally” payment. She basically asserted that she was being an “ally” and we were not giving her the credit that is due. My question is, why would a White woman be needed as an “ally” in a conversation among Black women about one Black woman who “joked” about something that revealed internalization of White supremacy and Eurocentric beauty myths? Again, why would a White “ally” be needed in this space? To do what? To be an ally to whom? How?
Some Whites seem to think that “ally” means they have some sort of “Black card” to literally shove themselves into spaces for which they aren’t needed, ones that they are explicitly told to leave, and ones where it literally makes no sense that they are there. And honestly, other Whites who entered the conversation at this point, not to control, but to tell this White woman to stop (she called us Black women “racists,” told several of us to shut up, and then suggested that race shouldn’t be involved in feminism) were doing what allies should do. This particular instance was not one where White allies were needed, except to tell other Whites that White allies were not needed. If this White woman was actually an ally, she would’ve known to listen and accept that intraracial conversations among Black people do not need White allies; ever. She wouldn’t have needed other Whites to come for her (which she ignored; she wouldn’t stop; even after over an hour; I ended up blocking her) to tell her this.
Of course it is important to be an ally, in general. In After #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen: So You Want To Be An Ally, Now What?, Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) explained that White women being allies includes listening, educating themselves, checking themselves and understanding diversity in goals. In an episode of The Melissa Harris-Perry Show, Melissa Harris Perry (@MHarrisPerry) explained that not demanding “proof” of inequality, recognizing privilege, not offering up the "I have a marginalized friend, so I get it" card, not being a Savior of sorts and recognizing that marginalized people are also doing anti-oppression work is critical. This matters. But the idea that White dominance in any space is always needed or worse, is automatically allyship is literally the antithesis of being an ally. It’s simply being a racist. However, once this woman was told that this particular conversation was not one where Whites, allies or not, were needed, she dug her heels in and began to attack. If “allies” are not interested in even listening to what Black women have to say, taking a second to shut up and not trying to derail, control or dominate discourse, they’re simply operating as oppressors.
There are instances when allies are needed and should stand up. And in these instances, many do not. Worse, they often side with the aggressors. Conversely, there are instances when comments from allies or Whites in general are not needed. At all. When Black people are discussing racism and White supremacy and its impact on us intraracially, that does not mean that because White “allies” are White, their views are then needed. Once told to butt out, butt out! White women are not needed in conversations among Black women about something specific to Black womanhood. We deserve the space to discuss what matters to us without having to coddle ignorance such as Whites giving individualized compliments that do not speak to systemic issues that we discuss, their collection of ally cookies, derailment or racism. Ally is a term earned and given, not self-appointed.
"Being an ally is a process, not an identity." - @FeministGriote