We Don’t Believe in the Autonomy of Black Women

We don’t listen to Black women.

Unless you’ve been abstaining from all media for the last month, you know that we lost Prince and Beyonce released Lemonade and we can’t stop talking about either event. And through all of the discussion about both artists, even from writers I respect, a truth became self-evident:

We don’t believe in the autonomy of Black women.

Lemonade is an album/film/pop culture moment that has been dissected, critiqued, discussed, parsed and taught. Prince was an icon who managed to own a color, a symbol and the year 1999. While I’m not making comparisons between the artistries of Beyonce and Prince, this moment has highlighted a unique contrast: how we talk about them, particularly the choices they’ve made that could be perceived negatively, tells more about us than about their actions:

Prince is a unifier of dualities; Beyonce is a terrorist.
Prince is so damn sexy; Beyonce is destroying your daughter.
The world turns purple for Prince; Beyonce is met with a blue wall of silence.

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When Black women make choices with which we disagree, we talk to and about them like they couldn’t possibly understand the implications of their actions. Or that the only possible intentions of that action are malicious, dubious or worse. We chide them for existing outside of the boundaries we have placed on them. We provide opinions we were never asked to give:

We don’t respectfully disagree with Black women.
We don’t host beer summits with Black women.
We don’t listen to Black women.

We assume that whatever we have to say is the missing link between that woman and better choices.
We create false hierarchies and dichotomies to support our invalidation of that woman’s experience.
We facilitate competition between Black women to ensure that thriving is not only elusive but also lonely.
We shame and belittle Black women for political gain.
We exploit Black women’s emotional labor.

As Malcolm X said,

The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.
The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman.
The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.

And as I said,


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I can only assume that this is because we are ill-equipped to properly critique Black women with respect to their humanity. To be fair, there are examples of Black women being discussed with nuance and thoughtfulness. This riveting saga of Blac Chyna’s transformation into Angela Renee Kardashian is a beautiful piece of reporting. The story contextualizes the situation without ignoring Chyna’s agency. Her choices may be considered questionable but they are hers. And if you’re going to opine about her choices, you should do so with respect.

The beginning indeed. / Instagram: @blacchyna
The beginning, indeed. / Instagram: @blacchyna

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote beautifully about Black women and their struggle with the casting and production of the Nina Simone biopic. He owned that while this may not be his issue, he understands why it is an issue. He tells a compelling story without appropriating the struggle.

This can be done. We have the technology.

As a public service, I’m going to talk you through what to do when you want to offer your opinion on a Black woman’s actions, appearance, thoughts, words, feelings, etc. I offer a handy chart to guide you through this process of answering this question: should I offer my opinion on a Black woman’s actions?

Let's ask the real questions.
Let’s ask the real questions.

I’m certain you have questions about the chart, so let’s address them:

There seems to be a loop if I know the Black woman in question, have a negative opinion, and she hasn’t asked me for it. What do I do?

My advice is to wait for her to ask you or don’t offer your opinion. Black women get more than enough unsolicited negative advice. Maybe she knows what she’s doing and doesn’t need your input. Elon’s law is helpful in this case.

It seems that if I have a positive opinion, I can share it regardless of whether or not it’s actually helpful. Why is that?

People rarely celebrate Black women without some ulterior motive. Even compliments can be used as a cudgel to shame other Black women into behaving “respectably.” So if you have something genuinely nice to offer, do so. I’m all for celebrating Black women. Just make sure you’re not saying anything in this video.

I am a cultural critic! I am paid to opine about of-the-moment topics and what happens if that involves opinions about Black women whom I don’t know?

There’s a bubble just for you! You’ll notice that the only way to get around the research bubble is to be a Black woman. If that is not you, then ask yourself this question: have you cited a Black woman today?

I don’t need a chart to tell me whether I can practice free speech! I can critique whomever I wish!

You are correct, you may speak about whatever you want whenever you want. Just know that free speech doesn’t mean that people can’t call you out on the inevitable racist, sexist, oppression-based nonsense that you say. Thanks for the question, Piers Morgan!

So if you have an opinion about what Black women need to do, I strongly suggest you consult this chart before sharing them. And if you have any questions about how to use the chart, leave them in the comments.