To be a black woman on Columbia’s campus is to already be placing yourself in a precarious position. The burden of solidarity placed upon you is something forged out of the idea that because you are black and a woman, you must act in a supporting role for all of those around you. It requires painstaking emotional labor and care to become the person that those around you take for granted. You are expected to speak on the behalf of others in addition to yourself, which isn’t fair because a lot of the time when it comes to issues that only affect you, no one is behind you to speak on your behalf: not black men, not non-black people of color, and not white people.
As such, you expect to find some type of solidarity between black women. When I see another black woman on campus, I have in my mind the idea that we both should make an effort to wave or talk, because despite any differences in our backgrounds, we still are in the same position: a black face in a PWI. However, the ideal of universal black girl solidarity on campus isn’t always the case.
Because solidarity is more than waving and because most black people on this campus socialize together, our interactions go beyond waving at people we do not know. It also involves supporting one another in intimate spaces and a lot of times serving as each other’s best friends and confidantes on campus. That in itself is a testament to how important it is to have someone like you, who experiences life like you, as a close friend. The majority of people here who I would consider close friends are black women like me.
However, the solidarity that is present in the black girl community is sometimes shallow and based in an unusual amount of self-interest and a lack of caring, which is important (and necessary) in any healthy relationship. I notice we are quick to throw our friends under the bus for some form of social clout or because they stand in the way of something that we wish to attain—the most common object of attainment being men.
I have seen girls who have been friends since they arrived on this campus, who have sat in meetings together and talked with each other, and who previously I would have considered inseparable, separated by a man. The majority of gossip, backstabbing, or fighting that I see happens over men who have managed to instill in two women some sense of infatuation. To lose a close friend over this, especially one of your own race and life experience when people like that are hard to come by on this predominantly white campus, is foolish. It serves no purpose but to isolate us and tear apart bonds of mutual trust and understanding for the mere possibility of being with a man.
Men are a topic of conversation, an object of desire, and also the greatest stumbling block on this campus for black women. It’s already hard enough when blackness and desirability meet in such a way that places black women at the bottom of the totem pole for dating at Columbia. So while black men generally have no problem dating people of any race, no one tends to date black women because of how society presents us. In my own personal relationships, I have felt that people have expected me not to be fragile or calm, which I tend to be in relationships, because they come in with preconceived ideas of what black womanhood looks like. Therefore, when there is a man who seeks to date a black woman, we recognize the scarcity of his kind and begin to fight within each other for his attention. That fight for attention is nonsensical because it upholds the system that devalues us as romantic partners, gives too much value to the people who date us, and causes us to cut friendships and other relationships that sustained us before romance. It’s unhealthy. Race aside, no one’s only close friend or only source of support should be their significant other. You need other relationships to be a well-rounded individual, and placing your happiness in the hands of another twenty-something college student seems like a large risk, especially at Columbia.
The importance of being with a man ties into the idea of social capital that is at the root of most intrapersonal issues in the black community. One of the most common laments I hear on campus is those of single people who want a relationship, not because they like any particular person, but because they want that outside source of validation to solidify their social standing. The idea that if one is not “cuffed" then one lacks value, or that people in relationships inherently have more value than single people, is an idea held by a large number of people on this campus, specifically black girls on this campus, either consciously or unconsciously.
This system of value is all empty and leads nowhere, because placing someone’s individual value in a place outside of their control or influence is completely useless. The observation that it is a useless system is not even addressing how issues such as colorism, racism, classism, transphobia, queerphobia, and ableism affect the ways in which social capital can be won. Of course, petty nonsense and jealousy also cause infighting within the black girl community, whether that’s saying “she has this” or “she has that.” Issues at the root of the nonsense are things like, “she has a boyfriend she doesn’t deserve, therefore I don’t like her,” as if relationships are based on deserving someone. Rarely is it based on something as simple as “I don’t enjoy her personality, so we cannot be friends,” which is a valid reason to lower the amount of individual support you have for someone while not taking down the communal solidarity of the Columbia black girl.
As a black girl, I’ve done things that I’m not proud of and treated my sisters in ways that I should not have; but I recognize that not only must I take responsibility for my actions, I must also learn from them so as not to reproduce them in the future. I want to close the imaginary Black Girl Burn Book forever and have true solidarity with the women who I see home within, but one person alone does not make a community. It will take all of us leaving this behind to make a difference.
Sabina Jones is a sophomore at Columbia College majoring in English. Her column Transatlantic Trade ran alternate Wednesdays.
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