How to Be a Better Friend to Black Women

For starters, don’t ask us to explain slang to you. (Also, we’re not saying ‘bye Felicia’ anymore)

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A photo of a black woman's hand and a white woman's hand with their pinkies intertwined
(Photograph: Getty; Photo-Illustration: Joel Louzado)

Being a Black woman is great—have you seen how we age?—but it comes with a one-two punch of racism and misogyny, covering everything from micro-aggressions to murder. Let me throw some stats at you, courtesy of the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

  • The unemployment rate for African-Canadian women is 11 percent, compared to seven percent for the general Canadian population
  • African-Canadian women make 37 percent less than white men, and 15 percent less than white women
  • While six percent of white Canadian women live below the poverty line, the number quadruples—and then some—to 25 percent for African-Canadian women
  • African Canadian women and girls are reportedly targeted by the police and are increasingly in contact with the criminal justice system as one of the fastest growing prison populations

That’s some dire shit. So how can you help? Straight up: support Black women. Treat us like individuals, not a monolith. Listen to our stories, hell, *pay* for our stories. Respect our bodies. You know, general behaviour that women of all shapes, sizes, orientations and beliefs deserve. But let’s get to the specifics—read on for 15 ways you can make Black women’s lives easier.

A quick hat tip to my inspiration is required: thanks to Dani Beckett and Kesiena Boom over at Broadly, who wrote 100 Easy Ways to Make Women’s Lives More Bearable and 100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating For People of Color, respectively. And one final note: In no way do I want to dismiss or diminish the experiences of other women of colour. I can only speak to my experiences as a Black-presenting biracial woman and those of the Black women I know, admire and respect all over the world.

1. Don’t touch our hair

Just. Don’t. Feel the urge? Consider your relationship to the woman you (should be) asking to touch. Is she your friend? Your wife? Your niece? Probably cool. Did you just meet? Aw, hell no.

2. Stop fetishizing us as “exotic”

We are exotic to you because of the Euro-centric beauty ideal. Or you just don’t know that many Black women. You should probably fix that.

3. If you can’t pay us as much as white men…

…at least pay us at least as much as white women. (Remember those stats above? We make 15 percent less.)

4. Don’t question our education, experience or expertise

It’s not astonishing that we went to a “good” school, have an M.D., run a robotics lab, research AIDs, restore old houses…

5.  When creating fictional characters, ditch the “sassy Black friend” caricature

We don’t all act or sound the same way, nor do we have the same mannerisms.

6. Allow us to be vulnerable about our mental health needs

In an article for Chatelaine, journalist Tayo Bero spoke with six Black Canadian women about tackling mental health taboos. She writes, “…for many Black women who struggle with their mental health, taking care of themselves is still a political act and a matter of radical self-preservation.”

7. Don’t say things like, “I don’t think of you as Black.” Or, “I don’t see colour”

The truth is that we are all different colours, and the colour you are impacts your life. Saying you don’t see it dismisses the struggles that come with having more melanin. How lucky that you can’t see it, I live it every single day.

8. Read more Black women writers, from all over the world, and especially from home

Award-winning Calgarian author Esi Edugyan won the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her third novel, Washington Black; No Crystal Stair by the late Montreal journalist, activist and CBC personality Mairuth Sarsfield, is quickly becoming a CanCon classic.

9. Support organizations that benefit Black women

Think of groups like the Black Health Alliance—which supports health equity across Canada, or Power to Girls, a non-profit focused on empowering Afro-diaspora girls in the Greater Toronto Area.

10. If you’re a parent, read books, buy toys and watch TV shows starring Black girls…

….with your daughters and your sons.

11. Seek out art created by Black women

And I mean seek. it. out. because it’s not always easy to find. A 2015 study by Canadian Art revealed that just three per cent of solo exhibitions held at major Canadian art institutions between 2013 and 2015 were by non-white female artists. (No surprise: white artists made up 89 percent.)

12. Don’t ask us to explain slang to you

And don’t say ‘bye Felicia,’ we’re not even saying that anymore.

13. If a Black woman is offended, hurt or angered by something you say or do, listen to her

Accept her feelings and apologize. Do not tell her that you didn’t mean it *that way,* because it still came out *that way.* Learn from her.

14. Support your Black female colleagues

Allow them space to talk and acknowledge their contributions. If her opinion is being dismissed unfairly, stand up for her. If there are no Black women, or Black people, at your work, ask why.

15. Understand that Black women come in all shapes, sizes and colours, with a wide variety of interests and experiences

We cover the sexual spectrum. We are liberal and conservative. We can be anyone, do anything, but we are not perfect. Forgive us. Let us heal.

Related:
When Will We Finally Believe—and Protect—Black Women?
What It’s Like to be the Only Black Medical Student in My Class
The Case for Seeking—and Amplifying—Black Joy

 

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