“What I can offer every Black woman is empathy.
Just because I don’t f*ck with you,
just because you can’t come to my party and I’m not trying to go to your party,
and I’m not buying your books,
and I’m not liking your Instagram pictures—
just because that is the case does not mean that I want you to have to endure violence— sexist, misogynistic, class-based violence,
like, I don’t want that for you.
I want you to be over there while you’re not enduring misogynoir.
You can’t sit with me.
I don’t need that.
Cause some people just have horrible, nasty, f*cked up energy.”
I blinked slowly and swallowed hard.
Her words felt as violent to me as the memory of the thunderous sound of Mama’s fast, heavy feet,
pounding across the hardwood floor on the heels of Aunt Chocolate’s clumsy ones, as she stumbled into a room,
loudly smacking the door shut,
trembling on the other side,
scared that my mama was about to burst through her pitiful barricade
and whoop her tail.
The opening quote above was spoken by a Black woman, who often publishes evocative Black feminist content, via video on Instagram. The woman shared this particular video snippet from a more extended conversation she had previously posted to her Patreon page, where she described her relationships with Black women. She wanted to make clear that just because a woman is Black doesn’t earn her a VIP ticket into this woman’s life. She spat out each word with a fiery resolve that spoke of a past rife with hurt incurred from relationships with Black women.
Even though she wasn’t speaking directly to or about me, I felt every word as if they were stones cast at me and my resolve to be loyal in sisterhood. Her words deeply troubled my heart. Did she, a Black woman, forget us? Did she forget the drudges we endure in efforts to emerge a reputable version of ourselves, whole, present?
While her words were difficult to accept, I understood where she was coming from, and thus they commanded I confront the tension hidden in their truth. Relationships at every level are precarious and require personal accountability and personal responsibility. While we cannot and should not enter into deep relationships with every Black woman in our orbit, every Black woman in our orbit deserves the energy and effort it takes to make that assessment. When it comes to sisterhood, empathy is a start, but it is not enough. We require the care of one another just to make it in this world.
Yet Black women are not a monolith. We are nuanced, human, complicated, full and worth the exertion it sometimes takes to see, know, and love us. If the sisterhood of Black women will prevail, we must see ourselves in one another, recognize the pain, power, and process it takes to be here, and be willing to woo one another just as we ourselves yearn for wooing or else we cannot expect others to hold requiem for us.
I’m still recovering from a broken heart shattered by a Black woman. This woman was my friend and sister for many years. We genuinely loved and enjoyed one another. We laughed, cried, and made milestones, and memories for over 15 years. We created together and were integral parts of the other’s life as we saluted womanhood, accepted marriage proposals, and birthed babies.
As time passed, what we once experienced as sweet and genuine, soured and spoiled under the pressure of trying to fulfill our dreams and become who it was we thought ourselves destined to be. This woman whose voice I recognized from distances away and whose handwriting I can still see when I close my eyes became the perpetrator of some of the greatest drubbings to my self-confidence and the orchestrator of some of the most intense mental and emotional distress I’ve ever known. After years of pouring ourselves into our work, she made it clear to me that when it came down to choosing between the work we built or our friendship, she’d choose the work, and what it could do for her, every time.
In healthier situations, the strength of the relationship would make it so that there would never have to be a crossroads: both the relationship and the work could flourish. Together we started a personal and special project and turned it into a professional pursuit. Once the project became work, it turned cold and corporate, and I no longer felt like I belonged. After several raucous disagreements about control and money, I surrendered the work in efforts to just have my friend back. Shortly after, she stopped calling, texting, and engaging me altogether.
After many conversations and therapy visits, I stopped interrogating myself about what I could have done to cause the dismantling of the friendship and accepted that my old friend was scared of so many things, things that haunted her long before we ever met, things I triggered without even knowing.
I also discovered my part in the dissolution of our union came from the same place as hers: fear. All my life, I’ve used people-pleasing as a tactic to keep those I love most close to me. This time, it not only didn’t work, but it also fizzled and imploded in my face. People-pleasing isn’t effective. It’s manipulation, and it doesn’t work in the long haul of maintaining authentic relationships. I performed and pretended to be ok with so many aspects of our friendship from the very beginning. This false performance is what contributed to its demise.
That friendship is over, but I still have a lot of love and respect for my old friend. I have accepted that there was something about the brew we made together that just doesn’t work anymore. That’s life. Yet for every hurtful thing she said and for every painful memory we made are stories of women who’ve stood in the gap as a sister for me and other women in their lives. There’s been a balance of the good and the difficult but the cycle of commitment to one another continues as we learn, evolve and find safety in and for one another. I’ve seen Black women, time and time again, extend their arms, bend their backs, stick out their necks for another Black woman, not because they had to, but because, for them, it was the only obvious choice.
I remember when I was in middle school, two girls wanted to fight one of my best friends. These girls wore tightly gelled-back ponytails, door knocker earrings, and tennis shoes which, in my day, was basically a middle school girl’s fight uniform. They didn’t like my BFF because, according to them, she thought she was cute. Also, one of the boys from the BEH class who they liked wanted to go with my friend, and they weren’t having that. So they decided that the next day, they were going to jump her. That night, I went home and told my sister – my sister was and has always been the baddest chic I know. The following morning, my sister showed up at our science class and told the girls “they’d better leave her lil sister’s friend alone” or she was gonna beat them both. They did.
I can recall a few instances while growing up in my church when one of the girls in youth group was expecting a baby. The women of the church would rally around her, gather up baby clothes and pampers, sterilize bottles, and show up on the doorsteps of the girl’s mama’s house with dishes of food when the baby was born to help ease the transition of single girl to single mom.
I’ve listened to aunties profess their love for one another, sing ballads about the beauty of family— how much they love theirs, how special it is, how family comes first. I’ve also seen how as soon as one sister walks away, the others commence to discussing her business, how they feel about her choices, and what her choices communicate about her character. None of it noteworthy. None of it have they ever said in her presence.
Mama. Aunt Chocolate. Middle school bullies. BFFs. Church ladies. Aunties. Sisters.
I get it. I understand why the woman on my Instagram feed passionately pronounced her boundaries around relationships with Black women. I can identify areas in my life where necessity has required me to do the same. We’re good and bad, healed and broken, in process and unbothered, dangerous and healing, simple and profound, necessary and frivolous.
I get it.
But when have relationships with people ever not been?
I hold an open-heart policy specifically for Black women. Black women and girls deserve the best of my care, consideration, and creativity. That doesn’t mean I’ll be in intimate relationships with every Black girl or woman I encounter. But what that does mean is that in every situation possible and upon every meeting practicable, I’ll offer her my most sincere smile, and I’ll do my best to show her love because she deserves it. Black women and girls are worth the risk.
On the other side of every broken heart, misunderstanding, or painful experience that I’ve encountered from a Black woman are the beautiful brown faces of all the Black women who have held me, kept me, covered me, helped heal me, given me clarity, laughed with me, sharpened me, challenged me, prayed with me, celebrated me. These women have been an integral part of my understanding of what it is to be a woman and have shaped my sisterhood definition. They are my gift from the creator, real-life angels with whom I live my life to the fullest, create new realities for my daughters to do the same, and continue this incredible legacy of Black women loving one another into our most lavish existence. Mama, Chasity, Rediet, Carla, Natalie, Kishya, Maya, Bren, Yana, Whitney, Karma, Tiara, Clarissa, Jeleesa, Doretta, Jessica, I love you. Thank you for loving me as I am, for never giving up on me and for walking with me through all of the ugly as I cycle through to the next phase to find my way to my rightful, beautiful reality.
This is sisterhood.