In this series of blog posts featuring our shared historical past with current social endeavors, I wanted to show how the past can shape our point of view and define the path we tread in this life; the known and the unknown.
A historical figure still unknown to many in America is Sara Baartman. Though she was not a slave in the Americas, Sarah’s story is one that I cringe on when I hear it. Known as the Black Venus in Europe, Sarah’s life began in the Eastern Cape of what is now South Africa where she was born in 1789. Her real name was Sawtche. Her father was from the Khoikhoi tribe, and her mother came from the Bushmen or San tribe, the oldest tribe in Southern Africa (afrolegends.com).
Sarah was captured and sold into the Afrikan slave trade around the age of 16. At the age of 21 she caught the eye of William Dunlop, an English ship surgeon. In October 1810, although illiterate, Baartman allegedly signed a contract with English ship surgeon William Dunlop and mixed-race entrepreneur Hendrik Cesars, in whose household she worked, saying she would travel to England to take part in shows (www.bbc.com).
Sarah didn’t know how to read, but she was promised a life of fame, fortune and freedom that she honestly never received when she signed her life away to Dunlop. Through out her life she was exploited in some of the worst ways imaginable. Her exploitation gave credence to the pseudo-scientific and false narrative of Africans being an inferior race. Even in death, she was not allowed to rest in peace. Sarah’s remains were dissected and studied and then put on display in a museum in Paris.
In 1994, South African President Nelson Mandela requested the remains of Sarah Baartman be put to rest in her homeland. In March 2002, the request was granted by the French Government.
We must never forget our sisters, our women. Being anything is this present age can be a blessing or a curse, but in this present day, we are free. We are allotted more of the freedoms that Sarah and other’s like her were denied.
And I wanted to talk about that. I wanted to talk about our freedom, our choices, with another woman of color.
So much of the physical attributes that Sarah Baartman naturally had are sought after today by women of all colors. The lips, the ample hips, honey brown skin, and even our hair trends are a traded commodity and the practice of calling out white people for cultural appropriation is becoming the norm. As one put it, if it is beautiful and Avant garde on you why is not the same for me.
Today, women of color have more freedom of choice than any era before. However, I have to ask, how has this benefited us in the long run? The same stereotypes born of pseudoscientific lies that they told themselves to build their society up and tear ours down can be found in the same insults we and negative points of view we heap on one another daily.
I’m talking about Colorism. I’m talking about the way we as black women judge each other sometimes based on false narratives of society and low opinion of our own damn selves.
So, it is 2018. What makes a black woman today? And how do we rise above all of the negativity and empower one another and hold on to our queenship, our royal stature and virtue that one hand we say we are born with and on the other they say we are not?
I went and had a conversation with author, mother and woman of color, Sade Jarrett. I must say it is refreshing to speak with another woman who knows her truth. Sade was very open and honest about her experiences. Our conversation went as follows:
UWM: We are going to talk about black feminine images, black girl magic and empowerment in 2018. But first, tell our readers about your self Sade.
SJ: So, I am an African American mother of 5 boys. I am a writer and a creative, aspiring, individual who has just released her second book. The first book was a co-authoring book called Live Your Best Life: Your Life is a Message. Then, I brought out the second book No Longer Broken, No Longer Ashamed. So currently, I am in the process of doing auditions for the play. Right now, I have the name of the play as “No Longer Broken, No Longer Ashamed” but I might be changing that a little bit. I do have an estimated time frame of the beginning of December of the play to be able to bring forth different scenarios of men and women and things that they struggle with; things people don’t like to talk about. I’m also in the process of working on a short film talking about and for single moms. These are the projects I am working on currently.
UWM: Where you familiar with the life story of Sarah Baartman?
SJ: Not until now, but it is very interesting how when you read about how basically they took advantage of her–what they even did to her body parts! But, I guess this is something that Black women have always dealt with, even years prior to her and even after her. Even into now. We feel that our bodies have to be a certain way and we don’t realize how when we put it out there that others take advantage of that. We don’t see that and we are not being tasteful anymore. Sarah Baartman didn’t have a choice. And she had a figure that a lot of us want and a lot of women in other cultures want. Even those of us who have it, we tend to want it to the extreme instead of just embracing what we have naturally. She (Baartman) didn’t have a choice. Now that we have choices, we still allow others to take, and even ourselves, to take advantage of our form, of our curves. Our bodies.
UWM: Now that it’s 2018, we have our mind back, we have our choices back, and in a way with the me too movement and with this recent success of the movie BLACK PANTHER, we have a little more of our beauty back. How should go forward and represent ourselves now?
SJ: Now, I do feel that a woman should be able to be free and be herself and express herself. But I also feel that it could be in a tasteful way. Leave something to the imagination and the mystery of it. Even when you see BLACK PANTHER, they still showed (some skin) but it was tasteful. For example, it’s nothing wrong with women having pictures out there of themselves in their swimsuits if like they are promoting their clothing line, but it’s starting to get to the point where like with the twerk videos, they have to bounce and do all this other stuff and I feel that you are taking away the sensuality and the mysteriousness–leave something up to the imagination. Somethings should be left behind close doors for your mate, or even for yourself if that what’s you choose, whoever it might be. I feel that there is nothing wrong with showing your body, but just be tasteful with it. You don’t have to flaunt it. Don’t do it for others. If you going to do something or wear something make sure its for yourself. If your are doing it because you love your skin or you love your body, and you are only doing it for you, then, keeping doing you. Regardless of what it is. I think the problem is people do it for the wrong reasons.
UWM: Have you ever experienced colorism? Have you ever experienced discrimination within your own culture? If so, how did those experiences make you feel?
SJ: It could be like even when I am talking on the phone. They’ll say, you sound white. And I’m like, well, how do you sound black? So, am I supposed to continue to speak a whole bunch of slang to sound black? How do you sound black? How do you sound white? I’m confused. I’ve dealt with that but dealing with color? I don’t think I’ve ever had to do deal with that issue. Out of my siblings, I might have been the lightest one but I was never treated any differently. But, I’ve known other people who have dealt with it, and I don’t think that is right. And I think that it’s still a problem. Because if you think back in slavery, and I think there might have been a letter out there, detailing how to divide the light and dark. And even so, that still happens today.
UWM: You mean, the WILLIE LYNCH LETTER?
SJ: Exactly. It still happens today. And now, that we have choices, to not continue to do that, we still do that today because it is just a traditional norm within our families to do that. Even with it being 2018, it’s still here and, we should embrace all our colors because even though we have light and we have dark, we are the only people that others want to look like. They want to have darker skin. So, to be able to have multiple colors within our families is amazing. Like, when you have a child you don’t know if they are going to be light skin or dark skin or brown or caramel, you don’t know. But, it’s beautiful, because you have a variety within your family and you need to embrace that. Everybody’s not going to be the same color. I’ve never dealt with it to a certain extent but I’ve seen other families that have and thought it was wrong. You know, embrace your color.
UWM: Growing up black in this decade doesn’t look too easy. The mother is often the first teacher of the child. What, if anything, do you as a mother want to impart to your children about respecting themselves and knowing their culture?
SJ: I feel (my role) is important. Especially since, I’m raising sons; I’m raising African American sons. Not saying that having daughters is easy, but the way that society is now, especially on our African American men, I am very tough and hard on my sons to be able to embrace who you are and love who you are. So, having confidence is important for my kids. Making sure that they love themselves, making sure that I show that love. I can be a little hard on my sons but it’s showing out of love. I always want them to just embrace who they are. It’s up to us as parents, especially as mothers, to be able to correct as well as not condone. Kids is kids and they’re going to be kids. I have from super light, to brown skin, to caramel. I have different shades (of black) within my sons. And I have to deal with (colorism) within my own household. You look like you yellow, or you’re dark like this. And I’m like, first of all, y’all should show brotherly love regardless. And don’t ever condemn your brother because his skin is darker or lighter than yours. It’s already hard enough that you are going to be dealing with this when you leave out into the world, don’t do it within yourself! And I have to explain to them that this the problem we have now within our own culture. We do this more than other people do it. So, you have to break those habits. And kids don’t know, but the more you keep instilling and drilling that into their heads, they will get it. And sometimes with boys you have to drill it at least 20 or 30 times, but they eventually get it. And I am not going to condone that and thank God, I have a family that doesn’t condone it either.
UWM: Mother. Friend. Sister. Aunt. Miracle Worker. There are many different aspects to this thing people are calling Black Girl Magic. Where do you see yourself in this spectrum?
SJ: How I see myself as fitting in with Black Girl Magic is just me being who I am. Not conforming to the world or what it should be like. Some days if I want to be glamorous, I’ll be glamorous. If I want to throw a hat on, like I got right now, I’m going to throw a hat on wear comfortable clothes. It’s just being who you are and trusting that. And being confident in who you are. One thing about me is that when people say, you are different or I can’t read you today, good! That means, I’m not like everybody else and I don’t want to be like anybody else. I am who Sade is and that’s what makes my Black Girl Magic. And it also means, stepping out doing things that others don’t think you can do. I mean, being a mom, and being a single mom, you’re already in this statistical bubble that people want to put you in and I’m like you’re not going to put in there! I mean, I got my education, I own my house, I’m writing books, I writing plays, I want to do short films. I’m being honest, I even took an automotive class and I was the only African American and the only female in that class. So, it means just being able to do whatever you want to do and just stepping out of your own bubble or comfort zone and just doing it.
UWM: Ok, last question. How should we inspire each other as Black Women?
SJ: Just complement one another. It could be like, you did an awesome job on this or you look beautiful today. Not being afraid. I think the issue is competition. Stop being in competition with one another! Let’s encourage one another! If I mentor you, if I support you, if I push you and you go past me, that actually makes me happy. People don’t want to see you do more or better than them. They’ll help you to a certain extent. But, for me, if I see you surpass me, then I’ve done my job. I’m not going sit here and do just enough so that I can be above you. I think that helping, encouraging, and loving one another is important. And, I think that is the problem, that’s there is no love. There is so much hate, especially amongst African American women. She’s too fake or why she got to do this, I mean like–encourage her! It’s bad enough that we already have bullying, why do we have to do it amongst each other? The problem is we don’t support and love one another enough and I think that if love is in the center of it everything else will fall into place.
It was a refreshing to talk with another woman of color about our triumphs and our issues. Being anything in American isn’t easy, but focus and just be who you are. Black women are the hardest on themselves and each other, in this bloggers humble opinion.
I agree with the author/playwright Sade Jarrett, if we go forth and encourage each other with love at the center, everything will indeed fall into place.
If you would like to know more about Sade Jarrett and her endeavors you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or visit her website Life According to Sade
And purchase her latest book on Amazon.