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Dear Black Girl: A Renaissance of Identity

Ezrica Bennett Dear Black Girl

The phrase “Numbers don’t lie” reverberated in my mind as I stared at a graph glaring from the page of a popular magazine. The accompanying article explored women’s attractiveness by race. Black women were at the bottom of the graph.

I suspect the article may have been “just another project” for the article’s creator. They may have seen it as nothing more than a series of interviews and a summation of the data. But for me, this was the relegation of a part of my identity and worth to the lines and bars of a 2D graph. I remember the strange feeling that suffused my soul as I read the article as an undergrad. I felt like I had been unveiled, like the secret of my worthlessness was now painfully visible to everyone else. Shame overwhelmed me—the kind of shame that lingers in your psyche for a lifetime. The words of that article became a narrative indelibly etched in my consciousness. It took me more than a decade to unlearn those words.

I wish I could say that my worth, beauty, and identity were defined for me as a Black woman just that once, but that would simply be a lie. Sometimes the message was subtle, like a lack of media representation. I rarely saw Black women portrayed as graceful, intelligent, or beautiful. Instead, there was an oversaturation of stereotypical roles portraying women as prostitutes, drug addicts, negligent mothers, or maids. Their personalities were almost always aggressive, contentious, combative, or intransigent. 

The portrayal of Black women in media impacted my relationship with certain parts of myself—my anger, my expressiveness, and my passion. I learned to categorize essential human emotions and experiences as negative and destructive. I lived in fear of being called an angry Black woman simply because I was passionate. I resented words like ratchet and ghetto, which were epithets directed specifically at women of color. I learned to craft my vernacular, tone, mannerisms, and aesthetic presentation in a way that would never earn pejorative labels. I learned to camouflage like a soldier at war or a prey in hiding.

Sometimes you think that you want to disappear but all you really want is to be found—unknown.

My experience is not unique. I share similar traumas with many women of color. And while my faith has aided my navigating hard realities, the Bible, and certainly the church, never taught me how to be a Black woman in America. As a Black woman, the path of healing often feels lonely and arduous, with very few exemplarsnot for lack of distinguished women of color, but because of minimal representation both inside and outside the church. I had to find other sources of encouragement. I would not be who I am without having seen others navigate their traumas with grace and redemption. 

My most recent healing experience surprisingly came in a theater watching Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé. Beyoncé, the most decorated Grammy winner of all time, recently completed her Renaissance world tour. I didn’t have the opportunity to go, but after her tour, she released a movie that not only provided tour footage but also shared behind-the-scenes insights into her historic success. As a music lover, I went to see the film expecting dynamic performance and top-tier vocals, but I left feeling proud to be a Black woman, and with a greater desire to embrace my own story. 

Beyoncé is not only a performer and pop icon, but also a Black woman who has experienced tremendous opposition in a white male-dominated field. She has had limitations placed on her and faced vigorous pushback throughout her decades-long career. And while she has reached unprecedented success, she still encounters the same resistance as less-celebrated Black women in America. 

In the film, Beyoncé describes the frustration of having to frequently repeat herself before being heard and having her ideas validated. One might assume that as one of the most prolific voices in history, she would automatically be taken seriously. But despite her unparalleled success, she is often confined to the small ideas of those around her. Nevertheless she persists, and her sheer confidence feels empowering. On camera she explores no longer internalizing the opinions of those around her, and her art reflects the freedom she’s found. 

As I watched Renaissance, the little girl in me felt seen and safe, as though Beyoncé’s story gave me permission to be as radiant and excellent as I can be. I exulted in her excellence as a performer, and I felt even more moved by her resilience. I marveled at how fiercely she defends her community and how radically she encourages others to pursue self-acceptance.

In one of my favorite songs, “Cozy,” Beyoncé sings, “comfortable in my skin, cozy with who I am.” Seeing someone feel so comfortable in their skin reminds me that I can, too. I have spent years actively trying to undo narratives that diminish my worth, and every time I encounter other women doing the same, I feel empowered. 

I recall these words of Marianne Williamson:

“We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God . . . Your playing small does not serve the world. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

As a Black woman, with or without my consent, my environment often serves as a co-author of my story. But I am not defenseless. I’ve learned to increase my sample size, to proactively seek out stories of other women, artists, and mentors. I borrow ideas from their experiences. I procure permission from their audacity and resilience. I have the power to curate my life.

Sweet friend, I leave you with words I wish I had heard growing up. My hope for you is that you internalize the gift you truly are.

Dear Black Girl,

I hope you find the courage to believe that you are not defined by your encounters with people taught not to see you, those who do not value your worth. Just as the interplay between crashing waves and the shore fails to capture the fullness and grandeur of the ocean, your interactions with people who refuse to honor your humanity cannot determine how you judge yourself. They may never fully understand your resplendence, and that has to be OK.

Dear Black Girl, their words, ideas, graphs, perspectives, and perceptions cannot contain you. It is both your privilege and your duty to reject narratives that seek to diminish you.

When others try to confine and constrict you,
Put limitations on your being and your beauty,
Or reduce you to single-dimensional attributes; 

When they repeat that to be safe you must be silent,
To be accepted you must be agreeable,
To be considered you must conform;

And above all, when you feel the subtle and insidious inclination
To agree with those loud, virulent voices
Because they are persistent, they are prevalent, and “numbers don’t lie”;

I hope you find the courage to undergo a renaissance of your identity. I hope you whisper, scream, or shout the declaration in Beyoncé’s “Church Girl”: “I’m gonna love on me, nobody can judge me but me, I was born free.” 

All My Love, 

A Healing Black Girl

About the author

Ezrica Bennett graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Oakwood University. She has worked as a book editor for the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and has written for the Adventist Review and the Southeastern California Conference. She is a writer, public speaker, and coach, passionate about working with young adults to help them navigate life and faith, and a youth elder at the Loma Linda University Church. More from Ezrica Bennett.
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