Who Will Revere The Black Woman?

The Jazz diva's 1966 essay for Negro Digest rings true in the hearts of many Black women today

Mark Twain said, in effect, that when a country enslaves a people, the first necessary job is to make the world feel that the people to be enslaved are subhuman. The next job is to make his fellow countrymen believe that man is inferior, and, then, the unkindest cut of all is to make that man believe himself inferior.

A good job has been done on the Black people in this country, as far as convincing them of their inferiority is concerned. The general white community has told us in a million different ways and in no uncertain terms that “God” and “nature” made a mistake when it came to the fashioning of us and ours. The whole society, having been thoroughly convinced of the stained, threatening, and evil nature of anything unfortunate enough to be, or to be referred to as, black, as an intended matter of courtesy refers to those of African extraction as “colored” or “Negro.”

The fact that “Negro” is the Spanish word for “black” is hardly understood, it would seem; or it would seem that the word “black” may be intimated or suggested, but never simply stated in good English.

Too many Negroes, if described or referred to as “black,” take it as an affront; and I was once told by a Canadian Irishman that I’d insulted him by referring to my person as a Black woman. He insisted that, in actuality, I was brown, not black; and I felt obliged to tell him he described himself as “white,” and that he wasn’t white either.

The fact that white people readily and proudly call themselves “white,” glorify all that is white, and whitewash all that is glorified, becomes unnatural and bigoted in its intent only when these same whites deny persons of African heritage who are Black the natural and inalienable right to readily and proudly call themselves “black,” glorify all that is black, and blackwash all that is glorified.

Yet, one is forced to conclude that this is not the case at all, that an astonishing proportion of the white population finds it discomforting that Blacks should dare to feel so much glory in being beautifully black. In the face of this kind of “reasoning,” the only conclusion one can logically come to is that there is something wrong with this society and its leadership. “The Man’s” opinion of God is sorry, to put it nicely, and his opinion of himself is simply vague and hazy.

Evil? Evil, you say? The Black woman is hurt, confused, frustrated, angry, resentful, frightened and evil! Who in this hell dares suggest that she should be otherwise?

Consider: Swearing his love and devotion to the Omnipotent One on the one hand, yet defying and cursing him with rank impudence on the other; using the crutch of his “inherently” base and callow nature on the one hand, and claiming his godhood on the other; worshipping a Jew as the Son of God on the one hand, yet persecuting all other Jews as enemies of God on the other; historically placing this same Jew on the African continent on the one hand, and describing him as a European in physical appearance on the other (still, one would suppose that it’s tacitly understood by all that “God” couldn’t be anything other than “white,” no matter where He was born); advocating that the Black man is made of inferior stuff on the one hand, yet defying him not to prove his superiority on the other; naming hurricanes for women on the one hand, yet H is for the heart as pure as gold on the other; giving her pet names such as “whore,” “slut,” “bitch,” etc., on the one hand, yet, put them all together and they spell mother, the word “that means the world to me,” on the other.

No wonder the slogan “white is right” could take a whole nation by storm. One could never accuse this society of being rational.

Still, instead of this irrational society warping my delicate little psyche, it only drove me, ultimately, to the conclusion that any Black human being able to survive the horrendous and evil circumstances in which one inevitably finds oneself trapped must be some kind of a giant with great and peculiar abilities, with an armor as resistant as steel yet made of purest gold. My mother is one of the most courageous people I have ever known, with an uncanny will to survive. When she was a young woman, the white folks were much further in the lead than they are now, and their racist rules gave her every disadvantage; yet, she proved herself a queen among women, any women, and as a result will always be one of the great legends for me.

But strange as it is, I’ve heard it echoed by too many Black full-grown males that Black womanhood is the downfall of the Black man in that she (the Black woman) is “evil,” “hard to get along with,” “domineering” “suspicious,” and