In her 1975 Choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf, feminist author and activist Ntozake Shange demanded—through her character lady in brown—that “somebody/anybody sing a Black girl’s song.” Here we Black women are, some 40 years later, still fighting to be seen, to be recognized for all we give to this nation (and the world!) by way of our loving, sacrificial battles for Black lives, our endless contributions to Black culture, and especially our effortless beauty—which is constantly and savagely co-opted every damn day.
What we have learned, and certainly what Ntozake Shange was trying to teach us all those years ago, is that we have to be willing to sing our own songs, to ourselves and one another. And there aren’t many sisters to who sing to us in the ways that educator, cultural critic, producer and activist Dr. Yaba Blay does.
Dr. Blay loves us Black girls how we deserved to be loved.
Whether she is talking the politics of colorism in our collective communities, teaching our young, gifted and Black as the Daniel T. Blue Endowed Chair of Political Science at North Carolina Central University, or filling our social media feeds with the kinds of gorgeous images of Black womanhood often overlooked in the mainstream media and beauty industry, Blay’s love for Black women is bone marrow deep.
The ultimate Black girl lover has penned a new love letter to Black women through her original video series Professional Black Girl, which seeks to, “celebrate everyday Black womanhood, and to smash racist and ‘respectable’ expectations of how they should ‘behave.'” For the series, Blay interviewed 15 Black girls and women (who range in age from 2 to 52) asking each participant to talk about what makes them, and all Black women, professional Black girls—Black girls who take their style, beauty and cultural expression of Blackness to expert levels.
“When I say I’m a Professional Black Girl, I’m not identifying myself as someone who is well-accomplished in her job, her career, or her profession,” Blay explains. “Though I am – Be clear. When I say I’m a Professional Black Girl I’m announcing myself as someone who takes being a Black girl very seriously. Like to professional levels. So WHATEVER it means to be be a Black girl, I’m THAT.”
While Blay is a fierce advocate for Black women and girls, she didn’t intend to create this new series.
“I didn’t originally set out to produce Professional Black Girl. I was actually producing another original series and had planned to end each episode with a Professional Black Girl segment,” she tells EBONY.com. “But the more interviews and conversations I had about the project in general, and with the women themselves, the more I began to feel like this was something of its own.”
Instead of forcing the segments, or worse, shortening the conversation, Blay decided to turn the discussion and insights into its own project, especially when she saw the topics she wanted to cover resonating on social media.
“The kind of joy it brought me made me think of the many times in my social media experience where me and another sister (or two or ten) in my age set would start reminiscing about our teen years. We’d have 100+ comment threads discussing old hairstyles and hair products, what we used to do, the music we used to listen to. For some reason, those moments make me happy,” says Blay. “Just from the comments sisters make, I can tell whether we would have been good girlfriends back in high school, whether we could be good girlfriends now. It’s not only a vibe, or a shared experience, but the value we all place on that experience.”
And according to the mother and grandmother (who is most interested in created a better, brighter world for the #ProfessionalBlackGirls to come—through her own lineage and through our communal ones) we desperately need to tap into the joy these kinds of conversations create.
“We use a lot of language to describe and define Black girls, very little of which is affirming of who they are. Bad. Grown. Fast. Ghetto. Ratchet. And when we say those words, we spit them out with a type of energy that somehow distances ourselves from those Black girls,” Blay explains. “Listen, let’s not act like we weren’t bad, grown, fast, ghetto, or ratchet. I know I was, at least according to the adults in my life. But really, I wasn’t any of those things. I was simply a master of the art and the science of Black girl culture.”
Dr. Blay speaks what we all know: Black girls begin to wrestle with misogynoir at such a young age, by the time we become adults we are trying to piece together our fractured identities and (often) attempt to shame and distance ourselves from the kinds of Black girls and women we have been pushed to believe aren’t respectable, and thus aren’t lovable and worthy of praise. She hopes to mend our broken relationships with one another by challenging us to face our sisters and ourselves in this new series, by simply making space for us to celebrate our full selves.
“I think it’s important to contextualize Professional Black Girl within the context of the current #BlackGirlMagic moment that we’re in. While I am a card carrying member of the #BlackGirlMagic Executive Board, I recognize that when we share stories, images, or videos on social media and use the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic, we tend to only highlight examples of what is widely perceived as ‘excellence,’ she says.
For Blay, being an every day, around the way, dope Black woman or girl is enough–no special magic or achievements necessary.
“Being a Black girl IS our excellence. I want ALL of us to be able to connect to #BlackGirlMagic as a reflection of our everyday lives, not just an aspirational goal,” she says of the hashtag movement that has spread widely across social media. “Have you seen how Black women do hair? All over the world? Who does hair like us? NOBODY. And the little girl in her mirror fixing her hair for school has inherited some of that magic. She should know. So I’m celebrating the culture of being a Black girl in all of its excellent and unique ways – our hairstyles, our adornment, our style, etc.”
Sounds amazing, right?
Watch the first episode of the series below, and get your #ProfessionalBlackGirl merchandise here.
What makes you a #ProfessionalBlackGirl? Tell us in the comments section below.