Your friends shape who you are. There is no doubt about it – they pick you up when you’re hurting, they offer difficult advice when you need it most, and they love you in a way no one else can. For a lot of us our friends are a family away from home; and it’s important what this friendship group looks, talks, and feels like. If you are a black woman in the world today your experience is unique – bound up in pain, misogy-noir, and the constant underestimating of your abilities. This experience is felt but rarely explained. How can someone who has never had this experience truly understand how it feels? The relationship black women have with each other has existed for centuries based on our shared experiences. We have always been our own supporters, our own closest confidants, and known that no one will show love for black girls like we will for ourselves.
The shared experience is how we have such strong communication with our aunties, our godmothers, and grandmothers. With the generational gap widening constantly, it is other younger black women we turn to when faced with adversity. The experiences of our mothers can often be very different from our own. Only a generation or two before us, every mother relaxed their daughters hair with harmful chemicals. Now with natural hair being more widely accepted many of us won’t make this decision – not because we don’t love our mothers and our upbringings, but because we love our daughters differently. The complexity of this issue spans decades, with little documentation in white magazines, newspapers or archives. How does one explain this to someone who doesn’t share this history?
Having friends of other races is important. For those of us living in the West, the reality is we are often the only black woman in a predominantly white friendship groups. We need to consider the mental labour that comes with taking on this role. Are we in this group as a token you can throw to your other friends when they call out your problematic behaviour? It can be tiring to constantly explain your experience to those that don’t understand, whether it’s a partner, a co-worker, or a friend. Our experience is full of microaggressions, oppression, and toxicity which can be a lot to talk about for anyone regardless of the colour of their skin. For many people this experience is completely alien – and this is why we need our black girl friends.
The very love language which black girls communicate to one another is different. It can be unbraiding my hair at 2am, when we should’ve started hours ago but we couldn’t quite bring ourselves too. It can be unloading a day’s worth of trauma when that old white woman touched my hair in public. Or it’s laughing at Brad for comparing our skin to chocolate on Tinder for the millionth time this week! These shared experiences are not always universal, but they are important to express in a safe space where others understand you.
Thank you to my black girl friends. For teaching me how to properly do my hair, for understanding my anger when I didn’t have the words to express it (to a white audience), for seeing my experience and saying ‘me too’. The power of women of colour around me is resilient, it is unbreakable, and it is peaceful. The friendship black and brown women have with each other is a place that allows us to remove the mask that comes with moving in a white world, and allows us to exist as authentically as possible.
Written by Shamar Gunning