Soft Black Girls: Being "Alternative" in the Black Community
Last Friday, I donned my cutest white romper (pictured above) and my favorite high-heeled platform boots to attend Magic & Melanin, an event hosted by fashion and lifestyle brand Adorned By Chi. Par for the course and sadly in line with my propensity for social awkwardness, I arrived unfashionably early at The Love Shack in Brooklyn, which is nothing like what its interesting name suggests. You ready for this? The Love Shack is actually a life-sized dollhouse! (And hands-down, the most adorable place I've ever seen in real life. Seriously. Check out the photo below and see for yourself!)
Magic & Melanin was a meet-and-greet with the owner, stylish and very sweet Jacque Amadi, as well as with the owners of Quirktastic.co, Luxe Phones, and other influential, black femme-owned businesses. In fact, Solus Samurai, AleroJasmine, and Curls were among the brands featured with the awesome goodie bags we were given towards the end of the night. (Yup, ABC came through with the hookup!)
Fashion was one of the main focuses of the evening. Guests were encouraged to dress in whatever way we felt best showcased our personal brand of cute for the "magical, multi-room experience," and let me tell you--not one person present came to play. Let me tell you, the fashion was on point in that building. Looks were served. And I was living for 'em. One guest came dressed to the nines in an amazing black Gothic Lolita dress and matching top hat, while another slayed in an all-white, Sailor Moon-inspired outfit.
In the face of all that #BlackGirlMagic, surrounded by walls of gilded mirrors and tables of pink macaroons, I felt both under-dressed and awed.
However, more compelling than the fashion and the venue's fascinating decor, were the Q&A session with the brand owners present and the open discussion that followed. Our host and brand guest speakers answered questions about the struggles of getting into entrepreneurship, how they coped with their first failures, being taken seriously as brands, learning new skills, gaining a following, and even re-branding. Each speaker was genuine--something a cynic such as myself rarely sees--and though a few admitted to being embarrassed about certain things, they still shared the stories of their past business mistakes with us.
I'll be honest here. I hadn't gone expecting to learn anything. I'd gone thinking, "Fashion! Food! Drinks! Great story for the blog! Alright!"
Still, learning is exactly what I found myself doing.
The part of the evening that most stuck with me was the ensuing discussion. As black women and femmes with "soft" (cutesy), nerdy, or alternative fashion styles and interests, we were all too familiar with the challenges that come with being what many in the black community often see as too different. But the thing about that that struck me was even though we were a group of people who shared these experiences, none of us seemed to really realize that we weren't alone with how we felt. It made me realize just how important that kind of uplifting of one another and discussion of issues really were.
In one of my previous articles, about "othering" in the black community, I spoke at length about the friction between what are considered to be "normal" black folks and anyone who deviates from that perception of normalcy. A lot of black people think that having different interests or fashion styles means that someone is casting their blackness aside in favor of pretending to be something else. Often times, the words "just trying to be special" or "snowflakes" come into play. (Words that, ironically, many black folks hate when people who don't believe that racism and anti-blackness exist use to describe us.)
But here's the real tea: You can love being black and embrace your heritage while also loving comics and anime or wearing Gothic Lolita-styled clothing.
Those things aren't mutually exclusive and don't automatically equal self-hate and anti-blackness. (You wanna talk self-hate, search up Tyrese Gibson, Bow Wow, Chingy, Stacey Dash, Ben Carson, Lil Wayne, and A$AP "what about black-on-black violence" Rocky. Then get back to me.) The only way those interests would contribute to self-hate and anti-blackness is when someone is actually trying to use them as a way to distance themselves from their blackness rather than simply enjoying them as interests.
Now something a lot of people fail to remember is that just like everyone else, black people are multifaceted. If The WuTang Clan can love martial arts movies, Asian cultures, and chess...If Nicki Minaj can be a bright, colorful Barbie who raps...If Lil Yachty can sport fire engine-red hair while sitting at a piano singing a jingle about Sprite soda...If Uzi Vert can rock eclectic fashion with a septum piercing in "Bad and Boujee"....and still none of them get their blackness called into question, why can't everyday black women and femmes also express themselves the way we want without the extra scrutiny?
For the most part, no one who includes "black" as a part of how they label themselves in relation to a hobby (ex: black gamer, black cosplayer, black geek) wants to be "special" or a "snowflake." Most of us don't even want to have the label "alternative" in the first place because what we want is simply to be accepted by our community as black, period. Because, like it or not, that's a huge part of who we are--and it always will be. The reason we need things like "soft black girl" hashtags and hobby-oriented events is not to separate ourselves or feel like we're above other black folks--we're aware that differences in hobbies don't make us "above" anyone. The reason these things exist is because black people need to know that it's not a bad thing to like clothes or music that don't fit someone else's tastes.
On the whole, black people are subject to ridiculous amounts of judgment and stereotyping literally everywhere we go. We've all complained about it at one point or another. We all hate it. So let's stop with the stigmas and practice what we preach. We know that we're not carbon copies of one another because that's what we tell those who stereotype us, so how about we stop acting like we should be clones?
I don't need to hate cosplay and Hello Kitty to love Tory Lanez and Bryson Tiller in order to be black "enough." I was born black and I'm proud of my Bajan and Nigerian roots. I'm proud of the endurance, resilience, and determination of the black community. I'm proud of the deep connection I feel when I look at black art. I'm proud of the way we build one another up during times of tragedy and loss.
I refuse to be forced perform my blackness for someone else's benefit. This is no minstrel show. No matter my hobbies or interests, my pride in my community will always make me "enough."