One-Of-A-Kind Black Girls

9 Jul

“You gotta Kool?  You gotta Newport?”  the black girl shouted at me from three feet away, she hanging by the high school girl’s room bathroom stall, me just pulling my cigarettes out of my pocketbook.  I smoked Newports back then.  The white girls who smoked Marlboro’s were glad they did, because they said all the black girls liked to smoke menthols.  And, you know, it did seem the majority of black girls in the bathroom did ask for menthol cigarettes.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I was sometimes scared by the black girls who called out to me for a smoke, either for a full cigarette, or if we were all in a hurry sneaking our smokes in between classes in the girls room; something that was forbidden, then maybe just to take a drag off of your cigarette.

“Awww, girl you made her cigarette all hot!” one of the black girls called out to her friend, as  the girl handed me back my cigarette, that seemed to go from full to two inches of ash in five seconds flat.

I didn’t mind taking the cigarette back, and dragging on it, but we gave it that term “hot” for a reason–if you pulled on the cigarette harshly, the filter would feel hot, and not taste good anymore.

I started this post in my high school girls’ room,  because it was back then that it seeped into my unconscious there were types of black girls, and now thirty years later, I can see that these were forced stereotypes that came from…..where?  Not my parents.  Was it from other kids at school saying you should be scared of black girls, that they won’t like you, will want to fight you, want to smoke your cigarettes? It’s not that I recall any person on any particular day telling me about the kinds of black girls there were, and believe me, I have a freakish memory, so I would remember.  It was more like a murmur, a conglomerate of hushed murmurs that came from out-of-nowhere to tell the secrets of what black girls were like.

How does this invisible generation of stereotypes come into being, so that it appears that the perception of someone, comes through some kind of collective unconscious; from within, even when you were raised to believe no one was any different, or any better, or any worse than you because of their skin color?

The  black girl types that stood out for me were, and I can see them all marching down my high school corridor:  the loud asking for your cigarette girl, the loud, funny as heck girl, the angry girl, and, the quiet, studious, church-going girl.  As I envision these girls, the biggest thought and concern that looms over my head now is, did some of them feel they needed to deliver on the stereotyped black girl roles defined for them? And, again, I ask defined by who? White America? Television shows? Their teachers, white students, their families, their friends?

Yet, when I pull the lens back, and broaden the view, I of course remember many black girls that didn’t fit into these extreme stereotypes.  Girls that were just, well, regular girls.  Girls that got lost in the sea of our student body; that just blended in.  Girls that were smart, but not churchy, girls that had a good sense of humor, but weren’t loud about it, girls that were smart, funny, played sports, took piano lessons, belonged to the Accounting Club, girls who never openly expressed anger.

And, I can think of white girls that I was afraid of too.  There was the cool, cigarette smoking Senior, who confronted me in the girls’ room for snitching and telling that she was the one who shoplifted a purse from my mother’s store.  Or, the girl who confronted me in the girls’ room ( a lot happens in the girls’ room!) to warn me to stay away from the boyfriend she stole from me.  I can think of white girls that fit into types too, and I can march them down the corridor:  the popular cheerleader, the loud, funny girl, the bookworm, the goody two-shoes girl, the Farrah Fawcett hair girl, and the long, denim jacket wearing, pot-smoking burn-out girl.

It seems no one has a cornerstone on “types.” And, I know there is more to the construction of these types than I’ve touched on.  I know that there is more to it than a few extreme individuals becoming the over-arching representatives of one’s race and gender.

Somebody  help me out here.  How does this happen?  And, please tell me, have you ever felt you had to live up to a “type” you felt was defined by others for you due to your race and/or gender?



13 Responses to “One-Of-A-Kind Black Girls”

  1. Myrna July 9, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Response to black girl type descriptions. Nice job. I’ve known white girls from places like Boston who fit the black girl persona. One gang member threatened me (white) and another gang member (black) promised protection. Both had similar personalities. White girl was a constant shoplifter. Black girl, quiet and studious. Interesting. Answer to last question today is: I was born wanting to be different than everyone else and still do.

    • Wendy Jane July 9, 2012 at 7:33 am #

      Thanks for your response, Myrna. I like how you show white girls who fit the black girl personas we have conjured up, and how individuals show us just that–that they’re individuals who can’t be put in one narrowly defined group. I love how you end this in wanting to be different yourself. 🙂

  2. Shelby July 9, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    memories from the girls’ room, how I hated going in there! I don’t think it was a black or white issue; everyone was trying to fit in somewhere. I think these girls saw their friends behaving in a certain way and in order to fit in, followed suit. I do remember being intimidated by a group of black girls, asking me for cigarettes, to use my comb or brush, etc. Now looking back I think they might have expected me to be afraid, and didn’t really know how to approach a “white girl”. I certainly didn’t know how to react to the indimidation; and thus I didn’t like them for the way they treated me, not because of their skin color. I remember them touching my long silky hair, telling me they liked it, and that I was “pretty but you should do more with yourself, wear something different”, etc. in a very aggressive way, that was not complimentary at all. I don’t have an answer for you, but I do know that in order to survive there, you had to toughen up and not act afraid. of anyone.

    • Wendy Jane July 9, 2012 at 10:58 am #

      Thanks so much for your reflections here. Yes, I agree, and as I was writing my post had those same posts about myself being intimidated by anyone who seemed tougher than me, which was about 99% of the students, since I considered myself such a wimp. And so I was also afraid of the tough rock-n-roll white chicks, too, thinking they thought I was a prissy girl. I was so quiet and shy. It’s interesting what you say about the black girls talking to you about your hair and the way you dressed. That certainly gets loaded doesn’t it–especially back in 1979 when black hairstyles were defined by afros, cornrows, and press and curl styles. The whole idea of what is beauty, and white beauty being more idealized in society, had to do a number on black girls’ sense of self. Thanks again, Shel, for being so honest here.

  3. Kym July 9, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Funny I was told that I sounded white. The”kid” called my job one day and I had to say “the stuff they make us say” so when he said…mom it’s me, my whole tone changed…he said I went from white to getto in a second…..then I went off “like a mom would” lol

    • Wendy Jane July 9, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Kym! And, how did that make you feel when you were told you sounded “white?” And, that’s funny about you and your son.:)

  4. Sherry Gordon April 7, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    Dear Wendy,
    Hi, there, Wendy! I love this blog article of yours! I can relate really well to what you have so graciously shared! Your high school and the white and black girls there remind me of people at my high school as well as my experiences at my high school. I felt constrained by my race and gender as a black girl, not only by some white people (not all, though) but also by some of the other black girls at my school. The type who I was like was a shy, studious, church going black girl! Some of the other black girls I, too, found intimidating and they would scare me. I got beat up by another black girl, and another black girl threatened to beat me up in high school. These other black girls would call me an oreo, and say I “talked funny,” and that I “talked proper,” and make fun of me for being studious and getting good grades. They would say I was “acting white.” There were for sure some burn out black girls also. I, too, know what you mean when you say that there were other white girls of whom you were scared. I, too, at my high school remember how at that time I saw some of the white girls as cheerleader and popular types, the studious white girls, the burn out white girls, the rock and roll type white girls! I can so, so relate to what you thought and felt, Wendy! You were very shy and studious like me! And some of the other black girls thought that I was an awkward and nerdy black girl. I so loved hearing of your similar experiences to mine, Wendy!
    I so love your honest and superb blog writings and articles, Wendy! It is such a great joy and a pleasure to read them! Have a very nice, special, and a very blessed day, Wendy!
    Very Sincerely Always,
    Sherry Gordon

    • Wendy Jane April 7, 2014 at 11:30 pm #


      Thank you so, so much for sharing your personal experience of high school. I am sorry that you had those experiences of being beat up and being called an “oreo” and stereotyped by other black girls for “talking proper.” I would hear the same kinds of things being said by some black students about others they thought acted and sounded white. It’s so cool that we are the same age, and so what you describe feels parallel to what I experienced and witnessed. Thank you again for reading and for your very thoughtful recounting of your own high school memories.

  5. Vickie July 15, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    I have no idea why I’m just seeing this one…… Ahhh Memories! I was a Newport myself.

    • Wendy Jane July 15, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

      Hi Vickie,

      Thanks for taking the walk back down memory lane–smoking in the girls’ room, and all that. I had to feign ignorance when my daughter recently asked me “how can people smoke in school and not get caught?” 🙂

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