Black Girlhood, Evolved
Cross-posted on joiunspeakable.com/blog
I bought my first pair of Bamboo earrings last week. I’m 32. Throughout my childhood, I’ve admired them in the glass cases of the neighborhood corner store or beauty supply.
I want to talk about a time when I smelled of pink lotion and Blue Magic. A time when I sat between my grandmother’s legs as she parted my hair. When walking to the corner store meant seeing every version of Black girl there is. To me, bamboo earrings adorned the bodies of girls who walked themselves out into the world proudly. My older cousins wore them. Older girls I went to church with, sang with, danced with wore them. But I couldn’t. Born near the projects but not of them — a distinction my mother made sure to press upon me growing up, we were hood, but not hood. Hood-adjacent. Hood Lite. I went to private schools but couldn’t go to the swimming pool across the street. I went to dances at Blackwell Elementary School in middle school looking like a pilgrim who just learned how to twerk. I ran to my mom after kids at church called me and my younger cousin ghetto because of where we lived and how we acted. “You are ghetto”, my aunt and mother quipped. But what did that mean? What about this dichotomy made one simpler than the other?
Black is free.
Black is sheltered.
Black is celebrated.
Black is vilified.
I had a name ring from the kiosk at Cloverleaf Mall in South Richmond. I cherished it and wore it until I turned my finger green. I had a silver tooth before my braces because my mom gave me the choice of capping my baby teeth as they fell out. I had traces of ghetto following me wherever I roamed while still being told we aren’t that version of ghetto. That ghetto meant overlined lips, long nails, those big earrings and everything that came with the aesthetic. I don't know if I couldn’t because I was too young or that the look wasn’t becoming of how they saw me to be. They being the elders who took it upon themselves to train up this child in the ways of respectability.