When your identity falls outside societal norms, you get to know who you are beyond the overarching culture you live in. This is both a spiritual and survival tactic. Specifically, one may realize that the mainstream culture’s rigid definition of success does not work for them for a number of reasons—race, culture, individual personality, etc. In the United States especially, the traditional definitions of success are no longer aspirational to a large percentage of the population. The “safe” job, the white picket fence, the spouse-and-two-kids—they have all fallen out of favor with most young people, especially as most of us desire authentic connections and purpose rather than friendly proximity and money. As younger generations have realized that “safe” jobs are not actually safe, and we disagree with the emotionally-taxing conformity that can exist in these environments, we are more likely to take jobs that are personally fulfilling. Many young people nowadays are becoming entrepreneurs—a trend that started with Black women.
As the very existence of Black women in a white-supremacist culture defies the norm, and since they face more obstacles in the traditional workforce, they are more likely to start their own businesses and strengthen their ability to navigate outside the white, mainstream society. This is part of what has earned Black women the reputation of resilience. When your identity lies outside the societal standard by default, you are more likely to encounter people who dislike you for no reason, or who dislike you because they are projecting their insecurities onto you. Therefore, you learn to build a tougher skin as you realize people may dislike you for no good reason. You might as well just be yourself. Or “create yourself”. Black cultures are more likely to emphasize creative expressions such as dancing, writing, and singing, which all allow more room for individuality. Creative expression is a necessity to being healthy as a human being, as everybody has a desire to feel seen and validated by their peers. These forms of expression build community and create spaces of joy. These spaces are attractive to all cultures, which is why Black cultures became so popular globally. Creating joy is a form of power. In addition, creating oneself and knowing oneself are forms of power that are more common in Black communities, and they push back against white supremacy.
Since the power structure of white supremacy relies on a lack of individuality and keeping the population spiritually weak, Black culture often shapes U.S. culture by providing the emotional validation and spirited expressions of joy that are necessary for creating a true culture. When one is not allowed to express themselves, it hinders their ability to get to know themselves (and this can be grounds for mental illness, which is evident in our overall culture). Black people, and Black women especially, have been proven leaders of spaces where self-expression is more accepted, especially in creative communities and political spaces. They are trendsetters and trailblazers. This is why Black women tend to build the strongest communities. Community relies on building connections through individual expression and spirited creativity. When one is entirely oneself, it inspires others to be themselves as well, and these expressions and exchanges cultivate connections with others, building a wealth of culture.
Generally, Black women are more likely to build spaces for upliftment, empowerment, and expression. The self-care movement on social media, the natural hair movement, the #metoo movement, musical individuality, and the shift to entrepreneurship, just to name a few. Although, of course, it depends on the person and the environment one was raised in, Black women have generally developed a reputation for having an internal power that is built from their spirited creativity, getting to know themselves intimately, and constantly overcoming obstacles. In contrast, white supremacy has subconsciously taught white women in the U.S. that their power relies on external sources, or their proximity to power. This makes it easier for white women to ignore developing their own internal power and lean heavily on their proximity to power, since that is more comfortable. However, when one ignores building their internal power, they risk losing their individuality and their spirit. One must develop their own individual means of expression in order to know themselves. Relying on external power or proximity to power means that, when one feels the need to express themself, they will frantically adopt any expression of individuality they can find, even if that expression of individuality is inauthentic and does not belong to them.
White supremacy doesn’t allow for individuality among its own people or any other people. Much of mainstream U.S. culture emphasizes conformity and passiveness, which is why younger generations especially have become so disillusioned by it. As more and more people in the United States become disillusioned with the status quo, more and more people also follow the trends, lifestyles, and communities that were started by Black women. Using myself as an example, I am a white woman with curly hair, who prides herself on her resilience and artistic and creative talents, and who struggles with mental illness due to past trauma. Therefore, I have looked up to Black women my whole life. Black women have had to learn to take care of themselves in order to survive and they frequently pass this knowledge on to others. Black women supported my individual expression when my family and white friends didn’t. While my mom and straight-haired friends made me feel like my hair was ugly—to the point I would dream about having straight, blonde hair—Black women taught me how to take care of my hair. Black women around me started open conversations around mental illness and trauma that helped me deal with my own traumas and mental difficulties. Black women are usually the ones who identify the issues in our white-supremacist culture that aren’t good for white people either—including, but not limited to, a lack of care in our culture, especially a lack of care for one's spirit and one's body. This lack of care is why white people often resort to other cultures’ spiritual practices, such as yoga and burning sage. A lot of white communities have lost aspects of spirituality that previously connected them with nature and their own bodies. As a person who resents the lack of care, the lack of creativity, and the lack of spirituality in white-supremacist culture, I often find myself drawn to communities that are led by Black women.
While individual expression is one area where Black women have been the cultural framework for others, encouraging emotional validation is also an area where Black women are highly influential in changing U.S. culture. Black women have often created spaces for others to express their emotions; something that is discouraged by much of Western culture. Oprah is perhaps one of the best examples of this. She was considered too emotional to be a TV reporter, and was often told she was unprofessional. However, by empathizing with and validating people’s emotional reactions to their experiences, she built a billion-dollar empire that has helped people all over the world. Tarana Burke is another example. As the founder of the #metoo movement, she encouraged others to speak out about their experiences with sexual harrassment and violence. This gave way to further and deeper conversations on these topics, many of which continue to this day.
To summarize: although Black women may face more obstacles in corporate arenas and more discrimination on a day-to-day basis, they have been the pioneers in changing culture on a global scale by appealing to the common craving people have to embody their own internal power. Black women have championed political movements, creative advancements, and been the leaders in creating spaces that acknowledge individuality and human emotions. Those spaces have become universally attractive, especially to younger generations who, like myself, are disillusioned with the lack of individuality, authenticity, care, and creativity in much of mainstream society. Black women are culture creators, culture changers, and community builders. They demonstrate to others how one can create their own joy, embrace their own power, and be successful outside the confines of white-supremacist norms.