Henri Tajfel’s greatest contribution to psychology was social identity theory, which says that that the groups to which people belong are an important source of pride and self-esteem.
These groups give people a sense of belonging and social identity.
Our groups, like family and friends, and the general society in which we find ourselves contributes immensely to how we see ourselves.
When I applied this understanding of self-identity to my context as a black woman living in Africa, I realized that society has quite a lot to say about me, and not everything is uplifting.
My society tells me that I’m last in line because I am black, African and a woman. I’m in no way equal to my white female counterparts, and far from equal to men. I’m told that I’m here to serve the necessities and desires of men and my white counterparts. I’m told that it’s impossible for me to be intelligent and beautiful because evolution made me lesser. Men might look twice at me if I’m light skinned because I’m closer to white and therefore beautiful and smart, but I’m doomed if I’m dark skinned. I have to be a virgin to qualify for marriage, which is my destiny, but at the same time, my body is objectified by a sex-obsessed society.
So is this really who I am as a black woman?
It has been a long and difficult road for black women in establishing a sense of self-identity. For African women living in a society where they are to be seen serving and not heard, self-identity that is not dictated by the above patriarchal and racist understandings of what defines a woman are often unheard of.
We are not usually told that we are beautiful, smart and have a bright future ahead of us because our caregivers, primarily our mothers and grandmothers, were not told so. They passed onto us a way of surviving this cruel world, which is to conform and hope for the best for your children.
So who am I as a black, African woman?
Firstly, I am human. Being born with a vagina on the African continent doesn’t make me lesser because a bunch of slave traders and owners said so centuries ago. I am to be treated with dignity and respect.
Because I am human, I am free to decide my own destiny, free to love and free to be who I want to be. My physical attributes are beautiful, not because patriarchy says so, but because it is so. I’m not significant because of the lighter complexion of my skin or loose curls in my hair, once again patriarchal understandings of human significance, but because I am human.
It seems like it will take a little longer for society to understand this, but the conversations are already taking place, making people who refuse to let go of patriarchy and racism uncomfortable. We won’t stop until society accepts that women matter – that black women matter.
*image from High Snobiety.