"You look like one of those girls..."
"...Like one of what girls" I shot back knowing what she really meant.
"You know, you probably drink smoothies for breakfast, listen to Erykah Badu, chant 'black lives matter' and believe in the power of the universe or some shit. 'Actually', I thought to reply, I believe in Christ, not the universe...but I felt too sheepish to admit that everything else she'd psychoanalysed about me was very true. Unless you've lived in a place unbeknownst to the internet or don't live in London city, you would've seen them...those girls, you know what I'm talking about. The box braid having, nose ring wearing, Adidas flaunting, bomber jacket wearing London girls. They rule the pages of instagram, attend suave parties, pose in 90s crouching stances, all the while chanting their lullabies to the universe...or something.
It hadn't been the first time someone had associated me with a certain lifestyle. Most guys start their conversations [read:chat up lines] like this; 'Oh I know your type' they say with upmost confidence, 'I bet you drink Almond Milk or some shit', 'well yes I'm lactose intolerant', I'd explain, 'I'm allergic to Soya and Rice milk is foul'. Then they'd ask me if I'm an artist and if so, can I come over to their place and draw them...yeah super smooth. But you know, I used to get very offended whenever someone would compare me to another black girl, or associate me with a black movement or stereotype, not because I didn't fit the stereotype, but because I was desperate to be classed as 'special'. This idea I had is two-fold because it's neither right nor wrong, both sides deserving their equal merits.
"The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete"
The first part is this; you grow up hearing the slander against black girls being too loud, and too this and too that, so you unconsciously seek out something else to appreciate other than Chingy or B2K; like Evenescence for example, Fall Out Boys or Paramore, so when someone asks you what you listen to, they're met with an unexpected answer. Regardless of how you become that "different" black girl, you're here now and you're genuine. I've come to like the things I do partly because it was a forced effort on my part. Attending an all white school, the fear of being typed as difficult was all too real, so I experimented with sounds and looks that were not stereotypically "black" [I use this very loosely]. I went through a weird Emo phase, hung out with the Goths, and perfected my English. Over time, I genuinely became enamoured with white Rock (Rock/Rock 'n' Roll is black; I use white Rock to differentiate between the original rock and current gentrified rock) but there was a flip-side, because I also loved Dem Franchise Boys, Janet Jackson and Brook Valentine's ghetto fab 'Girl Fight' anthem. I wanted to wear my hair in braids, but I felt I couldn't because then I'd be like the other black girls.
"Being closer to Whiteness isn't special at all, it's a product fistful of Bitter colonial reign"
I met Chiamaka in university. In more ways than one, she taught me that I could be myself; at least more comfortably so. She wore baggy 90s inspired clothing, had dyed blonde hair with shaved sides and listened to Nas and Warren G. It was surreal because up until I moved to London, I'd never really seen a black girl claiming black artistry, vernacular and swag. She spoke London slang with an ease and her art illustrated characters with visible African features. I met my first group of black friends at University, they taught me what I'd missed all these years trying to be different. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, "the problem with stereotypes is not that they're untrue, but that they are incomplete". So yes I still love listening to Evanescence, The White stripes and The Killers, but don't put me in that box alone, because I also now love Laura Mvula, D'Angelo and Izzy Bizo. I am a woman capable of loving and doing things multiple things at a time. Now with box braids in my hair and a stud in my nose, my oversized coat and slightly wacky clothing, I couldn't fit that LDN girl stereotype more if I wanted to. Even whenever I go back to Amsterdam, I get stares from people who can gauge that I don't live there anymore.
"know that our similarities don't take away from our uniqueness"
But I wrote this more so for girls who are like I was a one point. Desperate to not be typecasted, not to get braids, or twists or cornrows because they tie too strongly to blackness. Remember this, these braids bind us both. They represent the intertwining of our similar but distant childhoods. Because although you were here in London, and me in Den Haag, we both played the same games, cocked our heads the same way and mimicked the kissing teeth of our mothers in the same way. So black girl, and black boy—when you say that I am one of those, know that I have long abandoned the days when I was ashamed of being black. Know that I've abandoned the pride I used to have of being the special black girl with self-inflicted restrictive music taste; because we know that special wasn't special at all. Being closer to Whiteness isn't special at all, it's a product fistful of bitter colonial reign. It makes white folks say, "hey you're not like them"—"not as black like them". Even now I see the toxicity in the way whiteness and the worship of whiteness has wrapped its warped way around us.
So when I see you, black girl, on the train going from Canada Water station to a New Cross Gate, whether you're listening to Blink 182 or Janelle Monae's new album, know that our similarities don't take away from our uniqueness. with your braids just as chunky as mine, with your nose pierced just like mine, with your style just like mine, I will not see competition, I'll see me. And I will love me, because we're one and the same but oh so different. [And for good stereotypical measure,] When we meet for drinks and I see you basking in your melanin-soaked skin that reminds me of the darkness of the universe, your unyielding dark eyes pirouetting on your charcoal skin like northern stars lost in the black hole, I'll behold you and embrace the beauty of our stereotypical blackness.
With all my love, Sherida-x.
Welcome to 2016.