The Danger of a Single Story

by Jasmine Armand

My single story is told before I ever open my mouth. It is visible from a distance and can be constructed before one ever meets me. It is the single story of the black woman. And since I was young, I have never matched this single story. I do not believe that not being a stereotype has ever bought less relief than when it is my own group judging my authenticity against an invisible and undesirable checklist.

I spent the first nine years of my life in a southern suburb of Chicago. With the exception of the last one, I often count those as the best years of my life. My family was together, we lived in a nice neighborhood and everything was just really good. Those years were also formative and between the way my family raised me, my location and my education, my speech was formed. This would become my biggest source of grievance. When we moved downtown and I transferred to another school, things began to shift. My suburban school was so diverse that we did not really care about white, black, Hispanic, Asian. Plus, we were in elementary school. We just wanted friends. At my new school, it was predominantly minorities according occasional students from the neighboring DCFS facility. But it was more of the same; it was alright.

It wasn’t until high school that my blackness was really challenged. I am naturally quiet and I speak differently. I apparently “talk white.” I was also called an Oreo, black on the outside, white on the inside. Because of my lack of certain hip-hop history, I was also less black than the person making the accusation. I would occasionally have my “black card” revoked all because of single stories that my group would tell about each other.
In addition to that, I am also Haitian. Maybe if I was just American black, I would have attended those churches and known all about the gospel songs and shouting and stomping and praise breaks. My Haitian church has that too. But in Creole. But American blacks don’t care about that. So one day in my freshman algebra class one black friend, for a reason I don’t care to remember, tells another black friend concerning myself “she’s not a nigga.” Oh.

In a senior year physics class, a friend who I adore calls me “white girl” and I get quiet, leave the room and go down to my locker and cry and write. I write that it’s not so much the words that are being spoken but the repetition of this moment. I am tired of being called white when I am so much more, when I am actually black but in a way that the single story does not allow people to understand. I return to class and my friend says that I’m the blackest black girl she knows. Don’t patronize me.

Freshman year of college, I move onto the freshman floor and with the exception of one of my RAs, who I will love for as long as I live, I am the only black girl. My roommate is Mexican but that’s about it. The single story now plays out in a different way. This is a time when girls now have a chance to redefine it, sometimes stepping on toes or not saying too much out of fear of sounding racist. In some instances, this was a girl’s first time having prolonged contact with a black person. One time while laying my head on a friend’s lap, she was playing in my hair and whispered something to our other friend. I asked her what was going on and she said this was her first time touching this kind of hair. I laughed at her and it was completely fine; they were intrigued and I didn’t feel like a spectacle.

At the end of the year, while playing a card game, a girl who is now a good friend of mine said to me “I feel like we’re comfortable enough for me to tell you that you’re the whitest black girl I know.”

That statement bought up so many frustrations because not only had I had nearly a lifetime of black people disowning me at the drop of a hat but now white people felt the courage and authority to let me know that I am not one of my own. That I’m weird because I’m kind of like them but I’m not them; I’m safe. Would she have the courage to say the same thing if she thought I was the ghettoest black girl she ever met? Probably not. Because I am viewed as white, it takes away some of the danger associated with black people; I appear tamed, refined, safe.

The single story about black woman says that we are “strong”, resilient, pained, ignorant, loud, promiscuous, a sex object, to be objectified but never truly desired. And I’m supposed to have a big butt. I am none of those things. As a black woman, I am supposed to have a certain inflection in my voice and speak a certain way. Because of my skin color, I am supposed to indicate circumstances that have never really been my own. It wasn’t until two years ago that I realized “Wait, I am the daughter of Haitian immigrants who lived in the suburbs. I’m supposed to be like this!” Of course there are people who come from Haiti and can fit the checklist but that is not me. I am who I am supposed to be. This always shows a huge flaw in the narrative of the black woman and black people in general. Why does everything good have to be associated with being white?

Dating can at times fall victim to the single story. Though the idea irks me, it is possible that a white guy, or any other race, would be intimidated by me because of the way that he thinks black women are. Additionally, I am very confident and that could possibly be misconstrued as that black sass. The idea that someone would be too intimidated to approach me is so irritating. I suppose it’s also a weed out too; I don’t need a close-minded coward.

The single story affects me on a regular basis because whenever I am in a new environment, I feel like I have to combat what people are probably thinking about me due to incomplete thoughts that stem from not even knowing me. I am often the only black girl/person in my classes and I am a senior in college. This whole time I have felt that I need to compensate for the flawed single story, that I need to show you what black women can actually be. I wish that the weight of representing an entire race didn’t fall on me but as I get higher in my education and look around and see no one else like me, it automatically becomes me against the single story of a people. And that is not a fair war to fight.

Jasmine Armand is a senior journalism major at DePaul University. She has been published in leading Haitian weekly Haiti-Observateur and the DePaulia, DePaul’s award winning student newspaper. She wants to use her natural writing ability to glorify God and to inspire social change through the stories of the voiceless.