Watching Viola Davis’s character on “How To Get Away With Murder“, made me do a lot of thinking.
Annalise Keating, played by Davis, is a charismatic, determined, strong black lawyer who managed to succeed in a world controlled by white males.
Annalise is well dressed and she puts a lot of effort on her appearance, however, at the end of every day, she gets home from work, takes off her make up and then slowly takes off her wig and reveals her short curly black hair. She is looking at the mirror and it doesn’t seem like she likes what she sees.
Then it hit me.
Annalise is a successful hard worker black woman and the only thing that separates her from mainstream society is her curly hair, so she has to wear a wig.
I know that This conception of the mainstream society of natural black/African hair as ugly and unprofessional is an issue black women have always had to face, so Annalise does what she thinks is best in order to fit in, She wears a wig, to cover her “flaws”.
After watching this scene I thought about myself, about my life and I told myself: I don’t ever want to wear a wig. But then I realized that I already have, for so many times before.
Since I have so many identities, it is so complicated that I never get to present all of it. I feel like I always have to hide some part of it, or at least not to reveal all of them at once.
Since I got to Europe I feel like this issue takes even bigger part in my life. I am now a triple minority as I live in a white non-Jewish society, very often my friends and I make joke about how I am in the last level of mankind hierarchy, being black, Jewish and a woman, and it feels like I need to work three times harder than anyone else. Not only that I need to work harder, but the challenge is to be 100% myself without hiding any parts of my identity, without wearing any wig.
Not long ago, someone I just met approached to me, “I want to ask you something personal” he said. “I want to know what does it means for you to be Jewish, black and a woman”. He wanted to know if I have suffered from any kind of discrimination for being so. He wanted to know where, when and how it happens and how do I feel when it happens. He wanted details because he needed to be able to imagine it. “As a white man”, he then said “I can not understand it, I would like to at least get a sense of it”.
I must say, I liked the idea that someone is truly interested in understanding how I feel, these are things you never share with anyone. But I guess no one has ever asked before. People don’t usually ask you questions, they often tell you what they know, or think, or think they know. So this was new to me but at the same time meant a lot. So I tried to explain it to him, as much as I could.
When it comes to anti-Semitism and being Jewish, I’ve got to admit, I only realized it here, now when I am in Europe. I realized that despite all, I still had one privilege in my life (something I never thought I would say) and it was the fact that I grew up in Israel as a Jew, where I don’t have to hide my religion or feel uncomfortable with it (Obviously this feeling is not identical as growing up black in Israel, but I will get to that later).
However, spending time in Germany only made this clear for me. I realized I will never feel safe here, I don’t feel like home. I feel like I always have to take extra caution and the last thing I want to do is to hide my Jewish identity; I want to be able to tell random people that I am Jewish, that I am from Israel. I want to be able to put a Mezuzah on the front door of my apartment; I want to be able to read Hebrew books on the train and to speak Hebrew freely. But I don’t feel like I can. Some would say I am too paranoid. I don’t know. It’s my first time living outside of Israel and with everything that is happening now, you just never know, but this is not even the issue because the threats are there. What worries me the most is that there is nothing we can do about it. Some would say I should get over it, my Israeli friends would say come back to Israel. But I say – I refuse to not be able to move freely on this planet. I refuse to accept that and move on. This is not the life imagined to myself. This is not the life my parents imagined for me.
When it comes to being black it is even harder for me to explain. It is such a broad question since racial oppression happens all the time and it concerns every aspect of life, though it’s not always expressed by people’s actions, sometimes its just people’s look when they first meet you, or even one word they say that makes you feel uncomfortable. Being black is not something I chose, and it takes time to be able to understand how that affects your life when your surroundings is always white, the culture is white, the atmosphere is white. But now days, as a grown woman, I see things differently, my perspective has changed, I am so well prepared for it that I have learned how to avoid it, how to escape from it. when I look back at my life, I see that when growing up I always knew I have to be better than everyone else. I knew I have to dress better, to fix my hair, to straighten my hair, to speak faster, to speak correct Hebrew, to get good grades in school, to read more than others, to know more than others, to dream about college, I had to work harder; I still have to work harder. I can’t stop running this race. I have to reach out to something, I never know what is it exactly but I know I have to keep moving. I know I can never be less because then I will lose, and losing can’t be an option.
No one has ever said it to me, and I never told my self. You don’t talk to your self about it. You just know that this is how it should be. Everyone knows what’s best for them. I just knew it. I did not have the privilege to be less good than others. I still don’t have that privilege. Especially now when I am older – I know I need to inspire young girls, I need to teach them, I need to show them how to be better, how to defeat prejudices, how to fight racism and how to accept your self, your skin colour, your culture, your values, how to succeed without wearing a wig. The challenge is to take off the wig and face the reality. Embrace your natural hair, your inner self.
When asked about the challenges of being a woman, I couldn’t separate it from being a black woman. I am sure that white women will have different perspective than mine but the way I see it, racial oppression and gender oppressions always come together. So if women in general have to work harder against discrimination, black women have work twice harder. It is simple as that. Moreover, in a world where black women represent exotic beauty and sexuality it is very hard to make the distinction.
Because of racism, black women are subjected to even worse sexist violence/harassment than other women, and this is something I can say from personal experiences through life, therefore, not only that I always have to work harder than any other women, I have to deal this sexist racism and work harder than any other white women.
Despite all, I must say that facing anti-Semitism, racism and sexism might make me a stronger and a better person. I am more aware today to minority rights. I know my place in this world and willing to fight for our rights.
I am willing to face it without wearing any wigs, or hiding anything. I want to look at the mirror at the end of every day and to love what I see. I want to be able to be proud.