When Black women make mistakes, we deserve compassion, not public ridicule
If I’m being honest, there’s some shit some of us may never learn. And that’s okay. We’ll still be worthy of care and compassion.
By now, many of us have learned of Tessica Brown’s devastating story. Last week, Brown, a Black woman from Lousiana, posted a TikTok that went viral when she admitted her hair has been stuck in the same hairstyle for a month. After running out of her usual Got 2 B Glued freezing spray, Brown decided to use Gorilla Glue’s heavy duty spray on adhesive to finish off her hairstyle.
Initially, there was an outpouring of support and empathy for Brown’s condition, mainly from other Black women and marginalized genders from across the world. Hairstylists also offered to fly her to them so that they could attempt to relieve her scalp. However, once the story found its way to twitter and other outlets (and Brown’s age was disclosed), her pain and distress became a public spectacle. Some speculated that Brown purposefully suffocated her scalp for TikTok views. Others emphasized that she deserved the pain she’s experiencing because they are a direct result of her actions.
Tessica Brown’s story is emblematic of what happens to so many darker skinned Black women in the world. This one just happens to have been made public. Even the flippant references to Brown as “Gorilla Glue Girl” are antiBlack in nature, reinforcing the idea that regardless of her being a 40 year old woman, she is in a perpetual state of adolescence. These seemingly innocent “slip ups” of referring to Brown as a girl is an intentional but covert racialized, gendered term, despite assertions that it is neutral.
When TMZ falsely reported that Tessica Brown was considering suing the Gorilla Glue company, several well known social media personalities criticized her decision and took the side of the brand over an actual person. It turns out that Brown actually has no plans of taking legal action against the company, but this further highlights that many people’s knee jerk reactions are to side with an entity over someone struggling.
But let’s begin with the potential reasons why she did it, before delving further, since this is missing in so many conversations:
- The most obvious answer is that she thought it would work.
- She put the glue in her hair not realizing it would have lasting impacts.
- She put the glue in her hair knowing it could have lasting impacts and chose to experience joy in the moment of having her hair the way she wanted it.
- Perhaps she confused Gorilla Glue with Gorilla Snot, an actual hair product.
- Hair stylists use a spray on adhesive to temporarily place lace fronts and other extensions on their clients heads.
- There is pressure on Black women, especially Black women with “4c” hair (a hair classification system created by hairstylist Andre Walker) to keep their edges “laid”. These pressures are a direct result of antiBlackness and colorism, which are legitimized through $40 billion dollar “beauty” industries, dress codes, ads, coded language, and the very real ways disposability is weaponized against darker skinned Black people.
Those are all valid reasons. But the real questions should be, why are Black women being blamed when there are industries that have social, political and material investments in ensuring that hair “literacy” is inaccessible to us? How do these vested interests impact our relationships to our hair and the folks tasked with caring for it? What conditions exist that pressure us into thinking that spraying gorilla glue on our heads or perming our pubic hair to achieve a certain look are ever tangible, realistic options? And, how might we protect ourselves and each other by preventing that violence from seeping further into our communities? Additionally, what happens when there is no one there to tell you that something is a bad idea, that it will cause pain?
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We have to do away with saying so and so “should’ve known better”. It is a gaslighting tactic that abusers (and bystanders of abuse) use to belittle the impact of harm. It also ignores the reality that folks with nappier, kinkier textures have been vilified and encouraged to tame their hair in order to fit into homogenous beauty standards.
I can’t lie. I am heartbroken from witnessing the ways Black folks are participating in this antiBlack examination of a Black woman’s choice. The callous criminalization and finger pointing ultimately strengthen the historical attempts to excavate, extract and display the remains of our living and our dead. And the class based cannibalism and ableism that weave through these interactions and character assessments are encouraged through capitalism.
The truth is that the pressure this world places on Black women is unsustainable. It is quite literally something we are unable to carry or meet, though many of us try. That pressure can make things that are unfeasible appear feasible, realistic, smart. At the same time that Black women are lauded for making a way out of no way, we are punished and publicly ridiculed when folks realize what we must compromise to get there.
These external pressures have no investment in our well being, our safety, or our care. And those who possess the violent imaginations required to diminish our humanness have little to no regard for our needs, boundaries and desires (even when they look like us). Our utility has already been determined: look and be everything. Have your hair laid, bodies tight, bills paid, houses clean, children fed, jobs satisfied, men tended to.
We must be perfect and on at all times. We must not make mistakes. We must always be gracious, thankful. This is especially true for darker skinned women. This is why an overwhelming amount of folks chose public denigration and dehumanization instead of empathy.
There are intentional, antiBlack conditions that wind their ways into our hearts, ensuring that we are no good at loving folks (and ourselves) through our mistakes. These structures are well practiced at establishing distractions, road blocks, and harmful norms that guarantee we have no time to practice. But I believe we can love each other better than that. I believe we can choose and hold on to each other more fiercely than this world has deemed us capable of imagining or actualizing.
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I could write a long list of all of the mistakes I’ve made and still forget some. Because honestly, mistake making has very little to do with age and more to do with what options are available, what possibilities are provided, and whether or not there is a safe, accessible space to consider them. I’d argue that many of the mistakes Black women are coerced into choosing are really us engaging in harm reduction, harm reduction in the sense that the decisions we make specifically impact us and no one else.
I am convinced that many of the gendered, racialized, antiBlack responses to Tessica Brown’s mistake aren’t even about her. Her mistake and the outpouring of love she has received trigger folks’ memories and inability (or refusal) to re-cover and heal from instances when they weren’t loved, supported and witnessed through their mistake making. It has reminded them over and over again about the lie of scarcity, and unsalvageability. It has made them think that none of us are worthy of being received and held gently with the knowledge that we will make mistakes but we are not our mistakes.
In a world where castigation, disposability and desirability are used as metrics to determine worth, we must fight against the violent obsessions to dehumanize (and criminalize) each other. Amidst the expectations that we should know better, what we need and deserve is more practiced and customized care.
Black women’s pain is no laughing matter. Siding with corporations and companies over human beings is unethical and cruel.
Give Tessica Brown all the money. Pray that the ancestors protect her heart during this difficult time. Pray that all dark skinned Black women have the protection and space to heal from this world. Pray that a world that requires Black women’s humiliation burn.
We deserve care in the midst and aftermath of our mistake making because we live in a world that tells us our capacity for mistakes has an expiration date. If I’m being honest, there’s some shit some of us may never learn. And that’s okay. We’ll still be worthy of care and compassion.