In college I chose to live in the International House my first semester. As a relatively sheltered high school student I wanted to go off to college and meet as many new people as possible who had experiences that were different from my own. What better way to do that than to choose to live in the officially designated house for international students, the only residence hall on campus where students were allowed to smoke and drink in their dorm rooms?! This was also my first introduction to the fact that most other nations allow people to legally smoke and drink before Americans; those lucky Europeans!
Anyways, some of the students in the International House were from Middle Eastern countries. One of the girls my age wore hijab; she was always very sweet, kind to everyone, and soft-spoken. And she never showed one bit of skin from head to toe, didn’t even wear sandals as I recall. After some time living in the house, another of my friends let me in on a little secret: The hijab-wearing Middle-Eastern girl was involved in a long-term secret sexual relationship with the grungy, smelly white hippie who lived in the house! I had seen Mr. Grungy-Smelly-Hippie with Ms. Hijab, but I had no idea they were hooking up. Clearly my friend was closer to Ms. Hijab than I was; I questioned my friend about the future of Ms. Hijab’s relationship, would conservative Muslim parents from the Middle East allow their daughter to marry a grungy white guy from the midwest? Heck no!, was the response I got. The plan was for Ms. Hijab to continue her dalliance for as long as she wished behind her parents back (and without their knowledge). When the time came for her to get married Ms. Hijab would marry the man her parents had chosen for her and simply pretend to be virgin. Case closed; everybody is happy.
Fast forward 10 years.
I realize just how many books I have read about white women who led promiscuous lives throughout their college years or early twenties and yet still managed to marry a Nice Guy, eventually. After all of their promiscuity, drug addictions, divorces, and abortions these women were still able to find a Nice Guy to settle down with, marry, have kids, and live The Life.
But what about black women? Why don’t black women get to make their mistakes early in life and then, after all is said and done, they have parents or a beau standing there waiting to clean them up, buff their image until it sparkles, and then put them back on the right track?
The answer is simple: American culture, and even black American culture, was not set up with the intention of protecting, supporting and valuing black womanhood. American culture has historically placed a high value on white womanhood. Conservative Muslim girls have Muslim parents who will make sure that they are protected; and yes, I know that sometimes Muslim parents go way overboard in their protection of their daughters, sometimes to such extremes that they harm their girls. However, the extremes are just that–the extremes, and do not represent business as usual.
Who will protect black women? For now it looks as if we will have to do this ourselves, by acting in ways that preserve our dignity, self-respect, and choosing men who will honor and respect us. This is just a start. But it’s a good start. And eventually our behavior will turn into a self-sustaining reaction that spreads to whatever society we live in.