Her Name is Tessica
I know that Tessica’s story is fading from the headlines and that there isn’t as much discussion about her as there was a month ago, but the story of how Black women are treated in society isn’t new. The inability to treat warmly, show regard for, or show tenderness to the very Black women who routinely save the day is as old as our ancestors being ripped away from African shores. As we seek to shift this tired trope, I suspect that we will need to take the opportunity to plant seeds when these relevant examples arise. Tessica’s story is just one example of how Black women are regularly dehumanized and looked down upon.
I was on the phone with my maternal “Granny” recently, and she began to reminisce on her younger days. I can always get her talking for a long while about her life as a child and what it was like growing up in Scotland Neck, North Carolina. In this particular conversation, she recounted a time when a white person called her “gal.” She said that it burned her up inside.
The inability to treat warmly, show regard for, or show tenderness to the very Black women who routinely save the day is as old as our ancestors being ripped away from African shores.
White people referring to Black women as “gal” or “girl” (and calling Black “boy”) has deeply racist undertones that date back to slavery. I’m not talking about how we usually refer to our BFF as: “Hey, girl, hey!”–I’m talking about words that seek to strip the dignity and respect owed to grown Black women. These words infantilize Black women by assuming that we have the same life experience and mentality as children. As if we lack wisdom and discernment. As if we don’t have our own brand of wisdom that doesn’t require another’s input.
White people refused to give us the same respect they gave to other white people (and some still refuse to do it today). They refused to call us by name or to at least use an honorific title when they did not know our names. Being called “gal,” “girl,” or “boy” is a constant and an intentional reminder of our position in society.
…she recounted a time when a white person called her “gal.” She said that it burned her up inside.
White supremacy has robbed Black people of our dignity by comparing us to animals, particularly monkeys. As Princess Meghan shared the tragic story of being isolated and silenced as a member of the British Royal Family, it brought to mind how white people treated her son after his birth (I will have an article on Princess Meghan soon). Shortly after Archie was born, a British radio presenter tweeted a black and white photo of a couple holding hands with a baby monkey and captioned it: “Royal baby leaves hospital.” Referring to Black people as monkeys is white supremacy’s way of communicating that we are subhuman.
Given all of this, I felt some kind of way when the conversation about Tessica and the mishap with her hair started. The hashtag that was created for her was #GorillaGlueGirl. I am not here for folks saying, “Well, the product was Gorilla Glue.” Aht. Aht. Aht. I don’t care. Her name is Tessica. Not “girl.” And certainly not not “Gorilla Glue Girl.” The hashtag, the product, and the creation of a meme with Tessica’s photo next to it all feel like a caricature to me.
Being called “gal,” “girl,” or “boy” is a constant and an intentional reminder of our position in society.
Black women are worthy to be named. Please do not wait until we are humiliated like Anjanette Young to hashtag our actual names. Please do not wait until we are killed to hashtag our actual names like #SandraBland, (#sayhername), #BreonnaTaylor (#sayhername), and #AtatianaJefferson (#sayhername). Say her name. Her name is Tessica.