I’m aging. That is not some massive revelation or deeply personal first-person confession; you’re aging too. Although we’re all doing it, our faces and bodies don’t all broadcast that we’re doing it in the same ways and at the same rates.
For women, this is of great interest to the media, advertisers and manufacturers who capitalize on our collective rage against the aging machine, and, surprisingly, far too many strangers who dispatch a shaky You look great! as a knee-jerk reply to any “admission” of having lived to a number of years that they might not have anticipated you had upon visual inspection.
As a Black woman, there’s another three-word comment that either follows that one or supplants it altogether: Black don’t crack! It’s used as a compliment and a declarative statement of fact, often in celebration of Black women who appear younger than they “should” (?) based on either their chronological age or comparison to non-Black counterparts.
We know I’m all for celebration of Black women. If only the sentence above stopped there. It doesn’t; instead it is inextricably linked to favorable comparison against Others, (White women), and, for me, it’s beginning to hold more pressure than praise.
As is the case with so many compliments, some have trespassed from the sweet spot of building one group up purely to praise them, and landed firmly in the territory of tearing someone else down in elevating another. So when “Black don’t crack” becomes just another way to pit women against each other, you can leave me out of it.
There’s science behind the statement, of course: more melanin in one’s skin equals more natural protection from the sun, that great skin-damaging fireball in the sky. Fine. But we also generally deal with increased scarring and hyperpigmentation issues, so Even Stevens!
Okay, it’s not quite that simple. Which is part of why the simplistic “Black don’t crack” can be more grating than jubilant.
It’s also often dispatched from well-intentioned White women, as one of those “compliments” that seem to stem from a combination of acknowledging one’s own “inferiority,” and wild assumptions and sweeping generalizations. It just ends up feeling oddly… othering, and I don’t care for compliments that even imply that the complimenter is putting herself down or making a leap or an assumption based on race. That inferiority is imagined and silly, and not cute even as a “harmless” bit, like You [people] can do so much more with your hair! or when people assume we can all sing or dance really well. Stop.
When I saw Carrie Fisher’s brilliant recent clapback against an individual with press credentials who used them to comment on her naturally aging appearance instead of her iconic status in one of the most legendary film franchises of all time (which is not all she is, but that was closer to his task at hand), I was both delighted at her deftness and saddened that she was put in a position to comment in the first place.
So insidious is this aging thing that I feel we’re all in it together, and that includes Black women whose appearances have the nerve to show even a hint of a crack. Actresses and television commentators Stacey Dash and Raven Symoné are often reduced to punchlines about their aging in response to their destructive opinions and political stances.
I’m not saying that we should rally around someone who refuses to accept such documented facts as the wage gap, as Stacey Dash does, I’m saying that we can bemoan her public posturing for Fox news as the pathetic tokenism that it is and call for her to either get educated or get fired without any reference to her looks or aging.
Raven-Symoné has made so many hideous comments about almost every major issue that there was a petition to have her removed from The View, and even Ann Coulter recently checked her on a particularly ridiculous and backwards viewpoint. ANN COULTER.
Still, the first jokes that fly about her are about her are about her melanin having allegedly abandoned her like her common sense, etc. I disagree with her daily, and I’ll insult her and Ms. Dash’s social and political stances all day every day, because their publicly declared opinions hurt the very community that I’m inclined to consider them a part of, but there’s no need to mention avocados, bananas, or dairy products in doing so.
By the way, some black does crack, and especially in the case of celebrity black, you never know what manner of spackle has been applied, and how. The countless blogs and slideshows dedicated to the idea that “You’ll never believe [X Black celebrity] and [X White celebrity] are the same age!” are such gross sensationalism that I cringe when they’re passed around in celebration.
But ultimately, like so many other things in our lives, my fears and reservations about this are rooted in personal discomfort and insecurity. Some would say that my black don’t crack, and I’m someone who hears that not as a compliment, but as pressure. Pressure to look a certain way and to continue to look a certain way, even as the pages of the calendar fly by in rapid succession.
I’ve already written right here about how I’ve looked roughly the same age for a few decades now, which is not at all the same as perpetually looking younger than your chronological age. It’s been challenging in its own ways to be at wildly different stages of aging in a package that’s treated in roughly the same way, regardless of internal emotional maturity and life experience or the lack thereof, and that challenge takes on new life as the years pass.
In my lifetime, I’ve been met with pure shock when I told people my age and it was years younger than what they would have guessed, and now that it’s years older than their unsolicited estimates, I have to fight against a deeply internalized, societally ingrained guilt at having the nerve to actually be my age. How dare I be made of cellular matter that responds to the daily and yearly rotations of the solar system and whatnot?!
Being told you look great “for your age” is a compliment to some, but not to me. We are each whatever age we are, and our faces (and bodies) will “crack” or not as they please. Some want to fight aging, some want to reverse it, some can accept it, and some can only try, but we’re allowed to simply be without a mandate or ultimatum in either direction. Cracks included.