As first posted on feministbookclub.com
I have been following Zeba Blay’s writing on Huff post for a really long time. Her writing challenges me and validates me every single time. Needless to say, I was stoked when I saw she wrote a book called Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture.
And she did not disappoint! This essay collection was thought-provoking and critical in the best ways. Blay did an amazing job picking apart how Black women are the ways Black women experience societal pressure from all angles, and how that pressure is exacerbated by pop culture. She examines how Black women are extra scrutinized in the media.
Pop culture is a mirror
I appreciated the rawness of Blay divulging aspects of her personal life. She gives us an intimate look at her relationship with her body, being an immigrant, and her mental health struggles. One thing that researchers and cultural critics do is separate themselves from the study in order to be objective. Blay knew better than to separate herself from her analysis because pop culture is a mirror.
My favorite essay was the very last one about the illusion of being carefree. I like to think of myself as a Carefree Black Girl(tm). Which is very ironic because I care a lot and have a lot of ~feelings~. When you google “carefree Black girl” and look at the images, this is the kind of Black girl aesthetic that resonates with me, the kind of Black girl I low key want to embody. The dreads, arm cuffs, crystal toting, frolicking in a field type.
But what I really loved the most about this essay is Blay’s analysis of the duality of being carefree. One would think carefree is synonymous with being shallow and ignorant. Blay argues that being carefree, at least as a Black woman, is to be critical of her place in the world, yet striving to live her best life anyway.
Carefree Black Women
The entire book was about Black women, both real and fictional, living this carefree lifestyle. From Lizzo speaking out against the fatphobia she experiences by just expressing her sexual energy, to Mel B, aka Crazy Spice, being her authentic self amidst her place in a very white music group, to the critique of the expression of carefree Black girlhood portrayed through the gaze of white filmmakers.
Black women do not have the luxury to be carefree without consciousness.
“Freedom has to be more than about being seen. Being seen is not a guarantee of being understood, and to be seen and misunderstood is perhaps the greatest plight of the Black woman.”Zeba Blay, Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture
We are living in a time where we see Black women everywhere. There is a plethora of representation from all angles of media. However, so much of what we see is the same story of the Black woman over and over. We become the two dimensional story, and we lack the nuance of being human. Are we really even seen if people look past our complexities to see what they want to see? And, in turn, what does that mean for our freedom?
While Carefree Black Girls didn’t do a lot to clear these questions in me, it did to the important first step in raising them. Freedom may be a constant struggle to fight for a better world, but creating a world of joy right now is also important. Being carefree is creating space for both at the same time.