Clutch Magazine: Tall, Black, Woman: Navigating Intimidation Politics in White Public Spaces

I am six feet and four inches tall. I have been so since I was fourteen years old. I played basketball, volleyball, and ran track in school and wore Jordan’s instead of dress shoes whenever my mother allowed me to. I was called a “tomboy” for not playing dress up. And, although I wore the same super curved acrylic nails all the other girls did – when I could – I didn’t touch a stitch of foundation until I was a month out from my wedding day. My height was always a problem and never an asset for me. And this liability has always been more pronounced in public, predominantly white spaces.

The plight of the big, ominous, black male is not a new one in this country. Caricatures and minstrels are evidence of that. But, tall, black women face both the struggles of intimidating whites and navigating gender politics in public. These two issues in tandem create a completely unique set of difficulties for tall women like me.

When discussing his height on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show in reference to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman being called a “thug,” Professor Jelani Cobb asserted the following.

“As somebody who stopped growing, who reached the height of 6’3” at fifteen…one of the most important lessons I got was from my sophomore year high school math teacher. Who explained to me – I got up really quick and knocked over a chair – and he explained to me, this was a white teacher in a New York City public school, he said ‘You know, you have to be careful about how you present yourself. He said ‘because white people are afraid of you.’ And it was the first time this ever dawned on me.”

I have had this conversation many times over. But, I had the added dimension of dealing with gender stereotypes at the same time. It wasn’t easy trying to “take up less space”, as a teacher once told me that young ladies were supposed to do. It was virtually impossible to play with kids my age without them fearing I would physically harm them. While other kids got to tussle with one another, I was barred from horseplay for fear I might hurt someone else. My height was often a threat, even to adults.

Read the full article at Clutch Magazine.