In 1992 a film called Single White Female was released. The storyline: one SFW was looking for a roommate and she got a cuckoo clock instead. The SWF who responded to the ad started out as a relatively normal roommate but as time wore on she lost her grip on reality. Ellen (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wanted to become Allie (Bridget Fonda’s character) and went so far as change her appearance: she dyed and cut her hair, changed her apparel, and attempted to emulate Allie. Ellen was touched and not by an angel. She was a looney-tune but Allie didn’t know this until after the wackjob had moved in with her.
When this film was released I was 17 and in my final year of high school. I was the single black female in my graduating class of some 230 students; a school with about 5% Black students. So when I saw this film as a 17-year old black teen, I was fascinated. I watched my female classmates blend into each other with the same Keds, stretch pants, teased bangs and permed hair. Not dissimilar to the antagonist in the film. I was struck by the stark resemblance of the two women. I was further enthralled by the boyfriend, and how his inability to separate fact from fiction earned him a silver stiletto in the eye.
Recently it came to me, I am a single black female…who wants to be me? Who wants to be 40-something, single, black, and a female in these Americas? Does the media paint a covetous picture of the SBF? Are we seen skipping along sandy beaches with the sun on our faces, chasing our Labrador and bumping into a handsome man of the same complexion as he flies a kite with his Golden Retriever? Are we represented in corporate boardrooms and greeted with the same respect freely bestowed upon our male counterparts? And when a senior position (director, veep) is available is our name floated to the top as easily as cream?
That film took me back, all the way back to grade school where I was a single black female in every grade but one, but Vanessa didn’t make it til the end of our fourth grade year before moving from the district. Then junior high. Still the single black female in every class. Forced to defend my work when another student attempted to claim it as her own. But there was no other SBF to commiserate with, to confide in, to consort with on how to navigate this snow-capped landscape. Sure, there were sprinkles of chips in the vanilla ice cream but I was solo in each class. The lone student in freshman English as we read To Kill a Mockingbird because anything by James Baldwin would have been reserved for library shelves where only the curious and studious tread. The lone sista in sophomore government when the white male instructor chose to show Mississippi Burning to the class. The SBF editor of the high school newspaper when the white racists popped out like groundhogs in February and scrawled slurs on the bathroom walls. I know something about being an SBF.
I started to realize that what I know best is what it feels like to be a single, black, female as that has been my experience for four decades. What it feels like in grade school, junior high, high school. How it shaped my college choices and decided my major. What on-the-job training means when you are an SBF. And what it means to be an SBF in corporate America, particularly when the question of diversity is raised. I only know my story, my experiences, and my methods of managing through singleness. What it feels like in the company of married couples, other single black women, single white women, and single black men. What happens when you are the single (i.e. only) black woman in the class, school, department, and a brotha joins the team. All the things that happen (death, divorce, relocation) while moving through life as a SBF, and how it can be lonely at times and liberating at others.