In Defense of the Weird Brown Girl
I’m incredibly happy to have Erika Ruiz contribute to the blog. This is her first post with us and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
I’ve been a weird brown girl for most of my life. Since the age of approximately ten-years-old, I’ve stuck out like a sore thumb and people have hardly been kind about the fact that I don’t fit into their preconceived ideas of what brown girls should be. I’ve always been too colorful, too artsy, and generally too loud in a world that demands my complacency.
To be a weird brown girl means to follow our artistic instincts, our passions, and be the most genuine version of ourselves we can be no matter how much glitter, black lipstick, or local indie bands it might or might not involve. It means to unapologetically exist within a constantly evolving individuality.
In a society that tries to keep us tamed, being a weird brown girl is an act of resistance because it is the embrace of a unique originality. Yet, every other aspect of our lives tries to tell us otherwise. To exist in this identity means to go against the social expectations of what women, femmes, and brown folk should assimilate into in order to be accepted by the larger society. It goes against the acculturation we are taught we should try to embrace. By going against this and, instead, accepting our own way of life, we are choosing to live in the authenticity of our complex identities, choosing for ourselves how others will see us instead of being at the mercy of others’ portrayal of us.
“In a society that tries to keep us tamed, being a weird brown girl is an act of resistance because it is the embrace of a unique originality.”
In modern pop culture and media, artists such as Willow Smith, Princess Nokia, FKA Twigs, and Alice Bag are simply some of the people who have paved the way for the representation of the weird brown girl, making room for us to feel like we have the freedom of becoming successful women who carry ourselves with a unique sense of confidence.
Often, society equates weirdness with whiteness. White people, especially white men, have the freedom of encompassing weirdness without experiencing much of a backlash against them. This is evident in the indie music scene which is overrun by “weird” and “artsy” white men. Bands such as MGMT, Animal Collective, and Alt-J are few who have almost effortlessly achieved their fame by catering to artsy weirdness. Even white women have more of a freedom and agency of portraying weirdness than brown women do. Björk, Grimes, and Lorde are merely some big name examples of white women who have done this successfully and who have built entire careers on the sole act of being eccentric, their weirdness being perceived as sophisticated artistry within indie scenes.
Because white folk have the privilege of not constantly having to assimilate into cultural norms in order to be accepted by the dominant society, they have greater freedom of delving into the experimentation of art, music, and fashion at larger rates than the rest of us. This commonly leads to the cultural appropriation and stealing of significant art that has historically been fronted by women of color. Brown women who aren’t given an equal space within art movements and therefore aren’t taken seriously in the same way that white people are.
“When existing as weird brown girls, our identities often get erased by those around us.”
As weird brown girls, it can become overwhelmingly frustrating to rarely see our realities portrayed back to us in the strange art scenes we love unless our realities are stolen and cashed out on by white people. It then becomes crucial to carve out spaces for ourselves in subcultures and art movements that infrequently take our existence into consideration, creating countercultures within the countercultures that already exist but which do not give us any room of our own within them.
When existing as weird brown girls, our identities often get erased by those around us. Society dictates that we must assimilate into its cultural norms to be given the privilege of being seen as a human. As weird brown girls, this means we have to constantly defend our humanity at every intersection. We experience backlash at both ends of the spectrum. There is the backlash from our marginalized brown communities who see our weirdness as a negative portrayal of our cultures and a “need to be white.” This is because artsy weirdness isn’t considered a priority within marginalized communities that are often simply trying to survive the pangs of white supremacy and who don’t always see how our artistry is tied to this survival. We also experience the backlash from white art communities who only see us as quirky art fetishes that aren’t worthy of having our complex identities portrayed through their art movements, who keep us around because of our authenticity and flair but who refuse to see us as real people.
Because of this, groups such as Chulita Vinyl Club and Brujas have been popping up around the country. They are groups of weird brown girls who have gotten tired of the misrepresentation and have, instead, found comfort among each other. Chulita Vinyl Club is made up of women around the country who are passionate about music and DJ-ing and who are carving their own space in a music scene that rarely gives them one. Brujas is a Bronx based group of an all-girls skate collective that creates a visible community of women in a sport that is often dictated by white men. Both of these groups, like many others, have been formed in the collective frustration that weird brown girls constantly navigate when trying to simply exist.
As weird brown girls, it is important that we uplift each other in a society that tries to take away our individuality and which constantly refuses to understand our complex identities. More than ever, it is important that we shamelessly continue to bask in our weirdness and to flaunt it without shame. It is this visibility and sense of community that is crucial to ensure we always have the strength to push back against the conformity and homogeneity expected from us, to ensure we stay true to our individual authenticity and passion, to make sure we are visible representations for generations of weird brown girls to come who are also fighting to take up the space they deserve within a society that teaches them they are unworthy of it.