I’m Denene Millner and I’m a Professional Black Girl.
My locs be swinging and my lips be poppin’ and my booty is big and round and sitting up high on top of thick hips and thighs and I think—nah, I’m sure—Mary J. Blige is The Gawd and Hip Hop (real hip hop) is life and I got coconut oil and shea butter on my bathroom sink and a rat-tail comb (for the most perfect cornrow part evah) in my drawer and I sleep with a headrag, put smoked meats in my greens, cuss like a well-educated Trap queen, live for time spent with my best girlfriends, crank it up high and wop it out when Rakim pumps through my speakers and feel right at home when my people ditch the formal “Denene” and call me “Dede” because when I hear it I know I’m… home.
I’m Black as hell—and damn proud of it. Professional Black Girl for that… you know the rest.
What, exactly, is a Professional Black Girl? Sing all praises to the brilliant Dr. Yaba Blay, The Dan T. Blue Endowed Chair in Political Science at North Carolina Central University and a leading voice on beauty politics, who coined the term and created a video series about it, appropriately called Professional Black Girl. Blay intends for the series to celebrate everyday Black womanhood, and to smash racist and “respectable” expectations of how we should “behave.”
“The terminology that is often used to describe and define Black girls—such as bad, grown, fast, ghetto, and ratchet—are non-affirming and are words that are intended to kill the joy and magic within all Black girls,” says Dr. Blay, author of (1)ne Drop, and the creator of #PrettyPeriod, a celebration of dark-skinned Black women. “We are professional code-switchers, hair-flippers, hip-shakers, and go-getters. We hold Ph.Ds and listen to trap music; we twerk and we work. We hold it down while lifting each other up, and we don’t have to justify or explain our reason for being. This is us.”
Fifteen Black women and girls ranging in age from 2- to 52-years-old were interviewed for the series. Each episode features a candid discussion with personalities such as Akiba Solomon, senior editor of Colorlines.com; Joan Morgan, author of the Hip-Hop feminist classic “When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost and 13-year-old world traveler Nahimana Machen, sharing what it means to be a “Professional Black Girl.”
“Professional Black Girl’ looks like Taraji P. Henson at the 2015 Emmys jumping up to hug Viola Davis. It looks like Mary J. Blige and Taraji and Kerry Washington in that Apple commercial. It looks like me rolling up to a room full of people in Berlin to speak with my bamboo earrings on,” explains Tarana Burke, a non-profit consultant and fashion blogger featured in the series.
Confession: For the longest time, I neither acknowledged nor embraced my inner Professional Black Girl. For all too long, I subscribed to what was taught to me at an early age: tamp down that Black girl at all costs. Fitting in and shrinking down—that’s what was important. To get a man. To get a job. To get ahead. To be “acceptable.” Straightened hair. Round derriere hidden under big clothes. Speaking “proper English” and doing so quietly. All of this was the company line this Black girl towed.
But getting grown and having babies—Black girls in particular—and insisting they (re)present their Black Girl Magic in its fullest and at its finest got me really clear on the importance of modeling what I was expecting of my girls. I want (demand, really) that they embrace the very essence of who they are: bold, brilliant, beautiful Black humans. I don’t ever want them to shrink or change or shun or deny the fullness of who they are and what they love and what is all up in their bones in an effort to please others because that leads to nothing but misery. This, I know for sure. So if I wanted better for my babies, I had to get better for myself.
I did. It was a long time coming, but I did it. And this has only solidified itself as I’ve watched women I admire get their Professional Black Girl on, unapologetically—many of them women featured in Yaba’s docuseries, including Joan, Akiba, Tarana and most certainly Yaba. I’m grateful to each of them. And happy as hell for us.
Check out the trailer for Yaba’s Professional Black Girl, and look out for the series, which will air every Friday beginning tomorrow, September 9, 2016, on YouTube.com/DrYabaBlay and yabablay.com until December 9, 2016.
Bonus: limited edition Professional Black Girl merchandise, created in partnership with Philadelphia Printworks, is available now on philadelphiaprintworks.com.
Follow #ProfessionalBlackGirl across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to celebrate and affirm the everyday excellence of Black women and girls.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.