Excerpts. The Black Girl Mask.

Ellen Gallgher Art
(Ellen Gallagher, Dirty O’s, 2006 (detail), © Ellen Gallagher)

There’s something curious that happens to Black girls on their way to puberty: We disappear into an imaginary telephone booth and emerge as miniature superheroes. Hit by a speeding bullet of outside forces—race-based sexism and society’s impossible expectations—former civilians begin to take cover behind an ancient mask of impenetrability. Out secret identity—sweet, innocent, approachable—becomes just that, a secret. It’s the identity we share with only a trusted few, the small circle we’ve vetted and deemed worthy.”

Silently, the mask can speak volumes. It can say, Don’t talk to me, touch me, or trap me. It can say, I have power over every situation, even when she so clearly does not. This is our coolness coat of arms, our impenetrable shield. What some might call the bitch face, I call the survival side-eye.

“Reserve” by Helena Andrews in Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness, by Rebecca Walker (Editor), Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Foreword).