The Black Woman Commandments I Cannot Keep

A humorous take on the truth that not all Black women are created equal.

“I love your hair. You did it yourself?”

“Aww, thank you. I wish. I can’t cornrow.”

“Wait, you’re a little Black girl and you don’t know how to cornrow?”

Correction: I’m a whole 30-something Black woman who doesn’t know how to cornrow.

The exchange between my coworker and I is the epitome of Black Girl Magic with a side-eye of really Auntie?! Here we are, two brown women in the office pantry donning a similar French braid hairstyle discussing the joys and pains of natural hair. Hers, beautifully gray. Mine, one pack of X-pression 1B.

“I can braid, it just won’t stick to my scalp,” I assure her. I am still falling from amazing grace.

We continue talking curl patterns, extensions and YouTube tutorials as white colleagues take a trip to the Keurig or grab their carrots and humus lunch in the fridge.

It’s all love between Auntie and me.

Until I walk back to my desk reminded of another thing I can’t do (well) as a Black woman.

When moments like this strike, I turn to a place of public solace. With the stroke of a few keys, I learn there are others like me. Brave souls who comment on culturally unacceptable posts, outing themselves and their lack of abilities. Together, but apart, we are in jeopardy of having our Black cards revoked. We are Black women who grew up with other Black women… and for whatever reason don’t exactly follow all the commandments of being ahem, a Black woman.

Commandments?! What commandments, say ye?

Thou Shall Have Rhythm

It’s one of the reasons I’ve never been into the club scene. Well, aside from the fact that I have to dress a certain way to gain entry into an overcrowded space with loud music, expensive drinks, and people that may only be attractive with the lights low.

It’s the main reason I don’t throw myself birthday parties.

I am among the small percentage of Black women with no rhythm. Listen, sis, it’s not a gene I inherited, okay? And last time I checked, you can’t exactly teach rhythm.

Cue the video, circa 1992, of me in a white, fluffy dress with purple trim, and Shirley Temple curls hopping around a dance floor like a damn rabbit. I am six years old, and my mother just married her husband. My best friend, Tiffany, is center stage shaking what her mama gave her to Michael Jackson’s “Can’t Let Her Get Away.” Mine is laughing my ass off. Fast forward a few minutes and you will see the beautiful bride guiding me step-by-step through the Electric Slide. This will be the only line dance I ever conquer.

Being that Black woman with no rhythm is oftentimes painful. Like, when I try a new fitness class and see white people out fitting me.

To make matters worse, I’m from Washington, DC. Home of go-go music. I can never get too excited when a congo-laced beat drops because I never learned to beat my feet or work the walls. And by the time I was able to drop the unibomber, it kaboomed.

One of my biggest fears is that I will fall in love with a man who will want to role-play as Jay-Z and Beyoncé on tour. Bae will expect a public grind fest, when in actuality I’d prefer to be Hov and do as little work as possible.

*Drops mic and throws up the roc.  


Thou Shall Know How to Play Spades

I have a confession: I keep a pack of Uno cards in the pocket of my driver’s side door. I never know when I might be in the mood to slap a Draw 4 on an unsuspecting cousin or frienemy.

When folks yell, “Who trying to play Spades?” in social settings, I never yell back.

Tailfeather Tiffany tried to teach me when we were kids. We sat on the stoop in front of our apartment building, legs spread wide with sunflower seeds and cards in the middle. She did the best she could, given it was only the two of us. I was too busy licking salt from my wrinkled fingers. Tiff, again, got it from her mama. Every weekend, Ms. Karen and three of her friends sat around the dining room table, sipping Pepsis and adult drinks, tipping the nose of their cigarettes into ashtrays, slapping cards, and cursing at each other for hours. By the time I went home, if I didn’t spend the night, I had no clue which pair won, and which pair were no longer friends.

People undoubtedly question your Blackness when Spades is involved. And thanks to Black Twitter research, we can unanimously agree that if you have not learned the game by now, ain’t nobody finna teach you.

And I’m okay with that. I can’t keep score. I’m liable to underbid and I don’t always remember which suit led.

You know what I can remember? That I only need one card in my hand to win a damn game. Uno. Out, heaux.


Thou Shall Strut in Them Heels, Sis

Just before 2019, I received a text from one of my cousins. It went like this:

Her: Hey cuzin! Would you do me the honor of being in my wedding party?

Me: Hey. Word? Question: do I get to choose my own shoes?

Her: Lol. IDK yet. It’ll probably be sandals

Me: Well, I humbly accept…only under the condition that I don’t have to wear anything over 3 inches (laughing crying emoji) but no really

Listen. Me in heels is like watching a big, overgrown baby who just started walking. It’s embarrassing.

I’ve tried the heel life. I don’t like it. The pain is not worth the pleasure. Especially at 1 A.M. as you walk through a landmine of gravel back to your best friend’s car after a sweaty, uneventful night of clubbing and wasting $50 in admission and drinks to get hit on by no one fine and fabulous.

I’m known for swiping left on dating profiles of men that demand their lady be “feminine” or “can match my fly.” It’s code for sexy dresses and high heels. I marvel at those who do it effortlessly. I also want to fight them. There are little humans and men who do a better job than I in a pair of pumps. And I don’t like them either.

But then I go in my closet, pull out my favorite pair of Nike Air Max, Chuck Taylors, or not-quite-to-the-knee boots, and all is right in the land of flats.


Thou Shall Cook Like Somebody’s Grandma & nem

My grandma on my daddy’s side was that Black, overweight grandma with flabby arms who could burn in the kitchen. Her desserts were amazing, never boxed. Her sweet tea was perfect with every pitcher, and well, her macaroni-and-cheese was legendary. Naturally, Grandma’s daughters and most of her granddaughters took after her. I was the exception.

On my mother’s side, my granny was all about baking from scratch. Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to learn the art of her homemade biscuits or peanut butter cookies, she was relocating to areas where Black people did not reside. Her eldest, my Electric Slide instructor, would put her own culinary stamp on things. I watched my mother go from feeding me peanut butter and jelly or pancakes for dinner to perfecting a pull-apart pot roast for four. Say that fast five times.

By the tender age of 29 when I moved out of my parents’ house, I learned none of my mother’s secrets. While she was standing over countertops, seasoning grocery bags of flour, or cleaning a sink full of greens, I was in my room doing everything from watching basketball games, to writing English papers to taking naps.

Now, I’m 40 minutes north in the suburbs fending for myself.

“Mommy, what you put in your meatloaf?” I phone home one Sunday.

“Child, did I not teach you anything?”

For everything else, I Google or wing it to my finicky taste buds. I’ve perfected my office potluck quiche, seafood Alfredo and anything I can make in a crockpot. I’ve also scraped burnt honey garlic pork chops from the pan straight to the trash can.

I dare not attempt to make my late grandma’s mac and cheese. And if I can’t squeeze the cookies from a roll onto a cookie sheet, then forget it.

I no longer volunteer to bring beverages to family functions. I’ve gone green. It’s hassle-free, Black people don’t turn down money, and you can’t gentrify it with raisins.


Being a beautiful Black woman is lit. And hard. It’s even harder when the ancestors looking beyond the sun rays trying to figure out what the hell happened to you.

Now, in case there are any aunties, nanas, cousins or homegirls who want to know at least five things us beautiful, Black commandment breakers do well, see below:

  1. Stay melanated
  2. Serve as a perfect balance in any sphere
  3. Dance to our own beat (But, no, really.)
  4. Side eye cultural norms
  5. Summon the mighty force of Black Girl Magic


So, to my boos who can’t thread three strands to your scalp, or keep some of the major Black woman commandments, this is for you.

I love you. I love us. We shall get to Black heaven and meet Black Baby Jesus. Because there’s not one Black woman who will ever get it all right. And that’s okay. We’re still right for the culture. Still Black card carriers. And we deserve our invite to the cookout, even if it means we’re bringing ice or Off!, dammit.

And if you feel inclined to testify to breaking one or all of these commandments, I’m here for you, sis. The doors of the church are open.




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Adina Ferguson

Adina Ferguson is the author of the essay collection, I Don’t Want to Be Your Bridesmaid. Her work has been published on Very Smart Brothas, midnight & indigo, Slackjaw, Nia Magazine, and more. You can find her at adinathewriter.com, on IG @adinathewriter, or on the couch watching Good Times reruns.