What Does It Mean to Be a "Carefree Black Girl"?

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Photo credit: Zeba Blay
Photo credit: Zeba Blay


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Black women aren't a monolith, but there has always been a sense of community among Black women and Black femmes; sharing similar challenges and perspectives allows us to understand one another.

In her essay collection, Carefree Black Girls, Zeba Blay considers niche experiences within Black womanhood. The Ghana-born author, whose writing about pop culture has been featured on HuffPost, The New York Times, and Essence, looks at figures from the Spice Girls' Mel B to Josephine Baker. Her takes are nuanced, and she encourages thought-provoking questions about Blackness. Chapters tackling colorism, fatphobia, and Black girlhood are riveting reads that further the question, What does it mean to be a carefree Black girl?

Despite the word carefree in the title and the lively cover art, Blay doesn't shy away from candid discussions of depression and anxiety. As she tells BAZAAR.com, she believes in normalizing conversations about mental health for Black women and encouraging readers to understand that Black women are multifaceted. She uses each chapter of her book to interrogate what it means to be a carefree Black girl—a viral term she helped coin—whether through the subjects of body image or sexual liberation.

Below, Blay talks about her writing process, how Black experiences within womanhood are intertwined into pop culture, and how Cardi B and Lizzo will go down in history.

What does #CarefreeBlackGirl mean to you, personally?

I feel like the answer to that question is constantly changing. Initially, it was sort of a gesture towards this idealized version of myself that doesn't give a fuck and is frolicking through fields of daisies and all that kind of shit. After having written a book about it and talked to a lot of people about the concept, I think, for me, to be carefree just means to accept oneself in every iteration. To be able to hold joy and pain equally, and find the value in both of those experiences equal.

What was your writing process like? Did you have specific playlists or anything you watched to inspire you?

The process for writing the book was pretty chaotic. One part of me was facing myself and grappling with what I think it means to be a writer. And there was this other side of finding clues to who that writer is through Black women. So I was listening to a lot of Aaliyah, I was watching a lot of Living Single, and I was on my Instagram page—I started using that as a space to sort of archive and collect images of Black women that have moved me. It was a mixture of those things, just trying to immerse myself as much as possible in images of Black women. I found it really therapeutic to make mood boards that pulled from all these different people that I was thinking about at the time.

I love your Instagram. It makes me want to do more melanated photo drops that celebrate Blackness, queerness, and happiness. What pushed you to create this fun Instagram account?

I've been on Instagram since like 2010—for a long time. I grew up on the Internet. I remember being 15 and having a LiveJournal and posting pictures on that. It was a beautiful way of forming connections with people who feel just as seen as I do when I'm creating them.

Two or three years ago, Instagram was becoming, as it can be, a toxic place. And so I was like, "Maybe I can use this as a space to explore Blackness and Black womanhood and Black femmehood." So I just started doing that, and the response has been really beautiful. I've been able to find my people.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Passing by Nella Larsen. I've read it before, but I had just seen the movie. That was a fun read. I just reread all about love by bell hooks, because I think now more than ever, it's a book that everyone should be returning to. Everyone's talking about community, but no one's talking about the fact that community is love, and she just perfectly crystallizes that concept.

Do you think that the cultural analysis you've written in the past has influenced topics within the book? I'm thinking about the essays you've written for The Huffington Post on Naomi Osaka, Amy Cooper, and Nia Wilson.

Definitely. I wanted to incorporate essays that I've written in the past, because I wanted the book to be me in conversation with myself. I think there's a line in the book—I can't quite remember what chapter—where I talk about how being a writer is changing your mind constantly. I mean, to be a person is to be someone who changes your mind. You gain new information, and then that sort of changes your perspective.

I like the idea of being able to return to ideas that I had five or 10 years ago. By engaging with them, I'm understanding myself and how I've grown. So I definitely wanted to incorporate some of that earlier work. It's funny, with a lot of the things that I've written in the past, the nuance of the question has been expanded for me. I think I have the most fun as a writer when I'm writing in that place of nuance—when I'm writing in that place [where] there are no answers.

Your essays also tackle more serious topics like depression and dealing with the emotions of being labeled an Angry Black Woman. How did you use your own experiences and the Black female identity to write about these topics?

I'm a very sad person, and so there's nothing that I'm ever gonna write that's not going to look at [topics like depression and microaggressions]. It's interesting because the book is called Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture and has these fun colors. When we were working on the packaging of the book, I was so nervous, because I was like, "Someone is going to see all these elements, and they're going to be really surprised." But that's kind of the point. I like the idea of subverting and challenging expectations of what it means to be carefree, depressed, or anxious. I knew in the process of writing this book that I can't write about concepts of freedom or joy and not acknowledge my pain, and the pain of many other Black women.

For a long time, I thought that happiness was this destination that you get to, and once you're there, you're there and you don't have to worry about anything. And that's actually a very boring conception of what happiness is. I think happiness is not sustainable. Like, you're not just happy all the time. We all go through ebbs and flows, and that makes for a much richer human experience. So I wanted to include the not-so-joyful aspects of navigating this life, because I wanted to show that you can have the capacity for a lot of pain and a lot of joy.

It was scary, but I think that, ultimately, I'm really happy that I included that part of my experience. It would be so easy to brush these things under the rug, but it's the brushing under the rug that creates all these sad, lonely people who don't know how to talk about what they're going through. Because it's not normalized to talk about these things, you know?

You dedicated entire chapters to the likes of Cardi B and Lizzo, and examining their impact on pop culture. Why did you do that?

Because there's a lot to say! With the Cardi B chapter, there was so much I wanted to say about her, so that chapter is all over the place, but in a way that I really love. The book is also kind of a time capsule. If you read this book in 20 years, Cardi B is going to be a very different entity than she was in 2020, 2021. When the book came out, I wanted to have a moment that captured this particular moment in her trajectory. I just felt like not a lot of people have written in depth about what she is, who she is, and what she means, because I feel like people don't take Black women seriously enough to even have this sort of analysis.

I think Lizzo is a perfect encapsulation of a moment of body positivity, but also this weird moment in the online space where people can just so easily harass one another. So I wanted to use her as this overarching figure that could help me break out all these other ideas about how I feel about it, and how any other Black woman who's observing this might be feeling. That's why I love writing about pop culture, because you can take Lizzo, and you can use her to talk about body politics in a really interesting way.

If there was a chapter that you could recommend to your younger self, what would it be, and why?

Definitely the "Bodies" chapter, because we need to be thinking more and talking more about not just body image but self-image. I think that that would be a good chapter for a younger version of me to read. Maybe the last chapter, "Free of Cares," because I'm proud of it. So I would just want young Z to be like, "Bitch, look what you did!"

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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