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Helena Andrews on 'Bitch Is the New Black'

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Helena Andrews isn't trying to be the poster girl for single Black women (SBWs). Instead, the Ivy League-educated journalist and author wants to ensure their stories are told accurately, not sensationalized. In her memoir, "Bitch is the New Black," Andrews chronicles her life with tongue-in-cheek essays about what it really means to be a young, single, successful Black woman. "I wanted to write a book from the prospective of one of those women that we always hear these stories about," she says. Andrews spoke with ESSENCE.com about all of the sudden attention given to SBWs, and the Michelle Obama effect. ESSENCE.com: When the title of your book, "Bitch is the New Black," was announced, some people thought that you were trying to call Black women bitches. ANDREWS: People always think that you're trying to offend them. The Washington Post wrote a profile on me last December and they hadn't even read the book. People who read that article made assumptions about me and what I was trying to say. Those who actually read my book will realize that it's not at all what the story was talking about. The title is me wanting to poke fun at the stereotypes that successful women are bitches. But I'm not saying that we should be bitches. When Tina Fey said "bitches are the new black on 'SNL,'" she was talking about Hillary Clinton. She wasn't talking about Black women. Tina Fey isn't a Black woman, but she said "bitch is the new black," meaning that bitchiness was in vogue and bitches get things done. I just thought it was interesting that modern day feminism and the definition of what is a bitch or being a bitch gets lumped into the same thing. Then you add on to this a new category of woman who is young, successful, single and Black. This didn't exist before, and now all of a sudden we keep hearing about this "successful Black woman." I was interested in all the stereotypes. There is the stereotype of this strong Black woman but what makes us stronger than any other women? There can be a dangerous pressure that comes along with that perception. ESSENCE.com: Where do you think the strong Black woman image comes from? ANDREWS: A lot of it is truth. Generally speaking, Black women can assume this role of saying "I'm okay, I'm  going to do what needs to be done and there's no question about it." There's an expectation even from a young age for little Black girls to just have it all together. It's cultural, especially when so many of our households are being manned by women. When Black girls see Black women in a power position, they say "Yeah, I can always have it together." That bubble bursts when you realize that you aren't genetically predisposed to be any stronger or more hard-willed than anyone else. A lot of cultures have that. You can go back to slavery, having these women manning these households and not being given the time to care for themselves. It's a part of this "having-it-all" discussion, which most Black women feel left out of. ESSENCE.com: What were your reasons for writing the book? Not many 29-year-old women are writing their memoirs already. ANDREWS: The Washington Post did a great series on what it means to be a Black man, and really, they weren't trying to assert any agenda. Within this series there was one article about single Black women looking for love. I thought, "Why weren't there more Black women telling their own stories?" I pitched my book as being that Black woman in America. We're not all doing the same thing, we don't have the same issue. Not all of us are single and those of us who are might be happily single. Not everyone is planning for a husband. I really wanted to tell my story to add to this lesson plan on Black women. ESSENCE.com: You've said that part of the attention that single, successful Black women are getting is related to Michelle Obama. ANDREWS: So many people responded to Michelle Obama, like Clair Huxtable, is real. They had never seen a Black woman like that. They then saw that there were lots of Black women who were single and they tried to fix it without asking us if we liked being single. "Do you want a man or do you just like having your own?" they asked. A lot of Black women are annoyed with the conversation because they may like being single. ESSENCE.com: You write a lot about your childhood in the book. You were raised by a single mom who was a lesbian and you moved around a lot. How did your childhood affect who you are now? ANDREWS: Because of who my mother is, I've been able to be fearless in the decisions I make because there were never any limits on what I could do, or what I ever thought of doing. We moved around a lot so I love living all over the place. In college, Columbia University was my first choice and I'd never been to New York. Then I moved to Chicago and now I'm in D.C. All my good friends always call me "the nomad." I love starting over and doing new things. I think my mother lucked out because I have a certain type of personality where I liked moving around and I was really extroverted and I loved being the new kid. As I got to high school though, it was harder to keep moving around, so I went to the same school for five years -- which was the longest I stayed at a school. I've been fearless in a lot of my decisions and I know that's because of the way I was raised. ESSENCE.com: In the book you say you're a mean girl. You don't sound like a meanie. Are you? ANDREWS: I can be. I get that question from everyone. "You're not a mean girl," they say. Well, yes, I can be a mean girl. No one is perfect all the time. Some people are, but I don't trust those kinds of people. What if they're some kind of serial killer? Helena Andrews' memoir,"Bitch is The New Black: A Memoir," is currently in stores. She is working on a film adaptation with producer Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy").
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