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Black Women: Defy Stereotypes

Updated on December 22, 2016
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Black women are constantly laughed at and judged in American society. They are judged as overly sexual, materialistic and, my personal favorite “too independent.” The very interesting part is that their biggest critics tend to be Black males. Considering the unprecedented role of Black women in the preservation of the Black family and their supportive role in the Civil Right Movement, it is astounding that they would continue to be berated by the men they continue to support. What is the history of this disrespect? How can Black women work to change this image?

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History of Disrespect

The Mistress

Black women experienced slavery in a way that was separate and unique from their male counterparts. Women were frequently and notoriously raped and kept as the illegitimate mistresses of white males. They knew little of traditional family structures as separating a female slave from her husband and even children was typical.

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The Temptress

What started as a private affair became quite public after slavery. Black women became the Jezebel as her curves and dance moves became a source for mass entertainment. Performers such as Josephine Baker started what became a publicly accepted role for Black women, that of the over-sexed temptress. Traces of this stereotype are present in every aspect of radio, television and film today.

The Mammy

Mammy was the opposite of sexual. Instead, she was the ignorant yet understanding motherly type. She was a hard worker and was almost masculine in her lack of femininity. Examples of Mammy appeared in movies such as “Imitation of Life” and “Gone with the Wind.”

The “Ghetto” Welfare Queen

The “Ghetto” stereotype is a more updated stereotype that includes character such as Martin Lawrence’s “Sha-Nay-Nay.” This vision of a Black woman is a comical character that is abusing the welfare system with weaves and nails intact. She tends to have a nasty attitude and is often portrayed by a male actor, again, calling into question her femininity.

Ms. Independent

Opposite of the “Ghetto” Queen, she is totally self-sufficient and refuses the love, help or any form of support of a man. She is usually educated and sometimes lesbian, lacking femininity. She is often portrayed as bitter and angry. An example of this stereotype would be Gabrielle Union’s character in “Deliver Us from Eva.”

Changing Our Image

Some would argue that Black women’s image has changed drastically since the Civil Right Movement. While many Black women have succeeded in every area including activism, education, aerospace, invention, and many more before and after the 1960s, Black women are still represented and often labeled with these stereotypes in the media and beyond. One strong memory of recent for me personally, was being in the market place of Cairo, Egypt and being called “Black Sugar.” One can only imagine what images led to this comment!

More concerning is the very public opinions Black males have of Black women. Many Black men have strong words for “why Black women are single” and many of these ideas are nothing more than stereotypes. So the question remains, how can Black women shift their image?

1. Be Yourself

Instead of resisting stereotypes, be yourself and show just how unique each Black woman is. The more we individually stay true to ourselves, the less likely we will be seen in only one or two ways.

2. Work on Your Self-Esteem

Many Black women have been hurt beyond mere stereotypes. Sexual and physical abuse as well as broken families and poverty have affected many Black women’s self-esteem and self-worth. Unfortunately, it is from this brokenness that many women fall right into to images of “Temptress” and “Mistress,” seeking to find validation through feeling wanted.

3. Teach Children by Example

Whether they are your children, nieces/nephews or children of friends, we each serve as powerful examples. Every conversation and interaction with a child either contradicts or proves stereotypes to be true. Let children see a positive influence from you.

4. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Money is power in many ways in America and we each have many choices as to where to spend. Make conscientious choices. Don’t like the message of that song? Don’t buy it! Don’t like the stereotyped Black woman in that movie? Don’t support it! We all have choices and it does matter how you use it.

5. Each One Teach One

Not all people are aware of this history or think it’s important. If you get the chance to share this history and propaganda with someone, you are helping to set change in motion. You can also speak up when you hear people berate or stereotype Black women. You have a voice and it is your choice to use it.

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    • KrystalD profile image
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      KrystalD 2 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you Keisha.

    • Keisha Hunter profile image

      Keisha Hunter 3 years ago from Paradise and then some

      Love it! Thanks for sharing.

    • KrystalD profile image
      Author

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks catalysnstars! Self-acceptance is a journey I understand well. It is tough doing so in a society riddled with negative images. It is confusing through childhood and adolesence. In adulthood we might find new ways to validate and nurture ourselves.

    • catalystsnstars profile image

      catalystsnstars 5 years ago from Land of Nod

      Uhhhh wow, I just finished a converstaion with a friend of mine telling her how I struggled with being black growing up, and I'm from Africa. I really liked reading this as I am just understanding what the color of my skin means, the thickness of my hair, and the beauty of my features. We do need to all be better receptors of who we are and the qualities we were born with. THANK YOU!!

      P.S- I like your sassiness

    • KrystalD profile image
      Author

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you ExLeftist. I think it matters that everyone knows the history of the images we see in the media. When we understand what is behind these images we can start to take a stand even in some small way.

    • ExLeftist profile image

      ExLeftist 5 years ago

      I've never seen the categories broken down like this. It was very informative. I also liked your 'Changing our Image' points.

    • KrystalD profile image
      Author

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you Vellur. Though it shouldn't matter what our backgrounds are, unfortunately, we live in a culture with deeply engrained stereotypes. Sometimes I think the only solution is that we each individually decide to have our own thoughts and opinions versus taking on what has been fed to us in textbooks, media and even from our own family and friends. It is a noble quest.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      This article reminds me of the famous lyrics "It doesn't matter whether you're black or white". It is the person that matters. Insightful and very thoughtful hub. Voted up.

    • KrystalD profile image
      Author

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      You bring up some excellent points gm. It is true that dark versus light is a whole additional layer to this discussion of stereotypes. I would argue that both dark and light had individual images. Dark went along side "Mammy" and often "Ghetto Queen" but light complicated women tend to be sexualized. Glad to see this was an issue that struck a cord for you because I think it is essential to know what you are up against. It is just a fact that everyone is up against some type-casted expectation of what we are supposed to be. It’s just difficult when those images are offensive.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 5 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      To KrystalD: Excellent hub. Society and the media does categorize us into many often negative stereotypes. Oftentimes, this stereotype run among complexion lines. Dark skinned Black women are more subjected to negative stereotyping from society and the media i.e. they are seldom seen in entertainment media and if they are portrayed, they are often viewed as more unsophisticated and lower class than the lighter skin Black female. I am very well aware of the negative stereotyping of us in this society. We are intelligent, educated, and vibrant women. I do not adhere to such stereotypes. I am as other Black women are unique in our essence.