Black Women: Defy Stereotypes
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?
History of Disrespect
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.
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.
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.
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.