I compiled the pictures of the last few months, and felt uncertainty fill me…
What do I write? What do I say?
…That, I got to live my dream, but it doesn’t always fill me with joy?
That, I’m struggling to feel good about living day after day indoors, despite the privileges of doing so?
That, I’m tired of monotony, but not sick, and feeling very grateful for that? But that, despite the constant fatigue, I still dare to utter some truths;
Is that not the point of being alive?
And, despite that celebration, I’m still tired, and constantly losing inspiration.
Would you hate to know that there’s less laughter and planning, and more agitation with waiting for new dreams to come to fruition?
And, I still wake up to things that make me sad, despite how grateful I am to just be alive? And, that there’s so much pain in my reflections on the world I live in, wherein I constantly question, ‘what would make me less threatening?’
No matter what you put me in, I’ll always wear my Black skin, even in death.
Sure, seasonal changes have never been easy, but putain, cette saison est trop difficile.
Wipe away bulbs of dried mucus from my eyes, gently wiggle my phalanges in all directions before planting my extremities on the ground.
Waltz on tip-toe to the large reflective device fitted to the wall in front of my bed, and take a deep inhale.
Sharply plug the air from escaping my diaphragm.
Marvel at how ‘skinny’ I look.
And just like that, another day has begun.
Recently, I began questioning my obsession with this routine, before it dawned on me, that I, in my size-8/10-US body, still struggle to fight against internalized fatphobia and body dysmorphia. The absence of my body in media (until very recently) created within me a belief that I should be other than I am: skinnier. This belief has been with me for some time–probably as long as it has been fed to me, through media and peers.
Is it not depressing as fuck that society tells us, at a default, that we’re better when we’re thin? That, we’re better when we literally hold less? I look back on photos from my girlhood to my early adulthood knowing that the person I’m looking at truly believed that they needed to lose weight (to be more desirable, and likable in general):
Today, I look at this person wishing she knew that that was so far from the truth.
When I look at myself today, I truly feel at home in my body 95% of the time, but I’m still stuck in that stupid cycle, doing that damn mirror routine most mornings. I’ve grown far from the girl who sometimes took “showers” after nights out in college so that she could purge in peace, but that growth doesn’t help me better cope with the realization that deep, deep down, that person may still be in there somewhere.
At the end of these realizations, when I usually begin to come-to, I seamlessly enter the primary stage of admittance–right in-step with recovery; I almost feel the impetus of self-liberation, but then, I re-enter the world, rife with advertising that doesn’t give a damn about what (little) progress I had made. The next step of recovery, understanding that there’s a greater power at play that lead me to be this fatphobic, was fairly easy considering the normalization of skinny via messaging that revolves around the idea of “watching your figure,” “getting a summer body,” and even, the seemingly harmless idea of dieting after the holidays.
Unfortunately, this messaging can be traced back to advertising in the early 1900s:
Since then, we’ve only picked up speed, and funneled these narratives into media deemed health-centric:
Of course, the messaging within the ads differentiate based on gender, with that for men promoting being muscular, instead of being skinny, as do women-centric ads. Nonetheless, the message is well-received:
there is something to gain in changing your body.
And for those who lose weight, there is much to gain, especially in the realm of celebrity:
In the real world, people who fit the standard of beauty receive higher quality medical care, meanwhile people in larger bodies are constantly told to lose weight before any attention valid concern is addressed. Society’s treatment of fat bodies doubles down on the idea that they are not worthy of the same treatment as they’re constantly made the butt of the joke, the ‘before picture’ in every makeover show, and now, on our most-used apps:
In the virtual and real world, fat bodies are policed in a way that skinny bodies simply are not:
So, when do we, as a collective, arrive at the place of letting larger bodies just be? Without critique, or unsolicited advice? When will the medical community treat fatness as a state of being for many, instead of an imminent threat to wellness, let alone, a death sentence? When we as a society begin to demand it; when we as a collective begin to root out the fatphobia within us; when we begin to see larger bodies as worthy, too.
It will be a long journey for most, given the barrage of fatphobic advertising that we don’t consent to seeing, yet see regardless; and, a life-long journey for people like me with histories of disordered eating, or body dysmorphia; but, together, our efforts may shorten the long walk to freedom.
This one is for anyone who seeks to understand more about how media works, and especially for the folks naive enough to believe the things they heard in a certain TV appearance I did around this time last year.
Being made into a caricature for a corporations gain is one of the nastiest experiences I’ve ever had, but I’m still here. it’s been hard reading the comments, peeping tweets, and knowing that even the people who you’ve been open with can so easily believe things they see on TV. so now, I’m having the final word, showing receipts, and using research to discuss how media has historically aimed to paint Black people and POC in a damaging light.
I’ve wanted to make this video for some time but honestly, the things that I’ve learned as of late, and some relationships had to end in or can go on and on about how racist society is and always has been, but that means nothing without identifying the structures in place and how they’re used by different entities, starting and ending with: media
I want to talk about my portrayal by a TV network who I won’t name, but if you need a hint, they’re most recent award show failed to garner more views than Brandy and Monica’s Verzuz battle.
I am saddened that it is still the norm for media to depict Black people–especially Black women, in ways that are detrimental to their public reception; and so I’m offering some analysis on the research behind that, in addition to my own experience.
I want to start this off by saying that the emotional labor I did to be part of this experience was beyond anything I’ve ever done for content, but I am never a victim, just a person with a lot of stories to tell. This is my truth, and some insider information, and since I’ll still be questioned for it, I, again, have done research on top of having lived experiences I can reference.
Let’s jump in by figuring out how media’s influence affects the way people of other races view and interact with each other:
Nancy Yang Wuen’s report, HOW RACIAL STEREOTYPES IN POPULAR MEDIA AFFECT PEOPLE — AND WHAT HOLLYWOOD CAN DO TO BECOME MORE INCLUSIVE, found that “beyond specific effects on particular groups of viewers, racial images packaged as entertainment can skew the way all viewers understand and categorize people.”
And, “the media’s tendency to fuel racial misperceptions can contribute to public support for harsher punishments for people of color.”
Imagine just trying to de stress and seeing the character who looks like you always being disrespected and shat on the way Hilary Duff was by her stepmother in A Cinderella Story. IMAGINE! That’s my life as a BW, and it’s constant because of how much media I consume.
It’s not surprising that, “prolonged television exposure predicts a decrease in self-esteem for all girls and for black boys, but an increase in self-esteem for white boys. These differences correlate with the racial and gender practices in Hollywood, which predominantly casts white men as heroes, while erasing or subordinating other groups as villains, sidekicks, and sexual objects.”
My own experience on TV consisted of being villainized, and made into a welfare queen, who somehow, someway, asked to borrow $100k to pay for a grad program that costs €13,800 or approximately $16,169.53.
So…how did we get there? Where? When? Why that portrayal? Racism.
Other things that I saw, in hindsight, was that they sought to use used for white character’s development
Being asked to “teach my friend why it was wrong of her to vote for this dangerously, incompetent president.” I, the person who experiences racism in their everyday life in some form or fashion, needs to make myself available to do more emotional labor??
How about this person looks in the mirror? How about this person considers why it’s wrong to vote for an overt racist? How is helping her do either of those thing my burden?
I’m unsure if the producers also positioned one of the hosts, another Black woman, to criticize me for not doing more emotional labor for a white woman, or if she put herself up to that, but either way, it was disgusting. Nonetheless, she still stepped into that role to “do her job,” so there’s still accountability to be had here.
Now that I think of it, this experience consisted of not one, but two Black women criticizing me for not “teaching my friend wrong from right,” more or less. You can figure out the other one, she was a news anchor, I really respected her then, but now…that’s another story.
It’s not uncommon to see Black women playing this role: which invites the white gaze to share in that criticism, then reinforcing the idea that it’s ok for white people to not just form these opinions, but to rely them. It also serves to absolve white people of white guilt…“Yeah…I voted for T*um* too, why is it so bad to sTaRt A cOnVeRsAtIoN about it instead of cutting me out of your life? I voted for someone who was open about their hatred for you during their campaign, and now has cemented that hate into various harmful policies, but, like, aren’t we friends? Don’t friends talk??”
There are so many examples of this in the mainstream: Oprah, unfortunately, has done this to many Black women, namely, Toni Braxton:
This feels way too familiar. The gaslighting. The cruelty. It’s upsetting to watch.
But, let’s back up and talk about how these trends have been used in media from its very inception:
A report by NARISSRA M. PUNYANUNT-CARTER shows that historically, “media often portrays African Americans in occupational roles, such as servants, a crooks, cooks, an entertainer, a musician, a sad non-White person, an exhibitionist, an athlete, or a corrupt individual.”
“Black females were typically perceived as low achievers and white females were typically perceived as less dominant than Black female counterparts. She also discovered that the viewers’ perception of a white character on a Black program, such as The Jeffersons was not positive. Reid argued that such perceptions regarding Black and white females are due to the stereotypic images that are portrayed on television.”
“Performing a content analysis of 139 television series, Donagher et al. (1975) found that… white people were more likely to be victims than Black people.”
“Cultivation theory states that our perceptions of reality are ‘‘cultivated’’ or developed by what we view in the media (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorelli, 1986); it offers an explanation for the way individuals organize social reality and make social judgments of the world (Perse, 1986).
Punyunant-Carter also states that “cultivation theory is also the basis for the expectation that media exposure is linked to perceptions of African Americans; it also shows that there is no linear relationship between television and its viewers; rather, it is a continuous process among messages and contexts.”
…Meaning that “watching television is unique to the individual because of certain lifestyles and cultural norms. In other words, one television program may make a person cry, but the same program can encourage a person to kill. At the same time, cultivation is based on individuals’ perceptions of realism of television portrayals.”
Ask yourself…do I believe that what I see on TV is indicative of real life? Or, can I not believe everything on TV because it is not indicative of real life? That will help you determine your perception of realism of TV portrayals.
A report titled “The Role of the Media in the Construction of Public Belief and Social Change,” study by Catherine Happer and Greg Philo found, “media also severely limit the information with which audiences understand [social] issues and that alternative solutions to political problems are effectively removed from public debate. We found other evidence of the way in which media coverage can operate to limit understanding of possibilities of social change.”
“In summary, many programs do not display Black people in very positive roles (Greenberg & Brand, 1994). Instead, African American portrayals on tele- vision often focus more on reaffirming negative stereotypes (Rada, 2000). Yet, the media shape and influence public perceptions of African Americans.”
Takeaway: everything we see on TV is formulated to fit an agenda that is rarely rooted in truth, but to get ratings.
If you’ve watched Paris Hilton’s documentary, you see her openly admit to playing a caricature of herself on “reality TV,” and that’s exactly what that enter landscape is: a bunch of different caricatures operating in settings meant to dupe viewers into believing.
Why? Ratings! When you have high ratings you can sell people stuff on a large scale, and even if it’s complete crap, they’ll buy it. That’s the point of going on reality TV to sell people tangible items or ideas.
And outside of reality TV, we naively think that things get better when realistically, even your local news channels operate on a formula, let alone your mainstream news: they prioritize coverage on natural disasters or scandals, any crime that can be sensationalized, and the obscure are prioritized. No where on that list is the aim to inform, so I’ll let you decide what priority that takes. All I can say is, don’t fall for the bait.
A place where policies that worsen wealth disparities are instituted by an administration that touts ‘major economic growth,’ benefitting the top 10%, whilst millions of Americans teeter on the brink of eviction, hunger, or joblessness.
America’s racism is in Supreme Court decisions; the air and the water; and it’s pastimes. And it’s in you too. One thorough vibe check would show us the insincerity of the this-isn’t-who-we-are’s, when all signs strongly point to what America is, and always has been: the home of unabashed racism.
“Even the Nazis did not stoop to selling souvenirs of Auschwitz, but lynching scenes became a burgeoning sub department of the postcard industry. By 1908, the trade had grown so large, and the practice of sending postcards featuring the victims of mob murderers had become so repugnant, that the U.S. Postmaster General banned the cards from the mails.”
Secondly, some big events happened recently: Meg the Stallion confirmed that Tory Lanez shot her in the foot, and the 100 year anniversary of White Women’s Suffrage just passed; and yes, I’m going to show you how both of those things are relevant to the overarching theme of this video which is BW being the most unprotected group in society. And contrary to popular belief, we struggle to find that protection in the company of Black men, and we especially do not have that protection in the company of white men or white women, even though allyship is the latest trend/performance to dominate our culture.
And on that note, I want to make super clear that this video is about hating or ridiculing anyone, it only serves to connect the dots between Black women’s experiences with intimacy and violence, which I have research on and lived experiences with that make that a TRUTH, not a figment of my imagination or that of other Black women’s. If you genuinely want to learn something, this video is for you. Thank you for watching it, I love you. But if you want to watch this video in order to argue about how my points are untrue, and how I’m making everything about race, please do not watch this video, and even better, fuck off.
But back to my last reason for making this video, which I’ve wanted to make for a long time; I feel a responsibility to myself to speak on these experiences that I’ve kept inside for so long, to make them feel more real to myself, and I feel a responsibility to the Black women who have had similar experiences to mine and the Black women I’m going to reference, and are struggling with trusting that they’ve had these experiences because they’ve been gaslighted so much and for so long.
I want to start with Megan Thee Stallion getting shot by Tory Lanez and Megan not reporting him immediately out of concern that the very aggressive LAPD would abuse, shoot, or kill Tory. As someone who has seen and heard the way LAPD interacts with suspects, over the 3 years that I lived there, I completely understand why she wouldn’t. Just last month, I was woken up by a frightening police stop that happened right outside my apartment, so it makes complete sense why she would fear the police.
Black women are not spared mistreatment by cops or police violence, yet when we talk about police violence in the US, it’s always within the context of Black men. In her report “African-American Women, Mass Incarceration, and the Politics of Protection,” Kali Nicole Gross in The Journal of American History states, “If the issue of black female incarceration is raised, it is usually as a tangential afterthought in discussions about the carceral experiences of black men—and even then the role of intraracial gender violence is rarely discussed.”
And culturally, these practices are perpetuated in the lack of media coverage of Black women’s killing by police vs Black men’s. Obviously, the goal is to have both Black women and Black men not be killed by police or experience state violence at the levels they do, but we also have to realize that why we hear about police violence against Black women. The way Breonna Taylor’s death has been made into memes, clickbait, and profitable events sharply contrasts to how the general public reacted to Ahmaud Arbery’s death. Please understand that these are both tragedies that never should’ve happened but Breonna Taylor’s murder is currently being profited off of by people other than her family, while people have had enough respect for Arbery to not do that.
The lack of protection of Black women is clear in stories like “Marissa Alexander [who] was incarcerated for three years though sentenced to twenty years for firing a warning shot during a confrontation with her estranged, abusive husband, whom she had a restraining order against. Gross’s report notes that “whereas [George] Zimmerman successfully used the stand-your-ground defense after taking the life of the unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, Alexander was unable to invoke the same protections. No one died and no one was hurt at the hands of the battered Black woman, yet she received a twenty-year sentence.” Alexander’s story is not unique, as Black women like Catina Curley, LeToya Ramseure, Chrystul Kizer, and Cyntoia Brown, were also incarcerated for defending themselves against their abusers, pointing to a major flaw in the judicial system that still fails to see Black women as worthy of protection in general, and not even in situations wherein they’ve been abused.
And being of celebrity or affluence doesn’t shield Black women from abuse either, as we see with Meg Thee Stallion. After *months* of having one of the most streamed songs in the world that went viral on Tik Tok via the Savage challenge, there was very little media coverage on her being shot. Even on social media, the outpouring of love and support she received was overwhelmingly from Black women, even though everyone and their mothers were literally doing the Savage challenge on TikTok!
It brings me back to what happened when Chris Brown severely assaulted Rihanna. Though there was significantly more media attention than the Meg and Tory situation, Rihanna was dragged through the mud. People very openly debated, “what did she do to provoke him?” And flouted rumors that “she gave him herpes so he hit her,” or “she hit him first,” or “provoked him” in some other way. That’s how society treated the pain of a young Black women; and let me just point out that the silence has been more deafening in Megan’s case because she is not a slender, white-passing Black women like Rihanna, but we’ll break down how colorism comes into play soon. Both Rihanna and Megan’s treatment shows that no matter how high profile you are, as a Black women you’re still less likely to be heard, believed, or respected, while non-Black women who cosplay as Black women i.e. Kim and Khloe K, Kylie, YesJulz, Iggy Azealia, and all hundreds of non-Black Influencers who can’t stop blackfishing.
Yet, they get all of the support that they need. Their pain is acknowledge, their tears become other people’s tears; Black women do not receive that. And that goes for Black women around the world, not just in America.
But in America specifically, the level of sexual violence against Black women is high.” While Black people make up 14% of the US population, “40% of victims of human trafficking are Black.” Even worse, “traffickers interviewed for a study for Urban Institute overwhelming believed that trafficking white women would make them more money, but trafficking Black women would land them less jail time if caught, and traffickers are more than likely selling their victims to affluent and highly regarded Caucasian men.”
This disregard of Black women’s sexual exploitation has a long history stretching back to America’s colonies; “Virginia’s December 1662 decree (part of their Slave Laws) that the children of enslaved Africans and Englishmen would be “held bond or free according to the condition of the mother” meaning that if mom was a slave, the mixed race child would be too, if mom were free, the mixed race child would be too. Essentially, there would be no penalty for slave owners who raped Black women. Instead they could see huge profits through rape, leading to “countless rapes and instances of forced breeding.” So, “the rape of Black women was not acknowledged by early American law. Mainstream attitudes further negated their victimization with ruinous myths about Black women’s libidinous sexual proclivities.”
And that history is still with us today. research shows that “the demand for African Americans for sexual exploitation is higher than that of other races and the penalties associated with trafficking African Americans are less severe.“ For similar reasons, “missing white children receive far more media coverage than missing black and brown children, despite higher rates of missing children among communities of color.”
Even within the consensual sex, or the performance of consensual sex, the white gaze fixates on Black women. Culturally, we tend to uphold that the American South is‘more racist’ than other parts of the country, yet in 2016, Pornhub, a highly popular porn streaming site, revealed that “Ebony and Black” categories were the most viewed in states such as Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Delaware.” Yet, when it comes to serious relationships, “Black women are the only race of women who experience exclusion from both Black and non-Black men.”
I can’t begin to tell you how many experiences I’ve had that speak to this. I’ve dated many non-Black men, and the brunt of racial abuse has come from them, but I’ve found that the Black men I’ve dated have also used stereotypes against me, branding me “too independent,” and “too outspoken.” But, let’s talk about the non-Black men first. Most of my experiences have been enjoyable, but they’re also the antagonists in my really horrible memories.
My first experience that made me realize that dating would be different for me because of my Blackness came when I was 15, and had my first boyfriend. I technically wasn’t allowed to date at this point, and probably for good reason. I dated a white guy who went to another high school because the majority of the white guys I went to high school with were not interested in dating me, let alone asking me to go to a dance (unless they we were friends *that did happen once), let alone spitting on me if I were on fire. His parents found out that we were dating and they told him to break up with me because they didn’t want him to date a nigger.
The next big incident was probably my sophomore year of college. I went to London that summer to see my family but I stayed in a hotel for a week in the city center, met a Polish guy on Tinder. Initially he was sweet, just like another guy at the beginning of your contact with them, and we had a couple conversations after I had left, and I remember him saying that I am Black so he would never date me.
There was a Lebanese guy who I had a very short date with in LA earlier this year who kept trying to tell me that he’s never dated a Black woman, but instead of saying that, he would just say “I’ve never dated a ….*hand gestures*” I finally interjected and finished his sentence, and was just completely weirded out that he couldn’t even formulate the words Black woman.
There was a Mexican guy who fetishized my “Black” body [you can literally insert body part there]. When I called him on it and asked him not to do it again, initially he apologized, and then he asked me to help him understand why that was wrong, which was met with him completely invalidating my feelings. He told me that I was “making everything about race,” made a very weird comment about how he supports BLM and “everything you guys are trying to do, but found me calling him out for fetishizing, “taking things too literally,” and “to another level.” That one happened last week.
So all in all, I have 10 years of traumatic experiences in dating that have made me question if I’m lovable, what I’m doing wrong, and why society hates me and women who look like me, when we just want to be loved like anyone else wants to be.
And despite these awful experiences, I get A LOT of “…well, maybe it’s the guys you’re choosing,” from well-meaning friends (many of whom are non-black and will never experience race-related trauma in dating), and even my Black family, who sometimes miss the connection not just between racism and the treatment BW receive in intimate relationships, but the further breakdown of colorism and sizism within that too.
Do you know how many times non-Black men have wanted to play house with me, and know so much about me and my life, but never want to tell their family about dating me? Yet, no one wants to acknowledge how racism affects dating for BW?
Do you know how many times non-Black men have played house with me, and sold me all of these dreams, sometimes, even introducing me to their entire family, and promising me the heavens and the Earth, only for them to get into relationships months, or even weeks later with women who are with non-Black, or mixed, or white-passing? Yet no one wants to acknowledge how colorism affects dating for BW?
Many times, men of all races comment on how muchthey love my curves, yet I did not have the privilege of seeing women my size in mainstream media, let alone being celebrated for their curves. And I’m a US size 8/10, which is still pretty slender in the grand scheme of things. Yet, no one wants to acknowledge how fatphobia adds yet another layer to dating for BW, who are culturally generalized as fatter than non-Black women?
I don’t know how I can make the connections any more clear YET, society is constantly putting ME at fault for that. It’s “well, you’re bad at choosing men,” when realistically, there’s no way for me to learn about my dates’ biases until they show me that they have them, and honestly, it can be very subtle.
And then, I encounter the many Black men do not want to date me because I’m too Black for them, I’m not white-passing, or mixed, or white enough. Let’s talk about the cultural phenomenon that sees Black men date BW up until they ”make it.” Whether that’s obtaining celebrity, affluence, or even becoming more educated, there is a phenomenon wherein BM marry light-skinned, white-passing, or white women to signal their higher status. I am not taking issue with anyone’s marriage or dating life, I am merely acknowledging the existence of a cultural phenomenon.
In Gold Digger by Kanye West and Jamie Foxx, West says “when he get on he’ll leave your ass for a white girl,” and then…he did.
In Kanye’s case, this phenomenon feels even more icky than usual because he’s currently married to a non-Black woman who regularly cosplays as a BW and has profited off of her appropriation of Black culture for YEARS at this point. Do NOT come into my comments saying “she’s half-Armenian,” because yes, that makes her a white woman. Spare me.
Again, this is not just some wild coincidence, as Research conducted by Sarah Adeyinka-Skold, adoctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that stereotypes of Black women as ‘emasculating, angry, too strong, or too independent’ are *rampant,* so much so, that “both Black and non-Black men use the stereotypes or tropes that are popular in our society to justify why they don’t date Black women.”
Historically, these include the Sapphire stereotype, characterizing Black women as strong, masculine workhorses who labored with Black men in the fields whose aggressive and overbearing demeanor drives away her children and partners. The Jezebel stereotype of Black women as hyper-sexual in contrast to the “demure Victorian lady,” was also used to justify white slave owners raping their slaves, and breeding them with other slaves (which we already discussed re Virginia’s Slave Laws.) Then, there’s the Mammy archetype of a Black women completely dedicated to caring for a white family, especially the children, and though the Mammy is ultra-feminine instead of hyper-sexual, she is still undesirable by white and Black men because she’s typically overweight.
These caricatures are global, as Brooke Newman, associate professor of history and interim director of the Humanities Research Center at Virginia Commonwealth University argues in her piece, “The long history behind the racist attacks on Serena Williams,” published The Washington Post: “In late 18th- and early 19th century London, visual artists such as Isaac Cruikshank, James Gillray, Richard Newton and Thomas Rowlandson focused public attention on the unsuitability of women of African ancestry, not only as sexual partners for British men but also as free and equal imperial subjects. Caricaturists depicted African-descended women as simultaneously comical and frighteningly brutish, with jet-black skin, voluptuous bodies, thick lips and insatiable appetites. Black women, cartoonists suggested, posed a danger to the nation unless subject to white male control.”
Similarly, “The Golliwog doll originated in an 1895 children’s book by Anglo-American illustrator Florence Kate Upton called “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a ‘Golliwogg.’ ” Inspired by caricatures of black-faced minstrel performers, the Golliwog had coal-black skin, unruly hair, large lips and leering white eyes and teeth. The Golliwog became associated with a number of now-defunct 20th century consumer products, from English marmalade to Australian chocolate biscuits.”
This isn’t to say that Black men still grapple with stereotypes that are perpetuated in media and society as well; the ‘Mandingo stereotype,’ is perhaps the most prevalent and depicts Black men as is having a huge penis. Now think about how many times you’ve heard or believed that one off rip. Another stereotype still at play for Black men is Uncle Tom, a Black man who is “perhaps simple-minded and compliant but most essentially interested in the welfare of white people over that of other Black people.”
Stereotype attribution happens most to dark-skinned Black women, as well as Black men, but of course, it is especially harmful towards dark skinned Black women. We see this in the public reception of The Williams Sisters (esp while they were children), but while Venus, who is more slender, received less scrutiny, her sister Serena, who is more muscular and curvy, has had to endure abuse that is even more racist and sexist than what she did. Serena has been called too manly, and too aggressive, even within the context of her love life, and even by Black men. And then after years of Black men degrading her, they had the freaking nerve to say that she turned her back on them by marrying a white man, who, mind you, loves her and celebrates out loud, unlike any of her previous Black partners. The attacks she has endured show that the hyper-masculinization of Black women takes place mostly with dark-skinned Black women who are not what society would consider ‘skinny.’
In sharp contrast, light-skinned Black women are coveted and protected at all costs due to their proximity to whiteness. This is a huge shift from the 20th century stereotype of the Tragic Mulatta, a white-passing Black women often showed as “mean, unsympathetic, sexually-attractive,” and determined to marry any unsuspecting, well-to-do white man; however, this stereotype gets a lot of play.
Let me make the connection between these stereotypes and Black women’s lives experiences even more clear with some research. In 2010, The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology conducted a study to see how well people remembered Black women’s faces. They showed White participants a series of photos depicting men and women who were White or Black. Results suggest that Black women are more likely than Black men or White men and women to go unnoticed by others in a group or social situation.
They examined whether Black women were also more likely to go unheard when contributing to a group conversation. In this study, participants overheard a conversation between eight people, including two Black women, two Black men, two White women, and two White men.
They found that participants were more likely to mix up comments made by the two Black female speakers, suggesting that they perceived the two Black women as relatively interchangeable
Participants were also more likely to misattribute the Black female speakers’ comments to the other speakers in the group
Compared to Black men, White men and White women, comments made by Black women are more likely to go unheard when made to a largely White audience.
I found this study so interesting that a couple years ago I decided to experiment on my own. I did a lot of walking in the cities I’ve lived in so I started to see what would happen if I always continued straight ahead no matter who was in my path. And it revealed to me 1) that I’ve been subconsciously taught to get out the way, and 2) non-Black people have been subconsciously taught to not get out of my way; I’ve experienced people walking into me on a few occasions but, like unlearning apologizing excessively, it’s something I’ve continued doing to this day.
So let’s bring this all super full circle because now this idea of “allyship” has really taken hold, especially among White women. There’s a long history of Black women being the afterthought when it comes to rewarding basic human rights, and suffrage. The, all-white, National American Women’s Suffrage Association was at the forefront of the Suffrage movement, and they avidly silenced and ostracized Black women, simply for wanting to be part of their movement. Black women, led by absolute legends Ida B Wells and Lucy Parsons, had to create their own spaces, without support from prominent white women like the ultra-racist Susan B Anthony, even though they were fighting for the same damn cause. Black women also advocated for themselves, again, without the support of prominent Black men, while finding support mostly in their Black male partners, brothers, and fathers, or “the everyday Black men.” Angela Davis’ Women, Race, and Class lays this out plain as day and with a landmine of sources.
So, overall ,”This lie or myth that it’s all about you, the individual, and your agency, simply isn’t true. Structures matter. The ways that governments make laws to marginalize or give power matters for people’s life chances. It matters for their outcomes. It matters for love.” Sarah Adeyinka-Skold concludes, and I concur.
So many of my experiences and the experiences could’ve easily perpetuated the self-hate that Black women are taught at every level of society–in media, education, politics, medicine, and even within their own communities. But, instead, for me, awareness has only made me love myself more, and made me give even more of my time and support to Black women. And because of that, I’m also big on calling out when Black women model misogynoir through their opinions and actions, which only perpetuates the harm that we face as a group. As the great Monique, who is one of my faves who deserves all her flowers, would say, “[Black women] I love us. For real.” I’ll keep fighting for us. Even if it makes me unlikable or less desirable, I’m proud of my Blackness, I love my Blackness, and I love yours too.