Whenever an issue within the black community arises there are always people who want to say “don’t make it about race” or “this has nothing to do with race” when the truth is it has everything to do with race. I feel strongly about the way black women are represented on tv and in the mass media because anyone I meet for the first time tells me that I’m different as if I’ve just won a prize. Different as in -not like the way other black girls act- which is super weird to me because I know so many black girls who are similar to me, be it looks, demeanour or ambition level. I learned a long time ago that what these people really meant was that I didn’t fit the stereotype of a black girl. This would usually be followed with the backhanded compliment “you’re pretty for a dark skinned girl”, “I would date you even though you’re black” or “other black girls have so much attitude”. When I was younger I would quietly process what they had said, and the insults they had added to what could have been a compliment did nothing for my self esteem. As a woman, now I simply call them out on their ignorance.
A lot of people don’t know that we have been programmed to see black women as stereotypes, the “Jezebel” fair skinned and sexually enticing to all, the ” bitch” usually darker skinned with an attitude but good enough for sexual pleasure, “mammy”
the unattractive asexual docile care giver and “sapphire”, also unattractive, loud, bossy, sassy and constantly emasculates men. “Jezebel”, “Mammy” and the “bitch” are almost 200 years old, “Sapphire” has been around for 60 years and now there are two new stereotypes that we must contend with “the black bitch”(different from the bitch because she is not desirable but is all attitude” and “the educated black bitch” who is similar to “the black bitch” but is all about her career and money (think the independent black woman who doesn’t need a man). What is scary is that these stereotypes show up everyday from Beyonce to Oprah to Wendy Williams, we see them on Real Housewives of Atlanta and on Maury as well. Our “reality tv” gives these stereotypes life, but that’s not how black women really are.
I was lucky enough to go to elementary and high school where I didn’t have to prove I was not a stereotype thanks to my 3 older siblings that dispelled that for me. In college and in university often times teachers or even t.a wouldn’t be patient or helpful until my first set of marks came in and then they saw me as a “real student”, and at work my work-ethic speaks for itself. The one place I am constantly battling a stereotype is in my dating life. Some men can’t see past the skin colour and everything else is perfect but having to explain your partner’s skin colour proves a little too much for them especially considering how dark I am (it was their loss anyways!). Other men are able to combat their personal issues with skin-tone, and more likely it has been men of European backgrounds who have seen me as beautiful even if I’m not lighter-skinned. I would say that the hardest part for me is knowing that in the back of my mind if I was lighter, then I would be deemed worthy of love (any one who thinks like this is unworthy of my love, but you would not believe how many times I have been told this). How I’ve come out of relationshits (yeah that’s a word now) feeling is that these men think I’m desirable enough to be intimate with, but not good enough to “be with”. These men cannot deal with having their girlfriend be a very dark-skinned black woman.
I love my skin colour, I even tan in the summer to make sure I’m evenly dark, but to know that this deep seeded construct of dark-skinned black women as unattractive, undesirable and morally corrupt still stands is very hard to live with especially when I see these stereotypes mass produced in the media. I know I’m not the only black woman who has had to dqeal with this, my hope is that the generation after does not have to deal with it in the same way. If talking about it helps one person I’m content with that and I’ll continue to share how I deal with life and love on this blog.
Source: Collins, P. H. (2002). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Routledge.