Plight of black women


Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.

In the media, black women are accorded with very little individuality, agency and equality. Stereotypes such as the mammy, the matriarch, the sexual siren and the welfare queen pervade the news, sitcoms, reality TV shows, films, cartoons, and even advertisement.

Given the nature of the community — the black community — within which the black woman operates, these issues are rarely addressed in progressive settings. The plight of the black woman has been subsumed by the overwhelming difficulties that the community faces as a whole.

Transformed into an object to which meanings, definitions and ill-conceived notions are ascribed, she is the super woman or the independent black woman “who don’t need no man,” a saying that is often used to debase the achievements of successful black women.

This mocking phrase implies that to be without a male partner and comfortable in such a state is a thing to be shamed and ostracized. As a result, the woman of color who chooses to pursue a career or a life’s way that is outside of the traditional space women historically occupied is shunned in society. Women who do not fit the super woman stereotype, who choose to seek more traditional roles in life, are also mocked.

These black women are the desperate black women. They are portrayed in various forms of the media as damaged women who would do just about anything to acquire a husband. There are also the sirens, the sapphires, the mammies and the jezebels.

These labels touch upon just about every category of socially constructed femaleness: the black woman who wants to be married and also the woman who chooses not to wed; the outrageous and mean black woman and the overly matronly black woman.

There are promiscuous black women and shrewd black women or “stuck-up” black women. There is hardly room for individuality. Society has created a reality that is all but impossible to be inhabited by black women. The realities shape the stereotypes and the stereotypes shape the realities.

Invariably, these stereotypes are translated into actualities and the real-time lives of citizens. This is seen in the overwhelming number of black women who are facing poverty (at a higher rate than among black men and other members of society) and the assumed trope of the welfare queen.

The unique experiences of black women in the workplace and in social settings — due in part to perceptions of black women and black womanhood — are not adequately dealt with. Their bodies have become commoditized canvases for insults and mockery.

If a black woman is faced with sexism at work or experiences uncomfortable stares or is touched by a stranger in a public setting, these acts are not taken as serious offenses. They are seen as normal acceptable occurrences that the woman is supposed to “deal” with.

If a black woman finds herself in an abusive relationship, she may be less likely to remove herself from the situation, harkening back to the defective black woman who can’t keep a partner.

Given the current high incarceration rate of black men, the AIDS epidemic, poverty, and illness pervading and persecuting the black community as a whole, issues of gender and sex are not placed at the top of political agendas.

However, black women are people, too, and are deserving of the same respect and call for equality all people are owed. There are issues unique to the black female experience that must be examined, discussed and resolved.

Tahiri Jean-Baptiste is majoring in English and anthropology at the University of Florida. She also is vice president of Alpha Rho Chi Fraternity Inc., a student ambassador at the UF Institute of Black Culture and a peer mentor.

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