"Strong" Black Woman

"Strong" Black Woman

The political dangers of "positive” black, female stereotypes.
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In her 2011 book Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris-Perry builds upon Patricia Hill-Collins’ concept of “controlling images” of Black women. Melissa Harris-Perry asserts that these negative stereotypes influence both Black women’s conception of self as well as they ways in which Black women are perceived and portrayed in mainstream media and society. Harris-Perry focuses predominantly on the “mammy”, “jezebel”, and “matriarch” stereotypes, drawing from each of them to explore the contemporary archetype of the “Strong Black Woman” or “Superwoman”. Upon first examination, the trope of the Strong Black Woman may seem like a harmless, even positive stereotype. Harris-Perry argues that, while useful for every day acts of resistance and survival, this stereotype can also serve to reinforce the racialized, gendered oppression that Black women face.

After outlining the “accommodation” versus “resistance” dichotomy that recently emerged in scholarship surrounding the role of bondspeople in North American slavery, Stephanie Camp creates spaces for the reconciliation of those two arguments – “…the contradictory and paradoxical qualities in bondspeoples’ lives: …both agents and subjects, persons and property, and people who resisted and who accommodated – sometimes in one and the same act” (Camp 2004: 1). This framework can be applied to Melissa Harris-Perry’s study of the nature of the “Strong Black Woman” archetype. Camp and Harris-Perry’s works are particularly valuable when examining the sociohistorical role of the arts Black women’s lives. Likewise, these works are also crucial in the examination of the nature of political activism in Black women’s lives.

Melissa Harris-Perry loosely defines the “Strong Black Woman” as “…a racial and political construct emanating ... from the needs of the nation that frame black women in very narrow ways" (Harris-Perry 2011: 21). More specifically, the notion of Black women’s strength has served as justification for the enslavement, exploitation, and neglect of Black women during and after slavery. For example, J. Marion Sims – the “Father of Gynecology” – cited Black women’s superior, inherent strength as a justification for the grotesque and dehumanizing use of Black bondswomen in his foundational gynecological research of fistulas (Kapsalis 2002).

As Melissa Harris-Perry suggests, the internalization of the Strong Black Woman stereotype has had disastrous results in the political sphere in that it often causes Black women to work against their own interests and, as a result, reinforce the structures and hierarchies which oppress them – “I am concerned that in their efforts to evade the Sapphire stereotype, black women may be discouraged from demanding equal consideration of their specific political needs within black political discourses” (Harris-Perry 2011: 95).

This is clear in Evelyn Brooks-Higginbotham’s research in which she discusses the emergence, outcome, and implications of Respectability Politics for Black women. Brooks-Higginbotham explicitly states that Respectability Politics, a term given to the dominant social and political ideology of Black women during the Nadir: “The women’s movement in the black Baptist church reflected and reinforced the hegemonic values of white America” (Brooks-Higginbotham 1993: 187). While this ideology was advantageous for Black women in that it gave them an opportunity for self-definition, it was also incredibly harmful in that it used this notion of Black women’s strength to blame Black women, especially mothers, for the downfall of the race: “It’s a mother’s duty to try and give her children wholesome food and an attractive home...Many a young man has left home because it was minus of attractions that his intelligence called for” (Brooks Higginbotham 1993: 202). Furthermore, as reflected in this excerpt the internalization of the notion of the Strong Black Woman has caused Black women to focus solely on political activism as it applies to “uplifting” Black men. This is a clear reflection of Melissa Harris-Perry’s analysis of the use of the Strong Black Woman trope in politics: "…even when we know that suffering is undeserved, it is psychologically easier to blame the victim rather than give up the idea that the world is basically fair" (Harris-Perry 2011: 188).

In her article for Bitch Magazine, Tasha Fierce draws parallels between this phenomenon in Black women’s political activism during the Nadir and the contemporary #BlackLivesMatter movement:

This history still influences the dynamics of Black women’s interactions with the current movement against police brutality…Black women are disproportionately targeted by police and face the threat of not only being shot, but of being sexually assaulted… They can continue the state-sponsored terrorization of Black women through physical and sexual assault, and they know it” (Fierce 2015).

Although the #BlackLivesMatter movement was initiated by three Black women – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi – the movement was started after the murder of Trayvon Martin and has remained male-oriented, as Fierce explains in her examination of Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele’s essay in which Eromosele asserts that she, as a Black woman, is privileged in that her femininity shields her from police brutality. Black women have been subjected to police violence since the creation of the police force, so these women’s choice to mobilize around the death of this young Black man may be telling of the ways in which the internalization of the Strong Black female stereotype has caused Black women to ignore their own oppression to fight for the rights of Black men.

Although both statistics and personal narratives construct a very different story, Eromosele’s article epitomizes the negative effects of the internalization of the Strong Black Woman stereotype. The focus of Black women’s activism on Black men has caused Eromosele to “misrecognize” herself and, in turn, work against her own political interest to reinforce the racialized, gender-hierarchy which values Black men over Black women.

Cover Image Credit: Everyday Feminism

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37 Things Growing Up in the South Taught You

Where the tea is sweet, but the people are sweeter.
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1. The art of small talking.
2. The importance of calling your momma.
3. The beauty of sweet tea.
4. How to use the term “ma'am” or “sir” (that is, use it as much as possible).
5. Real flowers are way better than fake flowers.
6. Sometimes you only have two seasons instead of four.
7. Fried chicken is the best kind of chicken.
8. When it comes to food, always go for seconds.
9. It is better to overdress for Church than underdress.
10. Word travels fast.
11. Lake days are better than beach days.
12. Handwritten letters never go out of style.
13. If a man doesn’t open the door for you on the first date, dump him.
14. If a man won’t meet your family after four dates, dump him.
15. If your family doesn’t like your boyfriend, dump him.
16. Your occupation doesn’t matter as long as you're happy.
17. But you should always make sure you can support your family.
18. Rocking chairs are by far the best kind of chairs.
19. Cracker Barrel is more than a restaurant, it's a lifestyle.
20. Just 'cause you are from Florida and it is in the south does not make you Southern.
21. High School football is a big deal.
22. If you have a hair dresser for more than three years, never change. Trust her and only her.
23. The kids in your Sunday school class in third grade are also in your graduating class.
24. Makeup doesn’t work in the summer.
25. Laying out is a hobby.
26. Moms get more into high school drama than high schoolers.
27. Sororities are a family affair.
28. You never know how many adults you know 'til its time to get recommendation letters for rush.
29. SEC is the best, no question.
30. You can't go wrong buying a girl Kendra Scotts.
31. People will refer to you by your last name.
32. Biscuits and gravy are bae.
33. Sadie Robertson is a role model.
34. If it is game day you should be dressed nice.
35. If you pass by a child's lemonade stand you better buy lemonade from her. You're supporting capitalism.
36. You are never too old to go home for just a weekend… or just a meal.
37. You can’t imagine living anywhere but the South.

Cover Image Credit: Grace Valentine

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The Truth About the Illusion of Perfection

No one's life is perfect, because we aren't perfect people.

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When I was younger, I was a huge perfectionist. I strived to make perfect scores on tests and quizzes, to get along with absolutely everyone, and to be the best horseback rider I could be. I wanted the *best* and would not settle for anything less. And if I did not meet these extravagant goals of mine, I would beat myself up over it. In my head, anything less than perfect had meant that I failed.

As I got older though, I realized that perfection is not as attainable as I once thought. In elementary school and early in middle school, I thought perfection was attainable, which is why I brutally beat myself up over not reaching it. Many years went by before I came to terms with the truth that perfection is unattainable. As humans, we are not meant to live "perfect" lives, because we aren't perfect people.

In all honesty, I still occasionally struggle with the lust for perfection. I've more recently come to terms with the fact that I used to be content in settling for the mere appearance of perfection. I settled for believing that if everyone else thought I was thriving, then I could be content with that, even if internally I struggled to keep up with all the commitments I drowned myself in.

In the past year, I learned that not only is perfection in itself unattainable, but also that the illusion of perfection, like the one I tried to manifest of my own life to others, is just as unreal. Technology has allowed the world to be connected more than it has ever been before, which therefore allows us to see more of other people's lives. And I love it. Social media definitely has it's harped upon cons, but if used beneficially, it can be fun. I love keeping up with my friends at other colleges and my distant family members.

But of course, no one is sharing all their life's imperfections. Social media is a continuous stream of amazing moments. People are sharing their favorite experiences and pictures with the world. Yet as normal living people, we all have imperfect moments. Perfection is an illusion. No one has it all together, and that is perfectly fine.

A bunch of freedom comes with being content in imperfection. At least for me, it felt like a weight was taken off of my shoulders. If we stop expecting perfection out of ourselves, we will be a whole lot happier. And if we stop believing in the portrayed illusion of perfection in other people's lives, we will be a whole lot happier, too.

My closest friendships this past year formed from sharing some of my imperfectness with others. Life has a pattern to it, and all of the things you may be going through have been encountered before in someone else's life. I have learned that many of us struggle with very similar circumstances, and it's nice to know that you aren't alone.

For example, I did not enjoy my first semester of college. I went through a bunch of life changes, and for a hot second, I felt like no one truly understood what I was feeling. Drifting from familiar people and a familiar routine took a toll on me. I thought that keeping up an illusion of perfection was the only way to cope, as everyone else seemed to be living their best life.

I saw so many fun pictures of my friends on Instagram and Snapchat and compared my situation to theirs. A part of me didn't believe I would ever be joyful in college. But one night I was very tired and stressed and opened up to someone who is now one of my closest friends. After telling her what I was thinking about college and life, she was so excited to tell me that she was struggling with the exact same thing. And we instantly bonded over a shared imperfect circumstance.

No one is perfect, which is such a cliché to say, but it's so true. What we see and what we hear is not always the full story. People are imperfect, and no one has their life completely together. Life is complex, and it's always changing, so there's no need to fall for the illusion of someone else's perfect life, or trying to create the illusion of perfection of your own.

There is a whole bunch of happiness in imperfection, messing up, and growth. Because if you aren't growing, you are staying the same.

Cover Image Credit:

https://imgur.com/gallery/iBYXEKY

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