"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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12 Things You Pronounce Weird If You're From NJ

Our accents are just as big as our egos... and our hair.
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All of my life, I never thought I had a Jersey accent until I went away to school in Pennsylvania. My Pennsylvanian friends have a field day when they hear the “weird” ways I pronounce certain words. I am constantly the butt of all the jokes and have been asked way too many times to pronounce certain words for others so they can hear how “weird” I speak, but if you’re from Jersey then you know what I mean when I say these things.

NOTE: The words in parenthesis are the way we say it. Which is also the correct and best way to say them.

1. Water (wader)

Okay, so maybe I say water a little differently than others, but this is the way my family has said it for generations. This one is sort of a dead give away. When I’m on vacation and ask for “water” people will always know where I’m from.

2. Drawer (Draw)

I’ve gotten into many screaming matches with people about this. It is a "draw"! This causes many fights between me and my roommate, but I know for sure I’m not the only New Jersian who pronounces it like this.

3. Coffee (Cawfee)

I can’t even explain this without getting angry. It is most certainly not pronounced “Cahfee.” I will fight to my death that coffee should just be spelled the way it’s pronounced which adds a nice “aw” sound instead of that harsh, awkward “ah” sound.

4. Pork Roll (Correct term: Taylor Ham)

Considering most people on campus here call Taylor Ham “pork roll” I am always outnumbered, but don’t think I won’t go to war on this. It is absolutely called Taylor Ham! No, it’s not just the brand. What is a “pork roll”? I assume if you call it pork roll you’re from South Jersey or Philly and I can also guess you don’t even know what real Taylor Ham tastes like. I’m sorry I’m getting way too heated typing this…

5. Dog (Dawg)

OK, I just don’t even know any other way to say dog without adding the typical “aw” sound to it. Is there any other way? I’m pretty sure us New Jersians are not wrong about this one.

6. Talk (Tawk)

This one speaks for itself (pun intended).

7. City (Ciddy)

First of all, when I reference the “city” I am always 100% talking about New York City. Never ever am I talking about Philly. Never. Maybe us Jersians confuse the letters “T” and “D” but you can definitely distinguish my New Jersey background anytime I say “city”.

8. You (Yew)

This term most usually follows a common curse word us New Jersians say frequently. Expect this phrase when you’re driving on the parkway in the summer trying to maneuver your way through the boatloads of shore traffic.

9. Sandwich (Sub)

It pains me when I hear someone go up to a counter and ask for a hoagie. It sends shivers down my spine and makes me question my existence. It’s a sub-short for submarine sandwich-where does the term hoagie even come from?

10. All (Awl)

My roommate truly enjoys making fun of me for this one. Commonly used in the phrase “awl of a sudden”. This is great for story-telling and helps create a dramatic mood.

11. Chocolate (Chawcolate)

The only thing I can say is it sounds a lot better than saying “chakolate.”

12. Jersey (Jerzee)

Please, please, please, and I seriously mean please, do not ever, under any sort of circumstance come up to me and say “Joisey.” I think I would rather have someone call Taylor Ham a “Pork Roll” and insult my favorite pizzeria than ever say that word. I can assure you that no one, and I mean not one person who is from Jersy says “Joisey.” I do however add a nice hard Z to my pronunciation. Sometimes we call it “Dirty Jerz” too.

But no matter what I call it: Jersey, New Jersey, The Garden State or whatever other amazing nicknames there are, my favorite thing to call New Jersey is home.

Cover Image Credit: lostinsuburbiablog / WordPress

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Just Because I Like Girls, Doesn't Mean I Like You

Lesbians do not sexualize every girl that walks the Earth.

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Freshman year of high school, I came out as a lesbian. I did not get hate from anyone which is very surprising considering the conservative yee-haw town that I live in. The things that I did notice was the locker room situation. It felt like none of my friends wanted to get changed in front of me. It made me feel bad because I really did not look at them in that way. Like at all. No offense to any of my friends from high school who are reading this, but you guys are not my type. And I told you guys that but you still didn't really want to have a locker near mine. Senior year, I took weight lifting. Of course, I had friends in the class but I was so used to choosing a locker away from my friends because I didn't want them to think I was looking at them.

I have noticed that when the stereotypical locker room lesbian is spoken about it seems very perverted. I have been asked if I "go in the bathroom to masturbate" after I changed in the locker room with all those girls. The answer is NO. Who does that? I feel like I can speak about this on behalf of a good percentage of the LGBTQ+ community. We aren't middle schoolers. We know how to act around other people.

Now that I am in college, I feel like the tables have turned. I can go into a locker room with a bunch of people that barely know me and they don't have a problem with getting dressed in the same locker room as me.

My girlfriend, who attends James Madison University, has problems with her hallmates using the same restroom as her. Her roommate avoids being in the room at the same time as her just because she is gay. They all avoid going to shower at the same time as her because that is just how society is these days.

To all girls who believe that every lesbian is looking at them in a sexual way, don't flatter yourself.

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