As a black woman and especially as an adult I’ve been learning to differentiate between the negative messages I receive.
Some of them are because I’m a woman and some of them are because I’m black. While these are two separate things about me I’ve learned that the intersection of both exposes me to a whole new category of negative messages.
It’s been frustrating to feel scrutinized.
Keeping in mind that even with similarities, every black woman is different in her experiences. In my opinion, a lot of the negative rhetoric that surrounds the portrayal of black women is mostly a North American and most likely a diasporic experience. Although I’ve visited other countries and have friends from other cultures I’ve been in Canada all of my life. My observations are based on American culture that heavily influences my Canadian experience. So let’s start looking at some of these mixed messages.
There’s nothing wrong with having an education or career. These days more black women are enrolling in college and university or starting businesses. This is in contrast to the uneducated welfare mother image that seems to be perpetuated.
During slavery, black people were not allowed to have an education at all. Reading and writing was a crime although some slaves did learn how to read in secret. Also, prevention from voting and having minimal rights as a woman historically meant that they made slow progress into professional fields that had characteristically been dominated by men.
Now, as women are making strides forward it seems like this is seen as a bad thing. I don’t understand why words like independence are used almost like swear words when describing black women. Being independent is what we raise children to be it’s a part of the adult experience and growing in life. So why is this portrayed as a negative? How many movies have you seen where a woman is seemingly successful but miserable and alone? This is one of the mixed messages I’m often faced with. Women are told to aim for success and then when they get there they are told they did something wrong.
It seems If a black woman is an educated career woman then for some it’s a problem, not an asset. I’ve seen it and heard it many times. It’s a problematic storyline and it needs to stop being used in black movies. It’s harmful. If a woman is single and successful it’s seen as though she sacrificed family for her career or that there is something masculine about her that drives men away rather than the possibility that she didn’t find the right one or she was not pursued. It must be because she is too picky or she scared the men away with her success. Single women with careers are built up as too intimidating for the average man. In contrast, If a woman is married, has children, and a career she is seen as a super mom. If we are going to use logic here we can assume that the “mother” learned a lot of her skills of balancing while she was a single woman. So it doesn’t have to be either-or. It also doesn’t have to be a negative if she is single by choice. There is no rule that women must get married and have children in order to be happy in life. We need to stop treating women like something is wrong with them if they have not done those two things.
When men are single and successful it’s hardly ever questioned that maybe they did something wrong or decided to give up having a family for their career. Being independent and successful is not usually seen as a negative in men and it should never be seen that way for women.
I believe successful women might also be seen as a negative in particular cultures that don’t value women who have a mind of their own. The negative portrayal makes sense among cultures where women are taught being subservient is their primary function. But why does the criticism of being independent seem to fall on black women when there are many other cultures of women that also display the same types of success and independence? I will speak to this again when I reach the conclusion of the series.
So a mixed message that I’ve witnessed is the negativity directed at a black woman who is being portrayed as loud or ignorant but on the other hand if she’s worked hard to become educated that’s seen as a problem. Somehow now, she is looking down on those around her or wielding her independence as a weapon. Black women are punished socially in some circles for being successful.
For whatever reason, no matter the circumstance, if a black woman decides to use her independence to provide and take care of herself and or her family for the rest of her life this is still positive. She should be praised for taking control of her life and pushing for the best no matter what. Taking ownership of your life should never be seen as bad.
Terms like “masculine energy” and other derogatory terms remind me of how people called slaves who tried to make something of themselves after slavery “uppity” They were seen as a problem because they refused to “know their place” of subservience. We need to be aware of these blatant and subtle ways that are used to control how we as black women see ourselves. Next week I’ll share another aspect of mixed messages that I’ve come across.