I have become increasingly disturbed by an ongoing pattern of wanton, arrogant and in some cases, downright hostile behavior that has been directed toward Black women. Yes, I am male but I am also a feminist and strongly support the belief that our female sisters deserve as much dignity as we do. Having the XY chromosome does not allow anyone the right to “act the fool” toward or oppress those with a XX chromosome.
One example of the continuing devaluation and marginalization of Black women was a post on the notorious website “DickFlash.com.” Yes, there is a website with this name. In fact, up until a few weeks ago, I was unaware that such an appalling website even existed. The forum (if you can call it that) is a place where obviously sexist, misogynistic men of all races can discuss ideas on how to most effectively expose their penises to women without getting caught. As if this wasn’t perverted enough, the website further encouraged its followers and members to make a special effort to target Black women and other women of color! Upon hearing this, my reaction was like “what the hell?”
I cannot imagine any such site geared toward women advocating that their members go out and target Black men (or men of any race) for sexual harassment. Why do these men think that is acceptable to engage in such callous behavior toward Black women? Much of this attitude has to do with past history. I think of books such as Harriet Jacobs’ 19th century American classic Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl, Ann Moody’s gripping, horrifying and at times, heartbreaking novel Coming of Age in Mississippi published in 1968, and the just recently Danielle McGuire’s powerfully written and well documented At The Dark End of The Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance – A New History Of The Civil Rights Movement From Rosa Parks to Black Power just published last year. These fascinating and at times, harrowing accounts demonstrated that White males realized that they have been allowed a free license to objectify, terrorize, sexually violate and demonize Black women with impunity. In fact, I attended a conference a few years ago where one older, grayed haired White male participant remarked that in the town in the Deep South where he grew up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, that it was not uncommon for men (White men in particular), to sexually violate Black women. In fact, it was common practice for many White men, (especially in the upper classes), to arrange for their sons to have a sexual encounter with a Black female when they turned 17 or 18. This was due to the assumption that Black women “were good teachers” who would train them well enough to be able to adequately sexually satisfy their future White, upper class, southern belle wives.
Speaking of the deep south, a few years ago, at the University of Georgia, Chi Phi fraternity pledges ( a predominately White fraternity), distributed images of naked Black women to passers by during their pledging season. The fact that guys this young had no apprehension engaging in such brash behavior, demonstrated that the current climate allowed such callous, sexist attitudes toward Black women to flourish. Although the fraternity received a stern rebuke from the university administration and were put on probation, the damage had been done. Such behavior has long and deep roots in America.
Public disregard and disrespect for Black women is rampant. Over the past several years, the media has seemed all too eager to exploit the antics of Naomi Campbell, Omarosa Maginault Stallworth, the infamous Black woman on the first season of Donald Trump’s carnival like program “The Apprentice,” former Stripper Ne-Ne Lekes and some other Black women who have engaged in less than admirable behavior. While Americans had the opportunity to see Oprah Winfrey and a few other positive representations of Black womanhood, they are often limited or obscured in favor of more controversial, wanton images. This is a sad commentary on our culture.
Even current first lady Michelle Obama has been the target of vicious and hostile attacks from certain segments of the media and society at large. To her detractors she is seen as arrogant, aloof, unpatriotic, racially bigoted and anti-American. That’s just for starters. Other odious terms such as “ angry Black woman” “jezebel” “Black Lady Macbeth,” “ms.Grievance” “Black bitch” “uppity” (a term historically used by racially bigoted Southern Whites in referring to Blacks whom they felt did not know their place) and other derogatory and disrespectful labels have been ascribed to her. Some even attacked her physical appearance comparing her to “gorillas” and other animals. In fact, on some blogs, the language used to describe her (and President Obama for that matter) became so inflammatory and intolerant that some website moderators had to shut down their websites for a few days to reissue stricter guidelines to bloggers. I can’t even repeat some of the more incendiary rhetoric here. Indeed, things have gone mad.
There are those who will argue that society treats women poorly regardless of race. This is true to some extent. However, for women of color and Black women in particular, the problem is far more acute. For every Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Courtney Love, Amy Winehouse (rest her soul) etc… there is a Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Resse Witherspoon, Katie Couric, Cate Blanchett etc… to counterbalance the negative images of White females. This is not the case for Black women. Oprah Winfrey’s and Claire Huxtables (the Cosby Show) are few and far between.
To be sure there are some Black male entertainers like Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence who have contributed to this problem by portraying Black women as obese, loud mouthed, unkempt, socially awkward human beings devoid of any common sense and unworthy of even the smallest amount of sympathy from the larger society. This is problematic. However, Black women who are in positions to showcase positive, upstanding images of themselves must make an effort to reject the “bad girl, oversexed, always combative and defensive, booty shaking” image and script that they are encouraged to embrace by certain segments of society. And yes, the media must be taken to task for their complicity as well. The effects of such demeaning and disrespectful behavior toward Black women in our society sends a significant and disturbing message and are detrimental to our society at large. Black women should be represented as sexually normal as any other group of human beings. They should not be portrayed as abnormal, freakish creatures who are hopelessly dysfunctional.
Men of all races must confront the sexist, racial and cultural stereotypes that have been indoctrinated in them from the time they were fresh out of diapers. Women, especially Black women, must begin to make it clear that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! and to declare (to paraphrase the character Howard Beal played by the late actor Peter Finch in the 1976 movie Network “We are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore!” Society, at large must reexamine its negative pre-conceived notions of Black women. Needless to say, the media must do its part in helping to dispel dangerously pernicious myths associated with Black women.
It is a responsible goal that must be undertaken. Such a conscientious task may not be easy to accomplish. After all, old habits are hard to break. Moreover, publically oppressing and humiliating Black women has been very lucrative for media profiteers. Nonetheless, it is a necessary and mandatory step to take. Denigrating and disrespecting Black women is not acceptable.