On Saturday, March 7th, President Barack Obama and his family attended the 50th year of “Bloody Sunday” ceremony in Selma, Ala. The next day, a photo circulated of the President and First Lady Michelle Obama holding hands sitting on stage. However, because of the camera angle, viewers could see up the first lady’s dress. I thought, would a photo like this be published of any other first lady? Probably not.
Elise Johnson McDougald in The Double Task – The Struggle of Negro Women for Sex and Race Emancipation wrote concerning others views regarding the African-American female, “She is most often used to provoke the mirthless laugh of ridicule; or to portray feminine viciousness or vulgarity not peculiar to Negroes. This is the shadow over her.” Although McDougald was a writer during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, in some regards the African-American female is still depicted negatively today in songs, videos and television shows.
America has graduated from the degrading, stereotypical female images of Aunt Jemima, Jezebel and Mammy that were popular during the Jim Crow era but now they are dressed in a negative fashion that is accepted as the norm. In secular music, African-American females being called the “b” word, that is defined as a “female dog,” and some have embraced the word as a term of endearment. African-American females dance provocatively in outfits that leave nothing to the imagination to appear sexy in music videos. Although we are progressing in some areas, but in actuality, we are perpetrating the same feminine viciousness or vulgarity that people outside our race supported during the Jim Crow era and before.
Back then, the African-American female caricature, Sapphire, was portrayed as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing; and this how the angry Black Woman was popularized in the cinema and on television (http://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/sapphire/). Today, Hollywood produces television shows in which African-American females consistently display outlandish behavior such as fighting and regular cursing matches, which further plays into that negative image.
It appears that if we are made to look successful, some people will not feel threatened by the negative depictions of the African-American female. For example, on one popular show, the African-American female lead is portrayed as a beautiful, successful woman who either can’t find a man or would rather have a life-long adulterous affair with a married man instead of marrying a senator and potentially live happily ever after. Her character is the black female caricature Jezebel who was seductive, alluring, and highly promiscuous (http://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/jezebel.htm). The subliminal message they are trying to get across is although the African-American female may have a career and financial success, she is still so unappealing in society that she cannot maintain a wholesome relationship because of her promiscuity.
I’ve had discussions with people who are excited that we are now regularly portrayed on television, but are the characters helping or hindering the African-American female’s image? Hollywood has lulled some of us into thinking that these types of characters will actually elevate our image, instead of adding fuel to the negative images that have circulated since slavery.
For a while I watched some of these shows because I bought into “I want to support the sisters” thinking or ”the good story line,” until I noticed that people were beginning to negatively treat me the way the women are portrayed on these shows. I am asked inappropriate questions by perfect strangers, and treated disrespectful before I even opened my mouth. I believe the media crafted this plan to taint the image of the modern-day African-American woman, and some people outside and inside the race are embracing it.
I am not saying you should stop listening to the music, or watching these videos and television shows because most of you won’t. I am encouraging you, however, to accept what you see and/or hear as fiction, and don’t think that every African-American female is the image you see portrayed in the media. ■
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