American black women have always been painted negatively in the U.S. media, which also influences the international community. From the Mammy to Jezebel to Sapphire, these stereotypes have affected society’s view of the black woman, setting the tone for her treatment by other communities before she is even given the opportunity to prove otherwise.
I remember when I first started middle school in the predominantly white community of Midlothian, Texas. Not only was I one of a handful of black students, but our family was the only African family in the entire city. Having to make friends turned my stomach upside down, as somebody who had always been very shy. The fear of rejection was too difficult to get over in my mind. I was drawn to quiet, intellectual individuals like myself. Even at that age, I was very focused, thanks to a mother who drilled the importance of academic success into my head day and night. I found it difficult to relate to my African-American classmates due to our cultural differences.
My first encounter with a fellow black female classmate was a nightmare. I had taken my hair out of braids for the first time, and she accused me of wearing a wig. She began jabbing in my hair and yelling out to the whole class that I had a weave on. At the time, I did not understand that she was simply a bully and that bullies can be found across all racial groups. I allowed myself to carry this particular memory with me throughout school, and did not have a single African-American friend until years after I graduated. Now I find the whole idea to be ridiculous, but it made sense in my mind at the time, due to the preconceived notions my family had about American black women.
My husband, whom I married at the age of 22 was my first African-American friend and the first black man outside of our close knit African community that I dated. Not only was he nothing like what I thought he may have been–neither were his mother and sister.
Being married to Corey, I have learned that there are stereotypes about African women as well: That we are dirty. And that we are docile and submissive–to the point where we do not mind if men treat us as if we are worthless. I was appalled when I learned of these stereotypes, but could I really be angry? After all, how long did I hold my inaccurate views of black Americans?
I feel as if I owe my sisters an apology. Raising three daughters in a world that judges black women before taking the time to know or understand us has opened my eyes to my own wrongdoings. My father-in-law once told me the story of an African woman who told him that she did not associate herself with African-Americans because they were loud and dangerous. He asked her if the Klu Klux Klan still roamed free, and she stood next to an African-American woman, would she be allowed to live because she is African–or would the two of them be killed together because they both had dark skin?
I often have this question on my mind, as I have come to realize that fearing somebody simply because you do not understand that person makes no sense, no matter what the color or cultural background may be. This is the mindset that I want to instill in all my children, because it is the only way that we will be able to build a better world. Obviously there are black women out there who are promiscuous, loud, full of anger and rage, and abusive, but there are Caucasian, Asian, European, and Hispanic women that are the same way. We do have a lot of beautiful, strong, kind, submissive, talented women in our community, whether we are African, American, Asian, or European. As black women we will be judged no matter where in this world we choose to go, so why should we judge each other? Rather, we should take the opportunity to understand where all these stereotypes begin, so that we can work collectively against them. Creating better role models in our communities should be one of the first and most important steps, so that we can begin to teach our daughters that they don’t have to accept the labels they are given.
To my fellow empowered Black women: I apologize and I love you.