Is the Black Woman the Most Disrespected Person in America?
“The most disrespected woman in America, is the black woman. The most un-protected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America, is the black woman.”
This semester i’m taking a class on black women’s history in the United States. This is genuinely the first time in my life that I’ve felt like I’m learning about my own history. Back in high school, taking a general US History course, black women’s history— my history— was stricken from the record.
Even in my worldviews class, as we learned about feminism, my teacher focused mainly on white women and their contributions to feminism. He only mentioned Shirley Chisolm as a name in a cross word puzzle.
One day in class my teacher was fully launched into a passionate lecture about the Seneca Falls Convention and girl power and all that fun stuff. After this long impassioned speech, my friend Taylor raised her hand and asked, “What are black women doing during this time?“
Needless to say, his answer wasn’t even close to satisfactory. He sputtered and mentioned some names and eventually said, “Not much was happening at the time.”
Being a black women’s studies minor, I know for a fact that he genuinely glossed over black women in both US history and the history of feminism.
But it’s not new.
Historically, black women have been marginalized, forgotten, raped, beaten, erased, tortured, sterilized, and experimented upon.
So I'm just gonna talk about one of the many reasons I tend to agree with Malcolm X's assessment of black women's socio-economic status: Stereotypes.
Stereotyping Black Women
Let’s talk about stereotypes. Stereotypes are like caricatures we use to demean, marginalize, and simplify people who aren’t like us. As it relates to black women, there’s a fun little phenomenon where stereotypes associated with black women are actually labelled. It’s probably because they were so heavily embedded in American culture that they’re almost commonplace.
In order to justify the frequent, commonplace rape of black women during antebellum slavery, a stereotype called the "Jezebel" was created. The Jezebel stereotype is the sexy black woman. She's hyper-sexual. Above all, her consent doesn't matter because you know she's asking for it. This stereotype continues to this day in the way that black female entertainers are considered bad influences, too sexual etc. for performing the same way white female entertianers perform. This can be seen in the way black women are featured and referred to in music. Just a bunch of "hoes and tricks." But... what happens on the plantation when the enslaved women are invited into the house for domestic work? You can't have such a sexual figure in the house, tempting these white slave masters. That just wouldn't sit well with the mistress at all.
Jezebel, meet Mammy. She has no sexuality. She's large, extremely dark skinned, and completely in love with the white family. All she wants is to support and care for the white family. She cooks, she cleans, she fans her mistress, she breastfeeds the babies. Mammy has no duty to her own family, just to the family she works for. As such, she put the white mistresses' worries to rest. Picture Aunt Jemima, who is actually rooted in the mammy stereotypical depiction.
Finally, we have Sapphire. Sapphire IS the angry black woman, who I wrote an article on wayyyyy back when. She's mad all the time. Always mad about something. Why can't she ever just be happy? Grateful for what she has? Why does she have to make everything so political? Can you picture some black women who are depicted as Sapphire when in actuality she has as much right to her emotions as anyone else? (Cough, Jamele Hill)
Black women are oftentimes just not allowed to be themselves, but rather, have to be some version of black women that others are more comfortable with.
So this will be part one of a series on black women, just giving some ideas about black women's status in America. I'm really interested in sharing the information I've been learning in school and helping others understand intersectional oppression and privilege.
Hope you enjoyed!