Monday, April 24, 2006

Wake up Call...

Peace and Blessings,

During the last few weeks or so, the rape allegations involving the Duke Lacrosse players and the stripper have permeated various news mediums. The other day, however, the situation was brought to my attention in a way that views this case within the context of a much larger, but often neglected issue. A good friend of mine sent me the following article (peep the links section) that addresses the ways in which the beliefs and themes around this case reflect larger stereotypes about African American women. After looking at the various headlines about the lacrosse players' lawyers seeking information to weaken the woman's credibility, it confirmed the sentiments expressed by the African American women in the article, mainly that black women are intrinsically sexual deviants, and thus cannot be rape victims. Although there are exceptions, no one would disagree with the assertion that this stereotype about black women constitutes the prevailing notion of black women throughout history as well as contemporary discourse.

The purpose of this piece is not to offer my hypothesis on what actually happened with the lacrosse players. Instead, I would like to call our attention to this form of ideological oppression that has been plaguing black women for centuries. Oppressive systems have a way of only presenting one side of an ideological coin, the side that perpetuates inequality and notions of moral and intellectual inferiority. If we are to inquire about the root cause(s) of the current belief that black women are sexually superior and aggressive, we must go back to the 19th century and look at Europeans' exploitation of
  • Saartjie Baartman
  • , an African woman from the Khoikhoi people in what is now the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Europeans took her and at least one other Khoisian woman all throughout England and exploited them as an attraction under the name Hottentot Venus. They were viewed and treated as an attraction because of what Europeans considered unnatural bodily features, arguing that these features are proof that black women were abnormal, sexual creatures. Although not as explicit as Hottentot Venus, black women today are still viewed more so as victimizers than victims when it comes to sexual crimes.

    While this image of black women was being shaped a couple of centuries ago, another image of black women existed in the United States. I'm sure everyone is aware of the belief that suggests that all black women as sexual deviants, yet what they may not be aware of is that also in the 19th century
  • Maria Stewart
  • , the first American-born woman of any race to speak out on political themes, gained national prominence. She spoke out heavily against the immorality of slavery, espousing beliefs and moral principles stemming from her Christian Faith. I find it ironic that the first woman in American history to exercise her voice on political issues was a black woman, who's mission, which she firmly believed reflected God's calling for her life, was to denounce the immorality of and liberate black people from the same inferiority ideology and exploitation that Europeans used to try to denigrate African women. This image of black women as beacons of strength, epitomizers of faith, and advocates of all things moral is the proper image of black women that we should all come to know, love and cherish. I argue that this is the rightful image because unlike the sexual deviant image that is based on beliefs, stereotypes, and interpretations, the image of black women as moral agents of strength and faith is based on and evidenced by fact. Whether it was utilizing their "superwoman" characteristics to provide for their children during slavery, or providing the backbone for many churches, especially those instrumental in creating social change throughout history, black women have and consistently continue to overcome obstacles. Further, this is the rightful image because it is consistent with the image that I believe God wants all of us to represent and uphold.

    In closing, I wanted to address the issue of "Where do we go from here?" Before we proceed with this question, we must make an important distinction. Although it is easy to point the finger at the media and the entertainment industry as being primarily responsible for the maintenance of this sexual-deviant stereotype, there is more to the situation that meets the eye. There are three aspects that contribute to the prevalence of negative images about black women. One aspect involves women who carry themselves one way, but are portrayed and perceived another way. A common example is assertive and independent black women who are often viewed as having an attitude, aggressive or confrontational. The second aspect involves women who are in certain occupations that have negative connotations, but only hold these occupations because it is the only way they can "keep their heads above water" in a society where they are oppressed on two levels (e.g. as a black person and as a woman). A common example here are the women who are strippers only so they can pay their way through college or provide for their child. The third aspect is one that I don't think gets addressed often, and it involves women who, regardless of the reason, operate with the mentality that deems engaging in behavior and in occupations that are objectifying as permissible. A common example are women who are in "highly-sexualized" music videos, artists and video girls alike. The point of identifying these aspects is not to pass judgment or to point the blame, but to hopefully shed light on the extent to which stereotypes about black women, which were socially and ideologically constructed a couple of centuries ago, still affect us today.

    Even though this piece focuses primarily on women, when I say "us" I am referring to black men as well. I am in no way suggesting that the sexual-deviant stereotype is a black woman problem, because it affects and sadly to say, is often perpetuated by we as black men as well. As a black man, I implore that we take more responsibility for and thus more of a leadership role in respecting and maintaining the God-appointed image of black women, who are simultaneously His children and our queens.

    What do you think? Stay blessed and speekonit...

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