Bongiwe Nkomazana on Gender
STEREOTYPES are the widely held but fixed and oversimplified images or ideas of a particular type of person or thing and that is exactly what makes them tricky. The fact they are just an umbrella term means that they include the people or things that do not necessarily fall under that stereotypical image or idea under that umbrella. As a result you find individuals or groups trying to break those stereotypes throughout their lives.
All human beings in our different groups i.e. race, gender, occupation, age and nationality are subject to stereotypes. There are a lot of stereotypes like how “all Asians are good at math”, “all men are cheats”, “all lawyers are liars”, and “how the youth is lazy”.
Some tend to be light-hearted and others are just detrimental to the lives of those labelled. For example, where I am from, young people are hardly ever given the time of day because we are seen as incompetent yet we have an abundance of diligent young people who are ready to outdo and out shine if given the opportunity.
Anyway, this being a women’s column we will be talking about the stereotypes women face, black women in particular, and how these stereotypes have affected us. The first stereotype I will put out there is one whose repercussions that even black women themselves do not realise which is the “strong black woman complex”.
Black women have become a symbol of strength and resilience because we seem to overcome all the stones that are thrown at us and we wear that stereotype as a badge of honour. We are viewed as the weakest link in most settings like the workplace, in beauty and just on the success-ometer.
In the words of Malcom X, the most disrespected person is the black woman, the most unprotected woman is the black woman and the most neglected person is the black woman. Although he referred to America, sadly, this may be true in most parts of the world.
Black women have been sensationalised as the ultimate super women, you know the Madea and Cookie from the show ‘Empire’ and any other ‘black woman who all characters run to with their problems so that she can impart wisdom’. Types that will overcome anything and do not show any signs of weakness.
What this has done is to basically give the world the go ahead to give the black woman grief because after all, she can handle it and this eases the conscience of those that have subjected black women to all sorts of unfair treatment. Think about it, there is white privilege, there is male privilege and all sorts of privileges and even in those privileges that lean towards women, black women are still less privileged. What a wow.
This stereotype has made us black women feel like it is wrong to be vulnerable, like if you seek help you have shown weakness. As a result, many black women suffer silently with many different battles like bad marriages, debt and mental ailments like depression.
The other stereotype given to black women is that of being Jezebels. This stereotype implies that black women are promiscuous and their hunger for the opposite sex is inappropriately unquenchable and this is supported by the documents of poor black women with a lot of children with no or multiple fathers. It is as if the same circumstances of poverty, failed relationships and a lot of children do not exist in other races. Don’t they?
The history of this stereotype dates back to slavery when white men would justify raping black women by blaming it on the promiscuous nature of the black woman and so it was never a crime.
I will say that this one is not as prevalent in that manner today but growing up I remember how the black women around me would try to tone down their beauty. Even their clothes were baggy to try and camouflage that African thickness so as not to be given an immoral title.
We young black women who wear red lips and red nail polish are still told we look like Jezebels by grownups because they lived with that stereotype. They know what is to be victimised for the way you look and do not want that for us.
I guess today we can see the effects of the Jezebel stereotype in things like interracial marriages where a black lady married to say, a white man will be perceived as a gold-digger or an alien out to devour the white specie whereas if a white lady marries another race she is a humble, non-racist with a good heart.
Also, if a black girl poses in a bikini people will call her out of her name whilst a white girl will be given kudos for loving her body. It is unfortunate because even things like braids will be appreciated on non-black women yet black women have been wearing them for centuries but just because we are placed at the bottom anything we do is not worthy until and unless it is validated by another race.
The third stereotype that I will refer to is what is called the “sapphire” stereotype also known as the “angry black woman” stereotype.
I wrote a whole issue on this one in particular because at that time I felt like as much as it is a stereotype; black women are kind of upset at something all the time. I mean who would not be having to fight everyday for recognition and respect. However, the context in which this stereotype is placed on us is that we, black women, are less civilised than the other woman or human.
I mean that is a lie. Most black women have the ability to have respectable dialogue with anybody. Surely, by now you all know black women are smart and incredibly talented.
However, there is a big BUT ladies and gentlemen. We have the full ability of being polite, collected and civilised but do not make the mistake of disrespecting a black woman and thinking that you will get away with a civil thank you. You will get a mouthful and you will get it loudly and clearly.
Stereotyping can be very hurtful so even though one feels like they can prove a stereotype, to constantly judge people based on preconceived perceptions is grossly unfair. Just get to know individuals as they come.
As much as black women are knocking down stereotypes, make their lives easier by having an open mind. You will be pleasantly surprised.