Society tries to box black women into categories. The options are always limited and exclusive. They don’t reflect us or our complexities. They don’t honor us as individuals. Yet, society would have us believe that these options are equitable. However, society couldn’t be more wrong.
Though black women are influential, we are often overlooked. Our contributions are belittled and ridiculed. Our innovations are stolen. Our culture is appropriated. Though black women are powerful, we are reduced to segments of society that do not reflect our potential and legacies. We are given the corners of aisles in the department store. Our hair products aren’t deemed beauty, they are deemed ethnic. To confront these harsh realities, Shea Moisture created #BreaktheWalls, where our hair care products came to the forefront of the aisles, not the back.
In spite of these strides, many associations with black women are negative and divisive.
Our influence is overshadowed by people outside of our communities who stand upon their privilege to be heard and recognized. Women like Rachel Dolezal claim to be #transracial and are congratulated with book deals, interviews, and spotlights, robbing a black woman out of an opportunity to be acknowledged and embraced. The media would rather sensationalize the accolades of a white woman.
The image of black women in the media is reflected through extremes. It’s a mentality of this or that. Respectability politics misguide people into believing that they must fit a certain image or representation of blackness to be accepted and unfortunately it’s tearing our communities apart. It allows individuals to mistreat us and judge us. It allows our employers to dictate the manner in which we dress or wear our hair. It allows our colleagues to correct our tone and manner of speaking. It allows a stranger to lock their door or clutch their purse because their immediate reaction is fear. It allows others to control the ways in which we are represented.
That representation varies. In many ways these misconceptions and stereotypes work against our own interests. By the time the public consumes these messages, they internalize an inability to view black women as human beings. Instead, we become subjects, objects, commodities, and novelties. We are expected to serve, perform, and educate while also maintaining our appearance. We are cut into parts: lips, eyes, hair, breasts, bums, thighs, legs. We are marketed as trends or troublemakers. We are stripped of our identities and our culture is rebranded and prepackaged for the masses, leaving us to the side.
Measuring black women by what we have to offer white people is problematic. Policing the ways in which black women exercise their blackness is dangerous. The result is degradation and isolation. Ultimately, black women are cornered into impossible standards and expectations that are contradictory in nature. Our bodies are regulated by the government. Yet our narratives are diluted. The issues we face are often ignored or mischaracterized. Yet it doesn’t stop us from fighting.
When racial profiling, police brutality, and unlawful murders plague our communities, we seek answers. We respond with #BlackLivesMatter. The cofounders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi use their voices to ignite change. What began with a letter became a global revolution.
When Beyoncé called the women of the world to get into #Formation, she united us. Yet it didn’t stop people from attempting to silence her. At the Super Bowl, she didn’t just perform, she protested. Those expecting her to be pretty and sing, were ultimately left without any words. What began as a song, became an anthem.
Though black women are continually sexualized and fetishized by popular culture, the dating world shows that many potential suitors discriminate towards black women. These truths were brought to light by Jessica Williams who uses humor and satire to expose the ugly realities of society. What began as a skit, became an undeniable message.
Black women are valuable but we don’t need others to tell us that. We don’t need validation from strangers. We don’t need the approval of white folks. We don’t need to be told that we are beautiful. We know that. We know that we are more than caricatures and stereotypes. We know that we are leaders, innovators, and agents of change. The public wants black women to entertain them. The public wants us to be accessible and readily available at any moment in time. But though, we are high in demand, we are also the first to get fired, the first to get blamed, and the first to go without.
Though we are constantly talked about, our opinions are rarely warranted which is why we take it upon ourselves to speak up and stand up. When we are faced with obstacles, we do not surrender. We confront the problems head on. We challenge the misconceptions with our voices. We mobilize. We rally together. We continue to overcome. We continue to prevail. We continue to build.
We will not tolerate the devaluing of our bodies and defacing of our identities to appease those who are in control. We will not succumb to the pressures of society that harvest us of our worth, value, and ideas. We know that our truth lies in each other. To transform perspectives, we must continue forward, regardless of what obstacles present themselves. Though society tries to degrade us and dehumanize us, society will fail.
Denise Nichole Andrews is an MFA Candidate at Lindenwood University. Her work explores the complexities of identity through an analysis of popular culture, society, politics, race, and gender.