As you all know, I pulled my own "disappearing act" last week to get married and enjoy a little time off with my honey, family and friends. The honeymoon won't be for a few months though, since I will be transitioning to a new job in the next few weeks (because I never bite off more than I can chew--no, not I!!) and DH has some work travel of his own to attend to. In any case, thank you all so much for your warm wishes on our recent union. It feels great!
I wanted to open up discussion this week about a very complex issue that has been troubling me for some time now: the connection between popular images of black women, and our sexual and romantic desirability to men generally. It is an issue I've touched on before here in discussions about everything from mainstream advertisements to pornography, because I think that the power of imagery in contemporary society to shape male and female perceptions of appropriate partners would be hard to overemphasize.
Most modern societies have evolved from the point where parents and clans arrange marriages for offspring, to providing only slightly less formal community meeting places for choosing appropriate partners (church, socials, friends of family), to the current environment where our only guidelines are the broad-based and increasingly vague criteria of class, race, gender, sexuality, age, "chemistry"--and our own allegiance to these concepts.
Now that our choices are almost entirely our "own," the role of of socialization and social imagery in teaching us how to choose our mates has become increasingly important. For many Westerners, for better or worse, the mass media has replaced church, family, and virtually every other institution of significance in guiding our decision-making processes for choosing our careers, our homes, value systems, and our mates.
What this means for black women is that, even as we make incredible strides in the real world, the negative and false imagery that predominates popular representations of us has become arguably more dangerous than ever. The seductive, promiscuous light-skinned Jezebel, and the big, dark, dominant, emasculating, sharp-tongued Sapphire/Matriarch all share one trait in common--they are deviant. Regardless of how restrictive or degrading the mainstream feminine "ideal" may be for other women, black women are always defined in opposition to it--and thus men are taught that to desire us is to indulge a fetish, rather than to engage a normal urge. We are not only forbidden fruit (like black men), we are a marginalized and perverse taste. That is, when we are visible at all.
For too long, we have neglected to address this negative propaganda campaign against us, and its devastating impact that is now revealing its destructive consequences in the lives of so many young black women. As usual, the focus of the "community" has been on negative images of black men, and ameliorating the effect of those images on black men. Many of us assumed that once black people gained positions of authority in the media, that destructive images of black women would naturally improve; instead, we have seen that black men and women who hold such positions seem more eager than ever to cash in by throwing us under the bus or eliminating our images altogether. This is intolerable.
This is why we must insist on making our voices heard on this issue. Sisters touched on this question at the Black Women's IR Circle under the "Permission to Survive" post, where some questioned whether we should bother "boycotting" black male celebrities who insult and belittle black women, and consistently choose non-black mates. I agree with those who posited that such men have every right to choose to partner with whoever they wish, and that our greatest focus should be on finding our own healthy, happy relationships--but I also agree with those who insisted that when someone attacks and undermines us, we must make it clear that we will not accept such treatment. This is not merely an issue of "hurt feelings" or "freedom of speech": this is about the freedom and opportunities that will be available to young black women, their right to love, the acknowledgement of their beauty and femininity. No one must be permitted to attack our womanhood with impunity.
As one of my very wise uncles pointed out to me when I was a child, in this country, we vote with our dollars. No choice you make with a ballot will ever mean as much in the first instance as who you give your money in America--or who you withhold it from. We as black women have gained much power in this arena, and it is time for us to leverage it. Think of the movies you see, the songs you download, the magazines you read, the television shows you watch, and all the commercial products whose advertisements support these endeavors. Do they employ black models and actresses? If so, are they portrayed as feminine and romantically attractive? Are they portrayed stereotypically? Are we included at all? As efforts like Gina McCauley's http://whataboutourdaughters.blogspot.com/ campaign against the hot mess that is BET's "Hot Ghetto Mess/We've Got to Do Better" make clear, we can make a difference--we do have power. Now let's exercise that power!