Monday, June 6, 2011

I Ain’t Saying She’s A Gold Digger . . .

The image of the black woman as a Gold Digger has evolved along a strange and peculiar path in the black community. The Gold Digger has only recently joined the Jezebel, the Mammy, the Mule, and Sapphire in the pantheon of stereotypes which are inflicted on black women; but the Gold Digger is unique in one way: her image is almost entirely the creation of black people.

Arguably traceable to hip hop (the gift that keeps on giving to the “community”), the Gold Digger is a woman (almost always a black woman according to black people) who seeks material and economic rewards in exchange for sex. She is a conniver, who only pretends to care about a man for who he “really is,” when she is actually only interested in his money and what he can give her; if the man she is with did not have money, then she would not be with him. The Gold Digger is dishonest and disloyal; she claims to be in love when she is not; and when the well runs dry, she immediately moves on to the next sucker. While the Gold Digger combines qualities of the whorish Jezebel and the evil Sapphire, it is her greed that distinguishes her. The Gold Digger is after the deep pocket, and she will do anything to empty it. The most infamous Gold Digger is, of course, Robin Givens; but popular wisdom says that any (black) wife/babymama of a professional athlete or entertainer fits the bill, or really any black woman who has any financial expectations of a man at all.

What I find most peculiar about the vehemence and timing of the rise of the Gold Digger image is its intimate tie to both the increase in poverty of black men and their absence from the black community. It is black men who the Gold Digger supposedly targets; but it is black men who have the least gold to dig. Perhaps, the Gold Digger’s detractors might argue, black men are the only men the Gold Digger can get. That still doesn’t explain why Gold Diggers would suddenly be so prevalent at a time when AIDS, imprisonment, unemployment, and hostility to black women have decimated the number of black men available to target. Shouldn’t Gold Diggers be disappearing, like bison, along with their prey?

I don’t think that it is an accident that the rise of the Gold Digger image has closely paralleled the real-life explosion of single motherhood in the black community. As more and more black women raise children alone, with the sole relationship between themselves and the fathers of their children (if any relationship exists at all) being mediated through courts which mandate the distribution of meager child support payments, black men grow ever more resentful and detached from their children and the mothers of those children. The woman who was initially nothing more than a sexual object becomes nothing more than an outstretched hand. Essentially, the Gold Digger image arose from this detachment and resentment—black men who were “unable” and unwilling to play the provider role insist that the problem is not their irresponsibility, but black women’s greed. Thus, black women have been demonized for doing what any and all women must—seeking support for their children and families.

An additional testament to the power of the Gold Digger image can be found in how many black women have embraced it, and seem invested in policing other black women for signs of inappropriate greed and interest in black men’s wealth. Their anger runs the gamut from seething with rage at the fripperies of the “Basketball Wives” or Tamar Braxton, to expressing disgust with the avarice of friends, sisters, or cousins who pursue “too much” child support or only date “certain” men. These women have embraced the idea that men do not have any particular obligation to provide for their families—not because men and women are “equals” (these are hardly fire-breathing feminists—they generally have nothing but contempt for other women); but based on the premise that if a woman “opens her legs” for a man, she should be held solely responsible for any result—such as a child. Implicit in their beliefs is the idea that it is outrageous, unseemly and bizarre for a black woman to be cared for or supported by a man. It is sadly obvious that many black women have never witnessed the spectacle of a man providing for a black woman and her children, and therefore find it easy to accept that a woman seeking such a provider is somehow deviant, even evil.

Such critics are passionate in declaiming their own selflessness in relationships and worry a great deal about the suffering that the Gold Digger’s “victims” either are or will experience. Their unstated assumption is that these “victims” would be better off with “good sisters” like them. But rarely do these “good sisters” question why the “victims” have chosen the Gold Digger over women such as themselves, who seem to ask so little from a man.

This is a stark contrast to how women and men of other cultures view what Evia repeatedly refers to as the “vetting” process for choosing a mate–which includes, in part, what he will contribute materially to the union. I found an article by the writer Bene Viera, author of the blog “Writing While Black,” that she published in response to the random ignorant ramblings about the alleged gold-digging tendencies of black women by someone calling himself Slim Thug. She contrasted the real-life forced financial independence and lack of expectations of black American women with the normative values of other cultures, solicited from readers, when it comes to judging what makes a man worthy as a potential mate:

Riya Anandwala from Mumbai, India said: From the standpoint of the Indian tradition, a family, even today, would want a very well-settled man for their daughter. The definition of well settled may differ from caste to caste, but the man has to earn well enough to feed the wife. Even if the woman's family is not that settled, they would want a guy better than what they are.

German Vigil a Latino male from El Salvador added: In my culture it is very necessary to provide for your family. It is the man's sole responsibility. Ask yourself what woman does not want a man that can or has the means to take care of them.

Linshan Li from China also weighed in: Most Chinese women are under a lot of economic pressures and they are looking for a man who can provide them with some semblance of financial security...It is common that a Chinese man has to provide a house/condo/apartment for the marriage before the girl he wants to marry says yes.

Lastly, Andrew Anderson from Sheffield, England commented: The concept of a woman marrying for money is far more prevalent, and I don't think it is viewed in a negative light. If someone had come up to me in the street and said "which group do you most associate with gold-digging?" I would have said White, middle class women...or Jewish women.

If a black American woman dared to articulate an expectation that a man should be “better than what she is” financially, or assert that it “is the man’s sole responsibility” to provide for the family, she would probably be facing a lynch mob within the black community. This is one of the main reasons that intelligent black women need to detach from the black community.

Not because your goal is to lay about eating bonbons, dripping in diamonds, while your husband toils thanklessly day and night–I am not advocating the “princess” lifestyle that I have discussed previously. The point is that if you want a life of health and growth, you need a partner–and a partner must be at least an equal. No matter how wonderful a man purportedly is “on the inside,” if he brings nothing tangible to the table he needs to take his wonderful insides to his equal, and partner with her. Remember, all those people telling you to “date the garbage man,” or “smile at the brother with a broom” are basically telling HIM to date up. This is a concept that is almost unheard outside of the black community, but it has become the norm in America between black men and black women. This is where the irony of the Gold Digger image comes into play: to whom does it most appropriately apply?

But that’s the good news about the Gold Digger label: since it is a creation of the “community,” it is probably the one label that is easiest shed. All you have to do is walk away from it.