Thursday, July 6, 2006

"I Got a Woman" - Black Women and Negative Stereotypes

Now I have a question that has been bothering me lately. I’ve lived abroad for almost six years. During that time I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve definitely learned a lot. I’ve also had my beliefs challenged and my view of the world has just opened up tremendously. I’ve always been a smart one, but as I get older I’m more impatient with people though. I tend to think ahead, strategize and plan for contingencies. I also realize that stereotypes can be good general guides, but you really fall into an unproductive trap when you stop using them as guides and instead view people strictly through the lens of stereotypes.

Now being an African-American female, I get a litany of stereotypes thrown at me on a daily basis. Being an African-American of the fairer sex in Asia is hilarious because some of the stuff that’s been said to me is crazy. I’ll save the funny stories for later, but trust me, most of it makes me laugh it’s so silly. I’m pretty much used to it, but over the last year some interesting things have happened. I’ve found myself being stereotyped as the defensive or angry black woman, which (most of the time) I’m not. This wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time it came at me from someone close to me. It really bothered me, and still does when I think about it hence why I’m blogging about it.

This is the thing. I was listening to the John Mayer Trio's* version of Ray Charles’ I Got a Woman. The pertinent lyrics are as follows:

I got a woman way over town that's good to me oh yeah
Say I got a woman way over town good to me oh yeah
She give me money when I'm in need
Yeah she's a kind of friend indeed
I got a woman way over town that's good to me oh yeah

She saves her lovin’ early in the morning just for me oh yeah
She saves her lovin’ early in the morning just for me oh yeah
She saves her lovin’ just for me oh she love me so tenderly
I got a woman way over town that's good to me oh yeah

She's there to love me both day and night
Never grumbles or fusses always treats me right
Never runnin’ in the streets and leavin’ me alone
She knows a woman’s place is right there now in her home

That’s the thing. That song isn't about white girl Becky or Lucy Liu (who I just love, btw). Now I'm not saying that it can't describe other women of races, but I think I'm safe in betting that if the song was inspired by a woman, it was most likely a black woman. I really do see myself as a giving, nurturing, positive person. I’m seen as that by friends back home. In fact, I had one friend tell me point blank that he knows that I’m tough and can take care of myself, but he also sees a nice person who sometimes needs help. I’ve also had men who have been attracted to me for my nurturing qualities as well as my independent ones.

Yet, here in Korea I see myself fighting the expectation that I’m aggressive, to be feared, divisive and negative. I think one reason is I’m dealing with people who, for the most part, haven’t really ever dealt with a diverse range of people before, so they do view people in stereotypes. I can accept that, but it hurt to have it come from someone I considered closer than close. I honestly don’t think being assertive is negative in most situations. It can be as I’ve seen some over the top behavior. I just tend to say what I think, and, as I’m able to explain what I think fairly clearly and defend my arguments or reasoning, I’m seen as hyper-aggressive. That’s weird to me because a man with the same disposition is seen as, well, just articulate and well-spoken.

Listening to this song and mouthing the lyrics reminded me that, in spite of the stereotype of the African-American woman as this aggressive, hyper-sexualized, and not so bright thing that there are songs and stories about us being sweet, loving, nurturing and there for our men just as women of other races are. I also have black women in my life who are sweet, loving, nurturing and definitely there for their men. They're very much my role models, so when I get hit with this negative image I question where it's coming from.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a classmate who, I believe, is of southeast Asian descent who said to me quite smugly that she was Asian, and Asian women are taught to please their men. Well, okay, but so are French women and so are other women. I think that, depending on your culture, we do this in different ways, but I find living in Korea that I am fighting this negative stereotype. In general, the Korean woman is seen as a woman who will go much further to please a man than a Western woman would. I would say in many ways that’s true. But what this belief or expectation fails to recognize is that Western women, at least some, do put a priority on the men in their lives being pleased and satisfied. Now I’m not ignoring modern history. Of course, feminism has influenced the modern Western woman. Yes, we are more independent and have more choices, but I grew up in an Ozzie and Harriet existence. My mom was a full-time homemaker who chose to stay at home to raise me and make our home pleasing. She did a great job and I would be honored to follow in her footsteps. Yes, that means I have no problem whatsoever with possibly being a homemaker. Now, what feminism and the civil rights movement has done for me is give me more choices. I can choose to be a homemaker, but I can also choose to have a career or choose a combination of both.

My thing is my mother was a “pleaser” in the sense that my classmate above used it and she did pass that on to me in some ways. She’d cook huge meals and invite everyone in my family over. She’d go shopping and buy me cute little outfits and put matching satin ribbons in my hair. She’d hug me and my dad and was just overall keen on keeping harmony her home. She was no one’s doormat however and God help the person who’d piss her off. Like her, I’m nobody’s doormat, but when I’m in a relationship I known to do things very similar to my mother like cook meals, straighten up (and all my friends know I keep a messy home) and, in general, assume a very stereotypically female role. This works for me, and I like it. But it's amazing to have people be completely shocked that I'd view homemaking as an acceptable career. That angers me because it is definitely something an educated woman can choose to do without shame.

I’m a Libra, so I like balance. I’m together, I have my life in order, I tend to plan and it’s rare that I’m surprised. I have people here assume that I don’t need help because I have my life in fairly good order. In contrast, I find that here women who play up the helpless female get help even when they don’t need it. Back home, women like that get dumped and women like me tend to be in demand. I find the reverse is true here (and, no, I'm not looking for a man, but it's not difficult to notice). I find that as an African-American female people assume I’m simply not capable of a stereotypical female role.

Listening to
I Got a Woman made me wonder when did that expectation for black women change?

Ray Charles sung about a woman who pleased him and who made that her priority.

  • So why is it that black female characters in books, movies, songs, etc. so over the top now?
  • Why is it that when I go through my day, if I disagree or voice the slightest objection people classify me as aggressive?
  • Why is it that people assume that I don’t need help simply because I tend to have it together?
One example of this was when I worked at an English camp teaching a class of pre-teens. I’m pretty strict with discipline, but I’m a fun teacher. I just lay down the law at first so that the kids know who is in charge. I find that classes go much easier if you establish who is in charge initially. Anyway, at the end of the camp one of my kids gave a speech. He talked about the various teachers, including me. In general, he was very complimentary towards me, but I was annoyed when he said “she’s scary when she’s mad”. Why is it that I’m scary here when I’m angered but other women of other races are seen as harmless or even cute? I had an ex who pretty much thought it was the cutest thing when I was upset. In Korea when I'm upset I have people diving for cover.

I’m not trying to create a race issue where there isn’t one as I’m the last person to play the race card. But this is something that hit me hard when someone close to me came at me with every negative stereotype in the book. I was seen as catty or mean where, in contrast, a Korean woman who was incredibly rude and mean to me was just “culturally ignorant”. I didn’t need help when I was having problems wrapping my head around some course material because I'm smart and already have a professional degree, but another Korean woman who had a presentation due needed the help of a professor to prepare for it. Worst of all, knowing that I was being hit with all of these negative expectations, when I asked an indirect question with the aim of trying to not be confrontational it was misinterpreted as a veiled threat (I won’t go into the whole story as the accusation is still so hurtful it makes me cry to think about it). Basically, it was assumed that I was going to go out and track some Korean girl down to hurt her. I was shocked and saddened because as someone who has suffered much loss in my life, I'd never harm someone. In all of those situations, I was seen as mean, unassailable, menacing and straight up violent. Whereas, in contrast, in situations where it was pretty clear that the Asian women were purposefully and intentionally stirring shit up they were presumed to be harmless, merely culturally inept or in need of help or protection.

I was really surprised by all of this. I had to figure out where that was coming from. I’d known him for four or five years, but suddenly all of this stuff was coming my way. Now, he wasn’t the only one. It was just having it come from someone so close to me, I became sensitive to it and started watching people. The same thing has happened at school where I do tend to be someone who will speak up if the students have issues, so now I’m seen as the person to call whenever someone needs a mediator or needs someone to be tough. Now that’s fine, but my thing is why is it that people tend to view me as, firstly, one dimensional? I mean yes, I won’t take anyone’s shit, but I’m not running around on the defensive all the time. Second, why is it that even though I’m not manifesting a hyper-aggressive and violent personality that I’m being seen as that?

My theory is that one big thing going on here is that in modern pop culture black women aren’t being sung about in the way Ray sung about us anymore. Unfortunately, it's the rare hit song that casts us as nuturers. There are songs like that, but most are showing us as materialistic, booty shakers with not much on our minds. Therefore, the world sees us as caricatures that we really aren't, and black women end up having to fight much harder to be seen as normal people with the same emotions, needs and desires.

Yes, it has more layers and complexities (but, come on, I think it's time to wrap this post up). We’re stereotyped as hyper-sexualized, hyper-aggressive, superwomen who don’t marry, aren’t educated, aren't nurturing and raise our children alone. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of black women instead of being critical of that stereotype buy into it also (which is a post for another time).

This is all very rough as this occurred to me just today while listening to a song on the bus and watching the rain come down. But it is something I’ve been thinking about…


More on the Sapphire stereotype and others at Arte Sana:
...Sapphire, the wise-cracking, balls-crushing, emasculating woman, is usually shown with her hands on her hips and her head thrown back as she lets everyone know she is in charge.


Finally, in the stereotype of Sapphire, African American women are portrayed as evil, bitchy, stubborn and hateful. In other words, Sapphire is everything that Mammy is not. "The Sapphire image has no specific physical features other than the fact that her complexion is usually brown or dark brown." Unlike other images that symbolize African American women, Sapphire necessitates the presence of an African American male. The African American male and female are engaged in an ongoing verbal duel. Sapphire was created to battle the corrupt African American male whose "lack of integrity, and use of cunning and trickery provides her with an opportunity to emasculate him through her use of verbal put-downs."

Ernestine Ward popularized the Sapphire image in the Amos and Andy television series. Ward played a character known as Sapphire, and her husband, Kingfish, was played by Tim Moore. Sapphire's spiteful personality was primarily used to create sympathy in viewers for Kingfish specifically and African American males in general. As a result, many African American women suppress these feelings of bitterness and rage for fear of being regarded as a Sapphire.

Essence Magazine's Take Back the Music Campaign
We at ESSENCE have become increasingly concerned about the degrading ways in which Black women are portrayed and spoken about in popular media, particularly in popular urban music and music videos.
NYTimes: An Image Popular in Films Raises Some Eyebrows in Ads
Sista in Tokyo: Update: Earthquake Preparedness Images Re-Drawn!


More on Ray Charles:

The Literary Thug's Why Ray Charles matters


More on John Mayer:

*John Mayer is an absolutely brilliant musician, and I love how he's bringing the blues back to the mainstream and to people who might otherwise not listen to the genre. BTW, he has a new blog on his website. I'll put the link up on the left, so you can get it when this post rolls off the main page. (See? Ain't I sweet?)

I recommend the John Mayer Trio Try CD. I wasn’t all that into his initial stuff. It was good, but smacked too much of groupie bait for my tastes. However, he’s upped his game a level and has shown he can throwdown with the best of them.

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  1. I like your blog too... Gonna have to keep an eye on you...

    But in respect to this post...

    These things you've heard, veiled words, they are racism and the more you ignore them, the worse the situation becomes. Let me throw a few of my challenges your way, just to let you know that you are not alone.

    When I got here, I had to adjust to the fact that: black, white, coloured and Indian are how you group people. I'm not gonna lie and say I had huge experiences with African Americans while I was growing up, but I was taught to be respectful of human kind regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, you name it. My mom did a damn good job too, I think. But for me, trying to describe someone became a mission - "Well what did he look like?" "Um, tall, slender, dark skinned..." "So he was black?" "Um yeah" It wasn't until my friend Palesa started calling me "hey white chick", that I could actually say "hey black chick" with no shame. Add on to that the fact that "black" people here come from tribes, which if you remember elementary school, sounds kind of derogatory, but here it is absolutely not. And tribal affiliations are SUPER important. You are a Zulu woman or a Xhosa man and better hope your parents are both really liberal if you want to marry someone from outside your tribe. So can imagine my difficulty at being able to type these things. Its hard for me, because the words sound so derogatory, I feel ashamed typing them (hoping you will understand my point), but it is how I am supposed to speak down here - dictated to me by black and white alike. But if I go home and start calling people black - just you watch how quickly I'm not gonna make any friends...

    Next challenge. This girl I knew, Pam - black girl, Zulu for reference, were talking about how I told her that the street vendors tend to rip the white people off. I ran a little test I went by a vendor with my husband and asked the price of a vuvuzela. R40. Fine. I made Pam & her husband drive past the same guy - R20. Its not a full proof, scientific, can get my masters now kind of research, but I was trying to prove a point. And rather than understanding my hurt she went into this long tirade about how black people were so abused and what have you. She was defending him and the system. Whats crazy is that she and her husband made a LOT more money than me and mine and if she can get goods and services cheaper (by half), its a little unfair. She continues, well what the white people did to the black people. Hang on. I wasn't here, I couldn't even vote by the time South Africa had its first democratic elections. Please don't hold things against me that are not my fault. No one blames the Palestine-Israel conflict on me - because I'm not there, and I have no affiliation to it whatsoever. So please don't blame South Africa's past on me, its really unfair. I'm here, I obeyed all the rules to get in, I pay my taxes with the other 5% of South Africans who actually pay their taxes. I'm trying to be a good person and I should not be made to feel ashamed for the colour of my skin. She says, ashamed, no. I say, In fact I can be proud to be white. She recoiled in horror - proud to be white? In her eyes, I'd crossed the line and we were not friends any longer. Did she actually think that I should be ashamed of the skin the encloses my vital organs?

    Finally - my only real encounter with blatant, undeniable raacism. I was in a meeting with representatives of all the different "branches" of the company I worked for at the time. The room was totally white. That was neither here nor there with me. We were discussing IT issues and the Financial Director actually said these words, "I don't want any black people working in accounts or IT". Can you imagine? The secretary of the meeting said, well I am not going to record that on the minutes. Everyone chuckled - except me. I sat there, stunned. I didn't say anything, I didn't laugh, but I certainly didn't stand up and declare that they were all vile racist pigs and storm out of the room shouting plans to take them to court. But when the meeting adjourned shortly thereafter, I stumbled back to my office, rather shaken actually. I went straight to my boss who immeadiately asked me if I wanted to file a complaint. I said no, I was just going to confront the guy and tell him how utterly uncomfortable he made me. She told me, that is how racism spreads, like fire, trapping everything it can inside and leaving what does survive destroyed. You can't give it an inch, cause it will rage for miles around you.

    If a friend says something hurtful, don't ignore it, don't chalk it up to their ignorance, take time to teach and you'll probably learn more about what happens in their head as well. And if someone with no consequence in your life whatsoever says something, well feel free to go off on them like the stereotypical angry black woman - chances are you won't have time to change their opinion anyhow, but at least you didn't sit by and let the fire run over you. But no matter what - your skin encloses your vital organs (most importantly your brain) and you can be proud (and a housewife if you choose) of it - as can I...

    By the way, I took the comment all the way up to the MD of our parent company. Got pushed to the side and left that company shortly thereafter.

  2. Thanks for your comment on this post as it's the most personal one I've made thus far.

    You're right. It's racism. With that person close to me, I said as much. Up until the day I chose to stop associating with him he'd come after me for calling him a racist. After awhile, even with those close you have to let it go if they just refuse to be honest and own up to it.

    I had my own issue with racism in college. I thought I was Miss Openminded until this white guy from Texas showed up in all of the classes for my major, and, he was a frat boy too! <...gasp... as frat boys didn't major in philosophy...>

    I was pretty cold to him until I realized I was judging him in a superficial way. I went further in my analysis by realizing that if someone judged me based on my color, where I was from, and my social clubs (which is essentially what a frat is), I wouldn't like it so much. Needless to say, I corrected my demeanor towards him, and, to this day, I consider him a close friend.

    Again, thanks for your comment!

  3. I had one of those moments too, but it was directed to one of the oh so cute and oh so good white girls in high school. I was pleasantly surprised as well. And imagine my horror at finding out my brother joined a frat - and became president of said frat - all while I was down here and had no chance to talk him out of such things... haha. But the most terrifying thing of all is that one of my bestest friends in the whole world is - hold on, hold on - a Republican. And not just you garden variety Republican, but she works on campaigns for senators... Needless to say, we only talk about politics if we really want to fight with each other...

  4. ...those damn Beckys, frat boys and active conservatives!

    Yes, I have friends who are Beckys, frat boys and active conservatives.

    I've learned a lot from all of them, and, I hope, they've learned from me as well.

    I'll pray on that one ;-)


  5. First, I have to say I enjoyed reading your entry. I made me think and contemplate my own situation.
    The effect of media on the international perception of black women is huge. I've been attending language school here in Denmark. I have found that my fellow students take my willingness to speak up as being a "typically, aggressive" black woman trait rather than simply being able to logically express my opinion or a need for guidance. Most of my fellow students have no other black friends, but instead have gleaned their picture and expectations of an American black woman from the media. Hence, people here are in a state of disbelief when I say I need help or I feel like I'm not being treated fairly. Even if I am a strong, independent person (regardless of race) does that negate my need for support?

  6. Of course it doesn't negate your need for support. It's interesting isn't it? We're fighting against a "negative superwoman" stereotype. There is a lot of it that is external in terms of dealing with the expectations of others, but also I've found it's internal too.

    Run a search for "black superwoman" or "black superwoman myth" and you'll pull up all sorts of articles from magazines and academic studies that discuss it.

    That's the bigger problem as many of us take this image and, unfortunately, make it our own without questioning it.

  7. What an awesome commentary on the 'state of black women'. I recently had a conversation with my white, female manager, and I made a comment that I try very hard NOT to come across as the angry black woman when I'm dealing with my clients. She said that she tried to maintain the same balance between angry and 'just pushing back' when our clients color outside the lines, and simply refuse to follow the guidelines of our business. I found this comment to be so intersesting because what is seen as assertiveness in some women (most every group EXCEPT for us), the same interaction will inevitably be viewed as aggressiveness when it comes from me- and African-American woman. Why is this? I applaud you for bringing this very relevant topic to light, and suspect that this issue is something that will continue to be debated for quite some time.

  8. Hey! Thanks for popping by and thanks for your comment.

    Yeah, this angry black woman thing can be a bitch and a half, honestly.

    I've learned to tolerate it because otherwise I'd be railing against it all the time. I simply try to show people that, like everyone, I have different facets to my personality. However, I also realize that some people are so locked into their stereotypes of others that they'll probably never free themselves of it. I just can't spend my life worrying about them.

    Since I teach, I'm pretty independent in what I do. I love that. I don't have a supervisor telling me to alter my personality and I'm sorry to hear that you're dealing with that.

    I think more of us need to speak up and point it out. Aggressive women of other races are cute, determined, spitfires. In contrast, we're just maladjusted. Give me a break.

    It's ridiculous.

  9. There is nothing wrong with a strong willed black women of the non-sh*t-taking variety. And just as "I Got A Woman" champions the dutifully submissive sister who waits at her man's beck and call, there are other songs inspired by the kind of sista who will put her foot in her man's if needs be.

    I give you, "Big Bad Bill" (is sweet william now)

    Well,way down yonder in Louisville,
    Lived a cat named Big Bad Bill,
    I wants to tell ya,
    Ah the cat was rough and tough and would strut his stuff.
    Had the whole town scared to death,
    When he walked by they all held their breath,
    He's a fighting man, sure enough...

    But then Bill got himself a wife,
    Now he leads a different life...

    Big Bad Bill is sweet William now,
    Married life done changed him somehow,
    He's the man the town used to fear,
    Now they all call him sweet pappa Willie dear,

    Stronger than Samson I declare,
    'til a brown skinned woman,
    bobbed his hair

    Big Bad Bill don't fight anymore,(No he don't.)
    He's doing them dishes & mopping up that floor,(Yes he is!)
    Well, he used to go out drinking,
    Looking for a fight,
    Now he gotta see that woman every night,
    Big Bad Bill is sweet William now...

  10. Whatever works for you. Look. I think just being a black female means you've got to tap into the strong willed woman more often than not. I'm no stranger to putting my foot down.

    The issue is not that strong willed black women don't exist. Come on, there is that whole ball bustin' Sapphire stereotype that's virtually locked into society. It's just when that stereotype is the only thing expected of us that it traps us.

    We're a range of things, just like all women. We're tough, but so are other women. We're vulnerable too but since we have to build up a defensive wall around ourselves inevitably it seems we end up caged in this "I'm a badass" enclosure. That's not how I want to go out.

    I'm all for not taking shit, but I'm also down with admitting that I too need help and support.

    As for Ray Charles' lyrics, I'm focusing on the more positive spin of it which is a woman who supportive. Too often it seems we're taught to break men down. Just as we don't want to be treated that way, I think we'd be the same towards the men in our lives.

    The post was about noticing that black men aren't writing lyrics about black women supporting them. They're writing lyrics about "bitches" and "hoes" and have even used the melody of Ray Charles' song to paint us as "gold diggers" to the world.

    If that's where taming Big Bad Bill has gotten us, I'm not sure if I want to be there.

  11. "The post was about noticing that black men aren't writing lyrics about black women supporting them. They're writing lyrics about "bitches" and 'hoes'"

    I loathe rap music. So those kinds of lyrics fall outside of my frame of reference. It seems to me, albeit I'm not a big fan of this genre either, that there are plenty of contemporary R&B songs which are quite complementary to black women.

    If that's where taming Big Bad Bill has gotten us, I'm not sure if I want to be there.

    If anything (and that's a big if), I'd argue that that's where NOT taming Bill Bad Bill has gotten you (you indicating the second person plural, of course ... not you specifically).

  12. If that's not your frame of reference and you're so far above it that you don't recognize that it's a problem for the masses, then there really isn't a need for a discussion. I'm speaking to a problem I see in the majority and a problem where I see different expectations for black women versus other women. It's a simple point.

    You don't need to be a fan to recognize that there is an issue here. I'm seeing it first hand, experiencing it and discussing how it impacts me.

    I'm looking at a genre which has spawned a phenomenon where it's not only okay to put down black women, but it has an impact on expectations. It's mass marketed for profit. This is going out and people are internalizing it.

    Let any race of woman act like she's worth something and it's okay. Let a black woman do it and it's a novelty because it's not expected of us. There is something very wrong with that.

    As for the Big Bad Bill point, sure you can flip it. However, I don't want any man breaking my spirit and I don't want to have to have to perform "The Taming of the Shrew" in reverse on any man.

    If you so loathe rap that you refuse to even acknowledge that there is an issue then you miss my point completely. Plus, it's not just rap music. The current state of rap music arises from a society that has internalized racism to the point that blacks expect other blacks to act ignorant and stupid. Try for something better and you're "acting white". The corrolary is in the same society that black person who is "acting white" is told by whites that they're "articulate" simply because they can form a grammatically correct sentence.

    I was listening to a song. The lyrics were interesting in that I don't really hear that now in popular music lyrics. What I hear now is me and my sistas being called everything but supportive and giving. Simultaneously, I had experienced a different level of treatment compared to the women of other races around me. I wondered why from music lyrics to the daily expectations of the people around me, I'm held to a standard that both expects me to be a grasping, ball breaking bitch but also condemns me for it.

  13. If that's not your frame of reference and you're so far above it that you don't recognize that it's a problem for the masses, then there really isn't a need for a discussion.

    I neither said nor implied that I was "above it." I simply don't listen to it. I never have. Since "Rapper's Delight" came out in '79, I have liked, maybe, four rap songs. But, perhaps you are correct that is no need for a discussion. It's entirely possible that I'm misinterpreting the tone of your replies, but it seems as though you think that my first reply was some sort of refutation of your original post. That wasn't my intention at all. You mentioned a perceived rarity of popular music lyrics that extol the positive virtues of black womanhood, and I replied with a song that I thought did that as well as alluding to the ennobling effects of simply being within a black woman's sphere of influence.

    If you so loathe rap that you refuse to even acknowledge that there is an issue then you miss my point completely.

    Well, I absolutely loath rap, especially its current incarnation, with every fiber of my being. However, I'm well aware that its promotion (which I believe is greatly influenced by music executives who decide which acts get record contracts and radio airplay) of an altogether nihilistic weltanschauung represents a destructive influence in the lives of some black youth. I just don't see it as ubiquitous to the black experience. Nor do I necessarily agree that assertive and independent black women are automatically assumed to be "maladjusted," or that all (or even most) black people expect other black folks to be knuckle-dragging morons and reject any attempts at self-actualization as "acting white." I'm not saying that these stereotypes aren't bandied about in certain circles. Again, I just don't see them as ubiquitous. I'm black, and I live in a town with a black population approaching 50%, most of whom are law abiding productive members of society, with degrees, jobs, families, well manicured lawns etc.

    ...I had experienced a different level of treatment compared to the women of other races around me. I wondered why from music lyrics to the daily expectations of the people around me, I'm held to a standard that both expects me to be a grasping, ball breaking bitch but also condemns me for it.

    I accept that is your experience. I, however, don't buy into any of that. The "Becky's" and their various cohorts of other so called races don't exist for me. As far as I'm concerned there is no woman other than the black woman. I am in awe of all that they have accomplished, as well as the strength and resilience that they have always shown in the face of both the intransigent racism and sexism endemic to these United States. Domestically, spiritually, professionally and aesthetically, I don't think that there is any other group of women who rank higher, especially in the context of what they've had to overcome, than black women. (I must admit to more than a little bias in regard to the aesthetic thing...)

    Now, I will bother you no further. I apologize if my posting to your blog has annoyed you. That certainly wasn't my intention.

  14. But this is the thing, that song wasn't written by a black man. This song was written by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager both of whom were white. When you Google it, performers range from Merle Haggard to Van Halen. Seriously, I Googled this search string: ""Big Bad Bill" written-by" and their names came up as the creators of the song.

    So it looks like somewhere along the line a black group or performer picked it up? I guess so. Honestly, I'd never heard of it until you posted the lyrics here and didn't even bother to look it up. However, when I did, it seems pretty clear that you didn't take the time to look it up. When I made that first post I made sure that my assumption that Ray Charles had written the lyrics was true. I don't see how a song penned by white men long dead is a counterpoint to what I'm saying.

    You didn't annoy me. It's an interesting discussion but I fear it will end up on a tangent because it feels like an apples vs. oranges discussion where you're simply denying the validity of the point I made. I try to reply to all my comments and I'm busy right now (workin' like mad and tons of stuff going on after the job is through.) I just felt like if you're going off on a tangent then, yeah, my time can be better spent taking care of business.

    If there is no agreement there, then it is a debate where you're saying it doesn't happen and I'm saying it does. BTW, I never said it was ubiquitous. If anything, it's dominant and it's powerful but that's still a problem.

    It seems that if you're going to just ignore that there is a problem with the lyrics and images out there and deny that it does flow to these people that you don't think exist then then I'm basically stuck in a back and forth where you're going give me counter examples that are finely tweezed to suit your point. Like giving me a song that wasn't written by a black man or black men.

    If you merely say it's not your existence, then again, I don't think we're discussing the same issue. Instead, we're discussing self-perception and actualization.

    Plus, this is happening to me outside of the States. I'm seeing how this music and these images are not only influencing people coming out of middle America or the Canadian equivalent, the expat men I bash heads with, but how it influences people who've probably never seen a black person in the flesh.

    I agree that black American women are incredibly strong. However, my point isn't black women but how the image of the black woman in a lot of popular music is very negative and that's being peddled worldwide. One key problem is it's not black women selling the image. It's record execs and sell-out rappers selling the image.

    So, yes, I took a combatative tone. I do maybe more often than I should. I apologize if you feel unwelcome. But even going toe-to-toe debating with my mom, I was an aggressive debator and after the debate she'd give me a hug, say she loved me and we'd go on about our day. I don't equate even having a strong disagreement as a bad thing. As my life has gone by and I've gotten into disagreements with others, I've noticed that most aren't as thick skinned when it comes to this. (Not a comment addressed to you specifically, but how disagreements seem to get personal very quickly with a lot of people.)

  15. But this is the thing, that song wasn't written by a black man. This song was written by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager both of whom were white.

    I have long been aware that they are credited with having written the song, but (much as with "The Blue Tail Fly") I've never been inclined to believe it. A lot of dead white guys have their names on songs that they had no hand in writing.

  16. Okay, it just seem odd if there is this huge number of current R&B songs that do what you're saying why you didn't quote one of those.

    This is particularly so because those are credited to their real writers.

  17. Okay, it just seem odd if there is this huge number of current R&B songs that do what you're saying why you didn't quote one of those.

    I didn't specifically reference current R&B songs. I don't see how my not having mentioned an R&B song is in any way odd. As I stated previously, I am not a fan of that genre. If you want a verifiable example from a genre of music with which I am familiar; "Whole Lotta Love". It was shamelessly plagiarized by Led Zeppelin. In 1985 the song's real writer, Willie Dixon, sued and the band settled with him out of court.

  18. Um, I'm not debating your point about the old song you referenced not being penned by the two men it's attributed to. It's more than possible that a black man wrote it but it was stolen by two white guys. Honestly, that's not the point of this blog post and I'm sure there is someone out there who does have a blog on that topic.

    My point is that it's an old ass song. My blog was about how there aren't many NEW songs that do what the Ray Charles song did which is talk about a supportive woman (maybe too supportive, but definitely supportive.)

    Again, this "white guys stole it" tangent isn't relevant to my point because just as I quoted the Ray Charles lyrics the lyrics you quoted actually support my point. That point, again, is why aren't songs like that being written now? Now we've got songs calling us "bitches", "hoes" and "gold diggers." Either stay on point or let it go, please.

    BTW, you did reference R&B songs:
    "It seems to me, albeit I'm not a big fan of this genre either, that there are plenty of contemporary R&B songs which are quite complementary to black women."

    That's exactly what I thought the song you quoted was until I looked it up and discovered it's not a current song.

  19. BTW, you did reference R&B songs:
    "It seems to me, albeit I'm not a big fan of this genre either, that there are plenty of contemporary R&B songs which are quite complementary to black women."

    I meant that I didn't reference R&B songs in the comment about plagiarism of black music. "A lot of dead white guys have their names on songs that they had no hand in writing."

    I quoted the Ray Charles lyrics the lyrics you quoted actually support my point. That point, again, is why aren't songs like that being written now?

    Again, you seem to think that my initial reply disputed your post. As I've already said, that wasn't my intention. I simply posted a song which alluded to the merits of a not so put upon black woman.

    Either stay on point or let it go, please.

    I responded to a particular section of your post that was of interest to me. The point to which you seem to want to limit discussion is of very little interest to me. As I've said a few times already, I don't listen to that sort of thing. For reasons I can't begin to fathom, this seems to have inordinately set you off. Since this is your blog, you have/had the option of disallowing my reply. That would be considerably less obnoxious than attempting to mandate which sections of a post are suitable for comment.

  20. Actually, you keep presuming anger where there is none. You're a little obsessive, but beyond that, it's interesting.

    Yeah, I'm interested in discussing what I blogged about. I'm not interested in a discussion on the white men who've stolen the songs of black men. We know that happened and that happens now when someone in power sees talent in someone else and wants to take credit. Again, that's not the point. Discuss it if you want, but if you're using it to counter something I'm saying that's a little silly.

    Quoting that song is interesting, but I know and I am a strong black woman. In fact, I wrote that my mom was a supportive wife and nurturing mother, but God help anyone who crossed her. You can have both. My point is that the media shows us pretty much in one light.

    You can quote all of the old songs that reference strong black women. It's pretty much irrelevant because I never said we weren't strong. My point is we're more than one dimensional beings.

  21. I'm a few months late to this discussion, but I just found your blog, Expat Jane, and wanted to chime in with my two cents.

    I hear what you're saying about music execs and hip hop/rap artists
    who portray negative images of African American women via their lyrics and videos. However, if there were no AA women who take the $1000 bait (or whatever they get paid) to participate in music videos, the execs and rappers would have to find someone else to exploit.

    IMO, videos are even more powerful than lyrics.

    Although one can paint a vivid picture lyrically, seeing is believing (even if it's a negative portrayal of someone or a group of people). So the beat goes on, and the world over, AA women are seen as hyper-sexually charged beasts with no tact or sensibilities.

    The way in which AA women are portrayed in the media is an unfair assessment of our true beauty and strength. On the other hand, AA women need to take some responsibility for the state we find ourselves in and how we are viewed, as a whole, by others.

    How many AA women who wouldn't dare think of using a man for his money, bought Kanye West's "Gold Digger" CD? I, for one, did and I rocked it for months. What was the justification for this decision? Since I'm not a gold digger, I knew Kanye wasn't rapping about ME, so I could enjoy the song and not feel that I'm giving credence to his interpretation. Or so I thought.

    I'm also guilty of buying 50 Cent's last CD and it was lace-filled with strong negative references toward AA women. I kept the CD in my collection for a year or so anyway. My justification for this decision was that the music was "tight". Truth be told, it was and still is. After listening to the song numerous times, I knew I was only fooling myself because I couldn't ignore the lyrics, which finally became very distasteful and demeaning to me.

    I believe many AA women, who hold themselves to a certain standard in life, are guilty of keeping the negative stereotypes going.

    But that's just it - our portrayal in the music industry IS a stereotype and does not apply to us all. AA women can be nurturers and keepers of the home, just as your Mom was (ExPat Jane), and as I am now. Your point is well taken that we are more than one dimensional beings.

    The question is, how do we dispel the negative stereotypes and turn it around? How do we fight against a multi-billion dollar
    machine when some of us want a piece of that magpie, and are even willing to sell our souls for the chance to make a few dollars?

    Although the generalizations placed upon us by men/women within our own ranks, as well as, among other races is egregious, I must return to the notion that AA women must also take some responsibility and own up to the part we have played in furthering this misrepresentation.

    Great post.

  22. Well, yeah, this was kicked out almost two years ago, but glad it's still worth reading.

    I was focusing on a specific question that came up when listening to the song. However, of course, the people responsible must act. Those people would be us, black women.

    A lot of us are walking stereotypes and, honestly, that's fine. The problem is when that's how the world sees all of us.

    I've found as I've gotten older that I've grown tired of shock and awe in reaction to who I am. Meaning what's STILL so shocking about a black woman who is educated and supports herself? What's so shocking about a black woman who has chosen NOT to have children before marriage. What's so shocking about a black woman who isn't a gold digger, but who can and has traveled on her own dime?

    Like everyone else, we're varied and diverse. There are many trifling and gold diggin' black women. However, there are also many hard working, educated and beautiful black women who avoid drama. What hits me is we're laded with negative stereotypes where, in contrast, white or even Asian women are laden with positive ones.

    It's common sense that you'll have the bad with the good. It's just from stereotypes, music and videos created by our own men, we're nothing more than whores. You're definitely right that we have to take control back. I think it starts with supporting positive aspects of hip-hop and leaving the negative alone no matter how tight the beats are.

  23. Expat Jane, I think that i would much rather the angry black woman than the hyper-sexual mulatto. I am a black woman originally from New York and currently residing in Italy. I get stared at every time I go out. Sometimes people are complimentary and say that I am "beautiful" whatever that means. However, they often mistake me for being Cuban or Brazillian which I don't like. Why, because these women arrive in Italy for prostitution. It hurts so much to think that people may have this possibly in their minds when they look at me. It's only been a year and I am slowly getting adjusted but it's not easy.

  24. de,

    that's gotta be tough for sure. I just think part of it is the fact that we are a varied diaspora. It's said that our sisters from Cuba or Brazil end up in Italy to prostitute themselves.

    I think I'd rather have none of it. I don't think the angry black woman label is any better than the hyper-sexualized mulatto. I do think there are different challenges.

    What I hope is ALL black women work hard to fight this mess when they see it. It's tiresome, but stereotypes strip away your humanity. I'm just angry and I don't need support. You're a whore and can be treated with disdain. Neither of those are acceptable. So when someone steps to me with that malarkey, I address it immediately.

    I'm a woman. I've got feelings and I need support. Just because there is a stereotype out there about women who look like me, doesn't mean that's all there is to me 'cause I won't deny that, of course, I can and do get angry with a vengeance sometimes. But so does anyone else.

  25. As they say, if you want a true friend, get a dog.


  26. Humor on the net is best served along with an emoticion. ;)

  27. Hi Regina,
    There are possibly two sides to stereotypes. The first is a very primal side –"when we meet a new tribe our first reaction is to ask should we enslave these people or put them on the barbie [BBQ]?"
    Difference, is conspicuous, e.g. ancient Britons ploughing a field might see dark swarthy Romans riding over a hill and think "uh oh...".
    The other side of stereotypes is a social construct side. If we can vilify or dehumanise a group we can harm them without questioning our actions, e.g. Blackface/Jim Crow form of entertainment. When the English first sought control of Scotland and Ireland, ideas like “red heads have violent tempers” took hold.
    [Let's just gloss over Australian history and move on ...cough cough]
    The assumption assertive women are aggressive is a modern form of blackface extending to any women anywhere. "African-Americans have a lot to be angry about so if I upset them I do not have to question myself". Assertive women of any race/culture, no matter how reasonable, are still threatening to the status quo.
    In day to day life, when people do or say something which makes us uncomfortable we can either consider it honestly, or just take the easy way out – denial.
    If I assert myself it might be dismissed with "are you taking your medication?" or "you are menopausal"– much easier than for the other party to consider on this occasion I might actually have a point. Next are cultural differences ¬ not genetic accidents in the way colour or gender are, but very real, significant learned behaviours.
    I know little about Korea so let's look at Chinese culture – after 1,000 years of a harsh Imperial system, then 50 years of communist dictatorship, it would be no surprise if a few Chinese people were passive aggressive. This is not culture in a publicly agreed set of values way, but culture in a how people survive way. Mainland Chinese might be forgiven for thinking it is dangerous to reveal what they’re really thinking.
    I don’t feel ashamed of harbouring this stereotype about un-westernised Chinese because, like most Australians, I take people as I find them. Indirectness is a possibility [not an inevitability]. With this in mind I have a better chance of establishing a productive relationship with un-westernised Chinese people.

    Possibly the single most important barrier to an improvement in outcomes for Aboriginal Australians has been the time it has taken for us [non-Aboriginals] to see the contrast between the western worldview we just assumed was a ‘human’ worldview, and the traditional Aboriginal worldview. Just one tiny example would be our assertiveness: I say what I think and if you have a problem with this you will challenge me and that way we all know how to get along. Traditionally, Aboriginals are NEVER direct. Directness is not just rude, it is aggressive, incomprehensible, bizarre behaviour.
    Perhaps your South Korean friend was suffering from a mixture of ignorance of [unfamiliarity with] US / African-American people, a distaste for directness, preconceptions about female-appropriate behaviour, resentment of having his own values or assumptions challenged, or any number of things.
    Few of us like to be invisible. We want to connect with other humans, to be seen for who we are and what we value and as good people. When we are "invisibled" by stereotypes or assumptions it is a form of spiritual murder and extremely hurtful.
    At this point we need to choose between trying to provide some insight, or knowing when we should just move on [because only an idiot argues with an idiot]. The only consolation is your friend did not consciously mean any harm, there was no criminal intent. As Macy Gray puts it, There is Beauty in the World. :)

  28. I have been dogged by this stereotype all my life. I mean I used to go out of my way to be kind and do favors for people. Partly because it's just in my nature to be kind to others, and also because I was always taught that kindness is often repaid in the form of better social acceptance and a wider social network.

    Truthfully though I think this only works for some people. I get slapped with this stereotype, despite the fact that it doesn't describe me remotely. To the point that when I help someone out, when I really don't need to, I feel like it's ignored. But when I speak up for myself, I'm being an aggressive bitch. My help and participation is expected, my assertion is not.

    Truthfully I'm content to be alone and let others think what they will. But I get the feeling socially I'm expected to put in an appearance, but be seen and not heard, or just be the entertainment. I'm not expected to be a fully realized human being, I'm just there for decoration.

  29. It's really interesting to read this post years on. This was a particularly low point for me, clearly.

    It's a stereotype that's still there, but it's one where you've got to really make peace with it and then just continue to move forward.


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