“So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. . . . He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.” – Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937
When Zora Neale Hurston wrote those words, I think she meant to raise awareness of Black women’s plight in society, not to be prophetic. Still, here we are almost 75 years later, still picking up the emotional parcels left for us by others. The difference between 1937 and today is that now, perhaps, we’re volunteering to shoulder the burden.
I am (Black) Woman Hear Me Roar
I can’t imagine a better time to be a Black woman. We have high earning potential, we can live and work wherever we want and change our hairstyle to suit our mood. We can marry whomever we want (if only we could find them, but that’s another story.) I’ve said before that my life is the polar opposite of that lived my by grandmother, and even my mother, and they’d both be proud of me. Besides, we have a great public role model showing up for Black womanhood every day in the First Lady of the United States. Michelle Obama is the bomb: she’s smart, beautiful, a mother, a wife, a business person, an attorney, and she has killer arms. Still we don’t like to look at her, and the millions of other Black women just like her (minus the husband who’s the leader of the free world and fine as hell…that’s completely unrealistic!) as inspiration for our art. We’d rather use media to wallow in freakish misery at the “mistakes” of our people. Maybe Mrs. O makes us embarrassed for our shortcomings rather than proud because she looks like us. How else would you explain our willingness to consume entertainment which continually represents the most negative parts of the Black female experience?
If you believe what you watch on TV, hear on the radio, see at the movies, you might actually believe that Black women ain’t shit. Wait I got confused: Black MEN ain’t shit (or at least the ones you’d want to date); Black WOMEN don’t DESERVE shit. How else do you explain that we persistently consume entertainment that continually presents us a personal failures at the hands of our men? What else but lack of self-worth would make Black women flock to see movies and read books that take away all our agency in the creation of our problems as well as our solutions?
Tyler Perry feels about Black women as George W. Bush feels about Black people
I swore I wasn’t gonna go in on Tyler Perry, but I’m mad at all of y’all where he’s concerned and my body is not big enough to contain my outrage. I’ve already made a conscious decision not to see For Colored Girls. . ., not because I don’t support Black film, actors, or Ntozake Shange’s seminal work. No, I won’t be seeing FCG because I’m not giving that woman-hating coward ONE RED CENT of my money. I know, FCG isn’t Perry’s text, but he’s written so many other texts in which the story goes down pretty much like this: a woman (or a series of women) are done wrong by their man (or The Man) or whomever; said women wallow in their victimhood for the majority of the film while over-dramatic music plays in the background and copious tears are shed; a man, or Madea (a man in drag), or God comes in to “save” said women and they all live happily ever after. Electric Slides for everybody!
In every movie/play Perry does, he takes away women’s agency in solving their own problems, makes them weak victims or, in the case of Madea (which I believe is his representation of the mother he wishes had defended herself and him in an abusive home), a gun-toting shrew. Apparently Perry’s world does not allow for women to get support without a penis involved. In Why Did I Get Married, all 4 women have crap relationships and when they get together for what should be “sister get yours” time, all they can do is complain then figure out how to crawl back to their cheating, angry, jealous husbands. Then the fat girl finds a man to love her, everyone cries and all the couples get back together? Nukka, please…The women I know would not have suggested any of the reconciliation that I saw in that film. They would’ve said, “girl, if your man put his hands on your throat (which happened in the movie) and verbally abused you and his baby mama (which also happened), I’ll stand by you in the divorce proceedings…I got your back.” Y’all remember the scene in Jungle Fever when Flipper’s wife gathers her sister-friends together for a good old hen party? Or in Guess Who…? when the female lead gets support, laughter and cocktails when she finds out her fiancé is an unemployed liar? You’ll never see that kind of group female solidarity in in a Tyler Perry film because I don’t think he actually believes we can do it on our own. From what I understand, even with Ntozake’s text, Tyler Perry still manages to make another Madea movie out of For Colored Girls. . ., so I’ll wait for it to come on HBO and content myself with re-reading the original text.
The saddest part is, though, that Black women line up around the corner to get us a piece of that Tyler Perry nonsense because he’s a successful entrepreneur. Apparently wealth gained through negative portrayals of Black women is still more important than holding him accountable for said images. I think the brother needs to get some therapy and stop using mass media to take out his anger towards his mother. But I can’t fault him as much as I can my sisters – and, unfortunately, some of them are in my family – who keep insisting I watch the bullshit, or read yet another poorly-written ghetto victim novel, because its “so real” and “we have to support Black people”. Um, OK, I’m supposed to “support” people who don’t think I’m worth much, who with their fame and influence could build battered women’s shelters instead of making movies portraying abused and/or unhappy women who get “saved”. How can we do better with our lives if we can’t ever SEE better, even in our entertainment?
Black women need to do better with ourselves, for ourselves, to ourselves.
If Black women continue to support garbage, watch garbage, read garbage and listen to garbage that paints us with such passivity, we’re stuck in the “mules of the world” cycle, being put UPON instead of being active participants in our own lives. Dammit, it’s 2010 and all we can think of to write a song about is some cheating man? And then millions of us roll down the window, sing it at the top of our lungs, and say “that’s my SONG!” when it comes on the radio. I can think back to a time when R&B was littered with relatively romantic songs about adultery. If you recall, “Secret Lovers” by Atlantic Star was about the separation between a couple when they couldn’t be together. At least both people in the relationship were cheating, and both were honest about it, which put them on equal footing. Then there were the “woman stepping out” songs of the 8o’s: “Somebody Else’s Guy” by Jocelyn Brown, and the adultery song of the decade, Shirley Murdoch’s “As We Lay”…at least the music was good, and the women singing were the subjects of the cheating and not the objects. Which brings me to today and Sunshine Anderson’s new song, “Lie to Kick It”? Check out these ridiculous lyrics:
I coulda sworn you said you live by yourself
But ya live-in girl exposed your world
(I bet you wonder) how the hell she got my number
(You called from the home phone) and forgot to block my number
Why do you lie when you expect me to trust in you?
To quote Sunshine herself in another one of her oh-so-positive R&B hits, I’ve heard it all before. My man’s a liar, woe is me. His side-piece (or his main dish) told me the truth, that heifer! Men cheat, I got that. Women cheat too, are active participants in the breaking of fidelity which, in my opinion, means you actually DID something for yourself instead of waiting to react to someone else’s behavior. On the surface, these baby-daddy cheater songs seem like anti-man anthems, and in some ways they are. But supporting this kind of music is detrimental to our mental health, and death to our art. For real, if all you can rhyme with “number” is “number”, you shouldn’t be getting paid to write anybody’s lyrics. We need to bust out with the modern day version of “I’m Every Woman” because, quite frankly, it is ALL in me, and I does it naturally. *snaps* What happened to songs like that? Where’s Queen Latifah singing about “Ladies First”, and “you gotta let ‘em know/you ain’t a bitch or a ho”? Oh right, I forgot, she’s a lesbian (or everyone thinks she is) so we’re not supposed to listen to her, and only heterosexuals need apply to our collective uplift. My mistake.
When we’re not putting our ownselves down, we’re getting the smackdown from mainstream art. Hey, it’s cool to hate on Black women, haven’t you heard? Last night on Glee, Mercedes (the token black girl) was ridiculed for her weight and her color, all for laughs. I’m angry that they made Precious references, especially since the Mercedes character is happy, and wealthy, and talented and kinda full of herself. But because she’s black and fat, she gets compared to a character full of dysfunction and self-hate. Hey, they look a little bit alike, they must be the same and feel the same way about themselves. Um, no. Don’t even get me started on how folks call Gabourey Sidibe “Precious” even though she bears little resemblance to the girl she played in the movie…it would be like calling Charlize Theron “Monster” because she played an ugly, horrible person in a movie of the same name…but I’m supposed to be talking about black women, not fat issues, so I’ll reel it in.
“But if I get off my knees, I might recall, I’m 20 feet tall” – Erykah Badu
I don’t really know if what we see in Black culture – and American culture in general – is a backlash against the advances Black women have made in society. It might be that sociological and emotional dysfunction is bubbling to the surface because in the modern political climate, we’re not plotting a lunch-counter sit-in so we have time to complain. What I DO know is this: psychologically speaking, people imitate the behavior and attitudes they see around them, and changing usually requires the introduction of a new, positive model and some repetition. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, neurolinguistic programming, and other therapeutic tools have been proven to reinforce positive behavior in adults, and the converse is also true – that continual negative stimuli reinforce our negative patterns. Black women especially need to get out from under the negative reinforcement presented in our entertainment, stop thinking that victimization is normal because it really isn’t for so many of us.
What do you think — why are Black women so willing to believe we’re victims?