As if there haven’t been enough articles about Black women’s lives over the past few years, The Washington Post has produced a lengthy piece on just what these creatures mythical creatures really are about. Sisters, who are “complex but vulnerable”, according to the article, are here examined closely, from our religious leanings to our relationship choices and our career aspirations. We are dissected as if we are some sort of “endangered species”.
One thing is clear, as long as the media is keeping a close eye on Black women there is an opportunity. In the era of Michelle Obama, there is a chance that the narrative shifts away from stereotypes and towards a new path we draw for ourselves. No longer are the days where the only Black women portrayed in the mainstream media and popular culture are video models and Oprah. Tomorrow is the day where a Black woman can more than be the “mule of world,” Zora Neale Hurson’s oft-cited describtion of Black womanhood, which is quoted in the piece.
As we shoulder the great burdens and and our narrative evolves, we excel academically and move forward in our careers. One woman profiled, Jennifer Smith, is “a senior at the University of Maryland, has been accepted into six prestigious medical schools. She is an honors student, a sorority president, an ambassador for the university. Yet she sometimes feels unwitting pressure to prove she belongs.” Smith went on to say, “You still have to make sure you lay all of your credentials out there — your transcript, your portfolio, your résumé. They show why I am here,” says Smith, who entered Maryland on a full academic scholarship dedicated to minority students. “I always want it to be clear that I got here because of what I did.” That sentiment is consistent throughout various segments of women regardless of their level of education. For Black women it’s a consistent struggle to prove themselves and to make clear to anyone giving them the “affirmative action side-eye” that they didn’t stumble into success by mistake.
The “strong Black woman” phenomena is still alive and well and is described in the article as the “make it happen” attitude which stares each and every obstacle square in the face, from institutionalized racism, to the economic downturn that hurt all Americans and, of course, the always-precarious social status that can be upset by personal turmoil.
The article notes that most Black women surveyed were not taught to look for “prince charming” to become the patriarch of the household and their life’s focus; sisters are instead choosing to hustle, work for their own and think about a potential mate later on… if at all. Nika Beamon, a television news producer in New York who turned 40 last year is quoted in the piece as saying “I didn’t work this hard to get married.” For others surveyed, the ultimate quest for a mate is at the forefront of their decisions, driving a few to forgoe graduate studies for fear that that time could have been better spent finding a husband.
What’s clear is Black women are hardly a monolithic group that fit neatly into any single boxed image promoted by popular culture or even in reality television. While this study and it’s “results” are not nasty or hateful, I’ve yet to see any explination as to why it is needed. Who needs a constant cheat sheet on what Black women are doing or thinking? Where’s the White women study? The thoughtful probing into the lives of the Asian-American male? Why do we get all the fun? Come jump in the petri dish, guys!
In all seriousness, let’s hope future generations are free to be who they want to be without scientific analysis pondering the question of why so many Black women don’t have husbands to add to America’s divorce rate.
Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and staff writer for Loop 21. Follow her on Twitter:@zerlinamaxwell