The defamation and degradation of the black woman in today’s society seem to help mold part of the very foundation on which this nation was built. Thousands of kidnapped Africans were transported to various parts of the world during the slave trade, the women and girls–sexually abused and exploited and forced to give birth to illegitimate children to increase slave population. These actions began a downward spiral in the treatment and perception of the black woman, connecting them with hyper-sexualization and sexual exploitation. Soon the black female was seen as a “Jezebel” and looked down upon by their white counterparts. Beauty standards steered away from the black women’s natural appearance, only embracing those things that were opposite subliminally instilling in the mind of these women that they were not good enough. These messages and negative images connected with the sexual nature of black females have had a dramatic effect on the way black women are portrayed in this day and age as well as the way black girls want to be perceived in today’s society. Young black girls seem to idolize and obsess over the “video vixen” or “stripper” lifestyle, making them more prone to underage pregnancy, sexual assault, and sexually transmitted diseases. While sexual exploitation of young girls is a problem across all ethnicities, the degradation of young black girls has roots in slavery and Jim Crow that still make themselves apparent today. The hyper-sexual images of Black women circulated in the media and in other aspects of society have contributed to the negative perception of African-American women’s and girls sexual habits and behaviours.These Images with their highly sexual implications may determine the way in which Black girls view themselves as well as impact the way in which others view and interact with them.
My purpose for writing this blog today is to help shed light on this ever worsening issue in the black community. Today’s society makes a mockery over the preservation of purity when it comes to black girls, so much so that total disrespect and abuse of them can go unpunished and overlooked in the court of law. My sources will include works from Dr. Maya Angelou as well as other scholars prominent in the African-American community.
Media interpretations of women of African descent are having a negative impact on the mind of young black girls. Girls of African descent are seemingly growing up with aspirations to become the next video vixen to marry a ball player or rapper instead of wanting to be pioneers and pillars for their communities. They are under the impression that using their physical assets will get them ahead and help them attract a prince charming. Girls are imitating behavior as well as dress from women in videos and other parts of the entertainment industry. These young girls are not being shown what the proper way to carry themselves in society is, so in turn they look to these videos and degrading shows resulting in the subliminal images being ingrained in their mental psyche and portrayed in their everyday life.
The minds of these young girls are full of insecurities. Daily stressors of trying to “fit in” with a “white” beauty standard often has a major impact of self-esteem. Girls are comparing themselves to women who have had numerous cosmetic procedures to achieve what they classify as “pure beauty”, causing them to look down on their natural beauty. Dabovie-Mullins points out that “images of infantilized black women clearly enforce dangerous and stereotypical notions of black womanhood yet these images also reflect and perpetuate the general societal neglect and indifference towards black girlhood” (2010). The historical references of women of African descent as sexual beings sets apart modern perceptions of black girls bodies from those of other young girls. Black women’s bodies have not only been degraded but also objectified as well as commoditized under United States capitalist class relations. The sexuality of the Black woman was reduced to gain control over a demeaned vagina that was then objectified and sold. Irving notes that the sexualization of black women as well as girls has roots in slavery. She notes that once a slave girl reached adolescence, they faced the chances of being exploited sexually. For black girls it associates them with certain dehumanizing and degrading practices. These historical references show us the exploitation prominent in black girls sexuality (Stephen & Phillips, 2005). Although more positive role models are black girls are becoming more abundant, contemporary representations of past stereotypes are still around. For instance, Stephens and Phillips (2003, 2005) have broken down the recent “Jezebel” images seen in today’s music videos including but not limited to, freaks, baby mommas, groupies and strippers. Although todays images try to portray that women are in control of their sexuality, in all actuality it shows how easily women lose themselves to what people expect them to be.
In a study of high school students given in 2005, approximately 11% of girls (in comparison to 4% of males) reported forced sexual intercourse at some part in their life. Also, black girls reported significantly higher rates than their white and latin counterparts. Presently, black girls are one of the more rapidly growing groups to contract the HIV virus, exceeding even black males. It seems the new face of the HIV outbreak in the US is young, female, and black. Young black females are also in top rankings for teenage pregnancy as reported by the CDC. Coming a close second to Hispanic females, these statistics prove that the infantilization if black girls is at an all time high. The urban female has become a common scapegoat for a lot of the nations issues. She is seen as sexually overactive, lacking proper upbringing, morality and control. This puts her easily at fault as well as at risk. Deborah L. Tolman asserts, “This stereotype isn’t an actual person, but a featureless figure who dwells in the imagination of the public rather than in the streets of the actual urban America. The social outlook becomes misconstrued and confused with race: this means she is a girl of color so she must be lower class”(255). Although Tolman’s description of the Urban girl is a girl of color, not just African-American, all girls of African descent, regardless of their socioeconomic standing, are faced with the same stereotypes that they grew up in the projects or the “ghetto” and add that to the perception that they are promiscuous and loose. Black girls mainly represent many of the less desirable personality traits in American culture. Loud yet overlooked, angry and aggressive, demanding and helpless. Black girls apparent lack of importance in today’s society is what led Chicago journalist Mary Mitchell, in a piece written about R.Kelly’s degrading and offensive behavior during his tour in 2004 regardless of charges pending against him, to attest that “most of us don’t give a darn about the sexual exploitation of girls. The unworthiness of black girls in today’s society is confirmed by the R.Kelly case and perpetuated by the lack of justice and outrage against such actions and result in a tendency to blame the victim and not even see it as degradation when the target is a girl of African descent.
Being a young black girl in America based on the representations of girlhood in the media, suggest that girls of African descent are looked at differently as well as face a different set of rules when it comes to sex, blame and innocence. These girls cannot seem to avoid the negative stereotypes associated with who they are, especially when these stereotypes are paired with the ones about their male counterparts. The reasoning behind the infantilization of black girls is always the same: they are “hoes” who want it, making the damaging narrative, from slavery times to present more apparent in the American consciousness. Ronald L. Jackson asserts “Blacks become more acceptable with the negative representations of their bodies when they uncritically imitate structures made to either essentialize or demean “blackness”. This means that everything from hair straightening to skin bleaching as well as the new eye color changing surgery, is making it easier for blacks to disconnect themselves with their natural appearance to be more appealing in today’s society. In white culture women of African descent play two roles. They are either the bad “bitches” or angry women seen as threatening or as the “Momma”, “keeping it real” and taking care of everyone. It is these very stereotypes that make it harder for black girls to fit in and identify their place in the community. Representations of the gold-digging and sexually hyperactive black girl living in the “hood” are seen as problematic truths. Nonetheless these “truths” regarding the sexuality of black girls are not contradicted or disproved. They are instead imitated and exaggerated into a spectacle that seems to define black womanhood.
Media images offer black girls very few positive role models. In African-American women and sexuality in the cinema, Norma Manatu says, “young black girls who lack a strong father figure or those who because of their economic rankings as well as lacking consistent parental influence and supervision may be more easily swayed to negative sexual imagery as those offered in films” (168-69). Black girls that are hyper-sexual and considered to be over sexualized in the media, viewed as sexually hungry and childlike. The acceptance of such images (girls as women and vice versa) in popular culture leave the influence that black girls are not really girls. By entangling the idea of the two we are prompted to think about black girls in two degrading and related ways: they are invisible yet highly visible, over-sexed and unapproachable.
The R.Kelly trial is a perfect example is a perfect modernization of the sexual exploitation of girls. His heinous sexual crime went unjustified and although he admittingly had a lust for underage girls for years, he is still admired as one of the greatest musical talents alive. The community failed to recognize his actions for what they were, molestation and rape. In Maya Angelou’s autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, she describes a similar situation she was put in by her mothers then boyfriend, Mr. Bailey. Unlike the R.Kelly situation , when brought to trial he is not only found guilty, but also beaten to death for disgracing the young girl. This is a prime example of how the morality in our community has declined over the years. Instead of girls and women being valued, they are now objectified, ridiculed and looked down upon. How can we believe there is hope for our girls when a man who has a questionable history with young girls be allowed to walk away after urinating on one in front of a camera? How can girls believe there is hope when his music is still being praised and played across all media outlets nationwide. Could there be a bigger insult to our futures, our girls?
Images in the media offer very few positive role models for black girls. Just like negative images of African women in Hollywood, television and music videos more often direct their attention to the “Jezebel,”. It seems that the black girls who lack a strong father figure and come from an economically low background are more susceptible to see the images as positive than their wealthier counterparts. The American Psychological Association (APA) Report on the Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls reported that over-sexualized influences and images of girls in the media (including commercials, television, music videos, magazines, and various sources on the internet) had a very negative effect on girls: Sufficient evidence proves that sexualization has and always will have negative consequences in a variety of ways, including the way they function day-to-day, the way they see and think about themselves, sexuality, and personality and what they believe in. I am not saying that class doesn’t affect racial stereotypes. However, race can be seen before where you fall in the economic classing system, the way you dress, as well as everything else. The stereotype of the promiscuous black woman haunts us whether we are standing at a bus stop with our children, or standing in line at the grocery store.
Black women and girls have tried to keep a hold on the music industry, everyone from performers, taking full responsibility for the hyper sexual images they project. The students at Spelman College, the famous historic black women’s college in Atlanta, started a “take back the music” petition and protest to challenge sexually explicit lyrics and music videos. The young women did everything from beginning community forums, to writing articles, and rallying for the music industry to tone down these images. Recently, black female scholars have went before the United States Congress concerning these degrading stereotypes and images produced by the music industry when portraying black women.
During these hearings with congress, music industry representatives made themselves clear: they’re only business is to provide entertainment and maintain its functionality as a highly respected and sought after profitable corporation.What our community needs to see is Black girls can’t depend on the music industry or hip-hop artist to become socially responsible, and care about the images they project. We must do our best to instill in them comprehension and media literacy skills, which will show them how to critically analyze hip-hop stereotypes to break them by asking themselves as well as others: Who perpetrated these stereotypes and why?, Who actually has something to gain from the sexual degradation of black girls and women?, and what historical connections do these images have with the way black women and girls were exploited in the past? Now is the time for change. In light of the recent racial issues plaguing our countries over the deaths of unarmed blacks by police, I believe now is the time for the black community to not only unify, but also provide better examples to our future generations. Over sexualized images of black women amongst other things should be boycotted and pulled from media, entertainers should relay a message of unity instead of messages containing strong sexual undertone. They should consider the approach of placing more positive influences and images in the media to cancel out the negative stereotypes.
I wanted to wait awhile to get the general public’s reaction to this before I offered a full opinion because I had to see how the media would portray this crime. Unfortunately just as I suspected they managed to find a way to downplay the situation and make excuses for a man who assassinated 9 African Americans inside a historical black church after he heard them pray. I do believe African Americans are unaware of their true place in this society which has and always will be second class citizens, if considered citizens at all. Nothing about this country we built WE built was made for us, these laws are not made for us; the Constitution was not made for us. Some say the emancipation proclamation was but all that did was release of from slavery and still keep us beneath the rest of the country. we had no equal rights, they would have been better off reloading us on boats and sending us back to where the heck they got us from. But they didn’t and why because it’s always been the intention of this country to keep us at bay, in a slave state of mind and under their control. They teach and encourage us to be criminals in order to keep their prisons full so they can force more labor without it looking as obvious as slavery. They make it harder for lower-income families to get the proper help in order to better themselves; they simply give out handouts just enough to survive. Enough to feel like you have no need to get up and do better, once again limiting your true potential. Its saddening that so many are asleep to what’s going on around them, that they do not realize that our oppressors not only taught us how to kill each other off but also do it recklessly with no consequence. There is no way they can make excuses for a white psychopath who planned what he was going to do for months and supports white supremacy on every form of social media, but call a teen supposedly shoplifting a pack of 1$ cigars a menace…a thug…and then kill him in the middle of the day in his own community. They put a bullet proof vest on a man who carelessly took the lives on 9 blacks for no good reason whatsoever during his arrest but put a black man in a chokehold of death for selling cigarettes on the street and killed him, a hold that was supposedly removed from police protocol because of the danger it posed. Mentally ill? they walked a mentally ill man who killed nine innocent people out with no handcuffs during his arrest and yet when called to the home of a mentally ill black woman to help detain her from harming herself, they managed to slam her on the ground so hard she died in front of her family. If you as an African-American don’t see the danger this country, its laws and its officials pose to our survival and humanity then I need you to snap out of it. We have all undergone years of brainwashing and subliminal messaging in order to keep us under control and doing the oppressors will, but this is the time to break free. In my opinion the peaceful protest get ignored and treated as acts of terrorism and really get us nowhere in the end. While I appreciate the rights that the civil right era did bring forth, how many had to die and get raped. Beaten until finally enough was enough? I personally don’t think this passive way of action is going to get us far, just get us killed. We are too concerned with “beef” between each other and wiping each other out that we don’t even realize this has always been and always will be the plan. To eliminate the black people and culture as a whole. They drop man-made diseases in the motherland to kill in large numbers, they brainwash us to believe that we are our own enemy and then turn and kill us in cold blood and slide. Until we UNIFY we will continue to DIE. The revolution will not be televised
A true queen and revolutionary.