Marriages between black women and white men could be tolerated during slavery because they were so few in number and represented no threat to the white supremacist regime. After manumission they were no longer tolerated. In the state of Kentucky, the Supreme Court was asked to judge insane a white man who desired to marry a female slave he had once owned. Once slavery ended and whites declared that no black woman regardless of her class status or skin color could ever be a “lady”, it was no longer socially acceptable for a white man to have a black mistress. Instead, the institutionalized devaluation of black womanhood encouraged all white men to regard black females as whores or prostitutes. Lower class white men, who had had little sexual contact with black women during slavery, were encouraged to believe they were entitled to access to the bodies of black women.
Black women have been taught to be selfless and strong since childhood. We are reared to love our mothers, obey our fathers, care for our siblings, and be subservient to our men. Whether we want to or not, we are instilled with all the traits of dedicated caretakers, making us, as Zora Neale Hurston once said, “the mules of the world.” Such selflessness has taken a toll on black women, forcing us to compromise our sanity and overall wellness to appease others.
In clinical psychiatric settings, black women are diagnosed very differently from white counterparts who present with the same symptoms. For instance, black women have considerably higher rates of anxiety disorders than white women. Blacks are diagnosed with higher lifetime rates of simple phobia, social phobia, and agoraphobia. Therapists tend to view African American women as anxious or phobic while perceiving white women who describe similar emotions and behaviors as sad and depressed. Black women are more likely to be described by therapists as hostile and paranoid, and diagnosis for black women is inclined to be more severe than for white women. In these diagnostic differences we see the operation of the social construction of black womanhood that disallows sadness. Therapists are less likely to perceive a black woman as sad; instead, they see her as angry or anxious.
The idea that black women must always be perfectly well-behaved — or risk shaming the community-at-large – is both unrealistic and unfair. We are fighting a battle that is unique to women of color in this country, and that is the duality of asserting our individual identities separate from stereotypical imagery, while fighting for the elevation of our communities as a whole. This places us in the precarious position of not being able to ignore the pervasive effects of reality television, while still recognizing that every, single one of these women has the right to present themselves to the world as they choose – whether anyone agrees or not.
on stereotypical imagery in shows like Basketball Wives & Real Housewives of Atlanta
The reality is this: when Black straight men and boys are beaten, brutalized, and/or murdered as a result of state-sanctioned and/or white supremacist violence, it becomes (as well it should be) a national issue in the Black community and in a few, definitely not all, instances, the outrage moves beyond the Black community. Yet, when Black straight women, girls, and LGBTQ people are raped, sexually assaulted, beaten, brutalized, and/or murdered as a result of misogynist, patriarchal, state-sanctioned, and/or white supremacist violence, it is too often the victim’s individual issue. There are so many egregious, known and unknown, cases of racial and gender-based violence perpetuated against all Black people, regardless of their gender, gender identity, and sexuality, that it is literally impossible to write about all of them.” ~ Aishah Shahidah Simmons, “Who Will Revere Us? (Black LGTBQ People, Straight Women, and Girls)” (Part 1) for The Feminist Wire.