To be a Black woman in America is to suffer from the intersectionalities that make up your identity. Amongst many things, it is to be medically disposable, aesthetically fetishized and subdued in order to make others comfortable.
Black mothers especially receive the worst of it, starting with the medical field.
Institutionalized medical racism originated centuries ago, when Black people would be operated on as experiments without their consent or any sort of anesthetics. As a way to justify their cruel acts, doctors reasoned that Black people seldom felt pain. We see the residue of these ideas still manifesting in modern-day healthcare systems, where Black patients spend more time in waiting rooms and Black women are three to six times more likely to die giving birth than white women.
Black women have always been praised as “natural nurturers.” Some examples include the African woman who uses her cloth to soothe her children to sleep on her back and the African American woman who became the caretaker of white children during the day before going back home to take care of her own during the night, also known as the mammy figure. The historical archetype of Black women as nurturers usually portrays a dark-skinned woman who is the primary caretaker of the house. She is given domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning and the nursing of small children. She is typically submissive, selfless, obedient and loyal—all characteristics written in novels to continue the stereotypical façades. Truthfully, the mammy is a problematic figure of the white man’s imagination, created to hold their families together—which most times caused the Black woman to neglect her own.
As soon as society hears or even sees the Black woman stepping out of this character and into her own dominant truth, she is characterized as the “mad Black woman.” You see, this stereotype never fails to leave us as Black women. If we are not labeled this by the white man, we are labeled by our own Black men. Being able to express emotion freely is not a liberty Black women are afforded. Why am I not allowed to be upset in peace? Even if I am not upset, why do I always have to be smiling? Why can’t Black women just exist? Even our emotions have been weaponized against us in this society because we’re supposed to be so strong that we aren’t expected to feel when others do us wrong. We’re supposed to be so strong that we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders without complaint.
The world either labels us as “strong and independent” or “angry” as soon as we go against the grain or speak with the slightest bit of passion. So much is expected of us in a world that undermines us. With the intersectional identity of being both Black and a woman, there’s double the stigma. The stigmas and stereotypes that society has created hold so much weight still. Sporty little girls are told they must be more feminine and leave games to boys. In circumstances of sexual abuse or harassment, people will ask what the victim was wearing. Being assertive is misconstrued as being arrogant. Even when a woman is married, many men simply see her as a trophy or property. We must move away from the habit of constantly faulting women for living their lives. Judgment is inevitable, but Black women get it the worst by far.
Within the group of those that do appreciate us, a large number of them are men fetishizing and objectifying our distinctive features. The plump lips, wide hips and coily hair. They use words like “chocolate” and “honey” that are sorry attempts to call us attractive. Many white women with glorified Eurocentric beauty standards are now altering their features to embody more Afrocentric features. From lip plumpers and injections to spray tans and purposeful uses of darker foundation colors, this is blackface taking another form, and it is still just as revolting.
Even in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, when so many Black people are being killed, there are Black women who have been placed on the back burner of the movement—even though they are at the front lines of the fight. We know so many Black men who have been victims of police brutality, but there are so many women that are not given the same recognition.
My question to the white man who created these ideals is: why can’t a Black woman be assertive without a red flag going off in your head? The same people who formed this society that we live in will tell a woman that she must be receptive while allowing men to be projective. They say, “you’re too emotional and not logical enough.” They tell you that you’re compassionate but oversensitive, naturally nurturing but codependent. These traits are not entirely wrong, but they are entirely too limiting. Bringing me back to my initial point: you cannot tell me, as a Black woman, that I shouldn’t question the construction of our society when it has demonized everything that I am.
Black women are human as well. The world labels us as strong just to mask all the damage that is done to us. It’s to the point where little Black girls grow up believing they must be stronger than little Black boys. We’re teaching them to normalize their pain because they can “handle it” rather than teaching them that they should be treated with care because they are also delicate and valuable human beings. It becomes dehumanizing when your very existence is policed and stigmatized. Black women do not exist to make you comfortable—but first, you should ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable in the first place.