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Stereotypes, in general, can often be unfounded, violent and harmful to the people they are applied to. Some of the more common stereotypes of black women stem from a distinct anti-blackness that is deeply rooted in patriarchy. The strong black woman trope at first glance seems to empower but this singular stereotype has cost black women ease and many are paying with their lives.
Throughout history, stereotypes perpetrated by oppressors have been used to justify their oppression. For black people, blackness has come to be associated with aggression and violence. This image painted by the white slave owners was the stereotype used to rationalise the evil mistreatment of black slaves. Much of slavery was justified by the single narrative that black people were inferior beings with less intellect, “animalistic” physical strength and a pain threshold above white people. Some of these stereotypes persevere today in alternative forms and continue to fuel a racist system. Black men are still regarded as inherently violent and the narrative of the “strong” and “angry” black woman still thrive and are weaponised against black women by white people and black men alike.
Black women are expected to be either of two things; “strong”; meaning docile and enduring (even in the face of extreme suffering and oppression). Black women are expected to forbear the effects of racism, misogynoir and good old misogyny even within the black community. Black men are some of the major oppressors of black women. The culture of heaping responsibilities on women while letting men do as they like sans accountability makes it so that many black men feel entitled to physical and emotional labour from the women in their lives and they expect these women to take the bullshit smiling. What is lauded as “strength” in this context is usually the ability or willingness to tolerate and endure abuse and oppressive conditions. We constantly see men speaking about their mothers in the most degrading way possible and not viewing them as autonomous individuals out of their service to their families. “My mother went to work and then came home and cooked and cleaned while enduring verbal abuse from my father and disrespect from her children; yet, she did it all without complaining, she was strong”. No, she was suffering and though it may be noble, it is not commendable.
Black women are also perpetually “angry” in the eyes of the world. Even though anger is a valid response to the unfair treatment black women face, anger is not used to describe the emotion. Anger is a label that is slapped on black women wherever they go. In the face of a thousand and one reasons to be angry, black women are forbidden from expressing this anger. Even when we are not angry, we are demonised at the prospect of anger.
It is gaslighting in the highest scale and proportion to label a valid response to unfair treatment as a single emotion; anger, and to define an entire race of women by that single descriptor. As if anger in itself is a horrible thing and not indicative of a response to ill-treatment. It is simply misogynoir to continue to portray black women as ill-mannered and ill-tempered and associating blackness in women with “masculinity” and aggression; traits that may pass in men but are vilified in women.
Navigating a world that is rigged against you with the weight of these damning stereotypes on your back cannot be easy and like most stereotypes, these misguided and tyrannical pigeon holes are past due for extinction.
As defined by Pilgrim in 2015, “it is a social control mechanism that is employed to punish black women who violate the societal norms that encourage them to be passive, servile, non-threatening, and unseen” It has been characterized as leading to a form of a double bind”