By Guest Writer
In my experience I feel being an African American woman in America has many challenges. I feel this way because we are continuously defending ourselves within our culture and outside of it. In America, African American women are routinely stereotyped for the way we wear our hair, the way we dress, and the way we speak. Our culture is often misappropriated and yet we still receive criticism for it. Within our culture many of us deal with the challenges of being more successful than our African American male counterparts. We often come from homes where we are the head of our households. In our culture many of us have grown up in single parent homes. I feel African-American women deal with great struggle and are stronger because of it. I would like to reflect on the lack of respect African-American women deal with inside our culture, dealing with stereotypes from outside of our culture and learning to fit into other cultures without losing our own cultural authenticity.
I feel the music we listen to helps to promote the disrespect African-American woman receive in my community. While I am a big fan of the music created; I remain conflicted because of the misogynistic content of the lyrics. Hip hop culture is a driving force in my community and because of that, it has a heavy influence on the behaviors of the people within it. Disrespecting women has been popularized in my community. It is not uncommon for me to hear or to be called a derogatory name for refusing unwanted advances from men. The irony in the disrespect received from black men towards black women, is that many of these same black men have themselves been raised by a black woman. This is one of the many struggles I face within my culture. Learning to fight for respect in a culture that routinely disrespects me is a daily struggle.
It is often said that women of color have bad attitudes, bad mouths, and are hyper-sexual. While I agree my attitude can sometimes be misinterpreted; this misinterpretation is due more to cultural ignorance than my actual attitude. As far as the bad mouth stereotype, I believe it is the direct result of women of color, having to be overly defensive. I will not go into historical detail; but I will say in my opinion black women are the least defended women in history. Discussing the hyper-sexuality of black women is a bit personal. In my opinion the beautiful physical anatomy of black women is the main reason for this stereotype. Many women of color such as myself have curves. What I wear and what someone else wears who has less curves can appear a lot different. A woman wearing a simple pencil skirt can be deemed acceptable or too sexy depending on her anatomy. The root of black women being called hyper-sexual comes from perception. Depending on who is looking and how much cultural understanding they have, what I wear can be deemed appropriate or inappropriate. Essentially, I have to be mindful of what I wear and who I wear it around because of the anatomy I was born with. This is not only unfair but if I decide to wear what I like or something that accentuates my curves, I risk being called hyper-sexual. The stereotypes mainstream America sets for me are nothing but culturally biased opinions used to avoid getting to know my culture. My attitude, my “mouth” and perceived hyper-sexuality is no greater than women of other cultures. The only difference is that in America people are far more willing to get to know women of other cultures. Instead of getting to know women of color other cultures simply imitate our anatomy (sometimes with surgery) and culturally appropriate everything from our fashion to our hair styles.
The greatest struggle I have is remaining culturally authentic while being active in other cultures. Often times I am working, exercising, and pursuing higher education in environments that lack the culture relativism I would prefer. Due to the lack of culture relativity, I am confronted with a challenge, be more like myself at the risk of being misunderstood or conforming to the culture norms that exist in the culture I am participating in. In an episode of Issa Rae’s tv drama, “Insecure” there is a scene where a young corporate lawyer is brought in as an intern. The young lawyer is black, jovial, obnoxious, and doesn’t appear to be conforming to the culture norms of the environment she’s working in. A more seasoned black lawyer pulls her aside and mentions to her to tone down her behavior . The young lawyer responds explaining she was hired as an intern with the same personality she is currently displaying. A partner in the firm approaches the seasoned lawyer about speaking to the younger intern about better fitting in with the culture of the law firm. The lawyer declines to speak to the intern and the intern was later dismissed for not fitting in (“Insecure” 2016). While this scenario is a bit dramatized, it speaks to the real struggle black women face in an environment where our culture is often misunderstood.
My experiences shape who I am and how I view the world. They also help me navigate a world in which sometimes I am invisible and often minimized. Despite all of this I don’t feel inferior, I don’t feel I have anything to prove and if I hope for anything it’s that people get a better understanding of me and my culture as I have of everyone else’s. I appreciate being able to speak about struggles that myself and women of color like me face. It is important that our perspective be known not just to us but to those around us. Our culture and the struggles we go through may be similar to many others around the world. This is why when telling our stories we have an obligation to be honest and true about the struggles we face. This truth may inspire others and give them courage to continue to fight the social norms set for them in the cultures where they live.