All Articles Tagged "black women"
A 2015 study found that college-educated Black women often feel like “unicorns” in the workplace — invisible, yet “painfully conspicuous.” Harvard Business Review delves into the reasons behind this paradox.
According to HBR’s report, Black women are 2.8 times as likely than White women to pursue leadership roles such as running a school board, heading a youth initiative, or leading a community organization. Despite throwing their hats in the ring, 46 percent of qualified Black women said their ideas are often ignored.
Karla Martin, Director of Global Strategy at Google, said she had to watch a white male employee get promoted at a consultancy firm she used to work for, even though she led and guided him on “a massive cost-reduction project for a multimillion-dollar client.”
“That partner simply couldn’t remember that it was my leadership, my work — aided of course by the team and that one guy (we’ll call him Jim) — and that I’d been instrumental in hiring Jim and promoting him while I was leading it,” she says. “He’d look me straight in the eye and say, ‘Why don’t we put Jim on this new account? He did such a great job with that cost reduction project.’”
Martin’s story is a recurring narrative HBR researchers found throughout the study: Qualified Black women being overlooked for promotion. Black women are ready to lead. But even after fighting their way up the corporate ladder, 44 percent feel as if they’re stalling in their careers (in comparison to 30 percent of White women).
The study also points out that 49 percent of the interviewed Black women held a graduate degree in comparison to 40 percent of White women.
Katherine Phillips, senior vice dean of Columbia Business School, noted that this “unicorn” phenomenon is especially puzzling since Black female stereotypes should work in their favor.
“Think about ‘male’ leader characteristics: confident, assertive, stand up for what they believe in,” Phillips said. “Now, think about stereotypes of ‘Black female.’ Confident, assertive, stand up for what they believe in.”
But yet, “people won’t open the door for Black women,” Phillips added.
Now that we’ve pointed out the problem, researchers say there is a solution. Only 11 percent of Black women say they have an advocate invested in their success. That’s because leaders, who are predominately white and male, tend to “groom” employees that look like them. A sponsor, HBR says, is instrumental for career mobility.
“I don’t think Black women get real power until we get better representation — and that won’t happen without the support of those who are in power now.” Martin said.
I’m sure many of us have found ourselves standing in Duane Reade, Walgreens, Rite Aid or CVS for several minutes while trying to figure out the “right” brand of condom to buy. Companies like Trojan have made millions as they have marketed their Magnum brand as the go-to condom for the well-endowed male. And while some men honestly need the extra space, it is assumed that other guys go for the larger gold wrapper because they want to seem like “the man.” Why? Because there is a popular opinion that the larger a male is down there, the better sex will be. However, some have disputed this assumption by saying it’s not the size of the equipment, but how you use it.
As I assembled a think tank of both men and women, I was very amused by the feedback that I received, and the explanations given for why both men and women place so much emphasis on penis size. So with that being said, does size really matter?
“No man ever feels his penis is small. We tend to feel like the man until she tells us it’s small.” That was an opinion expressed during an interview with one of the men about the assumed penis size obsession. I was surprised to learn that most men don’t put as much thought into their penis as women do. When I asked why does size matter to men, many responded with “Do you mean women?” I was amused to learn that most of the guys I talked to think that the simple fact that they have a penis is enough for them to feel good about themselves. And unless you’re one of those guys who just likes to sit around and talk about his penis all the time, some of the guys I spoke to claimed that most men aren’t that insecure. A few who admitted to being insecure agreed that they didn’t second-guess themselves until a woman criticized their penis size and made them feel small.
It got a little rowdy when some got passionate about how ruthless some women can be about penis size. Regardless of girth, if a guy feels he can make you orgasm, and he has done so, his penis size shouldn’t matter. Some had the idea that sex is sex. If a guy has a big heart and he expresses his love even bigger, a woman should be more accepting and less shallow. Coming into the conversation with my own judgments, I didn’t expect the type of feedback I received. I was waiting for the men to talk about how big their penises were and go on their ego trips. However, most were quiet and very honest about the fact that size doesn’t matter to them.
Most of the women I spoke to said they believe size does matter. In fact, the men they entertain should be well within average size. When asked what the average size in inches they preferred is, some of the women I spoke to did agree on nine to 10 inches, which the men found to be completely insane. Only a few women felt their partner’s penis size doesn’t matter, and they said it isn’t a factor as long as the sex is still pleasurable. “What’s the point in having a huge penis if you don’t know what to do with it?” one woman said. Another woman believed that sex itself is a constant work in progress when you first meet someone. Therefore, learning how to explore each other’s bodies is more important. But when asked flat out, none of the women said they would settle for a man with a small penis.
The average male penis size is five to six inches when erect. For women, the length of the vagina is approximately five inches deep, so it sounds like a perfect fit, right? However, according to preliminary research conducted by the Sexual Psycho-physiology and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, women prefer slightly larger than average penises for both casual sex and long-term relationships. As a result of this, their partners are prone to “small penis syndrome,” which is a condition where men, despite having average penis sizes, may feel inferior. Sexologist Ian Kerner observed that the average woman who believes that size matters has also never experienced an orgasm, which could be the reason for her views on size. And according to sex therapist Debby Herbenick, it isn’t unusual for most women to not have experienced an orgasm due to a lack of direct clitoral stimulation. Herbenick suggests trying different positions to increase that stimulation.
Seven out of eight women (84%) claim they are satisfied with their partner sexually regardless of size. The remaining 16% hold to their views on size being imperative. At the end of the day, the men argued that it’s not about the size, but how well you can handle your equipment. But what about you? Would you say that size matters?
Sometimes things that are supposed to be one-size-fits-all don’t actually fit for all of us. These looks may be popular with many people, but they are our biggest fashion pet peeves. Did we miss any of yours?
If you recall, we interviewed the founders of Black Girls Run about why they started their organization and what advice can they give women who are looking to workout. In this bonus clip, Ashley Hicks and Toni Carey talk about why it’s so important for women to workout in a relationship and be open minded while dating.
To join Black Girls Run in your area, visit their website.
Rekia Boyd, 22, was shot in the back of her head when Dante Servin, an off-duty police officer, shot into a crowd five times on March 22, 2012 in Chicago. She died two days later.
Servin claimed Boyd’s friend Antonio Cross pulled out an object from his pocket and pointed it at him. Servin thought it was a gun, and claimed he feared for his life. The object was a cell phone. Servin was charged with involuntary manslaughter but was found not guilty last month.
There’s been outrage, but only about 100 people attended a rally for Boyd in New York City’s Union Square on April 22, according to For Harriet.
According to social justice organizers, Black women as both leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement and victims of police violence don’t get enough support. They receive little of the media coverage that is often centered around black men.
Janisha Gabriel, 34, website designer of blacklivesmatter.com, helped organize the rally for Boyd with Black Lives Matter: NYC. She expected a small turnout. She said larger white-run liberal organizations respond mainly to the deaths of Black men, due to social media campaigns and news coverage in recent years.
Gabriel’s goal is to grow public resistance around the deaths of Black women. She plans to launch a database in July, speakmyname.org, which will be a collection of Black (non-trans and trans) women and girls who were victims of state, domestic and police violence. Thus far, she has about 700 names.
Timeline: Black Woman And Girl Victims Of Police Violence Since 2008:
And while she was glad to see people come out in support of Boyd, black men in particular, she would like to see a lot more.
“I was happy to see the Black men that were there,” Gabriel said. “But ultimately we need for a lot of Black men to be present in these moments.
When domestic violence is one of our leading causes of deaths and Black trans women have a life expectancy of 35 years of age, we need Black men to be very present with us to have some deep conversations.”
According to Gabriel, these conversations can’t take place because there’s an issue with media response. She said Black women and girls as victims of violence don’t make national news.
“Media has responded to Black deaths specifically because of the social media campaigns around Trayvon Martin,” Gabriel said. She calls the deaths of Black men a popular topic and said people are interested in seeing Black men as threatening.
“Black men’s deaths [are] associated with the concept of Black men being inherently violent, which is why people are always justifying the deaths of Black men. The media plays into that.” Gabriel wants to change the narratives to include all Black people.
Instavideo Q&As On Challenges Black Women Face As Victims Of Police Violence (Scroll To View Videos):
Luke “Aidge” Patterson, 35, coordinator of People’s Justice, an organization focused on police accountability, said it has taken a long time for even the deaths of Black men to be recognized.
“It’s only been recently the news has been covering these cases that happen and it’s only because people have been rising up in mass numbers,” Patterson said. “When are we in our own communities going to hold up our sisters to be just as important as our brothers?”
Patterson said even though Black men face oppression, with the privilege men hold in society, the lives of women continue to be devalued.
“It is very real that Black men are under attack in this country, but recognizing the role of that patriarchy and that male-dominated society — it really shows within how we do undervalue the lives of women,” Patterson said.
Andrea Ritchie, 46, Soros Justice Fellow at Streetwise and Safe, an organization focused on sharing the ins and outs of encountering police as LGBTQ youth of color, said Black women are expected to play the roles of the mother, partner and sister of Black male victims of police brutality.
“Black women are saying that not only do we play those roles, we are also directly targeted by police for the same kinds of racial profiling, police brutality, and police killings,” Ritchie said. She added that sexual assault is the second most reported form of police abuse after excessive force, according to a 2010 Cato Institute study.
“Black women are starting to say, ‘No! It’s time we start standing up for all members of our communities and we need people to stand up for us the way we stand up for them,’” Ritchie said.
Ashley Love, 35, coordinator of Black Trans Women’s Lives Matter, shared some words at Boyd’s rally last month.
“Black women have been the strongest organizers since slavery and Jim Crow,” Love said. “And these are our sons, our brothers and our fathers that are being murdered, but when we need help sometimes I feel that they aren’t there. I was born with a medical condition. I am trans. But I don’t always feel comfortable disclosing that in some of these spaces because then I feel like the warmth goes to coldness. And it’s like, ‘Just be a cute little cheerleader and be there for the cause, but don’t talk about all that other stuff. It’s radical.’ All of our lives matter. Segregation was wrong for Black people, segregation is also wrong for transsexual people. We are not second-class women. We shouldn’t have to use separate restrooms and drink from separate drinking fountains, but that’s what’s going on right now.”
Love said Black transsexual and transgender women should be supported as well as all Black women. According to Ritchie, Black Lives Matter co-founders Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi are game changers because they’re hoping to make Black women and trans people the center of the movement.
“Women aren’t often seen as leaders,” said Garza, 34. “That’s always a challenge, dealing with patriarchy. We just get ‘invisibilized’… and not just Patrisse, Opal and myself. This is largely women-led, largely queer-led and trans-led.”
Arielle Newton, 23, the editor-in-chief and founder of blackmillennials.com, said attention to the most oppressed is growing.
“Women, in particular, have been on the forefront. I feel like we have been uplifted within the movement,” Newton said. “Now can more be done? Absolutely.”
According to Ritchie, Black women victims of police brutality and misconduct are receiving attention, but not enough. Thursday, May 21, there will be a national call of action for Black women and girls to end state violence against them and remember the victims. Hopefully many more people will come out and speak up for them.
Follow BLK Social Journalist (#BLKSocialJ) on Twitter, @DeronDalton.
For many people, masturbation or self-pleasure is a taboo topic. There are many harmful myths that exist about masturbation that may cause people to feel uncomfortable. And society, as well as the media, does a great job of contributing to the taboo, stigma, and negative messages that surround conversations about sexuality. Advertisers teach us that our bodies are dirty and disgusting. Constantly being inundated with such messages, beliefs, attitudes and feelings like these contribute to the unhealthy behaviors that put women at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. It also puts us at risk of victimization, abuse, body image issues, unhealthy relationships, mental health challenges and so much more.
In some cultures and religions, masturbation is considered sinful. This can lead to guilt or shame about engaging in the act. Negative messages and feelings about masturbation can threaten our health and well-being. People who receive negative messages about masturbation when they are young often carry feelings of shame surrounding sexuality into adulthood, which can ultimately affect the way we interact in relationships and experience sexual pleasure.
In order to fully experience and appreciate your sexuality, you have to move past the shame and peel back the negative and unhealthy layers of intergenerational patterns that surround it. While masturbation was once thought of as a perversion and a sign of a mental problem, masturbation is now regarded as a natural, healthy sexual activity that is pleasurable and safe. According to various studies, masturbation is a very common behavior, even among people who have a sex partner. According to one national survey, 95 percent of males and 89 percent of females reported that they have masturbated, and here are some reasons why.
The clitoris connection
Women have been equipped with their own special pleasure spot. Did you know this spot is the only organ in the human body with the sole function of providing pleasure? With more than 8,000 nerve endings, it’s no wonder women can achieve multiple mind-blowing orgasms. According to some researchers, stimulation of this organ accounts for 50 to 75 percent of most orgasms. In fact, most women usually experience their first clitoral orgasm through masturbation. When you know what you need to bring yourself pleasure and to orgasm, you strengthen your connection to your body, in addition to experiencing many other health benefits through masturbation.
You learn more about your body
In order to experience pleasure, you have to be intimately acquainted with your body. Understanding your sexual response cycle and how your body changes during each cycle is the hallmark of sexual pleasure. Masturbation is a great way to learn all about your body, your sexual response, and sexual triggers. Learning about what feels good to you can increase your chance of experiencing sexual pleasure with partners because it enables you to communicate what works for you with them.
It creates an intimate bond
Some partners use mutual masturbation to discover techniques for a more satisfying sexual and intimate relationship. Through mutual masturbation, you learn about body mapping. This method helps you figure out what spots, various strokes and techniques you should use to please your partner and vice versa. Also, mutual masturbation is a safer way to explore sexual activity with another person because it lowers your risk for unintended pregnancies, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections.
It increases confidence
There is a correlation between sexuality and confidence. Knowing how your body works, and what you’re capable of helps to increase your confidence. The more confident you are, the more likely you are to make better decisions, create stronger boundaries and facilitate healthier relationships. When you can bring yourself physical pleasure, you don’t need someone else to validate you. This, unsurprisingly, leads to higher confidence and an increased level of self-care that transcends beyond the bedroom.
Added health benefits
- creates a sense of well-being
- enhances sexual experiences with a partner
- increases the ability to have orgasms
- improves a relationship and sexual satisfaction
- improves sleep
- increases self-esteem and improves body image
- provides sexual pleasure for people without partners
- provides treatment for some sexual dysfunctions
- reduces stress
- relieves sexual tension
- relieves menstrual cramps
- strengthens muscle tone in the pelvic and anal areas
- serves as a useful learning tool
Pleasuring oneself is one of the most powerful sexual experiences. The freedom to give yourself the permission to explore your body, the time and space to feel pleasure, and to know that you are worth giving and receiving pleasure are some of the most powerful steps to becoming sexually empowered and liberated! And in the words of RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
At the end of the day, only you can decide what is healthy and right for you. If you feel ashamed or guilty about masturbating, consider talking with a sex therapist, educator, counselor, and/or clergy member to explore your beliefs and attitudes regarding sexuality.
For more personal insight on masturbation, check out Deja Jones’ piece here.
Dr. TaMara loves nothing more than talking about sex! At the age of 13, she told her mother she wanted to be a Sex Therapist! Her passion is deeply rooted in spreading messages about healthy sexuality. Dr. TaMara is a certified clinical sexologist, sex therapist, best selling author and powerful motivational speaker with more than 20 years of experience speaking, writing and teaching about sexuality. She travels the country helping individuals embrace and honor their sexuality. Dr. TaMara has published numerous books and articles. She is the owner of L.I.F.E. by Dr. TaMara- Live Inspired Feel Empowered LLC-LIFE. Dr. TaMara is also the Editor-in-Chief of Our Sexuality! Magazine. Our Sexuality! is the premiere magazine for women’s sexuality and sexual health. Dr. TaMara is a “Thought Leader” for the Association of Black Sexologist and Clinicians. She is also a member of the American College of Sexologists International. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook at LIFE by Dr. TaMara or Instagram, or her Live Inspired Feel Empowered (L.I.F.E.) blog www.drtamaragriffin.com. Join Dr. TaMara movement of Healthy Sexuality #HowDareINot #ISaveLives www.howdareinot.com
There has been a lot of talk as of late about the state of Black men and their disproportionate interaction with the criminal justice system; but little, if ever, do we stop to consider the mass incarceration of Black women.
A new study by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice offers us insight into the long-ignored topic and the numbers aren’t pretty. According to a fact sheet, which was published on Wednesday, African-American women in San Francisco are arrested at rates disproportionate to any other other racial or ethnic group.
As the report states:
“According to the data, black women compose less than six percent of San Francisco’s female population, but constitute nearly half of all female arrests and experience arrest rates 13 times higher than women of other races.
The fact sheet expounds upon a 2012 CJCJ research brief by Mike Males and William Armaline, which charts the increasing racially disparate arrest rates of African Americans in San Francisco over the past 40 years that continue today. While in 1980, African American women were 4.1 times more likely to be arrested than women of other races, as of 2013, black women in San Francisco were 13.4 times more likely to be arrested than non-black women. This, despite an overall decrease in the population of African Americans in San Francisco.”
As the fact sheet further states, African American women were 34 times more likely to be arrested in San Francisco for narcotics and 31 times more likely to be arrested for prostitution. Likewise, African American women were more likely to find themselves victims of “driving while Black,” as they were 17 times more likely to be arrested during traffic violations.
According to the report, the rate of arrests of African American women has risen sharply over the last 35 years. And despite having these facts “repeatedly reported” to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, Board of Supervisors and Police Commission, the report claims that little has been done to try to decrease those numbers.
Nationally, the rate of incarceration for African American women is on the decline, according to a recent report by the Sentencing Project, but as the Southern Coalition for Social Justice finds, African American women receive longer prison sentences than their white counterparts. This is particularly true if they are of a darker hue, according to a 2011 study by Villanova University.
Likewise, African American women are being targeted by the criminal justice system at much younger ages than their racial counterparts. According to the report, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected, African American girls are six times more likely to be suspended and often subjected to much harsher and frequent disciplinary actions at schools than that of their White, female peers.
And as this article from 2012 entitled What’s Gender Got to Do With Racial Profiling notes:
” What we do know is that racial profiling of women of color in the context of the “war on drugs” continues to drive the reality that Black and Latina women are the fastest growing population of people in prison. The findings of the well-known 2000 study by the General Accounting Office documented the practice of profiling Black women at the nation’s airports were just the tip of the iceberg . Pervasive profiling of women of color as drug users, couriers, and purveyors extends into highways, streets, and communities across the country. Such profiling also extends beyond African American and Latina women to Native women, who have consistently reported widespread profiling in the context of the “war on drugs.”
It definitely seems that when it comes to mass incarceration and racial profiling, Black women have not been exempt. And when we take issues, which largely affect the entire Black community and only look at them from the viewpoint of what is happening to the men of the community, we fail to address them at all.
There is nothing like seeing someone who looks like you on the cover of a magazine. Beautiful Black women, all shades, and hues, lending their testimonies of struggle and success. That is why I felt an extreme sense of pride when I saw the May cover of Essence magazine. When I picked up the magazine, smiling back at me were five of the most prominent Black storytellers, directors, and producers who have the added bonus of being amazing women: Issa Rae, Mara Brock Akil, Debbie Allen, Shonda Rhimes and Ava Duvernay, dressed in all white. I immediately flipped through the pages to read the article.
Over wine and cheese in Beverly Hills, these women discussed everything from the increase in the number of young people of color in the business and the positive effect it’s having on mainstream television, to the strain success has had on their personal lives. I could feel the camaraderie and respect amongst these women through the page. It was inspiring.
After I had read the article, I turned on the television, and on came Love & Hip Hop Atlanta. Out of nowhere sprang an interesting thought. I could not help but to wonder if there is room for Mona Scott-Young at the table with her fellow Black storytellers and producers?
Mona Scott-Young is the founder and CEO of Monami Entertainment. Under Monami, Scott-Young holds both film and television credits. Her most popular production is the Love & Hip Hop docu-series on VH1. The franchise is the top-rated show on VH1, with the season 4 debut of Atlanta pulling in 6.2 million viewers, marking the show’s highest rated season premiere yet.
It seems that many people have a love-hate relationship with Scott-Young. They hate the content of the Love & Hip Hop franchise, deeming it “ratchet television.” However, there has to be something people love about it because they keep tuning in every week. Within right, people are always questioning Scott-Young’s motives and why she would produce a show where Black women are portrayed as stereotypical characters who are violent, argumentative, loud, oversexed, and belittled by men. In an interview with MTV’s Sway, Scott-Young said that these women “have every right to tell their stories. I think they’re valid stories, and judging by the numbers, they’re stories that people want to see and hear about. But if this is not your cup of tea, there are other great shows on other networks that you may view as well.”
And she is right. There are other great shows on other networks to indulge in. Two of my favorites are ABC’s Scandal, written by Shonda Rhimes, and BET’s Being Mary Jane, written by Mara Brock Akil. Both ladies, as previously mentioned, graced the May cover of Essence and were touted as “Game Changers.” Scandal chronicles the turbulent life of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), Washington’s most prominent “fixer.” One major part of Olivia’s storyline is that she is having an affair with the President. Affairs seem to be pretty popular on television these days–just watch the first season of BET’s Being Mary Jane. Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union) has a lucrative career in broadcast journalism and this past season, she landed the prime time anchor position on her network. Yet at the height of her career, Mary Jane finds herself single and feels that the only way she will be complete is if she gets married and has children. Mary Jane, like Olivia, in an attempt to move past a very married admirer, explores a sexual relationship with several different men. While their lives are a bit on the messy side, we tout them as complex characters. Real women.
But are characters like Olivia Pope and Mary Jane Paul also perpetuating some of the same stereotypes and negativity about Black women that Scott-Young is accused of showcasing? Are the women of Love & Hip Hop just as complicated as these two beloved protagonists?
Akil, like Scott-Young, is unapologetic about including the sexuality of black women in her stories. In the Essence article she states, “We’ve been presented before as asexual or as whores. No, I’m a human being. I’m a human being, and human beings were made to be touched and have sex so that they can make more human beings. That’s just how it works. I certainly want to highlight it. I want our humanity in our sexuality.”
Rhimes agreed with Akil and said, “I just began a systematic push that we were going to talk about sexuality equally, in the same way. We’re not going to pretend that…Listen, if you could shoot someone in the face on television…I hope to God my child never shoots someone in the face, but I really hope she has wonderful sex.”
This systematic push is evident in all of their shows, and even in Scott-Young’s programs. These women have chosen to tell the stories about Black women as authentically as they know how without allowing the burden of stereotypes to deter them from creating work they feel is necessary. Rhimes, Akil, and Scott-Young both manage to monopolize their perspective networks in a predominantly white male industry. That, in and of itself, should be commended.
Don’t get me wrong. I am disheartened by some of the women’s choices on Love & Hip Hop. Moreover, being a part of a Black Greek Letter Organization, I could not bring myself to support Sorority Sisters, a program Scott-Young was allegedly tied to at some point in time. However, even though I may disagree with some of her content, it does not lessen the history she is making on television.
As Akil said, we — Black women and men — are human. We make mistakes. We are not abnormal. We are not strange. Some of us go off to college and become successful in our careers while others may remain loyal to the ways of our ‘hoods. We are doctors, lawyers, and scientists. We are also strippers, drug addicts, and adulterers. Just like every other race, we are full of complex and very different people. Because we are ridiculed and stereotyped so much we try to hide and cover up those members of our community whom we feel don’t represent us well. However, no matter which category you may fall into from those looking from the outside in, as an individual, you do not fit in a box, and your story deserves to be told.
So should there be room for Scott-Young at the table (or on the cover) when discussing Black women who are making strides in telling our stories on film and television? Absolutely.
In the series, One Bold Move, we profiled four popular bloggers in the categories of Hair, Makeup, Style, and Fitness. These bloggers discussed the one bold decision that placed their life on a completely different trajectory. For two of our most popular episodes, we are releasing never-before-seen footage with more great advice from excellent women. In this episode, mother and daughter duo Ellen and Lana Ector discuss their motivation for getting fit, why it’s important for black women to work out, and they share some great tips along the way.
To join their gym, purchase workout DVDs or workout gear visit their website.
My friend Donald is a productivity god. Seriously, he has a superhuman ability to get things done. He’s a full-time Ph.D. student who also has a full-time academic job for which he is frequently sitting in meetings and on business calls, or participating in panels and giving lectures.
Whatever time Donald doesn’t spend working or handling his academic obligations he uses for other noble yet labor-intensive endeavors. He actively mentors 10 or so young men at a time while also receiving weekly mentorship from 10 or so older men whom he looks up to. He is an amateur athlete who went from barely being able to complete a one-mile jog to finishing the New York City Marathon last year. (Plus, he’s the only person I know who actually did P90X for the full 90 days and then some.) Not to mention that Donald is an avid churchgoer. He’s one of those high-octane members of the congregation who serves on the trustee board and who is always on a committee planning a singles conference or financial seminar. (Oh, and he goes to a megachurch, so, you know, that’s vigorous church participation to the hundredth power.)
Although I’ve known Donald for several years, I only recently discovered the secret to his uncompromising efficiency. Last month, as we sat with our laptops at a new coffee shop in Harlem, Donald said, “I’m obsessed with not being a sorry a** black man.”
That was his precise comment. I’m not giving you the gist here. He said, verbatim:
“I’m obsessed with not being a sorry a** black man.”
I tell you that sentence moved me. That sentence, that sentence, that sentence…that damn sentence. I don’t even remember what we were talking about that made him say it and I’m pretty sure my only response to it at the time was, “Mmmm…” (which is my go-to utterance when someone’s words resonate with me).
But, again, I tell you, that sentence deserved so much more than “Mmmm.” It deserved “Word!” and “Amen!” and “I hear that!” Or, better yet, an “I know that’s right,” since that phrase is my standard response when someone says something that is nakedly sincere though not necessarily advisable. It wasn’t that I embraced the wisdom of Donald’s thinking, only that I saw the accuracy and necessity of it. (And, as we know, that which is true and/or necessary isn’t always wise.)
Not only could I see how that sentence–“I’m obsessed with not being a sorry a** black man”–was true for Donald, but I could also see how it was true for a lot of other driven and highly accomplished men like him. The “sorry a** black man” is a stereotype that many black men I know spend their time ardently sidestepping.
But, surely, Donald and other black men aren’t the only ones playing a game of “stereotypes about black people” keep-away. I can think of many black folks (myself included) who seem obsessed with not portraying certain stereotypes.
Take out the “sorry a**” in Donald’s sentence and replace “man” with “woman” and you may hear one of your own previously unexpressed obsessions: “I’m obsessed with not being a(n) _____ black woman.”
Maybe you’d fill in the blank with “angry” or “attitudinal” or “inarticulate” or “broke” or “needy” or “overweight” or “nappy-headed” or “obedient.” But whatever word or phrase you’d use, it’s likely based on some stereotype or another (or it’s an amalgamation of several stereotypes) that you’re trying to avoid.
In her 2009 TED talk, the ever extraordinary Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Consider that the intellectual conversation of the day is and has been “post-racial” this and “new black” that, both of which call for a more nuanced and comprehensive view about race in this country. So often, however, those conversations sound like a lot of talk about how black people needn’t be or appear stereotypically black. And “stereotypically black” can refer to the ways that black people think other black people are/live/act or the ways that non-black people think black people are/live/act. (Those “ways” may be imagined, yes, but they may also be real if not wholly representational.)
What it boils down to, if you ask me, is that nowadays, lots of folks are on some “I’m un-stereotypically black” sh*t. But, like Ngozi Adichie said, the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.
Although I’m quite committed to having wide-ranging sensibilities and being somewhat culturally unpredictable and complex, I was left questioning my own “on some ‘un-stereotypically black’ sh*t” the other day. A guy at a bar called me a “white girl trapped in a black girl’s body” and I wasn’t offended. But later that night, I wondered, What did he mean by that? Did he mean I “acted white” (which no one has said to me since I was 13)? Was he trying to say, “You’re not like other black women I know”? And if that is what he was trying to say, then did he see other black women he knew as little mini-mes of one overarching Black Woman presence? I have worked hard to cultivate and promote my individuality in my life. But who’s to say that a black woman who may seem to that man like every other black woman hasn’t also done the same? And what’s up with the word “trapped”? I wish I’d had a snappy comeback at the time, like, “There is no one trapped inside of me, sir. All that is within me is very happy to be here, thank you very much.”
At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to round out and fill in our stories. But what happens when our need to avoid someone else’s stereotypical narrative becomes an obsession? Are we doing a disservice to that narrative by shunning it or treating it as altogether cautionary, ugly and impertinent?
Just think of all the mothers who’ve said, “When I have a child, I’m not going to be like my mom.” Those women were simply announcing that they didn’t want to become the maternal stereotype they grew up with. And, as we know, every would-be mother who says she won’t be like her own mother ends up eating her words.
But is it so bad to end up becoming the very stereotype that you don’t want to be?
My need to be diplomatic and cooperative can feel crippling at times. And it’s a need born of an obsession to not be an angry black woman. I’m so obsessed with not being an angry black woman that expressing anger frightens me to the point of paranoia and panic. But am I depriving my identity of a certain richness by not embracing the angry black woman I know I have the propensity to be (and occasionally am)?
Look, I’m not saying that Donald should go the opposite route and champion being a “sorry a** black man.” But the more we despise certain stereotypes, the less generous we are with ourselves and with each other when those stereotypes show up in our lives.
Stereotypes can be beautiful, comical, practical, and tragic. But we needn’t see the tragic ones as the devils among us.
Turns out, Donald has begun to reframe his thinking about his particular stereotype-avoidance obsession. I sent him a text message to ask if it was okay to write about him and our conversation the other day. He agreed, and in his reply, he told me that he’d given it some more thought since we’d spoken.
“The obsession itself is the pitfall,” he wrote in his text. “It prevents me from having compassion for the challenges that I’ve seen in Black men around me. I now realize the need for me to embrace every ingredient, every example of a man, who has made me who I am. That means comfortably accepting the good, bad and ugly, not just embracing the stuff that I think is good.”
Like I said, I know Donald isn’t alone in his obsession to circumvent certain cultural conceptions. So tell me: Are there stereotypes about black people that you obsess about avoiding? Are they personal stereotypes (notions you developed based on black people in your life) or are they societal stereotypes (ideas about black people at large)?
I’ll say, there are many singular nouns that depict my dear friend Donald: Progressive. Scholar. Thinker. Believer. Doer. (“Doer” is probably the hallmark. I’m convinced he holds the key to unlocking the elusiveness of a completely checked off to-do list.)
But there is one compound noun–or noun quartet if you will–that does not depict my dear friend Donald: “sorry a** black man.”
I can see how Donald’s ardent avoidance of the “sorry a** black man” stereotype has served him well, as he is not at all the person he has dreaded becoming. Still, I was glad to read his text about trying to give up that particular ghost.
Here’s hoping that being less obsessed with the kind of black person we don’t want to be gives us more freedom to just, you know, be.