Acting White…But What About Acting Too Black?
By Charing Ball
You know that there are some black folks in the world who really hate what they see in the mirror.
No, it’s true. I think the first instance I realized that some black folks have a general self-loathing was around the time I was working a summer job where my supervisor, a pretty, brown-skinned professional black woman, was overly concerned with pronunciation. Not that there is something wrong with mastering the king’s English, but the obsession stemmed from not wanting any of her fellow supervisors (mostly white) to think that she sounded like an ‘ign’ant Negro.” Not only would she over-enunciate words, she was also very conscious of how her body moved when she spoke; more particularly, not rolling her neck around when she spoke.
Although she was generally a nice person my boss had a deep and almost paranoid fear of not fitting stereotypes. All through college, she was mercilessly teased for her Southern twang and her “ghetto” disposition, which occasionally caused her to drop the “g” and gesture a lot with her body. And while it was occasionally fun to watch her contemplate every single move before she made it, I could tell that deep down, the always-on persona she crafted for herself had to be exhausting.
Over the years I have frequently witnessed incarnations of my former employer’s pathologies in other black folks: from the obsession with naming children “neutral” names, to the frequent use of abusive and demeaning language toward members of their own race. I’ve even seen some of our folks go as far as not associating with certain family members, not for anything they’d done, but who they were. Today it is not uncommon to hear many African-Americans express themselves in a self-contemptuous manner regarding their own race. But who could blame some of us for this, especially when we have those in the mainstream still commenting on “how articulate” we can be?
However, this unhealthy habit within the black community of always using what white people may think or say about us as our measuring stick is bothersome. And while we often hear about acting white, how come we never discuss the pain caused by what some of us fear as acting too black?
I thought of this recently when I saw a story in Adweek about the controversy around the new “Summer’s Eve Hail to the V: Lady Wowza” commercial, which is supposed to promote a women’s cleansing product rather candidly. Summer’s Eve made three of these commercials, targeting particular ethnicities. In one of the commercials, a black vagina hand puppet named Lady Wowza begins a sister-girl monologue, about how keeping her punany clean and fresh is just as important as changing up her hairstyles.
Naturally people were offended, but it wasn’t based on the apparent sexism of calling your vagina silly names or thinking that there is something so wrong with our lady parts that we need to douse them in stinky perfume to make them more acceptable to mixed company. No, the uproar was concerned that the Black hand-puppet was just too sassy, perpetuating a negative image of black women’s mannerisms. Please, someone give me a break.
I really do get the fact that there are deeply entrenched depictions and distortions of blacks evident throughout the media. And that more often than not, black people see themselves through a lens that has been deliberately assigned to them and not necessarily of their own creation. However, there are some Black folks, in particular black women, who are sister-girls and engage in the same sort of mannerisms. Some of us do roll our necks, drop the “g” at the end of our words and speak in sister-gurl talk. And it just doesn’t seem right that we freak out at the slightest incarnations of “that type”, or view them negatively just because some “others” might.
I’m really starting to believe that whether it’s a Tyler Perry movie or just a stupid Summer’s Eve commercial, at this point we will never be satisfied with how we are presented globally. And as much as it has to do with systematic racism, part of it has to do with our ability to accept and love ourselves collectively, no matter what anybody else thinks. In other words, our confidence in ourselves should be stronger than this. Moreover we shouldn’t have to develop an “anti Black” frame of thought just to counteract the blatant propagandizing, which we see in the media. In my opinion, this kind of self-loathing only prevents African-Americans from forging alliances within the community because we are too busy hating each other for being “too…”
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.