The Problematic Assumptions About Powerful Black Women

Let me start by saying that I love the fact that there are dynamic, powerful, highly accomplished Black women being portrayed on TV shows like Scandal and Being Mary Jane. And, I absolutely love the fact that these shows were inspired, created and produced by Black women (Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock-Akil). Characters like Olivia Pope and Mary Jane Paul are portrayed as complex, career-obsessed, power hungry, and at times, ruthless. Why? Because they know and are constantly reminded that they have to work twice as hard to get half as much. They know that for every one accomplishment, they’ll be greeted with 5 criticisms. They know that their merit and intellect doesn’t stand on its own or speak for itself–it has to be proven time and time again, and even after it is, it’ll still be called into question. I’ve talked previously in great depth about the pervasive influence of systemic racism in our society, so let me be crystal clear that the so-called complexes that powerful Black women have about their success is a direct result of the systems and structures put into place to ensure our subordinate position in society (especially in the workforce). That being said, let’s not act like powerful Black women are crazy for crazy’s sake. We are “crazy” because we are cognizant of the innumerable barriers to our success and have to work tirelessly not to internalize them; we are “crazy” because we have to work harder to be seen, respected, and considered an equal than any other demographic in the workforce; we are “crazy” because rather than receiving empathy, we receive rejection and judgement.

 

For example, when I typed “why are black women” into Google a few moments ago, the following most common related searches appeared:

black_women_google

Only 1 out of 8 searches is positive.

When I typed “why are white women” into Google, the results were starkly different:

white_women_google

Notice that that phrases like “most beautiful” and “more attractive” are used, implying white women’s elite position in society and over women of color. Even if you count the “afraid of black men” search as negative, that still makes 7 out of 8 searches positive.

All assumptions are problematic because they are rooted in incomplete facts, small sample sizes, and biased opinions. All assumptions don’t tell the full story, but somehow strongly influence behaviors and mindsets while skillfully reinforcing negative stereotypes. But when the odds are stacked against you, the impact of these assumptions is even more painful. Here a couple commonly referenced assumptions about powerful Black women that need to be addressed and dismantled.

1. Our relentless pursuit of success makes us intimidating and unapproachable. When white women become CEOs of companies or make unprecedented power moves, they are a beacon of light in the feminist movement. They represent the shattering of the glass ceiling, and progress toward gender equality. When Black women make power moves, we become an intimidating and unapproachable force, immediately raising our statistical probability for singlehood. When we stand up for ourselves, when we vie for the position that we know we’re qualified for but aren’t expected to pursue, when we defy all odds and land an opportunity that has previously only ever been held by white men, we aren’t celebrated as much as we are feared. Compounded with the stereotypes of Black women being mean, angry, rude, and loud, our success only amplifies the critics. We are subjected to shrinking ourselves so we don’t take up too much space or ruffle anyone’s feathers. We are constantly compared to white women and asked why we aren’t more agreeable and less aggressive. We are burdened with the task of reconciling others’ insecurities and adjusting our own actions in accordance with them. We are forced to be hyperconscious of coming across too strong instead of being able to freely and boldly embrace our opinions and perspectives. And then after having to deal with all of that, we are solely blamed for the way we are labeled and characterized. How fair is that?

2. We have to choose between a successful career or a successful relationship. Why is it that powerful Black women are often portrayed as alone or unlovable? Olivia Pope and Mary Jane Paul are both perfect examples. Here are two women that are at the top of their games, making loads of money, garnering the respect of the masses, but hopelessly incapable of opening their hearts and maintaining a successful relationship. They are either seen running a man off with their antics or fighting an internal battle of submitting to love at the risk of being less powerful in their careers. Meanwhile, white women are commonly cast in romantic comedies as independent, successful career women that always find their Prince Charming by the end of the movie (I’m looking at you, Jennifer Aniston and Katherine Heigl). For them, it’s only a matter of timing before they find the love of their life, and their ability to open themselves up to love and become a great partner is seldom called into question, let alone used the entire premise of the movie (i.e. Deliver Us From Eva, Daddy’s Little Girls, and, pretty much every Gabrielle Union movie ever produced). We shouldn’t have to choose between being a boss at work and being a boss at home. This paradox is probably why so many Black women admire Michelle Obama so much–here is a double-Ivy League educated woman whose husband is the leader of the free world. She is depicted as a supporting and loving wife and mother while continuing to floor us all with her professional accomplishments and pursuits. She encompasses the idea that Black women can and should unapologetically have it all–that our brilliance isn’t intimidating, and that our appetite for success doesn’t diminish our ability to be faithful, loving partners.

// What are the stereotypes or negative assumptions that you’ve heard or been guilty of associating with Black women? Where do you think they come from? What can we do to stop them? Leave your thoughts below!

4 thoughts on “The Problematic Assumptions About Powerful Black Women

  1. Awesome post Alexa! I liked that you used Michelle Obama as an example of pure Black Girl Magic! I’ve most recently admired her a bit differently, once becoming a mother. Not only is she rocking as a professional black women but while being a full time Mom raising women of her own! I think she just exemplifies the idea of being aware of stereotypes but not submitting to them.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Gabrielle! I definitely echo everything you said about Michelle Obama. It’s even more impressive that she is able to embody such strength, elegance and balance in such a public and powerful office. Definitely an inspiration to us all!

      Like

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