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Accurate or Offensive?

I first saw a video through a friend and had mixed feelings about what Shit Girls Say. I’ve definitely heard women speak this way, I’ve even been known to drop an unsolicited “Shut UP!” Are videos like this simply criticism on human behavior or kinda offensive? My friends and I swapped emails about it after viewing the “white girl” version of this video and came to the same conclusion: This could be damaging to women.

And then I saw the “black girl” version by a comedian named Billy Sorrell:

I thought to myself: Bummer, now we have to have this conversation. Is this funny? It is a little humorous! That’s what makes me a little uncomfortable. Making fun of women can be a hairy situation, making fun of black women seems acceptable. I don’t know if I like that.

I also don’t know if I like men doing this. Tyler Perry has built an empire on cross dressing and telling black women a thing or two about themselves. It doesn’t seem like it’s hurting anyone, but the image of black women is a precarious one. And when men feel as though they’ve figured us out enough to mock us like this, it hurts my feeling

I’d like to think that I’m slightly more nuanced than what Sorrell has illustrated. I’d like to think you are too. You can’t sum up all black women in one three minute video. If you have issues with your image as a black women and you fight hard against defying stereotypes, please check out yesterday’s book review for Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America.

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Are You a Shifter?

Standing at the bank I keep my hands out of my pockets and stand still. I wait until I am called by a teller before approaching an empty space at the counter. When she asks what my business is, I tell her in a clear voice,
“I would like to cash this check, please.”
No one hears what happens but I do.
I shifted my voice. The teller, “Jennifer” doesn’t know it, but I’ve had changed my voice for her.

“And you have an account here?” she asks me.
She can’t find me in their computer. She’s going to need an ID.
I calmly tell her that the bank had misspelled my last name when they opened the account and it was never corrected. She nods and counts my money out to me.

The whole exchange lasts no longer than five minutes but by the time I leave, I finally feel like I can breathe. I get into the car with Noah and joke about robbing banks. We laugh about that and I notice I have shifted back. I’m using my “normal voice” with Noah because I’m relaxed. But with Jennifer, I used my high register, nothing-but-professional voice. In other words. . . my white voice.

I learned how to use my white voice from my mother. Mary was all professional when taking care of business on the phone. I could hear her in the next room sorting out a phone bill flub and using such a high register, I had to do a double take. Who is that talking? Not my mother. My mother was born and bred in Arkansas and uses African American Vernacular English (AAVE) with her family and other blacks. But when she wanted to be taken seriously, she shifted.

I learned to shift too. At an early age, I knew not to say “ain’t.” I grew up not telling a white friend things like: “I’m tired of foolin’ with Debbie, she’s so triflin’.” I knew in order to be taken seriously, I had to pronounce all of my “ing’s.”
 I learned to go along to get along.

Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America finally put a name to the performance I was forced to keep up all my life. Authors Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden unveils the balancing that black women in America do everyday in their professional and personal lives. Through a vast survey, Jones and Shorter-Gooden interviewed black women all over the country, all ages and socioeconomics backgrounds and found some startling and validating results.

I learned that black women have many myths to defy. High on the list were these:

  • We are always strong. We are apparently very solid and stable and we can handle anything that comes our way because we have to. We have God and family. We are not tired or depressed by this at all.
  • We are full of attitude. It’s difficult to deal with black women because we’re hot-headed and mouthy. 
  • We are promiscuous. We are very sexual being, known to be loose and cavalier with partners. Which would explain all of the babies we have out of wed-lock. The opposite of this myth is our asexuality based on old fashioned Mammy characters of slavery narratives.
  • We are incompetent. Black women are not educated and can’t be trusted to do the simplest of tasks like find jobs, raise children, ect. A black woman’s manner of speech is obviously evidence of this.
  • We are criminals. In the welfare and out-right shoplifting sense. That’s why we should be followed around department stores.

The constant vigilance to debunk these myths is exhausting. Jones and Shorter-Gooden write that because black women are always trying their best to assimilate in white culture, it’s wreaking havoc on our mental and physical health. This stress leaves us feeling depressed and anxious, but unable to share our feeling because we’re too strong for that. This stress leads to physical ailments like heart disease, diabetes or insomnia. But we shrug them off and keep moving because these are simply ailments that generally effect the black race anyway. We learn to live with it.

I worry about this sort of thing at least once a day. Everyday perceptions of other people effect me greatly, even though I’d like to think they don’t. I watch the way I dress when I go out. Nothing too revealing or youngish or over-ethnic. I’m careful about the words I choose when I’m trying to take care of business, just like my mother. I try not to talk about race relations when I’m around certain whites. If I’m forced to, I’m very vague and indifferent.

Shifting reveals that all black women are unpaid and unappreciated ambassadors of their whole race. Few other groups in America are under such pressure. The stories told in this book are so alive with emotion, I found myself nodding in agreement to almost all of them. These were candid stories that I had already lived. I knew what it was like to propositioned by white men (and black men) I didn’t know solely on the basis that I was black, female and obviously ready for sex. To them, it was widely known fact, perpetuated by media and history. It’s just one of many myth, I have to fight tirelessly against.

All throughout my college career I had doubts of my own intelligence because I was taught that I would have to work doubly hard to be seen as smart and professional. When professors told me I was “so unique.” I was instantly suspicious. Was I special because I wasn’t like the black woman image they had in their minds? Was I so eloquent because they never met black women who spoke the King’s English? I doubted my work and it’s value because I believed one day, some one would find out what kind of fraud I was.

Looking over your shoulder at every turn and covering your tracks are hard things to do.

I thought I would share this book review with you because I feel like black women experience very similar issues. The sad thing is that we can’t talk about it. The fear of exposing our magic trick seems fatal. If people knew what kind “fakes” we were, it would destroy us. But, if people knew what kind of torment we lived in on a daily basis, it could save someone else’s life. Speaking up could lighten the load we feel.

I suggest you read this book if you feel like you’re under pressure from an entity you can’t name. It’s might be called Shifting, and it might be wearing you down. Talk about it with a sister.

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Relaxing in Ghana

I saw this YouTube ad yesterday for Dark and Lovely boxed relaxer that was targeted for the women of Ghana. It follows the same formula of the commercials here in the states. As you can see there’s a beautiful young lady with her friend, letting the wind whip their straight hair around. She walks past a young man who’s all “Whoa, check out her hair!”

This commercial is also perpetuating the same myths surrounding perms and relaxers:

  • It’s fine if you find a relaxer that claims to be a moisturizer. This one happens to be “blend shea butter” with its “Moisture Seal Technology”
  • A man will become attracted to you and potentially fall in love with you when your hair is not just “straight, but silky straight. . . with extra bounce.”
  • You will gain confidence with straight hair, causing you to dress better, hang out with prettier friends and potentially pull yourself up out your depressed socio-economic state.

This is where my Shea Butter comes from too! So it makes me fume when the announcer of the commercial says that the super toxic chemical treatment is infused with shea butter. Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure. And so what if it is? The chemicals of the perm are the active ingredients and they are all dangerous.

I was so intrigued by this commercial that I scouted about for more information about the straight hair influence in Ghana and found this amazing article written by Yukiyo Oda, entitled: WOMEN WORKING AT HAIRDRESSING: A CASE STUDY OF A RAPIDLY INCREASING BUSINESS AMONG WOMEN IN URBAN GHANA

I learned that Ghana only gained independence from British colonizers in 1957 and today, because of their industrialized society and Free Zone Act of 1996, they have received a major influx of foreign products from both America and Europe. Relaxing kits are one of those booming imports.

The western influence and the urbanization of some parts in Ghana are some of the reasons why homegrown salons have been spouting since the 1980’s. It’s a great way for women to make money. Women who don’t want to work manual labor like farming and forestry, can work in their own homes and now they can get certified. I’m all for women have the opportunity to work and make their own income, but it saddens me that it’s through an industry that continues to hold women back from becoming their natural selves.

But of course, not all of the women of Ghana are on the hair straightening bandwagon. There are many who are trying to free themselves from years of European influence. I was excited to read this Facebook discussion between Ghanaian woman on the subject of natural hair. It’s slow moving, but it’s happening, just like here in the states.

I think they are getting to their natural hair revolution too. I hate to sound ironic, but soon, even the “Motherland” will be natural.

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Sigh. Was That a Good Idea?

Cadbury Chocolate should have known better to get on the bad side of super-model, Naomi Campbell. But no, the Kraft company thought it would be a great idea to compare black women to consumable objects. Well, gee, I don’t know why Campbell would demand this campaign to be pulled.

Say what you will about Campbell being a foul tempered diva with phone throwing tendencies, but this insult still stings black women everywhere.

Brown Sugar

These are all euphemisms for making black women more consumable, more objectable. . . a little less human. Cadbury is pulling the ad but not apologizing over the situation. Not that I would expect them to. It’s cute and it sells chocolate bars because people don’t really think about how it makes others feel. Now what if another company, who made, oh, I don’t know, taco sauce made their slogan: “Move over, J.LO, there’s a spicier diva in town.”

Don’t you find that equally horrifying? Women nor women of color are commodities.