Posts Tagged ‘missing minorities’

Invisible Women

May 14, 2009

ok, the rest of this post [which will run in a couple segments or so] started a while ago. got posted, then muddled. apparently wordpress or my theme layout or something or the other, has trouble with super long posts so this piece is evidently long by some standards. hmmm…..yes i guess it is kinda long. so when i posted it all as ONE on my blog originally, the words were scrunched up kinda funny and it was hell to re-edit and re-organize. then after not being able to make it work, i deleted it altogether and decided to re-post perhaps breaking it into two [or three] parts at some later date. until now, i hadn’t done so quite yet.

then i was reading sugabelly’s fantastically illuminating blog which i surfed onto recently, on intra and interracial dating [and no, it’s not one of those kinds of blogs]. google it, i would link it—hmmm…..maybe i will but i don’t know if she’d be down with that or not. she absolutely does a stellar and poignant job of articulating the fears and frustrations of dark-skinned black women when it comes to black men, love, the love of black men and lack thereof, notions of attraction and desirability, colorism, sexuality, the media in relation to black women’s bodies and perceptions of beauty etc. lots of stuff. do check it out! which reminded me of my languishing piece because of the connections i saw between what she expressed and the supposed value placed on black women in our society. [which is to say there is none]. because i was focusing on missing black women—those inherent connections, to me, seemed relevant. so it reminded me once and for all, that i still had to re-post this piece and i finally split it up into bite-sized segments and did it.

for missing women of color everywhere.

[ok i went ahead and linked it. read sugabelly’s awesome blog here http://sugabelly.blogspot.com/2009/04/okay-my-two-kobo.html]

Invisible Women [pt 1]: The Plight of Missing Black Women and the Media

May 14, 2009

“I have come to the conclusion that to a lot of people, nothing black girls do is good enough!! They get the blame for everything seem like it!!”–young black girl commenting on the demonizing of black women on a BET message board.

“I am so sick of losers like you putting black women down, like we are the lowest thing on earth.”—black female poster on another popular black message board.

It’s an interesting time to be a black female in America. The difficulties it seems are paramount. What makes it so difficult being black and female in America in this day and age? Well, lots of things. First of all, there are many more mediums out here that do more harm to the representation of black women than good. American pop culture and its ideas are so pervasive too; its images take root and reach all around the globe, far and wide. Think about the implications behind this range of the image of black women and girls, and not just on this continent.

In particular, the position of young black females who view these images (wherever they might be located) is particularly tenuous. It is this group that I am most concerned with as well as not so young ones (smile) like myself. The insistence of the media in various forms and fashions to blatantly ignore the plight of young black women wherever danger befalls them, to consistently fall short in its representation of women of color ends up sending a clear message to young women of color. One that says, you are not valued and you are not important.

If you think this message is not resonating loud and clear in the minds and souls of young black girls, then maybe you should find a cross section of them, sit down with them and see what they have to say. Or perhaps take the time to trawl some message boards where they frequent. Everywhere you go, the message is this same. Young black girls feel increasingly disenfranchised, they feel ugly, unrepresented, unimportant and irrelevant.

While young black girls should not be looking to the media to develop a sense of self worth, they still do so. Teenagers are particularly susceptible. Now there is nothing innately wrong with doing so, if there were balanced healthy images available for them to ingest and if they could consistently view these images with a critical eye. Young people must be actively given the tools with which to develop the skills that will allow them to take in these messages into a more discerning mind. Still, TV and pop culture should not be the sole outlet by any means because we all can see that MTV and BET and the like, seriously fall short.

However my central criticism is that whenever the media does send a message of inadvertent omission (or a consciously direct one), this in and of itself, is a message. One of the most powerful ones of all. If it’s not a message that black people do not exist within a particular space whether it’s as scholars, upper class, intellectuals, middle class, eclectic and so forth, because these images are nowhere near as populous as some of the other kinds. Then it’s one of dismissal. Non recognition and non inclusion makes an equally powerful statement. So it becomes an argument quite beyond that of simple inclusion and visibility. It’s also about those faces and voices that have been seen, felt, heard and still ignored. Maybe because they were not deemed good enough or worthy enough.

The significant thing about the invisibility of black women in some places despite all that I have learnt about race, gender, sexism and the like, is the strange way that I end up internalizing some of it. I feel as though I am less fearful than some of my fair headed and fairer skinned female friends when it comes to certain matters. I am not afraid of The Bad Man (whoever that is), some infernal boogeyman or strange things that go bang in the night. No looking out for suspicious vans with curtains that practically scream “serial killer inside!” But it’s not because I think that I am invincible at all, rather I have, at one time or the other, in a dark parking lot with aforementioned creepy van encroaching thought, “now who would want to grab me?” I suppose I am more fearful of specific people, places and things—more than any mysterious things out there.

Pop cultural discourse on The Serial Killer and Other Scary Things doesn’t ever seem too concerned with trying to make black women look over their shoulder but as a demographic—white women always must. Not just the actual Ted Bundys out there but all these other myriads of scary things out there, primed to get women—white women. The biggest difference we see with this message is when The Serial Killer forays into the world of sex workers or some other group supposedly on the fringes of society—then and only then, does the call to fear and fearfulness usually begin to cross racial lines.

Like Jada Pinkett-Smith’s character in the Scream 2 movie—subtextual messages in certain films, the absence of people of color in many popular horror films or the ease with which they might be decapitated early on, if there are any in the first place—all help contribute toward creating this absurd, twisted bubble of safety that I feel I sometimes exist in. These representations are further compounded by the fact that the black actresses and actor in the second Scream movie were seen by many as a way to save face for the absence of any in the first film. Black women in horror films are clearly dispensable when we even exist to be preyed upon at all.

Invisible Women [pt 2]: The Plight of Missing Black Women and the Media

May 14, 2009

We can connect these images too, to the larger discourse about black women, their desirability when stacked against white women. Macabre perhaps, but in the context of horror films and the larger conversation—clearly significant. By that same token, black women being picked off by a psychopath with a carving knife for example, would be equally problematic. I do not want to be mistaken for coveting more race-specific depictions of violence against women, encouraging it, nor wistful for any.

Rather, I am trying to consider how our social, racial, cultural, historical, political past informs those pop cultural images inside these dark places that we voluntarily want to go to—-like those inside of a scary movie. Even at a relatively young age, when we are supposed to be psyched about safely encountering our fears and having our hair follicles prickle, like inside the pages of the Fear Street books of my youth—these always seemed to feature wide-eyed, white females on the illustrations on the covers.

I know that I am not necessarily safe from anything in this world, but so much of the discourse on certain kinds of violence against women that we hear about, when not committed by someone close to the victim (and sometimes even then), is often portrayed in the media as linked to female desirability. If the victim is physically appealing, you hear about her beauty all the time. The awful media swarm around the JonBenet Ramsey case was always underscored by the little girl’s beauty and her glamorous pageant footage ran endlessly over and over on many news programs. She was portrayed as the tragic little woman-child.

One hardly ever sees accurate linkages to power, control, other systems of oppression, pornography and other factors explored in these kinds of cases. If black women are then considered less desirable, are we any less fearful of certain kinds of violence? Along with films, mainstream media and their news outlets play a large role in the creation of a culture of fear, fear of violence against women, as well as clearly establishing exactly which women need to be fearful. Take for example, the case of Stepha Henry who went missing in May 2007.

Stepha Henry is a great example because I had often heard newscasters espouse the fact that young, attractive women who go missing in America will have a better chance at their story gaining national attention regardless of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance. Race of course conveniently being that factor that was left out and overlooked. So I wondered about Stepha Henry because she was young, about to go to law school and attractive. But then again, she was black. What message does this send to black women in America when her story is initially ignored?

This of course being coupled with the lack of options for diverse representations of black women in the media and entertainment that are positive. Missing black women are at the other end of the spectrum, voiceless, faceless to the masses because of a media that refuses to publicize their tale, forgotten and ignored by all but those who are personally invested in the story. That’s how the media works though. A story only becomes imbued in the public consciousness because of this very media manipulation.

Which is in fact why I can recite so many of the facts of the Natalee Holloway case off the top of my head as I type, little nitty gritty things like she was a straight A student and on her senior trip, she liked to dance, she was about to start university on a full scholarship. This is also why I can in fact get the unique spelling of her name right in the first draft of this piece and not type “Natalie” because I know. I do not know her but I do. She is blonde and young and missing in Aruba. Her disappearance is certainly tragic but I wonder, why wasn’t Stepha Henry afforded the same personalization and coverage? And why (if I am to be honest) am I not surprised? What happens to the other stories of black women who go missing?

Historically, black women have had to deal with a lot, both within our communities and outside of it. Between colorism, slavery and its various legacies: the black mammies on Southern plantations, slave concubines for slave-masters, colonialism, oversexualized stereotypes of black women, the so-called video vixen, good hair vs. bad hair and more. I couldn’t even begin to list them all. The Hottentot Venus exemplified the ways in which perceived black female sexuality was literally dissected and paraded to a curious European populace.

American southern states clearly placed a higher value on the lives and preservation of white women, while the lives and well being of women of color were considered expendable. Southern trees would often bear the fruit of black men who in some cases, refused to accept this disregard for their wives, mothers, girlfriends and sisters. Our collective story runs deep and is rife with complexities, some stretching back centuries, some self-imposed, some not, all being part of the rich fabric that is the black female experience. At once beautiful, painful, poignant, enduring and so much more. Yes, so I guess there has never been an easy time to be a black female.