Unveiling Resilience: Black Lives Matter Through the Lens of Black Women’s Struggles

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The Stereotyping of Prominent Black Women

This can be explained by the controlling images that have been applied to women such as Michelle Obama and Maxine Waters. Former First Lady Michelle Obama is more than the wife of Barack Obama. She is a woman from the south side of Chicago who holds degrees from two prestigious schools (Princeton and Harvard), a lawyer, and a former university administrator. Even with this impressive resume’, Michelle Obama was reduced to “Barack’s baby mama” by a Fox News anchor during the campaign. This derogatory term is akin to the Jezebel and the sapphire.

The term “baby mama” describes an unwed hypersexual woman who causes drama and emasculates her child’s father. This is not the only time during the campaign that Mrs. Obama would be stereotyped. Later in the campaign, her thesis became public. In it, Mrs. Obama expressed feelings about her experience at Princeton and becoming aware of her “blackness” and feeling like an outsider. She was painted as ungrateful, and critics questioned her anger towards institutions and America. Critics would question why she was angry when she should have been appreciative of the opportunities she was given. After reducing her to the emotions of her experiences, the image of the angry black woman was used to overlook the issues that her thesis addressed.

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Maxine Waters is a senior U.S. House Representative and former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Representative Waters’ resume dates back to 1990, when she was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She also serves as the chair of the House Financial Service Committee. This has not stopped her from receiving heavy criticism from the current president, Donald Trump. Representative Waters is not one to hold her tongue when criticized. Responding to insults from Trump has given other critics the excuse to label her aggressive and angry. Even though she has the right to respond to attacks towards her, as a black woman, she cannot without consequence. All responses are subjected to stereotypes. No matter the status of the woman or how high she rises, she cannot rise above the controlling images of the group.

The Dangerous Catch-22 of Controlling Images

Black women are not required to internalize controlling images to be harmed by them or feel their consequences. By simply existing, any black woman can feel the penalties of the stereotype. When not portraying the strong black woman stereotype, the black woman can be seen as weak, undeserving, or inferior. She can also be highlighted as selfish, just for administering self-care. This paradox is a dangerous catch-22 for the black woman. On the one hand, she can do nothing and have one of the multiple controlling images applied to her, or she can choose one that is not considered shameful; however, there are consequences for that option as well. No matter how hard she works at it, the controlling images will find her.

Black women often find themselves at a crossroads. They face a double whammy. They are both women, which is inferior to men, and black, which is inferior to white. The term intersectionality was introduced by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw (1989) to address the marginalization of black women. No one universal definition of the term exists. However, Collins (2016) yields an applicable one. “Intersectionality is a way of understanding and analyzing the complexity of the world, in people, and in human experience (Collins p2).” Collins goes on to suggest that intersectionality be used as an analytic tool to “address a range of issues and social problems.” When used as a tool, intersectionality could address differences experienced by different groups of women.

Health Disparities Faced by Black Women

Early this year, The New York Times Magazine ran an article with the heartbreaking story of a black mother, Landrum, who experienced the loss of a child. After a difficult pregnancy, Landrum delivered a stillborn daughter via c-section. During this pregnancy, Landrum experienced intense headaches, back pain, and extreme fatigue. She was so sick during the pregnancy that she had to quit her job. At her doctor’s appointments, Landrum, who had two sons, expressed her concerns as she knew something was not right. Doctors ignored her concerns, even though she had high blood pressure, telling her to rest and take Tylenol.

On the day that she could no longer deny something was wrong, Landrum started bleeding before she could make it to the hospital. After being taken to the hospital, she was informed that her daughter had died inside of her. Landrum was sedated, and her baby was removed. Landrum herself had to receive half a dozen units of transfused blood and platelets. She was told that she was lucky to be alive. Landrum was a 21-year-old mother of two who worked as a waitress and was in an abusive relationship at the time. This story is unfortunately not unique and happens regardless of class.

Professional tennis player Serena Williams is arguably a living tennis legend and household name worldwide. She has been ranked number one in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association eight times and has 39 major tennis titles. In 2017 she gave birth to her first child. After her daughter’s birth, Williams experienced a pulmonary embolism. Williams, who had a history of this, sought the aid of her medical team. Her complaints fell on deaf ears. She was originally ignored. After pressing and once treated, Williams continued to experience difficulties which led to the discovery of a hematoma during emergency surgery, which led to more surgery. She, too, was fortunate to be alive.

Black women are four times more at risk of death from pregnancy complications than their white counterparts (Tucker et al., 2007). Their babies are two times more likely to die compared to white babies. Between 2006-2010, “Black women contributed to 14.6% of live births but 35.5% of pregnancy-related deaths (Creanga et al. 2015)”. This inequality is affecting all black women, not just the poor, as once believed. This myth allowed blame to be placed on the mother, citing her laziness and lack of education as the cause of her not doing what was healthy for her and her unborn child.

The cause for this disparity has been a looming question for years. A growing accepted probable cause is toxic stress. The heaviness of oppression and discrimination is causing physiological stress, and that stress is being expressed through the black woman’s health. “For most of the 15 leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, liver cirrhosis, and homicide, African Americans (or blacks) have higher death rates than whites (Williams and Mohammad 2008).”

Once the illness has occurred, black women are not heard or believed by their physicians. When expressing a problem, she is more likely to be ignored. The complaints of the black woman can be dismissed by two controlling images, the angry black woman and the strong black woman. On the one hand, when expressing concerns, she can be seen as the always angry black woman who has found a new subject to complain about. On the other hand, she can be seen as a strong black woman who can handle anything thrown in her direction. Both images can result in detrimental consequences for her. These consequences know no class or age.

Challenges Faced by Young Black Girls

Black girls also face disparities in comparison to their white counterparts. In their report of overpoliced and under-protected girls, Crenshaw, Ocen, and Nanda found that black girls are often punished not only more often but more severely than white girls. This is true for all black children; however, because they are at the intersection of being black and female, the attention to this inequality is often focused on black boys. The silence surrounding the disparities of black girls speaks volumes. They are being taught to always expect the actions and views being inflicted upon them. They see at an early age that they will experience troubles, and no one will care.

In their study of youth in Boston and New York, Crenshaw et al. found that black girls were twelve times more likely than white girls to be suspended from school. In Boston, black girls represent 28% of girls enrolled in the Boston school district; however, they account for 61% of disciplined girls. In New York, black girls represent 34% of girls enrolled and 56% of girls disciplined. The rate at which black girls in the study are expelled is also alarming.

During the 2011-2012 school year, no white girls were expelled from New York City. Black girls accounted for 90% of girls that year, showing that black girls were fifty-three times more likely to be expelled than their white counterparts. In Boston during the same year, black girls accounted for sixty-three percent of girls expelled. Again, no white girls were expelled from that school district that year. It is irrational to believe that this is happening because black girls are inherently bad and deviant. These numbers suggest that black girls are problematic and beyond help while highlighting their white counterparts in a more innocent light.

Research suggests that not only are they being punished at a higher rate, but they are also being punished for lesser offenses. In their Black Girls Matter Report, Crenshaw et al. outline examples of these instances. Included is a 12-year girl who is expelled in Georgia for writing “Hi” on a locker room wall. Another example is an 8-year-old being arrested in Illinois for acting out and a 16-year-old being arrested for dropping cake on the floor and not picking it up to the school official’s liking. No matter how these situations escalate, it is important to be mindful that these are children. In focus groups, the girls in the study report feeling that the teachers don’t care about them at all. One student reported how large portions of students are kicked out of the school on a daily basis due to the “sweep-ups” done after the bell rings. At young ages, these black girls are learning that their value is low.

Black Lives Matter and the Rise of Black Girl Magic

Being a black woman means learning to navigate life and working through stereotypical images. These are images that have been placed upon her, meant to keep her at a lower status. Even when she enacts an image of strength, the consequences that will soon follow are not only inevitable but surely harm her and remind her where her place is in America. In recent years, a new social wave of pride has made its way to the black female community. This is not to say that the black woman has not always been proud of who she is.

Even when being labeled, black women know they are more than a stigma. The new term that captures their pride is “Black Girl Magic.” In the midst of the Black Lives Matter Movement, black women are more and more becoming unapologetic for who they are. More women are wearing their natural hair and being who they are comfortable being. “Black Girl Magic” encompasses who the woman really is. She is resilient and makes it through all the distractions and roadblocks and defies all obstacles put in her way.

References:

  1. Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139-167.
  2. Collins, P. H. (2016). Intersectionality’s Definitional Dilemmas. Annual Review of Sociology, 41, 1-20.
  3. Tucker, M. J., Berg, C. J., Callaghan, W. M., Hsia, J., & Barfield, W. D. (2007). Black-white disparities in pregnancy-related mortality in the United States. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 197(5), 409-e1.
  4. Creanga, A. A., Syverson, C., Seed, K., & Callaghan, W. M. (2015). Pregnancy-related mortality in the United States, 2011–2013. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 125(1), 5-12.
  5. Williams, D. R., & Mohammad, S. A. (2008). Discrimination and racial disparities in health: Evidence and needed research. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 32(1), 20-47.
  6. Crenshaw, K., Ocen, P., & Nanda, J. (2015). Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected. Columbia Law School, Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies.

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Unveiling Resilience: Black Lives Matter Through the Lens of Black Women's Struggles. (2023, Aug 15). Retrieved from https://edusson.com/examples/unveiling-resilience-black-lives-matter-through-the-lens-of-black-women-s-struggles

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