There’s the Jezebel & then there’s Me.
“You’re so sexy.. you know how to dance don’t you? I know you know how to dance.”(stands there and waits for grinding)
“Why would you invite me over then if you didn’t want to do anything? Stop playing.”
“You’re acting too shy/innocent/scared. I know you’re a freak”
“You ever seen black porn? I like black girls and black porn.”
These are just a few things I’ve heard over the years from men whom I’ve come in contact with. Largely in part to my physicality, I have received various remarks such as these, from various men of different ethnicities. These stood out for some reason. These comments have either aggravated, insulted, or challenged me over the years as I’ve met and dated boys and men. Initially after hearing these comments I didn’t want to tell anyone because I felt embarrassed, intimidated, or shamed. Now that I have risen from the ashes of these burnt out comments of misogyny, I have the empowerment and the courage to speak out about these comments. Comments like these are not only disgusting and derogatory; but they confirm that there is a way in which women of a certain skin color are viewed in American culture; which is both shaming and unexpressive of women who actually walk around in that skin everyday.
There is an existing ideal which hinders predominantly African-American women which has been addressed in many scholarly texts, known as the Jezebel. Jezebel was a term that was coined in the early 1900s by whites as a way to claim that African- American women were over sexualized predators. Always wanting sex, always luring men in especially with their bodies, and never being passive about sex just aggressive about it. This was in order to defend themselves and justify their actions because they were raping African-American women and sexually exploiting their bodies. If you simply google Jezebel Caricatures you will find an array of pictures of novelty items looking like African- American women’s bodies. One of my favorites to read about was the African-American female nut cracker, where you place a nut under her skirt and squeeze in order to crack the nut. (I’m kidding this was really my least favorite.)
Today and ever since the late 90's and early 00's, the African-American culture especially has poured out tons of music videos, songs, and, and lyrics which have perpetuated this stereotype to an extreme much greater than whites did in the early 1900s. Hundreds of African-American women in barely a bikini seen booty shaking, crawling on the floor and, and grabbing at one male artist. While this image seen time and time again especially in the music industry aids the jezebel stereotype tremendously, it hurts the African-American women who aren’t getting paid to do this for media purposes. Don’t even get me started on the lyrics which aare getting paired with these images time and time again. “I know you want it”, “don’t play with it girl”, Come get want you’ve been waiting for”, “You’ve been a bad girl”, “Quit playing’ and come here”, “She was begging for it”, “You know aht’s going to happen once I get you all alone”. These are all lyrics we can hear over and over again in the voices of African- American artists as far as males go. When it comes to females we here it too.. just not as often. But I’ll save that for another blog post;)
Songs with these kind of lyrics are all over the the radio. As a matter of fact you can turn on your radio now in any major city (or if you’re close to a major city) and you will here the same song played throughout the day over a hundred times. The harm done with these kind of lyrics being repeated over and over and OVER again, is that those words become the new reality. I’ll give you a couple scenarios and see if you can guess how they’ll play out.
- Carla is 14. She is African-American and lives around predominantly African-Americans in a larger city. She listens to hip-hop music and watches the videos along with it. Her mother doesnt talk to her much at all about sex and she’s afraid to ask because her mother kicked her older sister out when she got pregant as a teenager. How do you most likely imagine she will behave when she goes on her first date with with the boy from school who listens to the same music? How do you imagine she will be treated.
- Alex is 19. Alex is from a small town of all Whites and he himself is white. He listened to country music, and some pop music for most of his life until he went off to college and could get more radio stations. He has heard and watched a handful of rap songs and music videos within his first few months of being on campus. Now, the first black female he has ever come in contact with sits next to him in class. They are announced partners on a 6 week project about “Behavior differences for Men and Women”. What assumptions do you think Alex with have of this young woman.
Needless to say, there are several outcomes you could have come up with for those scenarios. However, what would most likely happen in those scenarios if media were to be the only reference point for these 2 individuals as far as how black women are said to behave in the real world? Now think about all of the various backgrounds people have and where those people might come from and how when hearing just a few songs with those ideals can shape someone’s perspective about Black women.
Now this isn’t the case for every person, every hip-hop song, or every perspective. However, it is is for a millions of people. Speaking up and speaking out about this narrow and completely degrading viewpoint of African-American women is how we combat this issue. Black women don’t deserve to be pinned under the same stereotypes that have for now over a hundred years: silenced them from speaking out against exploitation and sexual abuse, shamed them for being free to make there own sexual decisions, intimidated them from wearing what they want, and pressuring them to make a decision based on misogynistic views. In order to protect our friends, sisters, cousins, nieces, and daughters we need to each look deeper into media meanings and dissect it the words we hear and decide if if does the people justice, or if it simply perpetuates an injustice.