Breaking the Stereotypes
Why I write my black heroines the way I do.
“Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies one’s status in society, ‘the mule of the world’, because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else — everyone else — refused to carry. We have also been called ‘Matriarchs’, ‘Superwomen’, and ‘Mean and Evil Bitches’. Not to mention ‘Castraters’ and ‘Sapphire’s Mama’.” –Alice Walker, from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens
Throughout history, Black women have been the victim of stereotypes in the media, as seen from Ms. Walker’s quote above. “Golddigger” could also be added to the list. When one surveys the type of Black female character portrayed in typical romance novels, I dare say that they would have little trouble fitting into one (or more) of these categories.
Our heroine is teacher (or nurse) and a loving mother to her sister/brother/nephew niece because of a death or illness. She spends a lot of time working with her church and her community. She puts so much into these children that she suppresses her own needs. A man has to get to her heart through the children she is nurturing. (Matriarch, Superwoman)
Our heroine is a kick-ass ninja type who punches first and asks questions later. She has no time for a relationship and when she want sex, she just takes it. Emotions and vulnerabilities are for “weak women”. If a man does want a relationship, he has to battle to get her. (Superwoman, Mean and Evil Bitch, Castrator)
Our heroine is a powerful CEO who has no time for anything but work. Men are nothing but an inconvenience, and much like the ninja woman, she takes sex without emotional intimacy because she’s tough, see? (Superwoman, Castrator, Mean and Evil Bitch)
Our heroine leads a life of clubbing, stripping and perhaps drug use. She’s ready to fight at the drop of a hat and has several boyfriends from whom she gets money. A man has to swoop down to save her from herself. (Sapphire’s Mama, Golddigger, Mean and Evil Bitch)
I’m sure you can add your own stereotype to the list.
Much of the media we consume is based on stereotypes, tropes, and stock characters. A good number of these images come from reality/talk shows such as Maury and Real Housewives, music videos, sitcoms and dramas aimed at a “Black” audience. Turn on any of these television programs, watch any movie or read any book and you may recognize the following Black female stock characters:
hussy/femme fatale, sassy friend, “good advice giving” friend, mothering type, conniving bitch , man-hater/alpha bitch, nosy neighbor, drug addict/slut/whore, church/religious lady, driven/professional woman
Stereotypical characters are boring and don’t challenge the reader’s headspace. They simply reinforce the status quo and present a monolithic view of Black women. Challenging what is often taken for granted is one of the reasons why we read — to explore new worlds, new ideas, and new ways of thinking.
This is why I write my black female characters the way I do.
You’ve read the stereotypes above. How about taking these Black characters for a spin?
Our heroine is a kick ass ninja type, but also recognizes and embraces her feminine side and is actively searching for a mate who will nurture both sides of her personality.
Our heroine is a ditzy movie geek who feels safest inside the darkness of the movie theatre, watching indie films that make her cry and question the meaning of life. A man has to know his movies and be willing to question life as we know it to get to her heart.
Our heroine is a spoiled little rich Goth Lolita who dabbles at working in a dusty antique shop. A mysterious man sweeps in looking for a certain curiosity that holds the power to destroy life on Earth as we know it.
Our heroine married for money and to please her parents, only to find her parents killed under mysterious circumstances. Her husband’s an abusive monster who won’t let her go and she suddenly discovers she is just a pawn in a financial game.
As a romance author and sometimes as an author in general, I swim in the world of tropes. Following this, I strive to make my characters, especially my Black heroines, more than cardboard cutouts. Though I may be taking on more than I can bear, my personal goal is to diversify the interpretation and portrayal of Black women’s experiences. Each person is an individual, and no two experiences on Mother Terra are alike, so why not reflect this in the books we read and write?
Dahlia DeWinters is the pen name of a born and bred New Jersey grrl, multi-published author, blogger and tech/gadget geek. She focuses on forging a happily-ever-after for her outside-the-mold Black heroines and has written historical, fantasy and speculative fiction as well as romance.