The Strength of Black Women ≠ Painlessness
It is difficult to believe that misconceptions from the past can impact the art that we make, but we are also taught that “art is an imitation of life”. As a millennial, I am privileged to have access to art of various mediums. As a black woman, I have had trouble finding art that showcases black women as multifaceted beings. This idea that black women are impenetrable is often reflected in writing, television, and film. The ”strong black woman” is a role that has been presented frequently. Unfortunately, this character is often presented to viewers with a cold, emotionless, and sometimes angry disposition. As a black woman who deeply values black art, I found it imperative to investigate this persona and why it exists.
Malcolm X infamously stated that black women are “the most unprotected and disrespected women in America”. Black women simultaneously experience racial discrimination and gender inequality. This has led to the development of a tough exterior as a means for survival. For centuries, black women have had to be strong. Black families were broken apart during the transatlantic slave trade and European colonization. Enslaved women were left alone to raise children in bondage. These women were not only hypersexualized and raped by slave owners, their bodies were also subjected to painful and invasive gynecological experiments. Black people were perceived to have thicker skin and stronger bodies. Not having a choice, enslaved women endured such abuse with hopes of liberation for themselves and their children. This violence against black women and black bodies has led to the preconceived notion that black women are incapable of feeling pain. This assumption has opened the door for unfortunate and sometimes fatal encounters with police and medical professionals.
Historical context illustrates that black women have been pillars of strength for centuries. However, these strong women are not one-dimensional. Every black woman who has fought for our right to have a voice has had triumphs, failures, and imperfections.These women were emotional human beings who were not immune to pain. This range of emotions is what made them who they are, and that deserves to be seen.
There are many reasons to account for poor representation of black women on screen. Systemic racism and sexism are at the top of the list. Racism is a thread that has been sewn into the entertainment industry. Hollywood executives, mostly white men, are in control of what we see on our television and movie screens. Creators like Ava Duvernay, Issa Rae, Shonda Rhimes, and Lena Waithe have been able to fill a much-needed void in the entertainment industry. Though these women are paving the way for future filmmakers and television writers, there are many young black artists who deserve a chance. It is easy for ideas to be misconstrued when individuals outside of the black experience hold the keys to our stories. In order to combat Hollywood’s exclusivity, we must create and hand more keys to black women. Hiring black women in and outside of the writer’s room, will open doors for more perspectives and insight to who we are in full capacity. White women have been given space to portray characters with various complexities. Black women deserve the same opportunity.
It is difficult to believe that misconceptions from the past can impact the art that we make, but we are also taught that “art is an imitation of life”. If black women are detached and incapable of feeling pain in art, then imagine how this can impact the ways in which we are treated in our daily lives.