ster·e·o·type (stĕr′ē-ə-tīp′, stîr′-) n.
The struggle to separate oneself from color is one [impossible] thing as it is something that is beyond your control. But separating oneself from stereotypes, although tough, is something that can be done. It just saddens me that I have to do it and the effort that goes into it. Why must I be prejudged on account of formed opinions or the actions of a select few?
It’s kind of sad to admit that I’ve always told myself “don’t be THAT black girl.” Who is that black girl exactly? You know, she’s how they portray us in media and music. Everything that my mother told me not to be without reason. The loud, mouthy, angry black woman. The one who is always in everyone’s business, gives major attitude and then some. All in all she is a headache. She is labeled ghetto. She isn’t heard nor is she taken seriously.
Black girl stereotypes rob me of my individuality. They rob me of my sense of self, in a way my freedom. I hate to say that we ourselves are sucked into believing these same stereotypes that we battle when they are placed on us be it by society, the media, other cultures and even amongst on another. Our men do it to us as well! When will eyes be opened to see that we are human filled with complex valid emotions and are entitled to freely feel and express ourselves as we see fit? Saying that I am not saying that a black girl never has an attitude, I do at times and I’m sure others do as well. Did you ask said black girl what was wrong? She could be battling with something internally, had a hectic and stressful workday, could be dealing with family issues, be disappointed. Us having attitudes doesn’t give reason for our opinions or feelings to be dismissed. When labeling and grouping us it is essentially another way to oppress us. It’s an insult to our ability to connect, engage and even feel and at times it can cause us to shut down. I know I do and in turn we are labeled “bitter” or “angry” and much more.
That little voice in your head that says, “No, don’t be that girl. You don’t want to be the angry Black woman” is an example of stereotype threat. Psychologist Dr. Claude Steele first identified stereotype threat in 1995 as essentially the anxiety that you feel when you fear that you will confirm a negative stereotype.[Source] We mostly talk about this concept in relation to school performances and things of the like, but stereotype threat follows us throughout our lives, in the workplace, and in relationships. –Ashley Pettaway
There have been many times that I’ve held my tongue and fought back true feelings to not be looked at as that black girl. I’ve made myself uncomfortable to go out of the way to prove to someone that we aren’t all like that. I’ve buried and bottled up thoughts and emotions to satisfy others or prove them wrong. I did not realize the damage I was doing to myself. In an attempt to avoid upholding these stereotypes I was suffocating myself and in a way giving away a power that I failed to realize I had.
These negative characteristics no matter how hard we try to turn them into positives are constantly attached to us regardless of our tones or whether our “bad” attitude is justifiable. This was heavy on my mind as I recalled my time in Florida. A white male coworker flat out told me that he waited the entire program to see me “go off” or thought at least once I’d “get ghetto with a guest.” Prior to him telling me this he’d slowly stopped talking to me and grew closer with another black girl coworker who was doing just that. Back then I held my tongue. Now that I think about it I feel like he was looking to us (black girls) for entertainment. He wanted to see someone speak the truth to guests, he wanted someone to give them “neck rolling attitude.” In my opinion overall he wanted laughs and I’m glad I wasn’t the clown to give it to him.
So let’s start conversations. Let’s support one another in any way that we can. Have you ever held your tongue because you didn’t wanted to be seen as a negative stereotype? What are some ways that we as women can support one another? What are ways we can be supportive to others who blatantly face stereotypes?