What Attitude?

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85256812Actually, attitude is too cliche. Conviction is too positive. Volatile is too antagonistic. Any word used to describe the general comportment of today’s African-American woman tends to be tinged with a fatalistic connotation that men are advised to enter in at their own peril:

Beware of the Ornery Black Woman

Such a saying tends to under-regard the countless amount of other females across all ethnic backgrounds who suffer from unbridled passion and domineering tendencies – traits that thrive in times of domestic crisis and discomfort, situations in which black women deal with at a higher rate than their cross-ethnic sisters. If white women (white in the general broad sense) faced the task of coping with dysfunctional husbands or fathers with the frequency of black women, then I imagine that a high percentage of them would be a little chippy too.

Of course, this is all predicated on the assumption that many black women are feisty. So allow some frankness on my part: a considerable percentage of black women are…feisty. But what exactly does that mean? Let’s use a basketball analogy: In 1984, Michael Jordan came into the NBA as a dynamite scorer. Skills, he had in spades. But he couldn’t win for the longest. Some say he didn’t have the necessary talent around him (true), but largely, it was because his game was too potent to coalesce his talents into a team concept. He had to be oriented into a team way, which is sort of a paradox: The success of a team is heavily reliant on individual accomplishments, but too much individual prowess could stunt a team’s success.

People in interpersonal relationships act more or less in a similar manner. We grow up as individuals. Grow up walking by ourselves, sleeping by ourselves, showering by ourselves. We spend more time with ourselves than anybody. As we grow up, we are indoctrinated with the team concept of getting along with others, sharing with others and the like, but (like many teams in the NBA) we struggle to actually implement it. The reasons are many: lack of transcendent leadership (bad parents), lack of talent (morals or intellect or wisdom or mental ailments) and bad examples of team play (obvious). It takes a special level of being for two people to interact and discourse and argue and display their full individuality and still thrive together.

What does this have to do with the perception of OBW?

Simple. Bad examples, lack of transcendent leadership and lack of talent has hindered black women more than any other group when it comes to relationships. Black women have had to compensate over the years for a myriad of insufficiencies from their black brethren, including an astounding socioeconomic gap and their lack of paternal presence. From the “outside” world, respect has been elusive, as evidenced by their marginalization in mass media (more on that later) and in the upper rungs of career advancement.

The complaint of many black women isn’t that they are being slighted per se, it’s that society doesn’t give a damn to understand their slights. This one-sidedness isn’t natural. Women and men are made to have symbiotic relationships. One cannot survive without the other; yet, there is this gender hegemony concept that we all have been acculturated to. In the black community, this concept is multiplied. Du Bois speaks of the double-consciousness of being a Negro and American, but black women have the ultimate – and generally unacknowledged – tripartite in living as a human who is black, female and American (if a black woman speaks out against the injustices within her race, she stands the risk of not being down with her black brothers and being a feminist when it could be possible that she is airing a legitimate complaint).

This issue is less racial than it is cultural. To attach this issue to a race is to imply that a race (in this case, black women) is incapable of transcending their ills; that black women are in a fixed state of doom because of pigment. This position places black women in a monolithic category that is only further exacerbated by the stereotypical prevalence of loud, sharp-tongued, uncouth portrayals of black women on television. These depictions generate boffo reactions, but they also place black women in a general light because they are the dominant portraits of black women on the tube. This imbalance is greatly detrimental to society’s perception of black women, who (at their best) are as nuanced as any other group on the Earth.

However, black women must be more vigilant in fighting for roles they want to see on the screen, and shunning the roles they don’t want to see. As long as intellectually demeaning reality shows remain highly watched by black women (which they are), then intellectually demeaning images will continue to pervade.

Angry women exist in numbers across the board. The problem with anger in relationships is that it limits the opportunity for love and opens the quest for power. Once people allow themselves to get angry or peeved about something, then there are only two ways to quench: retribution or forgiveness. Anger and power struggle goes hand-in-hand. If women (and men for that matter) feel slighted and unappreciated in their relationships, then the search for power almost certainly takes precedence over love. This is the mortal enemy to loving relationships.

If we’re going to be so prescriptive in labeling black women as cantankerous hard-to-please souls, then we must also be more diagnostic in analyzing the problem. This should go beyond the finger-pointing, name calling, running-to-other-race answers that many black men enact, and the passive-aggressive, blaming-patriarchy-for- all-evil retort that many black women often exhibit. Though circumstances among black men may be harder to change, our understanding and adjustment to these circumstances are fixable. Public intelligible, candid discussions at the highest platform possible (television and movies namely) that allows full despair and discomfort to speak is the most viable solution to this chasm. Such dialogue is much easier said than done, but easy is what got us into this stereotypical social malaise. It’s 2009. It’s about time for easy to meet the guillotine.

“The problems of today cannot be solved with the same thinking that gave us the problems in the first place.” – Albert Einstein

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  • labellefille_007

    “…she stands the risk of not being down with her black brothers and being a feminist when it could be possible that she is airing a legitimate complaint.”

    Um what exactly is wrong with being a feminist? I really did enjoy this article, but I felt that your framing the issue into some sort of false choice scenario. Its either you’re with black men or not. It is possible for we as black women to embrace our femininity and blackness at the same time. Furthermore anyone who would have you believe otherwise isn’t really interested in seeing progress for blacks or women because the easiest way to keep marginalized groups disenfranchised is to separate them. Identifying as a feminist should not jeopardizes “airing a legitimate complaint.” It is possible that black men can benefit from male privilege too, and I unabashedly blame the patriarchy for that. I guess what I’m trying to say in a round about way is any brotha who is down for me should support me in my struggle against sexism just as I support him in the struggle against racism.

  • Christina

    “Feminist” does have a bad connotation and is not considered legitimate in many quarters…which is shameful. Black women have to battle sexism and racism…I get into many debates with black dudes who will never admit to having it worse than black women. Ultimately the point is moot because oppression is oppression. The attitude stigma is something that will always pervade, so our hope is to get into position to be able to enact our own character in media (owning more media pubs, producing more movies, more black journalists, etc.) to provide some sort of equalizer.

    …I pray to God that that’s not wishful thinking…

  • @ labellefille_007

    Beautifully said!

  • Kathia

    As a Black woman who has dealt with the hatred from other Black women I want to say, it’s not that serious!We need to heal ourselves and move forward. The best way for a power structure to be successful is to divide and conquer! This same anger and neck snapping, conniving behavior and energy is scarring our brothers away!!