By Andiswa Onke Maqutu
Why black women need to own and support their own stories
Because a white journalist on deadline somewhere in the US, will not have the time or care to do some basic research on a story about a black African woman-who is celebrated by entire country. The journalist will then present a story about a black illegal immigrant vixen entertaining benign white audiences.
If you haven’t read the article abouut Sara Baartman in US blog, Jezebel, save yourself the 20 minutes of your life that you will never get back and DON’T. The article paints Ms Baartman as a free black woman “illegal immigrant” from “what is now known as South Africa” who managed to smuggle herself into Europe in the 1800s to entertain audiences with her “original booty” and “her many talents”.
It also implies that South African streets and schools are named after Ms Baartman because of her choice to entertain and enchant European audiences. And if you can believe it, it was written to humiliate Kim Kardashian for choosing to pose nude for Paper Mag.
The fluidity and careless ease with which people, of a different race and/or gender, handle and tell black women’s stories is a social ill. It is becoming increasingly evident from the images and stories told about black women in mainstream and new media, and unfortunately, this even extends to those that are intended to celebrate black women.
This is detrimental to the character development and image of black women in society in general and for black African women in particular. When black women own their stories, they bring out the nuance and even conflicts in their story.
When foreigners who write the experience of being a black [African] woman are the ones that tell and control their story, the evolution of these women is stunted in the majority’s understanding, to the narrow understanding of the storyteller. This is because a white journalist on deadline somewhere in the US, will not have the time or care to do some basic research on a story about a black African woman who is celebrated by an entire country. In this instance, the result was a story that completely overlooked the slave trade and colonialism in order to present an image of a cunning black illegal immigrant vixen entertaining benign white audiences.
Due to the fact that very little has changed about black women’s stories anyway, the journalist finds the closest celebratory comparison in the mainstream for this “illegal immigrant” woman is Nicki Minaj. Very often, the character and conflicts of black women have been inadequately explored, and where they have been, it has been linear. They often start off as old, poor and struggling or weaved, red-nail painted and seducers of sugar-daddies or passive-aggressively quiet/plain meak. Now, with agency, they are female thugs, educated but intolerable colleagues and emasculating angry partners or jezebels.
Jezebel, a feminist publication that is couched in White-Western feminism, chose the narrow image of the jezebel stereotype to depict Mme Baartman as a means to humiliate Kim Kardashian for her choice to expose her body and celebrate Nicki Manaj for her choice to expose hers as a black woman.
This is why black women need to own and tell their stories. If we don’t our stories will continue to be misrepresented. We will continue to be boxed into old stereotypes, the most common being that of Mme Sarah Baartman who has become a touchstone for all stereotypes that can be embodied in black women – two of them being oversexed and cunning or meak victims.
It is because of this that platforms such as Black Women Be Like and Vanguard exist in order to facilitate the telling of nuanced stories of black women and their perspectives by black women themselves.