African American Femininity: Two sides of a coin

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When sixteenth and seventeenth century explorers returned to Europe from their journeys to Africa, they constructed and disseminated degrading stereotypes of African women based on the observations they had made abroad. Basing their perceptions of women off of European women’s bodies, these explorers noticed and commented on how African women’s bodies differed in many aspects—these disparities then became justifications for the differential treatment between these two groups of women. Because these African American women didn’t conform to the basic norms of womanhood that the explorers were accustomed to, they were quick to categorize them as strange, animalistic and hypersexual; their bodily forms, attire and skin color called attention to their otherness in the corporeal and social realm. Skin Deep, Spirit Strong offers a compilation of essays that document the observations made, the generalizations that were produced and the treatment that resulted from these interactions. The negative generalizations that these early European explorers made about African American women, had and to this day continue to have a significant effect on the way in which black women are viewed physically and sexually not only in the private sphere but also publicly. Prior to these encounters, Black women and black femininity were always hidden behind a veil. This veil is a metaphor connoting the invisibility of African American females. As Barbara Smith critiques, “at a time where women studies were about white women, black studies were about black men.” (quoted in Wallace-Sanders, 1) There was no room for discussion about black women; they were pushed into the cracks of obscurity. In a period where the female nude was a trending pass time a... ... middle of paper ... ...nd attractive. It creates a double consciousness that is difficult to reconcile. Carla Williams argues that “given the legacy of images created of black women… it is an especially complex task for contemporary black women to define their own image, one that necessarily both incorporates and subverts the stereotypes, myths, facts and fantasies that have preceded them. (Wallace-Sanders, 196) The root of the problem lies within our society. While very culpable, mainstream music and advertisements are not the only promoters of female objectification; the key is unwinding the inner tensions between these two groups. There is a need for the promotion of female solidarity, regardless of their skin color. We need to rid society of the evil of racism—only then will conceptions surrounding African Americans parallel and be as positive as those surrounding white women.

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