The media images of Black love are not the reality we know in the community. From the lack of Black relationships depicted on the big screen to countless news stories dissecting statistics of Black brides, everyone is talking about the lack of Black love. Demetria L. Lucas, ESSENCE's Relationship Editor, takes on the negative stereotypes of Black love in the media and questions race matters in 2010.
For awhile now, I've been pondering what there is to gain in making Black love look like an impossible undertaking. Between those random Russian newscasters discussing the Black woman's dating dilemma last week, the lack of love depicted on the big screen, Nightline segments, CNN coverage, Oprah episodes, the Washington Post sob story, and the non-Black Prince in "The Princess and the Frog," (and much, much more), I think it's safe to say, without sounding paranoid, that Black love is under attack. I have a theory on why Black relationships, or the lack thereof, are depicted poorly. Yes, I think it's intentional and no, I don't think every major media mogul--almost all White men--sat in a room like Dr. Evil and said, "This here is our agenda. We will make Black love disappear." It's much more institutionalized than that. America still has a problem with Black people, even in our "post-racial" (giggle) society. America also likes its stereotypes and its class system. Both are familiar and quite comforting, hence the reason they continue to exist. The current portrayal of Black relationships, or the lack thereof, emphasizes these ideas in a tri-fold way. Fold One
: Years ago, I read Naomi Wolf's "The Beauty Myth." (I'm a die-hard feminist at heart.) Wolf's premise is that women are consistently told that there is something wrong with them for two reasons: A) as a way to make money (hello? booming relationship advice industry, anyone?) B) as a political tool. Wolf writes: "The stronger women were becoming politically, the heavier the [impossible] ideals of beauty would bear down upon them, mostly in order to distract their industry and undermine their progress." Now apply that theory to overachieving Black women and relationships. How many successful Black women do you know who invest an astounding amount of their energy into beating the dating/marriage odds that they're constantly told are against them? Wouldn't that energy be better focused elsewhere and help them achieve greater success? We're so busy focusing on running in circles to get/keep/have a man that we've lost focus on how to get out of the metaphorical cage, or better, keep breaking corporate, education, professional, and political barriers. We're like hamsters on a friggin wheel. Fold Two
: Years ago in undergrad, I had the fortune of having a very brilliant African-American professor, Dr. Francille Wilson, who pointed out to me that when it comes to Black people in White films, we're essentially watching the same story over and over. And over. She pointed out that Whoopi in "Ghost" is the same as Hattie McDaniel in "Gone With the Wind" as is Will Smith in "The Legend of Bagger Vance," and the big Black guy in "The Green Mile." America, she said, loves nothing more than to recycle and re-package concepts. That's what's going on with the current portrayal of Black relationships, or again, the lack thereof. The subtext of "Hey, Black women, you can't get a man" is an updated version of Angry Black Woman stereotype. Instead of a classless, neck-rolling, talk too loud, snap your fingers too much chick, you're now a polished, but pushy, over-demanding, over-educated, talk too damn much Black woman who doesn't know how to let a man be a man, much less let him lead. And like your stereotype predecessor with a different name, you're still single, too. Black men are getting the same updated fate. The inevitable flipside to the conversation about successful Black women is about reconfiguring the shiftless negro archetype, you know, the dudes (played by The Roots) who sat on the porch in "Bamboozled." The conversation of why Black women--always successful, accomplished and educated examples--are single is always coupled with stats about how Black women are leaping tall buildings in a single, red bottom stiletto-heeled bound and Black men--jailed, addicted, on the DL, underachieving, or whoring--can't be but so bothered to do anything right, much less leap over anything even in multiple bounds. It's the new millennium Sapphire and Sambo, folks. We've "evolved." Fold Three
: As much as everyone hates to admit it, America needs an "underclass." Someone's got to work in service to mow the lawns, serve the chicken at Kennedy, clean the houses and make the lives of the otherwise successful more leisurely so they can focus on whatever it is that's important, that same whatever that Black women aren't focusing on because they're on the hamster wheel. Keeping Black people unmarried and at war--partially a purpose in perpetuating updated stereotypes of Sapphire and Sambo--near guarantees they don't get married (see reigning Black marriage stats for example), and more importantly, makes them unlikely to receive the benefits of marriage as outlined by a 2007 study called, well, The Benefits of Marriage to the Nation: "Historically, poverty has been the result of a lack of employment and poor income. Today, it is increasingly the result of family structure. The consequence of parents failing to marry and to stay married is that more children are likely to experience poverty... Marriage seems to create wealth. This appears to be the result of factors beyond the simple effects of two incomes. Marriages stimulate the growth of partnership and mutuality and result in productive wealth accumulation through initiatives such as the purchasing of a home." You don't build and spread wealth, the community stays impoverished. The community stays impoverished, its people do jobs that lead to filling prisons (cheapest labor) or they work in service (minimum wage). Sounds like a modern day slavery/sharecropping system, doesn't it? You actually think that's coincidence? Demetria Lucas is the Relationships Editor for ESSENCE Magazine and the author of ABelleInBrooklyn.com. Follow her on Twitter for her musings about dating, men, and "cutie runs."