When a BBC News reporter from the UK contacted me last summer about being the core subject of a radio documentary focusing on single Black women, my immediate reaction was skepticism. American media had been particularly careless with the topic (read: Nightline, Washington Post); and I didn’t want to be a contributing source perpetuating the spinster Black woman meme. After several conversations with the reporter who convinced me she would not use my story to paint a broad picture of all Black women, I agreed.
I flew out to New York City on the Fourth of July weekend for the documentary. The reporter set up a series of blind dates for me that I’d go on with different types of men. She also interviewed me in various locations such as Grand Central Station or on subway platforms about the state of single Black women, as well as my overall feelings about each guy. After spending three days with the BBC reporter, I was confident she had done significant research, interviewed several sources and understood enough of where all of her interviewees were coming from to convey a balanced story in her documentary. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
After waiting a few months, both an article and the documentary went live on BBC’s website. As I listened to the documentary I shook my head in shame at her angle, and wondered if I had presented anything that led her to believe her final assessment: “Blacks tend to believe stereotypes about one another.” She used this reasoning as the basis of why 42 percent of Black women have never been married. I completely disagreed with her notion about us internalizing stereotypes. I even loathed her as an Indian British woman making such a claim.
A few weeks ago Clutch ran “Help! I Don’t Have Any Black Female Friends” by Niesha Miller, which I avoided reading like the plague. However, I eventually read the piece after several writer friends insisted I read and pay close attention to the comments.
Although the author’s experience of lacking Black female friends was unlike my own, I know quirky Black girls and women who grew up around all white people, hence the reason they claim to have no Black friends. I respected the author for being honest in her evaluation of why she didn’t have any Black female friends. And I commended her for not using the article as an avenue to dish a laundry list of reasons why Black women are unfriendable (yeah, I made that word up). But the commenters had no qualms revealing their similar stories, and basically throwing certain types of Black women under the bus. It was then it hit me that the BBC reporter may have been on to something. Through the comments it was plainly obvious that some Blacks are notorious for internalizing stereotypes about one another.
Many of the comments caused me to cringe as the term “ghetto” was tossed around loosely to mean bad, uncouth or unintelligent. Once one person accused Black women of being nasty toward one another, the horror stories of rude Black women and the ones who don’t bother speaking to the other Black women in their department kept coming. There was some obvious pain in the tone of some of the comments. Women recounted their childhood stories of Black girls being the ones who bullied them. And admittedly a few of those same women have allowed those experiences to shape their interactions with Black women today.
When one woman attempted to address the way the comments displayed Black women internalizing stereotypes, no one seemed to want to participate in that conversation. What she considered as internalizing stereotypes was brushed off as truth telling. The fact is, as was argued, there are “ghetto,” rude, nasty Black women according to some of the commenters.
I eventually closed out my Firefox tab and thought about how this internalizing of stereotypes may be contributing to the divisiveness in our community. When I thought about the author having no Black friends, I attributed this to class and socioeconomic background. In reading the comments it turned out to be a revelation on the ugly things we think about one another as Black women.
The historical divide and conquer methods used to colonize Blacks globally are still at play in the 21st century. House nigger vs. field nigger, light skin vs. dark skin, male vs. female, good hair vs. bad hair, were constructs created by white racists, but are being perpetuated by us.
As women we are already fighting patriarchy, misogyny and sexism. Do Black women really need to fight another battle with each other?
In working hard to make sure we are not a stereotype, too many have adopted a mentality of proving to the rest of the world, ‘I’m not like the bad ones, I’m one of the good ones.’ This mentality has caused us to turn our noses up at our own people.
I challenge Black women to think about the negative ideas we hold about other Black women. Do we automatically assume a woman from the “ghetto” is stupid and unsophisticated? When you meet other Black women, are you holding on to a notion she will be catty or rude? And are you judging people individually or based on their class or socio-economic background?
It is much harder to combat racism and sexism when we’re internalizing the very stereotypes we’re trying to dismantle. Women have enough external battles to be fought. We don’t need internal ones that reinforce the fallacy that we are our own worst enemies.