Huey Newton described power as the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired manner. Physics defines power as the rate at which work is performed or the rate at which energy is converted. My 13-year-old brother said it’s the ability to do what you want with ease.
However one chooses to view it, power is the control to present the perception you want. Marketers, television producers, videographers, for example, have the power to shape a production exactly to their tastes. Background props, picture placement, off-screen chatter are all tools at their disposal. Nothing is by coincidence.
In that vein, media images have an advantage in shaping how a group or groups of people view themselves. We spend the majority of our time imbibing these images and self-fulfilling them. We mimic behaviors from art and form parasocial relationships with the Derwins, Obamas and Michael Jacksons because of our inability – or lack of will – to distinguish the fact that we don’t actually know these people.
Although art imitates life, life often becomes a caricature of art, and a cycle begins. Like a cyclone that picks up speed as it comes across warm moist air, this cycle gains speed as it comes across dollars.
If it makes money, then it makes sense.
If Jews aren’t depicted as all-powerful, heavily liberal and far-sighted, they are miserly and victimized. White women are depicted as the ultimate desirable prize, but also as innocent and aloof. Black men are often shown as brutes, trigger-happy, heavy boned, charismatic and funny, at the expense of being brainiacs. Mexicans travel in packs and are not only industrious, but can be murderous. And their women are loyal and in a word, crazy.
Japanese and Chinese and Vietnamese and Taiwanese have their math genius, heavy gambling, hard-to-please archetypes. And on and on. This is not to say there aren’t elements of truth in these characterizations. This is to say that balance in people representation comes a distant second to the profit motive.
In the case of the American Black woman this is no exception. Being that this is a magazine focused on Black women, it grieves, yet makes sense to me, that so much space is spent analyzing and lamenting macro opinions of their existence. The contradictions are glaring: Black women are the focus of so many studies, but they’re also socially invisible.
Black women are victims of patriarchy, but are the leaders in pizazz and flyness. Black women are this. They are that. They do this. They don’t do that.
Man…it must suck to be a Black woman.
Eh. Can a Black woman just…be?
Presenting Black women in a certain light has always been profitable. Ask the most financially successful black auteur of the past 20 years. It’s been written in this magazine before by yours truly, so forgive me for the redundancy. With so many studies and focus groups and backyard pow-wows, the fate of the American Black woman is on tenuous ground, shaped by whatever an expert or group of experts are musing on at the particular moment.
If Black women obviously get “no love” from mainstream media, then why is so much time spent consuming mainstream media? That’s like knowing oatmeal makes your stomach feel a certain way and still keeping it in your pantry. Do Black women have a thing for masochism?
This isn’t a problem exclusive to one group. It’s human nature to veer toward behaviors and diets and patterns that may not be in our best interest. That’s the only way to explain the continued success of McDonald’s or liquor stores or the rise of the Avon Barksdales.
Wanting to “do better” is completely different than doing better. Prisons and the streets are filled with people of good intentions. The will and subconscious often work at odds until cognitive dissonance lifts or reduces them to the same plane.
That equal plane is often our undoing.
Psychology departments view minorities in this country as the ultimate study incubator. At worse (or for them, best), they are Petri dishes upon which there is no “cure” but an infinite amount of theories to test. Sociologists come up with jargon and phenomena to describe conditions we see everyday.
Cultural relativism. Acculturation. Ethnocentrism. Hermeneutics. Heuristics. Relative deprivation. Five dollar words to basically describe the differences among people and the way we break them down.
In our attempt to draw credibility and worth in a world that can be indifferent to individual credibility and worth, we turn to research, literature, physical, mental or financial “advantages,” social clout, history and plain out ego to affirm our humanity.
Black women have to understand the goal of the messages they are bombarded with. Are Black women socially invisible? Are Black women doomed to a lifetime of singlehood? Are Black women the mules of the human existence? Questions like these fuel liberal arts programs, prime-time specials and to a certain extent, this magazine. Instead of taking on these questions and coming to an obvious solution, we use them to point fingers and play the same game we accuse “them” of doing.
Quincy Jones once said to a room during a business meeting: “Not one drop of self-worth depends on your acceptance of me.” We give ourselves affirmations of this nature; too often we fall short in practice. Not because we’re incapable, but because we seem to embrace a treadmill mindset. Black women say they are tired of the scrutiny, however, pieces like this routinely get the most eyeballs and attention.
If a magazine wants to stay in business serving a group, then it must produce material that the group finds relevant. Treadmilling it: Movement galore yet going nowhere fast.
It’s time to play a new game. Value comes from daily actions of self-improvement and self-actualization. If someone happens to like the you that you are, cool. If not, that’s cool too. You can only be you. What somebody else thinks of you is not your business anyway.
There’s no denying the amount of turmoil – of the mental and physical variety – inflicted on Black women in this country’s short history. Throughout the world. From men of many different races. From other women. If there is a group of people with the experience to save humans from themselves, it’s the American Black woman.
Getting rid of that oatmeal is the first step.