By LaTierra Shauntel Piphus
So, it’s no secret that Women of Color in general, and Black women specifically, have been historically underrepresented and misrepresented in the media through harmful archetypes like the “Jezebel,” “Tragic Mulatto,” “Mammie,” “Welfare Queen” and the “Angry Black Woman.” The prevalence of these characters in the media have misinformed society about the experiences and personalities of Black women as a whole. Although this subject is one of my favorite to hop on my soapbox over, there are literally dozens of articles and books on this topic that I encourage everyone to read (at least one) to get a deeper understanding of society and the media served to shape and skew the representation of Black women in certain parts of the world. (see book suggestions below)
For this article in honor of Women’s History Month, I will highlight a few powerful women of color gracefully deconstructing the very foundation in which those toxic archetypes of Black women have been built upon, through their visibility and work throughout the media.
Note: This is by no means a comprehensive or even extensive list and truly does not even scratch the surface of the work Black women are doing and the impacts we are making in this world. It’s just a list of the women I’ve noticed doing this work in the media.
Laverne Cox: Deconstructing the myth that only cisgender women belong in front of the camera. Reconstructing the idea that there needs to be space and positive representations of women of trans-experience throughout the media.
Issa Rae productions/Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl: Deconstructing the idea that black women are a huge monolith and can only exist within the terribly one-dimensional archetypes noted in the beginning of this post. Reconstructing the idea that Black women are HUMAN, are complex, can be awkward, can fall apart and struggle towards our victories just like every other woman on this earth. We are fully capable of inhabiting and embracing multiple identities as well as having personalities that don’t conform to society’s standards.
So Popular’s Janet Mock: Deconstructing the myth that Black women, let alone Transwomen of Color, don’t have complex narratives that deserve to be told. Reconstructing understanding(s) around Unapologetic Womanhood & Authenticity in her book “Redefining Realness.” Shout out to her new show, check out: So Popular with Janet Mock, you are making history everyday! <3
Melissa Perry-Harris on MSNBC: Deconstructing the myth that Black women lack the intellectual capacity to participate and excel in social, political or academic commentary. Reconstructing the idea that we can do all of those things while re-shaping the representation of marginalized populations through addressing the problematic implications that serve to oppress those same groups.
WEEN: Deconstructing the idea that the positive representation of women of color in the media is not an issue that is impacting communities of color. Reconstructing the idea that we (men and women in these communities of color) are trying to tackle this issue the best we can with the resources that we have.
FAAN Mail: Deconstructing the myth that Black women cannot organize around our issues regarding our representation in the media. Reconstructing the idea that it takes everyone in the community to challenge our depictions in the media in order to make change because it is a COMMUNITY ISSUE, not just a Black Women’s Issue.
Elixher Magazine: Deconstructing the idea that Queer Womyn of Color don’t want or need to see themselves or their stories represented in the media. Reconstructing spaces that allow QWOC to occupy all the various identities and dimensions that come with living their truths.
Madame Noir: Deconstructing the idea that the handful of Black women-specific mainstream magazines and websites balance the hundreds that cater to the “general public/American woman” (which can be read as code for white women of a certain size, class and income). Reconstructing the idea that women of color want to read articles and news specifically about ourselves, our lives, and celebrities from our communities.
For Harriet: Deconstructing the idea that Black women’s voices are irrelevant and that we lack the emotional depth and the ability to express ourselves, our work or our interests. Reconstructing the idea that we not only deserve, but are creating our own platforms to voice our opinions on the state of society by contributing to the re-shaping and re-scripting of our narratives based on our culture(s) and lived experiences.
Shondaland’s Shonda Rhimes: Deconstructing the myth that Black women cannot create, produce and direct art that the world wants to see…I think the ratings speak for themselves. Bam! Reconstructing the idea that Black women can be complex and profound, which she explores through her characters on her shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism by Patricia Hill Collins
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa V. Harris-Perry