Though American Black enslavement is over, the effects of it are far from so. Due to societal anti-Blackness and slavery-rooted trauma, things such as imposter syndrome and a variety of mental health issues have perpetuated throughout generations of Black families. Generational trauma affects all of the Black community, but it takes a different toll on African-American women, affecting various aspects of their livelihood such as mental health and sexuality with specific roots in the historical ‘Jezebel’ stereotype and its links to modern Black fetishization.
The correlation of racism to sexism is often left out of conversations surrounding feminism.
Historically, Black American women have been subjected to a number of stereotypes that exploit them and paint them as oversexualized objects. One of the most common surrounding African-American women is the ‘Jezebel’ stereotype. The Jezebel stereotype was originally used as justification by white slave owners to rape Black women on plantations. The stereotype created an idealized version of Black women as some sort of hypersexual crazed animals who were unsatisfied and actively wanted a white man. This was used to make the rape appear consensual and not as the crime it was, due to Black women being considered property to be owned and dominated.
Though the Jezebel stereotype might not exist to the same extent today, it has still manifested itself in our society’s constructs. According to RAINN, 67% of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by white men and according End Rape on Campus, 60% of Black women experience sexual abuse by age 18. For every woman that reports her rape, at least 15 Black women do not report. This pattern shows a trend in the normalization of the suppression of Black female voices, particularly in instances where they are in danger.
There has been a historical double standard in how Black female culture is responded to. One aspect is the fetishization of Black physical traits, and the other is ridiculing them and deeming their features unattractive – both are intertwined. The Jezebel stereotype is one example of Black female fetishization, but there are modern displays of it as well.
The internalized racism embedded into the fabric of our society has convinced the public that Black features are unattractive except in “special cases” or in the instance in which white people can benefit from it somehow.
There are many situations when I myself along with other Black females find themselves hearing comments such as “You are pretty for a Black girl”, perpetuating that idea that Eurocentric features are the singular standard of beauty. There are further examples shown of this in today’s media. For generations, Black women have been ridiculed for their features such as lips and figure. However, when their white counterparts and celebrities receive plastic surgery and augmentations to achieve these same features, it is suddenly praised and considered beautiful.
Celebrities such as the Kardashian family have received backlash for that, consistently being accused of fetishizing Black culture. They’ve capitalized off the appropriation of Black traits, and the influence their large platform encourages others to emulate that.
These negative responses to Black females at the hand of society for generations manifests within Black families and can affect their image of self-worth and perception of themselves. They all serve to create extreme discomfort and lead Black women to believe they cannot exist in traditionally “white spaces.”
Growing up in a majority white community and currently attending a predominantly white institution, there have often been instances where I question whether I belong and/or deserve to be there. Many of the people in the spaces I’m in often have little experience interacting with women of color and it can leave me feeling “othered.” This type of mindset is called “imposter syndrome” and is the result of generations of white colonization enforcing the ideal that Black people are somehow inferior to their white counterparts.
The conversation surrounding generational trauma in Black women and its effects on Black communities is not often discussed. It is not solely a problem within the Black community, but has to do with the larger problem of the perpetuation of anti-Blackness in America. Once the cycle of societal racism begins to be dismantled, conversations about these issues can be held more openly, it will be a step in the right direction toward intersectionality in the liberation of Black bodies.
Photo by Daniela Guevara.