Black women, we need better representation. Whether it comes from Hollywood, YouTube or a black media platform, it’s time to start seeing ourselves in a better light and letting go of tired, played out stereotypes. There are ways that every black woman can get involved in improving the way we are presented in the media. If you’re an actress, writer or artist, make an effort to choose roles or create stories and art that positively portray confident, beautiful and happy black women. If you’re a filmgoer or a television buff, choose to support shows and stories that are brave enough to tell non-traditional stories about black women. Here are a list of tired tropes that we can stop supporting:
1. The Maid
While The Help was certainly an entertaining movie, it didn’t do much for black women when it comes to corrective promotion and highlighting our beauty and femininity. We don’t simply need more roles in Hollywood—we need better, nuanced roles that positively impact our desirability and boost the image of ourselves. Black women fulfill a lot of roles in society. We are doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, artists, actors and much more. We need more young, fresh and beautiful images of both exceptional and everyday black women. Remember, the purpose of media and art is not simply to reflect life, it’s to promote an improved version of ourselves—the version of ourselves that we want to be or should be. Black women desperately need images and role models that we can aspire to be.
2. The Slave
Hollywood’s insistence on telling stories where black women are cast as maids and slaves is very telling of its white supremacist roots. While there’s nothing wrong with telling stories that expose America’s racist history and the tragedy of slavery, the problem is that most depictions of slavery are told in a way that demean the black race and exalt the “good” white people. Black people are shown enduring some of the worst pain imaginable for mere entertainment. Moreover, slavery is not the only part of African American history and it is important to see other stories about black women that more accurately reflect our everyday life.
3. The Sassy Best Friend
Hollywood has no problem casting black women—as long as we’re not the lead of the film or the television show. Instead, they prefer to create roles where the black girl is the sassy side kick who exists solely for comedic relief and to better the life of their white (or light) friend/counterpart. Although shows like Insecure have began to pop up, we still need more television shows and films that portray confident, beautiful and happy black women who are able to carry the plot and the lead role. We should not be subjected to being the sidekick or shadow in somebody else’s life. We can be the lead.
4. The Masculine Black Woman/Black Man Mimicking A Black Woman
Tyler Perry’s Madea is a prime example of a joke gone terribly wrong. When black women are represented so rarely in the media, it’s harmful to see so many condescending images of ourselves on the screen. Not only do the constant jokes and mocking damage our self-image, but they also further play into the stereotype that black women are loud, angry, aggressive and unfeminine. Many black women are soft-spoken, quirky, kind and gentle—where are these women on the big screen?
There’s nothing wrong with telling stories about masculine black women, since masculine black women exist and there are masculine women in every race. The problem is when we are too often portrayed as masculine and rarely given the chance to be seen as feminine and dainty. For the most part, black women—just like any other race of women—want to be seen as desirable, beautiful and worthy of love, respect and adoration.
"Grace is a freelance writer and blogger from Canada. Her work has been featured on HerCampus, 21Ninety, Read Unwritten. She is a voracious reader, a dog-lover and a self-professed pop culture junkie. Her other hobbies include watching sappy romantic comedies, consuming too many strawberry-filled doughnuts and people-watching. Grace currently attends university, where she is working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Pre-Law."