April 16, 2014

The damsel conundrum

Scoots forward in chair, adjusts eyeglasses and smiles. The Damsel Conundrum, breathes. Some time ago I touched upon hueism and sexuality in my The Blacker the Berry post. It was from the male perspective, and for the most part is was second hand knowledge, my thoughts on the experiences of my son-a fairer hued Black man. This time, it’s “T” time, a little y’all and me time.

The Damsel Conundrum, is a phrase I came up with in response to a conversation with a girlfriend about the casting in one (or all, they’re pretty much the same I bet, although I haven’t subjected myself to all of ‘em) of Tyler Perry’s films. I pointed out to my girlfriend, who is white, that I took issue with the media’s portrayal of women of color, specifically darker hued women. It led to some very interesting conversation and observations about the way dark-skinned Black women are viewed and valued in society as a whole. I noted a dearth presence of princess and damsel-like roles for women who look like me. She agreed and likened it to the stereotype of the ditzy blonde. “I guess, sans the historical context”, I added.

Some time ago, my daughter was teased in the playground about her “bi-racial” make up. When she entered the house, the child who accompanied her came to me all aglow and proudly announced that Yael had just warned the children who were teasing her about her lack of qualifying Blackness, to not make her “Get black on [them]“. Blank stares abound, as I nearly wipe the skin clean off my hands with the dishtowel. Knowing full well that Yael knows not the gravity of this statement, I evict the beaming friend and initiate a discussion about what being Black and moreover what “getting Black on folks” means to her. The discussion led me to Nickelodeon’s True Jackson VP, of all places. True, as Yael tells me is, “like you mom, she’s brown and smart and tough, she sticks up for herself.” Nods head in equal parts understanding and befuddlement. Intelligence and assertion, sounds fair enough, but is that really what she was receiving? Much like the conversation I’d just had with my girlfriend about all the neck-rolling, sass and ‘tude, here it was again, “angry Blackness”.

I suppose Yael’s statement in and of itself should have made me feel better, y’know the part about being smart and sticking up for herself, but it didn’t. When I sat down with my husband later that evening, I surprised myself with what I expressed. I said to him that I was bothered by the invincibility clause assigned to my Blackness and that it reminded me in some ways of the racialism that plagues Black males and renders them scary. It felt like an affront to my womanhood, it demeaned my femininity and moreover it grouped and claimed me; I felt beholden to an ideal, that Black woman is different from woman, and the damsel conundrum was born. I expressed to him how often I felt Black womanhood came with a separate, unequal set of ideals and expectations.

There are many facets to the conundrum, and the problem of hueism as a whole, but before I go into more examples in the next week or so, I wanted to open the discussion for my readers to share their own experiences, personal and/or professional. Do you feel or have you experienced situations where you felt your gender/womanhood/femininity or worth was measured on some gradient scale of race and/or hue? Can you name a film or literary damsel or princess of color? Are we beholden to the stereotypes of perpetual sass, ‘tude and bad assery? What are your thoughts?

T. Allen-Mercado

T. Allen-Mercado

T.Allen-Mercado is a mixed media artist, award-winning essayist, student of anthropology, blogger, wife and, mother of two.

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