People often said that being black and also a woman is a double negative, and although a double negative equals a positive in math, that’s not always the case in the real world. I read in a book once—the title of the book escapes me at the moment—that black women are the most oppressed. They were the last to gain their freedom, the last to be recognized as citizens, the last to vote. How black women are view, portrayed, treated, etc., in society is evidence of whether or not a society is still backwards in its treatment of its own people. If we see successful, strong, and respected black women, we have finally overcome the issues of the past. While we do see successful, educated black women, and one of the most well known, respected, and idolized, women in the world is the First Lady, Michelle Obama, a black woman, I still feel like there’s still some marginalization being practiced. Black women are still portrayed as oversexed and expendable: twerking, rap music, baby mamas, thots. Black women still have to fight stereotypes: they’re all on welfare, they infantilize their men, they’re always mad, i.e. the angry black woman. Movies like Tyler Perry’s adaptation of For Colored Girls wouldn’t be as difficult to watch if we knew that black women didn’t still face those obstacles, but the painful truth is that they do.
Here’s a poem written by African American poet, Toi Derricotte, that explores one of the issues that is inherent to being a black woman. Do you think there is some truth in these lines even today?
On the Turning Up of Unidentified Black Female Corpses
By Toi Derricotte
Mowing his three acres with a tractor,
a man notices something ahead—a mannequin—
he thinks someone threw it from a car. Closer
he sees it is the body of a black woman.
The medics come and turn her with pitchforks.
Her gaze shoots past him to nothing. Nothing
is explained. How many black women
have been turned up to stare at us blankly,
in weedy fields, off highways,
pushed out in plastic bags,
shot, knifed, unclothed partially, raped,
their wounds sealed with a powdery crust.
Last week on TV, a gruesome face, eyes bloated shut.
No one will say, “She looks like she’s sleeping,” ropes
of blue-black slashes at the mouth. Does anybody
know this woman? Will anyone come fourth? Silence
like a backwave rushes into that field
where, just the week before, four other black girls
had been found. The gritty image hangs in the air
just a few seconds, but strikes me,
a black woman, there is a question being asked
about my life. How can I
protect myself? Even if I lock my doors,
walk only in the light, someone wants me dead.
Am I wrong to think
if five white women had been stripped,
broken, the sirens would wail until
someone was named?
Is it any wonder I walk over these bodies
pretending they are not mine, that I do not know
the killer, that I am just like any woman—
if not wanted, at least tolerated.
Part of me wants to disappear, to pull
the earth on top of me. Then there is this part
that digs me up with this pen
and turns my sad black face to the light.