Over the past several years there has been a growing focus on African-American women: from Sesame Street’s brown skinned puppet embracing “black hair” with a cute song and dance to BET’s BLACK GIRLS ROCK! campaign. Black women have gained an increasingly noticeable amount of exposure.
With this new pro-black woman movement, great strides have been made in enabling African-American women to rebuild their foundation of self-worth and address a history of self-esteem issues. No longer able to hide behind blond hair weaves and bleaching creams, the issues that many black women deal with have been smeared across the media for all eyes to see. With this new exposure, as with everything in the media, an extreme amount of exploitation has also followed. Black women are constantly being told to buy that hair care product or this relationship guide book to help them gain “natural beauty” and a “healthy” love life. However, many of these so-called experts who are selling these products are less concerned with women gaining a healthy lifestyle and more concerned with keeping a healthy amount of money in their wallet.
Dr. Ivory Toldson, psychology Professor at Howard University and Senior Research Analyst at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, describes the situation in an emPower Magazine article, stating, “…entrepreneurial elements of America have found a variety of creative ways to benefit financially from black females’ anxieties … Preachers, entertainers turned relationship experts, filmmakers and news documentaries have manipulated statistics to stoke the fear necessary to sell their preferred cut-rate brand of catharsis or solace.”1 As black women embrace the modern pro-black woman movement, they must be careful not to be deceived and, more importantly, they must recognize other women of color face very similar issues as they do.
Relying on the media, it is easy to assume African-American women have it the worse when it comes to issues of colorism, health, and self-esteem. Even the recently released trailer for the anticipated upcoming documentary, Dark Girls, isolates colorism to be a black woman issue when it’s not. The film displays various black women sharing heart wrenching stories of their experiences with colorism, a form of discrimination based on someone’s skin tone.2 With the movie being paired with a segment on 20/20 and articles in the New York Times and Washington Post, it is easy for one to assume colorism starts and ends in the black community. However, colorism has a deep rooted history across the world in areas including Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Africa.
Lorena Luna, Program Assistant at the National Hispana Leadership Institute, described colorism in Latin America. It is common within Latino communities for people to reject any resemblance of their native ancestry. Luna shares her experience, “I was talking with a friend, and I said something about me wanting to have really long hair. He [rejected the idea] then said that I was going to look like an Indian if I did that.”3 This same story is also found in Dark Girls, where a woman shares how it was an insult to be called African, although that is the ethnicity from which “African-American” is derived. Health risks are another issue women of color share. The 2009 Putting Women’s Health Care Disparities on the Map report shows that minority women ranked higher on health related issues across the globe.4
It is imperative that Black women acknowledge that their issues are not isolated, although society often attempts to portray it as such. Black women are not the sole doomed race of women that endure the extremities of life. Many of the issues they face are shared with other women in different races because of the oppression that class, race, and gender endure. However, if black women continue to silo themselves within these issues without acknowledging how they can work with their fellow sisters of color to overcome many of their issues, then they will continue to give into the myth and low self esteem that the media is feeding them.