Stereotypes about black female criminality and irresponsibility legitimate the massive disruption that both systems inflict on black families and communities. A popular mythology promoted over centuries portrays black women as unfit to bear and raise children. The sexually licentious Jezebel, the family-demolishing Matriarch, the devious Welfare Queen, the depraved pregnant crack addict accompanied by her equally monstrous crack baby—all paint a picture of a dangerous motherhood that must be regulated and punished. Unmarried black women represent the ultimate irresponsible mothers—women who raises their children without the supervision of a man. These stereotypes do not simply percolate in some disembodied white psyche. They are reinforced and recreated by foster care and prison, which leave the impression that black women are naturally prone to commit crimes and abuse their children. Stereotypes of maternal irresponsibility created and enforced by the child welfare system’s disproportionate supervision of black children help to sustain mass incarceration, and stereotypes of black female criminality help to sustain foster care. As Angela Davis observes, the prison–industrial complex “relies on racialized assumptions of criminality—such as images of black welfare mothers reproducing criminal children—and on racist practices in arrest, conviction, and sentencing patterns.” The joint production of stereotypes in the child welfare and prison systems helps to explain why juvenile justice authorities send black delinquents to juvenile detention while referring white delinquents to informal alternatives for the same offenses. Many officials think that all black children come from female-headed households that are ill equipped to handle a troubled child simply because their mothers are not married. Because they perceive black single mothers as incapable of providing adequate supervision of their children, officials believe they are justified in placing these children under state control.
Dorothy E. Roberts, “Prison, Foster Care, and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers”
This is just a tiny snippet of the conclusion, but if you have a chance to read the whole thing please do. The full text pdf is at the source.
Of course, not all women of color are sexualized in the same way. For example, while black women are considered lascivious, always consenting and out of control, Latina women are considered exotic or overly sensual and Asian women are considered childish and prude. These particular stereotypes are reinforced through popular culture and pornography (just Google respectively “Asian women,” “black women,” or “Latina women” and then “women” and see what comes up). The common thread here is that nonwhite women’s sexuality is seen as outside the norm of white heterosexuality. It’s therefore something to be uniquely desired, manipulated, exploited, or controlled. Within this rather toxic climate, being a woman of color who’s in touch with her sexuality is an act of resistance. Pushing past the negative media depictions and still finding a healthy, healing, erotic, and functional sexuality is no small feat.
sorry y’all but these quotes are so relevant and my queue has a lot of stuff in it so
But it’s not really as easy as blaming Michelle Obama for not being as radical as we want her to be. Racist constructions of black motherhood play a large role in how she is perceived, and she has to work double time to avoid being cast as an “angry black woman.” Michelle Obama had to win the appeal of the American mainstream with qualities that make her seem like she’d be a good First Lady: being feminine, appeasing, and focused on home; being successful in her own right (but willing to give it all up for her husband’s career and her children’s well-being) is just an added bonus. Her choice (even if on behalf of their PR team!) to play up her more traditional leanings has a lot to do with the fact that American conceptions of black motherhood not only are racist, but harmful in how they position black motherhood in opposition to white motherhood as a type of failure.
Don’t believe me? Think about how differently Sarah Palin’s campaign coverage would have looked had she been a black woman. Palin was a working mother with five children, one of whom, Bristol, was a teenager and pregnant while Mom was on the campaign trail. If Palin had been black (or Latina for that matter) she would have been cast as ignorant and uneducated and characterized as a drain on the system. Heteronormativity is not just about being straight; it is also about class, race, and lifestyle choices.
I just wrote a paper on stereotypes in media. The group of people I had to research was “Native Americans” and I watched all of these videos about how early media stereotyped them into being these horrible people. But the truth is, growing up I always wanted to be a Native American Indian. I thought they were great, and in the 1st grade I cried when I was picked as a Pilgrim instead of an Indian in our Thanksgiving play. I didn’t want to be a “white man”. Funny, I guess I never saw the negativity in the stereotype.
If your paper isn’t turned in yet, I’d like to offer you another resource. Even if it is done and turned in, I’d like you to read it.
(Feel free to quote from it; correct attribution is to Monique Poirier, Seaconke Wampanoag)
Even those Americans who think they know about U.S. history often adhere to many myths and misconceptions taught in school. As one major research study has shown, current high-school textbooks communicate much in the way of inaccurate, distorted, and elliptical views of that history, particularly in regard to issues of U.S. racism and interracial conflicts.
Because of this pervasive ignorance, white elites can easily persuade, create confusion in, or foster apathy in the general population. Television has often circulated racist stereotypes straight out of the dominant racial frame. These stereotypes create or reinforce negative racial images in many minds. A recent study found that television viewing had an important effect on white viewers’ negative stereotypes of Latinos—when these viewers felt that they had learned important information about U.S. Latinos from watching television. In contrast, those whites who said that they had actually talked with, or had positive contacts with, Latinos were more likely to hold positive views of Latinos.
Thus, with our national racial order firmly in place, most white Americans, from childhood on, have generally adopted the racially framed views, assumptions, and proclivities of previous generations, established white authorities, and/or the mainstream media. In this manner important aspects of systemic racism are routinely reproduced from one generation of whites to the next.