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Peeling Back the Labels: Survey paints portrait of black women in America
January 23, 2012 5:49 AM   Subscribe

Results of a new survey by the Washington post and Kaiser sheds some light on black women in America in a way that some others have failed to do. 2011 saw a record number of articles, books and shows dedicated to analyzing the "plight' of black women in America. Naturally, most of it devolved into popular tropes about black women being undesirable, ugly, angry, and lonely. This new survey shows that for some black women, the path to happiness doesn't necessarily have to be through companionship with a mate.
posted by RedShrek (34 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
This new survey shows that for some black women, the path to happiness doesn't necessarily have to be through companionship with a mate.

This strikes me as self-evident for women of all races, and for people in general.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:59 AM on January 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


Black women with college degrees earn nearly as much as similarly educated white women.

It saddens me that this is noteworthy.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 6:44 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sixty-seven percent of black women describe themselves as having high self-esteem, compared with 43 percent of white women.

When I see stats like this I always wonder what the correlation is between having high self esteem and reporting one has it on a survey (and how to design an experiment that can make the distinction.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:53 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is an age in which young black women see more options for themselves than ever. They can run a cable network (like Oprah Winfrey), lead a Fortune 500 company (like Xerox’s Ursula Burns), become an international pop icon (like Beyonce). Secretary of State? Condi Rice has been there, done that.

I think this is the problem. Why do people only see options where other people have already done something? Learn to see options where nobody's done anything yet.
posted by michaelh at 7:01 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Washington Post? Really?
posted by bardic at 7:05 AM on January 23, 2012


What's wrong with the Post? Their editorial page and mix of columnists have drifted right over the years, but they still do this kind of social reporting well.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:43 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't relate to this at all. Guess that makes me an Oreo.
posted by Anima Mundi at 7:45 AM on January 23, 2012


Why do people only see options where other people have already done something? Learn to see options where nobody's done anything yet.
posted by michaelh at 10:01 AM on January 23


White people have the luxury of having that mindset. Minorities don't. If a minority person looks where no one of their ethnicity has done anything yet, they know that the chances are there's been an history of actively keeping minorities from accomplishing anything in that arena.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:05 AM on January 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


Checked out the first 3 pages and then got a login screen for the rest of the article. Then I tried to go back a page, and couldn't even see what I had already read. Sigh.

Well, before they boxed me out, I did see that Krissah Thompson and Jon Cohen will live chat with readers at Noon ET about the survey. The link is on the first page.
posted by cashman at 8:34 AM on January 23, 2012


White people have the luxury of having that mindset. Minorities don't. If a minority person looks where no one of their ethnicity has done anything yet, they know that the chances are there's been an history of actively keeping minorities from accomplishing anything in that arena.

Might as well give up then. Really, you want to teach that to people?
posted by michaelh at 8:38 AM on January 23, 2012


Bugmenot.com for bypassing mandatory logins, specifically for the Post.
posted by narcoleptic at 8:51 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, the [Print] link shows you the entire article on one page. Very useful.
posted by steamynachos at 8:53 AM on January 23, 2012


michaelh:

Might as well give up then. Really, you want to teach that to people
"

Hey, don't fault black folks because there is a long history of discrimination in this culture. Understanding this history and navigating around it are what black folks have had to do since the 17th century in this country.
posted by anansi at 8:57 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why do people only see options where other people have already done something? Learn to see options where nobody's done anything yet.

White people (re)tread the same ground all the frickin' time, so it's not terribly unusual. I mean, until this current one, we've an unbroken line of white men as president of the U.S. That's so uncreative! Why don't those white guys go do something no one has done before?
posted by rtha at 8:59 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey, don't fault black folks because there is a long history of discrimination in this culture. Understanding this history and navigating around it are what black folks have had to do since the 17th century in this country.

Okay. Don't fault me for wanting them to navigate around it as quickly as possible.
posted by michaelh at 9:00 AM on January 23, 2012


Reading the rest of the article (I guess my cookies said I was okay to do so) via the print link, overall it's the crushing weight of outside expectations, whether it's those of females, those of (put upon) black people, and a combination of the two.

It's easy to say "just do something different", but as women in general know in this society, there is a 30 foot high wave of relatives, friends, family members, coworkers, books, media and siblings pressuring you to behave in certain ways. Constantly looking down upon you, feeling hurt by you, if you don't just find an acceptable man to marry, be a wife to him, and conform, dammit. That shit is stressful. Add to that what is talked about at the end of the article - trying to uplift your race while you educate yourself. Add to that the media representations that are ridiculously negative, and it's just a big swirl of drama, pressure and strain.

And then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because after a while you get run down trying to fight against being told by the media and society that you aren't as pretty as white women, that you're not as smart as men, and being treated like, as noted in the article, mules. And guess what, after a while you might just bristle a bit when interacting with people.

It's evident from the article that it is a complex set of interactions. There is no "just do stuff!" that will fix things. But I'd at least like to find a way to normalize the feeling that these societal burdens need to be rejected by everyone in a position to do so. There is a sick feeling I get when I see women, beat down by this society, shaming and burdening their daughters and granddaughters with the same messages they faced and fought and lost against or succumbed early to.
posted by cashman at 9:20 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Black women with college degrees earn nearly as much as similarly educated white women. This is a pretty cool advancement (which has been reported previously).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:21 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Naturally, most of it devolved into popular tropes about black women being undesirable, ugly, angry, and lonely.

Really? The picture I saw in a lot of analysis pieces over the last year was that black women were doing far, far better than black men in America, that they had quite strongly internalized a taboo against dating white men but that they saw few viable partners amongst the black men in their social networks. This survey seems pretty much of a piece with that general portrait.

I can't remember ever reading anything that suggested that black women were "undesirable, ugly" or "angry" (well, aside from Republican talking point stuff in online comment forums). The popular topos is "why have black men failed black women" not "why are black women unable to attract men." And, of course, there was Ralph Richard Banks suggesting that black women should give up on finding black mates and start "looking outside their race" for partners--a story that got a lot of play not so long ago. The implication there was certainly that black women are choosing not to seek non-black partners rather than being incapable of attracting them.
posted by yoink at 9:31 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]



I think this is the problem. Why do people only see options where other people have already done something? Learn to see options where nobody's done anything yet.


I think that you mean well, but to be honest, this comes across a bit like, "Why don't poor people just work harder?"

People like to see people who look like themselves accomplishing positive things. This is why I would be willing to bet my meager life savings that not many little white girls buy Tianna merchandise from the Disney princess line.

When young black women see other black women succeed in a particular field, that makes it far, far easier for them to imagine themselves succeeding in the same way. It also suggests to them the presence of a support network to help them achieve their desired goals and the relative absence of race-related obstacles.

It's also worth noting that some of the people they are looking up to in this way did blaze a trail and strike out in a direction where they were pretty much guaranteed not to see anyone who looked like them.

So, yes, there's something to be said for seeing options where nobody's done anything yet, but I don't see any point in dismissing those who do want to walk paths that have already been tread. After all, seeing that an Oprah or a Beyonce has done a thing means it might be easier for a young black woman to do something similar, but it doesn't mean it will be easy.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:31 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't remember ever reading anything that suggested that black women were "undesirable, ugly" or "angry"

You must not be a black woman. We get this shit all the time. There's still the notion that lighter skin is more attractive - how often do you see black models on the cover of mainstream magazines aside from "Messence" and Jet?

And the weight issue is another kettle of fish....
posted by Anima Mundi at 10:01 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


*brb with popcorn*
posted by liza at 10:19 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Messence"

Nice. That's a new one for me.
posted by cashman at 10:26 AM on January 23, 2012


I can't remember ever reading anything that suggested that black women were "undesirable, ugly" or "angry" (well, aside from Republican talking point stuff in online comment forums).

yoink, it's (possibly) referring to a recent controversial article in "Shit To Garner Page Views Psychology Today".
posted by IAmBroom at 10:31 AM on January 23, 2012


You must not be a black woman. We get this shit all the time. There's still the notion that lighter skin is more attractive - how often do you see black models on the cover of mainstream magazines aside from "Messence" and Jet?

I wish that darker-skinned women were more visible, because I think dark skin and very dark skin are both very beautiful (I wish I had darker skin, and not just so that I could wear the oranges and bright colours I adore but which currently don't work at all with my pasty complexion). I do think that a fair bit "lighter skin is more attractive" attitude does comes from within the black community, mostly because all black women are "dark" to white people (and people of other races) and tend to be seen as the same (like how all people who don't look like you tend to "look alike"). Or maybe I think this because I was watching a documentary about black women and skin tone, and a lot of the women who identified as "dark" looked medium or even light-skinned to me.
posted by jb at 11:03 AM on January 23, 2012


Perhaps the "easier to do something once someone who looks like you has done it" thing is related to stereotype threat.

It's just how human beings work, although the more we know about it the easier it might be to counter those parts of our brains that can hold us back. We're not there yet though, and it's not a simple thing; being the "first" into a new field or doing something that no one like you has ever done before is not just hard, but risky. You get scrutinized, for one thing. If you fail, you not only have that to deal with failure but all the assholes saying "well of COURSE you failed, you're an X, they can't do this kind of work!"
posted by emjaybee at 11:05 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay. Don't fault me for wanting them to navigate around it as quickly as possible.

Fine, but I will fault you for coming across as unsympathetic, smug and frankly ignorant of the topic you are discussing.
posted by anansi at 11:19 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Might as well give up then. Really, you want to teach that to people?
posted by michaelh at 11:38 AM on January 23



You miss my point, michaelh. We've already learned it, many times through hard, ugly experience. We learn it because we have to if we're going to have any chance at all of doing well in any field that's white-dominated.


You need to revisit this Metafilter post: "While many whites view race-consciousness as an evil that must be strenuously avoided, blacks tend to see race-consciousness as critical to their survival in white-dominated realms. . ." And I encourage you to pay close attention to this thoughtful comment by danila here.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:39 PM on January 23, 2012


When young black women see other black women succeed in a particular field, that makes it far, far easier for them to imagine themselves succeeding in the same way.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:31 PM on January 23

Wasn't there a Metafiler post about young girls who, when asked to draw scientists, consistently drew white guys in lab coats, but then after taking a tour and meeting a bunch of real-life scientists--many of whom were women--they went back and drew girls scientists?

This is the same sort of thing. And it important, even for adults. I don't know why that's so hard to grasp.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:42 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here it is, magstheaxe.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 12:56 PM on January 23, 2012


Oops, here's the metafilter post as well.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 12:57 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you, Orange Pamplemousse.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:59 PM on January 23, 2012


Black women with college degrees earn nearly as much as similarly educated white women.

I wonder how this breaks down for women descended from American slaves, versus women who (or whose families) voluntarily moved in from the Caribbean, Africa, etc.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:57 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You must not be a black woman. We get this shit all the time. There's still the notion that lighter skin is more attractive - how often do you see black models on the cover of mainstream magazines aside from "Messence" and Jet?

To be clear, I wasn't saying that this message isn't sent (in fact I mentioned that it is sent pretty constantly in comment sections in open forums etc.; as, for example, in the constant vicious attacks on Michelle Obama from the political right)--I was saying that I didn't see it as the usual end point of discussions of the "plight of black women in America" of the kind referenced in the FPP.

yoink, it's (possibly) referring to a recent controversial article in "Shit To Garner Page Views Psychology Today".

I think it's fair to say that a piece that got its author booted from his blog at Psychology Today and that was instantly consigned to the Internet memory hole hardly represents the "norm" of such debates.
posted by yoink at 11:45 AM on January 24, 2012


Nonetheless, yoink, it is part of the current (2011-12) zeitgeist when discussing the social position of black women. Since you said you had never read such a claim, I thought you should see the possible connection.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:17 PM on January 24, 2012


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