Black Women Are Too Much Trouble?
Black Women Are Too Much Trouble?
A Commentary on Internalized Racism and Black-on-Black Prejudice
© 2018 Sherryl N Weston MA, MSW, LCSW (pending in CA)
There is something important to understand about me as I tell this story.
I am African American, but in my teens, I learned my first steps of salsa and merengue from the dad of my Puerto Rican next-door neighbor when we lived in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. It molded my movement forever. When someone in a salsa club sees me dance before they speak to me, they always think I’m Latina.
I have had fun, platonic relationships with many male cultural dancers. Sometimes those have been men who are Americans and have relationships within the salsa dancing cultures because of things like work, relationships or extended travel in those countries. And once a professional musician who is Peruvian commented to me, “You’re really good…You’ve been dancing a lo-o-ong time.” I consider that a complete honor and do not take it lightly.
Although the ballroom-rooted dance class style appears to be most familiar to the general public and has become somewhat of a standard in certain circles, people who grew up with the culturally-influenced salsa (where it started) can immediately identify if someone learned in a class or not. “Culture” still seems to be preferred by those who grew up with what I call “The Salsa of Grandma’s Living Room” It’s distinct, identifiable by country, and very much affected by a controversial and negative cultural appropriation that is also suffered by other cultural traditions of different sorts (i.e. Buddhist or North American Indigenous religious practices and the Blues of African American roots.)
Most recently, my husband and I sat next to a man who I learned was Colombian. He asked me where I was from before I had danced or said anything. Maybe it is the way I was dressed that night, but he was surprised when I laughed and said “Denver,” since that is the place I have spent the most significant amount of time throughout my life. He asked me about my favorite dance styles. I told him Puerto Rican, Cuban and the one from Mexico City. He revealed to me that he was Colombian and danced the traditional Colombian style. I told him I prefer any of the traditional styles over “dance class style.” Later he asked me to dance and he immediately smiled as we got started.
“You DO dance my Colombian style,” he said.
“It’s a pleasure,” I told him. With all humility, I admit that I am happy that I don’t look like I stole anything.
An Afro-Latina Twist
I have always spent a lot of time in the cultural contexts of many parts of the African diaspora and have been mistaken for Latina in certain circumstances. For example, in a Brazilian restaurant I was asked by a Brazilian woman if I was Brazilian. She said I looked like her cousin.
Well, what does any of this have to do with black women being too much trouble? You’ll see. The point is, people don’t always know who they are talking to. Their assumptions can cause some serious blunders.
Latinx Dancing as a “Maybe Latina”
One of my joys is dancing with a creative, cultural dancer who can force my hand. This is great exercise and an enjoyable challenge. (My talented musician husband doesn’t mind, even if he is with me.) I always wait until I have been on the dance floor a few times, to increase the chance that I have been seen as a competent dancer, but I do ask those special dancers if they will grant me a dance. I usually approach in Spanish. I am always complimentary and ask politely if we can have a dance.
On this evening, a man I had seen a few times in other venues was that person. I first noticed him because his features reminded me of a Mexican friend who has an Afro-Mexican parent. He was a little darker than I and with a type of hair that might be expected from a biracial black person. I thought he would be a fun person to have a dance with.
I asked him to dance with me. After the dance, he came to sit next to me and started chatting. Among other things, he told me and that he was from a Latin American country, and that one of his parents is Black. When I told him I had figured that out, he looked surprised. Also, in the conversation, he referred to my husband (who was seated next to me) as my boyfriend, so I know he was aware that I wasn’t available to him.
One of the things he said was, “I only date European [I knew he meant any white] women.” I withheld my desire to roll my eyes at him. Instead, I asked why. His answer? “Because black women are too much trouble.” He referred again to the fact that he has a black parent. What expertise does he think that gives him? Who did he think he was looking at? Where does that leave any other black woman he ever meets?
Colorism and Biracial Relationships
This is not, by far, the first time I have run into this attitude with black men, whether they were U.S.-born or not. As an example: I once had a white friend, in disgust, tell me about a black man who was pressuring her to go out with him. He told her that he never dates black women, for a reason similar to my dance partner example. He also pointed out to her that he wanted to have more light-skinned children. (He revealed to her he was divorced from a white woman. My friend turned him down.
I am a feminist who has always had platonic male friends. It’s been interesting that in the dance community I have been a part of, I have been privy to the side conversations that some women may not have experienced. Here are some tidbits that I still find revealing and fascinating:
I once asked one of the Latinos for what explained why the white women who were regulars in that venue would dance all night whether they were particularly capable or not, when Latinas would often line the seats more than the dance floor. Part of the general answer: “Americanas” (white women) were more likely to be willing to leave with them at the end of the night. When I pointed out that I don’t get “hit on” like that, it was indicated that everyone knew I was only there to dance (and I’m not white.) Referring to the Latinas, it was also a matter of the perception that they were not as likely to enable the conquering behavior.
I am aware of another setting where white women began banding together against Latinos in the dance venues, based on the belief that too many of them had wives that they left at home or that were womanizers in another fashion. Therefore on that side was another stereotype which prevented a kind person from having a chance.
My perceptions can be seen as questionable, but I think our increased multiculturalism in certain places are producing a raft of issues that are not properly addressed nor perceived accurately in the social, nor the political realm. This is presenting on various levels, whether some perceive it or not. Not all black women are “too much trouble” and neither would every single white woman be a naïve and desirable angel…
The ways that stereotyping-connected colorism and misogyny operate in our society creates interesting problems and are very damaging to the self-esteem of girls and women. On one hand, a “dark” woman is a witch. On the other hand, a white woman is the desired accomplishment for a variety of reasons. Here is one place where operating in multiracial relationships becomes quite complicated.
Still, in some circles, assimilation and mixed relationships are a sign of progress. To others it is a sign of the loss of cultural respect. The unhealthy side of this does end up in committed relationships and children. To be the child of a relationship that was based on such values or a person who awakens to this stereotyping is definitely the material for therapy sessions and it is important for therapists to be sophisticated about the related topics.
This stereotyping also indicates the need for us in the communities of color to face the results of the way we have been programmed to treat each other and what that has to do with whether we are capable of working together to right the wrongs of this society on behalf of the global majority that live here in the States.
It might have something to do with “just getting along,” no?
Where do we begin? Admitting that colorism is a real problem is one thing. Doing something about it means tearing down generational toxicity in the form of internalized racism. White people in close relation with us need to understand this as biracial relationships are entered. We cannot work on something that some of us are either worshipping or refusing to see.