Black In America: The Invisible Women

image I sat down to watch the much anticipated series Black in America: Black Women And The Family on CNN last tonight.  The first part of the documentary was specifically dedicated to children, and the obstacles that they face growing up in poverty, and getting a good education.  The very first family that was highlighted was that of a male single father.  Though it is wonderful to see a black male so heavily invested in his children, a show that is dedicated to the struggles of women should have presented a black mother first.  This of course was only  one  example of the way in which a show dedicated to women, was in fact aimed at reinforcing a certain idea of what constitutes a black woman. It is assumed throughout the entirety of the documentary that not only can black men speak on behalf of women, it is right and proper for them to do so.

If someone were to watch this show with little  knowledge of black women in the US, they would assume that they are all CIS, and that they are all heterosexual. It seems that these are the two main identifiers of black females. Throughout the two hour documentary not one mention was made of black lesbians or transgender women.  It seems that sexuality or gender identity in some way conflicts with identifying as a black female.  By  making these groups invisible it further highlights how marginalized they are by mainstream America. If a documentary is dedicated to black women, it should include ALL black women.  I suspect that much of this omission had to do with its continual linking to the black church, which we know has not historically been in support of people that refuse to identify as heterosexual, or that refuse to live the gender binary. There wasn’t even a referral to a single black female minister, even though we all know that they exist.  The reverend T.J Jakes cannot speak on behalf of black female clergy, and their theological experiences, and theories.

When the issue of the single black female (or rather the disappearing eligible black bachelor) was introduced, the perfect opportunity existed to discuss bisexuality or lesbianism, but these omissions speak to the fact that there is a sense of denial in the back community about the concrete identities of these two groups.  The message that this documentary sends is that a deep dick is the cure to all that ails you, and if you cannot find it within the black community for the sake of self preservation you should seek it in any community.

It was further troubling that the documentary was insistent in promoting marriage as the answer to the poverty that black women face.  Marriage is no guarantee that the relationship will survive, and offers only the potential of stability.  Progressive programs like socialized day care, or education subsidies as concrete solutions was not even proffered as a legitimate counter to the “traditional heterosexual lifestyle.”  This push to return to the patriarchal family only encourages black women to give up their autonomy and agency.  Every single marriage that was presented on the show was positive and life affirming, however I must ask where are the women that have been battered by their spouses?  Did they just click their ruby slippers and disappear into a kind of invisible Neverland?  These women exist, and daily their lives are made miserable by their abusive husbands.  What about the women that have experienced marital rape, don’t they count as black women?  What about the women dealing with husbands that are addicted to illicit substances?  There are many more models that I could provide to question whether or not marriage is a good solution to the problems that plague black women, but my question is why CNN did not see fit to include this in a show supposedly dedicated to black women?

Whole groups of women were erased in this documentary.  As I sit here I wonder about the women in the prison system and how race effects their experiences. What about women working in the sex trade industry as either prostitutes, strippers, or porn actresses, how has race effected their life experiences?  When we think of the black woman we are meant to either think of the noble, self-sacrificing single mother, or the rich affluent over achiever who spends her nights embracing a vibrator lamenting on her lack of access to good dick. Had CNN bothered to look outside of the cultural images that exist about black women they could have created a documentary that was far more inclusive, and spoke to the various identities that make up black females in the US.  Once again we are misrepresented and constructed as something that we are not. 

Tomorrows instalment is called the The Black Man, somehow I suspect that this particular segment will be far more inclusive.  When it comes to race, society has always focused on the black male, and relegated the black female to his invisible helper. Black women are always told about the ways in which they must conform to black male headship to uplift the race.  Though the black male is specifically othered by race he still exists with privilege, and I am quite sure that the patriarchy will not be discussed in any significant way.

If we are going to discuss race it cannot and should not be done without the other isms that function together to limit social mobility.  A true conversation begins when we discuss things like age, disability, and sexuality.  The more intersections that enter any debate, the greater the chance to end up with an accurate portrayal of the black experience.  Though CNN had lofty aims it failed to present any real illumination on what it is like to black in America.

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