Black Women and Good Stereotypes

The uproar over a viral video spoofing black women's relationship requirements perpetuates stereotypes -- but could that be a good thing?

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When I clicked on the link to watch the "Black Marriage Negotiations" video that's been invading inboxes and Facebook walls over the past week, I was expecting to see something funny. Not just because the subject line said something like, "LOL!!! YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS," but also because marriage has always been a good source of comedy in the black community. Think back to Clair and Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show, Roc and Eleanor in Rock, or Martin and Gina from Martin (who I know weren't married for the majority of the show, but let's not get into semantics); the marriages we saw on-screen made us laugh at some point.

But when I watched the clip and saw an animated black businesswoman sitting across a conference table from a black businessman, ticking off an extensive list of demands, I didn't laugh. I just kind of smiled and said, "True." Then I went on with the rest of my day.

Obviously I didn't think the video was LOL-worthy, but that's not to say I was offended. Nor was I disturbed. I just thought it was one of those videos that smart black people pass around to one another as a way to laugh at themselves instead of the Antoine Dodsons of the world (to say nothing of that man's intelligence and savvy), and I was just one of the smart black people who didn't find it funny. But to my surprise, a lot of people did laugh out loud, and ever since its premiere on YouTube, "Black Marriage Negotiations" is far and away the most viewed video in a series of satirical animated shorts about the black dating world.

I have heard some women say, "The girl in this video is so me." Some men say, "Yep, this is exactly like the girls I know at my job." Meanwhile, female viewers who strongly disagree with the woman in the video, and male viewers who defend black women by saying they're not all like the woman in the video, seem to expect some sort of reward for their alternative point of view. But the woman in the video isn't entirely unreasonable for knowing what she wants, and the man isn't entirely unreasonable for being discouraged to be with her. The list of her demands is, after all, quite extensive and impossible to live up to.

But anyone who's done some real dating in their lives knows the list the woman in the video recites is nothing more than an ideal, and who doesn't have that? A long time ago, Sir-Mix-A-Lot put my ideal to a song called "Baby Got Back (I Like Big Butts)." I, too, wanted a woman who worked out extensively and yet somehow, some way, maintained an ample, soft posterior. I realized that's really difficult to do, so over time I started to make some concessions because I'm flexible.

The people who are offended by this video are going to say it was bothersome because all it did was reinforce stereotypes of the high-maintenance black woman we see so often. My problem is, where on any screen -- computer, television, movie -- does such a woman exist? If the image of a demanding, single, successful black woman who went to Spelman College for undergrad and University of Pennsylvania's Wharton for her M.B.A. were something we saw so often, it had become a stereotype, the video would not have gone viral.

If someone who watched the video were to ask me if women like the one in the video existed in real life, I wouldn't hesitate to say yes. Those women definitely exist. They're out there working hard, trying to make waves in their industries and hopefully catch a man. I know a lot of them, and they don't scare me one bit. What does scare me is the fact that too many people think these women don't exist because they are still too busy watching music videos, television shows and movies that really do perpetuate harmful stereotypes of black women. And trust me, the women in those videos are nothing like Clair Huxtable.

Jozen Cummings is a writer living in Harlem, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter and read his blog, UntilIgetmarried.com.

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