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Is The “Woke” Black Woman Becoming A Caricature & The New Mammy?

Caricature – car·i·ca·ture ˈkerikəCHər,ˈkerikəˌCHo͝or/  noun a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.

Several months ago, I remember I was standing at my closet looking for something to wear to a poetry event and my daughter came in my room and asked, “Why don’t you just wear a poetry outfit?” I turned to her intrigued by her question and asked, “What is a poetry outfit?” She said, “You know a Black people/Black struggle related shirt, Black earrings, ripped jeans and heels.”

I laughed as I scanned my mind over the latest poetry crowds and she was right. That is the “standard” look. That way of dressing is always suitable in a poetry setting. While us as poets speak of our right to be individuals and not conform, we had morphed into one another.

My daughter’s assessment of the “poetry outfit” made me reflect on the poetry I heard at a recent event. Most of the poems centered around Black Lives Matter. And they do! Black lives do matter! However, I remember feeling exhausted after hearing the 10th poet, with a Def Poetry Jam cadence tell me about the hardships of being Black. I left the event early because as a Black woman going through the reality of Black pain, I couldn’t bear to hear another verse about Black heartache.  I recall a good friend of mine said to me once, “You write so many poems about the hardships of being Black. Do you ever celebrate what it means to be Black?”

Pause. Deep Pause.

My friend and my daughter, were right.  I did not want to become a caricature of “Black angst poetry.”  I write on a myriad of topics and didn’t want to be boxed in.

And that is what I thought as I watched, Spike Lee’s, She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix over the holiday weekend.  Let me be clear, for the most part, I enjoyed the series and I will support the series, because I am rooting for everybody Black.  However, it was difficult to watch the series and not see Issa from Insecure or Samantha from Dear White People. During the first episode, I had to continually remind myself that I was not watching Issa.

The series followed the relationship between Nola Darling and three men in her life. The original movie was released in 1986. While it does resemble the original in some ways, it has been updated for today’s time. Peppered in the series are the fingerprints of “Black Twitter.” Lines we have said. Lines we have typed. Lines we used as we laughed, “cut up”, and formed a family in the social media world. Lines we have LIVED. She’s Gotta Have It and Insecure were not just shows for us. This was the reality that we are living, breathing and often, surviving.

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I wondered is this where TV is going?  Is this how the stories of Black women are trending?  Hollywood’s Guide To A Successful Black TV Show CheckList:

  • Black woman
  • Black woman that is mid/late millennial age range to appeal to younger and older women
  • Black woman with natural hair
  • Back woman that is socially conscious
  • Black woman that wears faddish, social conscious t –shirts
  • Black woman that wears trendy clothes
  • Black woman that lives in an apartment that we all wonder how she can afford
  • Black woman that is living in a neighborhood that is being gentrified
  • Black woman that is an artist or works for a non-profit
  • Black woman that knows all the Twitter and Instagram hashtags
  • Black woman that knows the latest songs and dances
  • Black woman that dances to and loves old school music/rap
  • Black woman that refuses to be labeled
  • Black woman that gets her freak on
  • Black woman that is unapologetically Black

Just add HBO, Netflix and stir.

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While I did watch and support She’s Gotta Have It, it showed me that Issa Rae did something that has sparked an industry. She awoke an industry that for the most part overlooked the stories of Black women. However, now the industry is paying attention. They are paying attention, not because the industry is REALLY concerned about Black women or what Black women believe and support. I believe they desire Black women because it is profitable to curate a show around a Black woman now.  Being Black and supporting Black is the “in thing.” I believe the industry will become saturated with depictions of Black women speaking about albeit serious issues, however because of the saturation they will become nothing more than noise and a caricature.  Just add “woke Black woman” and stir.

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Is the “woke Black woman” becoming a fad?  Is the “woke Black woman” now a caricature? Is the “woke Black woman” now a fixture in Hollywood like the “sassy Black bestfriend” or “Mammy”?

My issue with fads is that they fade. Here today, gone tomorrow. If enough of the “woke Black woman” character saturates our TV screens does it water down the issues we are trying to address? Will it become a fad to have the Afro-centric woman on TV that wears trendy Black slogan shirts and speaks about topics that are trending in the Black community? Will that make the message of Black women that are in the trenches and not on TV, less heard and effective?

What is the solution to this so that Hollywood does not rewind time and cast every Black woman as the  “woke Black Mammy?”

ALLOW BLACK WOMEN TO TELL OUR STORIES! Every Black woman is not a millennial, wearing Black conscious T-shirts, killer shoes, working as an artist or in a non-profit, sipping cosmos. Our stories existed before time was time! Tell the Black transgender story. Tell the Black lesbian story. Tell the Black single mother story. Tell the Black enslaved woman’s story. Tell the story of Black biracial women. Tell the Black divorcee story. Tell the Black Muslim story. Tell the Black asexual woman story trying to navigate in a sexual world. Tell the Black submissive story. Tell the Black Dominatrix story. Tell the Black grandmother story.

TELL OUR STORIES in ALL THEIR UGLINESS, BEAUTY, SEXINESS, DYSFUNCTION AND SPLENDOR! Black women are THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY DEGREES OF NARRATIVE! And Black women live and write these stories EVERY SINGLE DAY! Step outside the norm and challenge your creators and writers to TRUST that WE KNOW what we want to SEE AND HEAR! BECAUSE WE LIVE IT AND WE WANT TO SEE US. ALL…OF…US! 

Author’s Note:
Before ANYONE comments and tells me to write the stories I want to see, I did and continue to do so! 

13 replies »

  1. Well! This was definitely on point. I totally feel you. While I love Insecure, I do not want us to be boxed into the stereotypical “woke Black woman” either. I pray industry execs who are POC will speak up more or go on their own to create a wholesome narrative for our community.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was DEEP… and I loved all of it! I am seeing how the media is making black women look but reading this opened my eyes to really understanding how stereotypical it is becoming.. 😕 Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is exactly the kind of content I’ve been looking for, critical interpretations of media from a Black perspective. I loved this post because I dont really watch any of these shows (and I’ve been feeling more than a little guilty about that.) Theyre not really the type of shows I like to watch, and I don’t identify a whole lot with the young ladies on thse shows beyond being Black and women, and they alll started to blur together after a while, so this perspective on such shows was very enlightening!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. THIS!I literally stopped watching “She’s Gotta Have It” after the first episode last month and spoke about how I’m disliking the similar “woke” tropes of black women in the media. I would also add to your list about the present day black women caricature that she is open to dating anyone. Because apparently, all black women that are “woke” have toxic or difficult romantic relationships– if they have that at all, since we can’t get too far from the old trope.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. Now that you’ve mentioned it; I watched both and loved both but I found myself exhausted on She’s Gotta Have it like how you felt on the 10th poem of the black struggle. I love being black but the whole show was saturated and literally dripping in black culture’s stereotypes of what it means to be black (if that makes sense lol) Of course “woke” black people love representations of ourselves in art, and music but it doesn’t just stop there. It’s inadvertently showing us one way which just makes us one dimensional when we’re so much more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I watched She’s Gotta Have It and was EVERY issue that was common to Black folks on Twitter. And I get it because that is what is in the “mainstream” but we have so many other stories and many of which will NEVER make to mainstream media but they are still our issues. I wish different issues could have been explored and not like Black Woman Twitter 2.0. I have other issues going on in my life that are not mainstream. Show ALL of us in ALL it’s glory. We are not one dimensional. We have a multitude of stories. I do not want us to become a stereotype.

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  6. The movie Moonlight comes to mind when you talk about black people telling other stories. It was exciting to see a coming of age story that really took it there. I really wish that there was a more expanded world of quality black shows and movies. I think Insecure was a stepping stone and I think Hollywood is just starting to let black women “be themselves” so it’s like a new shift in entertainment. Who knows how long this will last, but I’m hoping that it grows into the unfolding of other black character dynamics. We’ll have to wait and see!! Love the rant!!

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