, Body Image, Social ConstructYoung Black Boys vs Young Black Girls

Young Black Boys vs Young Black Girls

I simply could not help but comment on this article on HuffPo, because come on. This is pretty frustrating:

However, two studies that examined programs aiming to increase diversity by bussing minority students to primarily white schools revealed an area where black boys reportedly engaged with relative ease. According to an article published last year by Megan H. Holland, a professor at the University of Buffalo, minority boys reportedly have an easier time fitting in with their white peers at suburban schools because of stereotypes about their athleticism or “coolness” that give them greater access to activities that increase positive interactions with white students, like sports and social clubs.

black-kids-in-school

On the contrary, another study conducted by Simone Ispa-Landa at Northwestern University found that black girls were comparatively seen as “ghetto” or “loud” when they exhibited behavior that was usually socially rewarding for their black male counterparts.

Ispa-Landa’s study showed that “as a group, the boys were welcomed in suburban social cliques, even as they were constrained to enacting race and gender in narrow ways.” However, these urban signifiers resulted in the opposite result for black girls, who were seen as “aggressive” and undesirable, with neither the white nor the black boys showing any interest in dating minority girls. In short, playing out racial stereotypes worked in black boys’ favor, while doing the same was detrimental for black females.

This experience was specifically tethered to the context of suburban, primarily white learning environments. An experienceAboubacar Ndiaye recalls in his reflection on the studies in The Atlantic.

Black boys in Ispa-Landa’s study found themselves simultaneously feeding into stereotypes that made them seem “street smart” or “tough” and code-switching their speech and mannerisms to make their white counterparts comfortable. Many reported feeling safer in their suburban schools, as they would not be considered tough in their urban environments. However, while black boys could use these stereotypes to their advantage, black girls in Ispa-Landa’s study reported feeling penalized for doing the same and felt they “failed to embody characteristics of femininity” that would garner them popularity in school.

I shared my thoughts in a private group once I saw this, but now I have other questions.

So, basically, the question becomes… what in the world is an upwardly mobile black family to do? Your boys are encouraged to want white girls (which, that’s not to imply there’s anything wrong with interracial dating, but that is to imply that there’s everyone wrong with them being taught that black girls are not suitable dating companions across the board); and your girls are stereotyped by media coming out of environments they may’ve never well lived in, and are treated like they’re expected to mimic a stereotype they have no connection to. Your girls grow up with stunted dating lives and limited expectations – well, because they grew up for years being unwanted and are finally excited to be wanted by someone – and, before you know it, may find themselves wandering into adulthood feeling desperate for the companionship they were so painfully denied as teens.

You know what else I can assume from this? I can also assume that the people who believe these stereotypes oftentimes never grow out of thinking this way about black girls. Instead, they carry these stereotypes into adulthood, and into eventual employment… where it then colors the way they treat black women in Corporate America.

Wanna know what else I can assume from this? If young black boys are brought up to believe that black girls are undeserving of the same kind of ‘pass’ they were given, then they grow up being used to seeing black women as not needing to be defended or supported. Black girls grow up not expected it, or asking for it. They grow up, theoretically, expecting to need to be able to ‘go at it alone.’ That expectation becomes validated by their actual experiences… and we know how powerful experience is as a teacher.

I mean, anyone who’s spent enough time around teens knows EXACTLY how this plays out – people talk to your daughters with that pseudo ghetto “yo homie g dawg” bull, and enough years of that can eventually turn them directly into that. And, because they got away with it in high school, in dealing with young black girls who often aren’t well-equipped to handle it all, they go on into adulthood, unchecked and, apparently, unsmart.

To take it a step further, what does this teach black girls to believe about themselves? Without the proper guidance and education, what informs them of their worth – especially in a day and age where parents are infinitely more likely to spend way more of their time and energy on work than actual parenting – and how to look at themselves? If you’re a black heterosexual teen girl, what does the following mean for how you value your beauty?

“However, these urban signifiers resulted in the opposite result for black girls, who were seen as “aggressive” and undesirable, with neither the white nor the black boys showing any interest in dating minority girls.”

Should women value themselves by their ability to attract a mate? No. But we all know how thorny that can be, and teens learn a lot from low-inference data, hence the results of this study. For goodness sakes, there are women out here killing themselves for a big ol’ jiggly booty, because they genuinely believe they are nothing without it. Even if it only attracts the dregs of society, or men with terribly unrealistic expectations – six pack abs, no muffin top, 50-inch booty was one particularly idiotic person’s request – it doesn’t matter. It attracts someone, and that’s what counts.

These teens aren’t picking this up from the sky. They’re learning it from the world around them. The world around them doesn’t expect much of black girls. You girls

[and guys and everyone inbetween] don’t see it, but the comments that I have to consistently delete from this blog post in particular are mind-numbingly painful, even for me. A painful combination of how ‘unfeminine’ black women are and how we should be prepared to bend over backwards for any man who will take us because of such. Basically, because we don’t ‘perform’ like white women, we should be lucky to even be chosen as a sex partner.

Aside from the fact that partnership and marriage have long been dangled over women’s heads as carrots, this is especially dangerous for young teen girls and leaves young black ones especially open for exploitation.

I’m really verklempt over this, y’all. What do we do? What do we tell our daughters? What do we tell our sons? (And by “we,” I mean all of us, because racism isn’t merely black peoples’ problem to solve.) Did you experience any of this?

By | 2017-06-10T11:29:17+00:00 October 24th, 2013|Beauty, Body Image, Social Construct|28 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.

28 Comments

  1. malpha October 24, 2013 at 12:27 PM - Reply

    Erika, you are so right with your comments. My teenage years were spent in a primarily white environment (and a white/Asian one in college). The thing is though, even if you work to counteract the stereotype, it doesn’t get you accepted. They might be nicer to you, but they don’t really consider you a datable female nor do they really respect you. The work/behavior you put into being liked is never fully appreciated, and if you voice discontent or try to assert yourself, they’ll slap you with a stereotypical moniker real quick (or treat you like crap, but lecture you on taking the high road).

    Ok, I am projecting a bit here, but damn, those environments were hell for my self-esteem! I made it through both high-school and college never getting asked out on a date, while even my hermit white/Asian friends were coupled up. Just depressing!

    Personally, I feel like people need to be really mindful to give their children good role models and mentors within their race, especially if they’re not available in their educational environment. It really makes a difference just having someone in your life who understands you, your culture, can help you with your appearance, and who you can talk with about things that go on at school that you can’t talk about with your classmates (don’t understand) or with your parents (don’t want to worry them) so they can give you good suggestions for how to proceed and deal with things (and also let you know you’re not crazy or overreacting). Similar to how people who adopt from other countries might look for local people with the same nationality to teach their adoptees about the culture they come from, install a sense of pride in their heritage, and provide a face and friend that looks like them.

    • Schylla36 October 24, 2013 at 3:32 PM - Reply

      I went through the same thing Malpha – went to mostly white schools and was never asked out on a date until age 24. I have about 6-7 black female friends from college and they all went throught the same thing – all went to mostly white schools, and depsite doing really well in school and being active in all these extracurriculars and getting into an ivy league school (where we all met), none of us were ever asked on a date until after college!

      None of us would be characterized as “loud” or “ghetto”, or even that aggressive. We’re all attractive and quite nice to people. We’ve never even had any of those male bashing conversations – we like men! However, when we would go out with our white friends to a bar, they would be totally fawned over, but when we walked by, we wouldn’t even get any eye contact.

      Of course you don’t necessarily want to meet someone at a bar, but you can’t deny that it is nice to get hit on here and there.

      We have all had relationships, but they were not with guys who were that great – we had just been so starved for attention, that at the time we were happy to be with someone who really liked us. I sincerely believe that if we had had more normal dating lives, we wouldn’t looked at those guys twice…

      Now we’re all almost 40 and despite being professionals ranging from a lawyer with her own firm, to a professor, to a journalist with Peabodys and Emmys under her belt, none have never married – no one is even dating or in a relationship. I recently moved back to my hometown in the Midwest, and it is so much worse here than back East. Online dating? Forget about it. I have officially given up on dating, and I think a few of my friends have done so as well…

      • Alexis October 29, 2013 at 4:07 AM - Reply

        I couldn’t have said it better myself. We are the same person, just different ages

  2. Elle October 24, 2013 at 1:41 PM - Reply

    It’s not just heterosexual black females that have a problem. Lesbians as well, as I well know. No one wants to date me – ok, actually, it’s just been very very hard to find girls to date. Just that, people have these preconceived about me and yeah, it really does hold people back because it goes on unchecked all the time. Very frustrating.

    Also, to the corporate america thing, this is also very true. I won’t even go into my time on Wall Street… Now I’m in the job hunt… Let’s just say, we’ll start with a phone interview and that will go well.. Face-to-face / Skype, people realize I’m black and I feel like everything changes.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall October 24, 2013 at 1:51 PM - Reply

      “It’s not just heterosexual black females that have a problem. Lesbians as well, as I well know.”

      I apologize for excluding you. My assumption was more along the lines of the exact quote, but with you sharing your experiences (and, hopefully, others) I’m now curious:

      How does this play into lesbian relationships, and just general friendships and private relationships between black girls? Perhaps, if my theory about people being led to believe the worst about themselves is correct, this kind of stigma also results in people believing the worst in other people who look like them? In know that, in my experience, we didn’t really clump together in groups and I can’t say that I hung with any of the other black girls in my school like that. There was, however, a group of girls that definitely bought into the stereotype, and they clung to one another. I’m sad to admit that maybe my goal was to avoid looking like them.

      I mean, I’d also imagine that being an open lesbian as a teen might be fraught with other challenges, but heaping this on top just makes it that much more different for queer and lesbian girls of color. My heart. It hurts at all of this. 🙁 *hugs*

  3. Naa-Dei October 24, 2013 at 4:21 PM - Reply

    I grew up on a predominantly white suburb of New Jersey. I know all too well the feeling of isolation. I never went on any dates in high school, partly due to my parents and also due to my surroundings. It has affected how I view myself, and yet I never thought about it until now. I did get attention and date in college, but they were bad experiences since I was soo surprised that I was getting any attention that I didn’t have standards. I’m still a work in process. In terms of educating girls and boys, we need to teach them self respect and make them understand that making assumptions about each other is as damaging as blatant racism.

  4. Annette October 24, 2013 at 5:01 PM - Reply

    “Basically, because we don’t ‘perform’ like white women, we should be lucky to even be chosen as a sex partner.” NO!

    Even though this is a black and white study. I am seeing this all over the world. Women and girls seen as aggressive and assertive, are marginalized. They become more take charge or “take on more masculine” rolls. They can take care of themselves, are able to “handle it” men are turned off or scared. Yet they have had to, to survive and make their way under tough circumstances.

    It’s not only just happening in black communities. It’s happening anywhere women come across as aggressive, and “manly”. No matter the culture if the women is seen as too aggressive she is marginalized.

    Most of these teens were raised by single mothers or took care or themselves to survive, due to lack of support or feeling safe. They have had to do everything or raised in societies that didn’t value femininity or took advantage, by raping or molesting. Also to survive they took on the role as provider, took charge to make sure there was food on the table, a place to live. Many had no one to depend on. Most were in cultures who only value male opinions so they took on these aggressive traits to defend themselves.

    Is being feminine considered being weak, or “white”? Feminine being delicate, gentle, soft spoken. When did that become “white”? It’s not about gender. These teens have taken on the aggressive persona to survive in very tough environments or they would have been eaten alive. Yet it’s not who they are. They will need to lower the defenses and let others in and own their femininity.

    • Naa-Dei October 25, 2013 at 8:01 AM - Reply

      Annette, I guess you didn’t take the time to read the other comments. I, like the rest of the commenters, were raised in predominately white towns. We were, and are, feminine. We are not “loud, aggressive, etc.” and yet we have all similar experiences. It is not about letting someone in, it’s about quality men not even looking at us because of a stereotype in their heads.

      • Erika Nicole Kendall October 25, 2013 at 10:31 AM - Reply

        “We were, and are, feminine.”

        That’s the thing – our femininity is not respected because it comes dressed in black skin. We’re basically at a disadvantage from the jump, if this article is to be taken at face value.

        People need to think critically – why do we choose to believe such awful things about one another? Why do we buy into stereotypes? The funny thing is that people always say “oh, don’t buy into the stereotype,” but the problem isn’t “being a stereotype” – the problem is that every aspect of humanity is spun into a negative trope for the sake of devaluing black women.

        Any attempt to express sexual desire – a human trait – is hyperexaggerated into us being hypersexual, Jezebels. If we love our bodies and enjoy them, we’re Hottentot Venuses. If we’re celibate, focused on our careers, that’s hyperexaggerated to make us out to be Mammies. If we enjoy ourselves, love life, and show it proudly, we’re being “typical, loud, unrefined.” If something upsets us and we make that clear, that’s hyperexaggerated to make us “angry black women.” If we’re focused on partners who have equal or greater earning potential – which, as people who do the daunting work of carrying and bearing children, makes sense – we’re derided as gold diggers.

        The challenge is doing the work of thinking beyond that, and not buying into it for yourself. Challenge that when you see it. It’s really important.

        • L. October 30, 2013 at 4:53 PM - Reply

          YES Erika! Thank you. Any normal human expression black women exhibit is pathologized and turned into a stereotype. My position at this point is that I don’t give a f*ck if someone wants to describe my ability to be aggressive (which is a facet of my personality) as ghetto, loud, or angry. So what? I’m human, and I should be able to have access to the full gamut of my HUMAN EMOTIONS. You’re damn right, if there is something that makes me get angry, I will get angry, and if someone calls me an “angry black woman”, response is I have every right to be an “angry black woman”. There’s a lot of sh*t to be angry about.

      • Annette October 26, 2013 at 1:29 AM - Reply

        First of all there were no comments to comment to when I replied. Also am I only to agree with the majority of posters on this board. Or am I to express a different experience and thought on the subject if that is mine? I was raised in a mix community, black, white, hispanic.

        Most of the black guys dated black girls. You had a few who dated outside there race.

        For me it comes down to defining yourself and expressing it. I feel that is our job to be grounded in who we are confidently. It’s not easy. As someone said who promised you life would be easy. I refuse to take another’s opinion of who they think I am. I will still claim my individuality. Just cannot buy into that is the way it is. I will have to create another avenue.

        Yet so many of us have taken these negative stereo types into our minds and hearts, and believe it deeply. I have to hold on to my dreams, and have faith and continue to look at the situation a different way. Be aware, defeated by it.

        • Alexis October 29, 2013 at 4:41 AM - Reply

          Annette, I think its a difference of where you grew up. I moved around a lot back then and when I lived in a mostly white area I felt the same. On the flip side, friends of mine who grew up in a racially mixed area feel the same you do.

  5. Brooke October 24, 2013 at 9:59 PM - Reply

    what you described is exactly how I feel. I’m not a teenager, but I’m 21 so basically I’m at the age you described. I’ll say it feels horrible to feel invisible and to have it hanging over your head that you could live the rest of your life without that romantic partnership. And it makes things like diet changes a double edged sword because the pressure to be attractive makes you want to eat. it feels hopeless.

  6. Marie October 24, 2013 at 11:46 PM - Reply

    Only in America… It’s really hard for black women to be individuals here in America. It seems like trying to be your own person is a useless task because they will tell you who you are or who you are supposed to be. Everyone is against us, the whole world is portraying this negative image of the black woman and it’s painful to see. When I read things like this, I start reconsidering my whole life and I wonder if my future would take that exact path. I’m only 21 but I know what’s going on, I know what people are thinking, what they’re saying about us behind closed doors and it doesn’t matter nothing we do will change that view. So now, I decided to be deaf and blind to all of this, not because I don’t have anything to say but because it hurts to know. So now, I want to die ignorant to this B.S

    • Erika Nicole Kendall October 25, 2013 at 10:03 AM - Reply

      “So now, I decided to be deaf and blind to all of this, not because I don’t have anything to say but because it hurts to know. So now, I want to die ignorant to this B.S”

      I don’t think this is the answer, though it may seem helpful. It helps me to understand exactly why the world looks towards me and my contributions to society a certain way. I mean, even in the world of full-time blogging, I could tell you that it’s harder for persons of color to garner the same income as their peers for their work, if only because it’s a challenge to fight either accidental or deliberate devaluation. Knowing things like this contribute to negotiations helps me ensure that I come to the table armed against that.

      And, what’s more, in finding a partner? You WANT to know things like this. You WANT to know why you may or may not be attracting a certain type of person. (Not saying that dating – and, subsequently, marriage – is the end all be all, but lots of people seek companionship and I think that’s okay.)

      And, really, I HAVE to tell you, you WANT a partner who is equally cognizant of the same issues that concern and affect you and your well being. You don’t want someone who is not only oblivious to these kinds of things, but also downplays them and tells you that you’re overreacting.

      The last thing you want – and, I mean, the absolute last – is a partner that further oppresses you because [s]he implicitly believes you’re worth so little that you won’t leave him/her because of something like this.

      Quite frankly, being aware of this kind of stuff helped me find my husband. He’s just as progressive and forward-thinking and considerate of these things as I am, and he not only provides support and resources, but he is mindful of it in any issues we face and helps me arm myself when something’s in my blind spot.

      You’re young – gosh, I’m old – so it might be hard to see, but there are large communities of people who understand this kind of thinking and are mindful of it in their steps. People of all races. We find one another, support one another, and sometimes even date and marry one another. It doesn’t make dating and friendship more meaningful, it makes them both something that is that much more worth looking forward to in the future.

  7. Megan P. October 25, 2013 at 4:10 AM - Reply

    There are many people I know personally who grew up in predominately white schools and I’ve heard plenty of horrendous stories about day-to-day racial issues. But, I on the other hand grew up in a predominately Black and Mexican city and I had the exact same problems. Besides the obvious Black vs. Brown issues, I felt the wrath from my own black people. They were truly the most damaging to my self-worth. My mother was always very adamant about me knowing who I was and making sure I stayed true to myself no matter the circumstances. But that’s difficult to do when I’m being accused of “acting” white and not being “black-enough” to hang with them or to be asked out. And then, on the other side I’m getting, “Hey Bonshiquita!” from the Mexicans as some form of a joke. Whether I fell into the stereotype or not, we were all viewed the same. I didn’t get asked out until I got to college and it was by a white guy. And then, I felt conflicted. “This is my chance!” I would tell myself, “You may never get this opportunity again.” And, “Oh my goodness, he’s white. Am I sell-out? I thought White men didn’t like Black women? Shoot, Black men don’t even want us, what makes me think he genuinely wants me?! He probably thinks I have some magical, voodoo, jungle powers between my thighs.” It’s so so sad. I’d never dated before that time and I was already in too deep. Brain-washed.

    I felt so much shame. This was not how my mother raised me. I knew she would be appalled by the lack of self-worth I had. I’m 20-years-old and I struggle everyday to remind myself that I am special. And you could argue all day that you don’t need a man to validate who you are but, obviously this is a real crisis and there’s real pain arising that no one is talking about.

    I’ve never spoke to anyone about this before and I’m thankful that you’ve given me this forum Erika to share my thoughts. I already felt better reading the comments above because they let me know I’m not alone in this.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall October 25, 2013 at 9:38 AM - Reply

      “But, I on the other hand grew up in a predominately Black and Mexican city and I had the exact same problems.”

      This is an interesting point. Unsurprising, yes, but interesting.

      If the theory is that societal stigma and media are the contributing factors, then the assumption would be that we’re all a part of (well, at least relatively) the same society, right? We’d all be affected by the same imaging and messaging, right? It’d be contributing – perhaps, not equally – to our perception of our peers, right?

      “But that’s difficult to do when I’m being accused of “acting” white and not being “black-enough” to hang with them or to be asked out.”

      …really wish this mentality would die in a fire. A fire started by the burning of a thousand suns. And gasoline.

  8. LaToya October 27, 2013 at 1:06 PM - Reply

    I actually had a somewhat different experience that has truly affected how I see the world and people. Because my family moved a fair amount while I was a child, I’ve actually gone to predominantly white elementary school that were the best years of my life and then a predominantly black middle and high school in a totally different state. Let’s just say the transition was…hard. I felt really isolated because I wasn’t “black” enough for the black kids and definitely not “white” enough to be accepted in their circle at the new school. Smh. And that’s not to say that if I had stayed at the white school through middle and high school I wouldn’t have gone through these same issues. These types of issues are deep. I know they’ve effected me and I’m still healing those wounds of cultural acceptance. It’s certainly affected my dating life as I’ve been accused of “standing up for the white man” during our debates with my African American boyfriends at the time. And now add to it that I’m back in school studying physics, that just opens up a whole other can of worms.

    During this journey I had to go through a process where I had to figure out what femininity meant to me since I had a poor definition at the time. Still have bouts now and again, especially since my dating life is pretty non existent right now but I’m a work in progress. I totally agree with your assessments and questions. I’ve just had to learn that the people I’m friends with and the ones I will end up dating and the one I will marry will be people that see me beyond a stereotype. Thankfully there are more and more people of all races who are seeing others as human beings first and reserving judgement until getting to know them.

  9. Cathy October 27, 2013 at 6:58 PM - Reply

    Easily this is the best article I’ve ever read because it hits so close to home on so many levels. I have two sons and a daughter in “suburban” schools. All three have their share of challenges, but this post is ENTIRELY true. My sons are accepted pretty much universally…the only thing getting in their way socially is themselves and their own teenage hang-ups. My daughter: brilliant, beautiful, fit, kind, and gracious can’t get a second glance. That’s not true, teachers love her. But peers don’t even regard her worth. Does it speak volumes of what it means to be a high schooler… yes. But unfortunately those oversights tend to stick with us as adults. Value what’s valuable my daughter because it’s you!

  10. schylla33 October 28, 2013 at 6:16 PM - Reply

    Well, I gotta say that it’s been a relief that I’m not the only one who’s been through this. As is usually the case, you rarely have other family members who can relate to this, since your family is often the only one within your extended family who lives in a suburb. So you’re raised quite differently from your cousins and whatnot, and you gotta deal with aunts and uncles who look at you a bit differently.

    The whole thing can be so isolating – luckily my college friends have been through the same thing, and I consider them to be family more than the folks I’m related to. Gotta find your tribe somehow…

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