Monday Musings: Do Black Authors Have A Social Responsibility To Portray Black Women “Positively”?

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All the time? I’m addressing readers specifically, and I ask this question sincerely and earnestly because I have observed in the various FB groups that I’m in as well as reading customer reviews, that we as black women (or black people for that matter), have a serious problem with respectability politics. You know, if a female is a stripper, then she’s a ho, but if she’s a professional escort who serves as arm candy and personal entertainment for a “professional gentleman”, then she’s resourceful and doing what she gotta do…But aren’t these women basically doing the same thing, only one has to work a little harder to get her bread? If a young lady lives in the hood and wears long, blond braids and two-inch acrylics but is going go college full-time so she can get out of the hood, she’s still ratchet, but if the young lady lives with her single mother in the same hood, wears her hair permed, long and flowing and goes to hair school, then she’s motivated and ambitious. GTFOH….

Now the two scenarios I’ve just described, are actual character profiles of books I’ve read, and the preconceptions about these characters are actual words taken from reviews…Why can’t a young, black woman wear long-ass nails and blond braids and not just be “doing her” without her being called ghetto and ratchet? If Vogue magazine can proclaim durags the new fashion accessory (which brothas have been sportin for years), then why can’t Keisha wear purple hair and body piercings and still be a mathematical genius? Aren’t black women multi-faceted and innovative when it comes to style, dress, and culture? Why do black women always have to be “prim and proper”? You know damn well we all are not. That would be so boring. I love reading about sharp businesswomen and attorneys as well as the next chick. But I also love reading about geeky gamers, tattoo artists with multiple piercings and weave technicians with colorful tressess too. I’m just saying, can’t we be from the hood and still be good people at the same time? And whether or not you want to admit it, we all a lil ratchet…




9 thoughts on “Monday Musings: Do Black Authors Have A Social Responsibility To Portray Black Women “Positively”?

  1. I love this blog post. I think this is a very interesting question you pose. I think there needs to be some consciousness going on about how we are portrayed in books and pop culture. Black women are multifaceted and should be reflected as such. I think with any race there is the good and the bad. But like you mentioned why can’t a woman wear blond braids and be just as ambitious? These stereotypical descriptions and what they people think they mean are laughable. It’s almost like to be respected you have to look European with long flowing hair but if you are ” natural” or whatever is the opposite. Black has many beautiful faces and should be reflected as such.

    1. I recently got into a debate with an author. All of her female characters lack diversity. All of them have long silky hair or get a weave. There is nothing wrong with that. What about the women that read and support her books, that don’t have long silky hair or wear weave? What about creating a character that has dark skin and natural hair and loves herself. Wouldn’t that help women that look like that character with those features? I feel that authors do have a responsibility to uplift all of their readers. Her characters lack diversity big time. Am I wrong?

      1. I am in complete agreement with you Lauren. Black women are some of the diverse women on the planet when it comes to our appearance. This includes skin tone (If I read about one more caramel-colored chick, I’ma scream!), hair texture, eye color, shape…but you’d never know reading IR romance and AA romance for that matter because I’ma just say it: Black women protagonists are more often than not given European features to qualify their beauty, and I’m sick of it. I’m not saying all authors do this, but I can count on both hands if that, how many books I’ve read where the black woman protagonist does have a darker complexion, natural or kinky hair…We gotta do better.

      2. I’m sick of it too. The author was completly ok with her readers agreeing about the environment and situations. She ate that up quick! I talk about the lack of diversity and I’m wrong. She also wrote about domestic abuse like it’s the norm. One character said” I knew better than to say another a word, that would a slap in the mouth. All of the characters start from humble beginnings and riseup doing illegal activities. That can happen in like and all ethnicities do it..I’m not knocking it. What I am knocking is; just because they came from poverty the male characters have to be weak in a sense that they hit their women and get them pregnant continuously. I asked her about this and she made a comment about not making lame male characters. I asked “what makes a lame man” ..she didn’t answer that. They’re lame for putting their hands on a woman. She complains about negative reviews seems like a lot. I’m like you’re an author that comes with the job. People were supporting her stupidity. I told her she has a responsibility to uplift her reads even it is fiction. She spoke about how hair bundles are big in Texas. I should’ve asked , who’s selling to you? Even if they’re black are the buying it from someone that’s capitalizing on your insecurities? I’m not knocking what women chose to do to their hair. It’s just that she only writes about the caramel skin tone and long silky hair or weave. I’m like some of your reads don’t look like your characters. I would like to see myself in characters when I read. Isn’t that the goal somewhat of the writer..maybe it’s me.

  2. Well, look at you. You’ve been on the money since I’ve begun receiving your posts directly to my inbox. This is such a wonderful topic to address and should not be relegated to fiction. Women *sghs* seem not to have the concept of sisterhood. Well some of us don’t. It’s kind of hard to celebrate Booquisha, who may be so opposite in dress and manner, than the seemingly well put together Janet Doe down the block and up the hill. You know what I’m saying? Until women, who are the largest consumers of romance novels, learn to see the beauty in themselves and begin on a path toward healthy self-love and acceptance, it’ll be hard for them to accept fictional, or otherwise, women who are so opposed to them. They’d rather call Booquisha ghetto than see the woman behind the tattoos, weave, etc. as just a woman, like Janet Doe, looking for love and acceptance. I’m hopeful women, across races and cultures, will get there. LOVED this. Keep up the good work.

  3. Great post! To answer your question, NO. The only responsibility that a black author, or any author for that matter, has is to write well. Through that, they can show just how multifaceted black women, or any character for that matter, are without having to resort to laughable stereotypes.

  4. This is truly right on time, even though I’m several months late to the party. I seek diversity in my black female characters. As for those who don’t like a particular portrayal of a character in a book, I would politely recommend they go leap in the nearest body of water. The point is, diversity. Just as we read diverse female characters in “white” romance novels, so it should be the same for our lovely black female heroines. I’m looking for the (Black) girl with the dragon tattoo, just sayin’. Great post and I am so glad to have discovered your blog.

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