It was after watching an episode of one of my favorite shows, Dance Moms that I realized that white women can get away with behavior that Black women cannot. If you aren’t familiar with the show Dance Moms it is basically about a group of mothers (all white, with the exception of one) who travel with their young daughters around the country to compete in Dance Competitions. Although the dancing is beautiful, the show is more focused on the mothers, who live vicariously through their daughters, and the unconventional and brash dance instructor.
Some of the mothers are more competitive about dancing than their daughters are..and pretty much in every episode, the mothers will fight with other mothers over things such as dance solos, costumes, featured roles in dances etc. It is not unusual for the mothers to act aggressively toward each other. Usually, the mothers will just curse at each other and scream, but sometimes the fights can turn physical. Some notable examples would be when a rival dance teacher hit a dance mom with her purse and in a separate incident, a dance mother choked a rival dance teacher during a heated argument.
If you watch the show, you become accustomed to the fighting, profanity and vulgarities…it’s reality TV, now whether this behavior is a good example for young children is another matter.
However, in spite of all the fighting that goes on during Dance Moms, the Dance Moms have seldom been thrown out of a competition or disqualified. However, in one episode a rival Dance Mom from another dance company (who is Black) was disqualified from a competition and thrown out of the building for saying the F-word and getting into an altercation with one of the [white] dance moms. In the midst of the fight between the white and black dance mom, a random man shows up and gets between the two women as if he’s trying to keep the Black dance mother away from the white dance mother. People seemed legitimately fearful that the rival Black Dance mother would really whoop someone’s azz. Mind you, she never did get physical.
The whole time that I was watching the scenario unfold, I kept thinking to myself…now what is so different about her behavior compared to the other Dance Moms?… The other Dance Moms have used the f-word multiple times, there have been dance moms who have hit other women with purses, thrown water at each other and been involved in other physical altercations…so why is it a bigger deal when a Black dance mother does the same thing??
As much as I enjoy the show, I realize that the white Dance Mothers have a privilege over the Black Dance mothers in that they are allowed to behave aggressively and use profanity without being too harshly judged. However, if a Black Dance Mother does the same thing, she gets a much harsher reaction. One very telling thing in the altercation between the rival black and white dance mother was the fact that a random man decided to get involved in the altercation and I’d never seen that with other fights between white dance mothers. Why?
Society sees Black women as inherently more aggressive and immoral. A Black mother who behaves aggressively, especially around her child, risks being labeled a bad mother or (in extreme cases) having her child removed by child protective services. When white women behave aggressively, in general, it’s perceived as entertaining or not as serious as when a Black woman behaves in a similar fashion.
Thus, this isn’t even about Dance Moms, but it’s about stereotypes that are so profound that they are imprinted in our cultural psyche.
We see this double standard play out in society again and again and this double standard extends beyond reality television. If we look at the grander society, we can see double standards everywhere. The stereotype that Black women are inherently “more tough,” “more aggressive,” and inherently more immoral than white women extends to the workplace, to the dating & romance department, the entertainment industry and to the political and criminal justice realm.
A while ago, I posted a story about the Black women who were physically assaulted by an angry white male while other white men stood around idly. I’m sure the stereotype of Black women as aggressive sapphires had a role in the white man’s aggression. Perhaps he felt justified in attacking some Black women because we’re portrayed as inherently aggressive and masculine women who do not deserve the same courtesy and protection as white women. We see Black women go missing every day and we see how the media overlooks these missing Black women because we’re not seen as virtuous enough to deserve media attention. We’re stereotyped as independent, aggressive women who can handle ourselves…we never need help.
This is what the aggressive stereotype gets Black women…
In the criminal justice system, if a Black woman and white woman are convicted of the same crime, it’s not unusual for a Black women to receive the longer or harsher sentence and Black women are over-represented in prison, despite our smaller percentage in the general population. Black women are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and the mandatory arrest law, which was intended to reduce violence against women, has made it even more difficult for some Black women to report domestic abuse because of the racial bias when it comes to the criminal justice system. Sometimes Black women who call police during a domestic dispute are arrested for not complying with the mandatory arrest law, even though they were the victims of abuse.
In the media and political arena, we can see Black women lambasted for being “out spoken,” constantly. We see Gwen Ifill called a cleaning lady by Don Imus, while her white male colleagues stood down and did nothing. We see Michelle Obama being called a Baby Mama and portrayed as an angry sapphire, we see Susan Rice called stupid by white male conservative and where are the people who come to these women’s defense? Where are the white feminists who love to champion “women’s rights.” (read white women’s rights) when they are needed? Where is the overall outrage for the mistreatment of Black women?
We see more outrage over Kanye West jumping onstage at Taylor Swift (rude as it was) than over the countless Black women who are lambasted and thrown under the bus…
We do not even need to get into how this double standard affects Black women in the romance department. I could tell so many stories of Black women who were left to walk home alone to their car at night by male friends or dates because we never need to be escorted to our cars by gentlemen, because gentlemen only escort ladies to their cars…and Black women aren’t lady-enough. Or how about the idea that Black women aren’t expected to marry, but we’re expected to be strong, independent, single mothers who never get tired and never need help…and if we do need help, then we’re just living off of the government and being a drain on the economy.
Who comes to our defense…hardly anyone and the reason is because of the double standard that we’re hard, tough, mean, aggressive sapphires who don’t get abused, who don’t get hurt and who DEFINITELY don’t need any help or protection ever.
White women can get away with behavior that Black women cannot. A white woman can behave in an aggressive manner and still get sympathy and support from society, if she goes missing, gets abused or just needs her tire changed… but Black women do not have that privilege. All it takes is one stereotype and Black women lose their right to be protected or even respected.
Being seen as aggressive is the reason that some people can claim that a Black woman who was abused by a man, deserved to be abused.. because she must have said something that caused him to hit her…or she must have been acting aggressive (because all Black women are aggressive). Therefore, it’s her fault that she got hit. It’s her fault that she got thrown off the bus, it’s her fault that she was beat up.
Being seen as an aggressive sapphire means that Black women will go missing and receive less media coverage and less action from the police because Black women are too aggressive and strong to be victims of exploitation.
Black women don’t need to be walked back to our cars, we don’t need our bags carried and we never EVER need that protective arm extended to us. We never need anyone to come to our rescue or shield us from the injustices of the world.
This isn’t really about aggressive white women vs. aggressive Black women because it would be dishonest to say that ALL white women have it easy or that some white women don’t face consequences for their actions. Some do, although the disparity is stunning, but the privilege comes from the fact that they don’t have to carry the weight of stereotypes. They don’t have to worry that their aggressive behavior will hold other white women back from justice when they need it.
So, this is about respect and stereotypes. Who sets the rules and who decides what makes a woman worthy of respect and why are certain behaviors lauded and accepted in white women, but the same behavior in Black women is despised?..why is it that aggressive stereotypes land Black women in prison, missing or single…yet white women can behave aggressively and still be able to live their lives without being stereotyped…without having to fear that their aggressive behavior will make it harder for other white women to get media coverage if she goes missing or get support from police if she becomes a victim of domestic abuse…or get a date even??
I don’t get it…