In the post In the War for Talent, Black Women are Overlooked and Starting Their Own Businesses The New Black Chick explored the narratives used in Corporate America to prevent the advancement of black women. We walked through each excuse or commonly used complaints against black women and debunked the myths. This isn’t to say this is every black woman’s experience, but it does impact a significant portion of black women across all industries. Well, we’re back at. In this post we explore the broader narrative of black women as portrayed in the media, that of being fat, broke and ugly. Enough of the preamble, let’s go.
Black Women Are Fat
Black women in the media, TV shows, commercials and movies are often portrayed as the fat Mammy figure. We’re the sassy black, often fat, female character with the snappy comebacks twisting our necks with our hands on our hips. We’re rarely portrayed as the boss or the primary love interest with the sassy fat white female friend. Let’s talk about the facts around obesity among black women. Obesity is determined by looking at BMI or body mass index. The formula is (weight(lbs)/height²(inches))x703, where 703 is a conversion factor using English measurement. For example, a 150 pound woman who is 5’5″ (or 65 inches) has a BMI of 24.98. According to the BMI chart this is considered on the border of normal and overweight. There are three problems with BMI. First, it doesn’t account for muscle mass. Professional athletes with nearly zero percent fat can be classified as obese according to the index. Second, women naturally carry more fat than men, even when they’re professional athletes. Third, as it pertains to black people it doesn’t take into account a higher bone density. The measure is based on average white people. Meaning a black woman the same height and percentage of body fat as a white woman may weigh more due to larger muscle mass and/or denser bone. And if they are both close to a borderline, the black woman is more likely to be over the line while the white woman is under the line. I’m also convinced our natural hair weighs more than theirs as well. Different post, different day.
With that in mind let’s take a look at the statistics. As of 2012 82% of black women are overweight or obese compared to 77.2% and 63.2% of Latino and white women respectively. On the surface, yes, black women appear to be the fattest. Let’s peel back the numbers and look at the breakdown between overweight and obese. 56.6% of black women are overweight and 25.4% are obese. Since the 1970’s black women have had the higher obesity rates, while black, Latino, and white males have stayed roughly consistent with one another. Both men and women of all races have had a very similar rate of increase in obesity rates. Black and white women have remained nearly proportional in the rate of obesity growth trends with a slight divergence between 2000 and 2004, where white women had a small dip.
What does this mean? While it’s true that a higher proportion of the black female population are overweight or obese according to a flawed measurement system, obesity among black women is not growing at a faster rate than any other demographic. In fact white and Latino women are closing the gap. Between the late 80’s and early 2000’s there was a sharp increase in the obesity rate for both white and black women while Latino women stayed relatively flat.
Bottom line is that black women are not getting fatter faster than the rest of America, they are keeping pace with an increasingly overweight and obese population. Not that it’s a good thing, but it directly debunks the notion that black women are just out-fatting America. Many things contribute to this gap. Chief among them is lack of access to healthy foods as black women tend to be the ones most impacted by lower wages, unemployment and living in food deserts. See video below for more on the origins of this stereotype.
Black Women Are Broke
In 2007 the median wealth of a single white man was $43,800. For a single white woman it was $41,500. For a single black woman it was $120 and $100 for a single Latina woman. Now 2007 was nine years ago, but the picture hasn’t improved much since then. The same source, Center for Global Policy Solutions, also cited that coming out of the recent recession black women had not returned to the levels of employment prior to the economic downturn. Further, 37% of black women over the age of 65 rely on social security for 90% or more of their income compared to 29% of white women. 46% of black mothers and children are living in poverty compared to 32% of white mothers and children. Add to all of this the fact that black women make $0.64 per every $1 a white male counterpart makes. In 2014 weekly earnings for black women was $606, it was $740 for white women and $898 for white men.
This impacts the wealth escalator, benefits provided by companies . That may seem like a small weekly difference but over a lifetime that results in smaller social security benefits and a higher tax rate. Further in 2012 58% of black women were in service sector jobs as compared to 31% and 51% for white men and women respectively, which diminishes access to employer-sponsored health and wealth-earning benefits. The equity gap also contributes to the obesity gap between blacks and whites.
Black women are also the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, but due to lack of access to small business loans they are using more of their own money to fund startups. Black women are also more likely to have student loans and tend to be the custodial parent and/or the primary caregiver of family members making it even more challenging to attain wealth. More than half of black mothers are single. Lastly, going back to salary, black women tend to make fewer strides at work than white men and women thus limiting their earning potential. Affirmative action has done more to help white woman than any other demographic in the United States.
Bottom line while black women currently have the least amount of wealth in the United States they are poised to grow that number exponentially over the next decade to narrow the gap despite systemic barriers to wealth attainment. Black women are the most educated demographic in America and are starting to close the achievement gap at work. According to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express Open businesses owned by black women has grown 337% since 1997. It’s estimated that black women are at the helm of roughly 1.3 million businesses or 14% of all women-owned businesses. These are successful businesses employing nearly 300,000 people and generating an estimated $53 billion in revenue, while businesses owned by men have declined on both fronts. Further, black women own almost half of all black-owned businesses, employ 29% of the workers, and account for 29% of revenue earned.
Black Women Are Ugly
This is probably the most damaging of these three stereotypes. There aren’t facts and statistics to draw upon to debunk this one, but we can show why this is a problem. In a nutshell the issue is that black women are portrayed as manly or compared to the white standard of beauty. The white standard of beauty, even though it’s airbrushed and Photoshopped, is the default. Don’t believe me about the white standard of beauty. Go to Google and search for beautiful woman. Image after image of white women appear. After a few scrolls you’ll see an occasional Asia, Latina, or black woman. Now Google unprofessional hairstyle. You guessed it, black women for days. I can’t take credit for this test, Franchesca Ramsey talks about this in her below video.
At the same time depicting black women as ugly, the media simultaneously depicts us an wanton Jezebels. We are at once portrayed as unattractive and hypersexual beings that can never be sexually satisfied. Thus the justification for slave masters raping slave women. You see, it was for our good. We needed it or else we would go crazy. This is in addition to black women being erased from history and replaced with white women – think ancient Egyptians. Here’s the thing there is inconclusive evidence to suggest Cleopatra was at least of partial Roman descent and did bare more European-like features. But if we take a look at recent movies all of the Egyptians are depicted as white. True, Egyptians don’t consider themselves to be black or African.
But wait, there’s more. Do you know about the golden ratio? It’s supposedly the perfect proportions of a beautiful face. Guess who has it. Nefertiti. She has long been considered the most beautiful woman in history. More so than Helen of Troy. White woman appropriate our culture and discard our bodies. They tan to be our color while calling us ni**er. They inject their faces with poison to have our lips and skins while laughing at our features. They twist their hair into corn rows and bantu knots and call it new while calling us ghetto for hairstyles we’ve worn for hundreds if not thousands of years. They get implants in their breasts and butts while laughing at our stature. I submit, if we are so offensive, why do some white women take so much from our culture?
Bottom line a category of people can neither be beautiful or ugly, individuals are beautiful or ugly. The media’s consistent and constant narrative around black women is meant to demean, harm and damage the psyche of black women while keeping them disenfranchised in society and at work. Further, the standard of beauty is also causing harm to the psyche of white girls and women who think being a size negative two is fat. Black women have been incredibly strong contributors in the fight for equality from slavery all the way up to today with organizations such as Black Lives Matter. The system has successfully incarcerated black men and they have turned their focus to holding down black women. These images are not only meant to breakdown women they are meant to convince our co-workers, colleagues, and society in general that we represent struggle and problems. Despite this there is little evidence this is working since a study showed black women have higher levels of self-esteem, confidence and better body images than white women.
Still don’t believe there’s an underlying hatred of black women in America? Let’s turn our attention to Harriet Tubman. White America (some not all) went bananas when it was announced she would be displayed on the $20 bill removing well known slave owner and racist Andrew Jackson. They offered up the $2 bill instead. When was the last time you saw a $2 bill? This isn’t the first time either. Our lady, the Statue of Liberty, gifted to us by our French allies after the winning the Civil War, was originally a black slave woman. White America wasn’t having it and demanded a white woman instead. Yet, when you visit the Statue of Liberty that history isn’t recorded nor is it taught in school.
Being fat, broke and ugly is an American brand meant to distract from the systematic disenfranchisement of black women in America. Our wages, livelihood, and social capital is diminished by a system put in place to hold us down while at the same time allowing the mainstream to claim black women are lazy, difficult and incapable of success in America. Here’s what they don’t seem to understand #BlackGirlMagic #Slay #Formation.
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