I was moved to tears as I watched the Academy Award winning movie 12 Years a Slave. From beginning to end, the plot gripped my heart as I was reminded of the horrors done to blacks during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Though I was grieved watching the treatment of all the slaves, words cannot describe my feelings in regards to the treatment of the female slaves. It’s one thing to be held under your will at the oppressive hands of another for hundreds of years, it’s another degree of anguish to be held under your will and given the role of a sexual commodity generation after generation.
Though we are a few hundred years removed from slavery, there are some things that haven’t changed much – especially the degradation of the black women. While some claim that we live in a loving and accepting society that instills in everyone the same honor, respect, value and dignity, I beg to differ. Black women today are still just as subjugated and branded as Jezebels as those of the past.
Let me explain.
A look into the history of Jezebel
History shows the black woman’s plight – the tale of individuals experiencing immense emotional, social, spiritual and physical abuse. Though there has been a barrage of negative stereotypes and stigmas surrounding them, it has been their portrayal as hyper-sexual Jezebels that is still corroding the progression of black women in modern society, which is something that has existed before blacks ever stepped on American soil. Dr. David Pilgrim writes:
The belief that blacks are sexually lewd predates the institution of slavery in America. European travelers to Africa found scantily clad natives. This semi nudity was misinterpreted as lewdness. White Europeans, locked into the racial ethnocentrism of the 17th century, saw African polygamy and tribal dances as proof of the African’s uncontrolled sexual lust… “The Jezebel was depicted as a black woman with an insatiable appetite for sex.”
Due to these misguided beliefs, blacks – especially black women – were given to role of a sexual tool. Sadly, though these women desperately wanted to escape and resist this nightmarish branding, they could do nothing but comply. Survival forced them to feed and appease the lustful request of their masters. Their only other fate would be imminent death.
In the book Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, one of the authors writes:
A slave woman explained, “When he make me follow him into de bush, what use me to tell him no? He have strength to make me.”
Black women in the current media
The worst part of stereotypes, especially negative, is that they are very difficult to shake off once society has pressed it upon a people group for years. This is evident today as the brand of hyper-sexual Jezebels amongst black women still exists. Dr. Pilgrim goes on to write:
The portrayal of black women as lascivious by nature is an enduring stereotype. The descriptive words associated with this stereotype are singular in their focus: seductive, alluring, worldly, beguiling, tempting, and lewd. Historically, white women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty – even sexual purity, but black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory.
The worst part is that this derogatory branding isn’t propagated by hyper-conservative white-supremacists, but it is being promoted by African American mainstream culture.
When browsing the Internet for current African American culture trends, I find reoccurring themes of scandalously dressed black women posing for provocative pictures. Or take a look at BET’s 106 & Park top songs. Almost every single music video is full of half-naked black women dancing erotically and being portrayed as a man’s sex object. Most Hollywood roles given to black women are portraying a character that is either eye candy or sexual aggressor. i.e. Halle Barry in Monster Ball or Megan Good in the recent Anchor Man 2 movie.
Society continues to teach black women that their only escape, survival and success is to put their body on display. It is a repetitive cycle; not easily broken. Black women have simply traded the past of sexual exploitation of slave masters and white Americans to currently being exploited by the music industry, Hollywood, corporate America, and black America. With such a high-demand for thicker, promiscuous and more sexually willing woman, it only makes sense that many black women must compromise their morals and values in order to survive.
The beauty of the gospel
Though black men of the past were so disgusted and enraged by the treatment of their women, it’s sad that we live in a world today where black men are treating our women with the same shame, disrespect and sexploitation as slave masters in the past.
I am guilty of this crime since, sadly, I was a part of this culture. I was a man who viewed and used my fellow black women as sheer sexual tools for my own selfish gain. It was only by the supernatural power of God opening my eyes to my wickedness and giving me a new heart to love and protect my sisters that I was able to change.
I believe the hope in moving forward and breaking the Jezebel brand on black women is found in the gospel. By affirming their identity in Christ, black women can learn that they are not simply sexual tools made to be sexploited by the hands of selfish men. They are beautiful women made in the image and likeness of God. They have equal value, dignity and respect, as any man or woman of any race. Their beauty and worth is defined by the God who loves them, not by the lies of a society who oppresses them.
I look forward to the day when black women don’t feel as though they have to be hyper-sexual in order to survive. I look forward to the day when black men love, serve and protect our women, not abuse, exploit and shame them. I look forward to the day when black woman can be valued as lawyer, doctors, mothers or teachers and not sexual commodities.
I believe the power of the gospel is able to make this possible, but it will also require all of us doing our part to rid black women of the Jezebel name.