Speak For Yourself: Why Fighting Stereotypes With Generalizations Does Not Work

A large part of our history as Black women has been using our voices to speak up for ourselves and our people. We have given speeches, marched in rallies and even exercised our voices through artistry. There is an undying need many of us have to speak up for one another but where do we draw the line between speaking up for some of us and speaking for all of us?

With the prevalence of social media in our day and age, it seems that everyone has an opinion they want to be heard, a critique they must give and a point they must get across. We find it necessary—dire even, to use our first amendment rights and map our ideas and beliefs onto anyone that will listen.

While speaking out is necessary when trying to engage minds or promote change, it is important for us to question whether or not our claims are as astute as we think they are. People (myself included) are quick to refute opinions they disagree with and at times, will take offense to them if they are not properly backed up with facts or if they are expressed in a way that generalizes an entire group of people.

For example, a recent write up on ABC's Scandal asserts that Olivia Pope’s character is a damaging portrayal of Black women in the media. The author believes that Pope reinforces stereotypes that we are oversexed and unable to keep or obtain loving relationships with men and that these stereotypes have raped many of us of our self-esteem and self-worth.

She goes on to state that many Black women viewers of the show may feel the need to put their lives on hold for married men, that we will be vulnerable to this portrayal and believe that this is how the world wants us to be.

To this, I have to disagree. No one on this earth is a perfect, Black women included. What I find entertaining about the show is the fact that Olivia’s life is a dichotomy of order and chaos. And to be quite honest I probably would have no interest in the show if Olivia was the strong Black woman with no flaws because that’s not real and that’s not interesting.

Among the many Black women I know that are Scandal watchers, the collective opinion is that it is not okay to sleep with a married man and that Olivia Pope just overall needs to do better. Not once have I heard of anyone uttering a word of approval for the decisions that Olivia has made in her relationship with Fitz on the show nor have I heard of anyone feeling that Olivia’s character is representative of who they are.

It could very well be that I am a part of a different generation, have different experiences or have formulated a different set of morals than the Black women the author speaks of however I am still just as much of a Black woman as any other. Who is to say that there are not just as many Black women who like me, are esteemed and able to think for themselves?

When I hear the words “Black women,” my mind registers it as something that applies to me and if what is being said does not apply to me, I feel as if I am being misrepresented, overlooked and generalized which makes me almost as frustrated with my fellow Black woman making the statements as I am with society for creating the negative stereotypes she is trying to disprove.

When we make general statements about Black women as a whole, we are in a sense creating our own stereotypes of ourselves. We should not minimize the idea of Black women to one thing, one instance or one experience. How can we fight being generalized by making our own generalizations? It should not be assumed that our individual insecurities apply to an entire group of people.

Our experiences and personal challenges are our own before they are anyone else’s and though being a Black woman is a large part of many of us, it can never be all of who we are. It is crucial that we are specific when we speak on things regarding Black women and if we cannot do this then we must speak for ourselves and hope that maybe there is someone out there that can relate.

It’s not easy knowing your own truth in a world that goes out of it’s way to constantly say how and what you are especially if you have not been given the fair chance of learning it on your own terms. The only general statement that should be made about Black women is that we are our own people. We already have enough people erroneously defining us by stereotypes, let’s not do it to ourselves too.


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LaChelle is an aspiring novelist and songwriter. An avid reader and social commentator, her mission is to engage the minds of others through her artistry. Catch her on Twitter @_theELLE_

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