November 9, 2012

America's Obsession with Black Female Identities

Reagan, Romney, Rhimes and Rap Music: America's Obsession with Black Female Identities

by Erica Thurman of


In 1976, Ronald Reagan did what many politicians do when giving anecdotal support of his/her platform—he made stuff up.

"She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000."

Enter the social construction of the welfare queen. Ronald Reagan’s depiction of women on welfare would be repeated for years to come and specifically attributed to women of color.


Women of color remained on the forefront during the 2012 campaign cycle. Governor Mitt Romney’s remarks about single mothers were eerily reminiscent of his late Republican cohort. Romney equated two parent households with the reduction of violence during the second Presidential debate of 2012 in response to a question about gun control. The inference drawn ‘round the world was that Romney held single parent households responsible for higher rates of violence. To be fair, Governor Romney spoke of single parents. That many took his comment to mean “single mothers” is most likely due to the disproportionate representation of women among single parents (approximately 84% of single parents are female). Let’s take it one step further and acknowledge that when the image of a single mother/parent or welfare queen comes to mind, she is usually a Black female.


Lupe Fiasco attempted to salvage the identity of Black women with his new track, “Bitch Bad, Woman Good, Lady Better.” In the song, Lupe explores the ascribed “bad Bitch” identity. The examination itself is harmless, helpful even. Still, Lupe goes the route of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney when he offers Black women the alternative identities of “woman” and “lady.” The track reeks of Victorian ideology and reinforces the notion that men, of any race, have any place in constructing the identities of women.


It’s been 38 years since a Black woman has starred on a network TV show. With the introduction of Scandal on ABC, Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes brought Black women back to network TV and back to Prime Time. Washington’s character, based on Judy Smith, presents a new image of Black women. One far from Basketball Wives and Video Vixens. As head of a crisis management firm, Washington’s character Olivia Pope is a woman who makes things happen. Judy Smith and Shonda Rhimes, two Black women serve as executive producers of the show. In an interview with, Washington expressed the privilege of having two Black women as her bosses explaining that, “People need to understand that when we are the writers, the producers and directors of movies of TV series, that the face and shape of the shows will become more inclusive, and the stories themselves will become more inclusive.”


In the same vein, when women of color are allowed to write, produce and define our own images, the face and shape of women of color will become much more inclusive. Let us tell our stories. Let us tell you who we are.

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