Last week, we talked about how many stereotypes about Black women and girls have deep roots in slavery and racism — particularly when it comes to hyper sexualization. In a 2017 study, researchers from Georgetown University found that Americans view Black girls as less innocent, more sexually mature, and more independent than white girls of the same age. As a result, Black girls and women are less likely to be believed when they report sexual violence — which may explain how an alleged serial predator like R. Kelly has been able to abuse primarily Black girls and women for so long.
We cannot change the past. We can take positive action to undo the centuries of harm that has been done, and attempt to change both the present and the future. Here are some ideas for how each of us can make a difference.
1. Believe Victims
If someone tells you that they have been a victim of sexual violence, believe them. While this is a general principle that should be applied to everyone in your life, it is particularly true for Black women and girls. Remember that because of the history of racism in our country, Black women and girls are less likely to be believed when they report a sexual assault. Believe your friend, family member, loved one, acquaintance or colleague when they tell you that they have been sexually assaulted. By doing so, you are not condemning the alleged assailant to prison; you are simply providing the love and support that the victim needs. You can learn more about how to help a friend here.
2. Refuse to Consume Media that Degrades Black Women and Girls
Our popular culture is filled with images of Black women and girls that depict them as overly sexualized. These portrayals have existed in our nation for decades. Objectifying Black women and girls only increases the perception of them as less innocent that already exists as a dangerous stereotype in our culture. You can opt out of this narrative. Become a conscious consumer of media. Don’t buy books or magazines that degrade Black women or girls, and refuse to listen to music or watch TV or movies that does the same. As consumers, decisions we make about what we will not purchase can have a significant impact on the type of media that is produced.
3. Challenge Stereotypes
In the United States, stereotypes of Black women and girls abound. It is up to us — particularly those of us who are not Black women and girls — to speak out against those stereotypes whenever we confront them. There are a number of ways that we can do this. If someone makes a comment that sexualizes a Black women or girl (such as by referring to a part of her body), call them out on it. Simply asking “What do you mean by that?” can be an incredibly effective way to challenge the speaker to think about what they’re saying – and can be a reminder that these comments have consequences. If you see ways that Black women and girls are being degraded by institutions such as schools, stand up for those women and girls. By addressing these stereotypes directly, we can make a difference
4. Center the Voices of Black Women and Girls
Finally, if you are not a Black woman or girl, remember that while you can and should work for changes in our society to end these harmful stereotypes, you should always center the voices of those who are directly impacted by this societal ill. This means that the work should be guided by the experience of Black women and girls, and should always amplify the voices of Black women and girls. Instead of speaking on their behalf, allies should give Black women and girls the space to tell their own stories. By bringing the experiences of Black women and girls to the center of the narrative and supporting our sisters, we can challenge stereotypes and how our society views Black women and girls. For example, the recent Surviving R. Kelly docuseries has drawn significant attention for the way that R. Kelly was allegedly permitted to abuse Black girls for decades. Through supporting the victims and boosting the voices of the Black women and girls affected by this type of abuse (rather than adding our own unrelated experiences), we can center the voices of Black women and girls. In doing so, we can ensure that the focus remains on the impact on the Black community — and how we can all work to make a positive change.