On April 5, the Black Girls Rock award show was held to honor American black women and some of their accomplishments. All speeches revolved around the power and beauty in the community of black women as well as the need for support from the social structures that continually oppress black women. The beauty in Black Girls Rock is the creation of media for black women, by black women and about black women. Nonetheless, once we remove ourselves from that particular showcase, we are still back in a world that continually devalues black women, and it’s time to address it in comparison to their counterpoints: black men.
When we narrow our focus to the consumption of black art in America, it becomes even clearer that we put black women in boxes. Not only do we support the music of black women less, but we criticize it with more vigor and intent — the clothing and dancing are always talked about before any of the content and purpose of the message. This is nothing new — ideals of feminism consistently teach us that women are underpaid, undervalued and overexploited daily. Recently, both Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé produced two different socially conscious art pieces, both centering around policing of the black body and brutality against African-Americans. Within hours, it was clear on social media that these pieces were making waves. Unsurprisingly, the backlash against Beyoncé’s piece was immediate, while Kendrick was heralded as a musical and political genius. However you feel about the content of both of their pieces, the point is this: Black women and their art, when analyzed, are first criticized and then consciously studied, while black men have the privilege to first be studied and then critiqued.
This is the same concept that we see displayed in the political racial action taking place across the country. In Black Lives Matter protests, how many of us hear the names of Mike Brown, Freddie Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott and more, while we consistently ignore the lives of black women that have been lost to police violence — Bettie Jones, Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna and Yvette Smith, just to name a few. Or when we talk about the overpopulation of black men within our jails and prisons but make no mention of black women behind bars. I am not interested in Oppression Olympics, ranking who struggles the most within our political and social systems, but there can be no doubt that the lives of black women, as portrayed through American media, are undervalued in comparison to those of black men.