It’s been a little slow in my office today, so I got through sorting out an enormous stack of papers that had accumulated on the side of my desk. Underneath them all, I found an article I had printed out from the New York Times about how large, black women are being unfairly portrayed in the media as brash, comical, aggressive figures of authority. It begins:
“At 200 pounds plus – most of that pure attitude – she is hard to miss. . . . She typically finds herself in an exchange that is either confrontational or embarrassing. And her best line is often little more than a sassy ‘Mmmm hmmm.’ “
(Pause to let your mind finish going through the montage of large, black female actresses saying “Mmmm hmmm.”)
“The heavy black spokeswoman for Pine Sol was one of the first to embrace the role. Her aggression was aimed at household dirt, however, not people. In a recent commercial for Captain Morgan rum, a large black woman berates her man for playing dominoes and making her late.
In one Twix commercial, a full-figured black woman asks her boyfriend if her pants make her rear end look big. As the camera focuses on her plump backside (exaggerated by the camera for effect), the man stuffs his face with a Twix bar and mumbles an indecipherable answer. Pleased with his response, the woman walks away. She is not shown being aggressive or loud, but the commercial leaves the impression that if the man had given the wrong answer, she might have erupted.”
I don’t remember why exactly I saved this article, if it was because I agreed with the fact that not all large black women should be defined as strong and humorous or disagreed with it because I can think of a lot worse things to be defined as then strong and humorous. (Like, oh I don’t know, a black man being portrayed as a lackadaisical dominoes player.) Or maybe I just liked the fact that a New York Times writer wrote the phrase “plump backside.” But now that I reread the article, what strikes me is how racist it is. Not to black people, but to white people. You don’t think white people are typified and pigeonholed in the media? Like in movies, whenever an unassuming martial arts expert is in a bar and some macho guy messes around with him and ends up getting beaten up? You know who that is? A WHITE GUY. Or whenever there is a car chase and the two vehicles go careening through the streets of a crowded city and people constantly have to jump out of the way or risk being killed? You know who they are? WHITE PEOPLE. Usually carrying shopping bags and lingering near a fruit stand. BECAUSE YOU KNOW US WHITE PEOPLE. SPENDING OUR HIGHER INCOMES ON CLOTHING AND FRUIT. You know, I fought really hard for the role of sassy teacher on “Boston Public.” And in the end all they wanted me to do was test drive their BMW around the unusually curvy streets of an upscale suburban community. It’s just not fair.
(Note: An extremely interesting fact culled from the article: The Cream of Wheat Guy has a name – Rastus. RASTUS. And we’re writing articles about the Pine Sol lady? I mean, why didn’t they just name him, “Yessuh"? Or would that have sounded “too gentrified”?)