This photo has me thinking about the motto “Black is beautiful.” This photo is used to enforce African-American women’s identities. Ain’t I a Beauty Queen by Maxine Leeds Craig discusses the cultural context you see in this photo. This is an attack on the motto of “Black is beautiful,” which was part of a cultural re-exploration trend seen in the 1960s and today. This motto is used in conjunction with African-American men and in this photo women, rejecting modern “white/white passing” beauty standards. While this rejection has not gone away since the its cultural inception in the 1960s it has had emergence in the past couple of years. This meme is used as a tool against the standard, trying to fight hegemony over women of color. The message in this photo is that the “Black is the beautiful” motto has cultural context today. This is a continuance of the narrative of fighting against the dominant culture and body identities.
This photo has me angered because it enforces the negative stereotype of African-American women identities. This is part of the narrative what NACW was fighting against which the over sexualization of black women identities. This enforces the narrative of the hip-hop and ghetto identity and idea. While yes Nicki Minaj is known for her overtly sexual lyrics and clothing choices it is still part of a narrative. It gives the re-enforcement of the idea in hip-hop for black women of being either overtly manly or hyper-sexualized. This also reinforces the idea that middle-class men favor light skin African-American women. This also encompasses the idea of pandering the suburbanite audience almost like the Mammy character as seen in early cinema.
This meme, in particular, infuriated me because of the portrayal of the Mammy stereotype. Looking at the character, it enforces the role and identity of the older black woman becoming the mammy. Look at this photo of the doll, it is a physical representation of as Leeds Craig says, “the mother’s quantity or intensity of blackness.” Part of the comedic appeal could be being that she is part of the hegemonic process and that laughing at the character is also reinforcing the power balance. Look at the lips they are large and very noticeable with the red lipstick. If you are looking at a facial feature hierarchy, until recently the bigger lips were part of a narrative of her not being considered beautiful. When people who know anything about this character begin to laugh because they hear her voice and think of the older uneducated/maternal grandmother. So, laughing at an asexual Mammy character like this is playing into the social and racial stereotypes that the African-American community has so long fought against.
This meme is both empowering and also troublesome. Like in Figure 1 it is playing into the motto of “Black is beautiful” yet at the same time it is playing into the idea of body feature hierarchy as discussed in Figure 3. This is using the hypersexualization of black women for good and bad. The good is that is shows that this young woman can let her hair be curly, show her thick body, and have plump lips and still be sexy. She is not taking part of the hegemonic process and changing herself to fit the “acceptable” cultural norm. This meme does have some issues as well. Look at the wording of this meme. It states in the opening 5 words, “I like to switch it up,” so it means it is acceptable for this young lady to be attractive only on occasion. Also, it plays in the narrative of hypersexualizing her because of the outfit she is wearing. I wonder if the same wording will be used if she is a business suit? While this shows progress in terms of accepting her beauty it still shows that there is a long way to go in our society.
DT is a graduate student at Old Dominion University’s Institute for the Humanities. He earned his BA in English with an Emphasis in Journalism from Old Dominion. He is most interested with topics relating to sexuality, sex, and gender especially how these topics are discussed and viewed in various cultures and classes around the world.