November 28, 2023

The Black Female Gaze

3 min read
The Black Female Gaze

The gaze has been known as a way of understanding how the look of the other affects the individual and how this look or response influences the receiver. I am wondering why black women expressing their feelings and challenging the status quo are often viewed as aggressive rather than progressive. This response could be seen as a negative black gaze.

Out of this kind of stereotype comes the notion of the strong black woman. The concept of the strong black woman relies on what I have termed the black Western archetype emanating from slavery. During slavery the African woman was seen to have no emotions or needs. She was wrenched from her family to serve the needs of the white master. She washed, cooked and cleaned for the master and his family. She minded the master’s children, she was subject to the beck and call of the master’s wife and she was the master’s maternal and sexual object. The master and his family depended on her for these elements of their daily lives and she was hardly able to rest. Up at dawn and coerced with lashings to stay awake until given permission by the lady of the house.

Slaves were forbidden to have formal marriages and African males were denied the right to family life. The female slave had to work in the field and the house. Her sexuality was a product and her body a production line for the next generation of slaves. Protest against the sexual abuse and exploitation of the master was forbidden. The African slave was subject to a white male misogynist gaze and the white female voyeuristic and envious gaze as they watched and colluded with the master’s sexploitation of black bodies.

The black woman internalized a negative gaze from the slave family. As a result of the negative gaze she performed her duties on request without question at the beck and call of the master and his family. She cleaned, washed, cooked and minded the children without protest. She gave the appearance of being strong and able to endure the endless tasks she was burdened with and the beatings and the heinous treatment her people received. In short she was treated like a workhorse and beaten into shape. The negative gaze from her master and mistress, the harsh expectations to endlessly perform without question and withhold her emotions created a blueprint for what I called the step and fetch it black Western archetype.

The black Western archetype is a concept that I have devised to address how racism and the impact of slavery permeates the psychology of black peoples in contemporary western society. The idea comes from combining traditional psychoanalytical theory and ideas about Black issues. At the risk of homogenizing I would suggest that this intergenerational phenomenon has influenced the behavior of many black women in our modern society.

Black women of African heritage sometimes manifest traits of this negative stereotype. The black woman was silenced by her history of abuse. Out of this came harshness from the build up of relentless and unreasonable work experience. She is often compulsively independent and reluctant to ask for her needs to be met. She is prone to overwork and often expected to overwork. She forfeits her own care for the care of others including the extended family, consequently her heath suffers and she is prone to mental ill-health. This is born out in the high numbers of black women who get burnout or enter the mental health system as a result of workplace oppression.