Aretha Franklin said it best– “R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me…” For the African American woman, the opposite often rings true. We are constantly called every name in the book and dehumanized at every opportunity. Sadly, we’ve been brain-washed along the way to accept the abuse and consider it to be a societal norm (a compliment) when in reality, we are slowly being stripped of our womanhood in the eyes of our men. Lingo such as “female”(used out of context) and “bitch” should be abolished from the vocabulary of the African American community.
In order for us to understand the significance of the term “female”, let’s define it:
1. of, relating to, or being the sex that bears young or produces eggs
2. composed of members of the female sex <the female population> (2) characteristic of girls or women <composed for female voices> <a female name> (Webster dictionary)
And for chuckles let’s throw in “bitch”:
1 the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals
2 a.a lewd or immoral woman
b a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse
Just as the bible says “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to realize that what we hear affects us. Now is the time for someone to proclaim “we shouldn’t be worrying about what other people say about or think of us.” I will take this time to say that I concur! The deeper problem, however, is that we used to (rightly so) be offended by being referenced as a “bitch”. The reason is because it is, first and foremost, the definition of a female dog. Now, we embrace the term as if it is the epitome of womanhood—a clarion call of “fierceness”. Now, we hear terms and phrases such as “that’s right, I’m a bitch-recognize it!”, “I’m (or you are) a bad bitch”, and a myriad of others combinations that tells us it’s okay to be such because it’s acceptable slang. I’m guessing the same to be true for the “N-word”.
Over the years, Black women have been depicted with callous degradation in music videos, movies, and the media. The late 80s and early 90s brought rump shaking and half naked images “dancing” in rap videos—bringing us the “video vixen”. As a result, we’ve come to accept and own the fact that our men see us as a means to an end and nothing more. The term “bitch” has been so ingrained into our psyches that we feel proud to identify as one. The late Dr. Frances Cress Welsing quoted “We’re the only people on this entire planet who have been taught to sing and praise our demeanment. ‘I’m a bitch. I’m a hoe. I’m a gangster. I’m a thug. I’m a dog.’ If you can train people to demean and degrade themselves, you can oppress them forever. You can even program them to kill themselves and they won’t even understand what happened.” It’s a safe bet to say that the seed has been successfully planted.
Some of our African American men (and women) have slowly stripped away our identity as women. Perhaps, in their effort to wax intelligence and coolness, they began referring to the Black woman as “female”. What this has done is remove yet another layer of our womanhood and further created an atmosphere for them to continue to disrespect us. So, we’ve divagated from being a woman –or “lady” (or even “babe”)—to bitch “female dog” (an animal), to now simply “female”. Female being the definition of anything that can give birth – a dog/cat, elephant, or a cockroach. There is no identity to referring to black women as females. It’s one thing to use it as a true descriptor –i.e. “the candidate is female”, “a female officer”—and quite another to use it as a substitute to describe a female person when the sex is already known—i.e. woman or lady.
How can our community rise and bridge a cohesive unified existence when it continues to strip away our identity? Sure, there’s a “King and Queen” movement going on in the Hotep community. Its purpose is to remind us that we are descendants of kings and queens. But the truth of the matter is, that is not enough. Not all people of African descent were royalty so that is an unrealistic terminology. Not only that, but there is still no respect because our “kings” are still referring to us as “females”. We are not being treated with the respect that one would expect as a queen. We seem to relish in titles and labels that serve no purpose other than to cause more division in the community. It overshadows our basic identities as human beings. That is, for women of color it does. We must change the language and steer towards a more respectful conversation.
The relationship between Black men and women must be repaired so we can effectively raise strong and healthy children. I feel that our language regarding one another must change so we can reverse the ever-widening chasm between us. As black women, we must stop accepting mediocre treatment and reject language that denigrates us. We are not “females”. We are women.