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May 2013

A Black Woman Does Not Have To Perform Stereotypes To Have A “Personality”

I am always highly suspicious of people when they suggest that a Black woman “doesn’t have a personality.” Everyone has a personality. Personality refers to the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character—what makes them different from someone else. Thus, while Black women share sociopolitical characteristics and have common experiences based on our social location, we each have differing personalities (even if characteristics such as MBTI also reveals overlap).

It’s rarely a matter of a particular Black woman not having a personality. It might be one that people do not like (though few know how to critique Black women without using “isms”). It might be one that people do not have enough exposure to in order to make a judgment of. Perhaps that Black woman is an introvert and these people, like most Americans, have a persistent bias towards extroverts over introverts. In fact, many people seem to define “personality” as “extroverted expressions.” Perhaps these people bring out the worst in her, either through their own bigotry or by being assholes, in general. Perhaps these people only associate ONE WORD emotions with the labyrinth of nuance that is personality. How eager are some people to label a Black woman’s entire personality as "bitter."

Many times when I’ve heard people suggest that a certain Black woman (famous or non-famous) didn’t have a personality, it was because they felt that she did not conform to external constructions of Black womanhood (though they don’t always realize that this is what they are suggesting), either through historically racist controlling images (mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire), stereotypes shaped by White supremacy, racism, sexism and capitalism just as much as misogynoir (welfare queen, welfare mother, Black matriarch, “corporate” Black “maneater”, “evil” single Black woman, “hoochie” or “whore”), or patriarchal labels via binaries (“strong” vs. “angry” or “queen” vs. “bitch”).

I’ve encountered Black men who will literally write a Black woman off as “fake” or “phony” or “boring” or suggest that “she has no personality” if he cannot place her in one of these racist and misogynoirist categories. They reject how White supremacy in the media shapes Black manhood (though many still embrace patriarchal masculinity, which is a construction via White supremacy) but will gladly suggest that all Black women are like reality shows etc. And here’s the thing, for the ones who are argumentative like reality shows, so what? Men don’t argue? I won’t even bother citing the violence and wars that manifest from their arguments. White women don’t argue? They do the same things on their reality shows without being expected to represent “all” White women. The luxury of male privilege and White privilege allows this.

Next time a person decides that a Black woman doesn’t have a personality, I will be interested in knowing if she’s simply an introvert, disinterested in the person making the assessment or expected to be a one-dimensional stereotype and not a person.

I am interested in full human beings. Black women are full human beings. Black women do not have to perform extroversion or be 1-dimensional stereotypes to have personalities.

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