Explores the restrictive myth of the strong black woman through interviews, revealing the emotional and physical toll this "performance" can have
Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman
Voice and the Embodiment of a Costly Performance
paper EAN: 978-1-59213-668-1 (ISBN: 1-59213-668-0)
"Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman makes an important contribution to the literature. No other work systematically studies the ways black women internalize and resist strong black woman discourse. Beauboeuf-Lafontant convincingly argues that investment in the strong black woman myth injures black women and strengthens the racist divisions between women."
Maxine Craig, author of Ain’t I a Beauty Queen?: Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race
The defining quality of Black womanhood is strength, states Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant in Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman. But, she argues, the idea of strength undermines its real function: to defend and maintain a stratified social order by obscuring Black women's experiences of suffering, acts of desperation, and anger.
Interviews with 58 Black women explore the restrictive myth of the "Strong Black Woman." In particular, Beauboeuf-Lafontant highlights the physical and emotional toll of this performance of invulnerability, which leaves many Black women suffering from eating disorders and depression.
Drawing on Black feminist scholarship, cultural studies, and voice-centered research, Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman traces the historical and social influences on normative Black femininity. This provocative book lays bare the common perception that strength is an exemplary quality of "authentic" Black womanhood, maintaining that the expectation of strength creates a distraction from broader forces of discrimination and imbalances of power.
Excerpt available at www.temple.edu/tempress
"[Beauboeuf-Lafontant] foregrounds the intersection of race and gender with fresh and thought-provoking insight.... [O]ne hopes her message will trickle out."
"Kudos to Tamara Beauboeuf-LaFontant for providing insights into a topic that is timely and offers a distinctive perspective on what it means to be a strong Black woman....For some, being a strong Black woman may be viewed as strength but Beauboeuf-LaFontant makes a strong argument that it dehumanizes Black women and causes a number of problems for them because it is assumed that a strong Black woman must make continual sacrifices for others and be willing to give up on her own aspirations.... This book provides a context for understanding the struggles that contemporary feminist Black women have had with the traditional feminist movement, which was at odds with the experiences of White women. It clearly outlines these contradictions and provides an opportunity to give voice to Black women and how they are 'transcending' the notion of the 'strong Black woman.'"
"Behind the Mask's major contributions are theoretical.... The author's innovative synthesis of these theoretical materials contains valuable insights for inequality scholars, particularly those concerned with health disparities. She completes important foundational work that should generate new lines of investigation."
"[The author] add[s] a much-needed complexity to our understanding of common stereotypes about black women and racial interactions.... The use of everyday women's voices makes this study come alive...The messages of Beauboeuf-Lafontant's book should be embraced widely and applied practically so that legions of women and girls can summon the courage to finally give up the restraints of the image of the mule-like black woman."
The Women's Review of Books
"The author provides insight into the function of the [Strong Black Woman] stereotype, sociologically, and then allows us a view of what that costs in terms of human suffering."
"In Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman, Tamara Beauboeuf- Lafontant takes us back through the problems that ensue when black women succumb to 'the discourse of strength [that] is deployed to render Black women into self-disciplining bodies who uphold the social order.'...The bottom line is that Beauboeuf-Lafontant asks that black women be highly respected in the research process and that the researcher remain wide open to what he or she is likely to encounter, particularly given the battery that so many black women have experienced.... "[A] wonderful new example[s] of how black women traverse the terrain of racism-sexism and how backward-thinking or forward-thinking institutions are on the matter. Most important, [it] highlight[s] how black women must still contend with the same or similar sexual
exploitation and racial-gender stereotyping birthed during antebellum slavery."
"Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant chronicles the experiences of Black women from various walks of life as they confront the hidden injuries of race- and gender-based oppression. The author challenges the reader to deconstruct the myth of the strong Black woman by considering how Black women hide their pain and anger.... What makes Beauboeuf-Lafontant’s work unique and compelling is her ability to reveal the ways that Black women conceal their oppression and concede to dominant forms of discourse that depict this group of women as 'pillars of strength' despite their exploitation and objectification as not fully human."
Gender & Society
"[Beauboeuf-Lafontant] makes creative, innovative, and compelling use of the ideas of white feminists and feminists of color toward the aim of offering a no-nonsense and uniquely effective critique of patriarchy, intra-racial sexism, and destructive ideologies of black femininity.... Beauboeuf-Lafontant's book...is a must-have text for undergraduate courses in black girlhood, black womanhood, and black feminism.... [A]n exemplary piece of feminist scholarship that is well-suited for students and researchers, as well as anyone interested in understanding contemporary black womanhood."
Also available in e-book
Introduction: A Half-Told Tale of Black Womanhood
1. More Than “the Historical, the Monolithic Me”: Deconstructing Strong Black Womanhood
2. Living the Lies: Embodying “Good” Womanhood
3. Keeping up Appearances: The Performance of Strength
4. Lies Make Us Sick: Embodied Distress Among Strong Black Women
5. Coming to Voice: Transcending Strength
Epilogue: Mules No More, Just “Levelly Human”: A Societal Challenge
Appendix: Table of Participants
Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant is Associate Professor of Sociology and Education Studies at DePauw University. She is co-editor of Facing Racism in Education, 2nd edition.
African American Studies
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