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The Sapphire Caricature portrays black women as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing. She is tart-tongued and emasculating, one hand on a hip and the other pointing and jabbing or arms akimboviolently and rhythmically rocking her head, mocking African American men for offenses ranging from being unemployed to sexually pursuing white women.


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The current study examined body image concerns among African American women. In recent years, there has been an attempt to include ethnic minority samples in body image studies e. A total of 31 African American women participated in one of five focus groups on the campus of a large Southwestern University to examine beauty and body image. Data were analyzed using a thematic approach and several themes were identified. The majority of themes pertained to issues related to hair, skin tone, body type, and message sources.

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A body that does not compare: how white men define black female beauty in the era of colorblindness

Our focus was to tease out how police officers have categorized those they do stop, the context of those stops as a function of race and gender, and the penalties that are differentially meted out to Black women across body classifications. At least some of the stops categorized as inside were conducted inside transit stations, which also constitute a kind of public space, but data coding did not allow us to separate out these instances. While physicians are tasked with disciplining the overweight and the obese body, and are thus charged with prescribing dietary and other behavioral regimens intended to change it, they are arguably a source of medical care and other support.

But as these labels are based on officer self-report, rather than anthropometric measures, it is impossible to verify accuracy. Biopower disciplines the body politic by regulating health status through diffuse power relations Lupton, It subtends neoliberal views of obesity, casting good citizens as those that make minimal use of state health and welfare services, and censuring fat people for failing to police their own bodies and maintain ideally efficacious bodies that create economic and social burdens on the nation Guthman, On thismoral panic around body size is likely to be particularly acute for Black women, who are already stereotyped as excessive, slothful and dependent on the state.

Taken together, if we create the illusion of gender through a series of gendered acts, Goff et. As well, the logistic model provides greater clarity in interpreting the. Necropower arose and was perfected in states of exception, such as sub-Saharan African colonies and plantations in the Americas, and is brought into sharp relief in the efforts of those tasked with the production and management colored bodies.

For each stop, officers record a of attributes about the potential suspect and context, including race, gender, physique, date, and precinct. We conducted logistic regressions to model the odds of being categorized as heavy by race and gender, controlling for age, calculated BMI, location in a Black precinct, and season of the year.

This raises the possibility of a generalized White perception problem—that may well become the problem of disciplinary authorities within a White dominated state— regarding the Black female body. Though polar opposites, both representations preclude any characterization of Black women as feminine, delicate, or frail; these are bodily and character traits often accorded to White women. This policing strategy fell heavily on Black and Latino residents, particularly young men.

Black women whose bodies and character might resist these well-scripted and subordinating characterizations are perceived as anomalous and therefore present no challenge to the explanatory power of the dominant representations. The stereotype of the Black woman as masculine recurs in fiction. These constructions are pointedly rendered more masculine via the use of Black male actors in drag, as in movies such as Big Momma and the Madea series.

Recognizing that the probabilities could lie in either direction—extant stereotypes and social hierarchies could create perceptual schemas in which seeing a Black female body equals seeing a fat body, or in which fat bodies are seen as normative for Black female bodies, and are therefore not read as such—we anticipated the former direction.

Women of color

Theories of gendered embodiment, racialized gender identity, and bio- and necropower provide a profitable point of departure for analyzing how Black women are perceived and how power intersects with the Black female body. A second is that White viewers can only perceive blackness, and this overrides an ability to perceive gender—viewers essentially become too frightened to finish reading the text on which race and gender are written, and they therefore skip part of the story.

In contrast to a biopower framework, which sees state agents as marshaling collective productivity from the populace, necropower sees them as acting to produce an entirely opposite lived experience for Black populations. In sum, blackness appeared to call up maleness, and femaleness was most readily associated with whiteness. Biopower seeks to ensure national productivity and thus evinces a state charged with producing properly embodied forms of life.

The sapphire caricature

That is, given the pervasiveness of stereotypes of fat Black women, it is likely that they would have higher probabilities of being classified as heavy by police officers. These perceptual deficits are akin to those around the generic Black body. So sexually segregated was his life that high school presents the protagonist with his first opportunity to interact with girls. What makes NYC unique is the extensive, publicly available data on these stops Harris, In each dataset, each row comprises a stop, such that individuals who are stopped multiple times in the year will appear multiple times in the dataset.

Each stop specifies a of attributes. Because the dataset records information about potential suspects, but not about officers, we were unable to examine the extent to which the associations we observed varied by the race and gender of the police officers making the stops. Cultural representations of Black women often exist at opposite ends of a corporeal spectrum. It is therefore likely that misperceptions would also extend to encounters with police officers.

Our first research aim was to estimate the probability of a heavy vs. Across all years, hundreds of thousands of stops were recorded, increasing each year to a high point oftimes in before declining slightly in Note that the dataset does not contain information about individuals who were not stopped, precluding assessments of whether body size contributes to the probability of being stopped.

Our research aims were as follows. Empirical research has demonstrated the conflation in the White American imaginary of whiteness with female, and blackness with male. The authors further claimed that Black women were not ascribed the kinds of valued characteristics that are associated with masculinity, such as intelligence.

If stereotypically constructed blackness now summons ideas about moral turpitude, heavy Black women may activate strong associations with criminality. Racialized constructions of Black women may activate actions to control and contain them in the spheres that are most suggestive of deviance and threat; this is the province of the stereotypical overweight lazy Black woman who would drain resources and threatens the state.

With regard to Black women specifically, depictions of fatness are not only common, but are central to whom characters are constructed to be. We underscore here that these misperceptions are driven by perceptual conflations in the White dominated state, which trains both White and non-White police officers in its preferred modes of perception.

Ohio that police could stop temporarily detain and investigate and frisk cursory pat down individuals with less evidence than probable cause Harris, Since then, police departments across the country have deployed the practice. We take advantage of a unique dataset—stops and searches by the New York Police Department NYPD —to examine perceptions of and the forms of power that operate on Black female bodies.

Although we do not have direct information about how police officers use the term heavy, it is reasonable to infer that it is meant to connote overweight. Representations of Black women in United States popular culture and public discourse frequently depict them stereotypically as fat and in need of policing for moral failures. Respondents were more accurate when categorizing White, compared to Black women; and Black men, compared to Black women. The U. Supreme Court held in Terry v. As well, research has shown that Black women are perceived and constructed as non-prototypical for their gender.

Abel argues that Jim Crow age in the segregated U. In this view, however, the mammy, and indeed the Black female body itself is perceived to be out of place in Black domestic space. Because the rating criteria for each are not defined in the data, these labels would seem to invite a great deal of inter- and even intra-officer variability.

These actors include police, military personnel, teachers and school administrators, welfare personnel, medical professionals and agents of population control. Second, we attempted to tease out the particularities of police stops and how they relate to public discourses about Black women.

Beauty and body image concerns among african american college women

In this regard, we hypothesized that police officers would be more likely to target domestic private space rather than public space. Black women were also much more likely than all other subgroups to be stopped inside rather than outside.

This would mark them for greater control and punitive measures, and therefore greater probabilities of being frisked. Misperceptions from the diverse group of individuals comprising the NYPD would be consonant from the racially mixed sample in Goff et al. Here we might expect not disciplinary efforts to produce a thin, self-policing and productive docile body that can take its proper place within the formal economic system, but management and containment deed to produce underdeveloped and undernurtured bodies with no real place in the economic system, but bodies nonetheless with no need to be disciplined, to be made thin.

It stands apart from other classifications and deploys a euphemism that is more socially acceptable. showed that across 10 years of data, Black women were more likely than White women to be labeled heavy. This of Black girls inspiring fear among racially diverse boys and girls alike is credible to the reader because the physicality described —brutal and strapping—is consonant with pervasive notions of Black women as aggressive, masculine, and angry.

In this paper we investigate how Black women are perceived by actors who, like physicians, are in positions of disciplinary authority—but are in a different social location, engaged in a quite different disciplinary project. Media representations of Black women are replete with imagery of fat bodies, and we would not expect police officers to be immune.

Body size showed little association with stop locations or frisks. On the one hand there is the Mammy stereotype. A third possibility is that gender is differentiated, but within a social frame where White women are the reference point, Black women simply cannot be read as such and thus encourage the perceiver to understand the body as male by default.

There is evidence that the tendency to misperceive Black women also carries over into medical setting assessments of body size. In Aim 2 we asked whether Black women are more or less likely to be stopped in public or private space and the extent to which this depends on a heavy body.

That is, the preferred forms of embodied Black life within U. Thus it may be productive to foreground necropower over disciplinary power in theorizing police interaction with and the force they exert on the Black female body. However, these are not data for which we might anticipate police officers would be motivated to purposefully give inaccurate reports, as could be true for other aspects of the stop e. In other words, if Black women are generally seen as overweight, physicians may be less likely to perceive them as such, because a higher body weight is seen as normative.

We used a binary rather than multinomial logistic regression because our interests were specifically in whether Black women would be seen as heavy, rather than the combined ordered comparisons rendered by a multinomial model. Could the same faulty perception make Whites and the agents of a White dominated state only able to see Black female bodies as fat? For example, the influence of heterocentrism and ethnocentrism renders prototypical women as straight and White.

Named after a character in the novel Gone With The Wind, this stereotype depicts Black women as overweight, asexual and unthreatening servants, hypermaternal if not ultrafeminine.

Perceiving the black female body: race and gender in police constructions of body weight

In these films, masculinity, fatness, and social pathology stew inextricably in Black female bodies. Black Welfare Queens who are constructed as extracting undeserved state monies and reproducing irresponsibly are thought to do so in their homes. We hypothesized that Black women would have differential probabilities of being classified as heavy.