This week, Patrice Brown made headlines after pictures of her in a tailored, knee-length pastel pink dress went viral. The picture offset a series of conversations about professional attire, and the sexualized black female body. However, Brown’s popularity has little to do with her attire. Rather, Brown’s popularity betrays an anxiety surrounding black women in professional and non-stereotypical spaces.
I feel compelled to state that in conversations surrounding this subject, I was initially quite ambivalent. It wasn’t until I found myself rambling through my sentiments that I realized the smokescreen that enveloped my thought process. With the few details that surfaced regarded her professional work, Brown exudes the same pride in her profession that she does in her appearance. This depiction, although commonly portrayed as disparate, conveys a resonate image that epitomizes a high sense of purpose and esteem. Yet, the intricacies surrounding her professionalism barely wash ashore in a society fixated on depicting the black female body as dichotomous to any identity that poses a question to what cultural critic bell hooks references as racist-sexist oppression.
It is racist-sexist oppression that prompts both blacks and whites to police black women for petty “offenses” to veil the true discomfort that lies in a black female striving to color outside the lines of welfare mother, sexualized performer, or wannabe white girl. Thus, it is immaterial whether or not Brown’s outfit is inappropriate, just like it is not relevant that First Lady Michelle Obama does not don a pageant smile at every moment or that Tennis giant Serena Williams is not a flat-chested, slim-hipped white woman. Rather these observations betray the contemporary world as uncomfortable with confident black females as experts in their fields.
By operating in the circumscribed identity prescribed for us by western society. black females perform in the fantasy outlined by western imagination. Thus stereotypes and stereotypical behavior prove that blacks are just as imagined in the minds of their oppressors. Nevertheless, blacks continually endure a caustic response in exuding stereotypical traits by those whose imagination crafted said image. Similarly, Brown’s popularity is partially due to her beauty, but mostly due to the subconscious belief that black female bodies are incongruous to professionalism, class and modesty. A white teacher who wore a similar outfit would most likely yield two responses. In scenario A, the image does not prove viral, as a white woman incongruous to conventional standards is inconceivable to most, or at least not conceivable to the point of being more than a funny meme. In scenario B, the white teacher endures a celebrated image similar to Kim Kardashian, a curvy white woman who humanizes white femininity in possessing traditionally black traits. Thus, Patrice Brown’s acquired visibility, proves that even in a society overly concerned with dissolving overt racism, black women remain excluded from the luxury of being human.
Oh, and Patrice if you’re reading this–You look beautiful. Thanks for giving the world a little #blackgirlmagic.