Barbara Jordan: Trailblazer, Leader… Common Asexual Mammy?

I am passionate about a number of things, particularly issues pertaining to Black women.  And while I may project my voice about said issues and stand in solidarity with others pertaining to a particular movement or campaign, I am very leery about whose and what rhetoric I co-sign.  In essence, I’m very solitary in my work and the way in which I project my voice, as I don’t belong to any organizations or align myself with any groups. That aside, the behavior and writings of a certain subset of Black women on the web has been plaguing me for a while. They ascribe their work to Black Women Empowerment (BWE) and relish themselves as voices of reason for and elevation of Black womanhood. There are undoubtedly some women who’ve managed to carve out a niche on the web and use the BWE platform to inform and provide legitimate, insightful, and thought provoking content to the masses. They’ve been tireless with the work they put in advocating for Black women and our sensibilities; and are genuine in how they go about doing it.

Then there’s an offshoot of women who’ve latched onto the BWE movement while claiming to have our best interest in mind, but will write ill of Black women every chance they get. They liken the snark to “tough love” but I interpret it as nothing more than Mean Girl propaganda; which is often elitist, biting, and mocking. The line of demarcation between their agenda and that of most other BWE bloggers, is clear and they’re seemingly targeting a certain demographic of Black women… I get that. But, for those who don’t fit the aesthetic they believe Black women should have– which is a look seemingly dictated by Western standards of beauty and femininity, you’re nothing more than an unfeminine, “Black male-identified” Mammy or Ghetto Queen according to the discourse and memes unfolding on those platforms and Barbara Jordan is no exception to their rule…

Barbara Jordan was one of the most notable Black female figures in this country. An educator, lawyer, politician, and leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Jordan was a trailblazer who helped change the face of politics and shattered myths about what a Black woman’s capabilities were limited to. If anyone’s worthy of having their life brought to the big screen, it’s her.  None of Barbara’s groundbreaking accolades make a difference to some however, because they seem consumed by how she looked and are of the opinion that her particular aesthetic will somehow ruin the Black Woman’s “brand.”

Fresh from riding the wave of her much talked about role as Abilene in the movie “The Help”, Viola Davis seems up to the task of tackling the life of Barbara Jordan in a biopic she’s slated to star in and produce with her husband; much to the chagrin of chauvinist-sounding critics and definitely to the dismay of  a popular BWE identified blogger, who wrote

It’s a competitive world. I can see how this would likely play out in any movie: the WW partner would be portrayed as conventionally attractive and feminine, while Ms. Jordan would be portrayed as an asexual mammy at best. Or as a “butch”-looking lesbian at worst. Thereby continuing to lift up WW’s collective “brand” while tossing BW’s collective “brand” under the bus. I don’t want to see some mess about Closeted, Asexual Mammy. 

For me it’s not about homophobia. It’s about AA women’s collective “brand.” If there’s going to be a biopic about a closeted, civil rights era AA lesbian who dated White women, I’d rather see one made about Lorraine Hansberry, who carried herself with feminine grace and glamor[sic]. What I’d really like to see are some biopics about AA women like Lena Horne and Gloria Ray Karlmark (one of the Little Rock Nine who moved to Europe, married a European man, and has lived very well). I want to see biopics of AA women who lived well in the outer world.

I understood the gripes surrounding the politics of Viola’s role in “The Help” however, I can’t help but think that Viola being a darker skinned Black actress, on the cusp of playing a role about a Darker skinned woman is what unsettles some folks within that particular movement… and that’s troubling to me. It seems that, like Jordan’s femininity, Davis’ feminine wiles is being called into question lest she play a sexpot or prove that she has the same allure as Halle Berry or Paula Patton, in movies. I also think it’s ridiculous to undermine Barbara Jordan’s work and intellect, just because she didn’t look a certain way… particularly since she was a Civil Rights leader and politician, not Erica Jong.

Black women — particularly those hiding behind the cloak of the Black Women’s Empowerment movement— should know better and be astute enough to realize that we are not one-dimensional, monolithic beings with nothing more to offer than how we look or how sexual we are or aren’t. Halle Berry can attest to the fact that sometimes it takes more than baring your rack in a movie to keep film goers riveted. Doing so on-screen doesn’t prove a Black woman’s sex appeal; any more than acting demure dictates whether she’s feminine enough. Barbara Jordan may not possess the superficial traits that will enable Viola to vamp it up on screen the way the project’s detractors would like her to, but her story is profound and to a lot of other people that is sexy.

Relevant Reading:

What About Our Daughters: Barbara Jordan Was a Politician Not a Pole Dancer

Bitch Media: Adventures in Feministory– Barbara Jordan