Just a few months ago, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors to the public displaying collections dating back to the 1800s. This was a momentous step for black Americans in revealing the parts of American history that are left out of textbooks. While this is a great event in history, one can see from the collections of the exhibit that the standards of white society, in the 1920s, put on black individuals are still prevalent in modern culture.
Within the collection there are two coin banks sculpted into the form of a black “Mammy,” who is depicted as a maid and caretaker. Black women after the abolition of slavery were labeled as either, a jezebel or a mammy. After being freed from one type of enslavement, they were shackled to the stereotypes created and enforced by white America. These labels for African American women continue to flourish in modern day America, prevailing Du Bois’ notion of double consciousness, which showcases the black, female community’s struggle with knowing their true identity.
The view of black women as “Mammies” is enduring in the current generation because the maple syrup company, Aunt Jemima, continues to use the stereotypical black “Mammy” as the face of their company. Black women’s identities continue to be defined by the paradigms of past and present white American society. Additionally, in the museum they have a picture of a black women as a cabaret strip dancer. Since white males no longer had easy access to rape black women after slavery, they labeled black women as jezebels to deface their image instead of their own. The overly sexualized image of black women has been everlasting in modern society through making them over utilize sex appeal within music videos and media. Therefore, from the various collections at the Museum of African American History, one can appreciate that the notion of double consciousness becomes increasingly prevalent in showing the black individual’s struggle of identity.
A significant piece of work that greatly affects black women’s struggle of identity is Harris-Perry’s, Sister Citizen. Within the book, she conceptualizes that black women are misrecognized while they endeavor to stay upright in a “crooked room” surrounded by stereotypes. Harris-Perry’s notion that “black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion” of the “crooked room” staggeringly compares to W. E. B.
Du Bois’ concepts of double consciousness and the veil. Harris-Perry uses a multitude of techniques from statistics to personal experiences to various examples of American literature within her book. The use of such techniques demonstrates that the standards of white America affect the instances in which black women are identified by society as well as the instances in which they identify themselves. This further showcases black women’s struggle of identity that is perpetuated by the paradigms of modern America. Therefore, “by studying the lives of black women” Harris-Perry showcases the difficulty of a black woman to shake off stereotypes and find her identity.
Similarly, Du Bois’ idea of the veil demonstrates white America’s opposition to accept the black community as equal American citizens or human beings as well as the black community’s resistance to deconstruct the expectations and archetypes of white American society. At a young age, Du Bois realized that he was seen as “a problem” in the eyes of the white community just because the color of his skin was different than what white people deemed to be acceptable. He tried to understand why God made him “an outcast and a stranger in own house. ” In succession, Du Bois faced rejection of equality from a white individual while at the same time questioning his self-worth according to the standards of white America.
Furthermore, Du Bois’ notion of the veil can be compared to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s influential piece of literature, Americanah. Throughout her novel, she greatly succeeds in showcasing the black individual’s struggle with identity and society’s perpetuation of this struggle through the occurrence of racism. Through the main character Ifemelu’s life as a Nigerian woman who migrates to America and then ultimately returns after thirteen years to Nigeria, one can see her internal struggle of belonging and alienation. Before her journey within the United States, Ifemelu has no knowledge regarding the concept of race. While those of lighter skin in Nigeria were treated slightly better, there was no real distinction between races. Similarly, black women did not struggle with identity before slavery brought forth the stereotypes of African American women.
Ifemelu “did not think of as black, only became black when came to America. ” Consequently, this will always be the first distinction white America will make in regards to Ifemelu. Neither her intellect, nor her personality, nor her values will be the determination of who Ifemelu is as a person, but the color of her skin will enduringly be the judge of that. Ifemelu’s black identity in the United States is a direct consequence of the obvious and elusive stereotyping she experiences at the hands of white individuals. Ifemelu is constantly being judged for the sole reason that she is black.
Thus, neither her intelligence nor her moral character will ever make a difference to white individuals as long as the color of her skin stays a darker shade than that of their own. Although “race matter because of racism,” racism is not just a binary concept; it is not just a cut and paste topic. Rather, it is a multifarious, multifaceted problem that continues to affect the black women’s struggle with identity on a daily basis. The recurring description of Ifemelu as black further demonstrates how racism undermines the confidence she has in herself. She is a particularly strong woman who knows her self-worth and beauty.
Henceforth, through the everyday subtleties associated with acts of racism, Adichie showcases its lasting effects within Ifemelu’s internal conflicts of self-doubt. Once again, the struggle of identity in Americanah is akin to Du Bois’ notion, where the African American community changes their outward appearance and behaviors to conform to the standards of white Americans.