Studies (and experience) Show Black Men Benefit and Lose by Conforming to Stereotypes while Black Women Always Lose

1950harlemdebutantecotiIn two separate studies, Megan Holland and  Simone Ipsa-Landa examined the experiences of Black boys and girls who participated in diversity programs (LINK to brief Holland article and LINK to original journal article; Link to Ipsa-Landa Abstract, no free full text). The kids in the programs were bussed to predominantly White suburban schools. During interviews with the students the boys reported positive experiences and that they fit in at the schools, they were called “cool” and “tough”, and they dated the White girls. Unfortunately, the girls reported that they did not fit in at the schools and were called “loud” and “aggressive” and neither Black nor White boys dated them.  Dressing and embracing hip hop helped the boys but made students think the girls were “ghetto”.

I think that this article on Huffington Post explains it best (the research is also being discussed on Clutch). If you are a Black person entering a majority-White environment, it may make Black men seem “cool” and “tough” if they keep some of their “hood attitude”. This may make them attractive friends for boys and attractive partners to girls who like those traits in boys. However, some people may expect other stereotypes to be true. For instance, some may expect these same boys to be unintelligent, have criminal backgrounds, have access to illegal drugs, gang connections, and be willing to do criminal acts. The boys may also benefit from the stereotype of Black male prowess in bed that they LOVE to perpetuate. By conforming to these stereotypes they confirm to non-Black people that Black boys/men tend to be the same and that the stereotypes are true. So Black boys/men can win and lose from perpetuating stereotypes among White folks. They benefit and lose by conforming to BM stereotypes and stereotypes of masculinity.  Boys and girls rewarded them for conforming to stereotypes.

If you notice in the studies, the boys chose to “code switch”  (i.e., tone down their behavior and at more like the people around them at the moment). But the girls did not change themselves and “kept it real” or expected others to accept them as they were. Well, the girls’ expectations were not fulfilled and people just decided not to accept them. From the journal article:

I use Blau’s (1960:546) theory of social integration as it focuses on the individual-level processes that create social bonds within groups and help individuals form a cohesive social structure. He conceptualizes social integration as a process whereby individuals must make themselves attractive to a larger group and at the same time approachable [emphasis added]. Higher social status usually makes an individual more attractive; however, in making oneself attractive, one can also be seen as unapproachable. Blau discusses how using a self-deprecating modesty can make one more approachable [emphasis added].”

In contrast to Black boys/men, Black girls/women always lose when they conform to Black stereotypes in White environments. Having an attitude, not smiling, being loud, acting too sexy, and being aggressive may be expected, accepted, and common in all-Black environments, but these behaviors are not common in White environments. Not only are these traits unpopular and uncommon among non-Black girls but non-Black girls, non-Black boys, AND Black boys think these behaviours are unattractive and “ghetto”. Hip hop did nothing to improve the girls’ popularity or enhance their femininity. This means that girls who do not know how to “code-switch” will have trouble making friends and dating in such environments. These girls would benefit more from purposefully NOT conforming to BW stereotypes and instead conforming to stereotypes of femininity. Girls and boys punished them for conforming to Black stereotypes.

Now wait a minute! I’m not blaming the girls or the boys for this. This is just the way things worked out and no one knew beforehand what would happen. The girls probably thought they would fit in and didn’t have to change. In society we are given conflicting messages: Message A is you are great just the way you are, don’t ever change yourself to fit in or get others to like you, there will always be people who don’t like you, don’t pay attention to what others are doing etc. Message B is that there are numerous products, books, coaches, techniques, talk shows, and therapists that can help you improve yourself and adjust to life so you can make friends and find love, because unless you have certain characteristics, you will not be accepted as much as you would like. Furthermore, there are known things that increase your chances of being liked, these things will help you in all aspects of life, and you can buy, earn, or learn these things. The girls chose Message A. The boys also didn’t know if changing their behaviour would help them to fit in. Maybe they didn’t have to change but they chose Message B and their gamble worked.

Wait another minute! A major reason why the boys were accepted was due to their choice to participate in sports. Sports gained them popularity in the school and allowed them to bond with other schoolmates. The girls did not participate in sports or activities that would have given them popularity or a chance to bond with other girls. The boys’ parents also allowed them to spend time overnight at other boys’ houses but the girls’ parents were protective and did not allow their daughters to do the same thing. Maybe if the girls were involved in more activities then they would have had better experiences. But note from the journal article, “minority girls may be less likely to join high-status girls’ sports, such as cheerleading, because they are so strongly associated with white girls”. Girls are also different from boys and there are a lot of “Mean Girls” out there today who will crucify girls who do not have a certain look or base their worth and the worth of others on how much they are liked by boys. Many of you may have had similar experiences. What do you think?

P.S. It is interesting to note that in this case, it is the White males who appear to be less racist and more accepting of boys who are not White. It is the White females who are less willing to accept girls who are not White. Again, this may be due to lack of bonding experiences for the girls. But it does seem as though Black men could have a better relationship with White men if they wanted to. Black women don’t need to go out of their way protecting Black men because they have their own inroads and networking to deal with. But on the bright side the study mentioned, “Studies in the workplace have found that African American females are better able to cross cultural boundaries than males as they are less threatening (Epstein 1973).” Black men may not benefit in the long run. It may be a blow to black girls’ self-esteem in school but adulthood lasts longer and that may be more positive for Black women.

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