Can White Women “get” Mo’Nique?

By Jean Mavrelis - 11.02.2009

Kathy Hughes asked Mo’Nique if she ever gets accused of playing to stereotypes of Black women – what in my day we called the “Sapphire” image.   Mo’nique said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Are there Black doctors and lawyers, yes, and they’re beautiful, and the sister in the projects with a head scarf and flip flops and gold teeth is beautiful, too.  Why can’t we have a whole range of characters?”

Mo’nique wants to “bring respect to women sometimes considered outsiders…  continues Mo\’Nique, \”Unfortunately, we live in a place that\’s taken that right from people.  \’You\’re too fat.  You\’re too black.  You\’re too short.  You\’re too white.\’  And they take the right from people, and people don\’t realize they can say, \”Can\’t give you that one.  I might have one leg and three eyes and two left toes, but I can\’t give you that one.\”

Mo’Nique represents for the archetypal community Black woman.  For me, she’s kind of a Roseanne Barr counterpart in that she represents for the blue collar woman.

However, I’m not sure people outside the Black community, by and large, are familiar enough with community African Americans to laugh “with” the character rather than “at” her.  For example, when Mo’Nique is upset with her daughter in the sitcom “the Parkers”, does her style conjure up, for outsiders, something akin to the Ricky Ricardo rants of the I Love Lucy Show?  Our Latino colleague, Ilya, used to say that the laugh track on I love Lucy didn’t work in Cuba because Ricky getting upset with Lucy wasn’t as funny there as the ridiculous things Lucy did.

Latinas get stereotyped as Sabado Gigante types, and Asian women suffer from being “exotic”. Other women of color are hardly represented at all.  Although white women are also stereotyped, and they have a narrower range of “types” to play in movies than white men do, they still have more roles to play than women of color have.

Black people have more familiarity with White people than vice versa.  As my colleague Ken says, Black people have worked for white people for a long time, and worked for them up close in their homes, but white people don’t know Black people welI. When women of color see Roseanne, they know she is one style of white woman. When outsiders see Mo’Nique, is the same thing true?

Come on ladies (and gentlemen if you dare) let’s talk about this.  The question is in the title.

Tribal Stereotypes

By Thomas Kochman - 06.18.2009

The column by Brent Staples titled Even Now, There’s Risk in ‘Driving While Black’ , The New York Times June 14, 2009 is a good reminder that profiling and stereotypes of African Americans, especially black men, endure, notwithstanding the election of an African American president.  In fact, it has been long held by black men — especially those that have reached celebrity status—that the white public views their success as exceptional: as reflecting upon individual achievement but not upon an African American, or member of group, achievement.

This persistence of these attitudes toward a group notwithstanding, the success of individuals from that group raises the question of what it would take for stereotypes of the group to change?  And if many individual successes as members of a group are ultimately what it takes, how long before that happens?
Tribal stereotypes prevail in the corporate workplace too, as we document in our book Corporate Tribalism.  In our diversity training, we often talk about the challenges individuals from various groups face because of views of them as members of a group, and not just as individuals. We pose the question, “If you just became manager of a new work group what do you think you might specially have to prove above and beyond what everyone might have to prove?” The different responses that we get from different groups speak directly to stereotypes that exist about that group. Read more »