By Laraib Asim
Throughout American history, the Black community has endured hardships and continues to face hardships. This hardship was the topic of discussion spoken with Zeta Phi Beta sorority’s “When They See Her” event held Feb. 26 in Yokum 202. The event looked at the stereotypes surrounding Black women and girls.
“This event is meant to highlight the experiences of Black women and when people see Black people, what they think,” said Erolyn Leitch, a SUNY Plattsburgh senior who hosted the event.
The events provide an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in understanding culture in the Black community and discussing important topics relating to their experiences.
“It’s good to hear other peoples experiences and it’s good to share [our experiences],” said Sherlese Stephen, a SUNY Plattsburgh student.
The event kicked off with an entrancing 5-minute video clip of Ernestine Johnson’s poetry called “The average black girl.” The poetry highlighted harmful stereotypes that affect Black women.
Common stereotypes about Black women is that they can be aggressive, loud and promiscuous. Those present at the event unanimously agreed that this is a huge misunderstanding that stems from misinterpreting women when they stand up and passionately advocate for themselves.
An attendee stated that throughout history, Black people were subjected to discrimination; women had to learn how to stand up for their rights unlike white women who did not have to struggle the way a black woman did.
Leitch mentioned that girls are over-sexualized from young ages and told to cover up in the presence of males. Many women expressed the difficulties of dealing with uncomfortable and aggressive advances that men would often make toward them.
An attendee talked about an experience where she and her housemate were accused of stealing from Walmart because of a technical issue at the self checkout. Women shared stories of being followed around in stores. Many of the women connected with these stories of micro-aggressions acted toward them because of their race.
Leitch talked about an instance of micro-aggression as a cashier at PetSmart. An old white man instructed his dog to not “bother the help” when the dog was jumping excitedly because of the treats under the counter.
“That was the first time I had a racial incident happen to me,” Leitch said. “It made me really angry. I don’t show my anger, especially not in customer service, so I didn’t say anything.”
On a separate instance, Leitch said that when applying for jobs, she would purposely not declare her ethnicity. The agreement of the crowd indicated that she was not the only one to use this tactic as a measure to avoid being discriminated against.
Another topic of discussion was how Black people talk. African-American Vernacular English is the term that describes the cultural slangs and the different accents that Black communities have. In a separate interview, Leitch talked about how the American society does not deem AAVE to be “proper,” which is why children would be told to talk properly in a seemingly European style of speaking. Oftentimes, Black women receive the “compliment” that they speak well, which is another micro-aggression that states that their vernacular is not proper or correct. This leads to women adopting numerous accents that they would speak in, depending on the audience they are surrounded by.
“I think there is a fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation. You can appreciate somebody’s culture because you are an outsider and just praise that, but when you appropriate what they do it’s really disrespectful,” Stephen said. “People try to belittle the AAVE language so that it’s not valid anymore.”
The meeting ended with a quick discussion of how useful and necessary this event was although many expressed their disappointment over the fact that people of other cultures did not show up.