Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Confinement Too Costly for Middle-Class Black Women

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Confinement Too Costly for Middle-Class Black Women

Article excerpt

When Dr. Lisa B. Thompson names modern women who fit the iconic Black lady" mold--Coretta Scott King, Anita Hill, Condoleezza Rice and Michelle Obama --you know exactly whom she is trying to liberate. Chances are your mother played this role. You probably do, too, if you are a Black woman involved in higher education.

It is time for middle-class Black women to break the mold, Thompson argues in her book, "Beyond the Black Lady, Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class" (New Black Studies Series), University of Illinois Press. Being this "lady" is not all it is cracked up to be. The role is far too confining, and it comes at the high cost of denying any claim to what she calls "sexual agency." Such women do so in a valiant effort to "uplift the face" by countering intractable stereotypes of Black women as "promiscuous, seductive and sexually irresponsible," she writes.

To pull it off, they "have to be so morally upright they are almost inhuman," she tells Diverse.

A native of San Francisco, Thompson is an associate professor of English at the University at Albany. She earned a doctorate in modern thought in literature at Stanford University, a master's in African-American studies and a bachelor's in English, both at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her book, released in July, follows her two-woman, comic play "Single Black Female," which had a successful and warmly received run off-Broadway last June. The play emerged as a kind of alter ego to her doctoral research on sexuality in African-American literature about the Black middle class. This book expands on her dissertation.

Although less familiar to some than the Mammy and Jezebel caricatures often ascribed to Black women, the prim, proper, stoic bearer of standards for the race is no less a stereotype, a staple in the media and the arts. …

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