By Jack Jeffrey
Wednesday night, led by Egeria Koehn-Cooper and the Student Society for Bridging Diversity (SSBD), around 70 zoom participants gathered together to discuss stereotypes about Black women and how the perception can be changed in society.
The discussion was part of the week’s ongoing SEAT at the Table events.
The board members introduced themselves by reciting their role in SSBD, their major, their year, and finally, by saying “my pronouns are she, her, and hers.”
A major focus for Koehn-Cooper and the Board was hair. “Most things in our Black culture come from our ancestors, our hair is our crown,” said Koehn-Cooper.
All of the board members, as well as some virtual attendees, recited some of the unique struggles and challenges they’ve faced with their own hair.
Jasmine Hastings, Secretary of SSBD, spoke on her experience. “I’ve had family members, if I tell them I have an event to go to, the first thing they say is what are you doing to your hair? I don’t have to straighten my hair, I don’t have to appeal to the regular image or whatever image society deems as normal or acceptable.”
The board members also emphasized how influential Black women in pop culture have been. Hastings face lit up, talked about African American singer/songwriter, Solange.
“She’s one of the first people that comes to my mind. She had a song called ‘Don’t Touch My Hair,’ which is something a lot of people try to do to Black women. I just love that.”
Another eye opening topic the SSBD focused on was the Jezebel stereotype. Most of the audience was unfamiliar with this particular stereotype as a number of “No’s” flooded the Zoom chat.
“The Jezebel stereotype means that white people, white men particularly, see Black women as hypersexual and always sexually available,” said Koehn-Cooper.
The topic promoted some discussion amongst audience members and gave people an opportunity to speak on how they view, not only the Jezebel stereotype, but Black women in general.
Charisse DelVecchio, an audience member and Springfield College’s 20/20 vision leader, said “I know that working in the school system a lot of the times, Black moms are not treated very well by particularly white school staff. There is this implicit bias, racism, fear that they will be angry or won’t communicate well with the school staff and that creates a huge disconnect between the teachers and those Black mothers.”
As the meeting progressed, the atmosphere became more uplifting and connected. Audience members went back and forth with the SSBD board members on their ‘Black girl magic moments.’
“A moment for me was when my mom decided to shave her head,” said SSBD Public Relations Officer Nia Greenidge. “A lot of the time, beauty is your hair for women in general, but especially Black women. She struggled with it for years and years and years. She was so nervous to how she would look without hair. She finally shaved it off and everybody loved it, she loved it, and she has never decided to grow it back.”
Koehn-Cooper also noted some of the influence her mom has had on her. “My mom has always worked for important causes in the nonprofit world, from women to fair housing, to marginalized populations like the homeless and folks in recovery and is now working in the educational equity movement. She taught me to have the voice that I have.”
One of the final stereotypes the board focused on was Black women not being able to be “nerdy” or “whimsical.” The board shed light on the fact that there aren’t many Black characters in anime shows and that that may be a big factor as to why those stereotypes exist.
“I have a younger cousin who is African American and Puerto Rican,” said Koehn-Cooper. And she is so into anime, but she is so shy and nervous to tell people her love for it because she feels like most of her friends aren’t into it and they’ll look at her weird for liking it.”
Koehn-Cooper and the board wrapped up the event by acknowledging some of their biggest influences, most of which were family members, and smiles snuck onto the faces of not only the audience members, but the SSBD board members too.
Comments such as “Well done ladies” and “So proud” compiled in the chat in what was essentially a virtual standing ovation. A plethora of emails were exchanged as audience members looked to get involved and thanked the SSBD.
Graphic Courtesy of Jack Margaros