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Are black men dressed as women just a drag?

April 23, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( Demeaning images of black women didn’t begin with those conjured by the words of disgraced shock jock Don Imus.

There’s the rap music industry — the new focus of public ire — and a decades-long history of black men dressing in drag to portray loud, offensive and usually dark-skinned and obese black women.

On television, Flip Wilson’s sassy Geraldine Jones had audiences laughing in the ’70s. In the ’90s, there was Jamie Foxx’s cockeyed, man-chasing Wanda Wayne on “In Living Color” and Martin Lawrence’s sarcastic, ghetto-fabulous Sheneneh Jenkins on his sitcom “Martin.”

In recent years, the silver screen has brought negative stereotypical images of black women to a wider audience. Mr. Lawrence has played Big Momma twice in movies named after the stubborn, feisty matriarch, and Eddie Murphy’s latest black female impersonation is the super-sized, mean-spirited Rasputia in “Norbit.”

Meanwhile, Tyler Perry has adapted his popular stage plays featuring Madea Simmons to cinema. Madea may be considered benign alongside the current man-as-black-woman images, but the God-fearing grandma is still a fat, gun-toting cusser.

African-American women, says black author Jill Nelson, are fed up and must speak up with their wallets.

“These images of us aren’t rooted in reality but are exaggerated, demeaning composites,” she writes in the May issue of Essence magazine. “When did it become acceptable to mock hefty brown-skinned women and exalt light-skinned women with thighs the diameter of a wrist?

“It’s time for those of us in the vast middle to say ‘Enough!’ We should demand with our purchasing power at the box office and in the marketplace that black women be portrayed in all our shapes, sizes and colors, not as stereotypes. It’s the 21st century and past time for us to reclaim our images.”

By LaMont Jones

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