Shadows follow you everywhere; there is no way to get rid of them unless you get rid of all light. My piece titled Shadows, discusses the complexities of the Black identity, specifically the Black woman, who lives with the tethered existence of stereotypes that exist and function as a shadow. Each figure has an opposite or a shadow that is represented by four stereotypes; the Angry Black Woman, the Jezebel, the Mammy and the Welfare Queen, through Blackface masks.
The Angry Black Woman
The symbolism of this mask points at the depiction of the irate and irrational Black woman when expressing intense emotions regardless of if the reaction is fitting or not. In the center of the forehead is the profile of “Jim Crow” representing the era in which the depiction of the Angry Black Woman was popularized as Black women and men began to challenge the oppressive system born of slavery. The Jewels placed on the face are Sapphires, which was another term used in alignment with the Angry Black woman character. Stemming from the show Amos 'n Andy that had a character by the name of Sapphire Stevens who was known to be sassy, rude, loud, etc. and constantly berating her husband. The beard represents the often masculinized view of the Black woman opposite that of the cherished and pure White woman.
The Welfare Queen
The Welfare queen is often shown as a money hungry parasite leaching off of government funded programs meant to support struggling women, children, families etc. Which is represented through the parasitic head form of the mask including the sharp penetrative teeth. The welfare queen took popularity during the Reagan era. Often showing what might be described as ghetto urban black woman having children in order to reap the benefits of government assistance. Large gold hoop earrings are often associated with ghetto or urban style and imagery. Therefore they were used to depict the Black stereotype of the welfare queen.
The Jezebel mask is meant to show the hyper-sexualized view of the Black woman, with large full lips and seductive cat like eyes, the Jezebel has a continuously unfulfilled sexual appetite. Shown in the sexualized facial features and the sex symbol placed on the forehead. The horns are reminiscent of the Rams head often associated satanic beliefs as the Jezebel was often viewed as unsacred and associated with paganism. Line marks on the mask represent the rapings of Black women who were often victimized under the guise that black women could not be raped due to the fact that they were always looking for sex. The beard is also a depiction of masculinity due to the fact that the Jezebel was associated with men due to the high uncontrollable sex drive.
The Mammy is one of the most well-known and popularized depictions of the Black woman. Mainly associated with being a wholesome caretaker, whose life revolved around the white family. Depicted through the halo like dome on the mask the Mammy was often Christianly and worked hard to protect the purity of the White woman, represented floating in the halo. The Mammy was often shown as having no family of their own and if so happily put the wellbeing of their employer above their own family. Shown through the cheerful smile depicted, often being described as a second mother to the white children they cared for.
"Diamonds they shine in the dark now, Brown sugar, Black skin, Brown face, They takin' me in, what I done? Brown sugar, Black skin, Brown face, Black molasses blackbery the masses"
The Quote above is a reference to Solange's song Almeda. Which highlights the pride and love of the Black culture and community (Diamonds they shine in the dark now Brown sugar, Black skin, Brown face). However, the order and the circular cycle of the text points to the continuous cycle Black Americans often face of finding love and pride in themselves but then abruptly facing the harsh reality of the unequal treatments here in the United States (Black molasses blackbery the masses), particularly police brutality (They takin' me in, what I done?). The line Black molasses blackbery the masses, was taken from the song by Mista, Blackberry Molasses, which speaks on the hardships of the Black community.