While discussing The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of Black women (See Headliner, Page 8) with a friend of mine, she repeated a comment on the subject from a friend of hers: “We’re the most studied group of women.” That gave me pause. When our conversation ended, I reflected on portrayals of Black women, individually or as a group, in the last year. Two immediately came to mind: New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor’s angry-Black-woman portrayal of First Lady Michelle Obama in her book, The Obamas; and the long-suffering-nanny image, brilliantly rendered by Viola Davis, in The Help, last summer’s chick flick based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett. Stockett, a graduate of Jackson Preparatory School, at the time, Jackson, Mississippi’s most exclusive private all-white school, was raised by an African-American domestic worker.
The Internet coughed up more portrayals. There was Boston University School of Public Health’s “Black Women Health Study”: higher rates of hypertension, breast cancer at young ages, diabetes, stroke, lupus…. The London School of Economics and Political Science psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa’s thesis posted on Psychology Today’s website under his headline “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive than Other Women.” His answer: Black women on average have more testosterone than women of other races. The global outrage was so volcanic that Psychology Today obliterated the post. In Europe, Women Entrepreneurs UK offers this: “Various changes in the female equation have taken place throughout the UK in recent history, where black women are concerned. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has seen several such positive trends in the favor of black women in general and black women entrepreneurs in particular. They point out the inclusion of two black women in the Cabinet. They also mention the Baroness (Patricia) Scotland and the Attorney General being black women, which has definitely bolstered the presence of other women in the community.”
I recalled lessons at school in colonial British Guiana about the market women of Ghana — positive images — and sure enough, the Internet showed me Market Women, Black Women Entrepreneurs: Past, Present, and Future, by Cheryl Ann Smith, published in Britain in 2005 by Greenwood Press. Smith, a Black woman, documents how women of the African Diaspora have engaged in economic and leadership activities throughout the course of history; how women’s entrepreneurship flourished in the ancient kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and the Songhay.
And then I set about editing the profiles, published in the pages that follow, of the 14th annual class of TNJ’s 25 Influential Black Women in Business. Here, like Smith, we speak for ourselves.
Profiles by Ann Brown, Bernita Dorch, Renee Flagler, Janelle Gordon, Nafisa Rachid, Bevolyn Williams-Harold