A discussion with Ziora Ajeroh on the monolithic perception of Black people
In light of Black History Month (a.k.a the shortest month of the year), I decided to tackle a problem that has been making its rounds around the culture: the monolithic perception of Black people.. I wish I was at liberty to say that this issue limits itself within the borders of America, but it doesn’t. It is rampant, it is archaic, and absolutely arbitrary. There are over 40 million Black people in America; each one of them carry different beliefs and backgrounds.
To preface this, I am a firm believer in the goodness of advocacy and speaking out against issues that directly target and hurt marginalised communities. But I’m an even stronger believer in platforming members of said communities to talk about their problems instead of hoarding the spotlight and speaking on matters that I have absolutely no familiarity with. In order to liberate the oppressed, we have to hear from the oppressed.
For the purposes of living up to just that, I decided to get the input of a prominent Black figure in the political TikTok community. Ziora Ajeroh has been inspiringly proactive and dedicated to educating non-Black people on the topic of systemic racism, and has also hosted multiple streams committed to raising money for various charities and mutual aid funds. She is also a member of the Black Leftist Hype House, otherwise known as @youngblackleftists. In a meeting over Zoom, we discussed the problematic monolithic perception of Black people and their own personal experiences with this issue.
J: To start this off, what are some prescriptions that people make about you? What are some boxes expected of Black people to check in the context of America?
Z: It varies, definitely, when it comes to gender identity and age. From a young age, Black girls are adultified and that’s a phenomenon usually seen in the Black community. Black girls tend to be perceived 5 to ten years older than they are, and so as a result, you see a lot of these police brutality cases directly affecting the younger Black kids, because they’re seen as more dangerous than they are.
On top of that, academic spaces don’t have the capacity to acknowledge more than one intelligent or competent Black woman or femme presenting individual. I also don’t think that it’s a conscious effort from the people who perpetuate these sentiments but we’re often told things like, “You’re so smart for a black girl,” or, “You’re so pretty for a Black girl.” They say these things like it’s a novelty to see in Black women. It’s toxic and it turns into self-hate, and competition against people you should be supporting. So, that’s ingrained into the younger demographic.
As they get older, hyper-sexualisation becomes an issue. We see this in middle and high schools, with dress codes and penalties falling more heavily on Black femme-presenting kids. And when you’re thrown into college and then in the workplace, and it becomes more amplified. This, oftentimes, leads to a lot of burn-out. It’s exacerbating in Black women, and even most of these societal ailments are exacerbated by anti-Blackness.
J: What do you think about this uniform perception of older Black women? Because even I, admittedly, have contributed to it in the past. This “heartwarming” and “cozy” trope that we’ve prescribed to Black elderly women is definitely one of those stereotypes that has gone unchecked for a long time.
Z :[laughing] I’ve been waiting for this one.
J: If you had talked to me two years ago, you would’ve noticed that I did this, too. It took learning from my Black peers that this was actually a detrimental and monolithic stereotype, because what happens if this older lady doesn’t live up to that expectation? What if she’s having a bad day and, as a result, I antagonise her and people like her in my mind forever?
Z: I know what you mean. I’ve heard that it’s referred to as “mammafication.” And it stems from this idea of a nice, old, Black lady taking care of the white kids during the slavery era. Everybody loves her, but she never has autonomy of her own. She only exists to serve White people. That’s also another thing. Non-Black people tend to respect Black women more if they’re in roles of service, whether that’s comedy, comfort, food (like the lunch lady), music or anything that makes us objects of consumption. All of these tropes are respected as long as this woman shows no dissent. She’s firm when necessary, but not firm enough to threaten Whiteness. So, when Black women break that norm, it confuses White people.
J: I never thought of it in the sense that it deprives them of their autonomy. You think it’s a pretty harmless mentality, because you think you’re saying they’re nice. But we don’t call things ‘nice’ unless they serve us a purpose. It also strips them from their right to express themselves however they want.
Z: Yeah, exactly. Very monolithic in nature.
J: We don’t have to go too in-depth with this but it really is also another thing with music, isn’t it? Because you’ll have people saying that they don’t listen to “Black music,” but what is Black music? Rap? Is that all they’re known for?
Z: Right. We literally invented rock, soul, blues, jazz. And also this idea that rap is just violent is so stupid. These same people listened to rock bands in the seventies. What changed? It’s just blatant anti-Blackness at this point. They’re not even trying to hide it.
This signals the end of the discussion.
To wrap this up and give my final thoughts, here is something to think about: do we make the same prescriptions and stereotypes about white people that we do for Black people? Sure, we like to joke about how white people love pumpkin spice lattes and Sweet Caroline, but these are harmless clichés. But what about the ones we make up about Black people? How many of them are rooted in anti-Blackness and pure racism?
Black people are not a monolith. They are not objects of our consumption. They are a fully autonomous group with a diverse set of passions and personalities, and only when we acknowledge that, will we appreciate the extent of who they are.
Special thanks to Ziora for taking the time out of your day to speak on these issues and teaching us how to check ourselves to make sure we’re not perpetuating any anti-Black notions and narratives.
You can find her on TikTok as @zioraaaa.
Jazz Abraham is an Online Writer for Rowdy Magazine. She spends her days annoying her mother, crying over baby orangutans, obsessing over Brad Pitt, listening to obscure 60s rock, reading, and writing songs about things she’s never experienced. Her passions lie in film, music, the planet, and the amplification of silenced voices. You can reach out to her at @jazzabbraham on Instagram.