It is gospel, backed up statistically, that when a black girl squares up against a girl from, well, any other race (except the Russians, too cold to flinch really, numbed reflexes maybe), the other girl will back off and most probably turn and run. In London, I see it everywhere- women on buses and very often men in the street will cower like backed-up quarry when a black girl raises her voice; girls on reality TV shows on the much-revered BET channel know what time it is when a weave-haired black girl utters the immortal lines “Oh no, she di’n’t” with appropriate glottal stops; and people everywhere are aware that the aphorism “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” has been modified for the purposes of racial neutrality. The correct expression, “Hell hath no fury like a (black) woman scorned” is the one more enshrined in public consciousness.
As a part-time anthropologist, I have always wondered at this behavioural quirk in my sistuhs everywhere. Where did it all start, is the pertinent question? I have searched high and low for an answer that is logically and anecdotally satisfying, scoured all the relevant research on the subject (Please see Winnie Mandela’s memoirs for facts and figures). I even spend a lot of time in social sampling. Without making it too obvious, I pose the question to black women everywhere to guage their response, maybe to gain some first-hand insight from the horse’s mouth (please my sistuhs, the reference is purely idiomatic). The question is: Why are black women so damn dangerous?
I try to watch at least five movies a week. In frenzied times, because I have the movie bug and I have it badIy I will watch in excess of seven movies in a Christian week, working out at more than one a day. This means that unavoidably I will stumble across old classics, new revelations and some week-ruining events (I hope I never get to meet whomever made that film You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, because I will try to speak my mind but all that will come out is puke). Happily, I stumbled onto the 1997 hit movie Set It Off by F. Gary Gray in the last week. This movie is one that all my friends were talking about when we were waiting to hit puberty and we spent our time idolising people who spoke their minds and displayed contempt for society. Those girls, Vivica Fox, Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett with their foul mouths and foul attitudes were the epitome of a form of delinquency, if I may call it that, that was intoxicating at the time.
Fox has since gone on to fade into legend, Queen Latifah has matured into an Oscar-Winning maternal sort of actress, and Jada Pinkett still makes a living out of a tight butt and a tight mouth. But with that 90s movie, they gave black girls everywhere the boldness, the craziness, the blank canvas to paint out a vision of aggressive resourcefulness that continues to be replicated from the streets of Surulere to the projects of New York City. Vivica Fox who plays ‘Frankie’ degenerates from a gentle pleading bank teller to a die-hard (in every sense of the word) bank robber before our dangling eyes. Jada Pinkett, who had the guts to carry the name ‘Stony’, is oiling up her boyfriend’s back in one scene and popping caps in asses the next. All the while, they are talking smack like WWE goons without giving a *&%! who is listening in.
Of course back then, young as we were, nobody really paid much attention to the main theme of fighting a system that agitated the poor and a police force so ruthless they did not think twice about wasting a blameless, unarmed teenage boy while looking for somebody completely different, all because they both shared a similar haircut. We didn’t care about those serious motifs that set the tone for the violence and the oppressed response of these women. All we cared about was that Queen Latifah (as ‘Cleo’) was strutting about in a vest totting Smith & Wesson pistols and trash talking the hell out of everyone in close contact with the air she breathed. I know guys who wanted to be Cleo then. For goodness’ sake I still know guys who want to be Cleo, even if they won’t admit it.
Now, black women the world over have the right to roll up their sleeves and use the precedent set by these imaginary characters to their advantage. I have seen big men, over six fet of muscle-bound menace, shrink away from a black woman’s fast-clicking tongue (I am not referring to myself here people). Just two weeks ago, a black girl, all five-foot-nothing of her was squared up to a man twice her size in front of a departing train at Waterloo underground station. Violence radiated from her eyes: The gentleman had somehow fallen backwards off the train as the doors shut, taking her with him, and she was letting him know just how small she thought his winky was and what she planned to do with it if he did not skedaddle. The man would have crushed her. She did not care. He walked away, with a tremor in his knees.
And Hollywood remains faithful to this impression of the black woman- brash, unrestrained and ready to pick a fight at any given time. Just see the Scary Movie franchise if you need a black female stereotype update, or go ahead and watch the MTV show, I Love New York. If not I can give you mobile numbers for some of my friends, who will educate you, accordingly.
Nigerian women, who have all the copyrights and patents filed under “I don’t care if I am under duress, I must be true to my tongue”, may argue that Set It Off has nothing to do with it. Years of heat and sweat have congealed into a thick caustic paste that flies out, pepper-hot, with every word they utter. But we must all admit that that film had a lot to do with it, even if it only institutionalised the vehemence.
Ah, now I remember this started out as a movie review. Seven stars out of ten for Set It Off, which is one of those films I think would have been classic but for the predominantly black cast and the Thelma & Louise- esque feel to it. The story, though hackneyed, is fully-realised and the acting is taut. More importantly you feel the emotion, you feel it as if you’re right there with them in midtown LA, and you get caught up in each and every character. I appreciate cinema like that. Most of all you come away satisfied at the resolution of the question that everyone of us has asked at some point in our lives. Yeah, go ahead and blame ‘Stony’ and ‘Cleo’ and ‘Frankie’ (not so much ‘Titi’).