Myths and Ms. Divine Brown

July 12, 1995|By Rhonda Chriss Lokeman

IF IT'S true what's been said of British actor Hugh Grant, that he allegedly solicited a Hollywood hooker and that he did so TTC because he always wanted to be with a black woman, then the British actor perpetuated and succumbed to some old and familiar stereotypes about race and sex.

This is the 1990s, not the 1950s, and interracial relationships are much more common, open and acceptable these days. (Ever hear of Iman and that rocker chap David Bowie? They're Mr. and Mrs.)

Rather than have a consensual relationship with an African-American woman, as he does with his Caucasian model-girlfriend in Britain, Mr. Grant was arrested for allegedly seeking a quickie from an African-American pay-per-view purveyor of favors and perhaps under the notion that sex with an African-American woman is naughtier than with a Caucasian woman.

And, well, paying for it makes it all the more wicked, doesn't it? Add on the risk factor of relations in a public place and, well, you're good to go, right? You bet! That is, until a cop shines a flashlight on you and you get busted, as happened to Mr. Grant and Divine Brown along Sunset Boulevard.

Divine Brown was what police called "a known prostitute." However, the stereotype of the slutty black woman has dogged many a respectable African-American woman who would no more get into a car with a stranger, BMW or not, than she would copulate with one, even the star of an overhyped mediocre film such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral."

The myth of the slutty African-American woman is much older than young Mr. Grant, 34. This mythology is even older than the Rolling Stones.

African-American women have the Stones to thank for suggestive lyrics in the 1970s that got some young white men all hot and bothered about wanting to be with black women. The Stones offered lyrics to the effect of "black girls" wanting to "[expletive deleted] all night." Well, that's just the sort of insight to pique a young man's interest in cross-racial relations, isn't it? And the Stones, who had traveled in and out of black circles throughout their career, who had toured with leggy Tina Turner, post-Ike and still shimmying, ought to know whereof they spoke, right? Not necessarily. Mick and the boys were selling records, at the expense of African-American women, that's all.

But what is a young man to do if Mum and Dad wouldn't approve of one's dating a woman of another race, particularly one who is African-American? Sneak around, pay for it, or, as happened during slavery, expropriate one.

In "Black Women in White America: A Documentary History," edited by Gerda Lerner, (Vintage, 1973), this subject is addressed in the chapter "Black Women Are Sex Objects." Ms. Lerner draws from a 1904 article in "The Independent," a national magazine, under the title, "The Race Problem -- An Autobiography" by "A Southern Colored Woman."

"It is commonly said that no girl or woman receives a certain kind of insult unless she invites it. That does not apply to a colored girl and woman in the South. The color of her face alone is sufficient invitation to the Southern white man -- these same men who profess horror that a white gentleman can entertain a colored one at his table. Out of sight of their own women they are willing and anxious to entertain colored women in various ways.

"Few colored girls reach the age of 16 without receiving advances from them -- maybe from a young 'upstart,' and often from a man old enough to be their father, a white-haired veteran of sin. Yes, and men high in position, whose wives and daughters are leaders of society. I have had a clerk in a store hold my hand as I gave him the money for some purchase and utter some vile request."

Ms. Lerner, in the chapter "The Myth of the 'Bad' Black Woman," wrote, "After slavery ended, the sexual exploitation of black women continued, in both the North and the South, although in different form and with somewhat greater risk to the white man involved. To sustain it, in the face of nominal freedom of black men, a complex system of supportive mechanisms and sustaining myths was created. By assuming a different level of sexuality for all blacks than that of whites and mythifying their greater sexual potency, the black woman could be made to personify sexual freedom and abandon.

"A myth was created that all black women were eager for sexual exploits, voluntarily 'loose' in their morals and, therefore, deserved none of the consideration and respect granted to white women."

Not all Caucasians perpetuate this myth about African-American women. The myth isn't always used to protect the status of white men, either. Professor Anita Hill's moral character was called into question in order that Clarence Thomas could assume a seat on the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, some African-American women gladly exploit this myth, themselves and also other women of color. For example, there's a rap group called Hos With Attitude. (Scantily clad and posing on pool tables, HWA members dedicated an album to God.) Heaven help us!

Los Angeles police viewed Mr. Grant and Ms. Brown, both of whom were arrested and charged, as partners in crime. Ms. Brown allegedly is employed in the oldest profession. Mr. Grant, in choosing her, may have practiced one of the oldest biases. The blacker the berry, as they say.

Rhonda Chriss Lokeman is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

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