I recently went to Las Vegas for a business conference. As I walked through the prestigious casino, I quickly felt lustful eyes on me, a feeling that I once felt 20 years ago as a prostitute. I thought to myself, How can I feel this way? I’m dressed up in a conservative manner. I’m educated with a graduate degree and years of corporate experience and now I’m a CEO. Knowing my truth, I asked a young man about the lustful stares. He explained to me that because I’m black and walking through the casino, I’m thought to be a prostitute. He continued but his words were drowned out by my father’s voice spoken over me when I was young, “You look like a prostitute.”
The following week I went out to a movie and as I waited for my movie to start, I sat at the bar deciding what to get from the happy hour menu. I asked two white men next to me what was good on the menu.
We had small talk and then one man said to me, “What’s your deal?”
I said, “Huh?”
He said, “What’s your angle? Why are you in this part of town?” He giggled with his partner and then said, “My partner wants you to suck his dick.”
I said, “I’m not a prostitute.”
He said, “Well I thought you were since you were in this part of town.”
I took note of the area that I was in. It was a predominantly white neighborhood, just like where the prestigious hotel and casino had been. All I could hear this time louder were the words from my father, “You look like a prostitute.” My dad’s words made me question my identity as a little black girl and now these two situations made me question it again. In my mind, I held stereotypes about the little white girls living their childhoods as princesses, playing tea party 7 days a week, since for me it was a different reality. It wasn’t until Bill Cosby’s TV show aired in 1984 that I saw another view – I never saw Bill Cosby abuse his on-screen daughter Vanessa or call her a prostitute. He was a black man that cherished his wife and loved his family, especially his daughters. No matter how beautiful the image was that Bill Cosby showed every Thursday night, that was neither my reality nor many other little black girls’ realities either.
A false stereotype of black woman being devalued continues to linger still today that attaches a for sale sign to our backs. A hidden tragedy of stereotypes and perceptions traces back to slavery when black women were considered property and because of it were legally raped. I don’t blame my father, in general people, make decisions based on learned behavior or what is perceived from the past to be true about themselves and others, and in turn reflect their belief on to their children and society–feeding racism and prostitution in America today.