Binary thinking is a concept that helps to explain mammies, matriarchs, and other controlling images placed on Black female identity, (Collins, 2002). These are just a few examples of objectifying relationships. Binary relationships are present in cultural and gender stereotypes. They can be found in the media as well such as the welfare mom. Negative images and biases through objectification of negative relationships, help to define binary thinking and how it works to objectify Black female identity.
Binary thinking addresses how objects are related to each other. This includes cultural differences, relationships between social groups, and the African American female identity. Author Patrice Collin argue that by placing Black women as other, cultural differences can be used to define how things are related. It allows the individual to see both sides of a coin, both head and tails and compare the two on a spectrum of good or bad. As a result, binary concepts define the difference in oppositional terms, (Collins, 2002). Examples include, good versus bad, black versus white, rich versus poor, desirable versus undesirable. This can be used to express Black female identity. Black women are looked down upon, oppressed, and often related to objects. These objects become binary. Objects become identities that are acceptable versus unacceptable. In this way, the binary system is used to “manipulate ideas about Black womanhood… by exploiting already existing symbols, or creating new ones”, (Collins, 2002, p. 69). The root cause and support for binary thinking is objectification and domination.
Through binary systems Black women are observed as objects. Objects are things which can be used, reused, recycled, or thrown away. To observe Black women as objects is to remove them from humanity and what it means to be human. Through objectification, other people are able to take themselves out of the relationship. It becomes a way to dehumanize the subject. This is because “in binary thinking, one element is objectified as the other, and is viewed as an object to be manipulated and controlled”, (Collins, 2002, p. 70).
When considering binary systems and objectification of the African American female the common example is the word, “bitch”. This term is used on and personified by Black women. It negatively describes her attitude or behavior. A bitch is someone who talks back, is loud, feisty, or does not take no for an answer. In literal terms bitch is known as a female dog or a female dog in heat. However, the opposite of a bitch is the male stud. The stud is the man, the master, he has authority over many women, he is the bread winner, and the father. When including bitch into the rule of the binary system and objectification, the word assumes Black women as “other”. It creates a positive polar opposite for men. All the while women are viewed negatively.
This is not the only image to plague the Black female identity for centuries. Doing harm to the Black female identity is damaging. Unfortunately binary thinking of Black women continues. It shows that “domination always involves attempts to objectify the subordinate group”, (Collins, 2002, p. 71). Weather by portraying Black women as bitches, nannies, maids, poor, uneducated, ghetto, promiscuous, or single-mothers of fatherless children, Black women continue to be objectified through symbols and images or subordination and domination.
Collins, P. (2002). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. 2nd ed. Routledge Press. New York, NY.