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I polled ten men and asked them a simple question, “Are Black women intimidating?”

Three of the 10 men were Black, three were White, one identified as mixed-race (Black/White), two were Latinos and one was Asian.

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The results were as follows: One of the three Black men said “yes,” as did two of the three White men. The mixed-race guy responded with, “Sometimes.” The Latino men said, “No.” And the one Asian guy said, “Not to me. But to some men.”

As you can see, my poll was very scientific. (Sarcasm) But what I gathered from the very unscientific poll was that Black women are apparently intimidating at least some (if not most) of the time. For the record, all the men were loose acquaintances. I didn’t want to poll close friends because sometimes friends tell you what you want to hear. (Although I’m not sure what I would even want to hear in this case.)

The stereotype that Black women are intimidating is one that comes with some racialized and flat-out racist implications. Womanhood in the United States has long been defined by what is personified by middle-class White women. And so Black women’s experiences have oftentimes conflicted with the expectations of what a woman is and isn’t.

Things like we don’t smile enough, to the angry Black woman stereotype, to oversexualized Jezebel portrayals, the country’s characterization of what it means to be a Black woman has long been limited and oppressive. Black women, while maintaining their humanity, have also had to survive. And that survival in a society that has a tendency to think of us as less than, has indeed meant strength and for many of us, this is our survival.

Black women should be allowed to be complicated. And that means that we should not always feel the need to be strong. But I also do not believe that we should apologize for our strength. These are not the only two options that exist.

In the context of dating, I have found that many men (of all races) who are unfamiliar with Black women tend to view us as intimidating. It’s probably because they lead with stereotypes. And stereotypes as Chimamanda Adichie warned, “are incomplete.” To say that Black women are intimidating as a whole, is to paint us with a monolithic brush. Black women are different. Some are intimidating. And some aren’t. It’s really that simple.

But what are we to do with the stereotype? I think every individual has a responsibility, above all to be themselves. It is not every individual Black woman’s responsibility to fit a certain mold of expectations so that people no longer call us intimidating. The only thing we can do with stereotypes when we’re the victims of them is to point to how we simply do not fit the mold.

Also, what exactly does it mean to be intimidating? I have found that most of the time it’s best to only claim to know who and what people are after getting to know them and not before. From the clothes they wear, the expression you think they have on their face, and their demeanor juxtaposed to yours, you could be wrong about who you think they are.

In a society that has always tried to make Black women less than, this is especially important to remember.

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