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When Dr. Lisa B. Thompson names modern women who fit the iconic “Black lady” mold – Coretta Scott King, Anita Hill, Condoleezza Rice and Michelle Obama – you know exactly whom she is trying to liberate. Chances are your mother played this role. You probably do, too, if you are a Black woman involved in higher education.

It is time for middle-class Black women to break the mold, Thompson argues in her book, “Beyond the Black Lady, Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class” (New Black Studies Series), University of Illinois Press. Being this “lady” is not all it is cracked up to be. The role is far too confining, and it comes at the high cost of denying any claim to what she calls “sexual agency.” Such women do so in a valiant effort to “uplift the race” by countering intractable stereotypes of Black women as “promiscuous, seductive and sexually irresponsible,” she writes.

To pull it off , they “have to be so morally upright they are almost inhuman,” she tells Diverse.

A native of San Francisco, Thompson is an associate professor of English at the University at Albany. She earned a doctorate in modern thought in literature at Stanford University, a master’s in African-American studies and a bachelor’s in English, both at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her book, released in July, follows her two-woman, comic play “Single Black Female,” which had a successful and warmly received run off -Broadway last June. The play emerged as a kind of alter ego to her doctoral research on sexuality in African-American literature about the Black middle class. Th is book expands on her dissertation.

Although less familiar to some than the Mammy and Jezebel caricatures oft en ascribed to Black women, the prim, proper, stoic bearer of standards for the race is no less a stereotype, a staple in the media and the arts. “Against the backdrop of other more historically charged stereotypes, the image of a highly professional, sexually repressed Black lady may seem to be a relief, but she is an equally demeaning figure who merely adds to the litany of misrepresentation,” Thompson says.

The toll of living the role is something “I think we are afraid to even think about,” she says. She speculates it might reveal itself in excessive shopping and “eating ourselves to death or not taking care of ourselves,” as well as in diminished “marriageability” of upscale Black women today. All that reflects the need “to deflect the stress of not being able to be fully realized sexual beings,” she adds.

As Thompson notes, King had to maintain silence about her husband’s improprieties but carry on as the permanently unpartnered, pure widow. Hill endured intrusive, public interrogations about sexual matters with unflinching dignity. Rice stood firm against taunts about her personal life or lack thereof. Obama has to stick to a traditional script while standing up to extraordinary scrutiny of her every utterance, attire and behavior.

Such women do these things almost mutely, demurely with ramrod posture, pristine wardrobes and nearly expressionless, asexual effect, in other words like “the Black lady.” What is that about?

In search of answers, Thompson discusses the Hill vs. Clarence Thomas spectacle and dissects plays like P.J. Gibson’s “Long Time Since Yesterday,” autobiographies like Jill Nelson’s “Volunteer Slavery,” films like Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” and novels like Andrea Lee’s “Sarah Phillips,” among others. Along the way, she finds that some Black women are pioneering new ways to be and to give voice to a more fully actualized, human, female persona. This new woman is long overdue.

— Angela P. Dodson

NCAA Football Penalties Harsher for Non-BCS, Historically Black Schools

A recent study released by a former NCAA legal consultant says schools in leagues that have automatic berths in the Bowl Championship Series receive less-stringent probation penalties from the NCAA than historically Black schools and other Football Bowl Subdivision institutions for violating the governing body’s rules, according to USA Today.

Florida attorney Michael L. Buckner says his research shows HBCUs in the Mid-Eastern Athletic and Southwestern Athletic conferences of the Football Bowl Subdivision receive longer probation penalties from the NCAA infractions committee than any other Division I category.

Buckner’s study claims that from Jan. 1, 2005, to Sept. 2, 2009, the NCAA Committee on Infractions issued:

– An average penalty of 3.83 years to HBCUs, compared with an average of 2.54 years for the rest of Division I, excluding HBCUs.

– An average penalty of 2.58 years to schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A, compared with 2.86 years for the rest of Division I.

In an e-mail to USA Today, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said Buckner’s claims “are based upon an inadequate examination of the facts. Specifically, its ‘research’ is reliant on a very small sample size of a handful of institutions and a methodology that fails to test the claims against standard statistical criteria. …” Buckner told the newspaper, “The study is a brief survey of a 56-month period. It is not intended to be or represented as a scientific study. I invite the NCAA to conduct such an analysis so that the membership can engage in an informative discussion on the fairness of the enforcement process.”

UCLA Exhibit Commemorates 40th Anniversary of Asian American Studies Center

A University of California, Los Angeles exhibit on display through Dec. 11 commemorates the 40th anniversary of the establishment of its Asian American Studies Center (AASC).

The Powell College library exhibit, called “Forty Years of Breaking Ground,” features artwork, photos and archival materials exploring the contributions of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders who have taught and studied at UCLA.

More than 200 books by faculty, former students and visiting scholars documenting politics, activism and academic research are on display. Also exhibited are the papers of human rights activist Yuri Kochiyama and the court petition of Fred Korematsu, whose refusal to enter an internment camp during World War II led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case.

UCLA houses one of the premier Asian-American studies programs nationally. Information about exhibit hours and free events is available on the UCLA Web site.

— Lydia Lum


An Unlikely Coming Together: Jewish Refugees and Black Students

A unique exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust has people talking about a sometimes uncomfortable subject, Black-White race relations. The exhibit, titled “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges,” chronicles the unlikely coming together of two repressed groups: Black students and Jewish professors.

When Jewish refugee scholars needed a safe haven from Nazi Germany and jobs in the 1930s, historically Black colleges and universities throughout the South answered the call. In turn, these academics implemented rigorous standards and helped mold students into highly successful professionals. Former Howard University President Joyce Ladner and the first Black U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders were among those mentored and taught by Jewish refugee scholars.

Featured in the exhibit “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow,” these Black leaders help bring to life a story of empathy and solidarity. Artifacts such as an Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity sweater, photographs, letters, degrees, paintings and a menorah weave together a nearly forgotten story. To catch a glimpse of this exhibit, which will be on view at the museum through the holidays and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, visit — María Eugenia Miranda

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