While there is certainly no shortage of negative beliefs regarding black people, those that are particularly prevalent are the ideas that black people are violent, aggressive, and destined for a life of crime.
These stereotypes in particular seems to be regarded of black lesbians too, especially those who seem to appear more ‘masculine’.
The group of black lesbians convicted in a 2006 Greenwich Village assault case know this well as despite the women’s argument that they were acting in self-defence against a man that both catcalled and threatened them, they were arrested and charged with felony gang assault and attempted murder.
An Equity Project report also states that 40% of girls in the juvenile justice system are lesbian, bisexual or transgender and 85% are girls of colour as well.
With with many of these girls finding themselves in the system for non-criminal acts (e.g “running away from home or breaking school rules”), it’s believed that the criminal black lesbian stereotype may have been a large factor.
NPR has investigated the origin of the criminal black lesbian stereotype, with the publication noting that it stretches back to the early 20th century.
The publication cites a recent Journal of African American History article by Cookie Woolner, a historian and teaching fellow at Kalamazoo College, which points to newspaper reports about murders and other crimes committed by black women in relationships with other women.
The underlying tone of the articles seemed to be that their crimes were a direct result of their “perverted affections” and their “insanity”, and they were also referred to as a “class of perverts”.
In the decades to follow, things didn’t get much better. NPR explains that in the 1940s and 50s, women’s prisons became “synonymous with lesbianism” and although “the stereotype of the aggressive lesbian eventually grew to include working-class white women,” black women were generally believed to be the aggressors and white women were described as “temporary partners”.
More recently, 1996 film Set It Off and TV show The Wire, which both feature black lesbians being violent and performing crimes have also contributed to the stereotype’s prevalence.
TV shows such as Orange is the New Black (which features LGBT characters and looks at injustices within the criminal justice system) as well as movements such as Black Lives Matter (which has helped to give black women a platform to share their voice) have had a positive impact.
However, with the stereotype being so entrenched, it may be some time before the worst is no longer thought of black lesbian women.