Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kirsten West Savali: Three White “Hoes” and Betty White: The Unspoken Double Standard


By: Kirsten West Savali, Your Black World

While sitting under the hair dryer Friday afternoon, I grabbed a stack of magazines that were haphazardly scattered on the small table to my right and began sifting through them for suitably mindless, I-work-hard-all-week-so-let-me-catch-up-with-fashion-and-entertainment chatter.

Apparently, the Universe decided that a mind was a terrible thing to waste because featured on the front inside cover of my magazine of choice was an advertisement for Hot in Cleveland, a sitcom starring the legendary Betty White, along with actresses Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves.

The premise of the show seems innocent enough. The lives of three white, 40-something American women — enroute to Paris to get their groove back — are forever altered when their plane is diverted to Cleveland, Ohio. They immediately form a contentious bond with White’s weed smoking, “grandmotherly” character, Elka Ostrovsky, and television-approved raunchiness and hilarity ensue.

Nothing to see there, right?


In the advertisement, the three younger cast members, in the white equivalent of coonery, pout prettily in festive Christmas sweaters with “Ho” emblazoned across the front, while White clutches her ball of yarn, oblivious to the shenanigans of her castmates.  Some may wonder why this presented an issue for me and the explanation is simple:

Not in this lifetime, nor the next, would three Black women flank the sides of an elder basking in their promiscuity, unfettered by the leeches of societal judgment and scorn. What this advertisement showcases is the perceived innocence of white women — and hidden within the folds of that unspoken privilege, the lingering fear that mainstream media harbors for Black women and our alleged “hyper-sexuality.”

Let me be clear: Being cast as “hoes” is not a role that we should aspire to; however, it is a role that has been thrust upon us nonetheless. From the bold attire of Serena and Venus Williams to the objectification of random video vixens on BET, there is a fear, an anxiety, a powerful magnetic attraction that apparently makes Black women unsuitable for viewing audiences, yet in high demand just the same. Our marginalization as Sapphires, Jezebels, and Mammies, incapable of escaping the historical demonization of our wombs and sensuality — nor the disrespectful caricatures of our strength — is a reflection of how we are perceived in society at-large.

Throughout history, our sexuality has proven to be so fascinating and hypnotic, that Black curves can only be shown with the strict caveat that they should never be honored nor respected.  With this is mind, I find it no small coincidence that both our motherhood and womanhood are consistently under attack. How better to make us doubt our collective self-worth than to trivialize and taint our most sacred, while simultaneously manipulating the media so that we’re perceived as weapons in our own communities?

The fact that acclaimed actress, Viola Davis – who many expect to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her stereotypical Mammy performance in the controversial film, The Help – will arrive in all her evening finery, while still being identified as a mere servant by all in attendance, proves one thing:

The asexual Black woman, unwilling to break the mold that has been cast for her, satisfied with bursts of rebellion that do nothing to challenge the status quo will always be deemed worthy of veneration — while our sexuality will continue to be suppressed and villianized.

We could cast the lion’s share of the blame on a color-blind misogyny that serves as the foundation of this nation’s patriarchal socio-political constructs — but that would be a superficial claim at best.  There is something more sinister lurking in the shadows; a danger in acknowledging the innate sensuality of Black women that lives beyond strip clubs, porn and reality television. Since the days of slavery, and subsequently Jim and Jane Crow, the devaluation of Black women has been systemic, malicious and purposeful.


Because we are the backbone of our communities. Whether we are sisters, daughters, mothers, lovers or friends — or a hybrid of all five — a Black woman confident in her sensuality, comfortable in her strength, secure in her beauty and in love with herself is perceived as the key to the continued progression and elevation of Black communities, thus rendering us a threat to the intrinsically racist status-quo in this country.

White women in entertainment and in America, as a collective, have been granted license to portray themselves as “hoes” and “sluts” without the negative historical implications associated with the names; and, quite frankly, that’s their business. If they want to disrespect themselves for a chuckle and chump change, then a power fist to them. What they choose to allow themselves to be called is only relevant here because it reveals a blatant hypocrisy.

Disrespect implies transferred ownership.

It is considered disrespectful to call a Black person a “nigger” because many of us accept ownership of the word and all it’s violent implications. It is disrespectful to call a woman a “bitch” because many of us accept ownership of the word and it misogynist undertones. It is considered a flagrant offense to call a Black woman a “ho” because that is a label that has been branded in our psyches since plantation owners crept through the fields and into our beds uninvited. To feel disrespect, one must feel that the word is abusive, and to experience that abuse on a visceral level, one must feel that even if it’s not true of them as individuals, it is often true of their kindred in the collective.

White women can refer to themselves as “hoes” tongue-in-cheek, because they do not accept ownership of the word --- it is not disrespectful, because, in our twisted society, it is a word that does not belong to them --- it belongs to us. They are free to sexually express themselves, without fear of judgment and repercussions, because their sexuality has been ruled safe for mass consumption; conversely, the power that is sheathed in the sexuality of Black women cannot, and will not, be harnessed, and that will continue to affect our presence in the media until our economic conditions reflect our true value.

Do I believe that being labeled a “Ho” in a national multi-media campaign should be a goal that Black women strive to achieve? Absolutely not. From being cast as the “dangerous” face of abortion, STIs and teen pregnancy, to hyper-sexed gold-diggers who dream in dollar signs, our sexuality is consistently shackled and stoned in the court of public opinion. We don’t need to wear garish sweaters spelling out the words in bold print; to be considered whores, all many of us have to do is step beyond our front doors --- or, unfortunately, remain locked behind it with men who do not appreciate our worth.

These three white “Hoes” illuminate the toxic, double standard that suffocates Black women in the media in a way that no Hip-Hop video nor reality show ever could. What becomes evident upon cursory inspection is that, in our society, “Ho” pertaining to white women is considered safe comedy, while for Black women it remains a sweeping condemnation.

And there is absolutely nothing “hot” about that — in Cleveland nor anywhere else.


imageKirsten West Savali is Senior News Editor at She is founder and administrator of the Nomadic Poets’ Oasis, an online destination dedicated to the exposure and elevation of poetry, spoken word and the visual arts. She is also currently co-writing The Hole in the Wall, a piercing, Blues-tinged screenplay that delves into the bruised soul of a fatherless son in search of himself. Her provocative commentary appears in various publications and explores the interconnectivity of race, gender, politics and culture. Kirsten’s work can be found on (where this article also appears),, AOLBlackVoices,,, and others. Connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter: @KWestSavali


Brian Marvel said...

Out of all of my readings today, I find your article to be the most fitting and most exciting pieces of materials of all other networks that have simuliar topics. I appreaciate your tenacity and I hope in the near future we to can join hands and share each others dream. Best wishes to you and happy holidays..(thank you for helping me realize what I believe in... (knowledge is power!)

R_U Serious said...

Brings to mind an often asked question with Strong Black men. Does 'Black Women' pouring $s to Tyler Perry's , not so sexy . foul mouth . altho God fearing. portrayal of THEM, add to this phenomena you write about? Or does the ;strong Back' exempt/exonerate him?

Anonymous said...

I actually watch this show so I know that the joke behind the picture is this: Betty's character, Elka, thinks the three ladies are slutty and she comments on it all the time. She is holding the yarn because she made the sweaters for the ladies. They aren't bragging about being Hos, she is calling them hos.

Anonymous said...

(to above comment) what's unfortunate is that for those of us who don't watch the show we walk away with the same opinion as the writer of this article. choosing this pic to advertise for the show was strategic and well thought out. Betty White calling them hoes is exactly the point the article is making. with that said, great article, great POV on the subject matter. thanks for making us think!

Rudy said...

I believe the point of this piece is to highlight the historical and current underlying issue seperate and apart from this show in particular. The advertisement is a reference point for the writer -- and appropriately so. I've never watched the show, but something like this IS seen as cute when it's white women versus a commentary on our morailty and value had it been black women in the photo. All women are objectified, but historically in America black women are objectified in the most destructive ways. I get it...

Chance said...

This was a great article and I applaud you for writing this. I remember being in middle school and getting sent home for wear shorts that were "inappropriate clothes" for a girl "my age" but the white girls wearing the same shorts could wear them everyday. They brainwash us from a young age that there is something wrong with us and our bodies. I carried that with me for years and even today I find myself looking at the minimal clothing white girls get away with wearing and how I would be vilified for donning the same outfit.

Nikko said...

Kudos for such a well-written thought provoking article that reads like most of the reading material from Black Womens Studies 101.....however please tell the truth in that historical hypersexual images continue to dog Black women because WE, as Black women do it to ourselves in the way we carry ourselves and raise our daughters to be the sexy hot girl in the video being a hoe while slamming cadillac doors! Please! Stop giving the white establishment the power to create, recreate and disinegrate our images and value... We are doing a great job of it ourselves!

Anonymous said...

While I have no argument with the summation illustrated within the article about the way Black Women are portrayed, there are a number of them that continue to help perpetuate said stereotypes.

My advice to both Black Men and Women would be to help reestablish a positive image of each other within the community and stop trashing one another at the first sign of trouble.

Anonymous said...

Sister Kirsten, some actors and actress will do almost anything and
compromise whatever when it comes to fame and fortune. So never is
never never but just when.