“Because of their intersectional identity as both women and people of color within discourses that are shaped to respond to one or the other, the interests and experiences of women of colour are frequently marginalized within both.” – Crenshaw, 1991:1224
The hypersexualisation of black women is something I had heard and read a lot about, yet couldn’t quite get my head around. The same goes for the overaggressive image that black women are often believed to depict – they both were issues I never really noticed. I owe this to the fact that I grew up in Nigeria. When 99.9999% of a country is the same race, (aside from your occasional foreign expat) it leaves little to no space for racial profiling. These are the three most stereotypical and toxic categories that black women are often grouped into.
Kent, 2011: The Aggressive
A rude awakening for me pertaining this issue, came about when I began boarding school in Kent, back in Year Nine. My then 14-year-old self was deemed as the brassy one, for merely existing. People often told me they loved how “fierce” I was. Part of this may have been due to the fact that I was the blunt gal who always said what she was thinking.
Weird though, because I remember in Lower Sixth being told that the way I walked and flicked my long braids was “cool and sassy.” All of this was really confusing to my young being, as my behaviour was seemingly normal in Nigeria. Why was I being singled out for acting as I normally would back home?
It took me almost four years – near the end of my journey at the school – to realise that there was nothing a black girl could do about the fact that she was the only one who some of Caucasian counterparts were “literally so scared of.” There was nothing a black girl could do about being provoked, then having her alleged “overreaction” described as aggressive. Being a demographic in the minority and indirectly silenced as a result, there was nothing a black girl living in a white space could really do, apart from automatically compress her real self.
Here’s a little informal case study, because who doesn’t love a bit of those? Love Island, 2017. Fun fact for my fellow Love Island addicts: if you read each description of the Islanders here. you can’t help but notice how Montana is the only one described as a “fiery firecracker” while Olivia (who genuinely threw THE most temper tantrums) was the “glamorous” one.
Not enough? Google the following keywords; “Montana-Love-Island-sassy” and then do the same for Olivia. Compare how many more articles there are painting Montana as some ferocious queen of sass, than there are for the one who lost her top at least once every episode. There’s your answer. On to the next.
L’Oréal True Match “DiversityCampaign” 2017: The Token
The word ‘is implied to be the inclusion of a person-of-colour in the media/business world to illustrate diversity. As @LizDemure on Twitter wisely put it, “they want our faces but not our voice”. They LOVE our culture but not our political views. Every company wants to recruit that one black woman because y’know, diversity. But how DARE a black transwoman call out racism based on her OWN experiences/opinions, on her OWN private social media? Does she not know that using her God given voice to speak out against injustices, goes against the “values” of one of the biggest cosmetic brands in the world?
#IStandWithMunroe because her bravery spoke volumes. L’Oréal’s irrational decision to drop her from their diversitrash campaign told us ALL we needed to know about black women being used by brands to portray a certain image. It brought about relevant questions on tokenism with regards to WOC.
As Nadine Artois of PxssyPalace put it on her Instagram, where do WOC draw the line to ensure we aren’t being essentially exploited? Something to think about.
Hotel restaurant, 2017: The Fetish
I sometimes hear about how black women are supposedly (unbelievable, if true) regarded as the least attractive of the races. Yet, we are collectively hypersexualised and fetishized constantly: such a paradox is beyond me.
My black friends have been regarded as “hot chocolate princesses.” I was greeted by a close friend of mine, with an Easter message that went as thus: “Happy Easter, you choco bunny!” At my my aforementioned school, you either got cool points, or outright judged for getting with a black girl – it was never just a “meh” thing as was the case for our non-black counterparts.
Not too long ago on holiday, as my family sat down to eat breakfast at the hotel restaurant, I noticed the waiter getting a bit too touchy-feely with a relative of mine (a 20-something year old black woman). On his first visit to check if we were enjoying the meal, he touched her shoulder slightly provocatively as some form of greeting, and then proceeded to stroke her afro, curly hair.
We were all extremely uncomfortable with the first instance, only to have him return and do a second “greeting,” proceeding to caress her face this time. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with her mother (who rightly told him off, yet was given “Calm down black woman!” looks by half of the guests in there). At this point, the waiter seemed almost offended, as though he was thinking “how dare this black woman not enjoy this?”
We eventually noticed that before and after the telling off, the waiter hadn’t done the same weird, greeting thing with other guests of similar ages to my relative. Why was it only the black woman that was harassed? Why was she supposed to be okay with being touched creepily without her consent? Hypersexualisation, simple.
Black women are often regarded as easy and “overly sexual” beings, particularly in countries with low black populations. Such is the driving force behind awkward situations like this.
Without saying too much (I hope), it’s pretty clear these 3 stereotypes of black women have toxic effects on us. The whole ass world has the responsibility of unlearning them. During my boarding school experience, being referred to as “aggressive” for little to no reason only urged me to reduce myself – to be less “black”, so as to make my white counterparts feel comfortable around me. Although fetishisation and tokenism aren’t really issues I’ve experienced as much as many others have, I’ve observed the extent at which fetishisation distorts the image of the average black woman, and blatant tokenism (see L’Oréal Diversitrash Campaign) belittles us. I wrote this piece to remind black girls like me that they really are not alone! We are and will continue rising above the pathetic stereotypes forced on us, and flourish like the queenz we truly are!
Written by Seyi Alawode