“Deal with yourself as an individual worthy of respect and make everyone else deal with you the same way” —Nikki Giovanni
A black woman, many times, isn’t seen as a person to be loved. Shocking, but true. The question is: why? In the history of slavery, black women were seen as an object – they were considered savages, enduring violence during sex and uncountable times being pressured to have sex with a white man for whitening. For example, during slavery in Africa and America, the idea that black women had insatiable appetites for sex was a justification for the settlers to rape them. Not only satisfactory for the settler, but the act also resulted in benefits for them because the rape would produce additional enslaved people—any child born to an enslaved person would also be enslaved.
Before the slave trade took hold in America, European explorers went to Africa and were fascinated and shocked by the way that people dressed and the practices they led. The minimal amounts of clothing worn by Africans and the practice of polygamy for some tribes, made the Europeans believe that Africans were sexually promiscuous— the same happened with indigenous people in Brazil. When Portuguese navigators arrived, they sent letters back to Portugal reporting about the discovered (in fact, invaded) land, and the stereotype of black, and indigenous, women as sexually promiscuous. Since then, these preconceptions were used to justify enslaving Africans. It’s sad how we can see the reflections of this today, especially in countries where the majority of the population is white. Black women are seen as naturally and extremely talented at sex.
Growing up I heard many times that I wasn’t that black, and therefore, I looked good. I had my hair straight for years, I dressed in the trends to look more like the girls from the movies that I watched. The majority of my friends were white and I learnt my natural beauty wasn’t beautiful at all. So, I felt like had to look more like the white women, to be desired.
But at some point, something triggered me. I don’t remember exactly why, but I was tired of not looking exactly how I wanted to be. I was tired to go to the hairdresser every month to straighten my hair. So I decided to assume my roots that set me free from this social pressure. The comments and bad jokes weren’t easy to take, especially those coming from family, but once I had decided I wasn’t going back, it was a pleasure to be set free. It’s funny how I could notice that black isn’t beautiful for some people, especially men, but it’s curious, instigating, and the adjective that I despise the most exotic. I missed the count about how many men looked at me and said “you have an exotic beauty”. Am I an animal or what to be exotic?!
In diaspora experiences, many of us are put through racism and the disregarding of black woman’s humanity. In my first year living in Portugal and coming from Brazil (ex Portuguese colony) I’ve been through this many times. Because the stereotype of black hot women with an insatiable appetite for sex is very common, I found that women avoided me. Maybe scared that im here to steal their husbands or something like that. I hear comments, sometimes disguised in jokes, that shows me as the steryotype from the slavery era.
The pre-judgment is tough. I remember one day I was working at a bar and a white guy, European, came and invited me to hook up and I said I was not interested. He was shocked by my reply and said: “Oh but you’re Brazilian, a black Brazilian”. So, the fact that I’m black and Brazilian, for him and many others, is a synonym for ‘easy’. If I was white, even being Brazilian, this would have been different. Considering that the construction of black women’s identities is many times a social process, these identities are despised as much as the history culture and aesthetic.
Sexualization affects us so badly because it builds a social imagination that black women are easy, sexually attractive, hot and gifted in sex. Making a real fetishization of black women, putting us as inferior related to other women. I can tell for me and many black women, it’s uncountable the times we’re in a relation with a white person that don’t want to assume the relation or just look at you and say “I’m not ready for commitment” than 2 weeks assume a serious relationship with a white person… it’s not once or twice, it’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself and makes many black women ask themselves if we’re worth of love.
My hair isn’t crazy, my hair is beautiful, I’m not exotic, I’m exhausted from being seen as if I was! I’m not strong 24/7, I’m not an object of desire or fantasy, I’m a woman and deserve to be loved, just like other black women. Rethink when you compliment a black woman, pay attention to your words.
Black feminist empowerment is crucial to assist the deconstruction of preconceptions about black women. More research, more debates and more people need to bring up this. It’s important to fight against these stereotypes created centuries ago. The feminist movement is an important weapon in this fight, such as the representation of black women in media and politics.
Photo Credit: Elainea Emmott
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