Tonight, I saw naked Oprah on a dress, and Lily Allen throwing money at black women’s butts while critiquing Miley Cyrus and spouting pseudo-feminist critiques of the music industry.
I’m sorry…what is going on right now? Did all the famous white women of the world decide to rise up and wage war on the image of black women, which is already in tatters due to CENTURIES of inaccurate stereotypes?
Peggy Noland designed a dress and mock turtleneck. On it, there is a naked slim black body, and Oprah’s face on top of it. The image is crude. I include it here for the sole purpose of helping you understand its utter offensiveness.
White people have always been overly attentive when it concerns black bodies. Before slavery, white male explorers spoke at length about black women’s bodies in travel narratives, enticing the imagination of white Europeans who had not yet seen black people. Most know about Venus Hottentot, the black woman who was treated as though she was a part of a circus–enduring being caged, mainly naked, with white people prodding and fondling her body. Her body parts were put on display in a museum after her death, which was against her wishes. Although she died in 1815, her body was not buried in South Africa until 2002, after a ten year negotiation with the French government.
This is a picture from her funeral. http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1883142_1883129_1882999,00.html
We all know about the rape of black women by white men during slavery, or the ways in which white slaveowners forced black men and women to “breed” as though they were animals. Those who could fight back, did. In the meantime, some parents silently prayed that their daughters wouldn’t be too pretty and the target of too much attention by white men.
In the meantime, white people, especially white men, constantly thought about the threat that black men posed to white women. They thought that black people were super sexual, and therefore, black men would constantly want to rape white women. The racist ideology also asserted that black women, of course, couldn’t be raped, because they always wanted to have sex. Innocent black men were lynched for simply looking at a white woman, while white men could rape black women without being punished–both during and after slavery.
All throughout the 19th and 20th century, injurious stereotypes were circulated with regards to black people’s sexuality, as though ALL BLACK PEOPLE ARE THE SAME. All black women were either entirely desexualized (as a Mammy figure), or super sexualized (as a Jezebel). Black men and women fought against those stereotypes–either by engaging in a politics of respectability, by being polite, well dressed, churchgoing folk, or using the Blues to talk about sex in a way that recognized their agency and power.
But here we are, in the 21st century, the supposed “post-racial” era, STILL obsessed with black bodies.
Because black bodies still lead to cash, right? Even though black people in the U.S. are not enslaved, and we’re not standing on an auction block for white people to “buy” us, black bodies are still profitable.
Black people are expected to entertain and wealthy white people use their entertainment to make as much money off of them as possible. Black people cannot do anything without a white person appropriating (or stealing) it, getting famous and making money off of it. I mean, did anybody really pay attention to Miley Cyrus until she lost her mind and started trying to twerk and “sound black”?
The problem with this is that white folk, and here, white women, continue to use their racial privilege to appeal to everyone, but they borrow just enough from what they consider to be the profitable parts of black culture to become financially successful.
Black bodies are still considered to be transgressive. Overtly sexual. And many white folk still read their desires onto black bodies. Much like in the age of minstrelsy, they idealize the experiences of black people as being childlike and primitive and sexual. When white folk can “act black”, it really means that, under the guise of blackness, they can act out all of their desires and fantasies, and then say, “I was just acting like a black person! Not like myself at all!”
Peggy Nolan placed a naked black woman on a dress that a white woman is wearing. Not just any black woman, but Oprah Winfrey one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world. This reflects the racial attitude of the U.S.: that every black woman and other women of color can be mistreated by ANY white person.
Of course, this is not the only time this happened. And it won’t be the last. I just watched Lily Allen’s video, “Hard Out Here.” It was painful to watch Lily spout pseudo-feminist lyrics while throwing money at black women. The idea of the video is that she isn’t sexy enough for the music industry, and black women have to teach her how to be sexy. She has to learn how to twerk. The camera suggestively caresses the bodies of black women, who are much more naked than Lily Allen, who throw champagne and money on each other, and twerk.
Because these black women are sexually suggestive, Lily Allen doesn’t have to do that work. Lily Allen’s critique of Miley Cyrus misses the mark. Like Miley, she also uses black women’s bodies–objectifying them for the higher, grander purpose of demonstrating that the music industry has unrealistic expectations for women.
I was so hurt. This right here is why black women have always needed to articulate their own feminisms. I don’t know why I was surprised–white women have been claiming sisterhood with black women in EVERY FEMINIST MOVEMENT and then, on the drop of a dime, to advance their own agenda, they turn their backs on us.
Because, quiet as its kept, feminism has a racism problem. It’s not supposed to–because feminism is about the equality of all people. But I have to be both anti-racist and a black feminist and a womanist because “feminist” doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. It doesn’t stand up for the rights of black women who are maligned by everyone at every opportunity.
To Miley Cyrus, Peggy Nolan, Lily Allen, and every white woman who is financially benefitting off of the bodies of black women–stop it.
To white feminists–fight for black women and people of color. Argue against these images. Don’t ignore them. Get angry.
To black women, BE ENCOURAGED. Know that you are a person who cannot be reduced to a sexual stereotype. Know that these white women acting a fool have completely missed the point, and there are people who know who you are. Live your lives in the face of hatred.
Anna Julia Cooper’s claim still rings true today:
“Only the Black Woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’”
–Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South, 1892