Black bodies are often seen in the light of whoever decides they are worthy of being seen. We shapeshift and adapt in ways that makes everyone around us feel comfortable and full. Black features have gone through periods of acceptance. This acceptance has levels to it; the lowest, being tolerated and ignored and the highest level, having people that don’t look like us, try to look like us. Both ends of the spectrum are too extreme.
At some point of our lives, we’ve been made fun of. I remembered being called corbeaux in my school bus in high school. The Indo-Trinidadian boys laughed at my darkness and joked that it was hard to see my twin sister and I because the bus had no lighting. I see the celebration of black bodies now and it makes me think, “what changed?”
It is not news that non-black folks adopt black features and simply take it off when it no longer serves them; the hair, the tan, the fashion, the hashtags. Non-black folks have sat under the knife to get our bodies too. To some men, it’s a plus, a jackpot, having a non-black partner with a black body; it’s the best of both worlds. The last man I engaged told me that I was the first girl that he dated with hair like mine. I was puzzled as to why that was note-worthy. He’d go off on how great the sex was and in the same breath share how much he saw that we could not be in a romantic relationship. I tried to come to terms with it. Tried understanding my place in this world and what it meant to live in this body, how much harder I have to work to be seen as someone worthy and not just a measuring tape.
“You know, when we go out, my friends get chatted up by guys, who say, “I’d love to take you for dinner”, and in the same breath they come over to me, put their hands on my bum and tell me they want to take me back to theirs and fuck me over the arm of the sofa.” Excerpt taken from Queenie, a novel by Candice Carty Williams.
Black men across the globe have measured their successes by being able to marry a woman who did not look like them. Admittedly, this may be a stretch or just my observation. I’ve been told that black women are too much, too loud, too aggressive, too everything. Non-Black folks are softer, “know their place”, well put together.
So is it that black women are just good enough to have sex with?
Black women’s bodies have always been sexualised. From childhood, we’d be warned to wear proper pants in the house when our male cousins were around. Be pulled aside in church for a dress that fit too closely. In high school, a male dean told me to buy a shirt twice my size so that it will cover my butt. The black butt is offensive to some when it exists outside of a bedroom even when it is on a child. This trails back all the way to pre-slavery, the hyper-sexualisation of black women.
William Smith described African women as "hot constitution'd Ladies" who "are continually contriving stratagems how to gain a lover"(White, 1999, p. 29). European travelers upon seeing the African civilisation marveled at their lack of clothing (because of the extremely hot climate, duh), their tribal dances and practice of polygamy. To them, this meant sexual lewdness. This idea that women had an unquenchable thirst for sex was used as a justification for rape and sexual abuse of women. We see it in the present day too, black women being doubted for reports of assault because they must’ve ‘wanted it’.
Understanding the ‘why’ behind not accepting black women as human beings and not an experience to have will take loads of unlearning and adjusting of a lens that we sometimes unknowingly wear. Interrogate the root of a preference and examine the ways it forms a harmful practice. Wanting to be respected and represented in no way means the need of validation. We continue to validate our own selves and experiences, the fact that we even start these conversations are proof. It’s sad that many black women will read this and have it resonate, our only hope is that in time, it will be a thing of the past.
Black girl magic will no longer be a thing that spell casts people into thinking we’re beautiful because we are drenched in coconut oil and sunlight, but we’ll be magic because we are human and continue to survive despite being burned at the stake for our blackness.