Being smart is hard: on racial consciousness, boyz, and confusion

Last night, as I was Skyping my little sister, I was confronted with an unfortunate habit of mine. You see, I was recounting a story about being “hit on” at my university by a ballsy but awkward Turkish dude, who was trying to woo me on  behalf of his friend. As I was laughing and explaining to her how uncomfortable the entire situation was, I ended the story by saying, “You know, if he wants to screw a black girl, he should just say so.”

My little sister, at the wise age of 17 interjected, asking me “Yasmin, why do you ALWAYS jump to the worst possible conclusion? What if this guy just thought you were cute, and that was that?”

I proceeded to respond with an eloquent, “Uuuuhhhhhh, I dunno?”

Which brings us here. Why do I always assume men have the worst intentions?

So, I thought about it. Then thought about it some more.

I then realized, my negative view of men is largely rooted in my love for learning – particularly in colonial history.

From the time I was 12 or 13, the history and the legacy of slavery in the United States has fascinated and horrified me. No matter how many times I’ve learned about the subject, it never fails to send a shudder down my spine. How the hell could human beings convince the world that other human beings were objects to be bought and sold? How was their moral consciousness left untainted as they ripped entire communities to shred, leaving millions of people scraping for an identity? How did they distance themselves so far from their own humanity?

A depiction of a slave ship - never fails to make me feel disgusted.

A depiction of a slave ship – never fails to make me feel disgusted.

By 15, I began to delve into colonial history. Again, the scope of the colonial project NEVER fails to astound me. Its terrifying to me how easily white people claimed authority and superiority over a sea of black, brown, and yellow faces all across the globe. Over the course of a century, colonialists were able to steal a wealth of resources from the global South, as well as create an international system that still continues to subjugate and undercut the economic and social health of their former colonies.

The British subjucating the Mau Mau in Kenya (yeah, cause its not like you stole their homeland or anything *insert eye-roll*)

The British subjugating the Mau Mau in Kenya (yeah, cause its not like you stole their homeland or anything *insert eye-roll*)

So: what does ANY of this have to do with me/boys?

Well, when I got to university, I began to link this legacy of slavery and colonialism to the history of the black female body. I began to ask myself, how am I, as a black girl, represented in the media?

The concepts that first popped into my head were:

  • Body parts: big ass, big breasts, curvy hips
  • The movement of those body parts: ass-shaking, twerking, etc
  • Sexual promiscuity: having many “baby daddies”, “jungle fever”

As I began to advance in my studies, I began to learn about how all the above concepts, that are repeatedly perpetuated in today’s media, are rooted in the legacies of slavery and colonialism. I learned about Saartjie Bartman, the young South African woman whose body was put on display for years in London, so whites could examine her “unique” buttocks, hips, and genitalia throughout the 18th century. I learned about the vicious rape of African (and African-American)  female slaves by white men, whose wombs were transformed into vessels of commodity production. I learned about how colonialism instilled self-loathing within people of color all around the world, to the extent that we are fuelling a billion-dollar skin-lightening industry. I learned about the “natural hair movement”, and how many black women are moving away from relaxers and weaves that helped them mimic the look of their white counterparts.

Skin-lightening is incredibly common-place in the world of magazines

Skin-lightening is incredibly common-place in the world of magazines

So, when a Turkish guy approaches me out of nowhere, and tells me I’m cute, I don’t just think, “Oh, that’s nice” or “How flattering!”

Instead, I think about ALL the above. Cause, let’s be real, what is his conception of black women based on? Dancers in music videos twerking? Ads for aid in Africa? Rihanna? Bey?

My point being, his attraction for me was probably rooted in a centuries-long exoticization/commodification/hyper-sexualization of black women all around the world.

And even if it wasn’t, I’m incredibly wary of non-black men approaching me romantically, because I can never be quite sure where their intentions stem from.

(Not that black men never have bad intentions; just that the racial implications are different.)

I mean it when I say being smart is hard. I don’t mean it as a humble-brag, truly!

What I mean is this: its hard to be connected, to conceptualize, and to criticize. To take things that seem “nice”, but then choose to hold them up to the light, revealing their more unsavoury features. To find transparency. To link history legacy to real life.

Its much easier to accept things at face-value, without digging deeper.

But if I did that, I wouldn’t be me. And I like “me”, quite a lot.

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5 comments

  1. Good read. You do you! Stay critical!

    1. Thank you Bani! Gon keep fightin that fight!

  2. BlackSheep · · Reply

    While you are more than justified in analyzing said man’s approach in a colonial context, it’s incredibly hard to read in to people’s motives without attempting to draw some of that same motive out through conversation.

    Though I am not a woman, I can say with certainty that the reverse applies to “nice guys”, like how some girls brush a brotha off simply because “I ain’t a thug”, I don’t grab my balls, I don’t have a “history” (whatever the fuck that means), or have “bitches” blowin’ up my phone. The paradigms people subscribe to are hilarious, and their suspicion usually comes out in their poor reasoning, like “your mad cadaan”, or “yo you not on the DL is you”?

    Without writing you a novel I’ll say this … the same cynicism you have for this Turkish guy is the same some women have for “nice guys”, if I had to explain why I have manners, and won’t change those manners for whoever thinks I’m too “nice” for them I’d be fighting a war I couldn’t win.

    I don’t act like I’m hard rock ’cause I know I’m a gem. Lauryn Hill quotes aside, can you really expect people (like this Turkish guy) to think critically about why he is feelin’ you? I mean, if anything attraction is incredibly irrational, which leads me back to my first point – converse! Ask him WHAT he likes about you, maybe you’ll find its more about HOW he likes women, and what makes you unique.

    1. First off, thank you so much for your comment! Your response is really interesting, and you gave me quite a lot to think about.

      I found your description of the cynicism some women have towards “nice guys” to be quite thought-provoking – I can definitely see how many women buy into this perverse hood-rat conception of black masculinity, and are turned off when they see black dudes veer away from that.

      (side note: I find it incredibly funny that some women are even into thugs in the first place – displays of aggravated machismo and general foolishness has never been my cup of tea, ya feel me)

      I also really appreciated your point about the importance of starting a dialogue. You’re right – I’m no mind-reader, and at some point, I’m going to have to delve into someone’s mind to suss out what they’re really thinking, as opposed to critically breaking down their statements by myself.

      And though I agree that attraction is irrational – in an racially homogeneous environment like Turkey, all the moves dudes are making are incredibly calculated (this tends to happen when you may be the only women of colour they’ve seen in the flesh) – hence my cynicism.

      1. Oh, and the “your mad cadaan” comment had me in a fit of laughter, Allah knows I’ve heard that one too many times. I’m like guys, appreciating literature and indie music doesn’t make me white, come on now!

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