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?
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.
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.
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.