Black Women Are Not Your Plaything

Black Women Are Not Your Plaything

There's nothing trendy about suppressing black women.

I've spent a majority of this summer frustrated, annoyed and even furious. It's not because of personal issues or anything, but more so because of the diminishing of black lives and the reduction of our existence to bull's eyes for target practice or racially inflamed entertainment. As a black man myself, one critical aspect of that frustration stems from a particularly jarring case in which black women have had their bodies reduced to nothing more than sexual playthings and items that can be hijacked by white people, often like a customizable toy.

There's been a strange trend about "white girls evolving" where there are pictures and videos of white women with large butts (often twerking, horribly). There's even an entire Facebook page about it. Now this may seem like harmless fun, but if you really understand the implications behind this messy rhetoric, you'll see that there is nothing harmless about it, and it's actually extremely demeaning to black women. Black women have been made to believe that their curvaceous figure is unattractive and twerking is disgusting behavior, but once the same is done by a white woman, it's automatically seen as attractive. So I pose this question.

Why is it that black features are seen as the standard, but black people are left to suffer?

I am still trying to discover an answer to that question, but for the time being, I just want to address the severity of this phenomena. Black women spend a majority of their lives believing that their hair is "dirty," "nappy," or "unkempt" and that they'll never prosper if they keep these features. I've seen black women forced into drastically changing their appearances just to because their own skin was deemed unworthy by society. Excessive behavior that often leads to damaged hair bleached skin and different colored eye contacts. It's something beyond a simple aesthetic choice and an entire shift in identity because they are pressured into adhering to a Eurocentric look. And then the paradox comes when white women do things like this:

I see you, too, sis.

This problem is that white women are never criticized for their hair or their curves, and are even lauded for adopting "urban" styles (which is a thinly veiled buzzword for "black"). Allure Magazine even went so far as to write a piece about Afros, without any mention of Black women at all. This is hijacking and erasure at its finest.

Some people, especially fashion designers, think it's incredibly chic for them to use pieces of black females and paste them on white women to seem progressive. But time and time again, we've told you that it's not cool, edgy, chic or flattering. It's downright disrespectful. Box braids can be traced back to ancient African civilizations. Afro surged in popularity in the 1960s as an answer to white supremacy (see?) and in contemporary times, Bantu knots, cornrows, and twist-outs are an affirmation of the immense pride that black women have in themselves. The fact that a white woman wouldn't know any of these things but still would don these styles is headache inducing.

Appropriation of the bodies of black women has existed longer than we think. Crinoline dresses of the 19th century were made to emulate the figure of black female slaves who were more voluptuous and caught the eye of their slave masters.

"But what about if a black girl straightens her hair or dyes it blonde? That's white appropriation!"

Hey, Becky-Ann. If you referred to our girl, Ms. Google Dot Com, you would realize that there is a clear distinction between appropriation and assimilation. Pressured by nonsensical standards set by a Eurocentric society, black women are forced to model their appearance after y'all in order to be accepted and progress somehow. There is no history or tradition behind blonde, straightened hair. This is assimilation. There's been more than enough articles in the past few years detailing this, yet it still doesn't seem to get to y'all.

Amandla Stenberg, the actress who played Rue in "The Hunger Games," outlined the thoughts of Black people perfectly in her video, "Don't Cash Crop On My Cornrows." Watch this video several times in a day, and then a few more dozen times before 2015 ends so you don't make any mistakes about black culture in the coming year.

On the flip side, black women are made to be hyper-sexualized simply because they are black.

I once had a (white) friend, who made this strange oath that he would no longer date white girls and only date black girls. I was (and still am) perplexed to this day about this attraction to black women. Our conversations often went like this:

Him: I only date Black girls. White girls aren't doing it for me.

Me: Why are you only attracted to Black girls?

Him: They have the nicest skin, the nicest waist, and the nicest butt. You can't get that anywhere else.

Cue my disturbed side eye.

Magazines and the fashion industry often glorifies black women simply because of the color of their skin. Yes, Black is beautiful and Black girls rock, but the simple fact that my friend is attracted to them because of that singular attribute is outright wrong. This is indicative of a larger issue that has existed for decades and has only become worse over time – that black women merely exist to be considered sexual playthings for society, for their "sass" and "ass" to be a turn on, and for their struggle and suffering to be ignored.

We as a society need to get over this mentality. It places a perception on black women as sexual deviants who are only appreciated because of their "exotic" features. While you may believe you're being "open" about other races, you're simply viewing attraction with tunnel vision and demeaning and inherently racist ideology.

Black girls rock, not just because of their looks.

They rock because of their determination in being recognized for who and what they are.

They rock because of their pride in both their natural hair and their weave.

They rock because they have the ability to drastically shift our culture.

You can either get with the memo or get lost.

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Representation Really Does Matter

Here's how one episode of 'Degrassi' changed my life forever.

I was watching "Degrassi" when I came across something that I truly felt changed me. Never before had I watched something that I truly felt I was able to relate to in regards to my gender identity. I had even spoken before with my therapist and felt moderately uncomfortable with it. I never truly felt like I could be myself or be comfortable in the skin I am in.

This changed one day when watching an episode of "Degrassi." On the screen, a young student was presented. Their name was Yael and I suddenly felt more connected with Yael than I had with any other character I had ever seen on television or cinema before. It was almost surreal to see the screen before me. It felt unnatural, almost like the person I was looking at from the comfort of behind my screen was actually me. I felt like I was watching my own life, or rather a representation of what my life could be if I dared to be who I truly wanted to be.

Yael first starts in her cisgender identity so I will be referring to her as in female terms for the beginning part of this article. As she begins to explore her journey in her non-binary/gender fluid identity she begins to feel more comfortable with they/them terminology.

At the beginning of the season, Yael starts to realize a change. Her breasts have grown bigger and this is a part of her body that she has a lot of trouble coping with. The beginning scene shows her evidently wearing ill-fitting undergarments against her rather tight shirt. She speaks in intimate detail with her friend about how this makes her feel and her friend tells her she most likely needs a bra that is better fitting for her. They go shopping and she is obviously incredibly uncomfortable doing so.

I felt every single emotion Yael was feeling during this time. As a matter of fact, as the episode progressed, I felt a lump in my throat. I heard once that maybe when you die a screen will show all the events of your life played out before you and you can watch them like a movie. This is exactly how I felt when I began watching this episode. I felt like I was watching events in my life or perhaps even getting a glimpse into my future. I have felt all the things Yael was feeling before, but I was never really able to properly put it into words. I didn't have any characters to point at and say "see? I'm like them."

When the cross-dressing and drag community first started up, it was grossly misunderstood. People thought drag queens were perverts or some sort of twisted animals. As shows like "Ru Paul's Drag Race" became popularized, awareness of what the drag community was and ultimately, LGBTQ, in general, became a lot more evident. You could pull up a video on Youtube and show it to someone if they didn't understand what you did as a drag artist. There was finally something that you could point to and say, "Yep, that's me."

As someone struggling with gender identity, I can really and truly say I've never experienced that before. I've never had a character that I could look at and explain my feelings with. I've never had anyone to look at or relate to or to help guide me in whatever direction I needed to go. However, as I sat alone in my room watching a show that had been recommended to me, I felt like I had been recognized. I was no longer overcome with isolation.

Yael buys a binder from a store and begins binding. Soon after, her boyfriend realizes that she has chosen not to shave her armpits or legs and is distraught. For the year of 2016, I decided I did not want to shave. The backlash I received was very similar to what Yael received in the episode both with her boyfriend and with the guys she hangs out with. She inquires why she needs to shave and the answer was an ignorant one that I have received an almost uncountable amount of times in my life, "You're a girl."

Just writing that made me groan.

I can almost hear the indignant, monotonous voice it is so often said in as well. A vast majority of my life has been spent with guys and Yael shares this in common with me. At a certain age, I began being told constantly by boys what I was and was not allowed to do. "You're a girl. You shave your legs. Ladies first. Girls are more sensitive. It's weird having a girl here."

My personal favorite was whenever I played Xbox Live and the pandemonium that ensued when a real-life girl began playing with them. I always felt sad, different, and outcast. The feeling was one that was often difficult to describe. However, I watched Yael go through all the things I had gone through for the vast majority of her teenage years.

Yael liked makeup. She did her hair and overall seemed like a feminine individual, however, she had extreme body dysphoria especially when it came to her chest. I felt exactly how she felt. She wore a better-fitted bra and the boys began to notice. The insecurity she experienced ran rampant. I felt for her. I really did. I watched it and realized how many times I had fallen victim to objectification and how it had only thrust me deeper into my body dysphoria. After she begins binding, she truly starts to feel how she should feel.

"I'm gender fluid." She says to her boyfriend and watches as his face falls.

"I like girls." He replies. She pauses for a moment, looking at him.

"I thought you liked me."

The truth behind these words was almost too much to bear.

I've always had to believe that whoever loves me will truly love me for me. As time has progressed, I have looked into my options of top surgery. I realize most men who identify as heterosexuals are quite attached to the idea of female anatomy, specifically breasts and not having them might make me less desirable.

However, I am also aware of the fact that my happiness is to be prioritized above all else. This is my body and it really and truly should be my choice. This insecurity that is rooted deeply within me is one I watched Yael experience, proving once again that I am not alone.

Yael cuts her hair to a length she finds comfortable which is yet another fantasy I have had. I see myself in the future with a shaved head and high fitting clothes that reveal nothing because there will be no lumps of fat on my chest, nothing to hold me down. I see that vision of myself. The only difference between Yael and I is that Yael actually took steps in order to be that vision of herself that she visualized. I have not. However, one day I would like to. One day I see myself being the person I've always desired to be.

I had never seen representation like that in TV or movies before. I have always felt so entirely alone in how I feel. The idea of be-ridding my breasts is one that almost everyone in my life has found to be so incredibly ludicrous, but as I watched Yael's journey, I saw that it wasn't. It was something that was completely ethical and something that people all over the world experience. It's just a matter of putting your story into the world so others can benefit and learn from it as well.

So I am Lizzie Bowen. I am gender queer and the concept of this was one it took me a long time to grasp. I wear makeup and do my hair, but wear big sweatshirts so that my figure can be hidden. I am not ashamed of my body or who I am, but I am ashamed that I feel the need to hide. I am ashamed that I would rather be uncomfortable in my own skin than to make changes in my life to better myself and be free of my dysphoria.

LGBTQ representation and really, representation, in general, is so so important. There are kids, teens, adults, and individuals of all ages who have never had their identity acknowledged. They live their lives in silence suffering, thinking that no one else in the world feels the way they feel. I was one of those people until I turned on an episode of "Degrassi" on a quiet weekend. No matter what your situation or identity is, know there is someone in the world who shares it. You are not alone.

You never are. Thanks, Yael, for teaching me that.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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9 Things 'Type A' People Know All Too Well

To all my fellow 'try-hards.'

“You are SO Type A.”

This phrase is one that people like to say about those of us who seem a little “too organized,” try a little "too hard," or tend to be "overly ambitious" and driven. At times, this reference can sound a bit derogatory, but it’s how people like us excel in our lives and what sets us apart. Am I right my fellow “Type A-ers”?

I bet you know all too well how familiar these things are:

1.You write absolutely everything down.

Thank goodness for your planner.

2. You’re always in a rush.

And you’ve never really been a fan of slow walkers or talkers.

3. 'Competition' is your middle name.

And 'winning' tends to be your last.

4. You have a million different to-do lists.

What would you do without post its, scribbles, and reminders on your phone?

5. You plan out every hour of your day.

Including bathroom breaks!

6. You don't waste any time.

Multi-tasking while waiting for other things comes second nature to you.

7. You're constantly stressed.

Even when there's no need to be.

8. You have an insane work ethic.

Including the inability to go to sleep until you get everything done.

9. You're a perfectionist in EVERYTHING you do.

Because giving anything other than 100% is unacceptable to you.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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