I am not beautiful. I phenotypically exist in a space where I am not usually offensive looking enough to have it be an issue for my mobility but neither am I a threat to anyone’s beauty market. There is no reason for me to assume this pattern of behavior is a compliment. What I saw in Cyrus’ performance was not just a clueless, cult
urally insensitive attempt to assert her sexuality or a simple act of cultural appropriation at the expense of black bodies. Instead I saw what kinds of black bodies were on that stage with Cyrus.
Cyrus’ dancers look more like me than they do Rihanna or Beyonce or Halle Berry. The difference is instructive.
Fat non-normative black female bodies are kith and kin with historical caricatures of black women as work sites, production units, subjects of victimless sexual crimes, and embodied deviance. As I said inmy analysis of hip-hop and country musiccross-overs, playing the desirability of black female bodies as a “wink-wink” joke is a way of lifting up our deviant sexuality without lifting up black women as equally desirable to white women. Cyrus did not just have black women gyrating behind her. She had particularly rotund black women. She gleefully slaps the ass of one dancer like she intends to eat it on a cracker. She is playing a type of black female body as a joke to challenge her audience’s perceptions of herself while leaving their perceptions of black women’s bodies firmly intact. It’s a dance between performing sexual freedom and maintaining a hierarchy of female bodies from which white women benefit materially.
Being desirable is a commodity. Capital and capitalism are gendered systems. The very form that money takes — paper and not goods — is rooted in a historical enterprise of controlling the development of an economic sphere where women might amass wealth. As wealth is a means of power in a capitalistic society, controlling this means of acceptable monies was a way of controlling the accumulation, distribution and ownership of capital.
For black women, that form of money was embodied by the very nature of how we came to be in America.
Please click through and read the whole thing. It’s really good. As a black woman I admit that I’m surprised I missed that aspect. As someone who doesn’t have the type of body mentioned in this piece, the uninvited touching that I get appears to be at a much lower level (and of a different nature) than what the author experiences.
“It is disgusting. We are told to love sex but never masturbate or fool around. To love our bodies but we have to be hairless, thin, have boobs, and to never wear make up to cover our flaws. We can like sports and watch them but we can’t play them unless they are toned down and pretty enough to be oggled at. We can be nerds but we can’t be TOO smart or we forget our place. We are told we need a prince charming and to seek him out by constantly changing ourselves and being perfect for him. We are given the message that outside beauty is what matters the most but if we have it and get successful it was because we have a pretty face. We are told we exaggerate and should just go with it when we complain of being objects and property. We are taught that being a woman is worthy of an insult… WE have to fear walking at night. WE have to go in a group if we need to use the bathroom in a strange place. WE have to be cautious of where we are and who we are with. That we are told to hush and get over it if we are assaulted because real life isn’t like the crime shows and it is harder to convict the assaulter. That female artists are degraded and yelled at in artist alleys. That you are judged just by how you wear a t-shirt.”—Unknown (via perfect)