So I have a question: Why is exploitation of the female form only okay when it is wrapped in Kente cloth?
Don’t quite understand the question? Well, I’ll explain.
I have a diverse group of folks within my social networks. One such group of folks, are the self-professed afro-centric, pro-black nationalist types. Within this group, these folks like to post historical passages and scholarly quotes from black leaders like Marcus Garvey, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, among others. They like to share YouTube videos of drum circles and conscious music from throughout the Diaspora. And they like to tag people in a bunch of memes about blackness and why we should honor our African ancestry. Generally, most of these posts are harmless enough and in fact, I can certainly respect and appreciate anybody who is about encouraging black empowerment and uplifting of the race. However, there is a small minority within this group, who sometimes, I’m not sure what their motivation is.
You see, these folks, who are mostly men, desire to uplift the black woman. They do this by chastising rap music for being denigrating to black women and criticize black women with weaves and other extensions, for neglecting to accept their beautiful “natural” form. They say words like Queen and Goddess when referencing black women and like to write entire odes about us being the true mothers of civilization. Yes, these brothers truly feel that respect is at the utmost importance for our Nubian sisters – with exception of our bodies.
On any given day, I see about two to three of those photos posted on my social working site from these mothers-of-civilization-praising brothers. Just to set a visual: imagine a picture of a fully exposed, dark-skinned black woman posing with one raised fist on the beach, looking intensely at some far away distances, possibly Africa. She is completely naked and exposed – with exception of her afro, locs or other natural hairstyle, which is wrapped in swirls of red, black and green fabric. Think I’m exaggerating? Well for the past week (and remember, it is only Wednesday) one such dude in my network has been posting similar in kind photos of the exposed backside of a woman with an afro. From the photo, you can see no descriptive of the woman other than her large buttocks. Yet the caption to the photo read, “All Hail the Mother of Civilization – got damm!!!!” – Yeah, with that many exclamation points.
It never ceases to amaze me how these pictures, and the sentiment behind them, are so well received from men and women. There is something about the inclusion of African cloth and other Afrocentric dress and graphics, which somehow sets it apart from the typical T&A we see plastered – and often times are disgusted by – in music videos, in movies, in advertising, and even in the streets. Yet for me, I’m just hard press to make the distinction between this so-called reverence for the bareback Afro-centric sister and the same old subjugating value we place on women’s bodies.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t a discussion about if nudity is natural or if it is pornographic. We should all be grown enough to know that the display of the human form has many purposes besides sexual. Besides, weren’t we all born into this world naked? Certainly no one sees anything pornographic about that. But this is a dialogue on how in these images, which are said to be a celebration of black womanhood, we still see the perpetuation of exploitative beauty we attribute to music video culture and magazines. This is also an opportunity to ask why can’t we ever seem to portray women as feminine and beautiful without turning them into objects?
Even with the Kente cloth headdresses women are reduced down to Jezebels, whose only purpose is to be one-dimensional pleasurable sexual objects. With titles like Earth Goddess and Mother of Civilization, we are told that her main and possible sole purpose within the black existence is to act like a vehicle for procreation. And thanks to the camera angles we are treated to the same sort of body portioning, which the highlight is buttocks, breast and in some instances vagina, which we see in more mainstream representation. Likewise, have you ever noticed that in most of these pictures, the women are slim, fit and youthful, which is said to be the ideal Westernized interpretation of sexuality? Yet you never see the caption, Mother of the Earth, over a butt naked picture of a big black old woman with sagging tiddays and a dimply behind, which is probably more representational of a woman, who birthed a nation.
No matter, which way you cut it, these hyper-sexualized interpretations of black female bodies does exist even within the Afrocentric community. And just because we wrap it in Kente cloth headdresses doesn’t change that many of these images and portrayals only seek to bolster male masculinity through another one-dimensional idolized role of what a righteous woman should be. Even as the red, black and green flags waves behind her, women are still preferred to be seen as, at the least, a decorative object, meant to serve as only the arouser of so-called more positive brothers, and, at the most, a vessel for his child. I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I have no desire to be a goddess or a queen, if my only contribution to the movement of uplifting blacks and empowering a people seems to stop at my body.
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