(Occasionally, I get a question from a reader that is compelling enough to become an article all its own. This is one of those questions.)
“Over these past few months I have been digging deep, trying to recover my sexuality; to understand why I have hidden it; why I have had a problem expressing it–even though it is a part of myself that I do appreciate and enjoy. Recently I have realized that I have internalized a lot of negative stereotypes about black women and our sexuality.
I guess my question to you is, in your exploration of your sexuality have you ever thought about the intersection of race and sex? How it may have influenced your negative or positive feelings about your body and sexuality? I would love to hear your thoughts.” — Alisha
A: Thanks for such a thought-provoking question, Alisha.
I have absolutely thought about race & sexuality, & how those things have influenced my own life. The findings from inquiring deeply about this subject are often times disturbing & uncomfortable.
I was raised in a predominantly white community. I went to school with beautiful blonde cheerleaders & their equally stunning, blue-eyed, football playing boyfriends. I was just one amongst the very few black people in school. It was isolating, unsettling, & very damaging on the way I viewed myself. But back then, the low ratio of black to white was all I knew. It was normal.
Because of this, I looked at the pale skinned beauties that surrounded me, with their long, flowing hair & their bubbly personalities, & saw that as the epitome of beauty. Of course I got this message elsewhere — from television, from movies, from Seventeen magazine — but witnessing it in real life, coexisting in this truth daily, sealed that belief in for me.
I did not have any black role models to look up to. No supermodels, no movie stars, no singers. They were there, of course: the Janet Jacksons, the Halle Berrys, the Naomi Campbells, but I didn’t accept them into my life as examples. I rejected them, just as I had rejected myself, of course.
So when I closed my eyes at night, my mind was flooded with images of my white counterparts, their porcelain skin, their infectious laughs, the attention they demanded from boys. I saw this pattern of acceptance & superiority amongst them, & I felt I had two choices: I could either own my blackness, this wretched part of me that made me stick out like a sore thumb, or… I could ignore it & disregard the color of my skin & do my very best to blend in & become one of them.
I chose the latter.
My decision was very much laced in oblivious self-hate & the messy confusion that accompanies the daunting task of discovering one’s identity amidst awkward adolescence, the “I’m not a child, but I’m not an adult either” crisis.
I truly cannot blame myself for creating my identity to resemble that of my white peers. My choice was based on survival; it was either fit in or be outcast. Though I’m not condoning my choices, I realize that my actions were a way for me to cope with feelings of inadequacy & rejection.
As I got older, this identity trickled its way into other areas of my life. I was faced with even more overt reminders that the social standard of beauty favors the pale-skinned, long haired beauties, which of course transformed my sexuality & expression of it.
The first porn I ever watched featured a busty blonde with gorgeous green eyes & perfect skin. The porn was beautiful, tasteful, sensual. The woman was stunning. Her nipples were pink. I identified with her; I identified with that kind of beauty. And I got off.
And then I had my belief system challenged when I willingly sought out a porn film that starred black women. It was more for my (non-white) partner than for myself, as he was very attracted to black women. I didn’t share his preference nor his enthusiasm.
As we sat in the living room with all the lights turned off, we focused our attention on the television screen. It didn’t take long before the plot of the film was solidified & the rambunctiousness of it pierced my brain. These black women were being objectified before my eyes, diminished to voluptuous asses & chocolate skin against the backdrop of white dicks.
I didn’t find their hyperbolic expression of their sexuality beautiful, nor did it arouse me. I found it foolish, nasty, degrading, humiliating. The black women’s beauty was merely a fetish. I watched as they gyrated their rumps & whipped their cheap, waist-length weaves back & forth, & felt deeply horrified.
Is this me? I thought. Is this is what I look like?
I suddenly found myself weeping, silent tears of disgust spilling onto my cheeks. We turned off the movie. My lover didn’t understand.
And so began my real battle with self-acceptance, unmasking self-hate, & the long, hard journey of coming face to face with the expression of my black sexuality.
What I went through during those times cannot & should not be applied to anyone else’s experience other than my own. It was my madness. It still is.
Until the universal
standard assumption of beauty shifts dramatically, until women (& men) from all ethnical backgrounds are celebrated in the mainstream, until we have a plethora of consistent, powerful role models amongst our own unique ethnical culture… the struggle of race & sexuality will be relevant in my life.
The hardest part about this journey is that I’ve had to reteach myself how to be unconventionally beautiful & sexual. No longer could I rely on what blonde Cosmopolitan covergirls or svelte supermodels were parading before my face. I had to find my own way. I had to redefine the perception of beauty & sexy that I was being bombarded with. This is still quite challenging in a world where the white woman is seen as the absolute epitome of attraction & sexiness.
In the last year, I have started owning up to the lies that were bestowed upon my impressionable mind during my youth.
I am learning to have utter awareness of & pride for my heritage (shaving my head & going natural catapulted me into this new state of consciousness). I have sought out women of my color to look up to, finding them in the strangest of places, from Tumblr accounts that celebrate the diversity & gorgeousness of black women to the sexy natural that bags my groceries at Trader Joe’s. I have worshiped my own body, my supple curves, my caramel skin, my brown nipples. I have danced seductively to honor my sexuality.
This kind of reconditioning is never ending. Until the day I die I will always be brutally reminded that I do not fit the standard mold of beauty.
But instead of wallowing in this, I try to rejoice. I am bored of the assumed conventional expression of attractiveness. I relish in the fact that I stand amongst a tribe of unique, abnormal, alternative beauties, with kinky hair, chocolate skin, & otherworldly prettiness.
Instead of feeling sorrow for not fitting in, I feel unadulterated joy for standing out.
This whole idea waxes & wanes, of course; I have my days of insecurity like everyone else. But I’m learning to cope with it.
I’m learning to love my roots, & in turn, I am learning to embrace that within my sexuality.