It is a word that has a plethora of meanings, largely depending on who you ask to define it. However, an official definition of the word is “the quality or state of being sexual.”
People demonstrate their sexuality in different ways. Some do it in a quiet graceful way, while others demonstrate their sexuality in an overt manner.
As I watched the BET awards show a few days ago, I couldn’t help but observe the manner in which more and more females exhibit their sexuality. They do so in a blatant in your face type of way. This is not only evidenced in their behavior, but also the clothes that they wear. Women like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj generally perform in very revealing clothes. Very revealing. But it isn’t just celebrities, seeing a scantily-clad woman walking at the mall, supermarket, or even a little league game is about as common as seeing someone sipping coffee or checking their smart phone.
The problem I have with such over-sexualization and the way some Black women are viewed around the world comes from a historical perspective.
For years, women of color have been involuntarily objectified by men. I remember a 90-something year-old woman once telling me the story of her great grandmother who as a young Black girl was used as a “sexual reward” for men who performed well on the cotton fields. This woman expressed the shame and despair of her great grandmother and how for generations after that, the women in her family always felt “less than,” thus allowing men to treat them in an insubordinate or disrespectful manner. That insecurity ran deep in her family until her mother broke the chains of mental and physical bondage and carried herself in a manner that demanded respect from all people.
Do the women of today who voluntarily objectify themselves understand that their actions are a slap in the face of women who were degraded generations before them?
But perhaps they can’t relate to that.
If that is indeed the case, I encourage them to look up Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman. Baartman was born in what is now considered South Africa in the 19th century. She was manipulated into becoming a traveling freak show in Europe where she was marketed as “a scientific curiosity” for her unusually large buttocks and genitals. She was marketed as a freak of nature with orangutan features. During these shows, oftentimes only wearing a cloth to cover her vagina, she would be made to perform multiple degrading acts while the audience, who considered her an animal of sorts, laughed and taunted her. When Europeans became bored with her “act,” she was forced into prostitution until her death at age 25.
Nowadays, Black women voluntarily display their assets and “perform” many of the same acts that tormented Black women generations before them.
As I thought about some of today’s Black women who think less that it is OK to be overtly sexually suggestive, I was reminded of an exhibit currently on display in New York. It’s called “A Subtlety” and it is 40-foot tall sculpture of a nude Black mammy-like female sphinx in a doo-rag with large breasts, huge buttocks and a protruding vulva. The sculptor was created by artist Kara Walker and it was intended “as homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the new world on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”
Several Black writers and bloggers have posted essays about their experience while viewing, “A Subtlety,” and most were not positive – not because of the artwork that many of them considered reflective of the plight of our ancestors – but more because of the insensitive nature that many of the non-Black attendees exhibited towards the sculpture.
Some of them made derogatory comments like “sugar tits,” while others posed in sexually suggestive manners near the buttocks and vulva of the artwork.
Many of the writers’ pieces detailed how the sculpture represented a sensitive time in Black history and the plight of those before us. To respond in such a disrespectful way dishonors those who endured such maltreatment and it shows contempt for our history.
One blogger wrote, “I never saw anyone make corny faces at the 9/11 museum or the places that document the Holocaust experience.”
It saddens me to see how some Blacks present themselves in a way that not only dishonors us today, but also those who came before us and endured the horrific, inferior treatment of others who considered themselves superior.
When will we get a clue?
Shannon Williams is president of The Indianapolis Recorder.