As expected, Lifetime’s documentary, Surviving R. Kelly, which premiered this week, has opened the floor to the unsurprising dialogue surrounding R. Kelly and his sexual harassment allegations that have been the hot topic for several years now. As expected, social media has been very vocal about who’s to blame for this happening to several young women. While I’m not surprised to see blame on Kelly, his camp or even the parents of these girls, I am surprised to see Black girls, in general, being distantly blamed for the actions of Kelly and many men like him.I was in the eighth grade when I first saw a classmate of mine being picked up in the middle of the day by a young man. I knew it wasn’t her brother, because she was an only child, and it surely wasn’t her father because he was too young. As she hopped in the car, she unzipped her school approved jacket and revealed a ruffled tube top that was all the rage in the early 2000s. I didn’t know her, but as she took her final glance around to see who was watching, she and I made eye contact. I stared at her for just a second before breaking away, but what I noticed was a half smile and a look of fear. I remember going home and telling my grandmother what I saw, and her response was simply, ‘That’s why we teach you what we teach you. So you won’t be out here like that fast ass girl.”
While, yes, one can say that the young girl shouldn’t have been in the car with that older man, the same can and should be emphasized that the man shouldn't have been entertaining a 14-year-old to the point she felt comfortable to leave school in the middle of the day.
As minute as that particular memory is to me now, the constant warnings of not being a fast girl are always churning in the back of my mind. The warnings about how to act and dress in the presence of a male to not turn him on, I’ve heard so many times that I can’t even count, have been permanently etched into my psyche. Because, as they say, “men are turned on by the slightest thing, and you don’t want to give them any reason to ...”
Even now, as a grown adult, I’m cautious about what I wear to the family functions where I’ll be surrounded by all of my uncles and male cousins — who’ve never done anything to me, but I still wouldn’t put it past them. I make sure that my jeans don’t make my butt look too round and plump, or that my white T-shirt doesn’t show too much of the lace detail I have on my bra, which I also strategically thought about when packing. Because for my entire life, I, just like so many other black girls and women, have been taught that our bodies are some sort of trigger. A trigger that at any moment, even when we’re in the humdrum of our daily lives, can unintentionally be pulled by a man.Now, in this era, the question has to be asked: "Why are we putting so much on the girl?” What about holding men and young boys accountable, especially in this day and age? We are currently living in the era of #MeToo, where women are being empowered to speak up and out against the predators, violators, rapists and abusers, who have done horrific things to them. While the #MeToo movement has done great things in casting a light on abusers like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, it’s important to note, that one voice, in particular, seems to always be left out. That voice is the Black woman's’ voice, and for some reason, when the Black woman does speak out about her trauma, the Black community especially, becomes eerily silent. For years, Black women have been silenced and ignored, and if and when given the opportunity to be vocal, we are hushed and never taken seriously. This has to change and it has to change now.
Black women are never taken seriously because we aren’t viewed as people. The Black female body is viewed as a pleasure tool and has been viewed as such since we were babies. Our thick thighs, round lips, rounder butts and perky, robust breasts have been a symbol of sex and fetishism since the dawn of time, even when we didn’t want it to. We are taught as children too not appear to be overtly sexual. How often do we tell young girls to not wear tight pants around men? I remember my mother telling me that when I was about five years old. Her and my father had a discussion about my body.
The conversation centered around them knowing they would have problems with the boys because of my butt, and that when I hit puberty the boys would be all over me. This was a discussion at five, an age where the only thing I had on my mind was Sesame Street and Chuck E. Cheese, and my parents were planning how to keep the boys from knocking their door down — 10 years in advance.
We, as a Black community, put too much energy and emphasis, in teaching girls what to do and how to live when it comes to men. When are we going to start teaching boys? Society is no longer in the space where things can be one-sided in terms of action. Teaching one gender how to maneuver around the other, without teaching the other the same, is a problem and tiptoes on the edge of perpetuating rape culture.In its simplest form, rape culture is a cultural norm where sexual violence is normal and victims are blamed for their own assaults. Black girls experience this every day. When we tell young Black girls to change their clothes, as to not entice male family members, this is rape culture. When we say girls are being "fast" by just being girls, that is rape culture. Hypersexualizing the Black girl body is a segue into rape culture.
So how do we fix this? Obviously, it won’t happen overnight, but it can begin by holding young boys and men accountable. Stop calling Black girls fast for a boys lack of respectable home training. Instead of putting so much emphasis on teaching "our girls," it’s time to stand the f**k up and teach "our boys" as well. If we’re teaching girls to not dress provocatively, then let’s make sure we’re teaching boys that what a girl is wearing isn’t an invitation for sexual harassment or assault. If we’re going to teach girls to be cautious of how they look at men with their eyes and what they do with their lips, then let’s keep that same energy when we’re teaching boys that the female body wasn’t made for their pleasure and they need to respect women of all ages, shapes and colors. If we’re going to remind young girls that they can’t wear dark colored lip gloss or lip stick, or red nails is the color for whores, then let’s also remind young boys and men that they are not entitled to a woman’s mind, body or time, regardless of what color lipstick she has on, the color of her nails or how short how skirt is.
In 2019 and beyond, we have to do better for our future Black men and Black women!
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