When My Blackness Comes Before My Womanhood

The crux of intersectionality encourages us to realize how various forms of oppression work against the variety of the collective human experience. This phenomena was recently highlighted in this viral video which poignantly showcased the severity of street harassment.

The video project was a joint effort between Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment nonprofit, and Rob Bliss Creative, a viral video marketing agency. Together, their work can be considered a success; with over 15 million YouTube views, street harassment is now the go-to feminist talking point.

The video succeeds in making us realize that street harassment is a subtle form of gender-based violence. It’s a sexist element meant to attack the nature of female identity. The video is courageous and timely, especially as media caught wind of the grotesque murder of Mary “Unique” Spears, and the assault of an unidentified women. Both women were targeted after they turned down romantic advances.

But when I watched the video, my Black feminist inklings didn’t emotionally tingle. Sure, I placed the video within my Black feminist framework, but I didn’t wholeheartedly embrace the message without significant reservation.

My hesitancy comes from the racially insensitive overtones which riddled what could have been a perfect message against street harassment and sexism. As Hanna Rosin of Slate pointed out, white men were explicitly edited out of the video.

Welp.

Rob Bliss took ownership of the exclusion, justifying that certain external factors precluded the participation of white men in the video. But, as Rosin notes “That may be true but if you find yourself editing out all the catcalling white guys, maybe you should try another take.”

Bliss is familiar with racially insensitive controversy. In promoting Grands Rapid, Michigan, he was criticized for excluding people of color and the poor.

The multimedia industry is trained to play on societal temperatures. This basic fact does not escape this recent mark in social justice filmography. After all, there’s a reason why Hollaback! and Rob Bliss chose actress Shoshana B. Roberts to play the role of the harassed woman. She’s unbelievably attractive, curvaceous, and is racially ambiguous; a factor which relies on our obsession with proximity to whiteness while wrapped in exoticism.

This is no way justifies what she went through on her 10-hour journey. Nor does it excuse the heinous rape and death threats that she’s been receiving.

But her selection does complicate the ultimate mission if all factors are contextualized under the mongrelization of the Black male. The video perpetuates the fiction of Black men being uncontrollable sexual deviants with no regard for chivalrous civility. Throughout history, white racists and propagandists propelled this myth to justify racism. They were especially particular about the Black males’ rapid sexual appetite for white female flesh. The hypersexualization of the Black male has contributed to the destruction of the Black communal unit as a whole.

And the remnants of this trope are still felt today. We saw it with Donald Sterling, who was especially troubled that his racially ambiguous girlfriend V. Staviano, was keeping company with BigBlackSuperSexualMongrelNegroes.

It can be construed that this video plays on this trope, and that disturbs me.

Which leads to the personal realization that my Blackness often comes before my Womanhood. Black unity is more significant to me than my gender politics. Often times, I feel the weight of my oppression on my Blackness versus my gender.

My gender identity is relatively new to me. Feeling shunned from the mainstream feminist community, my pro-Black politic embodies the complexities of intersectionality in ways that feminism fails. As feminism becomes more trendy and corporate, the message of gender equity is lost. Recently, feminism shies away from intersectional racial politics and ethnic experiences in favor or YouTube views and soundbites.

The pro-Black struggle hasn’t sold out in this way. It hasn’t weakened the message in favor of corporate sponsorship, nor has it compromised the underlying premise that racism exists and hides in between institutions, structures, and subconsciousness.

Furthermore, my pro-Black politic encompasses my gender, it doesn’t exclude it. My pro-Black politic captures that not only have my people been marginalized for centuries, but some factors of said marginalization is especially unique to both my race and my gender.

Feminism, as a stand alone belief, doesn’t speak to me in the ways that my Blackness does because it refuses to acknowledge the intricacy of my existence. And that’s why I put my race before my gender.

photo 1Arielle Newton, Editor-in-Chief. Get at us @BlkMillennials.

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7 responses to “When My Blackness Comes Before My Womanhood

  1. I’ve read a few of your posts. I enjoy your passion very much. I have not walked in your shoes and I will not comment on blackness or anything to do with race. What I will comment on is what we have in common, a beating heart and these womanly parts that seem to evoke so much attention. I have felt a man’s fist against my face. I have felt a man’s hands where they shouldn’t have been when I was small girl. The fist nor the hand had color, but the pain, the pain…was red!

    Women all women were granted the right to vote years after it was granted to black men, although, for our black man, we all know it was only on paper for many years.

    Feminism to me is who I am before anything. I will stand up with any woman or women who asks me to do so without swaying her to think as I do in order to receive my support. Suffering is conquered together.

    I’m sure the strength you show on paper inspires many.

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  2. I am from Colombia and I Don’t know English but I read your blog entry (with dictionary and translator). I will comment in Spanish (I hope that you can read me)

    Cuando comencé a ver el video me di cuenta de que los “acosadores” eran hombres negros. No lo pude terminar.

    Si hubiera visto ese video 5 años atrás seguramente no me habría dado cuenta de que el video era racista ¿Por qué?

    Usted escribió: “Which leads to the personal realization that my Blackness often comes before my Womanhood. Black unity is more significant to me than my gender politics. Often times, I feel the weight of my oppression on my Blackness versus my gender”

    Su opresión es la que le permite darse cuenta que ese video reproduce el racismo, que es un video deshonesto.

    La gente blanca, aunque se le muestren los argumentos, no aceptan eso que para usted es evidente. ¿Por qué no lo aceptan?

    “Lo más profundo está en la piel”

    Yo hace 5 años no lo hubiera entendido porque soy mestiza y tengo el privilegio blanco.

    Ahora me nombro antirracista, proque puedo darme cuenta del racismo que reproduce un video como este, puedo percibir el racismo oculto de la campaña She for He que promueve Emma Whatson. Ahora puedo ver lo que mi privilegio racial no me dejaba ver antes.

    Compartí años con mujeres negras afrocolombianas, con ellas me di cuenta del privilegio que tengo porque en todas partes me trataban mejor a mi que a ellas. (El racismo aquí es devastador)

    Yo ahora tengo la experiencia de la opresión, pero desde el lugar del privilegio, eso al principio produce culpa, luego solo queda hacerse cargo del propio racismo, del racismo que hace parte del privilegio ¿cómo? Sospechando de mi todo el tiempo, vigilando mi privilegio constante mente e incomodándome.

    Your blog post i liked very much, was a relief for me. Thanks

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  3. OMG! I saw the video (the Grand Rapids, MI Ad Lip Vid) on youtube. This guy is completely out of tune. Grand Rapids is a very diverse city, trust me, I used to lived there for three years before moving here in this redneck town, so the only minority he “included” was a black woman in the video. Kudos, Jackass! In his latest, the catcalling video doesn’t seem fair at all, by including Black Men and Latino as the aggressor, but the white male in the picture? Non existent. But then, here’s the issue! White males commit more domestic violence, rape, sex abuse towards family members than a black guy. I’m not telling you Black Men are saints but why the denigration of the Black Race? Isn’t enough for the media to bash us more?

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  4. I feel what women are saying but passing a street harassment bill is really just a way to lock up black men and fill these prisons since stop and frisk didn’t work and crime is down….it’s an ulterior motive at play.

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  5. In my “key issues in African American history” class in college we studied the Black Panthers who had this dude named Eldridge Cleaver leading it. And one of their strategies was raping white women. So he got put into jail. He eventually came to terms with how he was taking his anger and fight out on the wrong people and he made amends where he could. But anyhow, back then, as a young white woman in a predominantly black classroom I was feeling tense about the rape stuff but wanting to understand and I had this unique opportunity of sitting next to Eldridge’s daughter in that class… I couldn’t imagine how she’d have to sit there and listen to how her father was being discussed in history… how he was undermined by the white men and by his own sense of self… both.
    His daughter was bi-racial… so it gets very delicate and very human… in the details.
    Your post is interesting… that you chose race over gender when you really, you don’t have to choose between the two at all.

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