Black women and femmes often represent perfect victims for what our abusers would say is not a crime.
By Shannon Barber
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
— audre lorde
Within the body of every Black woman and femme, there lives the multitudes of the collective dreams and nightmares of America. The stern but loving Mammy, the Sassy friend, we are the repository for every sort of fantasy from the hood girl gone good, to the welfare queen dropping babies for paychecks, to the vision of the living life to the fullest success stories and yet, we are still often everything most hated and most coveted by America. In one breath we are hope and strength and the enemy.
From the Underground Railroad, to the Black Panthers, to Black Lives Matter to, communities full of women writers, Black women are the peacemakers and the aggressors, we are the face of what it means to be loved and hated in one thought. This is a dynamic I have experienced my whole life, I saw my Mother go through it, I see my peers go through it and it comes from everywhere.
Existing in this liminal space between love and hate many of us react whether we plan to or not. We withdraw, we are beast and burden. We pull the intellectual weight, we create language to describe our world and further the causes we believe in, we educate, we caretake and yet, the moment we step out of our assigned roles, or have the audacity to not be ride or die and fill every role, our men, other women and non-Black POC turn on us. People pour their vitriol and hate into us and expect us to hold it for them and smile while we do it.
Within Black culture, we are everything. The cis heteronormative expectation is that we, will always hold down Black men. That we will be there for them when they are tired, we are Mama and lover, protector, and expected to say yes. Within the culture, we are praised for our strength and shamed if we are “too” strong. We are expected to not only put up with abuse from within our communities, we are expected to be silent about it to uplift Black men at all costs.
From outside of Blackness specifically, the other perpetrator of this abuse is White women. For them, we are also inspiration, Mammy, occasional Jezebel. We get awkward neck rolls and finger snaps, ill timed YOU GO GIRL and other Sassy Black womanisms thrown at us as if they are dog treats. And as with Black men, if we have the audacity to say no, to be unimpressed, to say, don’t-the world ends and suddenly we are aggressive, bullies, racists. The same dynamic begins and often ends with Black women and femmes suffering at the hands of people we thought, were with us.
Why does this happen? How does such a specific dynamic play out with Black women and femmes on the receiving end from such superficially disparate peoples? How is it that these things happen to so many of us from the round the way girls to our most illustrious athletes and intellectual giants? Do we blame Tr*mp? Social media?
Unfortunately, neither the rise of Herr Evil Tangerine Jackass, nor social media can be blamed. The root cause of this behavior especially as it comes from Black men and White women is that Black women and femmes, are rarely—if ever—granted the fullness of humanity. We are ideas, we are cyphers, we are aspirational beauty and wealth and we are the ghetto girl fighting a nail tech, we are the dark skinned Black femmes being called roaches, we are the traitors who date or marry non-Black people, we are the bitches who don’t put out on demand or who do. We are the bullies who say no to Whiteness and toxic masculinity. We are an illusion built of racism, misogynoir, White feminism and Amerikkkan culture.
I’m saying, we ain’t real. I am saying that, we are mirrors for expectations we didn’t create for ourselves and when we fail or deny those expectations we become the locus of rage from many of the people we care for and thought cared for us. We are embodiments of unacknowledged cognitive dissonance. We live with the knowledge that at any moment, we can and likely will be dehumanized and casually abused because it is easy. It is easy to abuse someone you don’t see as fully human.
When the fact of our humanity, our foibles, our hearts and blood and bodies are brought into the fore, the abuse doubles down. Black women and femmes often represent perfect victims for what our abusers would say is not a crime.
To survive, to thrive and to help keep the various parts of the universe we inhabit livable we fight. We speak, create and weep ourselves into existence. Some of us pioneer social justice methodologies and terminologies, we use social media to create awareness of the issues close to our hearts. We say no. We act up. We dance. We live in full defiance of the routine dehumanization.
“I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.”
― audre lorde
Author Bio: Shannon Barber is a 40 year old author who resides in the Pacific North West. They are most often found in their natural habitat, walking very quickly while brandishing a cigarette in one hand and an enormous cup of coffee in the other. They are the author of the forthcoming poetry book, Gasoline Heart by Lark Books this summer. For more of their poetry please see #gorgonpoetics and all the genres at their author site.
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