We are creating Black women who may recognize their physical appeal, but don’t know how to embrace it because they feel like they are not allowed to.
By Gloria Alamrew
Black women are sexy. I have been in awe of Black women and our allure from a young age. The way our hair coils, the way the sun sits and shines perfectly in our melanin as if our skin is its source. The full lips and hips that many of us possess have always convinced me that we are real life Sirens. But I never thought of myself as sexy.
This is not an essay about a fledgling self-esteem, this is simply a statement of fact. Blessed with loving parents, who knew that their Black daughter would grow up in a world that would seek to destroy her confidence, they took advantage of every opportunity to remind me that my Blackness made me beautiful. However, when it came time to enter into my womanhood and discover relationships and everything that came with them, I had no idea what it meant to be a sexual being.
When you’re the only child – and daughter, no less – of immigrants, sex is one of the last things being discussed in your household. My parents were focused on surviving and providing a safe and loving home. Even with my parents being far more progressively-leaning in their parenting style and beliefs than others around us, it was always understood that sex was not something I ever needed to worry about. Sure, they happily signed every permission slip that came home with me, allowing me to participate in sex ed classes at school. And when I would come home each day, there was always a discussion about what I had learned and why it was important. But those discussions were always textbook-centric; we talked about what I had learned, but not about how it applied to me.
Admittedly, my memory is fuzzy as to whether or not I was ever given “the talk,” but to be frank, I don’t think it even really mattered, as parents have this keen ability to communicate messages to their children without ever having to explicitly state them. As I got older still, I understood that my focus was to be on school, not boys— and that rule was not something to be tested. I went to an all-girls junior high school, so there was no prospect of crushes or dating for me there (I at least knew by then that I was attracted to boys), and by the time I got to high school, I was still trying to reorient myself after having to deal with my mom falling severely ill that I wasn’t really interested in dating or sex anyway. Regardless, I thought that dating and sex only would only bring troubles like pregnancy and disease (a by-product of broken sex ed teachings that only served up fear and very little true or helpful information), and I knew that was simply not an option for me. So, I left all of it alone.
How do Black girls navigate the world of dating and sex, when the world insists that we shouldn’t at all? Even more confusing, Black girls and women are often sexualized earlier and more readily because of our blackness. We’re seen as objects that are meant to provide sexual satisfaction, not indulge in it ourselves. From fathers warning us of men’s ill intentions, to being called “fast” if you date more than one guy in high school, by the time we reach adulthood, we have been taught and have subsequently internalized fear-based responses to our romantic and sexual relationships. We are distrusting of men, many of us shy away from any and all discussions of sex and, what’s worse, often berate other women. The image of women standing in and owning their sexual self should be celebrated and encouraged, and instead, it has been shown to girls as a warning, as something to avoid at all costs, lest you be seen as a slut. The very idea of being “sexually liberated” is something that is only applied to women. The term “sexually liberated man” doesn’t even exist in our society’s lexicon because it is laughably redundant. All things considered, I never knew what a truly sexually liberated Black woman looked like! In my life, there has been no room for her.
Our Summer of Sex is made possible by the sponsorship of Planned Parenthood. With their help, we are able to bring you this thoughtful series delving into the subject of sex and amplify the voices of marginalized people and communities.
For me, I had to explore the universe of attraction, dating, and sex largely in secret and this type of isolation only invites confusion and missteps. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to with my questions, concerns, or fears. I spent so much time and energy trying to intellectualize this part of my life on my own when I was never really given the tools to do so. When I reflect on my early dating years, and some of the decisions I made, I can’t help but feel that I—and I imagine so many other Black girls—were set up to fail. This is not to say that I was behaving recklessly, but rather, I now recognize that there were uncomfortable moments I could have avoided, like not knowing how to say no to a partner even though they were your partner. And indeed, there were perhaps enlightening moments I missed out on, too. Had I turned things down, said no to something that I did actually want to do, but felt like I couldn’t because that’s not what a Black girl should do? What I should do? Had I been given a solid foundation of knowing that yes, you’re allowed to date around, yes, you’re allowed to change your mind, yes, you’re allowed to know and be proud of your body, then maybe those years could have been filled with less shame and fear, and a lot more joy.
When we don’t build communities for young Black girls, where they can feel safe, accepted, and free to ask any and all questions they may have about their bodies, love and sex, and the myriad ways they do and don’t intersect, we are creating Black women who only know how to shut the world out because it never let them in. We are creating Black women who may recognize their physical appeal, but don’t know how to embrace it because they feel like they are not allowed to, especially not for themselves.
The idea of “Black Girl Magic” is incomplete if we refuse to acknowledge that Black girls will eventually grow into Black women who can be sexual, romantic, and loving beings, beyond and completely external to how the world sees us. We have desires and curiosities and attractions that deserve the fullness of our care. Our magic is so much more than the profitable and marketable parts the world has deemed safe for us to express. Black women are sexy and sexual entities, independent of anyone else’s ideas of what that means. In order for our magic to flourish, to be real, we have to let Black girls and women know that, people are going to be uncomfortable with how we express and explore that side of us, and will make judgments on us based on their discomfort. I want Black girls to know that, as they are learning and growing into women, a community is being built for them, not to retreat to or hide, but to flourish. Magic isn’t found, it’s created, and while we may not be able to completely destroy the misogynistic and racist attitudes that seek to belittle us, we can make sure that we have an impenetrable network of care and upliftment ready to embrace the magic that they are creating in their own journey.
Gloria Alamrew is an Edmonton-based writer, community organizer, and curly hair fanatic. She writes about all things that centre around Blackness, culture, and womanhood, and the myriad ways they intersect.
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