Black inceldom can look different from the public and deadly displays we are accustomed to seeing from white men. Nevertheless, it is always worthy of investigation.
CW: r*pe culture, harassment
Mainstream understandings of inceldom associate the term with white men. “Incel” conjures up visions of men like mass shooter Elliot Rodger, or serial killer Ed Kemper, or (to an extent) the fictional Arthur Fleck at the center of Todd Phillips’ Joker—men who choose violence as a way to exorcize their anger at their own inability to successfully form sexual and social bonds with women. This hypervisibility of whiteness serves to obscure the reality of inceldom in other racial communities.
The idea that Black incels don’t exist—or at least are less common, less violent, less dangerous—is akin to the idea that Black serial killers don’t exist. As I named in an essay on the subject years ago, it is not that they do not exist, it is that their victims are less visible because their victims tend to be Black women. The reality of Missing White Women Syndrome means that there will always be a vast difference in social response to a white woman in peril versus Black and Indigenous women. Inceldom is a feature of every racial community because misogyny, patriarchy, and male supremacy are features of every racial community.
Sex is understood as a man’s route to power within a cisheteropatriarchal system, which means—according to this system’s (il)logic—the denial of sex allows women to exert power over men, remove power from men, and/or prevent men from accessing power they are entitled to. When men are taught that sex is their primary route to power in interpersonal relationships with women, are promised unfettered access to this power, and are convinced that being denied access to power amounts to their own emasculation, the results will always endanger women other genders marginalized by cisheteropatriarchy.
This sort of sexual entitlement is foundational to rape culture, misogyny, and male supremacy—the idea that men are entitled to access to sex and women are required to give them sexual access, the equating of sexual conquest with masculinity and the understanding of sexual conquest as mandatory for achieving a legible masculinity. At the root of it all is compulsory sexuality, the assumption that all people are sexual and the pedestaling of sexual activity. Rape culture and compulsory sexuality go hand in hand, and both are compounded by anti-Black stereotypes of hypersexuality and the expectation/demand of easy, immediate sexual accessibility to Black people socialized as women.
If you don’t understand inceldom, then it is easy to be confused about how a Black woman sharing wholesome photos of herself and her boyfriend would ultimately result in her being harassed, bullied, slut-shamed, and threatened. One Twitter user (whom I will not name, as it may cause her further harassment) decided to celebrate her current relationship by sharing a set of side by side images: the first, of herself with her now-boyfriend eight years ago when they were friends and the second, a current photo now that they have been dating for one year.
What could have been a conversation about how platonic friendships can provide a great foundation for successful romantic relationships, or simply just a nice moment or a Black woman celebrating herself and her love, quickly became a nightmare. Dozens of Black men descended upon the tweet to accuse her of “friendzoning” him for seven years while she had sex with loads of other men before finally settling for him. The harassment went on for days, she was called all sorts of names and all sorts of assumptions were made about her sexual activity and about how she and her former friend came to be in a relationship. It wasn’t fair, it was an injustice, it was an assault on all men—especially “good Black men”—and it was all her fault. She was the epitome of all that is defective and undesirable about Black women, and she deserved to be punished.
Incel men view genuine friendships with women as impossibilities, as according to the (il)logic of the misogynistic and male supremacist ideals they subscribe to, friendships with women serve only to provide them with eventual and inevitable sexual access. Therefore, women who claim to have genuine friendships with men are either woefully naive or blatantly dishonest. Either way, these friendships are an affront to the incel because it means that a woman is either denying a man sexual access to her, which emasculates him, or she is lying about the fact that she has in fact given him sexual access, which also emasculates him. Both scenarios mean that the man is not in possession of the power he is entitled to, because the woman is in possession of that power. This is what angers incels. At their core, they simply do not want women to have access to power or sexual autonomy, ever. This is especially true for Black people socialized as women, who are expected to be subjugated based on both gender and race.
Compulsory sexuality convinced hordes of incels (and their apologists) that this woman was undoubtedly sexually active during those seven years, misogynoir convinced them that she was hypersexual, promiscuous, and sexually irresponsible with other men during that time, and rape culture convinced them that her male friend had been entitled to sex with her that entire time simply because of his proximity to her. In their minds, she was obligated to give him sexual access to her, as all women are obligated to give sexual access to the men in their “orbit” who desire them. What occurred during those seven years could not possibly have been an organic development of romantic feelings between two genuine friends, but a years-long emasculation of a man who should have been granted sexual access to this woman long ago.
It’s imperative that we do more to identify and name how the incel ideology thrives within our own communities and the differing racial-cultural ways it can manifest, as well as how racial marginalization can even spur Black men to transmute their anger and frustration with living under white supremacy onto women and other marginalized genders.
Black inceldom can look different from the public and deadly displays we are accustomed to seeing from white men. Nevertheless, the ways Black inceldom shows up is always worthy of investigation, far beyond what I have done here. Failing to name inceldom in Black communities will mean that the harassment of and violence against Black people who are on the receiving end of this inceldom will not be properly contextualized. Interrogating how compulsory sexuality, rape culture, male supremacy, and pressures to meet patriarchal expectations placed upon us and our bodies are all intertwined will give us greater insights into how they each work to inform inceldom.
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