Black women don’t need researchers to tell us that we are marginalized for our gender and race. Our lives and those of our sisters are proof enough. But since we are forever doubted when we speak about our own experiences, it can be gratifying when “experts” come through with the facts naysayers claim to need to recognize our oppression. Last week, the research and communications firm, Perry Undem, released the results of a national survey of African-American adults: “The Lives and Voices of Black America: On the Intersections of Politics, Race and Public Policy.” The study revealed, in part, that more than a century after emancipation, a lot of Black women and girls still don’t have control over our own damn bodies. It is a finding that should disturb and galvanize Black communities:
I am cynical, though. I suspect it is more likely that folks will continue to focus their ire on Black female displays of sexuality. After all, it is easier to rail against “hoes” and “THOTS” than to change ideas about male and female sexuality that actually put women at risk. Of the women in Perry Undem’s survey of more than 1,000 Black Americans, 37 percent say someone has pressured them to have sex when they did not want to; 28 percent say someone has had sex with them without their consent; 20 percent have been made to have sex without a condom; 16 percent have been made to have oral or anal sex. Mothers of Black children are even more vulnerable. For instance, nearly 60 percent of them reported experiencing sexual assault or pressure and 32 percent say someone has had sex with them without their consent. (The study did not use the term “rape,” possibly because sexual coercion has been so normalized that some Black women may not recognize it as rape.)
Way too many Black women cannot control when and how they have sex nor can they manage whether or not they have children as a result of sex. More than four in 10 women in the survey could only afford to pay $10 or less for birth control, putting them at grave risk considering GOP attacks on both the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood. I had this on my mind while watching folks lose theirs over the “For the Dick” Challenge, an online meme that has women, including Black celebrities Issa Rae, Regina Hall, Erykah Badu, Gabrielle Union and Sanaa Lathan, jokingly rapping about what they will do for…well…good dick.
Black women who participate in the popular meme are being accused of degrading themselves with their assertive sexuality and phallus worship, adding to the decay of the Black community.
Most any Black woman raised in America knows society believes there is little worse than a “fast” Black woman. Our ancestors were labeled Jezebels way back in the antebellum era to excuse their rape and exploitation by white men and women. And that label has adhered to us for centuries—even in our own communities where we are wanton women until proven innocent by unimpeachably chaste behavior. You are more likely to hear “these hoes ain’t loyal” preached from the pulpit of a Black church than “these rapists ain’t shit.”
The “…for the dick” challenge presents several real issues to interrogate. We could have a conversation about performative hypersexual online culture and the affect it has on women. We could talk about how girls who access these memes may miss the joke and get the wrong idea about how much importance women should put on having a dick (and a man attached to it) around. (I’m willing to bet there is zero chance of Rae giving up her HBO show for a dude, no matter how good he is in the sack.) We could discuss how young women these days often don’t consider that the “For the Dick” video they post at 18 may well show up when they are trying to get that sweet corporate gig at 28. We could talk about heteronormativity and sexism in popular culture. (People don’t seem as dismayed by the very few “…for the pussy” memes performed by Black men. And the only famous face I could find rapping an ode to same sex love is the always awesome Bob the Drag Queen.)
Most complaints address none of these things—and that is the tell. They are not centered on concern for Black women and girls or our well-being and safety. They are yet another way to blame Black women’s sexuality for the alleged downfall of the Black community; and with 45 in the White House and Nazis marching in the streets that idea is as offensive as it is laughable.
Folks worried about the well-being of Black women and the future of the Black community might forgo commenting on sexy social media memes in favor of working to unhook the definition of black manhood from the conquering and exploitation of women; diligently teaching our sons and daughters about enthusiastic consent; believing in Black women’s stories of abuse; and fighting aggressively for organizations like Planned Parenthood that help ensure that black women have access to reproductive care.
Tamara Winfrey-Harris writes about race and gender. She is the author of The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America and the forthcoming Dear Black Girl: Letters From Your Sisters on Stepping Into Your Power, due March 2021 and available for preorder now.