Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Infinite Love in ‘10 Things I Want to Say to a Black Woman’ - COLORLINES

 "by Jamilah King  Monday, August 29 2011, 4:24 PM EST
Shortly after Don Imus went on his infamous rant disparaging black women, poet Joshua Bennett penned this unique love letter. In it, he uses his experiences as a son, friend, lover, and future father to craft ten things he’d like to say to black women. In a world that’s saturated with heartbreaking stories and downright lies about black women, Bennett’s poem is a breath of fresh air.
Check out this opening verse: “I wish I could put your voice in a jar/wait for those lonely nights when I forget what God sounds like/run to the nearest maximum security prison/and open it.”                                                                         "

This amazing poem by Joshua Bennett was featured in COLORLINES yesterday as part of their Celebrate Love effort and was one I needed to share. His voice praises not only the black body, but African American women in a time when objectifying black women is the norm.

African American women’s bodies and sexual identities have been commodified by both the American economic and cultural marketplaces from the time of slavery to the current moment. American society (white culture being dominant) assigns more worth and value to the white female form and its stated attributes (purity, beauty) over the black female form and its stated attributes (hyper-sexuality, animalistic nature) and how that form is represented. Slavery provided an environment where the racial identity, gender identity and cultural identity of African American women was mired in economic value and a need to dehumanize (by the white establishment) in order to justify the enslavement of a race of people.

One only has to look to representations of African American women in fashion and cinema to see that this is still the norm. Black women in print and fashion are consistently objectified, either cast as animalistic seductresses or as inanimate objects to be used and discarded—both being intrinsically tied to the history of slavery and the black body as a possession or commodity. 

One must only pick up a fashion magazine, or even a department store catalog, for proof. Media representations of black women often include animal print clothing on dark skinned African Americans or simply omit them in favor of their light skinned, more European featured counterparts. As Americans, most of us are so well socialized in these stereotypes that they do not even seem out of place. 

When many see a poem like Bennett's they will wonder why the praises of black womanhood have to be about black womanhood. It is because, sadly, in our culture womanhood is reserved for white middle-class women, while the rest fall into the category of other-- but that a blog for another day.

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