Editor’s note: This topic is, admittedly, a bit outside our usual scope but I do think it is relevant to both parenting and race, particularly to the parenting of black girls and teenagers.
An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk, September 23, 2011 [Womanist Musings]
We are deeply concerned. As Black women and girls we find no space in SlutWalk, no space for participation and to unequivocally denounce rape and sexual assault as we have experienced it. We are perplexed by the use of the term “slut” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated. The way in which we are perceived and what happens to us before, during and after sexual assault crosses the boundaries of our mode of dress. Much of this is tied to our particular history. In the United States, where slavery constructed Black female sexualities, Jim Crow kidnappings, rape and lynchings, gender misrepresentations, and more recently, where the Black female immigrant struggle combine, “slut” has different associations for Black women. We do not recognize ourselves nor do we see our lived experiences reflected within SlutWalk and especially not in its brand and its label.
As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves “slut” without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is. We don’t have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations. Although we understand the valid impetus behind the use of the word “slut” as language to frame and brand an anti-rape movement, we are gravely concerned. For us the trivialization of rape and the absence of justice are viciously intertwined with narratives of sexual surveillance, legal access and availability to our personhood. It is tied to institutionalized ideology about our bodies as sexualized objects of property, as spectacles of sexuality and deviant sexual desire. It is tied to notions about our clothed or unclothed bodies as unable to be raped whether on the auction block, in the fields or on living room television screens. The perception and wholesale acceptance of speculations about what the Black woman wants, what she needs and what she deserves has truly, long crossed the boundaries of her mode of dress.
I Saw the Sign but Did We Really Need a Sign? [Crunk Feminist Collective]
But “sluttiness” and “slut-shaming” around sexuality are in fact, central to white women’s experiences of sexuality. So to start a movement around that word is to inherently to place white women and their experiences at the center. To actually be able to materially reclaim “slut,” however much one has been slut-shamed is to have the power to work within a universe of multiple meanings in which both committed chastity and casual coitus, and everything in between, are understood as sexual options. For Black women, our struggles with sexuality are to find the space of recognition that exists between the hypervisibility of our social construction as hoes, jezebels, hoochies, and skanks, and the invisibility proffered by a respectability politics that tells us it’s always safer to dissemble. To reclaim slut as an empowered experience of sexuality does not move Black women out of these binaries. We are always already sexually free, insatiable, ready to go, freaky, dirty, and by consequence, unrapeable. When it comes to reclamations of sexuality, in some senses, Black women are always already fucked.