People within and outside my community attach permanent labels to young African American girls as they are starting to transition into adulthood. Before these girls even become teenagers, they are already considered to be adults by society. And once hormones and thoughts of love come into play for us, they’re automatically condemned, shamed, and/or overtly sexualized. We become looked at as either jezebels or a fetish, stemming from professional to personal environments, from pop culture to social media. Black women cannot get away from these notions as these stigmas have been engraved into their womanhood for centuries.
When I was becoming a young woman back in high school, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to express my sexuality and basic needs as my peers had done. During school, my white classmates would talk openly about their weekend sexual rendezvous involving their partners and flings as if they were discussing their favorite television show. And while it was okay for them to do what they were experiencing, I noticed how it was frowned upon when it came to my black classmates. With this double standard being set, I learned to be more reserved with displaying romantic connections. I tested this out with my first relationship during high school. As we started getting to know one another, I observed him first to see if he would share my secrets with the other high school boys. Rumors would follow the black girls in my schools regarding if or when they were intimate with someone, even if it never occurred. When he didn’t engage in that activity, I felt more at ease to express my wants and needs with him.
Unfortunately, the problems of black womanhood don’t end with educational environments. In the outside world, black women’s value and virtue are denied from sex and sexual identity. And when we call out the visible double standards and hypocrisy, it’s seen as dismissible. It is not just fellow peers or strangers who do this, as it starts in the home for some African American girls. Sex education is nonexistent, often shown in other ways by television and media’s inaccurate narrative. Or through a religious upbringing, involving demonization and scolding of women about the act of premarital sex, ignoring the social construction behind virginity. Another way it is taught is through the act of trauma caused by family friends or relatives themselves, creating emotional and mental damage that hinders the idea of sex.
Most African Americans are not allowed to even find their sexual orientation as they are automatically decided to be heterosexual. And when some of those young girls identify as not heterosexual, they are attacked and/or abandoned by their loved ones. Usually, the thought of one’s parents would come to mind.
A lesbian African American girl I met in high school helped me open my mind to a multi-dimensional idea of womanhood and femininity. The chains society has brought on black women were not cuffed to her. Whatever hatred was given to her, she defended herself fiercely and took away the fear from other girls in her position off their shoulders. I love how she’d intimidated some of the men whenever they stared at or insulted her. She acted out her emotions freely to the world with passion. I looked up to her and, in some ways, have used that confidence in my own life. I learned that it’s okay to be who I am as a woman.
An unbearable amount of strength is brought upon black women and is manipulated against them to bring redundant pain. Our worth is perceived to be less than others, even though we are the vital component of the black community. We give life, help our children grow up, and bring aid to our community. But we are so much more. And people have different notions about black women and our womanhood. We’re not considered normal humans treating a basic need such as sex but rather as sinners committing an ungodly act. There is little to no privacy and respect for us. The lies told about us carry a detrimental weight to our legacy that may never be resolved. In and out of the African American group, these obstacles need to be broken down for black women to thrive and live in their truth.
About the Author:
Ja’ Licia Gainer is a writer based in Missouri. Her writing is influenced by her African American background. You can find her on Instagram: @jaliciagainer, and Twitter: @ItsJazzysEarth.