When an international magazine editor sits down on a chair called “the black woman chair,” for an editorial magazine…
…heads are scratched. Pearls are actually clutched. Swear words are articulated. Anger is not just in the head or heart, it is felt in the body. From anger to sadness to despair.
Then you remember this IS our reality. You forgot…since yesterday.
You post it on Facebook and every one feels ALL THE RAGE. And you feel confirmed that it IS -in fact- jarring, awful, perhaps even evil. A piece of “art” gone rogue. A misstep by an editor, a photographer, a magazine editor, a publisher.
They apologize, say “everyone is equal” but you know in your heart this was no unintentional misstep. This chair was made to be intentionally “provocative,” they can call it “not racism,” and a “piece of art,” and you can call bullshit all day but mostly you stuff it down because if you didn’t each new instance of your objectification would suffocate you.
You wonder what you’re supposed to tell your two young sons about the black woman chair. They are only 4 & 8 and Lord Willing will not see it due to limited internet use but you know they will catch get wind of how black women are objectified and over-sexualized from ALL THE THINGS. Things as “innocent” as Miley Cyrus appropriating black women on prime-time to the not-so-innocent portrayals of black women as sluts, hoes & bitches in song lyrics and music videos.
You think about your boys seeing this about other black women, but what about you? Haven’t they all ready internalized it in YOU –their own flesh and blood Mama is different and not in a good way?
Your heart aches because they can articulate that your natural hair styles are “crazy,” “too big,” “silly,” & “out of control.” You smile and they smile because they are little people, articulating the only truths they know: you & all your hair look different from the messages I’ve all ready been told about what is beautiful and acceptable.
You are not beautiful, black woman, you are silly.
It’s a small thing really in comparison. Yet, it sends a message you know loud and clear: by the time these boys are 14 & 18 they will know -maybe even believe- black women are worth less than white women. They will know their Mama is a part of one of the most marginalized populations on the planet and God help them if you don’t raise them up to be responsible advocates.
You wonder what message a chair like this sends to little boys in light of African-American history. You wonder how your boys will respond when they learn how often black slave women were raped by white slave owners, how painting the picture of black women as Jezebels, harlots, whores and sluts is a socially accepted way of interacting with us?
To degrade the black woman then is now every bit as acceptable in art. Art, it covers all manner of sins doesn’t it?
You will teach your boys that half of us -HALF- have been sexually abused by 18. One day, you will tell your boys their own black grandfather spent 8 years in prison for doing just that to their Mama. They will hate him, and you will try to teach them the freedom in forgiveness. You will try to help them understand black women’s bodies aren’t their right to use, denigrate, objectify as they please…even as you try to understand this yourself.
You wonder if you can use an image like this -at least the idea of it- to explain the emotional violence against you and your Sisters face every day. The positioning of her legs, the belt, she is vulnerable. My positioning in this country, is every day as vulnerable. Will it help to tell them my sons how often black women are molested and told to keep quiet? Will it overwhelm them if they know how often black women are raped?
You want them to know this because you do not want them to grow up without understanding how vulnerable we all are. You want them to know if you were ever murdered or stolen they may never see justice because folks simply won’t care.
You want them to see little black girls in the 7th grade with big natural hair or dreads and find them every bit as beautiful and desirous as the blond haired blue-eyed baby girl across the row. You hope that one day your sons will find a strong black woman marry-able not “too loud,” “too crazy,” “too angry,” “too natural,” “too sexual,” “too dark,” or “too” anything. Yet, this is not the path of least resistance, this is The Hard Path.
For your sons to choose to marry a black woman means them seeing past images and messages like the black woman chair over and over and over again without internalizing it, while choosing to acknowledge both their male and light-skinned biracial privilege which will likely allow them to float through life without having to deal with any of this unless they choose to.
You want to be hopeful but you worry. You feel as if you could suffocate.
You worry because even when you are beautiful and successful the media will lighten your skin to look like…well, me.
You worry because you know you may not get the next job promotion your very fair skinned sons may get due to your natural hair.
You worry because many black women die without honor.
You worry because researchers have linked the experience of constant racism to cases of adult onset asthma in black women. That’s if your not dead all ready since black women are the leaders in death rates due to heart disease and heart attack.
You worry because seemingly EVERYONE is afraid of our black men whom we love! Our brothers, our boyfriends, our husbands, our sons, our uncles. And when they are afraid they imprison and kill them. So you worry.
You worry because you try to be a bridge for reconciliation but you are exhausted.
You worry because you fear more black women will be murdered without justice.
You worry because even our First Lady can’t escape being objectified at best as a prop to a political statement, at worst as a sexual object.
This may look like “just a chair.” Just an unfortunate editorial misstep “taken out context,” but don’t lie to yourself.
As a black woman, here’s what I know: this “art” is an image representative of our positioning on this earth.
Almost an exact representation.
Have a seat.
Or stand up and advocate.
The onus to teach our sons a different way is on all of us.