This is a little (actually long) something that I had written for a friend who is starting up a magazine. Her magazine is focused on modern Black consciousness, but relax, it’s not an ‘ashy hotep‘ type of publication. If it was, she wouldn’t have accepted my article. I didn’t think much of my work, because I couldn’t access the Internet in order to offer proper citations, and I thought she may think it was average at best.
She loved it. I was pleased to hear. I know when I write, I tend to get carried away, swear and rant, when it comes to something that grinds my gears. I did my best to remain composed, though I know even if it seemed that my sentences spanned across entire paragraphs, and I sounded volatile, my points were still valid.
The topic of this article is a kind of touchy one. Two groups involved in it, and to which it refers to, are very vocal about it. One group, those affected by it and opposed to it, asserts that it’s dangerous, while the other, some of which are affected by it and the rest who perpetuate it, will either deny its existence, or try to justify it. I am talking about misogynoir.
As this is a sensitive topic, I would like to issue several trigger warnings about the content of this article. If you get upset, ill, angry or even traumatised at signs/mentions of racism, misogyny, misogynoir, rape and transphobia, take extra caution when reading. I care about you ❤
The biggest discussions in the social justice world (which is helped by social media) revolve around racism, and many Black people from all the over world are more than eager to share their experiences with this particular axis of oppression. However, when this axis intersects with another (i.e. sexism) to create what has been termed misogynoir, usually the same Black people (men and women) who were so vocal about racism are suddenly quiet. And they are quiet because either they don’t understand what it is or they deny that it is a problem Black people should concern themselves with.
I am a proud black woman, I love my people but I have too much love for us to ignore how fractured we are as a race due to this particular intra-community issue. I refuse to avoid any discussion about it, or be deterred from talking about it. Black people who practice misogynoir (intentionally or not) or do not see it as a problem to say to those who point it out, “Why do you hate Black men so much?”, because often, the perpetrators of misogynoir are Black men. It’s not hate; it’s about the refusal to be silent on an issue that will continue to plague our people, even if we find a way to defeat racism.
There are many Black bloggers and activists who offer their own understanding of misogynoir, and the term has been around for a while that it is easy for its origin to be forgotten or buried. Trudy, creator of the now-inactive blog Gradient Lair, reminded readers in her article “Explanation of Misogynoir” of the person who should be credited with coining the term: Moya Bailey.
Moya mentioned that the term is “to describe the particular brand of hatred directed at Black women in American visual and popular culture.” This misogyny is informed by a specifically Black experience, not just because of racism and White supremacy, but because of anti-Black projections from non-Black people onto Black people and thereby internalized and proliferated by Black people. It does not mean that only Black men or only Black people are capable of misogyny nor does it justify anti-Black attitudes or racism against Black people; such an interpretation by a non-Black person is violently anti-Black. Thus, this anti-Black misogyny or misogynoir is something Black women experience intraracially and interracially. (Gradient Lair, 2014)
To put it simply in case the above paragraph was too much to digest, misogynoir is anti-Black racism + misogyny. When I first heard of it, I was not aware of how widespread it was through our community or how deep it went. When I heard more Black women step forward and recount their experiences of misogynoir not just from White people but also fellow Black people, I thought “Okay. We have a problem here. This is serious, this needs to be talked about more.”
Misogynoir, as a term, hasn’t really reached our South African shores yet, since anything local Black feminists want to talk about within the realm of social justice, usually gets shut down by the general public. Even rape, something that is deemed as a serious issue in our country, is poorly dealt with and not talked about enough. The victims are more often shunned than the perpetrators and worse, the crime goes unpunished especially when a family member is the rapist. So when it comes to the deadly mixture of racism and sexism against Black women, discussions on that in our society are still a long way off.
For as little as I know about the issues of other marginalised groups in the world, as a Black woman I could never ignore the fact that Black women are treated differently across the spectrum, by everyone else. And though I’ve not been a target of misogynoir (if you don’t count on social media, from hapless trolls), once I learned about it, the way I saw Black women darker than me being treated suddenly had a diagnosis.
It was 2011 when I first enrolled at university, and when I first heard of the term “yellowbone”. I was even more surprised to find out that I was classified as one. Then my surprise changed to “you must be kidding me” when I learned that the Black guys I went to university with (and many more elsewhere) had a preference for girls who were light skinned. Mind you, I had lived abroad in Europe before coming to university and there, as much as the differences of skin tone in Africans were apparent, we were all still Black to the Europeans. So, to come home and discover that colorism was “in” among the youth made me want to smash my head against a wall.
Colorism is one of the components that keep misogynoir alive: it divides us. Worse, it’s passed down to children. Little brown girls watching Afrobeat musicians crooning about their love interests, who is portrayed by a very light skinned or White model in the music videos, may get the idea that dark brown skin is not as desirable. Actually not may, they WILL. Children internalise more than we care to think of.
Colorism is probably why former kwaito star Mshoza felt the need for surgery to make her skin lighter, and why there are skin lightening products STILL being sold in predominantly Black rural areas. In other countries, it is why Black female celebrities like Gabourey Sidibe, Kerry Washington and even Beyoncé have their beautiful brown skin photoshopped several shades lighter on magazine covers and print ads.
Misogynoir ruins lives. Those who exude it believe that they have authority over Black women – and their bodies. That a Black woman can never own her past, present and future, that she cannot ever realise her true worth without someone else (especially a man) there to validate it. And should a Black woman “dare” to reclaim her body and live her life how she sees fit, disregarding the moulds created ‘for her’ to fit into, she is met with indignation and called all things outside her name.
Misogynoirists hate Black women who don’t pander to their shallow opinions and guidelines of what a Black woman should be, and in the most extreme cases, they try to break them via violence. One example is the rampant hatred of Black transgender women and other Black queer folk, which spans from outright ignoring their existence and validity to murdering them. Even Black cisheterosexual women who have masculine physical features are mocked.
Misogynoir is why Caster Semenya, an intersex woman, had to be subject to humiliation just to prove her womanhood, because she didn’t have a body that many expected of a woman, even though there are other athletes (White athletes) with masculine features who were spared the vitriol.
Misogynoir does not allow for anything a Black woman does to be left uncriticised. Thanks to it, Black women are judged for everything they do, negative AND positive. They are always never good enough for a misogynoirist, they’re always lacking in something compared to their White and NBPoC (non-Black people of colour) counterparts. No matter how much we achieve and how high we reach, we’re knocked down for either having too much ambition, or forgetting to ‘achieve’ something else first.
At the core of it all, the opinion of misogynoir is that Black women need everyone else in their community, especially other Black men, to co-sign on their lives before they can be seen as legitimate. Sadly, many Black women are trapped into this and also start thinking that before they can do things for themselves, they need to pander to those who hate them. And some do this ferociously, tear down their Black sisters for the appeal of men who perpetuate misogynoir, to “earn” their attention and approval.
Yet another damaging aspect of misogynoir is its insistence to Black women to always have Black men’s backs, even when they don’t support us back. Thinking about the past 2 and a half years, with all the stories of police brutality against Black people in the USA coming to light, there is something that was made apparent to me when news that a 23-year-old black woman named Korryn Gaines was shot dead by police in her home. She died protecting her son from harm, who was injured by a shot when he ran from his mother’s body.
As more details of the last moments of her life were brought to the public’s attention, there was an alarming number of Black men who reserved no sympathy for her. These Black men said things along the lines of “why did she have a gun with her child in the house?”, touting her as violent and mentally ill (which is an insult to actual mentally ill people). Basically, according to them, she was to blame for her own death. As one social media activist pointed out, you could draw parallels between what was said about Gaines and what was said about Sandra Bland.
And it’s quite ironic that they were in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but people (mostly men) who claimed to support BLM as well, viewed these women’s lives (and deaths) with disdain.
None of the other Black male victims of police brutality got this harsh posthumous treatment from Black people. It was baffling to me how this woman, a fervent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement (which was evident from her Instagram page), even deserved the hate she got. Her memory was tarnished by strangers who didn’t know her and even her fiancé, who tried to profit from her death by starting a crowdfund for a supposed funeral when her family were already doing that.
The Internet never fails to remind you that there are deplorable people out there.
Misogynoir is why some scum of the earth felt the need to hack actress Leslie Jones’ website, replacing its content with leaked nude photos of Jones, pictures of Harambe (a gorilla who has become a meme on social media after he was put down by a zoo, after an incident involving a child) and other bottom-of-the-barrel racist content aimed at Jones. This, after she had left Twitter where she was attacked by trolls, the same kind of way.
People had assumed she was getting this mistreatment due to starring in the 2016 Ghostbusters remake, but it goes beyond that. If these trolls’ issue with Jones was that a movie that originally starred men was remade with a female cast, then why did her other co-stars – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig et. al – not endure the same? More importantly, as she faced the worst side of Twitter, her co-stars were silent. What Leslie Jones represents is a Black woman making headways in Hollywood, being her brilliant, unapologetic self. Earlier this year, leading up to the Ghostbusters premiere, Jones publicly pointed out that she had received no offers from any designers to make her a dress for the premiere, whereas her co-stars had various offers from designers. In the end, former Project Runway winner Christian Siriano stepped forward and it was in his creation that she graced the red carpet.
Patriarchy expects Black women to take what little they are given and be happy about it, all the while, silent and meek. Black women are not permitted to be proud of achieving something on their own; it always needs to be attributed to someone else. It does not want what Jones did – shedding light on the disparity in treatment of White women and women of colour, especially Black women. The media is heavily complicit in this, resorting to glaring double standards.
White female celebrities are often celebrated and lauded for diverting from the status quo when they promote their sensuality through fashion and actions, but Black female celebrities are told that they’re “slutty” for doing the same, and even told to “wear something more modest”. A proud, sexual Black woman – Beyoncé, Rihanna and Teyana Taylor being a few examples of that – is disconcerting to many. Even the sight of young Black girls standing up against school systems and rules that seek to erase their Blackness frighten White people in our country. The same White people do not see an issue with the institutions they benefitted from, which put down people of colour, but they want to delegitimise what these girls are fighting for.
It’s disheartening to know that as a Black woman, people in the world have been so brainwashed into seeing me as inferior that they cannot see me as anything else. It frustrates me that they might try to throw tacks in my path to slow me down or throw themselves in front of me to make me fall. Because I’m Black and a woman. Nothing will ever be good enough for them; not how I protest the discrimination of my people, not how I wear my hair and not how I express my anger at white people’s preference of convenience over justice.
So I, and other Black girls out there, are better off seeking and preserving our own destinies, and not tolerate input from people who don’t have our best interests at heart. More importantly, we have to uplift each other and feed into each other. Because in the end, we’re all we’ve got.