Growing up is awkward; I know because I can attest to wanting to burn all of my photos and still dealing with acne at 23. I can’t even fathom what it would be like to go through this awkwardness on a national stage as the first daughters to the first racialized president.
We live in a nation where racialized bodies are regularly subjected to excessive scrutiny. This ranges from shadeism, hair, developmental stages differing from the white default body taught in health classes. Racialized women modify their bodies from the margins and back when they emerge to womanhood. We witness appropriation of our features being trendy when on the white or lighter body. We witness the double standards between the white and racialized embodiment in men as well, with beards on white men being trendy, even sought after by surgery, whereas brown and black men from a young age will put aside these wants and shave everyday religiously to look respectable and to avoid persecution by strangers on the street. Even a beardless face is not a shield.
Blue Ivy was under analysis before birth as people came up with projections of what she would look like. Now as a toddler, she constantly has her natural hair critiqued, and is compared to mixed children like North West. Her mother similarly is under constant scrutiny from white and non-black women of color alike. This is not objective; these very specific critiques are rooted in a thirst for colonial ideals of beauty. Decolonizing the lens of beauty does not depend on racial ambiguity and mixed race children, but in understanding the inherent and conditioned dislike of features from very specific groups of people having origins in systemically racist and violent ideals on attractiveness.
I do know the pain of being compared to a lighter skin sibling and more white passing cousins. I do know the isolation of hearing light skin only ever being brought up as praise and darker skin tones being fixated upon as ugly. I also know what it is like to wish for different features and want to feel invisible. What I do know is that the sentiments Elizabeth Lauten expressed regarding the National Turkey Pardon are not rare, they were just public and caught on a social media platform. I cannot even begin to fathom the pain of being a young black girl coming of age so publicly in a society that has never loved them.
Lauten’s comments are rooted in double standards, for anti-blackness is what creeps in from white peers when they discuss black hair. This colonized beauty is pervasive, found in every pore of Western society. These benchmarks for what defines beauty are why my best friends freshmen year asked me if I would ever consider a nose job considering my “black nose.” This whitewashing of beautiful is why we witness racialized characters become white when books move to the silverscreen. This erasure and concurrent hypersexualization of the young racialized body is why we witnessed outrage over the portrayal of a black character be played by a young black girl in the whitewashed movies. We witness the attack on Quvenzhane Wallis when the onion called the nine year old black actress a cunt, and an onslaught of defense pieces for tweets occurred. The comment was racially charged and I have yet to witness similar attacks on young white women while coming of age. Even Kim Kardashian, before all of her body modifications, continues to have photos of her at 14 circulated and sexualized.
We witness women of color, but specifically black women, denied the opportunity to be children, to be girls in the ways white peers are able to. We witness a scrutiny mixed with hypersexualization. The first daughters face being black in America, as though being a teenager isn’t already insufferable, drowning in a sea of white expectations. Especially at an event like a Turkey Pardon, many fixated on the Obama sisters “sullen” looks during the ceremony. Beyond this being normal of teenagers, the demand for women to smile in public spaces is a matter of sexist entitlement.
The Bush twins were a decade older than Sasha and Malia Obama when their father was President. During his term they caused a stir when they went to Argentina, and were asked to leave. However, the fleeting scrutiny they faced was not rooted in racism nor was it as consistent as Sasha and Malia’s. Awareness of the spaces we occupy in society while having the trappings of the marginalized embodiment is the essence of true commitment to intersectional practice. I can’t scream “we are all women and have homogenous experiences therefore you should support me” to black women when I know my own community is complicit in perpetuating anti-blackness and my identity benefits from anti-blackness. This is important to remember when claims of “we are all women” or “sisterhood” are lauded without first considering how we aren’t all at the same starting line in society.
“Sisterhood” for whom? I can tell you that it definitely is not sisterhood for women of color and there are even rifts between non-black women of color with anti-black sentiments and black women. I don’t blame black women who don’t want to engage with a society that won’t requite love. You can have a body that looks uncolonized, but the colonized mind surely transcends the white body.
Within Muslim spaces, I witness rash attacks with skewed power dynamics between women. These attacks are often manipulative and unproductive; by no means do I want to erase accountability. Liability for one’s actions is a backbone to empathy building. Acknowledgement of past transgressions as well as awareness of where one is situated on a social stratification is vital to attaining more cohesive and inclusive spaces for identities on the margins. Attacks from a group women towards a targeted group of other women show the flaws that emerge in an all-encompassing feminist discourse, fixated on homogenizing the female existence.
As women, we need to understand nuances and gauge where the true problems are embedded and reflect before pursuing unwarranted attacks. We need to continue questioning internalized Anglo-centric notions of beauty and internalized anti-blackness subsequently producing a system that constantly polices black bodies. Internalized sexism further propagates when women with societally favored embodiments critique other women. We need an America with an unapologetic love for racialized women, especially black women and conversations need to begin with colonialist white gazes and interpretations of respectability left at the door.