Thankfully, I’ve never been called a cunt, but I have been called a “ho.” The first time was in the sixth grade. I never liked to draw attention to myself and I was not very popular amongst the guys. However, I was an “early bloomer,” already three or four cup sizes larger than that of the average eleven-year-old. My hips were starting to spread and I had more cushion in the back, too. I’ve heard plenty of other female classmates, mainly black girls, called hoes, and I tried to ignore it then because their sexual histories had nothing to do with me.
But when I was called one, I was gobsmacked, and the boy who called me that did nothing but sneer at me. It’s an event that I chalked up as unimportant in a matter of “boys will be boys” or “children will be immature and stupid” sort of thing.
But that memory floated to the surface when I read the aforementioned lines of Toni Morrison’s 11th novel, God Help The Child. It’s a work that carefully assesses how memories affect our trajectories as adults and I had to do some serious introspection.
When I first entered college, one of my closest friends jokingly remarked that I have such a voluptuous body but I never show it off.
My blouses barely showed my sternum, and most of the time I wore tight stockings underneath my skirts to downplay my thick thighs. Although I didn’t think much of my stylistic choices, now I’m beginning to wonder if — subconsciously — I was afraid of being called a ho as I was when I was a little girl.
Black girls don’t make the decision to be examined under sexual objectivity and desire — rather, they are shoved in this hotbed of a spectacle. While women, in general, are subjected to cruelty and pejorative terms whether or not they are modest or wear provocative clothes, the scales are tipped even less favorably for black women. Historically, white women were considered to be the pillar of innocence and modesty — so much, in fact, that black men were lynched for having sexual relations with them, or for something as small as making eye contact. Black women were always seen as fair game for degradation and violation.
In Othello, Iago suspects that Othello has sex with Emilia and labels him as a “lusty Moor.” Although in this play the stereotype is ascribed to a black man, white southerners used this to justify the enslavement of African people. Black women were seen as “Jezebels,” those who harbored an insatiable sexual desire, which slavemasters wielded to their advantage to rape them — for they were seen as immoral and bestial entities.
Around this same time, in the early 1800s, Saartjie Baartman, better known as “Hottentot Venus,” was smuggled into England and put on display in front of Europeans whose myths about black women’s exotic and primitive nature were further intensified. At the Piccadilly in London, Baartman was placed in a cage and passersby ogled at her large posterior, which many considered to be a deformity.
After that tour in England, Baartman was then transported to Paris, where she was kept in a cage along with baby rhinoceros, wearing nothing more than a tan loincloth at times. She was often asked to sit and stand like the rest of the animals. Death did not provide relief for her body, for her brain and genitals were picked apart, placed into jars, and put on display at the Musée del’Homme until the late twentieth century.
[bctt tweet=”Black girls don’t make the decision to be examined under sexual objectivity.” username=”wearethetempest”]
When I think about Saartjie’s story in comparison to Bride’s in God Help The Child, I see two Black girls — one in her early twenties, and the other only six years old — who have felt the weight of sexual cruelty. Their bodies were never their own, and in an instant — whether for financial gain or hunger for control through language — they were reduced to their sexual organs. To this day, not much is known about Saartjie. We don’t know how she died at 26. We don’t know the exact date of her birth.
Most of all, we have no idea how she felt when she was paraded and exploited in and around Europe.
[bctt tweet=”It’s a mud-slinging word that no black girl wants to be called.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Unfortunately, the black community internalized Europeans’ fascination — and fetishization — of the black woman. The term “fast-tailed girls” applied to black girls who may have physically developed a little too quickly. For the girls whose breasts stuck out further than their stomachs, whose hips swiveled whenever they walked, or those who easily took compliments from the boys, they were unknowingly placed as the foci of gossip between both adults and children alike. Black girls are often blamed for the bodies that they had no choice in owning but suffer for all the same.
On the contrary, black boys are never called “fast-tailed.” It’s a mud-slinging word that no black girl wants to be called, because once she is, there is little chance of her returning to the “good girl” side.
Last year, I enthusiastically followed the hashtag #fasttailedgirls, which was started by Mikki Kendall and Jamie Nesbit-Golden, and was startled to find how black girls across the country have felt that their mere presences in a certain space signaled to people that they were invited to make sexual advances towards them.
Some women recalled experiences such as my own and others recounted how predators, who were seen as boyfriends at the time, were considered normal. I remember those predators. They didn’t lurk in alleys and playgrounds like those in God Help The Child, but rather at homecoming football games and high school parties. They were men of whom no one knew which years they’d graduated. They were always “the cousins of such-and-such” and people never asked any more questions.
I remember sitting on the bus and hearing girls no older than fifteen regale us with stories about how adult men talked about how “mature” they were for their ages, because that was seen as more so a compliment than bait.
In a way, perhaps this cat-and-mouse scenario was nothing more than resistance from the fast-tailed girls who internalized this shame and tried to use it to their advantage to go through experiences which both their minds and bodies were not capable of handling. They were being prepared as prey and didn’t know it.
[bctt tweet=” As a child, she had no idea all that those words meant.” username=”wearethetempest”]
As a writer, I look up to Toni Morrison. She shattered my concepts of the constraints of black life in literature through The Bluest Eye, showed me the boundless depth to which trauma can sink in Beloved, and now has revealed to me that what is considered the norm in terms of a black girl’s sexuality and development is actually disturbing — and it could not have come at a more perfect time.
An Oklahoma City police officer named Daniel Holtzclaw was accused of raping several black women and his bond was lowered. The Onion made the mistake of calling then nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis a cunt because she possessed a boldness far beyond her years. And just recently, a white college baseball player called baseball prodigy Mo’Ne Davis a slut. We never heard an apology from him, either through Twitter (where the insult was stated) or on television — but instead she forgave him all the same, because she had no choice.
If she condemned him, the media would have most likely asked her to get over it, as black women are expected to do.
When I read that Bride was called a ‘nigger cunt’ by a child molester, I felt for her as if she were a relative or close friend. As a child, she had no idea of all that those words meant. As an adult, she realized that there was a wound that was beginning to fester on its own. She reminds me of the black girl who is “fast-tailed,” the black girl who’s a “ho,” the black girl who’s “mature for her age.”
One would assume that children would be immune from scrutiny, but they are thrust into this glaring spotlight at the same level as adults. But the thing is, they never asked to be there. They still have growing up to do and have to discover who they are, but the world never gives them a chance before labels are stamped across their bodies. Toni Morrison has said time and time again that the most vulnerable person in the world is the black girl.
[bctt tweet=”They were being prepared as prey and didn’t know.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Black girls deserve to be children, not playthings which everyone else can demoralize. We were never lascivious or moral, to begin with; all we did was show up and our presences alone made others’ wildly perverse imaginations run amok.