Long time, no post.
Actually, I have had the idea for this post in my head for quite awhile but I haven't had the chance to write it until now. However, I think it's pretty timely considering the recent comment by Joan Rivers about First Lady Michelle Obama being manly and the fact that people actually believe clearly photoshopped pictures of her which claim to show that she is in fact a man (born with the name Michael) are real.
When is society going to stop perpetuating the absurd belief that black women have no right to be womanly? That we somehow cannot claim female as our gender even when our DNA says we are? Why, as a black women, do I feel that we are grouped into this category of not-quite-female but not-quite-male, as if we're some kind of alien being with some traces of female features but are "unpredictable", "scary", "ugly", "hypersexual", and "manly".
I feel the answers to my questions are summed up beautifully in the TransGriot article:
"If you have a group of women [white women] that you put on a societal pedestal as the paragons of beauty, fertility and the femininity gold standard that all women should aspire to, then it stands to reason that you would set up a group of women [black women] as the ones to not emulate."
Hence, we are currently still at a point where black women represent this negative otherness. Unfortunately, I find that this is an idea which has been exported from the Western world. When I am out and about in Taiwan, I often hear comments which imply that I'm unfeminine and that the effort I spend on my looks is basically comical. Sometimes, I find that people attempt to discount my femininity by simply calling me a man. I'm no model but I certainly don't look male, haha.
But these comments are just ignorance, right? Lack of worldly experience. Fear of the unknown. Island mentality. Maybe. However, I believe a lot these mindset and comments are fueled by taught behavior, things that were learned from members of the Western world and taken to be truths. On several occasions, I have caught Westerners "educating" Taiwanese people about blacks. I remember a fellow American saying this little gem during one of the many times my hair has been a topic of conversation:
"They sort of just wake up without brushing their hair, that's what I heard."
Surely you said something in response, Nicolette. You reeducated those people. You threw them a glance in horror, didn't you?
Nope, I said nothing.
When we go abroad, why should it be our job to reeducate people? Did I come to Taiwan as a spokesperson for black people? I feel like I'm a living example of why all the things people say are not true. If a person or group of people do not want to throw away their ignorance, island mentality, or what have you and look at me as a person not a caricature, then I have no time for them anyway. I came to Taiwan to learn, and because I was interested in the culture (btw, being discriminatory is not part of the culture, as much as some people would like to think. It is an import, like Heinz ketchup or iPhones). Thankfully, I have met some wonderful locals who refuse to subscribe to the foolishness I described above. And I have been complemented on my looks before, which of course made me feel good.
All in all, I think as a black person, particularly a black women, it's important to not fall into a pattern or habit of explaining yourself to people. As long as the European ideal dominates in this world, you will always be questioned. Just be a living example of why the stereotypes aren't true and do you. Be what you want to be, go where you want to go, and focus on gaining experiences, not proving people wrong.
"Being in Taiwan can make you feel so unpretty" a fellow black girl in Taiwan once told me. It can, but it's important to remember that it's not you, it's the construct around you.