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CSA addresses questions about oversexualization of culture

by Emma Misiaszek - Photo Editor
Tue, Nov 7th 2017 10:00 pm

men are blatantly depicted as sexual objects in the media and in reality are judged based on this perceived deviance. We see stars such as Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Rihanna often scantily dressed and shaking what their momma gave them. But why is this? Although cliché, the phrase “sex sells” could be the explanation for this societal norm.

The exploitation of black women’s sexuality relies on the stereotype that a black woman possesses the tendency to be excessively promiscuous and indecent in nature. This hypersexualized stereotype placed on black women dates back to slavery. As a reasoning for non-consensual sexual relations between white masters and their slaves, black women were depicted as having insatiable appetites for sex. 

So as time continued in the U.S., following the abolition of slavery and Jim Crow era, black women either had to become the stereotype of the mothering “mammy” or the sexually submissive “jezebel.” 

Black women continued to be characterized in a way that white men enjoyed consuming throughout the 20th century. They were seen as overtly sexual, curvy, thick, and submissive women whose sole purpose was to please white men.

This portrayal continues today and effects the lives of African American women around the country. On Friday, Nov. 3, the Caribbean Student Association (CSA) hosted a discussion based presentation, Celebrating Whores: A Breakdown of the Hypersexualization of Black Women. 

The presentation and resulting discussions revolved around the question: is the sexualization of black women a form of celebrating their sexual autonomy or is it the exploitation of black women for the white male gaze? 

Naomi R. Williams, African-American Studies assistant professor, presented a brief history of black women in the entertainment industry, using blues singers such as Bessie Smith as an example. 

 “They weren’t passive puppets just for entertainment,” Williams said. “They reaffirmed their own autonomy by lacking that respectability. Women were explicitly celebrating the right to conduct themselves as expansively as men did.”

Williams went on to discuss recent examples of the exploitation of the black female body, such as the popular yet problematic song “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix A Lot. “The booty particularly signifies the inherent danger of the black female body,” Williams said when discussing the harmful implications the song has had on American pop culture.

Sophomore Xaire Davis attended the presentation hoping to learn more about the histury of the sexualization of African American women in the U.S. 

“It brought more clarity to things because I’m an African American woman on this campus and I do deal with certain things that I didn’t necessarily understand before today,” Davis said. “After hearing the history about the sexualization of women and the women who were my ancestors, it makes more sense why certain things occur. I think it’s going to make me more aware of myself.”

Another key discussion during the presentation was how white privilege plays an important role in how society perceives black women. CSA president Aailyah Johnson brought up the comparison between Nicki Minaj’s performance in her “Anaconda” music video and Miley Cyrus’s performance of “We Can’t Stop” at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

Both performers dressed scantily, twerked and licked random objects, but many people criticized Nicki Minaj for being too “scandalous” and “inappropriate” while Miley Cyrus was celebrated for doing whatever she wanted without caring about people’s opinions. 

Not only do African American artists and celebrities feel this unfair bias placed on them, but many women of color are affected by this issue, no matter their socioeconomic status. Vice president of CSA Danique Shallow, a senior here at the college, also feels unfairly treated based on her body.

“Although we’re a Caribbean student association, we’re also an all-female e-board,” Shallows said. “We know what it’s like to be hypersexualized and to be viewed as just objects. This is a conversation we’ve had ourselves, like the way we are viewed just because of certain things we wear and the curves that we have. We wanted to bring light to the situation because we face it and we’re sure it’s something that’s prevalent amongst other girls on campus too.”

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Taken by Vincent Croce:
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