The Noir Gaze
the common process in which the black woman is visually positioned as an “object” of heterosexual desire due to natural assets
synonyms: Sarah Baartman
“The white imagination still traffics in toxic racial and gender stereotypes,” according to Beverly Guy-Sheftall, a professor of women’s studies at Spelman College. This makes sense considering the black woman is hypersexualized by simply just existing. My experience of the male gaze is not the same as other white women’s experiences. This is due to the underlying racial tones traced back to slave trade. Being stripped naked and oiled down for sale meant that not only were black women vulnerable, but viewed as “Jezebels” due to the erotic nature of the bidding. This was also a stark contrast to the delicate and pure white woman, therefore heightening the false ideology of promiscuity about black women.
Video vixens of the 90s may have showcased more black women than in today’s current music scene, but they didn’t quite limit the noir gaze. The showcase of our very common attributes – such as full lips, large buttocks, and hips – allowed room for the continuation of the grotesque culture that was disrupting our community from the outside in. According to a study by Black Women’s Blueprint, 60 percent of black girls in the US have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18 ³. Similar results were found in the UK, and whilst it was a smaller percentage (20%), it remains disproportionate to the population (4%)⁴.
Referring back to my own experiences, I could wear a similar outfit to my white female friend or colleague yet be flooded with stares and unnecessary comments. Whispers of judgement from other women made me feel guilty for something I had no control over. What I used to see as compliments, I started to view as perversion, which made me self-conscious. I had the urge to cover up despite not technically showcasing anything at all.
Some of the platonic male/female relationships I once had started to go sour when they began to want me sexually thus a. I either distanced myself from them, or had to be firm and call them out for their comments. Either way I was seen as “overreacting.” It also obscured my vision of romantic relationships. With guys flirting, I often think “do they want me personally or sexually?” It’s a constant battle that I endure which makes it difficult for me to date. However, I have realized that the way in which society has been moulded, I cannot escape this treatment – I can only control my own situations.
I should be able to wear what I want without it seeming like I’m showcasing my assets. I can’t help what my body looks like, but I can scold those who attempt to devalue my self-worth for their own sexual fetish. It’s unfortunate that we are still facing these daily dilemmas which can even affect what route we take home. However, I find that this new age of black feminism has begun to reconstruct our society step by step, and I’m here for it.
Written by Shiquerra Clarke