The Sexualization of Afrikan Girls

In Black History, Culture, Lifestyle, News, Opinion by Nyomi Henderson

Because we are simultaneously Afrikan and woman, we have become accustomed to our natural bodies being oversexualized in society. Since the beginning of institutionalized racism and the colonial empire’s enslavement regime, Afrikan women’s bodies have always been associated with the idea of a promiscuity that was foreign and erotic. Institutionalized racism is defined as: the perpetuation of discrimination based on “race” by political, economic, or legal institutions and systems like education and the legal system. Now, some could argue that as a woman “lucky” enough to be living in a society with things like the #MeToo Movement and Title XI, the treatment of “colored” women has come a long way. I beg to differ…

While I want to acknowledge the work of Faye Wattleton, Elaine Brown, and so many others who were pioneers of social justice and advocates for the reproductive rights of Afrikan women, it doesn’t erase the violence we have endured. There will never be a justification for forced reproduction for profit and pleasure or the immoral study of the female anatomy through dissection and nude physical auctions.

To ground our discussion on the sexualization of Afrikan women, I want to remind of us Sarah Baartman and how her body, to this day, is still fetishized and sexualized. The constant violation of her rights and autonomy throughout history challenges us to consider how sexual violence is used as a tool of colonial power, intimidation, and dehumanization. In an opinion column done by Hope Moses titled “Oversexualization of Black Girls and Women Must Stop,” they hit the nail on the head by mentioning how:

A 2017 Georgetown University study discovered that Black girls as young as 5 years old are already seen as less innocent and in need of less support than white girls of the same age. This presumption leads teachers and other authority figures to treat Black girls as older than they are and more harshly than white female students, with the disparity being vast for 10- to 14-year-olds.

Focus on the phrase “less innocent.” Most people tend to associate that phrase with immorality, or the quality of being impure and sinful. Through this language, we begin to understand how sexualization functions to erase and delegitimize the innocence of Afrikan girls—the very same innocence our white peers gain by simply being alive. In a theory I heard from one of my favorite video essayists, Tee Noir, called the “Pink Nipple Theory”, she discusses the difference in how white womanhood is received in comparison to Afrikan femininity. In essence, white women expressing sexuality and sensuality is deemed acceptable, as their sexuality is understood as separate from their identity. This wildly contradicts the rhetoric formed around Afrikan expressions of sexuality, which is seen as less of an act and more of an identity. This creates a world in which Afrikan women’s bodies are weaponized against them through institutions of white supremacy. We are hypersexualized as a condition of the violence used to justify and aid in institutionalized racism.

So when we start to think about the adultification of Afrikan women at a young age, it’s easy to see how girls as young as 5 years old are being dress-coded and sent back home for not wearing “appropriate attire.” These institutions of racial violence cause young Afrikan women to experience a different childhood than their peers, lacking the freedom that comes with acting their age, without hyperawareness of their sexualization.

Our families can also function as institutions of violence because they foster our primary socialization. This is important because our parents can indirectly and directly internalize adultification, whether it’s by punishing us or by making side comments about our bodies and our intentions, on the basis that we should “know better” or just want to “act grown.” Even the textbooks we read in school fail to mention the historical menticide and generational traumas that have impacted the way that we see our bodies. As a result, structural violence against Afrikan women has become the status quo.

I couldn’t relate more to the feeling of being seen through someone else’s eyes. This is why in the Afrikan community it’s so important to challenge the normalization of sexual violence in our society and investigate how impunity is often grated to perpetrators of violence against women, men, and nonbinary people. It can happen to anyone, at any time, yet the punishment and repercussions are low. As more and more of us realize our autonomy, we recognize that this has to change as we, in our essence, are inherently valuable.

You are more than your body and what you “bring to the table.” You are whole and flooded with adoration. You are someone worth getting to know, not because of how you look externally but because of the traits and quirks you have that you think no one else sees. If this message triggered anyone, I would like to drop some resources such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which is available 24 hours at 1-800-656-4673. I also encourage mental health practices, such as journaling, community circles, and therapy.

You are more than your story, you are more than your abuse, you are loved.