Some are hailing the recent movement against sexual assault and harassment as the end of the white male patriarchy as we know it. And some are giving major side-eye.
For Black women, body sovereignty is about so much more than #metoo.
When it comes to the issue of who can do what to our bodies and when, the hard truth is, it’s complicated. We were forged during a history in which our ancestors’ bodies were bought, sold, raped, worked, and bred – literally owned. Not only that; we were also unwittingly experimented on (see: Tuskeegee), our cells harvested for science without our knowledge (see: Henrietta Lacks); our beings locked in cages for public ogling (see: Sarah Baartman); and our ability to bear children taken without our consent (see: forced sterilization). We live in a present where, on top of being subject to sexual molestation, assault, and abuse, we are still disproportionately affected by state-sanctioned violence, the prison industrial complex, food desserts, diabetes and various chronic conditions, and more. Our bodies are judged in uniquely offensive ways, being at once oversexualized and called ugly, and even compared to animals.
So it’s understandable if we don’t see in #metoo the dawning of a new age. Because it’s not.
The histories and experiences of being both Black and woman have given us the tools to opt-out of this illusion, and the keys to unlock the truth: That while sexual assault is an extreme perversion that must be dealt with according to its gravity, it is a symptom of a culture that disrespects the body systematically. And it goes beyond being pinned down, handcuffed, hungry, or even becoming another hashtag – it’s about how we live. It’s about what we value. It’s about who is in control. It’s about how our bodies factor (or don’t) in our daily decisions, and the reasons we were taught to treat ourselves that way. It’s about what we are willing to sacrifice to be part of a society that has always demanded our blood, and why.
There is no one single issue that, if solved, would make our bodies safe, well or free. However, because pretty much every issue that affects the body affects Black women disproportionately, centering the Black woman’s body is key to overturning them all. When we keep Black women at the core, take a wide lens, and give what we see a thorough analysis, we can begin to understand how all of these issues are connected to each other, and ultimately, to a source: an unsustainable system that values profit and power over people.
But seeing it is hardly enough. As Black women, we must take back our bodies. Then, we must listen to them, feel them, and let them lead the way. When we act on what feels natural and good to our bodies (without the influence of patriarchy, racism, or capitalism), we will inevitably be led to let the old structures crumble and give birth to a better way of living.
Our bodies are designed to eat real food, to heal themselves intrinsically and using natural resources, to give birth without obligatory medical intervention, to move, to enjoy sex, to rest, etc. Therefore, unfettered, they will guide us to support local, community-based, organic food systems; to learn how to care for ourselves beyond an annual checkup; to heal our wombs and head our own reproductive health; to make moving our bodies a foundational element of our lifestyles; to bring sexuality into the light, developing healthy sexual relationships and teaching our sons just as much about consent as we do our daughters; to make rest a priority, ending the worship of “busy;” to choose work that is supportive of our health, rejecting the idea that a “good job” means sitting 8 – 10 hours a day; and so much more.
To support our Black/female physicality is to participate in the destruction of everything that has tried to tear us down, and plant the seeds of something beautiful in its place. Just as important (if not moreso), a way of life in true alignment with our bodies will also be one that is in alignment with the earth. And because of the Black woman’s positioning in the current society, we can expect that making these changes for us would ultimately lead to the same positive changes for all.
The bottom line: when it comes to Black women’s bodies, the personal is political, the new way is natural, and the revolution will not be tweeted. It will be felt – down to the bone. A new era of respect and honor for Black women won’t be heralded by a hashtag. It will come out of our bodies themselves.