Pussy for Privilege: Part One

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“He’s gone, it’s time to lose the weight and move on.”

“Don’t marry anyone too dark.”

“Why is your hair like this?”

“Oh my god, I’m in shock.”

“You look so good.”

“Is this hair yours? Is it relaxed?”

“Men like curly hair, but nothing too kinky.”

“Marry a white man.”

Here are just a few words my former stepmother said to me in the short time that I allowed myself to know her. After my father died and my life shifted, I decided– quite firmly–that she could rot in hell. Not only were her words annoying, they were also incredibly degrading. Growing up, I  was a pretty plump teen navigating around the ideals of Western beauty. I was chubby, my hair was ‘unruly’ and I said what I thought. My stepmother, on the other hand, was a light-skinned woman who hated her blackness and bought shoes that didn’t fit because they were cute.

When she spoke to me it was always about my appearance. I wasn’t lady-like enough, I was too fat, I was this, I was that. What really struck a nerve in me though was when she told me to marry a white man; to avoid anyone too dark, to seek out ‘good hair’ and a lot of money. It wasn’t until then that I realized: Here she was, a black woman, promoting her own self-hatred.

Marry a white man.” “Give your girls good hair.”

Right after my father’s funeral she said to me,  “He’s gone. It’s time to lose the weight and move on.” Luckily for her, I developed PTSD and I stopped eating in the summer after my father died. So, the next time she saw me– asking for my father’s will– she said, “I’m in shock. You look so good.” And while, her words were finally kind-hearted I hated her more for them. I hated that she thought that I had lost the weight because she told me to. I hated that she saw me as a follower of her bullshit ideology.

Not only were my ancestors raped and taken against their will– which is why many of my relatives still have such light skin–here was this woman  crafting a narrative that made this rape okay. They traded their pussy for privilege and here was this woman, my stepmother, advocating for a new type of prostitution. My ancestor’s mixed children, born out of rape, abuse and murder, are somewhat more acceptable than the average negro as their hair doesn’t break combs, their skin isn’t too offensive, and they aren’t too “othered.”

“Marry a white man.”

Because love isn’t as important. Because I should raise the ‘right’ kind of family.

Being a woman of colour brings along an unavoidable binary. I not only have to confront the Western gaze but also the male gaze. In my stepmother’s eyes this confrontation was resolved by marrying a white man, who controlled the Western world and its gaze. I’ve been on dates with men who have fetishized me simply for the colour of my skin. I’m the “black Marilyn Monroe, a black goddess, a black something.” Often, I find myself wondering Is this worth it?: this feeling of utter degradation, objecthood and otherness. Would the trade of pussy for privilege be worth it? No, it wouldn’t be. Your sex or union with a white man won’t wipe away all of your systematic abuse. As a matter of fact, you’ll simply be participating in your own degradation. And what will that repair?

Marry for love, not for skin. White, black, beige or green: Marry for love. 

I don’t speak to her now and I don’t imagine I’ll speak to her ever again, but sometimes I find myself understanding where she was coming from: She was the result of a colonized country that repressed her blackness in its formation. Her advising me to marry a white man was her equivalent of sending me best wishes, safety and happiness. I think she realized that love doesn’t get you a job and pay your bills; it doesn’t stop your kids from being systematically abused; whiteness and money do.

Somewhere in the awful sweeps of white supremacy over her country, my stepmother was convinced that a white man would be her saviour. She believed that in conquering a white man I could conquer the world; but in understanding her background I recognize how wrong she is. I will not have sex for access. I will not marry for anything but love. I will not fuck you for privilege or exposure. Trading pussy won’t buy you privilege. You’ll simply be selling yourself into a new kind of enslavement.

Written for publication: It’s (Still) Privileged Art (2016) – launches May 14th

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