Taking a Good Look

by Treston Codrington

It would be foolish to say that right now, women of color are coming under attack. This has been their existence for centuries. Let us think back to the Africans who became playthings of the European kidnappers or the Native American women who enjoyed equality and even power in their clans but were disrespected and removed from their positions because the white man demanded to talk to a man.

Fast forward to the late 19th century to behold African-American women, freed from physical chains but still bound to their status as servants and their bodies as exotic fetishes. Enter the Asian immigrant woman and the immediate obsession with fetishizing her as submissive. Look at talented Native women like Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte who spent a great deal of her life pushing the needs of her people aside and adopting humiliating positions just to be accepted by the (white) women’s suffrage movement. Or consider Madame C. J. Walker, the first American female millionaire (black or white) who was an amazing woman, entrepreneur, and civil rights activist. But what was her fortune built on? Hair products. Not just any hair products, but hair products that would help black women get as close to the white standard of beauty as possible.

Fast forward again to the 1960s and 70s. Black women took the chance of embracing themselves, flaunting their lovely kinks and coils that God graciously crowned their heads with, but they were told they looked “unprofessional.” Look at the pop culture of today and see historical stereotypes repeating themselves. Black women are the sassy, dangerous ones. Latina women are the talkative, feisty ones. Asian women are the mysterious, submissive ones. And Native women? Well, they aren’t represented at all! Look to government statistics of the 21st century. See how women of color suffer disproportionately from disenfranchisement and inequality than what white women suffer. More unequal pay, less paid sick leave, more discrimination in health care (somewhat targeted by the hated Affordable Care Act), and more of the brunt of “zero tolerance” policies.

Look at the universities. See how the places of higher learning, the grooming grounds for the future leaders of the world are microcosms of the greater system of disenfranchisement and abuse. Look into the history of exclusion of people from color in Greek life. Read the manifestos of sorority girls explaining why Black women aren’t given bids (because they are ‘aesthetically unpleasing to the eye’ and they ‘don’t deserve to be at [the college] at all’—Southern Methodist University). Then on top of all that, they claim that Blacks are racist for creating their own sororities and fraternities.

Listen to the stories of women of color on this campus. Listen to what they have been told they are. “Black bitch,” some say. Listen to Native women recount the times they have been verbally and physically accosted while their attackers donned the sacred headdresses of their people. And listen to how Latina women were asked for their passport in order to enter a party.

Behold how difficult it is right now for women of color to be heard or believed. The burden of proof is always put on them. Listen to the icy retorts such as “There isn’t enough evidence to prove that” or “I don’t see the big deal here.” All over this campus, all over this country, men and women gaze apathetically. They refuse to try to understand. They refuse to listen. They believe these women lie and just made up this “fuss” over nothing. If only they would take a good look. This story has been bound and bubbling within the DNA of these women for centuries, and it has finally burst.