February 27th, 2014 by Bridget Minamore, poejazzi.com
“Inside every gay man is a fierce black woman!” tweeted celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, as a way of plugging the comedy show of a (black, female) friend of his.
Going to his twitter feed, I scrolled down and saw his constant, condescending replies to the many black women who took offense at what he said. “Some [black women] failed to see I was complimenting them” was quickly backed up with “I continue to not give a fuck knowing my intentions”, before the clarifier “it’s not rude”. No, Perez, you’re right – it’s not simply rude to allude that black women are fierce. It’s racist.
Here’s the thing. Whilst it’s easy for us to think racism is as easy to identify as KKK hoods and burning crosses, things are never that easy. I don’t care what the dictionary says, racism is not as straightforward as just ‘hating someone for their race’. The racism that affects me the most is that which is a mixture of prejudice plus power, and so anything that adds to the oppressive forces around me counts as a racist act, even if there is no violence or rudeness involved. Enforcing the stereotype of the ‘fierce black woman’ does just that.
Racism is a multi faceted beast, something that spans from explicit acts of physical violence against people of colour, all the way to smaller actions that perpetuate white supremacy – and it is exactly those smaller actions that lead, eventually, to the overt violence (and the excusing of it) at the very top of the scale. Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis – those poor young boys would not have been perceived as threats, nor their killers so vehemently excused, if black skin on young men had not become synonymous with ‘threat’. How do young black boys become symbols of danger? Everything from police searches happening to black men more often, to the public demonising sportsmen for saying antagonistic things on the field.
When you, like Perez Hilton, equate being ‘fierce’ with black womanhood, you are not simply complimenting black women’s perceived awesome sassiness. You are saying that we are overtly strong, both emotionally and physically, which leads to us being denied the facets of femininity that white women are so easily given. This is dangerous in ways I cannot completely describe, but I’m going to try: Black women are raped more often than white women, because our ‘fierceness’ is linked to ideas of sexual promiscuity – rapists believe we ‘want it more’. When we are raped the police believes us less than white women, because our ‘fierceness’ makes them think we could have fought back if we really wanted to. When we are beaten by our partners, the same applies. When we argue with people, we are seen as immediately aggressive. If we raise our voices or get angry, it isn’t because you’ve done something stupid, it’s because we are black and we are female and our innate ‘fierceness’ makes us unreasonable and unworthy of being listened to. When we lose our children to violence, when we have to survive on food stamps and benefits, even when we go to prison, it’s all a-ok because black women are the fiercest of the fierce and so none of that is a problem and we can handle anything that’s thrown at us – and all of this has lead to a point where when we knock on a door to ask for help because our car has broken down, we are not given hugs and a cup of tea. We, like a young American woman called Renisha McBride, whose killer claimed self defence, are shot in the face at point blank range because we are fierce, and therefore aggressive, unpredictable, and worthy of the mocking, fear and scorn that the world looks at us with.
When you call black women ‘fierce’, you are dehumanizing us to a stereotype that has dangerous consequences; we become not only less than human, but also less than woman. When Perez Hilton says that inside him rests a fierce black woman, he is adding to a narrative that leads to my life being a little bit harder, a little bit more unsafe, and I hate him for it. Flippant statements about my fierceness means I am not allowed to be vulnerable, or even anything that is not angrily snapping my fingers whilst twerking on demand in an internet meme or viral video. I am not that, I cannot be that, and suggesting that women with skin like mine are necessarily that is racist – and if you can’t see that, well, then I think you’re racist too.
When Perez Hilton suggests that a black woman rests inside him, he is also denying his own privilege as a non-black man, despite his gay identity. In reply to one online critic, Perez tweeted “you say privilege I say seeing commonalities. Build bridges, not walls”… what? No, Perez. No. Yes, the institutions around us oppress us both, but your gayness is not the same as my black womanhood, and my black womanhood is not the same as your gayness. We become more or less oppressed in comparison to each other in different situations, and that’s ok – we don’t need to say that our oppressions have ‘common ground’, because a lot of the time, they don’t. Suggesting you cannot have male privilege because you’re gay is as ridiculous as someone suggesting I can’t have straight privilege because I am black. If people who believe in equality want to get anywhere, the first thing to remember is that we all have privileges, we all have oppressions, and the different sides of ourselves mean we can oppress or be oppressed at different times. There’s a helpful word for that – intersectionality – which is honestly as simple as I’ve just explained (promise).
Gay men can be racist and sexist in the same way straight men can, and I refuse to give someone a pass for their oppressive language just because they’re oppressed in other ways themselves (and neither should you). Do I think Perez Hilton hates black women*, or wants to cause them harm? No. Does that stop him being racist? No way. You see, being racist doesn’t mean you are a necessarily a terrible human being. Most racism I see is as simple as someone who is yet to acknowledge the harm casual words and phrases can cause in keeping the oppression of non-white people going. Black women as ‘fierce’, Asian women as submissive, Native women as sexually available, Latina women as promiscuous – casually referring to these stereotypes causes real harm to the communities of women of colour, and acknowledging this is the first step in helping to end the injustice we face.
To all the people who will undoubtedly accuse me of overreacting, try and put yourself in my shoes. According to my laptop, the synonyms of ‘fierce’ are violent, ferocious, brutal, severe, stern, angry, vicious, furious, intense and strong. If the world believed you had to be all of those things just because you have dark brown skin and like female pronouns, wouldn’t you be upset too? It’s simple: stop referring to the ‘fierce black woman’ inside of you. She doesn’t exist, and the more you want her to, the more you affect the black women – fierce or not – who do.
*EDIT: In response to a tweet from @BertLoch: “Wow @PerezHilton really isn’t getting it. Listen to these people before dismissing. They’re making sense.” Perez replied with: “Some present logical arguments, but then Hitler attempted to justify the holocaust too.” Huh? Did Perez Hilton seriously compare black women complaining that his use of racist language to Adolf Hitler convincing people to murder Jewish, Roma and gay communities in the 1940s? Yeah, that’s enough to convince me that he hates black women.