I’m not a hooker & other fun stuff

I’m going to try to keep this brief. Three things happened this week that in a roundabout way are about bodies and body image because they’re about the ways that Black people’s bodies are seen and depicted, which has everything to do with how Black people (like me) go on to feel about ourselves.

So, the first one: I was at a book reading for my friend Lori Tharps’ new memoir Kinky Gazpacho, about her life as a Black American woman who has had to contend head-on with racism and racial ignorance in Spain, where her husband is from and where she used to live. During the q&a she asked me if I’d mind talking a little about racial attitudes that I encountered when I lived in Barcelona. So to a room of strangers I described how at least twice a month some old Spanish man would approach me as I was walking down the street, usually in the afternoon, sometimes as I carried grocery bags, always when I was dressed in something about as sexy as a sack, get right up on me and whisper in my ear the question that every woman just waits to hear: “How much?” Sometimes, just so I would be totally clear on the fact that they thought I was a hooker, they’d rub their crotch and smile crookedly. This happened a lot in the year that I was there and I told the Borders bookstore audience that every woman of color I know who has spent significant time in Barcelona has also been mistaken for a prostitute.

One (White) man in the audience decided to challenge me. He said that the Spaniards, at a church right outside of Barcelona, worship a Black Madonna and hold her more sacred than just about anything. He continued that the problem is that Americans are too caught up with being PC and Europeans know how to keep it real—if they see a beautiful woman, they will tell her that she’s beautiful.

I explained to him as calmly as I could, as my hands shook, that I have been told that I am beautiful by many men, in Spain and all over the world. And I’m aware of the difference in that and being propositioned as a whore. And even though I didn’t mention that I could give a fuck who Barcelonans worship, I did add that being mistaken for a hooker had everything to do with my being Black. I think I said that last part like three times, even though it wasn’t necessary but just because my least favorite thing in the world is when White people tell Black people we are mistaken about something being racist.

Second thing: Ak and I decided last week not to post the LeBron James Vogue cover. We both mentioned a lot of high-handed intellectual reasons, but really I suspect it’s because we didn’t want to think about it. But then yesterday we both saw the cover and a King Kong poster side-by-side and after our stomachs were done lurching (honestly, mine did), it seemed remiss not to put it here. So…here you go. Hope you didn’t just eat:

King Kong

And finally: Today I read about a college in North Dakota that put on a performance that included a White student in blackface as Barack Obama getting a lap dance. I think I’m naïve because everytime I hear about the side-slappingly good time that people have watching blackface I really don’t understand. Not even a little bit. Can someone explain to me why it’s funny?

blackface

Where am I going with all of this? I’m just mad and I wanted to share. I thought it would help my rage, but instead it just boiled up and over again. So much for talk therapy.

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5 Comments

Filed under Barack Obama, Blackface, King Kong, prostitution, Spain, Vogue

5 responses to “I’m not a hooker & other fun stuff

  1. serenakim

    Wow! Those two pictures side by side are absolutely. fucking. unbelievable!

    I just threw up my gazpacho.

  2. N.O.R.E.

    so of course Lebron has no problem with this. He told the Cleveladn Plain Dealer: “It wasn’t a situation we’re being rough or looking mean,” James said. “Just showing a little emotion. We had a few looks and that was the best one we had.” (read the rest here: http://www.cleveland.com/cavs/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/sports/120626264122660.xml&coll=2 )

    and if you wanna know why Lebron doesn’t care, here’s great analysis from my favorite sports critic Dave Zirin: http://www.edgeofsports.com/2007-05-17-251/index.html

  3. serenakim

    Two stories:

    On Saturday, Jeff and I took Plum to the Grove shopping area, where there are loads of children in strollers and wobbling around. My daughter has long black hair, yellow skin, and almond shaped eyes. A blond woman with two blond baby girls came up to us and said, “Wow! Your baby looks so…. different… just really different. I mean she’s really cute. But look at how different she looks from my kids.”

    We just kind of looked down and hoped she would go away. Then we talked about what kind of comeback might have been appropriate. But really what could we have said? I said her children were cute, too, but I choked on those words.

    Imagine if I had gone up to some random white or black mother and compared my child to hers and marveled over the difference…. Is this racist?

    Many years ago, in 1994, I was at a hip hop nightclub in Itaewon, a military district in Seoul. I was so happy to be there, because I’m a hip hopper, basically. So I was chilling out, when a black G.I. came up to me and asked me how much. I said, what? I am not a prostitute, are you crazy? And he said, “You speak English very well.”

    But I guess because I was in Korea, it’s understandable that he would assume that somebody who looked like me couldn’t speak English. But …. I still think about it.

    I’ve also had lots of black kids call me Kaity Tong on the subway in New York and they also marvel when I can actually speak English. Why is the concept of an Asian American so novel?

    It’s not a judgment. I’m just telling you how it is to be in my skin.

  4. smallmediumlarge

    This is Ak responding to Serena: I actually think judgment is necessary when people are randomly racist in a sexualized or childish way or when they other your child.

    In answer to your question: “Imagine if I had gone up to some random White or Black mother and compared my child to hers and marveled over the difference…is this racist?” I would say yes.

    Finally, a comeback for the next time: Dead silence. Gets ’em every time.

  5. GoldenGirl

    Don’t you wonder what kind of direction Annie Leibovitz gave Lebron while shooting that photo? “Wilder, Lebron! You’re an animal! Now roar!”

    Sad thing is that this is all gonna blow over and it will be business as usual over at Vogue. Anna can use this as an excuse to ban blacks from any future covers. The blacks are too fussy!

    Serena, I can’t believe you have a real-life Asian daughter. How unusual and exotic! Congrats.

    That woman you encountered at the market is in for a lot of shocks once she starts venturing outside her bubble.

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