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:
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?
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.