In 2014, Karlesha Thurman, a young Black mother in California, faced vicious trolling after she shared a photo of herself breastfeeding to a Black mother’s group on Facebook. Conversely, Jacci Sharkey, a young White Australian mother, was commended after posting a photo of herself breastfeeding to the University of the Sunshine Coast Facebook page. Both are of similar age, both are students and similarly smiling with pride in their graduation cap and gown, while carrying out a natural act of feeding their child. Neither mother deserves to be exposed to abuse. But racism ensures that the same act of motherly care led to the hypersexualisation of a Black mother.
‘And so the hypersexualistion of the Black woman was born.
‘Colonial Australia was no better. Because Indigenous sexual relations differed to that of Whites, Indigenous women were all considered prostitutes and fair game for White men with a fetish for “black velvet.” In a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy, many Aboriginal women were forced into prostitution to survive. Even those in “respectable” employment such as domestic servants were expected to sexually satisfy their bosses and co-workers as part of the job requirements…
‘But the fact remains, when two photos were stacked side by side, only one of the women was able transcend the sexualisation of the act of breastfeeding. Only one woman was called “adorable” by the media and portrayed with girlish innocence, and it wasn’t the Black one. It never is.” – Ruby Hamad on Daily Life.
The sexualisation of Black women’s bodies is enshrined in law, with the Australian government making Aboriginal women and children ‘wards of the state.‘ Insitutions aim to disempower Black/ Indigenous women in a multitude of ways. This includes how Hollywood perpetuates images and narratives of Indigneous women and other racial minorities.
In Hollywood films, the Indigenous or minority ‘manic pixie dream girl,’ is either a disposable sex object or a colonialist conquest. In fact, women of colour who play opposite a white man are almost uniformly constructed as exotically sexual, usually because they are feisty, head-strong “free spirits” who won’t be tamed by any man… except by our white hero. The magical pixie provides sex and a beguiling love of nature, but she needs to be taught English first and foremost and then she needs to be imbued with civilisation. The epitome of this trope is found in Westerns. Such Hollywood films usually portray Mexican or Native American women as independent souls who haven’t wanted to partner with a man from their own communities. Yet after some sexy, passionate resistance, they succumb to the rogue charm of the white protagonist who waltzes into town.
You can also see “Asian” variations, of a beautiful, mostly silent but strong-willed Lotus Flower Woman who eventually takes care of the wounded American man and submits to him.
Becoming aware of and deconstructing such discourses in film and popular culture is a useful step in overcoming our collective tacit acceptance of romanticised colonial fantasies.
Read more on my post, Noble Savages and Magical Pixie Conquests: Colonial Fantasies in Film.