Nefertari Bilal

As I go further in life and meet more people, I've become increasingly conscious of my identity as a black woman.  I never thought too much about my race and sex until recently, when I realized that some would see me as something exotic.  I know that being female can already come with having to deal with the male gaze (in which women are seen as sexual objects for men) and sometimes sexual harassment.


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However, I didn't realize as a child that my race would make some men speak as if I were some alien being that would be any different from a white woman.  I do not mind if people find my hair and complexion beautiful.  However, assumptions about me are made and people seem a bit too fixated on them for my taste.  They seem more enthralled with the fact that I am black and how different I look than with my actual character.  Many guys believe I must have a big butt based on race alone, and it made me at best squeamish.  On the Internet, I see comments that black women are more passionate in bed than white women, that they are ‘easy,’ or in more crude terms ‘whores.’

Other black women have also reflected on this exoticization.  Alessandra Rhimes, a poet, speaks, ‘ Don’t pat my hair.  Don’t touch my skin and call it chocolate or caramel or mocha or ‘body bangin’ like butta’... I am not your experiment.  Your diversity quota.  Your cultural trophy.’  I remember someone expressed to me that he'd never slept with a black woman and would like to ‘try it out.’  I couldn’t help but feel as though he saw black women as dolls to play with and then toss aside when he was bored.

Charlene Haparimwi, another black woman, said, ‘I learned that some white men love black bodies but do not necessarily love black women.’   Reading the words of these women, and seeing the striking similarities to my own experience, I feel a kinship with them.  It has also made me a bit wary of men from other races.  I sometimes wonder if they would take me seriously or I am simply an experiment as Rhimes so powerfully puts it.

For many, we are good enough to bed but not someone anyone could ever have a future with.  We are expected to be more sexually prowess than other races of women.  The fetishization of black women is common, but it's certainly not a creation of the 21st century.  Again, I must wonder, where did this come from?  This image of black women as some sexual, prowess creature?

It came from previous eras when black women were held in bondage and largely seen as the ‘other’ for not fitting a Eurocentric standard of beauty.  When Europeans first traveled to Africa in the seventeenth century, they were shocked that African dress exposed so much skin, even though it was due to the hot climate there.  As a result, African women were seen as lewd and sexually insatiable.  In this way, the Jezebel stereotype was born.  Jezebels were viewed as ‘whores’ who therefore couldn’t even be raped.  Even some abolitionists believed black women welcomed the sexual advances of white foremen on plantations.

A woman that suffered greatly from this was Sarah Baartman, a slave from South Africa.  She was paraded in London in 1810, stared, poked and prodded.  She was dubbed the ‘Hottentot Venus’ for her large breasts and bottom.  She was later sold to an animal trainer, and upon her death in 1815 her body was dissected.  Her genitals were cut out and put on display at a French museum until 1976.  She would not be returned back to her homeland until 2002 after the then-president Nelson Mandela asked France to return her remains.

Even now the Jezebel stereotype hasn’t died.  Black female artists often perpetuate this stereotype.  In retrospect when I think of my favorite rapper, Cupcakke, I realize her songs, one of which is called Vagina, are mainly outrageous for fun.  However, her music does feed into the narrative of a black woman who just cannot get enough sex, always lewd and lusting.  I hate many hip hop videos especially because they often sexually objectify black bodies, with women scantily dressed for the pleasure of the male rapper.


By examining these beliefs we can have an inclusive society that doesn’t devalue women because of the color of their skin.


When I did a Google search with my friend, using the keywords ‘beautiful white women,’ the results were dressed attractively but modestly.  There was significantly less sexualization present.  However, the pictures of black women had them scantily dressed with the particular focus on their butts in some photos.  Many of them were also pornographic.  It points to the issue of the hypersexualization of black women in the country.  The Google search images caused a big uproar and Google addressed the issue.

I think more of us need to question where do certain beliefs and assumptions we make about groups of people come from.  People may say someone seeing black women as sexier in bed is a positive stereotype, but I disagree.  It dehumanizes many by confining them to the role of a sex object; someone that's good enough to have sex with but not to marry or otherwise commit to.  Such beliefs also silence many women of color who experience sexual harassment or other abuse because there is still a deeply entrenched belief that they are jezebels.  Only by critically examining these beliefs to their origin and deconstructing them, can we hope to have a more inclusive society that doesn’t devalue women because of the color of their skin.


Nefertari Bilal is a sophomore at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism with a minor in Creative Writing.  She is in New York City as an editorial intern for bSmart Guide.  To see her other writing, please go to


Comments (4)

  1. Cameron C.

An eye-opening read. Thank you for this passionate and elegantly written passage.

Much respect,

  1. Nefertari Bilal

It is going well I have just been so busy!

  1. Meagan Hooper

Another phenomenal and eye opening post Nefertari! Hope school is going well!

  1. Nefertari Bilal    Meagan Hooper

Yeah it is going well, just so much to do now ;(.

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