The last time I was speechless after seeing images of a young Black woman on the internet was June 2009 when John at The Smoking Section ( a rap blog) posted what were then believed to be nude images of Rihanna Fenty. I contacted him and asked him why he did it, we had a conversation, and he then refused to give me permission to blog about the conversation. To this day, I still find it problematic that he published what is believed to be images of singer Rihanna Fenty. I always ask permission to write about conversations. Consent. Get it?
I was also speechless nearly two weeks ago when I saw the images of Amber Cole. I knew that I was going to write something, but I wanted to sort out my thoughts first because sometimes being quick to speak doesn’t do anyone any good. I also took my time to read what other people had written.
In these last week weeks Latoya Peterson has written about how the boys participation in this assault has been framed, and on how boys are taught that treating a woman or girl like a piece of shit, like an object to be used is perfectly legitimate. I would add that part of the reasoning behind this is that this behavior is legitimate and acceptable because implicitly, women are put here to be protected and dominated. There is a thin line between protection and domination.
Mark Anthony Neal has written about how Amber Cole is “his daughter” and the importance of Black communities examining “the politics of respectability that go hand-in-hand with Black collective shame, that often keeps us from having honest discussions about sex and sexuality in our communities—often to the detriment of our children. “
Lastly, Bianca Laureano has written about the politics of naming Amber’s name, the history of sexting, and the importance of consent. Consent, get it?
Side bar: Ms. Laureano was very deliberate in not using Amber Coles name in her post because she did not want to add to the plethora of searchable posts and I understand that. I am deliberate about using Ms. Cole’s name because I aggressively track and archive how “black feminism” is searched on the internet. By adding “black feminism” to the title I am inserting our Black feminist voices into “The Google” and it’s searchable archive.
Now, having read the others work, I want to address three things which are Black women’s sexuality, the internet as a gendered and racialized space and the role of patriarchy in the Amber Cole conversations.
Black Women’s Sexuality
In doing research on Black women’s sexuality I have come across an incredible quote by Mierelle Miller-Young’s in her dissertation “A Taste for Brown Sugar: The History of Black Women in American Pornography”. Miller-Young quotes a veteran Black woman pornography worker who states,
“You are not suppose to talk about liking sex, because you are already assumed to be a whore.”~Jeannie Pepper
This is the quote that came to my mind when I saw the images of Amber Cole on social media sites and the comments left on social media sites, which lectured Cole, admonished Cole and talked about the “general nastiness” of young women.
Gendered, Racial and Sexual Images
The posting of those images of her are racial, sexual and gendered violence. It is also cyberbullying. Because Black women are assumed to already be whores the images of this fourteen year old girl takes on special connotations.
Historically, in the US Black women were raped and Black men were lynched, publicly, as an act of power. I reason that the videotaping of Amber Cole and the posting of images from the video was an act of power as well. I am not saying that these acts are the same. What I am saying is they both constitute an act of power.
While I can appreciate the sentiment of “Amber Cole is all of our daughters” there is something profoundly patriarchal about this idea. What I am getting at here is, for me the issue is not whether or not Amber Cole is my sister or my daughter, the issue is when will black girls be seen as full human beings?
By being seen as a human being, and not an automatic whore, there is a basic intrinsic level of respect and love that is shown.
To say that a person, a girl, is entitled to care because she is related to me creates a system where some women are worth being cared after, and the others….oh well.
If we are only interested in protecting “our daughters” and “our sisters” then does that mean that the women and girls who we don’t classify as being “belonging” to us or are “related to us” are shit out of luck?
Black Feminist Love and Amber Cole
What does Black Feminist Love look like in the face of digital, racialized, sexualized violence? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is preparing to write this entailed me sittting, listening, think and reading on what I felt. It also meant trying to write something that was meaningful.
I am not sure what can be done in the future if this occurs again. We can involve the state by contacting the FBI regarding child pornography charges? But, how does that shift our culture?
We can decide to teach young people, consistently about cyberbulling.
I am thinking about writing a short weekend curriculum on cyberbullying that addresses race, sex and violence.
There are also a couple of organizations doing work on consent such as The Line Campaign.
Any other thoughts on what we can do, and what Black feminist Love looks like within this context would be appreciated.