Black Women’s Bodies Matter

Debbie says:

Laurie and I have long been fans of Sesali B at Feministing. I was struck by her recent post titled “Stop Excluding Black Women from Fat Acceptance Movements,” an instruction which is self-evidently correct to anyone who has ever given racism a moment’s thought, and also misleading. The post’s URL is “We Need to Center, Not Exclude, Black Women in Fat Acceptance Movements,” and it’s that language ( probably Sesali B’s draft title), which made me think.

Bowen’s article makes good, clear points about the way fatphobia affects black women, again something that anyone who understands racism, and/or the ways mainstream culture has a structural effect, should understand.

We are in a body-positivity era that is ignoring women of color and Black women and doing so by resting on the false notion that for Black girls and women, being fat is somehow easier. In what feels like an asinine case of “reverse” psychology, body-positive white woman are subtly suggesting that not having to deal with fat shaming is a privilege that only Black women are afforded. Per usual, people are reaching  for their piece of the oppression pie (pun intended).

It is oft cited and mentioned that studies show that Black women have higher self-esteem and body image. However, high self esteem does not equal less fat-shaming, fatphobia, or other violence against fat Black women. For one, even if it were true that Black communities were more accepting of their fat women (which it isn’t), Black women don’t live in a cultural vacuum where they only engage and are affected by other Black people!

When we think about centering black women in fat acceptance, something new begins to emerge. One “moderate” response to Black Lives Matter has been “All Lives Matter” or “Every Life Matters.” While I agree that all lives matter, I vehemently dislike this slogan  because it takes violence against black people (and specifically police violence against black people) out of the spotlight, allows (encourages?) us to forget how disproportionately police officers kill unarmed black and brown people.

In the 21st century, in the United States and the “Western world,” I am coming to believe that we can only understand and combat gender oppression if we understand the essential oppression of structural racism, and the way it magnifies structural sexism. We can only fight for justice if we fight — in every sphere — for people of color. It’s not just about including black women in fat acceptance movements, something the mainstream fails at but the radical fat acceptance movement has done from the very beginning, it is, as the post URL states, about centering black women. We could, perhaps, make everyone’s lives better simply by inclusion, but not enough better.

Any bond that I find constraining as a white woman will cut off a black woman’s circulation more than it cuts off mine. By centering, we are forced to look at the underlying, inescapable, often invisible forces that make any system that is unfair to white women more unfair and more oppressive to women of color.

Black women’s bodies matter.