A few weeks ago, a white woman came up to me as I walked through my city’s queer district.
She leered at me, barked “You’re hot” in my face, and reached out and roughly grabbed my breast.
Now, this wasn’t the first time a stranger had touched my chest in public without my consent. And so while I was hurt and disgusted, I wasn’t exactly massively surprised.
I shook the encounter off – feeling a little shaky and violated – and continued down the street.
All of two damn minutes passed before a white man came up close, looked me up and down, snapped his fingers in a “Z” formation and said, “Damn, girrrrlfriend! Work it! You look fierce.”
On this particular day, I was makeup free, clad in my omnipresent black Doc Martens boots, and dressed in baggy overalls that make me look like a plumber who just got off shift. There was nothing fierce about it.
My two non-Black female friends who stood next to me, however, did look fierce – dressed and made up to the nines and resplendent in high heels. Yet, they went on unnoticed.
If these accounts seem gross – but totally unfamiliar – to you then my guess is that you might be white.
Because whether cognizant of it or not, those two white strangers participated in and perpetuated the phenomenon of what we call misogynoir – the first by treating my body like a sexual plaything she was entitled to, and the second by projecting his stereotypical and narrow view of Black womanhood onto me.
Misogynoir – a portmanteau that combines “misogyny” and the French word for black, “noir” – is a term coined by the queer Black feminist Moya Bailey to describe the particular racialized sexism that Black women face.
It’s a word used to acknowledge the very specific convergence of anti-Blackness and misogyny, and therefore is not applicable to non-Black women of color (or white women).
And it’s often overlooked in feminist discourse – because it disrupts the tendency that mainstream feminism has of universalizing womanhood as a uniformly shared experience based on the default narrative of white women.
Insisting that conversations around misogyny disregard race or take a “colorblind” approach are misguided and wrong-footed. Because only by accurately naming the nuances of oppressive behavior can we understand their origins and equip ourselves with the tools to bring them down.
That’s why discussing, recognizing, and understanding misogynoir is crucial to an effective and compassionate feminism.
So let’s start by understanding the following four tropes, pervasively woven into popular media, which contribute to making society a more hostile place for Black women.