Archive for 2016

The Words I Didn’t Speak

Every day, as I force myself to get out of bed at 7 AM, I am reminded that I am not a morning person. I hurriedly put on whatever I can find and run out the door so I can make it on time for class. This particular morning was no different. I arrived ten minutes early, as per usual, and sat outside waiting for the TA to finish lecturing the other class. A tall girl was standing right in front of me, and I was mesmerized by her long and silky blonde hair as it was completely different from my own dark tresses.

“Oh my God, she totally does not know what she’s doing.”


I jerked my head up to focus my attention away from her hair and toward the person who appeared to be speaking to her.


“She’s so unhelpful. I can’t even understand a single word she says.”


I knew exactly who the stranger was talking about, and her words stung me. I was all too familiar with the hostility and condescension in her tone. Our TA is a timid and tiny woman from South Asia. Although we hail from different nations, I felt strangely protective toward her because we both were the only visible outsiders in a sea of pale faces. This is not a serious issue. I told myself, some people just don’t get along with everyone and that is ok.


Little did I know that the stranger’s unkind comments would set the tone for the rest of the morning. Every question my TA asked was answered with a heavy sigh. Several of my classmates appeared to be rolling their eyes in unison. A part of me wanted to get up and scream and tell them, this material is really not that hard if you concentrate...if you only listen to her, instead of disrespecting her. Can’t you see you’re making it worse for her by doing that? Can’t you see how she’s nervously shuffling back and forth, struggling to get the words out of her mouth?


Seeing her struggle to teach a class full of students who did not even believe she deserved respect broke my heart. It also reminded me of my own position in society as a woman of color. I knew my thoughts and opinions had little value to an audience that did not want to listen to me. There, in that tiny room, I too was unwanted, and my classmates made it abundantly clear to me.


“Hey guys, did you get $425 as the answer to question number 4?” I asked the walls. Their silence was deafening.


Minutes later, the blonde boy sitting next to me wheeled his chair over to another girl. “For number 4, was your answer $425 too?”


It was finally my turn to sit back in my chair, roll my eyes, and sigh.

Walking out of that room, I felt as if I had lost a battle I didn’t even choose to fight. There were so many things I could have said to my classmates, my TA, or even my professor…but I chose to stay silent because I did not want to make a scene. How many people of color make the same decision because we are afraid of making things worse? Is patience really the most effective way of dealing with bigotry? I do not know the answer to these questions. What I do know is that I needed to write this to clear my conscience, because I cannot afford another sleepless night this late into the semester.



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Your Islamophobia is not Revolutionary


Being a Muslim woman is a fun experience. People are quick to pass judgement on my character. Just one look at the scarf I wrap around my head is enough to convince them that I am an oppressed and docile creature who must be saved. Everyone loves advocating on my behalf, often without my consent. 

As a Muslim, I often find myself excluded from most activist circles. I have been told I can't be a socialist if I follow an organised religion. I am frequently ignored or harassed by most LGBTQ activists, who assume my religious beliefs automatically make me a bigot. Even feminists have told me that my decision to wear a hijab is akin to supporting misogyny. 


Up-and-coming social justice page "I am Ryan Henly" is among some of the several Islamophobic feminist pages on Facebook.

I have gotten used to this. I have gotten used to being shunned away, even by those who claim to champion the rights of the oppressed and fight against intolerance. 

I remember the day I learned the difference between "white" feminism and intersectional feminism. Relieved to finally find a movement where I was accepted, I quickly began calling myself an intersectional feminist...but a part of me knew that a united movement against the white supremacist cis-hetero-patriarchy sounded too good to be true, especially in our hostile Islamophobic society.

It didn't take long for me to discover that I was unwelcome, even in spaces where people's multiple marginalized identities were supposedly acknowledged and respected. I have watched the rise of several Islamophobic activists. They always use the same excuses to justify their hatred. According to them, the Islamic faith is a threat to women and the LGBTQ community. For this reason, they reserve the right to spew anti-Islamic rhetoric, even if it means ignoring the voices of hundreds of Muslim activists such as myself. 

By speaking out over us, these activists cause more harm than good.

When Muslims are the only religious group who've seen a rise in hate crimes in Canada, when the New York Times portrays us more negatively than cancer, when countless Islamophobic books, movies, TV series and songs are released, when anti-Muslim bias has been around since before 9/11 and has taken countless lives, when presidential candidates base their entire campaign around it, and when it has helped many people become billionaires, Islamophobia is neither radical nor revolutionary. It promotes a system that exists and thrives on our oppression. It only helps uphold white supremacy.

If people are legitimately concerned with the safety of female and LGBTQ Muslims, they must understand the only way they can support us is by hearing us out. No one understands our unique beliefs and struggles better than us. We are the only ones who have the power and the expertise to make a real change in our community, so stop excluding us from your activism. It's meaningless without us.

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No, Starbucks, Creating A "Gender Wall" Won't Fix Your Sexist Policies


On February 1, Manar N exposed the sexist rules of a Starbucks coffee shop in Riyadh.

The tweet went viral and sparked an important conversation about cultural relativism and respecting women's rights, prompting the coffee shop to erect a gender wall allowing the women to enter inside.

Nice move, Starbucks, but as a woman who grew up with "gender walls", I am unimpressed.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the laws and customs of Saudi Arabia, all stores are required to segregate men and women's spaces. Men have the privilege to enter both the "Single Section", or the "Family Section" when accompanied by women and/or children. At most restaurants and coffee shops, there is no space for women only.

A sign displayed outside a Starbucks in Riyadh bars women from entering the coffee shop.

Having a "gender wall" means women get the smallest, darkest, and the most crowded area to sit in. The "Family Section" of most restaurants is incredibly small. If a woman even accidentally enters the "Single Section", she is escorted out immediately.

How can a company like Starbucks, which was named one of the world's most ethical businesses for the ninth year in a row, continue to operate in a nation with such repressive laws? By continuing to do business in Saudi Arabia, Starbucks is financially benefiting from the oppression of women.

As result of the backlash against the sexist policies of the coffee shop, Starbucks responded by erecting a "gender wall" segregating single men from women and families.

As a Muslim feminist, I believe businesses have a moral obligation to not open franchises in countries with gender apartheid. Until then, I will stand by my opinion that as a corporation that profits from oppression, Starbucks does not deserve the title of the world's "most ethical" business.

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"Can Non-Muslims Wear the Hijab?" & Other FAQs on Cultural Appropriation

Yesterday was World Hijab Day.

While the organization has received criticism in recent years for promoting cultural appropriation and slut-shaming, it has played an undeniably vital role in bringing to light the struggle of millions of hijabis around the world. It has also sparked an important debate on cultural appropriation and dressing in solidarity with Muslim women. This post will answer some of the most frequently asked questions pertaining to the subject.

   1) Is it okay for a non-Muslim woman to cover her hair?

Although the headscarf has become synonymous with the Muslim faith, it is not a practice exclusive to Islam. Both men and women from other faiths also cover their hair for religious purposes. Non-Muslim women who cover their hair should refrain from referring to their headscarf as a hijab, however, as that word is used exclusively by Muslims. 
While women of other faiths can cover their hair, they should not refer to their headscarf as a "hijab".

   2) Can I wear the hijab to conduct a social experiment?

No. This is extremely offensive as it implies that my experiences as a hijabi are not enough to convince people that the discrimination I face is real. Why is it necessary for a non-Muslim to "prove" Islamophobia is real? There are hundreds of Muslims who have gotten killed, stalked, and harassed by Islamophobes. Their stories have been shared widely around the world. Plus, there is ample statistical evidence to prove Islamophobia is a serious concern for Muslims in Western nations. Why don't you believe us when we tell you our stories?

   3) Can a non-Muslim wear a hijab in solidarity with hijabis?

There are other ways to show solidarity with us. Supporting our businesses, fighting for us when we are being harassed in public, offering to take public transit with us to protect us from Islamophobic attack, and giving us more representation in your artwork are just some of the many things you can do to help us. Unfortunately, non-Muslims wearing a hijab does not help us out much.

   4) Can a non-Muslim buy modest clothing from Islamic stores?

Absolutely, as long as it's not traditional clothing like kaftans or shalwar kameez. Dresses, skirts, and hijabs are fair game.

   5) Can I wear a headscarf because it's beautiful?

Since religious women are ostracized for covering their hair, it is inappropriate to wear a headscarf because you think it's "cute". 

Sorry, gothmummi.

   6) Can I follow hijabi beauty bloggers and share pictures of hijabis on my page?

Of course. As long as you're not fetishizing us.

    7) Can I cover my hair to protect myself from the weather?

I am not going to encourage you to freeze to death or suffocate in a sandstorm because you were trying to be culturally sensitive.

    8) What if a hijabi insists I wear one for a special event?

This is considered cultural exchange, not appropriation, and is completely alright.

Got any more questions that need to be answered? Don't hesitate to contact me!

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Why Colleges Should Waive Standardized Testing Requirements

My professor fondly refers to me as an "overachiever". He encourages me to apply to top tier universities that cost more than my annual household income. "You never know," he says, "the scholarship packages might surprise you."

You must understand, dear professor, that it isn't just the cost of attendance that is deterring me from applying to universities like Harvard.

I am a Pakistani citizen, raised in Saudi Arabia, who attended a Canadian high school prior to transferring to an American community college. I, along with most of my other classmates, never wrote the SAT or ACT.

For low-income families, every dollar spent with no immediate gratification is a dollar wasted. Why spend $55 writing the SAT when that money can be used for health insurance?

The international median household income is around $10,000. In fact, if I was a US citizen I would be eligible to receive a Pell Grant. Yet, despite this as an international student I am ineligible to obtain a fee waiver to write the SAT, which is a requirement to apply to most elite American universities.

How can America's top tier universities take pride in being global institutions when the majority of the world's population is ineligible to even apply to them? How can they boast about having a student body comprised of the best students when they were selected from such a homogeneous applicant pool?

Standardized tests are a racist and classist method of selecting students. The College Board's own data proves that wealthy and white students perform better on the SAT than students of other demographics.


The College Board's data reveals that the average household income has a significant impact on a student's score on the SAT.


The College Board's data reveals that white students perform better than students of any other race on average, with Asians being the only ones outperforming them.

When elite universities require students to submit their standardized test scores, they effectively discourage poor students from applying. It is no wonder America's elite schools have very little socioeconomic diversity.

I simply cannot fathom why universities require transfer applicants to submit scores for standardized tests meant to be taken by high school students. What purpose do they serve?

My transcript, resume, essay, and recommendation letters are proof of my work ethic and academic achievements. I performed as well as I could in the institution I attended with the resources I had access to. To give another applicant preference over me based on standardized test scores is penalizing me for being an economically disadvantaged foreign student.

If America's elite institutions seek a more diverse student body, they must waive their standardized testing requirements as they discriminate against underprivileged prospective students.

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In Defense of "Slutty" Hijabis

A couple of months ago, I shared an article on my Facebook page about ‘Hijabi Hipsters’; a new generation of hijabis who fuse fashion with faith by wearing stylish hijab-friendly outfits.

"Wow, that sounds like you!" One of my friends noted. Most of the other people in the thread seemed to agree with him. His comment made me smile. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a hijabster, I was glad my friends thought I was stylish.

A photo of me at the Bahrain International Airport 

Then, it happened.

The negative comments started pouring in.

"Umm…isn’t the point of a hijab to be modest and not attract attention to yourself?" My male atheist friend remarked.

"Yea, I have met girls who wear a hijab with tight jeans and it just doesn’t make sense. How is that even modest?" My female non-religious Hindu friend chimed in.

"You can’t wear that with a hijab. It still attracts boys. She is beautifying her face." My male Muslim friend offered.

Soon the entire thread took a dramatic turn and went from praising hijabis for being modest yet stylish to bashing “hoe-jabis” for making a mockery off an important religious symbol by wearing “slutty” clothes in the name of modesty.

& throughout this entire encounter, I sat next to my computer screen, a cup of hot Kashmiri chai in my hand, wondering when I will finally get a chance to live without having to justify my attire to every single person I interact with on a daily basis.


Hijabis often get judged for wearing "immodest" clothes

I am writing this in defense of every single girl who has gotten told her clothes are not “hijab-friendly”. This is for every single person who thinks (s)he has the right to tell hijabis what they can and can’t wear.

I became what Muslim women call a “permanent hijabi” at age 18. Before that, I had a rocky relationship with the garment I chose to wear at age 10 to school only. I was the first female in my family to start wearing it. I had no guidance whatsoever. No one told me I couldn’t wear short sleeves with a hijab, for example, so I proceeded to do just that until I got called out for it at age 14.

Since I lived alone and didn’t interact with Muslims (especially hijabis) on a daily basis, I wore all kinds of “inappropriate” clothes with my hijab: short skirts, short sleeved shirts, tight skin-hugging pants, etc.

It wasn’t until I started living with my aunt (who started wearing a hijab by then) that I finally realized the hijab was more than just a cloth you wear on your head. It was an entire lifestyle that you couldn’t just put on and off as you pleased.

Here’s what I wish people understood about “hoe-jabis”:
  • Most of them are confused. They most likely don’t live with or around other hijabis so they have no idea what really counts as “modest” since different people have different perceptions of modesty. 
  • They might be experiencing a change of heart. Often times, hijabi girls stop covering their hair for a multitude of reasons. Usually the transition starts with them wearing more “inappropriate” clothes. Once you start wearing the hijab, it’s hard to take it off. It literally makes you feel like you’re walking around naked. That’s why many hijabis use that as a stepping stone so when they are ready to finally take it off, they feel more comfortable doing it.
  • They might be wearing a hijab for reasons other than modesty. It is not uncommon at all to meet a Muslim girl who wears a hijab to make a political statement. I’ve also met cancer patients who wear headscarves once they start losing their hair due to chemotherapy.
  • They are tired of being judged. Think about how hard it is to be a hijabi. Islamophobes are more likely to attack them than any other group of Muslims. White feminists keep telling them that they’re oppressing themselves by choosing to dress a certain way. People of other religious groups judge them on their “fake” modesty. Perverts fetishize them. Misogynistic Muslims try to police their behavior and choice of attire while other hijabis judge them on their style.
  • They are humans too and are thus not exempt from making mistakes. Hijab-malfunctions exist. Sometimes the way someone steps out of their house is not the way they end up looking halfway through the day.
If you are a hijabi who is really interested in helping another out, guide her towards fashion bloggers like Amenakin, saimasmileslike and nabiilabee who manage to wear 100% Sharia-approved clothes and still look fashionable…or towards actual Muslim sources written by scholars explaining what a hijab is and what the rules are for wearing one.
Wearing a hijab does not limit a person's ability to express themself.

If you yourself are not a hijabi, please take a seat.

Hijabis do not exist for you to mock, criticize or fetishize. We are not “forbidden fruit” or hypersexual oriental beauties who are ladies on the street but freaks between the sheets. We aren’t repressed creatures who need orientalist men to come and “save” us by sexually exploiting us.

Judging women for dressing "immodestly" is a form of patriarchal oppression, even when aimed at women who choose to cover their hair. Remember this the next time you try to tell a woman what she should or should not wear.

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Rape is Still Rape, Even When Done by a Rock God

The third week of the first month of 2016 started with the death of a legend. 69 year old David Bowie lost his battle with cancer. His death unleashed a series of anticipated news articles, interviews, videos, and gif sets celebrating the man Ricky Gervais referred to as a "Rock God".

His death also resuscitated and popularized this post, a nostalgic memoir of Lori Mattix, who lost her virginity to Bowie when she was only fourteen years old. Mattix did not regret her sexual encounters with Bowie. She fondly referred to that period as the highlight of her life.

Mattix (left) circa 1972

Herein lies the problem.

There is a significant difference in the brain development of someone who is entering early adolescence (as Mattix was, at the time of the abuse) and that of someone who is already an adult. This is why a fourteen year old should not have sex with a twenty-six year old. While Mattix may have agreed to having sex with Bowie, as a child, she was incapable of consenting to him.

As a young teenager, Mattix was exploited and abused by several powerful men. In fact, her relationship with Jimmy Page is the classic example of an abusive relationship between an adult and a minor. Yet, she still refuses to label it as such.

Page (center) and Mattix (right) circa 1973

Survivors react to abuse in different ways. Factor in the differences between the way people viewed female sexuality in the 60's and 70's to the way it's viewed today and things get even more complicated.

One must remember, however, that the age of consent in the 1970's was sixteen. Mattix was one of the famous "baby groupies", christened as such because it was no secret they were underage. Page even kept his relationship with her hidden from the public eye. He was well aware that it was illegal.

Mattix's recollection of her relationship with Bowie is deeply disturbing. "I was really special. I knew it the night after I lost my virginity to David Bowie, when I went to see his concert at Long Beach Arena." She says. This is the typical behavior of a child abuser. They create willing victims by making them feel special and loved.

One should not be surprised that Mattix refuses to acknowledge what happened to her is rape, even if it fits the legal definition of the crime. Her abuser was rich, powerful, and influential. Their sexual encounters gave her fame and happiness. None of that excuses Bowie's actions. None of that will change the fact that he had sex with a naive young girl who was incapable of consenting to him.

Treat David Bowie the same way you would treat any other statutory rapist without Bowie's fame and wealth. Strip him of his sainthood. He may be an influential musician, but he was not a saint.

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"D&G Hijabs? NO THANK YOU" Video Transcript


Transcript:

Greetings everyone!

So Dolce and Gabbana is now copying H&M. It recently debuted a collection of hijabs and burkas for all the rich Muslims out there. I am sure the khaleejis who live in nations that oppress and exploit religious and ethnic minorities are rejoicing. 

For those of you who are not familiar with high end fashion, Dolce and Gabbana’s parent company supports the genocide of the indigenous people of Palestine, a vast majority of whom are Muslim. In fact, one of their models, Scarlett Johansson, is also a staunch supporter of Israel. To make matters worse, their clothes are made in sweatshops in China which utilize child labor and their factories in Italy utilize labor from undocumented workers who are paid poverty wages. 

Dolce and Gabbana also promotes rape culture using problematic ads like this. *three ads recreating what appears to be gang rapes appear on the screen. all three ads feature female models lying on the floor with men bent on top of them*. 

So yea, I don’t care if these tax evaders are making high end hijabs and burkas. I have no interest in buying their thousand dollar hijabs when I can buy the same stuff at Kmart and you know what? Their workers probably make the same amount of money.

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Dear Hum TV, Stop Trying To Justify Abuse

Last night a Pakistani-American engineer was telling me that people only hit those they love. She also told me that if a woman’s husband hits her, it’s entirely her fault; she must have done something to provoke him.
I wouldn’t post this on here if this was an isolated incident but these views are sadly really common among Pakistani women. In a poll published two years ago, the Express Tribune found almost half of the Pakistani women surveyed thought their husbands were justified in beating them. This is beyond disturbing because ET is read only by privileged people. If (fairly) wealthy & educated Pakistani women feel this way, I can only imagine how the poorer majority feels. As well, the Guardian published an interactive list of women’s rights across the globe. Unsurprising, Pakistani women were worse off than almost every other country in the region.

In a survey published by the Express Tribune, a disturbingly large amount of Pakistani women stated that abuse is justified in certain situations.

The reason is easy to see.
Watch any drama on Hum TV, Pakistan’s favorite TV channel. Notice how hard they work to normalize abusive relationships. Hum TV uses a good girl vs bad girl dichotomy wherein the “good” girl is the one who is submissive and obedient to her husband and his family. She endures even the harshest of abuse from them with a smile on her face. She never fights back. The “bad” girl, on the other hand, is assertive & dominant. She does not get along with her in-laws. She contemplates and might even get a divorce unlike the good girl who always returns to her husband. Ultimately, the good girl gets a happy ending. The bad girl gets a slap in the face. Literally.
Hum TV dramas exaggerate their “evil” female leads so much that a viewer would feel no remorse after watching her get beaten by her husband. The bad girl will starve her mentally ill mother in law. The bad girl will cheat on her husband. The bad girl will try to seduce a married man out of greed for money. All of these women end up getting slapped by men. All of these incidents of abuse are justified by the viewers. “It was a light slap. She totally deserved it.”
So what does this mean for the hundreds of thousands of women who are brutally beaten by their husbands and in-laws in Pakistan? What does it mean for the victims of acid attacks and honor killings? They did not receive a “light” slap. Will you argue that their fate was deserved?
The fact is that we have a culture that glorifies and condones violence against women. We have a culture that shames victims & tells them it’s their fault they’re getting abused. We have a culture that doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that this kind of gendered violence and people’s reaction to it is pandemic.
I have seen how Pakistanis react in real life when they find out a loved one was abused by their spouse. I have seen how Pakistanis react when women divorce their husbands for ill-treating them. Frankly, I’m disgusted by both.
Thousands of Pakistanis overseas watch Hum TV. For many, it is the only link they have to their culture in a foreign land. Imagine the impact this blatant misogyny is having on their beliefs.
If we want to start addressing violence against women in our communities, we must first change the culture that promotes it. We must support victims, not the abusers. We must not shun women for divorcing their abusive husbands. We must discuss Hum TV’s attempt to normalize domestic violence, even if it is a reflection of our own cultural values. Enough women have already died as a result of spousal abuse. How many more until we finally say no?

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Poem #1

Love

it’s just an infatuation

the way you stare at me
& my chocolate eyes

that gaze that lingers on for days

like the snow that kisses the ground
beneath our feet

I wish I could tell you

I don’t love you
the way you love me

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Your Racial Fetish is not a Compliment


I read “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf last week & this passage pretty much sums up the premise of the book:

The books and films they see survey from the young boy’s point of view his first touch of a girl’s thighs, his first glimpse of her breasts. The girls sit listening, absorbing, their familiar breasts estranged as if they were not part of their bodies, their thighs crossed self-consciously, learning how to leave their bodies and watch them from the outside. Since their bodies are seen from the point of view of strangeness and desire, it is no wonder that what should be familiar, felt to be whole, become estranged and divided into parts. What little girls learn is not the desire for the other, but the desire to be desired. Girls learn to watch their sex along with the boys; that takes up the space that should be devoted to finding out about what they are wanting, and reading and writing about it, seeking it and getting it. Sex is held hostage by beauty and its ransom terms are engraved in girls’ minds early and deeply with instruments more beautiful that those which advertisers or pornographers know how to use: literature, poetry, painting, and film. (Naomi Wolf, “The Beauty Myth”) 
Men are taught to desire whereas women are taught to be desired.

That’s the difference between male & female sexuality in our patriarchal society in a nutshell.

While white women are objectified as well, it hurts women of color more.

At least, when you type “pretty white girls” in Google, you get faces. Faces of people; living breathing creatures with dreams, goals, & desires. Faces of people exhibiting emotions we all feel. Faces of people who might even have the same interests as us.

Now contrast that with what comes up when you type “pretty Brazilian girls” in Google. Pictures of women where the main focus isn’t on the girl’s face, but rather a specific part of her body: a toned, flat stomach, mountainous bosoms, or a perfectly round derriere. Some pictures don’t even have the girls’ faces in them. They are just photographs of perfectly shaped bums…& who do these enviable rear ends belong to?

We will never know.

You see, at least white girls are treated as human beings. They aren’t sexualized unless if they want to be sexualized. As a WOC, you simply don’t have this luxury. You’re either a sexy & kinky Latina, a shy and submissive Asian girl, a voluptuous and bold black woman, or a “forbidden fruit” in the form of a Muslimah. You’re not a woman. You’re an exciting mission. Your body exists solely for the White Man to conquer.

Where do we fit in this picture? Where are our dreams, goals, & desires? Our emotions? Our interests?
Fetishization harms women of color by reducing them to racist stereotypes. 

Women of color are groomed from a very young age to accept their role as hypersexualized beings in the society. How can one not notice the absence of women of color in the media who aren’t sexy? How can one not notice the fact that almost all the “natural” & “body positive” movements that have become recently popular exclude us? Worse yet, we never, ever see a WOC actually desiring someone…unless if she’s playing the role of a promiscuous woman. Where are all the sex positive movements telling us that it is ok for us to want someone?

As a WOC, why must my existence be a predicament? When you aren’t fetishizing me, you are hating my existence. You are getting offended by my features, as if my thick curly hair is a pit of snakes hissing and threatening to swallow you whole. As if my big nose is a hawk waiting to dig in your flesh. As if my dark skin is toxic & touching it will infect with Ebola, MERS-CoV or whatever the disease du jour affecting only people of color is.

This is why I don’t take being fetishized as a compliment. It’s just another way for white people to exert their superiority over me…to “conquer” me…to let me know that I was picked the way people pick animals at a local pet store...based on my breed, my color, how easy it is to "tame" my, & how domestic I am. It's not flattering.

It’s a slap on the face.

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