the inherent violence of occupying a black body
by blessing ikpa
cover image: Kehinde Wiley, The Two Sisters, 2012. Oil on linen. Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr. Courtesy of Sean Kelly, New York. ©Kehinde Wiley. (Photo: Jason Wyche, courtesy of Sean Kelly, New York)
When one of my friends in college made the illusion that White men are only attracted to me because they must have “jungle fever,” I couldn’t put my finger on her justification. Why wouldn’t someone like me for who I am? For years, this comment continues to haunt me as I further discover and own my Blackness. I slowly began to understand that comments, small or large, based off of my Blackness and womanhood (in
their intersection) are inherently violent in nature. I was being devalued simply for existing in my own skin.
I didn’t fully understand how existing as a Black woman would take such a toll on me (emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually) until I was in my junior year of undergrad. I made the diplomatic decision to study abroad in Italy, and nothing was going to stop me. Granted, even though I should have thought out more of the logistics of living abroad, I was ready to simply see the world. Being a born-and- raised Oklahoman had become exhausting and unfruitful, so this was my own rebellion of sorts. Long story short, I realized the world was bigger than my four corners of Norman, OK. But, I also learned that the world was aviolent place for people who looked like me. Many Black communities were still reeling from the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and were protesting as their way of letting the world know that we have had enough. Mixing the deaths of Black people at the hands of police with the racist incidents happening on campus, I suddenly became aware of my place in the world. The systemic violence of institutions against Black bodies had taken its toll on me. My family, my friends, my community, myself, could be killed for simply living in our bodies. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t aware of such complicated dynamics earlier on in my life, but the reality began to sink in further later on in life.
I started speaking out. I couldn’t hold back the anger, resentment, frustration and
fear any longer. I stated my opinion and I sure stated them boldly. Did people like what I
had to say? Nope. Did this stop me from saying what I thought to be true and authentic? Nope. I am here because of the Black people - Black women - who came before me and fought for my existence. The least I could do was to state that enough was enough. With my decision to speak up on the violence which plagued Black communities, I began to feel the backlash from different areas of my life. The church I attended didn’t want me anymore, friends stopped talking to me, random people on campus would verbally attack me. In the moment, I couldn’t understand why owning my Blackness was threatening to so many individuals. Years later as I’m removed from these situations, I realize the systemic nature (and violence) of keeping Black people silent. As a Black woman, I am suppose to simply follow protocol or be labeled as the “Angry Black Woman.” If I wanted to be
accepted in church, I couldn’t talk about how Christianity has been violent to communities
of color for centuries. If I wanted to be popular on campus, I couldn’t talk about how
institutions are setup to benefit White students and the problematic nature of Greek Life. If
I wanted to be accepted, period, I needed to be the “cool Black girl” who doesn’t talk about
complicated issues and simply exist to the comfortability of those around me. Yeah, no.
The topic of violence of any kind towards Black communities isn’t a new conversation by any means. Our communities have been experiencing violence, systemic or physical, since our ancestors were brought over to Indigenous lands on slave ships. Yet, many people still don’t understand that their words and actions can still be a source of violence. Whether made in “lighthearted fun,” that is still violent. We navigate the world having to protect and provide for our families, trying to get an education within institutions
that were not made for us, being targeted for predatory loans in order to afford homes of our own and trying to live each day with the fear that we could one day become a hashtag. Our presence in various spaces is an act of survival. Bringing awareness to the trials our communities face is an act of self-preservation. We aren’t going anywhere and you will listen to us.
Occupying a Black body means I’ll be subjected to various forms of violence because of people’s inability to learn anything different. This doesn’t mean I will be silent because I’m fully invested in the liberation of Black communities. Nor does this means the onus falls onto Black people to be anyone’s teacher. Yet, the work of unlearning violence and oppression falls onto allies. We can no longer be okay with allyship that only revolves around posting an article to Facebook or retweeting videos of Black bodies being gunned down by police. True allyships comes in the form of speaking out against systemic violence faced by communities of color, challenging yourself and people in your lives to be better and, honestly, putting your money where the work needs to be done (if financial means allow as such). People’s lives are at stake and we can no longer wait.
author, blessing ikpa
Blessing is a native of Norman, Oklahoma but claims the Washington, D.C. area as her new home. She is a child of Nigerian immigrants and holds her Nigerian/African-American heritage closely. She’s currently finishing her Master’s degree at the School of International Service (American University) in studying International Relations. Blessing has a love for travel, journaling and attempting to replicate recipes from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook. Feel free to connect with Blessing on all of the social medias.