My Life

Rihanna: the Eroticised Black Female

I didn’t want to do this. I’ve been clasping my hands together tightly all day… biting my tongue trying not to push my opinion of Rihanna on people. But I can’t. So I am sorry RiRi Navy, its time for me to lay down a few home truths…

Now before we continue, let me just say I think Rihanna is a goddess; exceptional beauty combined with a unique voice that can instantly turn any melody into a number one. I still remember the first time I saw her on my television screen back in 2005; sunkissed and representing Barbados whole-heartedly in a bikini/crop top combination and baggy jeans… and BOY did she love a good bikini/crop top combo!

Even at this early stage we were offered a sexualised image of the then 17 year old RiRi – as well as one of the most impractical outfits ever to be worn in a club – however, it is hot in the Caribbean, so I got it.

However, fast forward nine years to 2014, and far from the Caribbean Princess, we are presented with the epitome of the eroticised black female; the modern reincarnation of objectified performers such as Josephine Baker. If you are unfamiliar with the name, perhaps you would be more familiar with the image of the topless black female with a skirt made of bananas.

If you still don’t know what I am talking about, you need to. The perpetuated image of black women as sexual objects that has become the norm is exactly what is wrong with modern culture today. It is not empowering. It is not feminism (intentional reference to Beyonce). It is detrimental to our culture as a whole.

“But what is the problem?”

“If she’s got it, she should flaunt it!”  

“She is a performer, she didn’t sign up to be a role model.” 

I’ll tell you what the problem is. Josephine Baker could only perform on the stages of Paris in the 1920’s if she became a stereotype – the stereotype being the savage, overtly sexual black woman that helped reinforce the ideal that black people are the lesser. Whereas white women represented purity and innocence, the animalistic black woman provided the perfect binary opposite. Presenting our sisters as immoral animals supported the continuation of the mass sexual exploitation of black women that took place throughout slavery.

Josephine Baker went on to become a Civil Rights Activist, and was one of the few black performers who refused to perform in front of segregated audiences at the time. However, that doesn’t make the image of her gyrating half naked to hysterical white audiences any less disturbing. Watch the video link below and try to tell me it doesn’t seem all too familiar to music videos we see today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmw5eGh888Y&feature=kp

There is absolutely no doubt that Rihanna is one of the most beautiful celebrities right now, so some may say “why not flaunt it?” – Its not like she signed up to be a role model or anything…

Well like it or not, once you become a multi-million dollar recording artist, you DO become a role model. You DO encourage 12 year old girls to sing “strip clubs and dollar bills…. still got my money” while practicing to twerk down in school corridors rather than educating themselves in the library. You DO inadvertently tell young women – no matter how naturally beautiful – that they must strip off and expose their entire beauty if they want to conform to modern standards. Most disturbingly, you STAMP on the Civil Rights Activists that fought so hard to help us be considered as equal, all while you climb onto a platform, exemplifying all of the images and stereotypes they fought so adamantly against.

My problem isn’t only with Rihanna. Hiphop videos re-sexualised black women decades ago. However, what we have here isn’t a glorified stripper that has made the big time by dancing in Jay-Z’s video. We have the biggest selling female artist of all time; the most talked about celebrity of our lifetime exposing herself in a room full of formally dressed white people. Sound familiar?

We are not slaves anymore. We are not spectacles to be stared at, lusted for and ridiculed by the public. I assure you, the black women living in France who are constantly approached, propositioned and mistaken for prostitutes on a daily basis DON’T thank you for posing naked on the front cover of Lui magazine.

Its time to stop promoting the ideal that black women are somehow less than white women and therefore need to expose more of themselves to be accepted. Its time to stop singing along to songs that promote the objectification of black women in strip clubs, presenting the job as a credible career to young black women.  Don’t be sucked into pro-slavery propaganda just because she looks ‘hot.’ Its time to wake up people. 

By Davina

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This article has 2 comments

  1. MsXpat

    The more things change the more they stay the same. However, opportunities open to Josephine back then would have been different to RiRi. I don’t know why Josephine opted to go with the banana skirt and bare chest but her career did end on that note. She was celebrated for her efforts in the war. I also read that she adopted children from different races and called them her rainbow children. Looks like Angelina was the first, lol. but seriously. I get your point. Sadly, I doubt that this generation is thinking so deeply to make any slavery connections to how black women are portrayed (or how some of use choose to show ourselves.) I do feel that the last outfit was a step too far especially for the event that RiRi attended and was award for her trendsetting style. I also feel that if parents lead by example and monitor what their children the celebrities will have less ‘power’ over our youth. I’m not saying that parents will know everything their children do. I’m not saying that the children will not see images elsewhere because they are not living in a bubble but I feel if they are given tools and guidelines from early, they are less likely to be swayed improper images to be lead ‘astray’.

    I don’t agree with way some black women in the media seem to choose to show them themselves. It seems to me that something different is expected because of our history. There are lots of naked white celebrities and models all over the place but they don’t seem to receive the same criticism. Although I don’t agree any women should feel it is necessary to bare all for popularity, I also feel that there should not different expectations.

    This post is excellent! Very valid points have been raised. Its good that we can have this debate and really consider what legacy we passing on to the younger ones and the world for that matter.

    • londoncurls

      Thank you so much for sharing your opinion, it is most definitely a topic that needs to be discussed in greater detail than most people want to give credit for! Great added perspective on Josephine Baker btw!

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