Frantz Fanon has stated, “The white gaze, the only valid one, is already dissecting me. I am fixed. Once their microtomes are sharpened, the Whites objectively cut sections of my reality… I see in this white gaze that it’s the arrival not of a new man, but of a new type of man, a new species. A Negro, in fact!”
In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon argues that the inescapability of black skin renders the black male subject a slave to his corporeality, subjecting him to the normalizing gaze of white society. Having read Fanon’s text – specifically his chapter that my quote above is taken from “The Fact of Blackness”, at least three or four times in my academic life, it is only recently that I have come to see how limiting his theory of the objectifying, normalizing white gaze is in relation to conceptualizations of the black female subject.
In fact, it was during the unavoidable entrance into my dreadful twenties that I came to realize how masculinized this theory of the racialized normalizing gaze really was. Fanon fails to acknowledge how this gaze is not only racialized, but is also hetero-normatively sexualized, for the black woman.
Perhaps sharing a little anecdote will contextualize this concept a bit.
During my second year at McGill, I found myself in quite a predicament – a predicament that I believe altered my conceptualizations of the normalizing gaze.
I remember I was sitting in the McLennan library, cornered alone in my self-proclaimed seat, reading Locke, Rousseau, and Gandhi in preparation for my Introduction to Political Theory exam. Head buried deep into my books, I was greeted by a new friend who came to visit me. Having met only two weeks or so before this encounter, one could say our friendship was quite fresh. Jokingly ignoring him, I remember him then picking up my phone – it was a BlackBerry at the time, how disgraceful – and proceeding to play with it. Then, without warning, he put the phone down and left. Thinking he went through my photos, text messages or Twitter, I expected to find some type of remnants of him on my phone. And I did. Instead of a tweet or photo of his, leaving his “I was here” stamp, I was left instead with a conversation. He had added to BBM (BlackBerry Messenger, for you non-BlackBerry users) and created this conversation between himself and me in which he asked me for, (wait for it…) sex.
Baffled by my findings, I asked myself, “did I have “gives head this way” tattooed across my forehead?” Or perhaps someone stuck a “loves to fuck” sign on my back. Regardless, I thought that there must have been something about the nature of my being that gave him the idea that sexual requests after a two-week friendship were warranted or even appropriate.
In essence, I really just wanted to find a way to theorize why I constantly found myself in situations of sexual enticement and requests from my male counterparts. I wanted to attempt to uncover, for example, the differences between the sexual comments I receive and the comments received by my white female counterparts.
Upon reaching my twenties, it all made sense. Perhaps it was my forceful removal from the innocent-like wonders of teenagehood and unwanted thrust into adulthood that allowed me to make sense of it all. Or, maybe, it was simply that my twenties marked an exponential increase of sexually objectifying experiences, not unlike the one I shared, that prompted me to rationalize these ever-so feminized situations.
Race coupled with femininity is inherently sexualized. In other words, I realized that implicit in my already racialized materiality were constructions of sexuality. Hyper-sexuality to be specific, or, better yet, racialized constructions of female hyper-sexuality; that my racialized materiality – as discussed through works done on racialized bodies, such as Sarah Baartman – the “Hottentot Venus” – is a sexualized materiality. This is what Fanon failed to address. By failing to understand how the black female moves throughout white male heterosexual society, Fanon fails to see how the normalizing gaze,thus becomes hetero-normatively sexualised in nature. For this, I heuristically call this normalizing gaze, the hetero-normatively racialized/sexualized normalizing gaze.
It is because of this gaze that instances like my sexually induced library break – that have occurred with apparent frequency throughout my budding twenties – occur and why I believe they will continue to occur throughout my lifetime as a racialized female. For, whether situated on public transportation, in classrooms, while walking down the street, or embedded in courting methods by various men, the racialized nature of my feminine materiality renders me helpless to the objectifying sexualized and racialized stares of male society.
It is without question that woman is object. Word to Simone de Beauvoir. However, I – and many other minority feminists of my time – have taken it a step further, arguing that the woman of colour is dualistically made object and Other through her racial and sexual corporeality. Denoting, then, that the difference between my white female counterparts and I is that my race is inherently sexualized along with my gender – which is too inherently sexualized. This distinction, thus, subjects the racialized woman to not a single, but a double objectification – a doubled sexualized objectification.
Therefore, to gender Fanon’s theory of racialized corporeality, drawing back on his conceptualization of the normalizing gaze, I argue that the duality of the black female subject’s feminized and racialized corporeality subjects her not only to the normalizing racialised gaze of white society, but also to the heteronormatively sexualized gaze of male society.
I bet you are wondering what resulted from that library debauchery with my friend. Oddly enough, we never spoke of it. Perhaps I will send him a copy of this article and get his opinion on it. Knowing him, it’ll be quite the interesting conversation.
Tyrone Speaks is a column written by Christiana Collison on the subject of black feminism. It appears every other Wednesday in commentary. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.