“Pride…If you haven’t got it, you can’t show it. If you got, you can’t hide it.”
–Zora Neale Hurston, Author
Recently, I’ve been noticing the hashtag #icanbeboth popping up in my newfeed.
For those who don’t know, #icanbeboth refers to the fact that women of color can be sexual, sexy and fun loving one day and professional in every way, shape and form the next. Those who participate in the online campaign post comparison photos: one of themselves in the club, at a party or wearing a cocktail dress with heels and the other of them in casual or professional attire while on the job.
Hence “I can be both.”
I’m going to tell y’all right now that I love every minute of this campaign, Dear Readers. For one, women are coming together to celebrate everything about their individual personalities and interests without throwing shade. This can’t make me any prouder because we know how much the media loves featuring Black women slapping the shit out of each other or feuding on Instagram. Major networks and social media sites stay making us look outrageous in the negative fashion, so I stan for anything that show us celebrating our magic.
But I also immediately recognize the politics behind the hashtag and how it can encourage us to have a much needed conversation about why #Icanbeboth exists to begin with. There’s so much I can touch on so much here, but I’m going to focus on three main issues that: White supremacy, respectability politics, and Black male privilege.
White supremacy is the idea that people of European descent are superior to people of color—Black people especially. It’s the reason why all the negative “isms” exist: racism, sexism, ableism, lookism, ageism and so forth. It is also created the male privilege and systematic oppression that Black women endure in the labor force, the education system, the religious community and other environments that shape the individualism of Black women. Furthermore, White supremacy perpetuates their ideologies pertaining to European standards of beauty and social etiquette. So while White women are deemed beautiful and pure (even to this day), Black women are seen as ugly, classless, uneducated and promiscuous.
Now keep that in mind as we move on to respectability politics. There’s this notion that Black people are to present themselves a certain way in order to be accepted by mainstream society. In many cases, it is the Black woman who is spoon fed this message by both the media and her community. Unlike our White female counterparts, Black women are not given the liberty to disclose their entire self without the risk of criticism or losing a necessary resource such as employment.
But the main focus is often the sexuality and sexual expression of the Black woman. Even in 2016, women are placed in the position to explain themselves when they promote and profit from their sexuality or sex positivity in general. Celebrities like Amber Rose is a prime example. Though she’s known for her Instagram presence and relationship with rapper Kanye West, Amber Rose is known for her sex politics (In 2015, she has organized Slut Walk LA and campaigns for sexual consent). But she begins to pique my attention when bluntly explains consent to entertainers Rev Run and Tyrese Gibson on their show It’s Not You, It’s Men. Yes, ladies and gentlecats. Amber Rose has to explain to these two grown ass men that not only is it ok for us to be sexually provocative, but that we have the right to say “No.” This is the same woman who is criticized by both the media and members of the Black community for being comfortable in her own body. And like many Black women, I notice that our biggest detractors are Black men. Case in point: Louis Farrakhan.
Which brings me to my last point about the politics of #icanbeboth: the hashtag and the women who take part are pushing back against Black male patriarchy—and rightfully so. Most Black men tend to erroneously assume that Black women should somehow fit into some vision of what we should be—whatever that may be. And when we don’t meet their standard of whatever the hell, then they claim that that’s the MAIN reason why they started dating White women (no shade towards interracial relationships, but there are so many Black men who have only date outside their race because they’ve internalized the negative Black woman stereotypes). But what these men don’t realize is that this type of nonsense feeds into the very negativity that #icanbeboth is rallying against.
Why am I writing about this, Readers? Because as a Black Pansexual woman, I am growing very tired of women of color having their intelligence, integrity and very existence questioned and their whole entire selves compartmentalized just so someone else can be comfortable. It’s this type of pigeon holing that contributes to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. It can furthermore play into the Impostor Syndrome, the belief that they don’t belong in an academic and/or professional setting.
But most of all, it’s a full-on attack on the human spirit. When society and members of the very community that supposedly promotes unity and safety criticizes the Black woman’s individuality, it is she who feels every word piercing through her. And when we can’t find refuge within our own environment or negatively affected by the people in it, it can lead to issues such PTSD or Complex PTSD as well as this sense of disappointment. And due to the current political climate, feeling displaced due to simply celebrating every part of ourselves is the last issue we need.
So, yes! I’m extremely stoked about the very existence of #icandbeboth because 1) it brings together a tribe of women who embrace (or wish to embrace) their individuality and 2) it challenges and claps back at respectability politics and patriarchy by showing that women of all ethnicities and ages can be both ratchet and classy. At the same time, I do hope that the hashtag generates a discussion about White supremacy and how it’s being used against women of color in the forms of respectability politics and Black male privilege and how we can all work together to cut the monster off at the head.