I wanted to quickly jot something down regarding Joseph Harker’s excellent piece exposing white hypocrisy when it comes to discussing targeted child abuse, entitled It’s time to face up to the problem of sexual abuse in the white community.
If you haven’t yet read it, you should. Some of the pushback around his piece has argued that its premise is disingenuous from the start because ‘Asian gang‘ stories show a deliberate targeting of white girls. First though, I must clarify that it’s quite clear that Harker was talking about the way the abuse is discussed in the press and by politicians, not the abuse itself.
However, I want to argue that there is a race aspect of these incidents that can’t be ignored, and my acknowledging this doesn’t invalidate my distaste for racist narratives around the issues. Acknowledging the two does not conflict. A lot of the time, being a black feminist situates you between a rock and a hard place, challenging the racism you see targeting at black and brown people whilst also challenging the patriarchy of your own community. You don’t make many friends. And whilst the endless tug of war of political debate demands clear rights and wrongs, this topic desperately requires nuance.
What is undeniable is that western beauty ideals and western objectification of female flesh fusses solely on whiteness and on youth. White female flesh is commoditised in the public eye all the time, it’s posited as the norm in porn and lads magazines. If black and brown flesh is ever included in these forums, it’s often considered a novelty- perhaps described as ‘ebony’, or ‘chocolate’, or ‘caramel’, sometimes approached as taboo. When was the last time you saw a black page 3 girl? I’m convinced that we’re often not considered beautiful enough to reach the point of widespread objectification. There are of course, exceptions to this rule, often in industries with creative control in the hands of black men.
Growing up in inner city London, my understanding of multiculturalism has always been a given, something that was never questioned, something that certainly hadn’t failed. But how does multiculturalism sit inside an understanding of sex and sexual abuse under a white supremacy? Racist beauty ideals encourage culture of certain types of female flesh being considered publicly available. Jack Straw MP takes on the language of the abuser when he describes white girls as ‘easy meat’. This, plus a public piety narrative around the hijab, the niqab, and covered black female flesh in particular makes for a toxic combination. All the while, the voices of working class white women and girls; and the voices of black and brown women are denied any agency. This is not simply a question of patriarchy; it’s a manifestation of the virgin/whore dichotomy that spans across postcodes and cultures.
Whilst we challenge Islamophobic and Othering narratives regarding sexual abuse, narratives that are so easily propagated by the far right to lambast all black and brown people, we’ve also got to challenge patriarchy where we find it. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, neither should one be used as an excuse to ignore the other.