Alabama just wrapped up a Senate race between racist, sexist, pedophile Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones. And by the grace of God (despite what Moore may have said in his refusal to concede), Jones narrowly won. As CNN and many other outlets have reported from exit polls, Jones’ win was handed to him by the ballots of black voters — black men and even more black women who voted for him almost unanimously. This led politically-active liberals on Twitter to praise black women en masse, causing “#BlackWomen” to trend on Twitter for some time after the exit polls/voter demographic information was released.
As a black woman, I surely do appreciate the praise. I mean, I know. Black girls and women are magic, as the saying goes. (Evidence here, here, and here.)
But something about it makes me…pause. It makes me 🤔. Something about the praise doesn’t taste right on my lips. Let me explain.
This Twitter user articulated my exact thoughts scrolling through my TL and seeing tweet after tweet with praise from all liberal circles inclusive of both black and white folks.
when y’all gonna realize that treating black women like deities is just another way to keep pretending that we aren’t human
— folu (@notfolu) December 13, 2017
You see, I immediately see this barrage of tweets as hypervisibility. In terms of social issues, hypervisibility is exactly what it sounds like — a specific demographic of people being prominently discussed, depicted, or represented in media or social situations. To unlearned eyes, this may seem like a good thing. For black people though, hypervisibility of our issues, regardless of whatever spin the media puts on them, has doomed us to the status of Menace to Society.
The media over-representing black issues and activism has been an insidious tool in our oppression. Psychologically, the hypervisibility of black pain, poverty, death, and activism has caused society as a whole to become apathetic to it. We ache less when black people die — in TV, movies, and real life — because we see it endlessly. We’re used to it. Numb to it. We walk past black homeless people on the street, because we’re used to seeing the black poor on our televisions. If we’re being real, the history of black people in this country in itself is hypervisibility, because our understanding of race as written in our textbooks is literally black and white. And all the while, to other people of color, their jealously boils, because they believe that the visibility of our pain equates more sensitivity from white people about them. So in the end, we have white people who can’t empathize with our struggles, and non-black POCs who antagonize us out of spite of the representation of those struggles.
Hypervisibility dehumanizes black people. It reduces us to a mere niche demographic, a whole to be marketed to or tokenized and thus, routinely ignored on a one-to-one basis. This is why I’m afraid of people praising black women in this way. Thanking “black women” as a general salutation strips us of our individualism and humanity. The more we say “thank black women” and “trust black women,” the more those words lose their meaning. It’s one thing to say the words, but how are they practiced? What are you doing in your everyday life to show the black women you know — not some vague monolith — that you appreciate them? Are you caring for their needs emotionally, supporting them in their careers, hell, are you even friends with some?
I don’t want to be worshiped by gaggles of people on a social media platform. I don’t want “thank black women” to become a meme. I want to be seen. Yes, as a black woman. But as a part of a larger whole, not the whole itself. Until black women are valued as varied and nuanced individuals, no one’s well-meaning thanks, even if they have the political support to back them up, really mean much of anything.