Am I not enough?: Black Venus and the history of the black female body

by Yuleisy Michel Audain

This has to be one of the hardest pieces of writing I have ever written this blog.

I have been avoiding to write this for the intense feelings that this topic bring to me every time I think about it. It’s a topic that, is difficult to explain in words, so I’ll try to be as clear as I can.

As a black woman, we got it hard.

Our bodies have been mutilated, discriminated and used to the worst possible ways to ultimately be shamed and be distracted to be less than the ‘perfect’ body…whatever that is. The black female bodies has suffered for many years and until this day, it has still been the joke of the century. Why is that my body epitomizes some great joke?

As a black woman, I realized many things about my body that I didn’t realize before, and my eyes opened to see something else that I haven’t seen before. Questions of doubt, of shame and of curiosity filled me with the questions as to why my body is diminished to be less than good.

This type of thinking started when I took a class dedicated to Black female sexuality in film. I entered this class thinking one thing and the next thing I know, I was flooded with all of this information that really bothered me, to the point where anger suddenly blinded me as all of the history of the ‘discovery’ of my body seems as it is some kind of experiment and not regarded as human.

While taking that class, I was engrossed with the need to learn more about the history and development of the Black woman body, and in the film Black Venus really did change my perspective on how the black female body influences history. Director Abdellalif Kechiche’s perspective on Saartjie Baartman explains her life in snippets, her trajectory of her becomings of being a showgirl, being proclaimed exotic because of her big breasts and voluptuous bottom. We see her dancing and showcasing her body amidst a dream of freedom, and ultimately being proclaimed as a scientific project.  

What’s most disgusting about this movie is a scene where a respected french scientist, after Baartman’s death showcased her brain and her genitalia, proclaiming this to be a scientific discovery. It was sickening to see  a woman who looks like me to be showcased against her will as a scientific experience. It wasn’t until long ago that her remains were transferred to her native land, and finally rested to where she truly belonged.

I remember seeing this movie and sitting in my chair, stuck in my seat with many emotions happening at the same time. Like my encounter with the incident of the Four Little girls, Baartman’s story left me speechless and sad that this happened. In the movie, all she wanted was the freedom that she couldn’t get at home be provided somewhere else, and ultimately not being granted because her fate was decided by someone else with a lighter pigment than her.

In his blog, writer Caleb Gee writes that “…Furthermore, in a quote that will be of some interest to students studying the African origin of Egyptian Civilization, he makes the following assessment: “What has been hereto noted and must be repeated, in view of the errors propagated by recent works, is that…[not] any Negro race gave birth to the people who gave rise to the civilization of Ancient Egypt, from where it may be said that the whole world inherited the principles of law, science and even religion.” This quote is of course entirely fictional, but it strikes me as being very much the same argument which is still at the heart of many Euro centrists who echo these sentiments today: the internalized racist belief that Black people are simply not capable of constructing great civilizations or of the intellectual capacity to achieve accomplishments of such magnitude.”  

Tambay A. Obenson from Indiewire also writes that “ Rarely do we see stories told that detail the inhumanities whites have dished out intently and indiscriminately on the darker-skinned “others” across the world, without retribution. In a way, it’s like a revision of history.”

This revision of history is rather comical to me as the glorification we have in this day and age, where people pay all of this money to reflect something that they are not. Millions of dollars are dedicated to be granted the ideal big full lips, the small waist and the large buttocks is what is in the market, how squat challenges are one of the most important things to do to recreate something that we as black women had before it became the ‘it’ thing to have.

Now, coming back to 2016 and the mass change of women of color taking positions of power and leadership roles, I always remember back and think about Baartman’s struggle for freedom for her to be her independent person amidst all of these factors that pushed it down. Although a very depressing and angering movie, it’s sad to know that she lived such a short life, dying at 26  while trying to become a free woman and not obtaining what she wanted. As A woman, a black woman who is trying to tackle a system where is dominated by a white male society, I embrace her endurance towards what she wanted in life.

As a woman that is pursuing such a leader role, I know that I must face many obstacles in a system that ultimately degrades us people that can be considered others. I know that it’s going to be hard, but not impossible.

Watch the trailer below: