My Black Genitals Are Not Public Enemy #1

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

Who, in the names of Faye Wattleton and Loretta Ross, declared my genitals the worst place for humankind?

I got the anti-reproductive justice folks advertising in various places in the US that my uterus is the “most dangerous place” for The Race by twisting the numbers then carrying on about how we Black women are committing “genocide.”

I get online movements telling me to guard my “child-bearing organs” until I marry The Right One due to the high numbers of “unwed” mothers. (Note how MSNBC frames the issue at MSNBC–a “health” issue that Black folks are “struggling with.” And notice how cisgender-centric both the movements and the framing are.)

I got sexual-health stats saying that (and I directly quote):

  • In 2006, the rate of new HIV infection for black women was nearly 15 times as high as that of white women and nearly 4 times that of Hispanic/Latina women.  (Source)
  • The rate of chlamydia among black women was more than seven times higher than the rate among white women. (Source)
  • Black women aged 15 to 19 years had a gonorrhea rate of 2,955.7 cases per 100,000 women. This rate was 14.7 times greater than the 2007 rate among white women of similar age (200.6). (Source)
  • (WARNING: Graphic depiction of condition)  The primary and secondary syphillis rates among black women was 14 times higher than that among white women. (Source)
  • The rate of congenital syphilis (based on the mothers race/ethnicity) was 32.3 cases per 100,000 live births among blacks. (Source)
  • Between 1998 and 2003, 13 black women were diagnosed with HPV-related cervical cancer per 100,000 women. (Source)
  • Black women had the highest death rate from cervical cancer. (Source)

These are the numbers just for Black cis women.  A few HIV and STI stats regarding  Black trans women:

  • In a 2009 study regarding young trans women in Chicago, the majority of the women getting new syphillis diagnoses were “non-Hispanic” Black. (Source)
  • In 2009, 56% of Black trans women tested positive for HIV.  (Source)
  • A 2010 report stated that Black trans women had a “high prevalence” for syphillis (15%) and hepatitis B (36%). (Source)

I can get to the notion that the ridiculously misconstrued numbers, the news, and the movements all seem to be a concerted effort–though, I’d argue, not necessarily conspiratorial, even when it feels that way sometimes–to keep the Jezebel stereotype kicking, especially us Black women.  It’s just now, thanks to the stats/media/causes, the interference-running has a more “reasonable” veneer with “scientific” bases.  People can now point to the information and the concern to justify what they’re saying and doing.  And yeah, we need to drop-squad on those shooting off bad information about Black women and our sexual/reproductive selves and lives.

Of course, this is when the drop-squads breathlessly corrects with the comparative data and the socio-economic reasons:  “Well, compared to Latinas…,” or “Poverty, which means access to affordable healthcare…,” or “Considering that Black people only make up about 12% of the population…”  And, yes, sometimes, those sexual-health numbers are proven to be bogus.

Though I understand the reasons why the comparisons and the socio-economic reasons are needed—it’s Stereotype Intervention–I sometimes feel about them like I feel when people pull similar frenetic rhetoric about Blacks and homophobia: just because we’re not more so than, say, white people, doesn’t mean that we’re not at all.  When all is quiet again, the reality is, like homophobia, those sexually transmitted infections are still moving through Black communities because some of us Black folks are having unprotected sex for various reasons. The other quiet reality is some Black people continue–and will continue–to make the very complicated choice to terminate their pregnancies because it’s best decision for their lives, statistics, stereotypes, and politics be damned.

In my own life, even though I know the recommendations about getting tested are a part of HIV and STI harm reduction, I honestly feel like I got to show my “papers” to disprove the Fucking-Black-Women-Isn’t-A-Biohazard-to-Your-Health stereotype partly due to the constant statistic roll-outs  just as much as assuring my partner(s) that I’m simply disease-free.

With all the stereotyping and fact interventions, there’s still an state of being being argued.  It’s about what Black women and our bodies are or aren’t, in these cases that Black women being or not being veneral-disease vessels and vectors, wombs without rings, perpetuators of in-utero race-killing.  This dovetails into one of the biggest self-myths that has strengthened since HIV/AIDS and identity politics came into popular consciousness:  identity as prophylactic. In other words, “I’m not a(n) _____________ (fill in the statistically affected group member and/or their “characteristics” here), I don’t have to worry about _______________ (fill in sexually related issue, act, or condition here).” Its insidious corollary is, “If I don’t date/fuck ________________ (fill in statistic-stereotyped group here), then I won’t get/have to deal with (fill in sexually related issue, act, or condition here).”  And, with this, some people continue to have unprotected sex.  And some other people want to make it damn near impossible to receive any care when that happens, whether the unprotected sex results in a pregnancy, an STI, or both.

So, nope, my Black lady parts are not The Enemy…but what people want to do to them is.

Image credits:  Andrea (AJ) Plaid

  • Anonymous

    Thank you! Yes, these stats should really only be used for in-community efforts to inform and educate people about sexual health. Not to create yet another stereotype damning black people.

    Also, I do agree that it causes people to only suspect a certain group of being carriers of something, or capable of some act. It encourages racial profiling, much like in the case of homeland security encouraging fear and suspicion of Muslims or people who “look” Muslim.

    There are still many people who don’t use any protection when having sex. I can remember as a younger woman hearing men talking about “evacuating” their penises before they came. Many people still carry these myths and then they may later have to pay the price for misinformation. I wonder what must be going through some people’s minds when they end up contracting an STD. “Hhmm, did I sleep with a black person recently?”

    But protection can’t protect us from everything, at least in the case of HPV. Men are carriers, and sometimes women can get cervical cancer from the virus over time, among other things. There is the guardasil vaccine, but that only targets two particularly strong virus strains, I think type 15 and 16. So you still have to be careful even when using protection and/or other forms of birth control. Definitely get checked out regularly if you’re sexually active, especially when encountering a new sex partner.

    I’ve really hated these movements. Especially in the case of No Wedding No Womb. It’s like they try to dress up their movements are all-empowering, but they always place responsibility squarely on the shoulders of black women. And only targeting black cisgender women. What kind of bullshit is this?!

    I like being educated rather than having my choices and options restricted. I like knowing that there are people actually looking out for me rather than calling me an idiot, a whore, a disease-ridden monster and every other pejorative slur you can think of.

    I feel like some people are least likely to seek help and information b/c they are continually feeling the wait of shame and worrying that people will look down on them. If there was a more accepting, encouraging and productive environment they would feel more free to get what they need. And some do not have access to certain resources which organizations like Planned Parenthood make a mission of providing.