As a Black African woman I feel I’m hypervisible and invisible at the same exact time.
When I enter a space or walk down the street people notice me, just as anyone is noticed, and in White spaces my skin-colour pops out, so that it’s a normal, albeit quite disturbing, reaction.
But when people intensely stare at me without blinking and when they turn all the way around to look at me, it simply doesn’t feel right.
It’s when it’s time to talk that I disappear. I’m now in Germany and I’ve noticed that White people in this country feel comfortable with talking about me, in front of me, but not to me. Instead they talk to the White people who “represent” me and who are maybe seen as more trustworthy and intelligent.
The main reason is that they assume that I don’t speak nor understand German because of the way I look. They probably can’t fathom the idea of Black people speaking that language. Although they have this prejudice, that doesn’t mean that they can ignore me when I’m the subject of their conversation. They could simply ask if I speak German and if not switch to another language (e.g. English). It is as if I only existed as a body but not as mind, heart and spirit. I’m an unthinking being. A disrespected, non-existent, easy-to-ignore, unthinking being.
A couple of years ago I was at the airport with two of my friends, one Black, one Brown. Two White people came to us to ask for information and seeing two Black women, they preferred to address their issue to the the one who was closer to Whiteness. They focused all their attention to him and utterly disregarded us. We weren’t there anymore.
As a Black African woman I’m considered an exotic creature. I feel very much observed and scrutinized by the White gaze to such an extent that someone felt it was appropriate to take pictures of me without my consent. The most disturbing part is not being able to know what they think. They could have positive opinions but that still makes me feel objectified because I have no control over what they imagine about me. History shows how much Black bodies have been reduced to objects of study and “admiration”. I only become my skin, my colour, my headwrap. A thing with no substance or personality. I exist to be looked at. I don’t exist for myself but for the other and in contrast to the other. I represent the unusual, the weird, the bizarre, the not normal and in that my humanity is lost.
As a Black African woman I feel my body is constantly fetishized and over-sexualised. Someone “jokingly” said that they’re more Black than me because they have more curves than I do. Question: is my Blackness and my experience as an African woman reduced to the size of my bum? Am I reduced to my body and how it looks like? A body that, don’t forget, never belonged to a child because it was already seen as grown up and mature (and possibly ready to be sexually exploited).
As a Black African woman I feel that I’m supposed to fit in a tiny box that doesn’t represent me at all. If I refuse to be categorised and on the contrary I decide to stand up and speak up for myself I’m an emotional, angry, bitchy, hateful Black woman who will never find a husband.
As a Black African woman I feel that I have to learn how to be strong and act strong not because I am but because I have to survive in a world that wants to eat me alive.