I am extremely saddened by the loss of Oluwatoyin Salau. Toyin died at 19. At the time she was killed we were the same age. Her unprotected life and unjust death is only one example of how mass narratives harm the lives of Black women and femmes. Toyin’s story is also an example of the ways mass mobilization is possible via the internet. When major news networks weren’t sharing Toyin’s story, social media users took the matter into their own hands-- creating search parties and spreading the word of Toyin’s disapperance. 

How Media Reinforces Racism

In 2011, Safiya Noble, the author of “Algorithms of Oppression”, conducted a Google search study on Black girls. On the first page of results, all the links were porn! This association between Black girls and porn is extremely damaging when it is the main and sole information provided on this particular group of people. In the text for the first result [Fig. 3], the word "pussy," as a noun, is used four (4) times to describe Black girls.  Noble highlights the lack of neutrality in online algorithms, explaining, “search technologies themselves and their design do not dictate racial ideologies; rather, they both reflect and re-instantiate the current social climate and prevailing social and cultural values” (Noble 3). 

Representing female black bodies as commodification perpetuates the disregard to black women and femmes in institutionalized spaces, informal spaces, in medical spaces, in the workplace, in life. By making pornography the most important or meaningful kind of information about Black women, like Google did in the 2011 rankings, it furthers the dominant hegemonic narratives of Black women and femmes as hypersexualized and oversexed, and serves as a silencing mechanism in the efforts to gain greater social, political, and economic agency.

“When race and ethnicity become commodified as resources for pleasure, the culture of specific groups, as well as the bodies of individuals, can be seen as constituting an alternative playground where members of dominating races, genders, sexual practices affirm their power-over in intimate relations with the Other”  - bell hooks, Black Looks p. 22

“To these young males and their buddies, fucking was a way to confront the Other” - bell hooks, Black Looks p. 23

The stereotype of the Hyper-sexual Black woman, labelled “Jezebel,” has been passed down over generations -- from slavery to modern day, and can be seen throughout media, from how technology is curated to how we are represented in media. During slavery, stereotypes were used to justify the sexual victimization of Black women by their property owners, given that under the law, Black women were property and therefore could not be considered victims of rape. 

Stereotypes, like the Black Jezebel, become hazardous when 1) they are the main type of depiction available of a given group, 2) when said group faces real life oppression. Patricia Hill-Collins writes that the jezebel stereotype functions to, “relegate all Black women to the category of sexually aggressive.” This idea provides rationale for their sexual assault (i.e. “they wanted it”).

The projection of this narrative onto Black women and femmes is part of the reason we massly overlook or rationalize signs of abuse and allow the abuse of Black girls to stay unaddressed. Their abuse is sometimes even seen as a choice. 


Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop

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