As I bounce back from Spring Break and try to readjust to campus life and responsibility, my mind keeps wandering back to easier times- my week-long adventure in Cancun. Six of my friends and I spent five days enjoying the beaches and day parties in Mexico without a care in the world…somewhat. There’s always a wall up as a young woman in a foreign country where there is a language barrier. You hear stories about careless college kids being snatched up in their drunken states never to be seen again. But we were confident that as long as we were careful and smart, we wouldn’t join the list of those missing. And yes, all seven of us made it back to the States in one piece. I’m grateful for these results, but there is one aspect that keeps creeping up in my mind: the sexualization.
Being a group of black girls who go to UNC-Chapel Hill, we are used to being the minority. And in Cancun, this was no different. We were surrounded by natives, but mostly white students who wore their fraternity and sorority letters on their sunglasses and their flip-flops and their beach towels. It was cool though; the kids we bumped elbows with were fun and knew how to have a good time. But everywhere we went, we were greeted by, “Give me some of that chocolate,” or “Mmmm, brown sugar,” or something along those lines. Yes, we’re cute girls, but this was unreal. We were constantly being called out not because we were cute, but because we were the weird combination of cute and black.
At first I thought it was just the hormones. Everyone’s excited and amped up over spring break. But I started noticing the microaggressions and the small patterns. Guys were talking to us and treating us differently than the large groups of cute white girls. One day we decided to all wear white bathing suits and take pictures on the beach. We thought it’d be a cute little thing, but it turned into a full event. White guys (and some hispanic guys) kept coming up to us and asking if they could take pictures with us. Commenting on our bodies, our butts in particular. Calling us Destiny’s Child (even though that group had four members at max, and there were seven us). None of these things were big enough to make us scream out “RACIST,” but it did make us slightly uncomfortable. Because we saw other groups of girls in bikinis more scandalous than our own, and they weren’t being stopped constantly. I’m not exaggerating when I say we were stopped at least five times.
We were at an outdoor restaurant late one night and it was really busy. While we were laughing and minding our business, two white men came up to our group and asked one if she would perform oral sex for him… except not using those words. She told him no, and he continued to bother her. She then warned him that it was in his best interest to leave us alone.
Randomly we were walking around and a white man came up to a member of our group and told her she had a “perfect ass”, and then walked away.
We were whistled at, honked at, randomly grabbed and kissed, expected to dance at the club, asked to twerk.
I’m not trying to paint the picture that our spring break was horrible. It was fun! I’m also not trying to say oversexualization occurs only to black women. It happens to women of every race, whether it’s in Cancun or it’s in Chapel Hill. I can only write this article and share my story from my lens of black woman. Those two identities are hard to separate: maybe the guy really just liked my friend’s ass, or maybe he specifically called her out because black women are expected to have that trait. Maybe that guy asked multiple girls to perform oral sex and it had nothing to do with him thinking we were more promiscuous because we are black; there were other groups of girls in that restaurant of other races but he only came up to us.
The reason I even share these stories is because they aren’t that strange. Yes, it was amplified over spring break but they mirror interactions I have had with drunk (and sober) white men on this campus. It’s easy to fetishize blackness. For white men it can be seen as exotic or different or even forbidden. Catching “jungle fever” can seem fun. And when it’s spring break and morals are low and intoxication is high, all of this boils to the surface. But before you call her “brown sugar,” think about whether that’s the guy you want to be. Before you compliment her ass, assuming she’ll take it as a compliment, think about the stereotypes society has already placed on her body as black woman and how you are fueling the fire. Before you tell her you’ve never hooked up with a black girl, and you’d love to try, really take a step back and think about are you speaking to her as a person or an object. Whether it’s Spring Break or on our campus. Just think.