Hood Femmes & Ratchet Feminism: On Amandla Stenberg, Representation & #BlackGirlMagic
Earlier this month, Amandla Stenberg took over Teen Vogue to share her power and vulnerability in navigating a world that fails to represent the fullness of Black women. In Amandla’s powerful and necessary message about media and representation on the magazine’s Snapchat, she revealed for the first time to the world that she identifies as a Black bisexual woman.
Amandla wrapped up her powerful announcement with some inspiring words for a Black feminist future by saying, “This is just the beginning.”
Amandla is #BlackGirlMagic and her voice is an important one in the discourse around the representation of Black women and the representation of intersectional feminism. I do not contest that Amandla is a game changer. But I do have concerns about who we are lifting up as trailblazers of intersectional feminism during the era of #BlackGirlMagic.
In the sea of praise Amandla received for coming out as a Black bisexual woman, I started thinking about other pioneers in the movement for better and more diverse Black Girl representation. When we look at Lianne La Havas, Solange Knowles, Ava DuVernay, Zendaya Coleman, Willow Smith, FKA Twigs, and Zoe Kravitz, we are looking at artistic, carefree Black women who are redefining the limitations of Black womanhood. But as thin, light-skinned Black women, they also reaffirm a certain type of respectability and palatability.
Hood femmes, ratchets, and thotties are not represented by these women. Darker skin and bigger bodies are not represented within these women. It seems as though being woke, thin, and having lighter skin affords you a platform to speak on the issues important to Black women today—and praise for doing so.
But what about the rest of us?
While I celebrate Amandla’s powerful coming out and the acclaim she has received on multiple media outlets, I wonder about the Black women and femmes who will never get the same kind of space or praise of their queerness. I think about the many queer Black women and femmes who are conscious and understanding of their oppression enough to name it, but will never be put in the limelight of mainstream media. I think about all the queer Black femmes who must navigate the intersections of their identities with no platform to speak on the violence and experiences they live through. I also think about how speech—specifically African American Vernacular English—is a barrier to accessibility and respectability for the spectrum of representation that we are so desperately lacking.
In analyzing examples of ratchet feminism and hood politicking, the women of the Love & Hip Hop franchise come to mind. Especially those who have explicitly stated they’re attracted to and/or engage in relationships with other women—their queer identity is often erased. Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta’s Joseline Hernandez openly stated that she is bisexual. But there was barely any media coverage around her vulnerability and strength in living her truth because her platform was limited through the gaze of black femme ratchetry and hypersexualization. Joseline is not only seen through the limitation of hoe-ness, but her body type (bigger breasts, bigger butt, but still socially acceptable thick) does not read as an alternative Black girl to the gaze of white supremacy because of the oversexualization of her body. Her light skin and beauty allows for her to have the limited platform she has now, but if she was darker or had different features, her trajectory would be very different.
Another example is Sassy on Black Ink Crew, who is an out brown-skin Black lesbian, yet she is not seen as a role model within the current representation of #BlackGirlMagic, though she has stated in interviews that she wants to be a role model for other queer Black femmes/women.
The reason why Amandla and Black women/femmes like her are able to maintain this status as a radical alternative Black girl (or in Solange’s words, the “non-comforming Black girl”), is because they are seen as being palatable to white supremacy. However, being palatable to white supremacist gaze is a violent reality. Media studies and popular culture studies through a Black feminist lens show us that often white media platforms determine who to anoint as a leader or who to give the spotlight to. When these white media platforms determine this, their decision simultaneously feeds into the capitalistic motives of white supremacy and into the viewer’s ideas of white supremacy’s hierarchy of worthiness. If we’re consistently seeing light skin, thin “alternative” Black girls being thrusted into the spotlight as the primary revolutionaries in creating change in an anti-Black, misogynistic world, then we’re receiving the message that only by being closer to white in presentation and performance is how we can see “change” happen.
Much like the often ignored limitations within the Carefree Black Girl Movement, there are major shortcomings when it comes to the representation and visibility of magical Black girls and femmes.
What about the bisexual trap queens, the queer hood femmes, or the sexually fluid thotties?
Hoodness, poorness, fatness, and nigga-ness are not represented in our mainstream #BlackGirlMagic movements. This is expanded through other forms of oppression as well, such as colorism, respectability politics, beauty politics, sizism, ability, and transphobia. It’s time we lift the limitation around our ideas of Black girl representation and Black girl magic in our aims to challenge the stigmas of being a Black woman or femme. In claiming our identity as a source of confidence and empowerment, we have to recognize that what/who we praise as radical and ground-breaking is politicized too. We have to understand that light skin, white gaze palatability, and thinness are privileges in representation. We can praise Amandla for her #BlackGirlMagic and still question where the rest of the Black femme representation is at.