I’ve been struggling to settle on a topic for this first blog post, not because of a lack of options, but rather due to a wealth of them; each day during class, it seems there are a million little tangents I want to explore and things that could easily be discussed further. Of course, as soon as I get home, I forget half of the points I want to make/questions I want to ask, but one of the themes/topics that has stayed wedged in my brain since we discussed it a few sessions ago is that of the fetishization of black women. We discussed how black women’s bodies – when considered at all – are considered as fragments; beyond this, they are (over)sexualized or made a spectacle of — the part, the imagined object, becomes more valuable or more coveted than the whole; the fetishization, like other modes of oppression, ultimately negates personhood, as it instead favors a piece, an object, rather than the whole, the soul behind it. While processing the absolutely disgusting implications of this – that individuals, but also a group of people can be simultaneously (however falsely) ‘desired’ and negated seems to accurately summarize the overarching oppressive powers that we have discussed – only this power may deem which part of you (in this case, ‘you’ being a black woman) is valuable, is worthy, only this power may enjoy certain aspects of you. In short, the fetishization concept deftly (and tragically) highlights the sick flaws that the systems of oppression produce.
While considering this, I was also reading a Michael Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh for my Capstone course. In the novel, Chabon – a ‘problematic fave’ if ever there was one, to be sure – describes a party that his white protagonist is whisked into, and the whole passage reads in a leering, fetishizing tone that made me queasy upon reading it: “she had an eagling kind of beauty, hooked and dark, and mean about the eyes…I stayed [at the party], and surveyed, and wondered at all the handsome women of many lands…” (Chabon, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, 26-27) The passage goes on, even describing the music and settings of the party as “large and dark” as well as “villainous” and “ornate”. The repetition of these somewhat discordant adjectives suggests an odd fascination, a fetishization, really, of the ‘others’ that this character encounters – indeed, later in the novel, this party is referred to as a “U.N. Party”, which again, forces an uncomfortable discourse of exoticizing (rather than merely depicting or actually admiring) the unfamiliar, the “rare” group. I apologize if this comes off as a bit of a digression, but within the course of a novel, this is truly an uncomfortable, glaring halt that stops to describe women of color as ornamental, foreign, and unexpected. There is no true interaction between the protagonist and the women at this party, either; he just gawks at them. I kept coupling this passage with our discussion of fetishization in my head, as it seemed an immediate example of the kind of praise of part – rather than whole, rather than person – that we had been exploring.