When people defraud the world by impersonating Black womanhood
Black womanhood becomes segmented into things that others can freely and conveniently pick up, but I can never put down.
I always think of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) whenever someone pretends to be a Black woman or disingenuously evokes our aesthetics. While there are many who outright pretend to be Black women, there are also those convinced that they can somehow actually become Black women and others who simply benefit from appropriating our aesthetics to adorn themselves. Using Body Snatchers isn’t necessarily a perfect analogy, of course, since its titular Body Snatchers are alien lifeforms that takeover the bodies of already existing people while they sleep. Even so, it feels like a good enough and succinct way to describe the people who pretends to be one of us.
Once upon a time, I thought that white women were the only Body Snatchers, and then I learned that other non-Black women are guilty of it, too. It seems that Black womanhood is a property anyone can lay claim to whenever they see it as benefiting them, whether or not that benefit is tangible or imagined.
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It’s so bizarre to sit and watch this happen, again and again. I watch this same half-way amusing, half-way unbelievable horror psychodrama, over and over, and I squint in bewilderment. I roll my eyes and breathe heavy sighs and pinch the bridge of my nose as I await the inevitable headache.
And I remember that, historically, Black women have often not even been granted the courtesy of being seen as women at all by those who subscribe to white supremacist ideals of race and gender, which pedastal whiteness as a prerequisite and standard for womanhood. I remember all the ways that Black womanhood has been a consistent target for abuses from literally everyone else, sometimes especially and jointly from white women and Black men, and even how so many of us have internalized certain aspects of this misogynoir. Because, sometimes, assimilating into a harmful culture becomes a way of surviving it.
I remember these things and I am baffled at the fact that people can, at the same time, so viscerally hate us—whether or not they admit to it—and also so desperately want to become and embody us (Perhaps Get Out would be a more accurate and timely horror reference for this conversation, come to think of it).
On National Coming Out Day, a popular Twitter personality and influencer known as emoblackthot, who had presented themselves as a Black woman for years, was revealed to be a cis Black man. The Paper Magazine exposé framed the story as a triumphant one about the seemingly impossible feat of remaining anonymous in the social media age rather than an indictment of the fraud that it is, and this was done as a way to help this imposter launch his music career.
Less than a week later, Paper ran another piece explaining why emoblackthot’s elaborate lie was/is so hurtful to Black women. So, not only did they get rage clicks from their initial irresponsible telling of the story, but they also got traffic to their site by publishing an op-ed about why this entire situation is so fucked up. I can’t say whether or not this was intentional—though I wouldn’t put it past them, as publications have used this strategy to increase traffic before—but, either way, Paper has gained something from this, too.
While there is some discrepancy about whether or not this man has truly been running the Twitter account all these years or if he simply purchased it from the true owner—users claiming to be the original owner appeared explain themselves here and here—he is still currently taking credit for all of its content. If he truly has been operating under the emoblackthot handle all this time, this means that he has lied and spoken to, for, and about Black women under the false pretense of having maneuvered through this world as one of us. Not only that, but it also means he evoked the gendered and sexualized histories attached to the racialized term “thot” as a means to strike a particular chord among Black women in Black Twitter spaces, which I find to be especially insidious. And if he hasn’t been in control of the account these last few years, he is still claiming it now only to capitalize on it.
If his story is true, it means people related to him, interacted with him, trusted him, believing that he was speaking from a place of shared life experience. People donated money. People gave time, energy, support, and emotional labor. All with the understanding that emoblackthot was someone who had lived the reality of existing as a Black woman, experiencing all of the misogynoir, fetishization, and oppressions that come along with this identity.
Black women on Twitter were quickly gaslighted when they began reacting to the news with disappointment and hurt. Folks came into threads to say variations of “that’s on y’all” and to laugh at those who had sent money thinking they were supporting a Black woman. Karlie Flo$$ tweeted an entire thread implying that we were wrong for “gender[ing] the profile” and assuming it was run by a woman, despite the fact that emoblackthot explicitly referred to themselves as such.
Misogynoir allows everyone to easily dismiss harms against us and demand our silence when we speak about these harms or ask for accountability from those who harmed us. This is one reason why Body Snatchers are able to operate in the ways that they do. It’s why they will always have defenders and apologists who will try to either minimize the harm they’ve caused or attempt to negate it entirely, even blaming Black women for having been fooled by them.
When I learned about the emoblackthot reveal, I discussed the situation with an acquaintance, another Black woman, and she suggested that we should feel flattered. She thought that we should take this violation of our trust as a compliment. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” she insisted. Again, sometimes, assimilating into a harmful culture becomes a way of surviving it. Dismissing this as nothing more than a form of flattery means that no further unpacking needs to be done, no mental power needs to be given to it, and no unpleasant feelings need to be felt about it. And, on some level, I understand this as a survival tactic.
But I’m not flattered. I’m not entertained. My confidence is not bolstered and I am not affirmed or lifted up when Body Snatchers pretend to be one of us. When people defraud the world and impersonate Black womanhood, it is not because they love or value us. Posing as a Black woman means consuming parts of our Othered identity while participating in and benefiting from our oppression—it’s a practice in eating the Other. It’s spitting in our faces, scratching at our eyes, and pouring salt and dirt in our wounds. It’s a perversion, it’s fetishistic, and it’s nauseating.
And when they have finished making their meal of us, what these people have done is stolen sisterhood. They’ve stolen solidarity and stolen intimacies from us. Precious things we never would have offered had we known we were being lied to, had we known we were being eaten. This feeling of betrayal is one that is indescribable for me. Others will never be able to understand it unless they have also experienced it, and I don’t think anyone else experiences this on the level that Black women do.
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My acquaintance told me to look at the silver lining of the emoblackthot situation. “They are so envious, they just want to be us,” she reasoned out loud and explained her need to focus on happy things as much as possible. But I told her that I have resolved to let myself be angry about the things that deserve my anger.
From Rachel Dolezal, to the “Niggerfishing” opportunists on social media. From Martina Big‘s quest to “become a Black woman” by darkening her skin, super-sizing her breasts and lips, and moving to Africa, to the #FreeBambi scam by a white woman who invented the persona of a Black sex worker, assaulted by a cop and wrongfully incarcerated, and asked for monetary donations for her bail. From the negrophilia and thievery of the Kardashian-Jenner klan, to the minstrelsy of Miley Cyrus.
It seems that my identity as a Black woman is something that can be picked apart and taken from at will. Black womanhood becomes segmented into things that others can freely and conveniently pick up, but I can never put down. I’m angry about it today and I’ll be angry about it tomorrow. Try as I might, I can find no silver lining in this continual cycle of betrayal and consumption, which every time leaves Black women as the ones being gorged on, only to be told that we are too bitter for their taste.