My first boyfriend, a white man, would often laugh and tell me that his friends said he had “jungle fever” because he tended to gravitate towards black women.
It was my first experience learning the difference between men who appreciate the black female body and men who fetishize it.
I’d often seen awful things on the Internet, calling black women “ebony princesses,” “jungle queens,” “twerking trap queens,” and “big booty ladies.” I’d known that men talked like this online and perpetuated this culture since I was 12 years old. I’d just never experienced it in my personal life.
Women’s bodies in general are objectified and sexualized, but as Amandla Stenberg said in an Instagram post, black features are considered beautiful, while black women are not. So the full lips, natural hair, big bottoms, bodacious curves, and dark skin of many black women are considered unattractive on people who naturally have these features, but when white women appropriate or have those exact same features, they are considered beautiful. White women are paragons of virtue and desire, while black women are objects of fetishism and brutality.
So when my first boyfriend uttered the words “jungle fever” to me, I was stunned. I didn’t think it happened in real life — I didn’t realize that white men could be like that towards me. But I learned that some white men love black bodies but do not necessarily love black women. After I broke up with that first boyfriend and entered the dating scene again months later, I would run into that racist, sexist language from white men over and over again.
“Can you twerk?”
“I’ve heard black girls do it better.”
“I love your skin, you look so exotic.”
I was being fetishized for being black. I wasn’t being noticed for being a multifaceted, intelligent, and kind woman. I was being stereotyped as a curvy, sexually aggressive black woman, and was supposed to be forever grateful that white men even found me remotely beautiful. This stereotype does not exist in real life.
It’s insulting, degrading, and downright rude. I don’t like when men want to “experience” a black woman, like we are on some sort of fetish checklist before he settles down. I don’t like that black women’s bodies have been overly sexualized since the times of slavery; I often run into white men who “love” the black female body but will not acknowledge or fight for the black female struggle.
As Malcom X said, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.”
The thing is, my current boyfriend is white. He finds my dark melanin and body to be stunning, but he does not fetishize me for it. He does not “exclusively love” black women; he understands his white privileges, understands the systemic intersectionality of racism and sexism I face as a black woman, and he respects my body.
My black body is a temple — it is beautiful, independent and mine. It cannot and will not be fetishized. My black body was something I had to reclaim and learn to love for myself. I love my thick lips and thick hips. I love the way my skin glows in the sunlight, I love my natural hair, soft thighs, and curves.
My black body is beautiful, wonderful, and mine.