The Ambitious-Slut Label and the Woman of African Descent

In Ain’t I A Woman, bell hooks interrogates the black woman’s experience with gender in America. A sentence that resonates years after first encountering the text, is, and I paraphrase, that regardless of what walk of life a black woman hones, she’s assumed to be “selling.” This phrase conveys a poignant truth that continues to haunt the black woman: that the black women’s body warrants a sale regardless of where the body is encountered.

It is a feeling of ambivalence that takes oven when encountering the media’s depiction of Kamala Harris as an ambitious slut who slept her way to the top. Now, to be clear, I do not agree with Dereka Purnell of The Guardian who contends that black women “will have to defend Harris’ personal identity while maneuvering against her political role.” No black person should “protect” anyone who does not protect them. Harris did not attain her “trailblazing” feats because she was pro-black, thus, no black person should feel obliged to protect her as an individual. Kamala Harris is a self-proclaimed “top cop,” and the only cop worth defending is Christopher Dorner.

However, the media’s projection of Harris as a slut and a black woman betrays an attack on the black female body politic. I have yet to see the western media crucify an Indian or South-Asian woman for her sexuality. We have, however, seen countless black women demonized for a hypersexual label that does not have to correspond to anying other than someone’s opinion. The nation’s hate-filled hierarchy often displaces anxiety surounding black femininity and sexuality onto mixed race women. These comments, while placed onto the biracial canvass, prove less about the multiracial woman. Instead, it betrays an anxiety surrounding black feminity and sexuality. It betrays a continued obligation to obscure rape as the inaugeral sexuality black women experienced on American soil. This label also posits the myth of black female licentiousness as innate and suggests that black female promiscuity remains inevitable. Simultaneously the ambitous slut, in correspondance to black femininity, privileges a certain aesthetic. What I mean here, is that only those that meet standards of conventional attractiveness become espoused to the ambitious slut label.

The irony is that many who critique colorism, hair type, and bodily prejudice implement these very injustices in implying the ambitious slut label to women of African ancestry. Women like Oprah Winfrey and Stacy Abrams, who consummate conventional success, escape this criticism because they fail to consummate conventional beauty. Thus, the ambitious slut is a way to maintain black aesthetics as a marginal presence and to stealthy reinforce white supremacist ideals of desirability.

Additionally, the ambitious slut plays into the age-old idea that beauty does not correspond to intelligence and that should these traits be aligned with a black woman, the hard work implemented to attain her achievement must equate to a sexual act.

Sluttiness, if there is such a thing, is not ambition. Rather, it is a manipulation of conventional ideologies into a praxis that proves a path for victory. The “slut,” as noted by several scholars, is something most vehemently implemented by white women who employ their bodies as a means to actualize their supremacist potential. Admittedly, this is what I believe Shonda Rhimes attempted to present with Scandal, except sexual politics where a black woman aims to act as “woman,” or sleeps with white men, remains chained to the “master-slave dynamic.” Specifically, the black woman remains unable to emerge as master when seeking to reconfigure the plantation politics that anchor her social and systemic functionality and perception.

The master-slave dynamic is more about maintaining the master than creating a slave, and adopting racist ideas about what constitutes beauty and achievement ensures that the master and the master narrative remain defining forces in western thought and praxis. Thus, the ambitious-slut label becomes less about “protecting” Kamala Harris, and all about refusing to subscribe to what has never been true about the black female body politic.

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