OPINION: Minority hypersexualization: It’s not us, it’s you

Lyric Aquino

From the time I was born, I was sexualized. Now hear me out. Although it may sound dramatic, it’s the truth. “She can’t wear that — it’ll make her look grown.” “Those shorts are too tight on her.” “She can’t straighten her hair, that’s for grown folks.” I’m not the only one. Many black women and other women of color are sexualized at a different rate than our white peers.

I remember going to a sleepover and spa party at my best friend Hailey’s house. All of the other little girls had painted their nails at the party except for me. I hated the scent of nail polish and was never a fan of the bright colors that were often used. Hailey was begging me to paint my nails and I wanted to make her happy on her birthday, so I did. I settled on a light, pearly pink color that swirled underneath lights. I was so excited to show my mom because the color reminded me of her. The next day I was picked up by my dad.

I was yelled at for trying to “act grown” and for “being fast.” I instantly became embarrassed, sad that I even tried something new. I was 7 years old.

At 9, I wore a pajama dress and sat on my nana’s couch watching morning cartoons. I remember my nana coming in from the kitchen, a worried expression strewn across her usually warm and gentle face. With a dish towel in hand, she scurried over and frantically told me to cover my legs with the towel while I sat and watched TV. “There’s a man in the house, baby. Close your legs so he doesn’t peep under your dress,” is what she told me.

At 12, I remember going to the grocery store with my mom right after school. A man saw me in my school uniform (plaid skirt and a polo) and winked. I felt like I was going to vomit. For the rest of the day, I was hoping he didn’t follow us home.

In no way am I claiming my peers who are white weren’t sexualized at an early age. It’s quite possible and is just as atrocious.

However, women of color are held to standards at birth that aren’t realistic. We’re forced to follow rules that end up protecting the predators instead of the victims.

From not being allowed to wear shorts at home around men, to not being allowed to take naps on couches with men around, to not dancing with men around, to not wearing bathing suits with men around etc. We’re made to believe it’s our fault for having bodies that are “too developed” and we are immoral children trying to act “too grown.”

Often times, a victim woman of color is called “fast” or is told she “should’ve known better because men were around.” There has been a perpetual cycle in the black community of children being preyed upon and the predators being protected by the community.

A common argument is that children are taught these standards for protection and “just in case.” But if you can’t trust the men and women in your life to not sexualize your children, then why are they near your children in the first place?

Since the recent release of the new documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” many women of color, particularly black women, have taken to social media to share their stories on being preyed upon by older men, the hypersexualization of children in the black community and various other topics that we as a society should be discussing.

As a woman of color and as someone who was hypersexualized as a child, I can say that thousands of women like me share the same stories, were told the same excuses and have the same memories that barred us from self-expression and normal childhood interactions.

Although I’ve learned to express myself as an adult, there are many women who are still working through the trauma they were put through. Through positive discourse and discussions, I hope to see a change in the lives of little girls. I encourage you to listen to the way you and your family speak about children and pick up on the little things you say. It happens, it’s real and it’s traumatic.

Lyric Aquino is a columnist. Contact her at [email protected].