Ari Lennox responds to dehumanizing comments, but there’s a lot of history to unpack when it comes to Black women being dehumanized.
The following story was killed by Bust Magazine in January 2020.
On January 1st, 2020, a Twitter user likened Ari Lennox and Teyana Taylor to rottweilers, stating, “Ari Lennox and Teyana Taylor’s ability to have dangerously high sex appeal while simultaneously looking like rottweilers will always amaze me.” The user was referring to both of the singers’ facial features, ostensibly their wide noses and full lips.
The post garnered thousands of likes and retweets and hundreds of replies including one from the Shea Butter Baby singer herself. In a tweet, that’s since been deleted, Ari responded saying “People hate blackness so hard.” Teyana responded, commenting on Ari’s post saying “No lies detected.” After Twitter, Ari took to Instagram Live where she recorded an emotional video about the post. In the 1-minute clip that can be found online, she says that she’s not with it. She discusses how people are so comfortable using their freedom of speech to tear down Black women but never women from other races. “When are Hispanic women ever compared to dogs? When do they do that? When do they do that to white women? When are white men doing that to white women? When are Hispanic men doing that to Hispanic women?” The Twitter poster was, reportedly, a Black man.
There are a few parts to break down in all of this.
First, Why Was It so Bad That He Compared Ari and Teyana to Dogs?
Well, other than the fact that it’s just rude in general (although to be fair, Twitter’s not known for being the most uplifting platform), there’s a historical context that plays a role in why so many people have been triggered by the comment. Historically, Black men and women have been referred to and regarded as animals. In slave times, it was necessary to believe that Black men and women were savage-like and non-human (or that they encompassed savage-like and non-human traits). It was a basic justification for slavery: Blacks aren’t people, so there’s no need to treat them humanely. As it’s stated by Robert Guillaume in the 1993 docuseries Story of a People, “If it is believed that a man is inferior, subhuman, it becomes easy to treat him as a pet, a toy, an object of comic relief, a crazed lower animal who must be controlled and ruled.”
After slavery and during segregation, it was continued to believe that Blacks were less than human. Signs that read “Negroes and dogs not allowed” proceeded to contribute to the narrative that equated Blacks to animals. And now, the comparison is a provocation in the Black community, like poking an old wound to see if it’s healed. It transports us to a time when it was a widely accepted fact that Blacks were inherently mentally inferior, feral, and uncultured. Not humans; animals. It was a cognitive framework that worked its way into the minds of Americans, and the belief has been proven to lurk within our collective unconscious to this day.
Second, We Have to Discuss the Woman Aspect of All of This
In Ari’s reply, she stated that it’s easy and readily acceptable to tear down black women, and, from the research, that seems to be true. Black women are often harassed and compared to primates, horses, and dogs, and little, if nothing, is done to their harassers.
Consider how Camila Cabello has referred to her former 5H bandmate Normani Kordei as “n*gger” as well as how she coined the term “Normonkey,” degrading her to a primate. Camila’s fans flooded Normani’s social media, sending her pictures photoshopping her likeness onto apes and gorillas, calling her “coon” “n*gger” and claiming that she “deserves to be lynched.” Camila has never apologized, she never used her power to tell her fans to stop, and she continues to sit at the top of the charts.
Serena Williams, who is arguably one of the best athletes of our time, has been referred to multiple times, by the media and laypeople alike, as a primate. Her emotional responses are dubbed as more violent and primal than her colleagues. And in 2015, the LA Times thought it was appropriate to ask fans who really should have won Sports Illustrated’s sportsperson of the year: Serena or a horse.
Recently Kierra Luv, an up-and-coming 17-year-old artist had a video of her shared by the popular Rap All-Stars Twitter account. The rapper, though light-skinned, has Afro-based features. The comments then proceeded to drag her for looking dog-like. Commenters even noted how similar it was to Ari and Teyana’s situation, stating “It’s so funny the comments saying she looks like a dog & everyone laughing but just last week……” Purportedly because she’s light-skinned, it doesn’t matter. But here’s the thing: this is actually exactly what it’s about. Historically, the color of Black women’s skin hasn’t determined their proximity to whiteness and acceptance in society; it’s the features of the face. As it got harder to distinguish who was Black or not, the features of the face and the grade of the hair became measurements.
Scrutiny of Black women’s Afrocentric traits aren’t just reserved when comparing them to animals; sometimes people let their implicit racism come to the surface, and they call naturally beautiful Black queens what they were programmed to call them: ugly. “How many times will y’all come for my Black nose?” Ari lambasted on Twitter last year, “It will never tf go anywhere. Y’all are disgusting and the reason people medicate and get surgery.” People like Teyana Taylor.
Though she’s never confirmed it herself, it’s highly speculated that Teyana got work done to make her nose slimmer. And there’s nothing wrong with getting plastic surgery, as long as the desire comes from within and isn’t the result of being told time and time again that your traits are too animalistic for you ever to be accepted as beautiful. And who knows if that’s what happened to Teyana? Perhaps she had been hearing her whole life about how she should get surgery to make her “more appealing.” It wouldn’t surprise me; it happens all the time.
Take for example earlier this month when two journalists criticized a photo of then-7-year-old Blue Ivy Carter. One journalist said of the 7-year old, “I have a feeling the Jay-Z face genes are about to hit Blue Ivy, and I feel so sorry for her.” To which another journalist responded, “They haven’t already?” and then went on to say that soon she’d be “getting plastic surgery.” Need I remind you, she was 7. Both journalists issued apologies and deleted the tweets, but it’s too late; the damage has been done. They’ve admitted to the world that these racist ideologies live within them, lurking beneath the surface, and they’ve contributed to the continuing narrative that broad noses and full lips are ugly, undesirable, and animalistic.
Third, We Have to Talk About the Sexual Aspect of the Tweet
The Twitter user stated that both Ari and Teyana have “dangerously high sex appeal.” As if to mask his repugnance in their features with a veneer of admiration. This, again, is nothing new. Europeans thought of African women, who wore little to no clothing, as overtly promiscuous.
And we can’t discuss the hypersexualization and fascination with Black female bodies without discussing Sara Baartman, the South African woman with a large backside who was exhibited as a freak show and toured around Europe. Sara was caged and displayed almost completely naked. Men and women alike would come and ogle her as she was degraded and ordered around like an animal. George Cuvier, a famous naturalist of the time, declared that she was the missing link between primates and humans, and yet, she was still prostituted and used as nothing more than an object of sexual fascination. When Sara died, Cuvier dissected her and put her genitals in jars.
Then, during the time of slavery, came the trope of the Jezebel, typically a light-skinned Black woman who had an insatiable lust for sex. This was then the grounds for raping and sexually abusing said women. Whites believed that Black women were grateful for the experience, to satisfy their lascivious nature, and, surely, it was to be taken as a compliment that these men were able to overlook their inherent savage tendencies in order to lay with them.
Teyana herself has been the target of blatant libidinous remarks. After the 2016 Fade video, searches for Teyana spiked, with most people focused on one thing: her body. Not her dance moves, not her lioness transformation, just her body and how much people wanted to get underneath it. The dichotomy of Black women being subhuman yet still seductively whoreish is one that has carried on from slave times and continues to fuel subconscious biases in America until this day.
Finally, We Have to Discuss the Role of Black Men
Now men, regardless of race, have traditionally viewed and treated women as inferior. When that misogyny is compounded with being Black, it’s easy to see why a CDC report (published in 2017) stated that “Homicides occur in women of all ages and among all races/ ethnicities, but young, racial/ethnic minority women are disproportionately affected.” (cite) Yes, it makes sense that Black and Indigenous women are the most murdered group of individuals, but what’s most interesting is who’s doing the killing: male spouses, intimate acquaintances, or family members. (cite) Most notably, Black men.
Murder might seem like an extreme leap, and I would have to agree that murder is a pretty extreme leap. Especially when that leap is made as an end to an argument. That’s right, most of these women’s lives were believed to be so readily discardable that they were murdered by someone close to them during an argument. (cite) It makes me wonder what emboldens these men to treat their loved ones with such animus? Then I remember the two beliefs upon which this nation was founded: racism and sexism. And Black men are not immune.
Now, this is not to say that misogynoir is exclusive to Black men, but it’s quite apparent that they’re rampant perpetrators of it. The journalist that first criticized Blue Ivy for her features? A Black man. The Twitter user who sparked this whole discussion? A Black man. What this means is that whites and other races no longer need to incite disgust in our women; it’s so imbued within us that we do it to ourselves.
Is All of This Being Blown out of Proportion?
I don’t think so. I think we forget that Ari Lennox and Teyana Taylor are real people. They’ve both encountered and overcome countless hardships trying to make it as darker-skinned women with Afrocentric features in the mainstream music industry. They’ve been snubbed time and time again, and it’s happening right now. Right now, we’re discussing Ari’s looks and her response instead of talking about her beautiful, soulful lyrics and mesmerizing sound. Fixating on appearances doesn’t provide any justice for these Black women or their art.
And yes, in the age of social media where half-baked ideas are thrown around like confetti, it may be easy to regard this tweet as just another viewpoint we choose not to consume. But, choosing not to engage doesn’t mean that it’s not there or that these implicit biases are going away. In fact, it might mean the opposite. Consider this, it’s 2020, and all 5 of the major beauty pageant titles are held by Black women, yet Black women by-and-large still continue to face anti-Blackness and colorism on the daily. The public acceptance of Black women as beauty queens gives the appearance that society has faced its issues with Black women. Couple that with an unwillingness to validate the importance of this argument, and the misogynoir that’s sewn into the fabric of society’s DNA will continue to lie there, festering, until it emerges from the mouth of someone you love.
It’s only when we address it and call it to the surface can we begin to eradicate the racist ideologies residing in the nation’s collective unconscious. And if you find yourself reticent to acknowledge these issues, I implore you to ask yourself why. Perhaps these beliefs are so ingrained in you that it may be hard for you to understand why this matters.