What the Black heart wants

The threat that the respect of Black female desire and autonomy poses to society

Briana L. Urena-Ravelo
5 min readMay 31, 2016
Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia” by Eyre Crowe

This past holiday weekend, an New York Times article about race and history and their impact on genes recently published in the scientific journal PLOS Genetics titled “Tales of African-American History Found in DNA” was published. The findings talked about in the piece are very similar to those discussed in apiece from Smithsonian Magazine concerning African Caribbean community genetics a few years earlier, also published in PLOS Genetics.

Essentially, work is now being done to research genetic sequences of people within the African diaspora and map when different racial markers were introduced, what historical and cultural relevance these findings have and what impact they have currently on African descendant peoples. Shorter sequences means the ancestry is older, longer ones means they are more recent. Short indigenous sequences insinuate that Native American ancestry came and went a longer time ago, and longer European and Black genetic sequences means the ancestry was introduced more recently.

Seeing that these findings show indigenous and Black maternal/European paternal ancestry in diasporic peoples, it details the reality that the rape of first indigenous and then Black women, beyond merely being an occasional unfortunate occurrence, was systemic and practiced over hundreds of years, widely enough so that it left a significant impact in the genetics of their descendants.

Think about it: There were WHOLE centuries where most of the sexual experiences, relations and histories of Black women were nothing but rape, abuse, degradation, & coercion. And asystemic practice of something means it had a specific role in white supremacy and was used as a tool: if you look deeper, you find that not only were Black women regularly raped and assaulted by white men (yet from the end of the Civil War until the 1960s, not one white man was convicted of sexually assaulting a Black woman), whole cultural and institutional narratives & laws were built around the idea that Black women were animalistic yet hypersexual, to be desired, used and partaken of sexually, but not actually understood as women deserving of safety, love and respect, thus justifying things like Jim Crow legislation. In their Blackness, Black women were non-human property and their womanhood existed only to be violently commodified and used like the rest of their bodies were.

This history was all subsequently whitewashed and pushed so far into the dark or rehashed as patriarchal tales assaults on the egos of Black men that often, it takes the researching genetic markers to bring the overwhelming truth into the forefront. It is the elephant in the room when discussing the history of slavery and white supremacy and it shows in how prevalent anti-Blackness towards and dehumanization of Black women, misogynoir, is in all aspects of our society.

In the current day, Black women, specifically dark Black women, are still seen as both sexually promiscuous yet ultimately unfaithful, animal, unfeminine and romantically unattractive. It sets up the stage so our sexual and romantic relationships are shameful, coercive, violent, clandestine, with people we should realize we’re lucky to have, as they could date someone lighter, especially non-Black. Black womanhood, historically and now, is yet about dismissing, belittling, demonizing, gas-lighting, curving and negating the wants and desires of Black women and what they want for their families, their communities, themselves.

To this day, Black female wants and desires are dangerous to both white supremacy and the mimicking patriarchal structures in our own cultures, and we are victim-blamed and fed deceitful stories of our “resiliency” so as to stomach the abuse. Aspects of white supremacy are not merely that Black people are less than, but that they can suffer and stand more harm, that they are more autonomous and able and thus have more responsibility and agency in violence against them. It simultaneously allows us to justify institutions that hurt and abuse Black people and believe that they can withstand the damage, and that they are partially responsible for it. Aspects of patriarchy are that women are unable to know or recognize their own experiences, or that they are lying to get attention. Black women are impacted both by the victim-blaming of race and gender. And yet no one seems to understand how key to understand this history is to dismantling white supremacy. Otherwise, if white people had realized Black women were women deserving of safety, love and respect, they would have to stop kidnapping them, enslaving them, beating them, raping and torturing them, selling their children and dividing up their families and in the current day, that the violence of the prison industrial complex, the police, and racially segregated institutions of all sort are just a perpetuation of the old systems of racial subjugation. Black cisgender heterosexual men would realize they are not the main victims of white supremacy and can perpetuate its violence in our own communities. Non-Black people of color would have to analyze how complicit they also are in these systems of misogynoir. Everyone would have to rethink social values and institutions that diminished Black womanhood and their bodies and elevated that of White women and how they exist in the current day. They would have to ask Black women permission and consent, and, even more dangerous, ask them for what it was they truly desired, which would of course be ruinous for white patriarchal supremacy that existed solely at the expense and exploitation of Black women.

Even for the people who understand the historical rape, sexual violence and discrimination and dehumanization of Black women as a gendered, wholly different phenomena and not merely an affront to Black men during slavery, through Jim Crow and now, I feel they still don’t truly understand how deeply this has impacted Afro-diasporic communities in the Americas. What did centuries of terrified, hurt, dehumanized Black women pass down to their children, being raised on their resilience when in fact the “strong Black woman trope” has acted as a way to get us to partake in erasing our hurt, trauma, and vulnerabilities? What then, would a respected, elevated, liberated, healed, autonomous Black woman get done? A stifling of our autonomy and our desires through rape, defeminization and coercion literally got us to where we are now, so it follows people should see why we’re broken as a people & how ain’t nobody gonna be free until Black women are free.



Briana L. Urena-Ravelo

Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Fire starter. Email: Dominicanamalisima@gmail.com