I always love to reminisce on things in the past, good and bad and I decided to look through my MacBook Pro since I’ve had this computer since my undergrad days (this laptop has lasted me for over 10 years and counting ya’ll!) and stumbled upon this document that I know was important to share.
Immediately as I looked at the work, I instantly cried. Cried at the wonderful memories as an undergrad student, but simply tears of joy that I pursued some electives as a pre-medical student at a primarily white institution (PWI), where everyone just wants to focus on hard core science classes to boost their opportunity of getting into certain medical schools as opposed to focusing in the arts and getting a basic English expository out the way. African-American and African at that. It doesn’t matter what university you are at, EVERY university has an arts component and Johns Hopkins University had a dope African American literature/arts department. One of my classmates Martina is also a well-respected art curator now in the South, and to my knowledge she was also an arts history or literature major. Even the professors who taught them, not sure if they are still at Hopkins, were completely woke. I was a WOKE pre-medical, Women, Gender & Sexuality minor student and I’m very proud of some of the work I pursued while at Hopkins.
My professor was Dr. Tobias Wofford, who taught the class called ‘Exhibiting the Global’. Dr. Tobias’ course was one of the first classes when I started taking my Women, Gender, & Sexuality minor requirements and I felt I got to fully express myself. Express my creativity without feeling discriminated or judged. I felt free.
Of course being a PWI, to my recollection, I was the only person of color taking this course. All females took the course, I believe it was a total of 7-8 of us. My professor was also of color too so I did not feel like the token black student in these more intimate settings of classes. And we were all treated the same. When it came time to our semester project, I chose to do my work on the Venus Hottentot, legally known as Sarah Baartman from South Africa. Her story was not nice, and how Sarah suffered after the freak shows she had to do in front of Whites on a daily basis, that led to her prostituting and even after her death where they kept her remains in a laboratory before the late Nelson Mandela, who was president at the time, demanded that her remains be brought back for a proper burial of their own is nothing of glorifying. But the story had to be told. I started the powerpoint presentation of my project with this hypothetical collage of picture. Remember this was 2011, when celebs with a ‘body’ that were actually glorified in the music and entertainment industry was of this:
To the defense of the people chosen, Amber Rose is African, half Cape Verdean. Kim, well she is of many…but she always praises her Armenian roots. Even though both appear explicitly White, at the time these were women that men of all races were currently praising in looks physically. Something in my igbo language externally, we would say ‘Obianuju’, which somewhat translates to woman in full, or others might simply call you ‘Mommy Wata’.
Don’t let the imagery of Venus Hottentot to the far left fool you, that sketch was an actual depiction of how she was structurally built. Maybe more the reason why the Europeans took her away from everything she called home and treated her as a creature, where she barely wore any clothes to look as a spectacle as people stared and even touched her body in this so-called ‘evening shows’. For me putting up this collage I made as an introduction to my project, I had to make some light of a story that doesn’t have a happy ending and make myself, the only person of color give the story justice and feel comfortable telling it too.
The many things that people would poke fun at and call ugly, then later switch up to emulate, is something that we as Africans naturally feel are beautiful. To me, Sarah Baartman, was BEAUTIFUL. From her lips, to her shape, and overall appearance. I believe Sarah was similar to the Soweto or Zulu tribe in South Africa, correct me if I’m wrong. Have you seen those women? Some of the most beautiful women in Africa, that naturally rock men haircut and look more beautiful than people who naturally have long or lace frontal wigs on just to say they have hair. And they naturally also have shape as well. I’m not from South Africa, my mom is from Angola which is very close to South Africa, but as an African, no matter what country you come from, the story of Sarah Baartman, AKA Venus Hottentot is your HERstory as well. Not only as Africans did we suffer from the exploitation of slavery and colonization to all parts of the world, the attempt to erase their culture in language and way of living, but these stories are a constant reminder that no one was sacrificed from torment.
I would love to share my written project on Venus Hottentot here:
Sarah, I’m so sorry that you had to go through this. Through your story, may we as African, Caribbean, and the Diaspora know our WORTH. Let us not succumb to outside expectations of how we must portray ourselves. We are aristocratic in our own right, we are kind, we are intelligent, we are beautiful, but most importantly WE KNOW OUR STRUGGLE. May we continue to show our culture and teach men how to respect ourselves, and our bodies. May we also constantly remind every race to exude their natural and inner beauty. That is what makes us unique and different. Beauty is BEAUTY, and the eye of the beholder comes from their own masterpiece.