Preface: I’m not typically one for “hot-take” pieces, but there’s something about Ayesha Curry’s Red Table Talk (and the subsequent social media feedback about who is / who is not a “pick me”) that has caught my attention in so many ways.
I’m not here to debate Ayesha’s feelings, because feelings are very natural things and as stated in the interview, she is working with a support & care team (namely, a therapist) to do that inner work.
But while folks are talking about feelings… I want to talk about the politics of desirability.
The history of sensual and sexual desirability for Black women in America is already a tense one. This was the silent elephant in the room with the Red Table – one that morphed into many shapes and takes on social media.
Evelyn Hammond’s “Toward a Genealogy of Black Female Sexuality: The Problematic of Silence,” explains:
“In the late-nineteenth century, with increasing exploitation and abuse of
black women despite the legal end of slavery, US black women reformers
recognized the need to develop different strategies to counter negative stereotypes of their sexuality which had been used as justifications for the rape, lynching, and other abuses of black women by whites.” (96)
Hammond argues that they did this by conforming to the Victorian codes of morality. Adopting a politic of Victorian era morality and propriety allowed Black women to be seen as “respectable” members of society. Being seen in this way translated to more opportunities for work and material needs. It might have held the promise of a way to participate in society. Moreover, it was a method of survival.
And we are feeling the reverberations.
I felt the reverberations when my Grandma spun tales of “loose women” – whose lives always inevitably ended in a tragedy. I felt the reverberations every time I was told over a Sunday morning sermon that in order to be virtuous and worthy, I had to repress my sexuality. I felt the reverberations every time an uncle or cousin would disparage someone who was “dressed like a hoe.”
Perhaps Ayesha felt them too.
In 2011, Ayesha tweets: “At the auto bell getting a much needed car wash. Don’t really need the men tryna holla though. I’m engaged!! Geez!! Off the market!!”
In 2015, Ayesha tweets: “Everyone’s into barely wearing clothes these days huh? Not my style. I like to keep the good stuff covered up for the one who matters (laugh emoji).”
This digital documentation serves as commentary on Curry’s ‘true womanhood’ by comparing herself to women who ‘barely wear clothes’.
Then, in 2019, Ayesha Curry shares this with the Red Table team after being asked about how she dealt with women being interested in her spouse:
“Obviously you know the devil is a liar, and the ladies will always be lurking, hoping for their moment and waiting. You need to be aware of that…”
“Honestly, I hate it… I don’t like when I feel like, leveled off with somebody. It just irks my nerves.”
This requires deep listening. The first thing that Ayesha Curry does is to signify the disdain she holds for the women who dare to share their sexual attraction with her husband. She does this by using an old saying that comes many Black church contexts: “The devil is a liar.” In this way, she signifies that the devil and the ‘lurking ladies’ are connected. In another breath, she asserts that when her husband is shown attention by other women, she feels “leveled off” with them. Ayesha does not want to feel that in the politics of desirability, she is leveled off with the ‘lurking ladies’.
The rhetoric is all too familiar to me (and to many other Black women healing from spiritualized sexual repression).
In “Private Lives, Proper Relations: Regulating Black Intimacy”, Dr. Candice Jenkins states that in the 19th century, “Special attention was given to the ideal of purity, for perceived sexual immodesty – and any expression of overt sexuality might qualify as such – could banish one from the realm of womanhood entirely… Such a prescription makes clear that the cult of true womanhood was never assumed to include all women.”
So, while I honor Ayesha Curry’s humanity in stating her feelings… I expect more from her. I expect the same of her that I expect from all of my sisters. That we shift. That we discontinue any effort to feel / be desirable or worthy at the expense of those who (through identity or expression) do not fit within this “cult of true womanhood”.
Black women have been navigating both invisibility and sexualization from American society since the 19th century. In doing so, we have made demarkations among ourselves as a survival strategy. But it is something that can not carry us any longer. It does not make us free.
In a recent Facebook post, I mused:
I’m critiquing a world that makes the Ayesha Curry’s feel like the male gaze is so prominent that it alone is a marker of desire or desirability.
I’m critiquing any hard & fast separations of “groupies” & good girls / wives…
I’m laughing with my poly /open / experimenting / anywise & otherwise queer friends & babes at the fact that like… Lol shit just work different in other spaces and she needs new friends. (Let me be clear, nothing is perfect. I’m just saying… you can tell when new perspectives are needed. Bc I wonder what would happen if they – in the intimacy of their relationship – reconsidered what might desirability / desiring look like in the absences and *phone dies)
I’m chuckling because legit… 4 years ago I was like, “Ayesha gurl… 🧐”
But ultimately, I’m wishing her continued wholeness bc I wish that for everyone & every thing.
Also – on a rant but – if I thought A.C. would accept I’d be like, “Honey… I got jars, candles, crystals, colors, chants, herbs, and all kinds of brews for when you wanna feel desirable. The folk magic will supplement any other magic she’s been pursuing. (She’d prolly call me demonic though LOL).
So, if Ayesha Curry sat at my brown, 25%-off-on-Amazon table, I would likely greet her in my favorite black cotton Target-sale housedress or caftan. And she would see the ways I have found to begin my own ancestral healing of this rift. She would notice how the fabric shifts and stretches across my ass. And how I like to watch this as much as I can in the mirror.
As usual, the brown candles would be lit as reminders to always go to the root of a thing. I imagine that I’d pour her some tea with rose petal, damiena, and cocao and invite her to sit. We’d sit there while my girlfriend stirred something savory-smelling into a pot. And if by chance she shared some of those Red Table thoughts with me…
I would tell her…
“I believe that through folk magic, sensual movement, creative experimentation, and women & femme love, we can conjure up new ways to relate to desirability that do not insist that we vie for the attention of one man, that are not so deeply tethered to Straightfolk as a standard, and that do not come by way of comparisons.”