On White Women as Scarves…

Artist Nate Hill has been showing off his latest fashion piece on the streets of Brooklyn and it’s a doozy!

Just as some ladies love to tote around their Michael Kors bag as a status symbol, quite a few folks are of the belief that some men of color pursue white women for the same reasons. Playing around with the concept, Black artist Nate Hill pinched a few nerves by wearing unclothed white women around his neck — literally!

His photographic project is called “Trophy Scarves,” according to a Vice interview, and the Brooklynite artist has been traveling around town

 draping unclothed white women over his shoulders. Hill wanted to tackle the notion of non-White males using Caucasian women to elevate their own social statuses

White Women as ScarvesThe project has garnered a lot of attention and elicited responses from all corners of the internet. And some have actually criticized Mr. Hill on the grounds that his exhibit perpetuates the same objectification of women he’s in part trying to comment on since these naked women serve as nothing more than props in his display.

I’m not sure I fully buy this line of reasoning however. First, this is an art installation. One imagines that the women being used here were informed of why they’d be draped over Hill’s shoulders.These women are voluntarily and willingly participating in the act in order to bring attention to the issue. They’re playing a role. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s portrayal of a slave doesn’t perpetuate or reinforce slavery. In fact, by participating, he helps to reveal the grotesque nature of our country’s history and forces all of us to confront it. The portrayal of a naked and vulnerable woman draped over the shoulder of a man is similarly offensive, and is meant to force us all to realize how despicable and damaging the objectification of women really is.

Second, I think Hill’s characterization gives us only one depiction of events. Yes, black men see white women as something you earn or as symbols of status, and, again, this objectification of women is unequivocally wrong, but many white women are complicit in the relationship because, they too, see black men as a symbol. Not of success, but rather a symbol of risk, cool, or even sexual superiority. Black men, like twerking, or listening to rap music are just a phase — you’ll eventually grow out of it, laugh about it with your white girlfriends and then find a good white man to settle down with.

Unfortunately, this perception of white women as trophies also works to socially penalize black women — if white women are a reward and a symbol of success, naturally their perceived opposites (black women) must be a punishment, a symbol of social failure or of belonging to a lower social class. And this has real consequences.

The vast majority of people date and marry within their own race and the severe dearth of available black men, due to incarceration, lack of education, or lack of interest in black women, means that black women are more likely to end up single. Black women also have much fewer options outside of their race — as surveys of dating sites have shown — due in no small part to the perception of black women as being loud, or dramatic, or ugly.

It’s a disturbing and painful web we’re caught up in and I can’t say for sure how we get out. I do know, however, that the longer we sit complacent… the more we all suffer.

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