09/17/2014 09:29 am ET Updated Sep 17, 2014

Black Women's Sexuality Has Always Been Overpoliced

David Livingston via Getty Images

Danièle Watts is an African-American actor who starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-nominated film Django Unchained, and is currently starring in Partners, a television show on FX. She is also in a relationship with a white man, celebrity chef Brian Lucas, and she is alleging that the Los Angeles police department detained her last week for “showing affection” to him in a public place. Watts told BuzzFeed that she had been sitting in Lucas’s lap in the car, kissing. On his Facebook page, Lucas posted a photo of Watts crying, her hands handcuffed behind her back and wrote that the police “... saw a tatted RAWKer white boy and a hot bootie shorted black girl and thought we were HO (prostitute) and a TRICK (client).” “It was humiliating,” Watts said.

The incident brings up the long and tortured history of the ways in which black female bodies are perceived and translated, especially when they are in close proximity with white bodies. From Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman, the Khoikhoi woman who was displayed to be marvelled at in 19th-century Europe to the persistent stereotype of the sexually voracious “Jezebel”attached to black women, the dehumanising designation of black female bodies as hypersexualised is not new. The inability to see a situation in which the black female body is not one “at work” is a learned habit, played out and cemented over hundreds of years, and incredibly hard to budge.

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