For the first full article in our 2020 black history series this question comes to the forefront. Can naturism move beyond the colonial gaze?Can the real life naturist community hold space, and make room for the black naturist experience? Every time we do a a feature on the black experience in naturism someone white comes along and criticizes it with the tired old story that being a naturist means you treat everyone equally. Consider this response to our teaser black history month post on MEWE elevating the view of black bodies.
This idea that race doesn’t matter or just because you highlight the experience of one racial group is are diminishing the other just isn’t real. As I have said before the idea that all naturists and nudists are unprejudiced or don’t discriminate is a myth, it isn’t represent reality. Research showed that just inst how human beings function. The reality is there are naturists and nudists who are prejudiced and racists just as there are prejudiced and racist people in every segment of society. The problem here is these prejudices are often the lens through which other naturists are viewed. Despite protestations to the contrary, white naturists and nudists usually view black and brown naturists through the gaze of the white naturist experience.
To understand why this is an issue of concern we need to understand history. Many African people spent most of their time naturally naked before European colonialism. The colonizers showed up and called that nakedness that societal naturism uncivilized.
The temperature in most of African called for less not more clothing. The colonial European gaze looked at this perfectly appropriate way of life and dress and said NO. It was this European lens that forced more clothing and less nakedness upon Africans. Africans who were enslaved in western culture and Africans whose nations were colonized. African culture didn’t do that. African indigenous religions didn’t do that. It was the colonial gaze. 1)Nudity, Colonization and the Textile Industry Consider this researched assessment from Felicity’s blog writer by the founder of the now defunct Young Naturist of America.
While most people don’t think about the historical political impact of the clothes they wear, textiles and the textile industry has in fact had a tremendous impact on societies around the globe, and still do today. It must be remembered that prior to the European Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, the majority of Earth’s human population was (and still is) centered about the equator in tropical and semi-tropical regions.
Fabric body concealment was not ascribed any moral dimension as symbolic of modesty or purity. The naked human body was associated with poverty at worst, honesty and purity at best, and was, at the time, not directly associated with human sexuality by the majority of Earth’s peoples. – Felicity’s Blog 2)Nudity, Colonization and the Textile Industry
The colonial gaze wasn’t just a tool of slavery and colonialism. The colonial gaze fetishized naked black bodies. The colonial gaze dubbed naked black bodies profane. The colonial gaze said naked black bodies were not normal despite it being the natural state of being for many African cultures. The value of nakedness as a natural state and natural way of life in a communal and social living was driven by the colonial gaze.
“Naturism is a way of life in harmony with nature characterized by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment”.
Fast forward three centuries and the black experience of naturism is still being viewed through the lens of the colonial gaze. Whenever the question is asked “Why aren’t more black people naturists?” (because we all know all white naturist have no prejudices) the answer is the problem is Black people. Black peoples are to religious. Black people are too conservative. And the always available I talked to A black person and they said… Consider this thread from discussion board on the question Is there a racial divide in naturism?
What is missing from the conversation about black and brown people in naturism? When the colonial gaze drives the conversation what is missing is the soul of black people. Our soul is our culture, it is the thing that was taken from us in slavery. Our soul is the thing that the colonial gaze dismissed, when we were made to conform to European modes of dress. Our soul is what is ignored, when white naturists say “We are all the same”. Truth is we are different and different isn’t good or bad it’s just different. When white naturists ignore those differences they usually default to seeing us with the colonial gaze. When that happens black people are separated from our naked soul and left defined only by our bodies not our humanity.
This disembodiment is a characteristic of the colonial gaze that continues to pervade modern society. This particularly but not exclusively true in the U.S. It leaks into the naturist community, because we are a microcosm of the greater society and culture. But all is not lost. There is something we can do. But it requires something from naturists of European background and something from naturists of African heritage.
Moving beyond the colonial gaze asks humility, cultural humility of naturists of European descent. The humility to accept that Europeans didn’t invent naturism uor social nudity. Non-white indigenous typically had aspects of social nudity prior to colonialism and being subject to the colonial gaze. Cultural humility to not diminish the cultural experiences of other by insisting that all we have to do is try each other equally. Who gets to decide what is equal? Humility to accept differences as good. Isn’t that what we are the mainstream culture to accept about us? Why would we then try to minimize our differences. It is not a selling point for non-white people in naturism if we have to leave our uniqueness aside to belong.
To my naturist friends of African descent moving beyond the colonial gaze asks awareness. Cultural awareness of our heritage. OUR heritage is one filled with social non sexual nudity. We are first naturists by any traditional definition we were practicing communal non sexual social nudity as a way of life before the colonialists arrived. There is a lot of talk is some parts of the African American community about conscious blackness. We like to think about being “woke” , let’s get woke and rediscover naturism. Lets shed the colonial gaze on our own bodies and embrace our ancestral legacy. To quote Roger Walden
“After 300 years of adhering to his masters mannerisms the bronze race is rediscovering the freedom of his ancestors”
Let’s feel the freedom and find the freedom of our ancestors again. Freedom from the textile industry inspired clothing forced on our ancestors. Freedom from the stigma of social nudity imposed by our colonizers. The rediscovery of naturism for black folks will be the focus of the next post in this series. In the meantime bare your thought in the comment section.
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