Now, I really don’t want to get into a ramble about historical depictions of black women as lusty, animalistic, lewd sex-toys—trust me, I could go there—but the irony of this situation is troubling in itself. For the last few years, I’ve been mulling over the idea of a non-profit organization designed to help young black women combat the afore-mentioned negative images, particularly as cultivated in various aspects of hip-hop culture, music videos, films, and print media. Black Girls Rock, Inc. is an organization that does such work, and I wanted to peruse it for inspiration. (Adding inc. to my search got me to the right site, by the way.)
But alas, of the first seven entries that appear in these Google search results, only one of them does not relate to black women as purely sexual objects. And these are the top results of 276 million. What causes this particular content to appear first in a search for “black girls”? Well, I had to do a little research.
Determining search results and ranking them are complicated processes that involve some pretty fancy computing (all kinds of algorithms and such that I know nothing about), but the quality of web pages is an important consideration in ranking search results. In a newsletter called Librarian Central, Google gives librarians various teaching tips, one of which deals with search engines. In an issue titled “How Does Google Collect and Rank Results?” Google offers this information after having provided material on data collection:
Now we have the set of pages that contain the user's query somewhere, and it's time to rank them in terms of relevance. Google uses many factors in ranking. Of these, the PageRank algorithm might be the best known. PageRank evaluates two things: how many links there are to a web page from other pages, and the quality of the linking sites. With PageRank, five or six high-quality links from websites such as www.cnn.com and www.nytimes.com would be valued much more highly than twice as many links from less reputable or established sites.
This is interesting information. According to Google, it prizes foremost the number of sites that link to pages containing the items in the query (in my case, the number of sites linking to sugaryblackpu**y.com and the like) and then the credibility of those sites. This leads me to wonder, Where are the “quality” portals of information that positively discuss black girls? That’s not to say they don’t appear somewhere in those 276 million results, but they’re clearly not as prominent as those sites linking to pages that perpetuate an idea of lewd black female sexuality.
Apart from the numbers and quality of web pages that link to the words in a searcher’s query, Google states that relevance is a key determiner in ranking results:
As a rule, Google tries to find pages that are both reputable and relevant. If two pages appear to have roughly the same amount of information matching a given query, we'll usually try to pick the page that more trusted websites have chosen to link to. Still, we'll often elevate a page with fewer links or lower PageRank if other signals suggest that the page is more relevant. For example, a web page dedicated entirely to the civil war is often more useful than an article that mentions the civil war in passing, even if the article is part of a reputable site such as Time.com.
Because the sites that link black girls with hot sex are so much more abundant than those that don’t, the relevance factor appears to be more important than the reputability factor here. What’s relevant regarding black girls appears to be those who are involved in porn. Hmmm…
I’m not out to attack Google, though. The company is only collecting and sorting data. My concern is that, in 2010, so many users of the World Wide Web are more interested in black girls for their big booties and pu**ies than, say, for their creativity, beauty, or anything not related to their anatomy.
It’s not like black girls are unaware of this interest. Any given day, you can see young black females in skin-tight, low-rise, hip-hugging jeans or shorts that look like underwear with their booty cheeks all out (check out Jill Scott's "The Thickness"!). Why? Is it because such looks are trendy, attractive to males, or plastered all over videos and magazines? It’s likely that all these possibilities hit the nail on the head, but the important thing is that so many of our girls want to emphasize their sexuality when they walk out of the door. The curves are given top priority, and this valuing of the body isn’t spawned in a vacuum. It’s cultivated by so many forces in the world we live in.
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with females embracing their sexuality. In fact, the ability to do so is one of the triumphs of feminism and other movements that now allow females the freedom to express themselves. However, when that freedom privileges sexuality, then we have children growing up placing their self-worth in their curves and in attracting interest in those curves. Where’s the true self-love in that, the value of a woman’s essence that doesn’t reside in her anatomy?
That’s also not to say that young black females are the only ones who wear revealing clothing. Of course, women of all shades, sizes and ages dress this way. But I’m focusing on this style of dress in conjunction with the historical images of black women (that have not died) and the clearly continued fascination with black women’s supposedly animalistic lust, as evidenced by the associations that web users make between black females and their sexuality.
It’s clear that if we parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, preachers, and friends don’t educate black girls about their inherent value, apart from their bodies, then there’s a whole world, a whole culture out there willing to educate them instead. Maybe my now-foggy ideas about an NPO will eventually become a real entity that counteracts these views of black females. Thank goodness for programs like Black Girls, Inc. and Hot Girls, Inc. that are undertaking this work now. But the truth is this: we have to do this work for the good of our daughters and their progeny, or else we’ll never see the end of centuries-old ideas that encourage black women to love their big booties and their pu**ies while truly hating themselves.