Growing up in the black community, everybody has heard this word used to describe some poor girl who was caught in the crossfire of slut-shaming and respectability politics. “Fast,” “grown,” “sassy,” “hoe,” and the most current one, “thot.” Which is just another roundabout way of calling somebody a hoe, but I digress.
It’s pretty jarring to grow up and realize how much little black girls are put on the chopping block. From birth, before we are even aware of our bodies, we’re attacked and policed for them. We are told to be the shining example of a “respectable lady” or else we’ll be ostracized as the complete opposite. And no little girl wants that. So, we play along. We spend our lives fitting ourselves into this little box.
Don’t let boys get too close to you. Keep your legs closed. Don’t even be seen with a boy too much. Always dress modestly, shorts are out of the question. Especially if your body developed early. Christ help you if you were unlucky enough to develop breasts or a shapely ass. Then adults and boys alike would truly watch you like a hawk.
This is normal for a black girl’s childhood (or what little we have of it). If you weren’t called “fast” at some point, you’ve seen it happen to the other girl.
Going through elementary and middle school was the peak of this experience. I still remember my first run-in with the word. It came from my father.
I didn’t understand the gravity of that situation or what the word even meant. I was very young, in maybe 4th or 5th grade. We were out trick-or-treating for Halloween with family that was mostly from my stepmom’s side. I don’t remember the details, but there was another boy about my age there.
As we were leaving, a fight emerged over who was going to get the front seat. It was petty and insignificant like most kid fights. In our race to who was going to get the seat first, both of our bodies squeezed in together as bickering continued. It only lasted about five seconds as my stepmother quickly scolded us and told us to get out the seat.
At the time, I was sure we were being yelled at for being annoying little brats. But after I got home to my mother, she informed me that my father told her I was “acting so damn fast.” And that was the first time I heard it applied to me.
Now my innocent mind didn’t know what this meant. I asked her what that meant and she told me. I don’t remember the exact wording, but from what I internalized, it was a girl who lets any little boy feel her up. That obviously wasn’t a good thing because those girls end up unprotected and disrespected. I’d seen it myself.
In 5th grade, there was a girl who didn’t mind boys touching her. She was quickly isolated and soon had no friends that would associate with her. None of the acts were explicit, but there was a judgement of, “How dare you have normal sexual curiosities while going through puberty?!”
In 6th grade, another girl who grew fairly large breasts for her age was lectured publicly for her shirt being too small and shorts too short. I later overheard this teacher calling her “fast” to another part of the faculty.
7th grade, the captain of the cheer leading team was relentlessly called a hoe. Relentlessly. The rumors about her were outrageous.
See, black girls aren’t allowed to so much as even have a sexual thought or we’ll pay the price for it. Little things like this may seem insignificant, but they contribute to much bigger societal issues. They contribute to rape culture and ultimately lead to black women having little to no protection from abuse.
If black women don’t abide by respectability politics, then we are to blame. It’s why grown men are allowed to prey on teenagers and walk away unscathed. It’s why grown men are able to do this publicly even after countless testimonies of him being a pedophile. It’s why a police officer targeted poor black women because he just knew that nobody would protect or believe them. It’s why a serial killer who targeted black sex workers got away with it for decades because the LAPD never alerted the communities where the murders took place.
The aggressive judgement starts early. When we project respectability politics on little black girls, they grow into women who are ashamed before they’ve even done anything. They grow in women who are silent when they’re attacked. They grow into women who are abused and don’t report it because who will hear them anyway? Some grow into women who can only scream in rage because she knows that’s the only time people will pay attention.
This is why nobody is allowed to use the word “fast” to describe my future daughter. “Grown” and any other synonyms are also out of the question. My daughter will be allowed to have a childhood as long as I can help it. She will be allowed to ask me questions about sex without being shamed or threatened away from it. She will be called an innocent princess because these are words that black girls rarely get to hear.
My future son will be taught to respect women under all circumstances. He will be taught that basic human respect is not conditional. That a woman does not need to bend to respectability politics to gain respect for her humanity. He will be taught to defend his sister if she’s under attack.
It may be asking for too much, but let’s erase “fast” and “grown” as words used against black girls. Don’t shoot these words at little girls like arrows. Call them curious. Call them inquisitive, as they only need their questions answered. Call them a beautiful princess and teach them to defend themselves in the event that no one is there to do it for her.