WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT AMBER
By Mark Anthony Neal | NewBlackMan
Monday, November 07, 2011.
I was too busy raising my two daughters, aged thirteen and eight, to pay much attention to Amber Cole, but the truth is that Amber Cole is my daughter and the daughter of so many of us.
Unlike Jimi Izrael’s recent suggestion, I have not seen the so-called Amber Cole video. That so many have—and in the process downloaded and trafficked in illegal child pornography—speaks volumes about how we, as a society, think about Black girls. For that reason alone, Amber Cole is my daughter.
I suspect that for far too many, who have voiced displeasure and alarm about Amber Cole, and or the parenting skills of the adults responsible for her, it is less about real concern for Cole and more likely about the collective shame that she evokes. Unfortunately it is such shame, and the politics of respectability that go hand-in-hand with Black collective shame, that often keeps us from having honest discussions about sex and sexuality in our communities—often to the detriment of our children.
Ironically, this shame is seemingly always directed towards the women and girls in our communities and rarely extended to the men and boys who are complicit in sex acts. It goes without saying, that in the case of Amber Cole, such complicity is indeed criminal; under the law, a 14-year-old cannot consent to sex acts. Too often our conversations with our boys is not to discourage underage sex acts—indeed such acts viewed as a rite of passage for boys—but rather, to caution them about impregnating a partner, whether she consents or not. Few have mentioned rape in response to this case, the reality of the act over-shadowed by the resentment and ire that Amber Cole has drawn from many.
As such there are some who will claim that Amber Cole’s behavior is the product of slack parenting, single-parent households and the continued erosion of values within Black families. Still others, part-time psycho-analysts, will suggest that Amber Cole’s behavior is a cry out for the kind of attention that only a (presumably missing) father can provide or, as Jimi Izrael argues, the actions of a girl whose mother was too busy being everything but a mother. It all sounds correct in a society that cares little about Black girls and even less about what motivates them to do the things that they do. No one is questioning the parenting skills of the parents of the boys in the video.
Despite our shame and consternation, Amber Cole is not the first—and will not be the last teenage girl to engage in sex acts—consensual or not.
If Amber Cole was my own daughter, I would have first asked her if she felt safe and if she was coerced into such acts. If it was her choice, I would ask without judgment, whether it was her desire to give pleasure, derive pleasure, or both, by engaging in such acts. It would be at that point that we would talk about the myriad ways that teenagers, sexually attracted to each other, can engage in pleasurable and age appropriate activities that allow all to safely express their sexual attraction. We would also discuss that it is never appropriate for such acts to be recorded and circulated, unless agreed upon by consenting adults.
In our indignation at Amber Cole, we have forgotten that she is still teenager, not yet a woman, who should not feel ashamed about her healthy sexual desires. Amber Cole needs not our stern lectures or our prayers, but just the opportunity to be simply a 14-year-old girl again.
Amber Cole is my Daughter.
Mark Anthony Neal is the author of five books including the forthcoming Looking for Leroy: (Il)Legible Black Masculinities (New York University Press) and Professor of African & African-American Studies at Duke University. He is founder and managing editor of NewBlackMan and host of the weekly webcast Left of Black. Follow him on Twitter @NewBlackMan.