For decades and even now, for black America that single misspelled and oft-mispronounced word conjures a litany of vicious stereotypes. Strip away the ill-formed enunciation and the word becomes “fast.” The connotation and the stigma, however, remain.
Fass, you see, is a gender-specific pejorative term meaning a girl is intentionally demonstrating the carnal behaviors reserved for a woman beyond her years. The issue is further exacerbated if a child experiences early signs of puberty and develops physically.
Pre-pubescent girls are not immune. A child, even as young as 8 or 9, can be accused of dressing “provocatively” or “switching” her hips in order to attract the sexual attention of grown men.
Fass is nothing more than a synonym for whore. Nothing more than a polite calling card, a proverbial welcome mat plastered on a child’s reputation that invites public scorn, objectification or, worse, tacit approval for the physical sexual exploitation of minors. The gentler sounding “fass” allows the person using it to cloak him or herself in innocence while engaging in one of the most vile forms of victim shaming imaginable.
In the most horrific incidences, this intra-cultural “red-lining” has been historically used to malign and silence victims of molestation and rape. Its usage is designed to assuage any notion of guilt for the man who commits these vile acts, reassigning the blame to the young girl that he has victimized. Sadly, fass is an epithet most frequently weaponized and hurled by older women—women who have an emotional and/or physical stake in the outcome.
Tragically, the necessity of protecting children from abuse is sometimes overwhelmed by the desire to protect a husband or boyfriend and, by extension, the relationship. In those instances, whatever financial, emotional or physical benefit she enjoys effectively trumps any responsibility she might feel to her child. Blaming the child can be written off to the fates– a curse from the heavens above– while blaming your significant other is an immediate indictment of your own failed choices.
To be clear, this is not a new phenomenon, nor is this confined to the immediacy of family. There is no more prominent example of this than the case of Robert Kelly. Otherwise known as chart-topping R&B recording artist R. Kelly, when he stood accused of engaging in sex with minors it was his fans—many of them women– (and a jury) that came running to his rescue.
In recent weeks, I was aghast to see that Kelly has been on a bit of a comeback tour and has been featured on at least two national television broadcasts—Saturday Night Live and the American Music Awards—alongside Lady Gaga. Kelly and Gaga simulated sexual acts on stage, during a live rendition of “Do What U Want” on both shows.
However, it was the AMA performance that left me with the most stridently offensive imagery. Moments after “President Kelly” exits the stage, childhood photographs of Gaga playing the piano danced across the video screen behind her.
A Twitter chat, launched by feminist bloggers Mikki Kendall and Jamie Nesbitt Golden of @HoodFeminism and who post individually as [email protected] and [email protected], laid bare some of the most disturbing pathologies and their ruinous impacts. @FeministaJones, a New-York-based writer who often contributes to Salon.com and other digital publications, lifted the veil on her own life to fuel the discourse with some of the most compelling and personally painful posts.
One look under the hashtag #FastTailedGirls reveals a minefield of agonizing personal stories, as well as vestiges of the misogynistic victim shaming that continues to fan the flames of devastation reeking havoc on so many of our communities.
Our collective torment was matched with defiant calls for solidarity. “If we don’t stick up for our girls, and stop blaming them for the actions of grown men, who will? SMH. #FastTailedGirls,” actress and voice-over artist Reagan Gomez tweeted.
Then there were those who voiced their ire at being “excluded” from the conversation, those who found the discussion too narrow. For white women who joined the thread, the proverbial tent was deemed too small to account for tragedies unfolding in the broader populace. It was as if we needed a 140-character permission slip to speak frankly about a culturally relevant term that is indicative of a larger set of dynamics at work– a term they had never heard, one unique to our history.
Certainly, the black community does not own a monopoly on child exploitation and victim shaming. Girls of every walk of life, every ethnicity and socio-economic background are targeted. And all too often, when these children seek safe harbor with a female caregiver— whether a mother, an aunt, or a grandmother — they find scorn rather than solace.
For us, the roots stretch back as far and flow as deep as the Atlantic Ocean when the first African women and girls were brought ashore, enslaved and re-imaged as hyper-sexualized creatures. Those stereotypes were planted and flourished through the ages, resulting in a plethora of pathologies still at work—including earlier incidences of sexual activity. Then too, I believe, it feeds human trafficking and child sexual exploitation. However, in addition to the inherent and life-altering mental health issues, the implications on early teenage pregnancy rates are more than clear.