Black Girl, PWI: Dear Professor, Beyoncé Does Not Represent Me.

We were talking about hair diversity in the media, not Super Bowl 50. A classmate wrote a piece on a new coloring book created to celebrate hair in various textures and colors. During the conversation, my professor mentioned that diversity “used to be” a hot topic. “In the age of Beyoncé, you can hardly argue that anymore,” she said.

“Well, just erase the two black girls sitting right in your face,” I thought. One of us sat in her class with something like a high top and the other (ok, me) with a kinky shrunken ‘fro. I wanted to ask how many times she’d seen women that look like us in a L’Oréal commercial. Or better, how many times she’d seen women with hair and dark brown skin like mine in a Head & Shoulders ad.

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How could my professor equate Beyonce’s wild success to a dark-skinned, black woman with nappy hair in her class, you ask? As talented and hard working as Beyoncé is, an analysis of her mainstream success cannot be adequately had without acknowledging the privilege that her fair complexion, middle class upbringing and now her wealth provide. Be clear. I love me some Queen Bey. Grew up listening to her music and mimicking her dance moves. While I felt inspired, I never once felt ‘represented’. I also never felt that since she’s everywhere, we can celebrate a wholly diverse media. Beyoncé and her signature blond hair–not unlike my professor’s–should hardly be considered an answer to complaints about the media’s lack of diversity. Dope woman, but white people accepting a celebrity who suits their standards of beauty doesn’t excite me anymore than their fetishization of Lupita Nyong’o or Viola Davis–the TWO dark-skinned women that Hollywood chooses to give a main stage. It all reads as a futile attempt to embrace diversity in theory.

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People tend to use Beyoncé’s success as a balm that removes the sting from mainstream America’s anti-blackness and misogynoir. This faux diversity does her and other black women no substantial favors. Black women who endure this pedestaling end up more stifled than empowered. In Beyoncé’s case, white folks seem to think their wide acceptance of her should render her silent on issues affecting Black Americans. Hence, the race-baiting claims and the Anti-Beyoncé rally taking place on Tuesday in response to her “Formation” video and Black Panther-themed Super Bowl performance. Almost overnight, their balm became another irritant.

The negative effects of this pedestaling also materialize for black women who do not meet these standards. An example of how that plays out is when some black women do not acknowledge their privilege and worse, participate in the oppression of other black women. Those disadvantaged by this must manage erasure from within and outside of their race and gender. All of this breeds resentment and prolongs healing.

This is why I sat in class on pause when my professor name-dropped Beyoncé as a diversity emblem. Anecdoting racism with Eurocentric-based inclusion is like trying to clean your house with a dirty rag. Wipe the counters, floors and baseboards. Use as much Pine-Sol as you like.

It’s still dirty.

There are plenty of black women making wonderful moves. But I’m going need a few more kinks, coils, thick lips, thicker hips and counts of deep cocoa skin in the media before I get to dabbing over a diversity revolution. And even that must be coupled with black women and girls of various looks and backgrounds getting just as much acceptance in our classrooms, on our jobs and in our own neighborhoods. Let me know when that happens.

Until then, the fight continues.

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Posted in Black Girl, PWI, Current News, Entertainment, Music | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

When ‘No’ Means Death: Women Can’t Fight Misogyny By Ourselves.

I don’t know why Janese Talton-Jackson turned that man down. She might have had a bad week and just wanted some alone time nursing her drank and her head bob. Could have been PMS-ing. Maybe upset about an “it’s complicated”-ship or stuck on a new, cute co-worker. Maybe she just found the guy trying to holler unattractive or pushy or boring. Or she pulled a Brandy and recently swore off of dating.

It doesn’t matter.

If Janese turned him down because she didn’t like his eye color or the hang nail on his pinky–she owned that right. “No” was the bottom line, or should have been.

Instead, Janese Talton-Jackson was followed as she exited the Cliff’s Bar in Pittsburgh, and shot to death. [Insert details about her being a mother of three, daughter and sister here] and then realize that even if none of that were the case, Janese still did not deserve to be murdered for turning down a man in a bar. Neither did Mary Spears, who was shot for not giving a man her phone number. Neither did the women who were shot by the Santa Barbara killer because other women rejected him. None of the women who were hurt on When Women Refuse (a Tumblr page dedicated to women who have been murdered or assaulted for rejecting men) deserved it either. The pattern is nasty and painful.

You men have to do better.

Patriarchy deems women so far removed from body autonomy that rejecting male advances is punishable by assault and worse, death. This rule is twice as applicable for black women, whose bodies have historically been treated more as someone else’s property than our own. It is also why I don’t go to bars or other mingling places without my boyfriend. My body autonomy holds no value with men, so his male presence is my security in social settings. Mary Spears’ story proves even this precaution doesn’t always work. Her boyfriend was there too. Her murderer heard her say that he was waiting for her inside, and shot her anyway.

Last month, my boyfriend was with me at the Vodou Bar in Brooklyn. He went to the car to grab my coat and no sooner than he hit the door, a guy tried to grab my waist at the bar. I moved his hands because like Janese and Mary, I own the rights to my body. The guy proceeded to call me names and verbally attack my looks. This same self-entitlement led Charles Anthony McKinney to shoot Janese for saying ‘no’ and what has caused plenty of other women to be assaulted.

It is the saddest thing to have to keep thinking of new tactics to avoid men because you never know which ones will attack you.  The saddest thing to plan your entire day around rape and murder and verbal abuse. To look at a group of black men you’re about to pass on your way to the train, whose lives you’ve marched for, and cross the street to avoid their hissing noises and genital references.

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Men, you have to do better. There is no other way. Women cannot fight misogyny all by ourselves.

Please understand:

1. This is why many women don’t fall all over themselves when some of you men play the “Mr. Nice Guy” role.

We know your niceness is often conditional. Contingent upon our respectability and us catering to your ego. We know your “Hey, Pretty Lady” can turn into you calling us all kinds of names or doing much worse when you don’t get your way.

2. “Not all men” doesn’t work here, and we should stop giving this default response to anything women say about misogynistic treatment.

There is an entire culture, an entire institution that thrives off of oppressing women. Even if you are the genuine ‘nice guy’ you claim to be, you are still responsible for correcting this systematic injustice. To quote Lauryn Hill, respect is just the minimum. You also need to challenge yourself and other men. This means correct other men when you hear them addressing women disrespectfully. Speak out when you see a woman getting catcalled in the street. Call out those rape jokes your homeboys make. Respect that you being a “nice guy” does not guarantee you a woman who does not want you. Commit yourself to the idea that a short skirt does NOT mean her body is up for touching. Know that “no means no” and tell your friends and sons. Every time you opt out of these things, you contribute to a society that breeds men who think it’s okay to murder women for rejection.

Without ever pulling a trigger or raising a hand, you are part of these murders and assaults as long as you refuse to take a proactive stance against misogyny.

Posted in Black Women, Body Politics, Current News | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

#OscarsStillSoWhite: For People Undermining The Outcry With “Why Now?”

First of all: Please.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, my first question for the “Why Now?” crew is simple:

Why not?

Say these black actors and actresses woke up one day last week, perused the Oscar nominations and wins and decided, “Wait! This is crazy and must change!”

(via SimSimmieSimon)

What is so demonic about deciding you have been accepting the wrong thing, and wanting to speak out about it so you can make it right for not only yourself but others? Some are unmoved by #OscarsStillSoWhite outcry because of notions that actors getting involved only care because their films were snubbed. The Smiths have specifically drawn such criticism, most famously from Janet Hubert aka The Original (and Baddest) Aunt Viv.

Twitter lit up with many people agreeing and kiki-ing in Aunt Viv’s corner. Janet Hubert was right about a few things. Smith’s Concussion accent was as horrid as described (though I still enjoyed the film) and it is fair to conclude that the Smiths could have pushed for this boycott years ago.

But I cannot support the belief that the Smiths should shut up about discrimination in Hollywood because of some unspoken statute of limitations on finding a backbone and pushing for social equality. I have family members and close friends who could stand to progress their thinking about issues like racism, sexism and equality. I hope they come around, but how how helpful am I to a movement I say I support if they finally do and I throw out “Nope! Too late!”? And for what? To say I beat them to the finish line of wokeness? How does this competitive thinking set black people free long-term?

And about this notion of ‘newness’ when it comes to actors and actresses caring about diversity.

This is not the first time black actors and actresses have spoken about the diversity deficit in Hollywood. Renew your subscription to Ebony or Essence or [Insert your favorite online publication here]. The exclusion of black people in Hollywood is no novel conversation. Chris Rock, also set to host the Oscars, wrote an essay on racism in Hollywood. Viola Davis just put down the fiercest mic drop at the Emmy’s when she quoted Harriet Tubman, and then went on to call out the industry for not giving black women in Hollywood enough opportunities. Ava DuVernay re-launched ARRAY (formerly AFFRM, established in 2010), a platform purposed to put on and unite black filmmakers on an international level. And haven’t we seen countless black entertainers put themselves on by increasingly writing, directing and producing their own projects? Those acts of agency are also revolutionary shots at an industry that treats them with unabashed exclusion. To assume black actors and actresses never cared about diversity in Hollywood is to silence and undermine a significant amount of work that has been and is still being done.

Which leads me to ask: What is really happening here?

(via AllHipHop.com)

Why is it that when black people want to speak up for themselves, the gut reaction is to undermine and devalue those advances? Automatically, naysayers hit with, “Why now?” If our forefathers and mothers always waited for a more appropriate ‘now’, then how much farther away would be from dismantling white supremacy? If we successfully silence black people each time one of us decides today is the day we make noise, then the walls of white supremacy will never come down.

A national conversation about Hollywood’s systemic, exclusionary practices is long overdue, which is why there’s no better time have it than now.

Posted in Current News, Entertainment, Film, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments