FLOTUS got reamed for cheering "Black girls rock." Cosmo mag declared Black women's trends dead. Do White women need to denigrate Black women to feel better about themselves?
We urgently need your help. DAME reports the stories that need to be told, from perspectives that aren’t heard enough. In times of crisis it is even more critical that these voices are not overlooked, but COVID-19 has impacted our ability to keep publishing. Please support our mission by joining today to help us keep reporting.
I need to know why White America has such a problem with Black women and girls who dare to love and think highly of themselves.
Why is a celebration of the Black self such an affront to White America’s very existence?
Why does White America continually go out of its way to try to usurp Black beauty with its own?
Why does White America always have to be the star and the only winner?
Why do White people always have to be the point?
Wait, don’t answer. We know the answer to these rhetorical questions: White supremacy and patriarchy apparently won’t enable you to fully like yourselves without hating on us first. BOOM!
Usually in this weekly column, I share what I think and know. But between the social-media outrage directed at First Lady Michelle Obama for having the audacity to publicly declare that “Black girls rock!” at an event of the same name, and Cosmopolitan’s fashion advice about trends that need to die only with women of color in the “R.I.P.” section right next to White women headlined “Hello, Gorgeous!” I want to cede the floor to White readers and ask what this is about. Because Becky, you got some ‘splainin to do.
Why are so many of you bothered by the FLOTUS, or anyone, proclaiming that Black girls rock? What makes you instantly process that statement as a war cry of Black superiority and/or an attack on little ole you? What sort of pleasure leads you to claim victim status, to reach into your Rolodex of baseless examples of reverse racism?
In the greater context of everything about our history, culture, beauty standards and all other measures of worth, you—the White woman—are ahead of us, on top of us, and thriving where we’re struggling.
Black girls and women are told daily that their lives don’t matter, that their voices don’t count, and that they are angry, loud, undesirable, not marriage material, and the seeds of societal problems. We are told repeatedly that we don’t rock. Is this your experience? Obviously not. One has to look no further than TV, the movies, magazines, ads, the classroom, and every-damn-where else to see how much you are loved, celebrated, and valued.
“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power,” Maya Angelou wrote in her classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. “The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic admiration.”
Black Girls Rock is a moment to celebrate and admire Black girls and women who continue to survive and thrive in racist-ass America. And you mad?
You mad, Becky, because for once it ain’t about you. And, let us keep it 100, yes sexism against White women is real in plenty of other contexts, but you are really mad because playing the victim in this moment, without actually being a victim is liberating for you. If only women of color had the privilege to pretend to be victims.
I assume that you know this faux-White-woman-victim paradigm is part of a larger racial history, since you’ve been practicing it for centuries. But in case you are afflicted by cognitive dissonance, let me educate you. Black Jesus, please hold my goat while I give Becky some of this here bread of heaven.
On plantations where Black women were raped, White women were largely silent. The silence and resulting complicity reflects how the denigration and violation of Black women offered sexual power to White men. While Black women’s bodies served as the altars for White men to ejaculate the most perverse parts of themselves, White women were often relieved of the misogynist burden of having to have unwanted sex with their men. And when the children who sprung from these sexual violations served as a visual reminder of their husbands’ and fathers’ and brothers’ indiscretions and taboo racial desires, White plantation mistresses blamed Black women for it all.
Flash forward to our contemporary moment.
Our daughters are ten times more likely to be disciplined in and suspended from school—especially those who are dark-skinned—than their white counterparts for the same misbehaviors. Our moms are sent to prison for “stealing” a better education for their children; our teachers are sent to prison for cheating scandals in a system that has been designed and standardized for White children; our kids are pushed into prisons for merely existing; and our talented superstars are called “nappy-headed hos,” “cunts” and “sluts.” We’re told that our wombs are the most dangerous place for Black children, and once our newborns do survive the birth experience you claim that any type of social investment in their lives is driving up the national debt.
Our bodies are under attack from scientists, sociologists, the media, police, and the criminal justice system. Our children are denied opportunities on so many levels so it is not just that we live in a society where Black girls are told over and over again that their lives don’t matter; policies do this work as well. The hard facts of life conspire to keep us at a disadvantage. By every measure—health, wealth, employment, healthy babies and children, and so on—we trail you, thanks to centuries of institutionalized inequality tipping everything in your favor. Yet, you are tripping over “Black Girls Rock”?
On a more personal note, in public spaces we are rarely if ever acknowledged for being beautiful, brilliant, talented, or accomplished, or for affirming our Black selves.
Last fall, a New York Times writer said that actress Viola Davis was not “classically beautiful,” which we all know translates to “does not reflect Eurocentric beauty standards.” Recently, Univision fashion host Rodner Figueroa lost his job after comparing Michelle Obama to an ape.
We’re the least likely to get responses from people of all races on internet dating sites. The Centers for Disease Control lied and said Black women have the highest rates of herpes. Even high-achieving Black women aren’t immune from disrespect. Sometime ago I wrote about Black biology Ph.D. who was called an “urban whore” by the editor of science journal when she had the audacity to ask about compensation for prospective submissions. When we go missing, the media is least likely to cover the story because our lives don’t matter. And when our unarmed offspring are murdered over and over again, we have to stew in a keg of our own tears and grief while listening to the country debate whether our CHILDREN deserved to die.
From the runway to Hollywood, from Fortune 500 companies to higher education, the experiences of Black women and girls is one of incessant hostility, exclusion, and dehumanizing treatment. So tell me, Becky, WHY does it offend you when we take a moment away from the incessant onslaught of isms, injustice, and nonstop attacks on every aspect of our humanity to affirm ourselves, and our sistren?
It is astonishing that this event stirs your pot of outrage and not school-to-prison pipeline, disparities in health care, and countless other inequities. Why do I only hear from you, Becky, when you feel excluded, when you are not the center of attention? I know White supremacy teaches us all that the goal of patriarchy is to protect and lift up WHITE women, but why can’t we at least have this one little moment without the focus being on you? Isn’t that book The Help, all those White teachers saving Black kids films, and everything else enough for you?
[Intoned with my “Mister” voice from The Color Purple] Now whachoo want? More affirmation? Is that what you need, Becky? Okay, here you go:
[Said with my slave mammy voice] “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Black Girls Rock, Inc. is a nonprofit youth mentoring and empowerment organization established to promote the arts for young women of color, to build their self-esteem, and to discuss and analyze how women of color are portrayed in the media. Despite this positive mission, some people want to be haters. This comment on BET.com about Black Girls Rock sums up this dynamic I’m describing. A White woman, Ann Kasinger Hallum, shared her pain and tears in advance of the April 5 broadcast:
“I am offended and disappointed with the awards show ‘Black Women Rock.’ I am a white women living as a minority in a small town in California. I’m a teacher and try and empower ALL my students? I could just imagine if some white lady decided to produce a show titled, ‘White Girls Rock’ she would probably be slaughtered by the press, branded a racist and lose whatever credibility she earned.”
Blah, blah, blah. Girl, bye!
This is nothing new as White rage has bubbled up in the past, with #WhiteGirlsRock trending on social media in 2013. White tears are real; enough to end California’s drought as a friend of mine says. James Baldwin was clearly prophetic when he wrote, “People can cry much easier than they can change.”
White women, I need you to explain the willful cluelessness that enables you to pretend not to know that pretty much everything in our environment tells Black girls and women that we ain’t shit. I know these messages seek to give you something even as White men in our society continue to give us the short end of the stick; but stop acting like you don’t realize that the system hates us, that it renders us as inferior and lies to you and tells you that you are the quintessence of humanity. Stop acting like you are the only victim in the room and that nobody loves Becky.
I realize how insulting Black Girls Rock and any effort to publicly state love for Black girls and women is to White supremacy. You need these narratives to rationalize these inequalities, to hold onto your post-racial mantle. You need these moments to claim victim status because it reaffirms your ideas about American exceptionalism, racial progress, and how White America works so hard at having to overcome so many obstacles, including affirmative action, not being able to say the n-word without catching a beat down, the browning of our nation’s population, and the rise of the I.D.S.—a fearless Black Intellectual Drop Squad that gets on social media and takes delight in kaleidoscopically revealing your racism every chance we get.
Ignoring the daily and spectacular celebrations of White womanhood—the Oscars, the Grammys, the Country Music Awards, the Emmys, Fashion week, the Winter Olympics, Greek Row, any number of lists celebrating women—you take this moment to claim that you too are victims of multiculturalism and the epidemic of public love and celebration of Black women and girls at the expense of their angelic sisters. The absurdity is just too much.
You need all this language and tools of alleged Black inferiority to feed and maintain your sense of superiority—the racist foundation that our entire nation is built upon. Your beauty, your value, your privilege, your entitlement and your opportunities must come at a price, and it is often women of color who are charged to pay it on many levels, not the least of which is our self-esteem.
I pity you, Becky. It must be hard to wake up every day, look in the mirror, flip your hair out of your face and have to live up to a long heritage of lies about your beauty, superiority, and awesomesauceness. I pity the fact that you can’t and won’t ever accept the fact the White “race” is a social invention and that your skin color itself is a biological mutation, a consequence of evolution, an indicator of your ancestor’s solar environment. Perhaps if you could accept that ALL life began in Africa and that ALL White people and other groups are really just a variation of the African just like me, then you’ll be able to forgive and love yourself.
Are you aware, Becky, that the White supremacy that makes your life and sense of self possible requires constant reinforcement of the idea that Black people are losers, that the inequities we face are due to our shortcomings rather than a world set up to favor you at our expense?
Do you ever think about the fact that your Whiteness—that all-access fast pass that empowers and allows free reign—is defined solely in response to what it is not—and that is Blackness—rather than what it really is? That your sense of self rests on the backs, necks, shoulders, and souls of women of color? I guarantee that you saying #BlackGirlsRock or merely keeping your mouth shut at the collective celebration from Black women and girls will not change your place in society.
And that if we dare to set you down for even a moment to recharge our own batteries and sense of personhood, you will predictably wail your righteous indignation and faux rage, and swear that it’s YOU who are being oppressed and victimized by our break-wind moment of self love. Because how DARE I, or those like me, consider our identities, bodies, and experiences worthy of love, celebration and consideration without YOU.
I hope you haven’t stopped reading. I know, I know love, this fiber-optic lashing is hard, but hang in there.
I know that I have asked you a lot of questions but I am really hoping to inspire action. Because if you are genuinely committed to changing self and society, to making friends with your inner racist so you can exorcise it and then heal and forgive yourself, and if you are committed to not giving in to racism or being complicit in it, and if you are willing to reject all the racial ideas that have defined your existence thus far, then you can articulate why White Girls Rock, Too.
We urgently need your help!
Covid-19 has dramatically impacted our ability to keep publishing. DAME is 100% reader funded and without additional support, we can’t keep publishing. Become a member at DAME today to help us continue reporting and shining a light on the stories that need to be told, from perspectives that aren’t heard enough. Every dollar we receive from readers goes directly into funding our journalism. Please become a member today!
(If you liked this article and just want to make a one-time donation, you can do that here)