“I’m glad that Shonda Rhimes “SAW” me and said “Why Not.” That’s what makes her a visionary. That’s what makes her iconic. I think that beauty is subjective. I’ve heard that statement (less classically beautiful) my entire life. Being a dark skinned Black woman, you heard it from the womb. And “classically not beautiful” is a fancy term for saying ugly. And denouncing you. And erasing you. Now…it worked when I was younger. It no longer works for me now. It’s about teaching a culture how to treat you. Because at the end of the day, you define you.”
I pounced on the sentence. “Less Classically Beautiful.” This was how Viola Davis was described by NY Times writer, Alessandra Stanley, who still stands by her article and the calling of Shonda Rhimes an “angry black woman.” I’m not gonna post the article…you can google it if you haven’t seen it already. And I applaud the many people that jumped out for our sisters Rhimes and Davis.
But America…we have a dark problem. Literally.
We still have a “light skinned” “dark skinned” problem, that really concerns me. And it’s not limited to skin color. It’s the image that is evoked when someone says “light-skinned” “dark-skinned,” and now cousins “red-boned” and “brown-skinned.” You’ve got to have the right combination, with a certain texture and length of hair being the first desired trait, then a fantasy physique. If you don’t fall within a certain range of desirability, society will make SURE you are forgotten and you will never see an image of YOU…and all the other “regular” YOUs on television, movies, or videos.
And this matters, why? Because it affects how we respond to issues that concern us. How one looks still determines whether they are part of the corporate “culture” or not; whether or not the police will look for you if missing; and even to a degree how sexual you are perceived to be, as our nation has always had a skewed sense of sexuality based on color, and darker women have always been assumed to be more “hypersexual” than their counterparts, even if they were desired less.
But let me go a little deeper…I do not feel that black women are more sexual than any other women on this planet. I am, however, concerned about what the absence of dark women does to our black girls–including the decisions they make when a society decides they are not worthy enough to be seen. Those who manipulate our image on media outlets could care less that this trickles to our children, who soak up every desired image and try to imitate them. Even when we look at music videos, the “brightening” of our culture continues to be the trend (though it was not always the norm; look at old videos on VH1 Soul, and you will see how far we have come, for the worse). And this has consequences on the esteem of all black girls, and I will argue even more so with our darker-fleshed girls.
And that concerns me.
With all the attacks on the church that seems to happen on an everyday basis, I will say that growing up, I am grateful to be raised in a household where I was taught that God was a Creator–an artist–and that each of us were designed for purpose and a reason. That was crucial for me growing up with a face that was a little “harder” than others, a small, yet wide nose, and cheekbones that made me look like I had an attitude, even when I had no worries in the world, and lips I had to grow into–both its size and the non “pinkness” of them, which I saw every day on the manilla faces I shared classrooms with. I remember crying on the bus one day from the private school I attended, chanting “I wish I wasn’t black.” Looking back now, I didn’t wish I wasn’t black. I wished I was treated like I was “black.” Like I was imagining the differential treatment. Like my voice was invisible. Like my version was always undermined by the whiteness around me. Like I was being erased.
Sisters of all races jumped in, standing with Viola. And I loved it. When people say “it’s just entertainment,” that is just a flippant attempt to minimize the power of media. Propaganda has led to wars and genocide. It has also brought people together, declaring #handsupdontshoot. We need to reaffirm our rightful image of ourselves…to ourselves. We cannot wait for America to get it right, because America didn’t create us. We have all been scarred by the effects of a hateful nation and world that has created caste systems purely based on race, class, and beauty. I hope we do more than just talk about it, and work towards repairing it.
Thank you, Viola, for refusing to be erased. The fact that your name, alone, is an instrument clearly reveals the inner and outer workings of your purpose. You play, and can’t be quieted. You have sound that won’t be muffled. You are an elegant glass of fresh air, and we are blessed to share the masterpiece God created in you. May other works of art see themselves in you.