Recently, I was on location at the A.M.E. Zion Church on the Hill in Harlem to attend a panel discussion and film screening of the “Souls of Black Girls.” Negative media representation of black females and other women of color is nothing new to the BB&W community, but this news documentary was very refreshing in that opened doors to the minds of younger girls and teenagers and their critique of the media. Through local outreach from Total Equity Now, the institutionalization and manipulation of these images were discussed with Harlem’s middle schoolers. Not shocking, the girls echoed many of sentiments of their peers in the film.
Many women and young females of color are suffering self-image disorder with many trying to cope with attempting to attain a European standard of beauty. One young lady stated that she was the only person of color in her school. “The white boys don’t like black girls. They don’t like me, so I didn’t approach them. I thought about it, but didn’t go there,” she thought. Which got me thinking what if we taught girls of color from their early years that they had options in that department or that it was okay if they were interested in boys outside their race? Could that change their idea on beauty and build self-esteem?
One particular scene just haunted me throughout the film. The film also spoke to several young white girls on the manipulation of images. One said, “They’re very sneaky about it. Like you’ll never see a black girl on the cover unless she’s Beyonce. And she’s like us anyway.” It struck a chord with me, bringing back a high school memory. A similar statement was made by 11th grade English teacher. “Beyonce isn’t really even black. She’s caramel.” Everyone looked at me at that moment for a reaction. I was shocked, but held my tongue. My perception of Beyonce has always been a struggle. We’re both Louisiana Creole, but I’m dark skinned. Creole women were known for their beautiful light skin and being so beautiful were kept inside in fear of either darkening or being kidnapped. Dark-skinned Creoles, even those with “good hair”, were written off. My grandmother was also fair-skinned and known for beauty for miles. I called her vanilla and she called me chocolate. From a young age, I assumed that fair or light-skinned women were the epitome of beauty. It wasn’t until I came to NYC that I learned beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Colorism it seems is recognized even in the younger generation and its even more raw.
Two caricatures were also highlighted: Mamie and Jezebel. Its believed that we as black women have yet to define our sexuality and I have to admit I agree, at least in my case. If I show the slightest bit of skin, I must be open for business and cat-calling. If I’m closed down or quiet, I must be a cold bitch. But one point that was made white women seem to get a pass on this. With Girls Gone Wild, you pay for white girls to show off their bodies. They get their checks, go to school, graduate, and get that job. With music videos: “You get to see that black ass for free. If you a black hoe, you’re gonna stay a black ho.” This is simply an extension of slavery. Black women are still looked down upon as objects of pleasure, whereas our white counterparts are still place upon a pedestal. One thing is true, though, we’re as guilty as our white counterparts if we allow this to continue. Sadly, both black males and females have contributed to this nonsense.
The attendees, adults and children, asked questions such as:
“Why is there more emphasis on black women than white women as video vixens?”
“How can we downplay the role the media has in portraying images and how can parents be better role models?
“How can we portray different images of black women emphasizing our individual ethnicities and culture because different ethnicities have different ideas of beauty?”
It has to be said that kids are smarter than what we give them credit for. They know what’s up. They’re looking at the magazine covers and advertisements and wondering what the heck is going on. They need platforms like this for their voices to be heard. The young ladies were shy to talk to us at first, but once they felt comfortable they us how the young boys at school treat them and their female peers. It ain’t good! They’re tired of seeing people who don’t look like them on television and on magazine covers and those that do look like them are usually in music videos and half-naked. They know this is not the truth. They know they’re beautiful, but they want the world to notice their beauty too. The best quote I heard all evening: “God made me like this.” This young lady was very proud of who she is. I just hope many more young women can share the same sentiment. I believe that they can if we take control of our images and write our own stories instead of letting others tell us our story.
Here are a couple of more photos from the event: