Stop Making Black Women Invisible, We Are Here To Stay
I’d been working for 10 hours straight and needed some comfort reading — some beauty tips about the latest eye shadow or lipstick in fashion, the trendy hairstyles, the colors that the powerful catwalks had decided would steal away the autumn or the winter for that matter. I went down to the bookshop a level below and there to my surprise amidst hundreds of magazine titles, I could only find one with a black woman on its cover. I headed towards it enthusiastically — smiling at a stunning Kerry Washington on the cover, and was disappointed to find only a few photos of her hidden in the endless pages of ads for make-up and clothes catering to white women.
I flipped through the magazine, feeling completely invisible as I brushed through its pages, diminished and uncatered for in this Western media’s vision of the world. There were glossy pages full of rosy pink lipsticks, hair products for baby soft Caucasian hair, scents and fashion for slender hipped and narrow footed white women, but nothing representative of me, a tall, beautiful voluptuous black woman, nothing that sent me back to even a remote reflection of myself.
It was as though the sparse Kerry Washington photos were there to give the magazine a “good conscience”, to make them feel like “yes” they were representing the full spectrum of black women within their pages when as a matter of fact, they were not. Kerry Washington no matter how much I love her just because she portrays Olivia Pope — a powerful public relations executive in CBS’ television show “Scandal” is an actress — a position that very few black women even want to attain in their lifetimes. In my view she is not at all representative of the millions of diverse black women around the world. She like Beyonce, Rihanna, Jennifer Hudson and others represent only one discourse of the black woman — that of the singer, the actress. Just like I wouldn’t say Cameroun Diaz is representative of all white women, I wouldn’t dare infer that Kerry Washington represents all black women neither. Kerry represents only one experience when in reality there are millions of us out there on a daily basis occupying diverse roles under the sun. We are doctors, housewives, journalists, poets, engineers, financial analysts, designers, diplomats, schoolteachers, astronauts, physicists, politicians, all you can possibly think off — we come in all sizes and shades and we don’t want to be invisible. We want to be represented, to be catered to, to be marketed to with products and styles made for us.
Not that I don’t care for Kerry, Rihanna, Beyonce et al, I am glad that they exist because at least we black women get one type of representation instead of none, but we need to work on getting more.
We need to start getting more discourses about ourselves into the mainstream. Some clearly don’t want to let us in through traditional media, i.e. print and television, so let us win this fight using social media. Take a look at these beauty blogs “Beautybyjj” or “BisaNation” on YouTube. I love these because they show that “yes”, black women do wear make up, that like all women we care about our hair and we love to be beautiful. We need to pack up the virtual space with more stories, more experiences about black women accomplishing great and yes ordinary things as well. We need to do so for our little girls who are growing up fast and need role models and examples to follow to build strong identities. We need to do so now and to do so fast so that by the time they grow up, black women will be a part of the mainstream and not on the sidelines like we have been for way too long.
Photo credit: Eloise Ambursley