I cursed on Twitter Sunday night. For regular readers of my blog, these means nothing, except you know how my Daddy feels about that. But I’ve made it a four-year habit of not dropping swear-bombs on social media, at least not without the *** to clean it up and keep it cute. It takes a lot for me to get unnerved, (and if you read Ask.Fm/abelleinbk, you know that’s true.) But it was post-Black Girls Rock, an annual awards show that built its way from a private event in NYC to being aired on a big fancy stage in NYC. I used to go to it when it was held in a room at Lincoln Center and I sat way in the back in the press section squinting to see because I was too vain to put on my un-fabulous glasses when surrounded by glorious women whose names are boldfaced when they are written about.
When BET picked up the show, I traveled from Brooklyn to the Bronx twice for the taping—and I NEVER go to the Bronx. This year, I struggled through two hours or traffic to get to its new taping location at the NJPAC. I crossed state lines!!!! Because that’s what this show means to me. And it was worth it.
I saw the show live, and still, I tuned in—without a Neilsen box to track my viewing—because it’s a rare occasion that Black girls get celebrated. We get seen often enough, and most often in lights that I don’t always condone, but sometimes find entertaining. Black Girls Rock is a sweet spot where women who look like me, women who I admire, are celebrated and our accomplishments are reveled in. I live for Black Girls Rock.
Mara Brock Akil was rewarded this year and even with a myriad of accomplishments and recognition that follow her name, you could hear in her passionate acceptance speech what an honor it was for her to be there, recognized by her peers and staring out an audience full of women who look like her, a rare occasion. And so eloquently, as expected, she broke it all the way down why she does what she does, and in essence, what Black Girls Rock is all about:
When there IS an image that resembles us, oftentimes upon closer inspection, it’s not us…Black women, even if nobody else sees you, I SEE YOU…We are worth protecting and we are worth loving. When we dare to walk this world unapologetically…it’s how we put our own pictures up and validate ourselves.
The boldfaced names are who get most of the attention, but I’m there for the moment when it’s the girl who reminds me of me, the one who's just doing what she does because she has to and never thought it would get her far, gets her honor. (Last year, it was my mentee Alize McBeal). This year it was Ameena Matthews, a young sister working to stop violence on the streets of Chicago by sometimes using he body as a human shield, who left me with tears in my eyes.
She has a gold tooth and a wears "a dang scarf", as she called it, and she implied in her speech that girls that look like her weren’t “supposed to be” on stages in front of Queen Latifah and Patti LaBelle, and Tracee Ellis Ross, and oh, a national audience. She spoke way beyond her allotted time and no one cut her off like they tried to with Halle Berry when she won her Oscar, because everyone respected that moment and knew how rare it was for us to have our say, our way.That’s the crux of Black Girls Rock.
I was feeling all happy and re-empowered while I watched the show. And I was feeling myself for being a Black Girl, or er, woman, who rocks. And I was pissed when I saw the hashtag #whitegirlsrock on Twitter as a reaction to Black women celebrating.
I called the hashtag “bullsh**” because that pretty much summed it up well.
Black girls don’t get much in media. Here and there, we get a win, maybe a nod that results in a loss, maybe a supporting role as a vehicle to help a white person move their life in a positive direction. Outside of Black magazines, we don’t get too many covers and outside of Black networks, we don’t get too many starring roles. Kerry Washington on “Scandal” is the first Black woman to lead a network show in my lifetime. I’m 34.
And it pissed me off that the one occasion we do get was met with some ass-backward questioning like “Why do Black people need Black stuff?” I wouldn’t have been mad if the hashtag was about Asian or Latino or Indian or any other of color girl who rocked too because those girls get left out too and need their moment to shine. I wouldn’t have begrudged them at all.
But white girls get nearly everything, and the one time they didn’t, the one occasion its not all about them and they get a taste for a couple hours of what Black girls endure everyday, SOME of them couldn’t take the brief introduction into a Black Girls world.
At least one white woman got it. Writing for HuffPo, Olivia Cole broke it down:
What it comes down to is that black girls are missing representations of themselves in positive contexts. When they turn on the TV, they are missing. When they are looking at the cover of magazines like Vogue and Elle, they are missing. When they go to the movie theater, they are missing. For black women's faces to appear in mainstream films, it seems they must be either wearing a maid's apron or chains. So when Black Girls Rock! appears on the scene, ready to uplift and empower the girls who are so tragically neglected in American media, ready to showcase women of color who are smart and fun and beautiful and accomplished and positive, I am so here for it.
All of the things you take for granted are what you're protecting when you shout down Black Girls Rock: your whiteness, the system that upholds your face as the supreme standard of beauty, your place in the center of a culture that demands people of color remain hidden in the margins, present but only barely and never overshadowing the white hero/heroine. Your discomfort with black girls who rock tells me that you prefer the status quo: you prefer for black faces to remain hidden, you prefer for America's heroes to have white faces, you prefer for black actresses to wear aprons and chains.
This conversation isn't about you, it isn't about us. Why must everything always be about us? It doesn't have to be. And it shouldn't be. From one white person to another... please sit down. Queen Latifah is on and you're blocking the screen.