I’ve been avoiding writing about this topic for a few weeks now, in the hopes that each incident is isolated or maybe I’m just making a mountain out a beauty mark. But it felt like every time I logged on to social media, I read another article that completely negated the existence and impact of Black culture and even more so Black women. My silence started to deafen me.
We’ll start with the lesser crimes. Elle magazine, I’m assuming in an attempt to appear attuned to new fashion trends, featured an article on the latest trend of celebs wearing Timberland boots. The article appears to have been taken down, but The Root paraphrased it very well. My favourite part of the article was when reporter Danielle Prescod noted that since celebs like Gwen Stefani, babies North West and Blue Ivy are rocking Timbs, she anticipates that the trend is going to ‘explode’. Either Danielle missed the ’90s all together or the sarcasm is so well hidden, I couldn’t even see it. There wasn’t a rap, R&B and probably even reggae video in the ’90s that didn’t feature a pair of Timbs and to just jump over what hip hop culture did for that brand is more than just bad reporting, its dismissive. The word dismissive is going to come up a lot here, bare with me.
I’m not saying a celeb can’t be inspired by another culture and can’t creatively intertwine new sounds and styles into their look. But the line between creative expression and culturally co-opting isn’t thin. It’s quite obvious.
Next suspect is the supposed fashion industry blueprint, Vogue magazine. In a recent article, Patricia Garcia pulled the impossible. She composed a full write up convincing readers that all of a sudden big butts are now in, completely Christopher Columbus-ing the booty. Ms. Garcia makes the generalization that women such as J.Lo, Iggy Azalea, Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus simply ‘discovered’ having a curvaceous derriere is actually attractive and (shockingly) something to proudly flaunt. It’s one thing to not give any credit to Black culture for long recognizing the power of the booty, but now mainstream fashion media is trying to dismiss Black women all together. She noted that although Destiny’s Child came out with the song ‘Bootylicious’ in 2001, it wouldn’t be until Kim K stepped onto the scene with her manufactured butt that booty became ‘the standard of beauty’. So not until something is embraced by a non-Black person, it isn’t a trend or ‘in’. Despite booty being celebrated decades ago in pop culture through such genres as soul and R&B music, to even more recently hip hop culture, these references had been merely looked over as sub-cultures and not as the trendsetters they truly are.
Not that I’m here to celebrate the objectification of women of any colour, but to call this a ‘hot new trend’ just because Miley Cyrus strapped on a fake butt or because Kim went and bought one, while Black women such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Ciara have been proudly showing off theirs, is again dismissive.
Now keeping with the reality star theme, this next violation is just a complete slap in the face. Earlier this year, another mainstream fashion magazine thought they caught onto something hot by tweeting a picture of Kendall Jenner with braids and captioning it “Kendall takes bold braids to new epic levels’. To claim that a white teenager from Southern California made a hairstyle ‘epic’, which had already been part of African customs, from the continent to the diaspora is not only Eurocentric in its ignorance it is steeped in racism. There are Black women, teens and little girls daily everywhere with stunning braids everyday. But not until Kendall wore them, did it become ‘epic.’ There was a great piece on Huffington Post about the uproar on Twitter that followed Marie Claire’s post.
Now my last point of complete frustration is brought to you by The New York Times‘ Alessandra Stanley who published a piece on the new television drama hit, “How To Get Away With Murder”. Promptly in the article Ms. Stanley jumps to label screenwriter, director and executive producer Shonda Rhimes an ‘angry black woman’, without doing her research. Ms Rhimes clarified on Twitter that she is the executive producer of the show and that Peter Nowalk (not a black woman) is the creator of the show. She went on to ask why she’s only dubbed an ‘angry black woman’ because the lead on the show “How To Get Away…” is an assertive Black women, but when white characters on the show Scandal (which she created and wrote) show assertiveness, she isn’t the stereotypical ‘angry black woman’. This fits the narrative that people of colour are only allowed to fit one dimensional stereotypes, and the common one for black woman is being the tough angry one.
Ok so I actually have another point when it comes to this article and it relates to the star of the show, Viola Davis. The reporter Ms. Stanley noted,
“Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than [Kerry Washington], or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series Extant.”
The term ‘less-classically beautiful’ implies there is an agreed upon definition of what is beautiful. As she made comparisons to Kerry Washington and Halle Berry, whom both share features such as high cheekbones and narrower noses, one can assume that the ‘classic’ definition of beauty Ms. Stanley alludes to is that of European facial features. Is the casting of Viola Davis in a lead role on a prime time dramatic series significant? Yes. But to merely point out that she doesn’t look like the run of the mill leading ladies we’re accustom to diminishes the importance of this casting to a subjective view of beauty. Viola Davis is 46 years old. In Hollywood, it’s difficult to see great roles given to women 40 years old and up, of any race. Especially Black women.
Objectivity is hard because we all view the world through tainted lenses. However when your job is to be a journalist, to be so careless with sweeping cultural generalizations and/or dismissively negating the impact of another culture, you silently perpetuate a hierarchy of cultures. Deeming one the sub-culture to be easily preyed on and stolen from to keep the mainstream culture ‘hip’.