“Sending love to all the girls out there trying to love themselves in a world that’s constantly telling them not to.” — Quinta Brunson (via Twitter)
Pills that promise a smaller size
Surgeries to shrink stomachs, minimize thighs and straighten slanted eyes
The tangled web we weave
When what we see in the mirror don’t look like tv
When the blood boils and burns to the bone
With foreign bodies like plastic, fix-a-flat and silicone
How looks can be deceiving
When the body we’d kill for kills us while we’re sleeping
It’s what’s expected
Because imitation is the new expectation
Self-hate for the love of our butts, our breasts and our pigmentation
The challenge of truth…being true to ourselves
When the reflection in the mirror mirrors plastic itself
My niece is experiencing some discrimination in the county schools here in Richmond, Virginia. The other day, a teacher told her that she won’t amount to anything. I’m taking this time to tell her quite the contrary.
It’s been said but it hasn’t been finished.
“You won’t amount to anything” she boldly insisted.
Her words so vile, her mind so twisted
And she’s so sure and I’m so livid…because she doesn’t know what your black is.
I wish your teacher would have never said those words
I know that pain and I know that hurt
But you know yourself and you know your worth
And you know what makes a diamond — the pressure and the dirt
But you’re HURT.
But your black maintains.
It’s used to the pain, it’s used to the rain
Your black is resilient. It never backs down.
But heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Your head may be heavy, but your brain is intact
Remember her words and watch your back
Stay in your books but don’t be timid
Although it’s been said, it hasn’t been finished
(photo: The Pulse Radio)
When I had time to watch television on a regular basis, I watched it faithfully. Never missed an episode. Like many other women, I liked to get a glimpse of how the other side lived, get hair and outfit inspirations from the rich and famous, and drool over the Chanel, Hermes and Balenciaga bags that I could only own in my dreams.
While many of us consciously focus on the aesthetics of the show, we unconsciously take in the garbage – the misogyny, the degradation of the female body and the trivialization of black love – that is an unfortunate by product of the reality television series. But the trouble with Love & Hip Hop isn’t what’s on the screen – it’s when the garbage behind the screen becomes reality. It’s when girls, boys, men and women reproduce it in their homes, in the streets and in the sheets.
Women are objectified constantly in this show. One example that comes to mind is the whole Peter Gunz situation. Peter Gunz, a man with a longtime girlfriend with whom he has several children, began seeing a young songstress named Amina while he was still involved with his baby momma. But it didn’t stop there – the baby momma and the new girl both knew about his disloyal ways…and about each other. So to keep his cover, Gunz lied to both women so he could still see them both. Their hearts, their minds and their bodies were discounted – all for the sake of sexual satisfaction. This teaches women and girls that loyalty shouldn’t be expected and that when it comes to men, objectification is a condition to be tolerated.
Totally undoes everything momma taught ya, huh?
It’s television. We see women half-naked parade around men in suits and coats and all kinds of layers all the time, right? Well, Mimi took it a few steps further when she willingly agreed to release a feature-length sex tape to the masses, to please her boyfriend. It wasn’t so much the tape itself than it was the decision – a decision that lacked her agency or choice – a right to make a major decision about her own body, pertaining to her most private of parts, which she completely waived to someone else. And of course, the boyfriend’s agenda in all this? Money. His want for money outweighed her right to her own skin and bones. If taking away (or openly yielding) one’s rights all for the sake of a man isn’t degrading, then I don’t know what is. Her daughter’s not going to know what it is either, if she grows up knowing the ramifications behind mommy’s tape.
Ya momma totally undid everything she was taught, huh?
Whether we like it or not, black television has the responsibility of representing us, especially in this assumption-driven, stereotype-laden, allegedly “post racial” society we live in today. Sometimes this representation seems more like a minstrel show, especially when it comes to black love. Joe Budden, a man in a long on and off relationship with his girlfriend (I guess?) Tahiri, is a royal mess. He cheats on Tahiri left and right… and left again…and right again…and she takes him back still. Every. Single. Time. At one point, he moves in a young, vulnerable homeless girl named Keylin. He dogs her out too, but he finds it to be much easier, given her socioeconomic position – barely 19, homeless, no family, etc. The love here, defined with cheating and using and abusing, doesn’t have to be the image of black love. That little boy watching the show doesn’t need to be taught that he can dog out a woman in any and all ways imaginable and still have her to himself. The little girl that tunes in every single solitary week doesn’t need to buy into the “ride or die” ideology for a dirt bag, either. Nor does she need to acquire the low self-esteem it takes to compromise her self-respect for a roof, or a meal or a bag. And none of us need more images of infidelity and hyper-sexuality to taint the beauty of black love.
I myself watch reality TV sometimes, but not this show. Not anymore. And I’m not going to start watching it again, until somebody cleans up some of the trash. What I see when I turn to Love & Hip Hop is a form of slavery – men, permanently chained to boyish ways and women, forced to sell their souls for next to nothing.
Love & Hip Hop, where insecurities look better tucked away in a Louis Vuitton duffle bag and pride is so much easier to swallow with a tall glass of Moët.
(for more pieces like this, check out the “Let’s Talk” page of the site)
by Jennifer Lee
Our African princess is locked in a cage,
To afraid to go out, what would they say?
About her hair and skin and how dark she was
Reminds her of the sears in her heart- was cut
At a young age, she would always be blamed
She’s not modern beauty, its a dark age
Look in the mirror then turn the page
In your real life, is your princess caged?
“Talking White” and Other Fallacies
As I do a great deal of work with children on self-esteem, a lot of parents have recently contacted me about their concerns for their children at school. Because of fights? No. Because of bad grades? Nope. They’ve been concerned about their children doing WELL at school and because of that, being TEASED for talking “white.” I cringe every time I hear such stories.
Been there, done that.
A few months back, a worried father of a middle school boy shared his story — his kid had been excelling in school over the years up until now. He’s been getting teased and tormented by his fellow classmates, as they constantly put him down for his hard work and achievement. “You’re a nerd, you ain’t really black,” and “You talk white” are among the many negative statements that are dished out to his son on a regular basis. So it all has worn the son down. It’s worn him down so much that he has made the conscious decision to not try as hard in school and talk less proper because he wants to be “down with the black kids.” Ouch.
Since when did “white” signify intelligence? Can black mean intelligent too? I’m afraid it’s too late, as such negative connotations have already been attached to “black,” and for some reason, a lot of black folk (and whites) think that success and intelligence are only for white people. Do we as a community fully realize the monster that has been created? Apparently not.
I’m writing this as a wake-up call. This attitude has to come from somewhere. I realize it’s impossible to trace back exactly who/ where this has come from within a family, but on an institutional level, we can all probably agree that this is an ill effect of “slave mentality.” We don’t have time to dwell on that now, but we do need to correct this. I am far from an expert on parenting (or on anything, at that matter), but I can say I’ve been through a similar struggle, but to a much lesser extent.
Let me share my story with you — I had been told many many many times, and so had my sisters, when they were younger, that I acted/spoke “white.” I was on the yearbook staff — I acted “white.” Was in majority honors classes — I acted “white.” Didn’t speak Ebonics — I talked “white.” I, unlike the boy I mentioned earlier, never backed down to the ignorant remarks. In fact, they made me try harder. I knew better. My folks had instilled black pride in me from day one. At the same time, my mother stressed the importance of education — it was always valued highly in my household. “Education is key,” “books are your friends,” and other similar sayings were not only said, but lived out in my family. I had such a strong grounding — too strong to be knocked down by any ignorance.
And for those of you who still think this isn’t a problem, think again. This issue is so pervasive, it has even made national news. “Ninth-grader says teacher told him to read Langston Hughes poem ‘blacker,’” read a recent MSNBC headline story. As Jordan Shumate, a black ninth-grader from Falls Church, read Ballad of the Landlord, he was suddenly interrupted by his English teacher. She told him “Blacker, Jordan. C’mon, blacker. I thought you were black.” Shumate refused to read it. The teacher grew frustrated, and provided the class with an ebonics-ladden reading of the piece herself. This lady managed to teach an entire classroom-full of students that ALL black people speak broken English; that’s nothing short of a travesty.
So I beg you, ALL of you — children, adults, men, women, students, teachers and everyone else in-between — to stop this “acting white” ignorance in its tracks. When you hear it, please educate those who think education and success are only for white people. Tell them that we can be just as successful and just as smart. We, whatever color we may be, are all people — we have brains, we have mouths, but more importantly, we have minds. If we all use our own minds, this world will be a much smarter place.
At work the other day, I had a middle schooler tell me that he probably wouldn’t get accepted into college. At the age of 14, he already claimed a future. A future tainted with defeat.
I had a fit. I told him to never say that he couldn’t go to college. Or that he couldn’t do anything else.
Self-doubt is among us all, not just him. Unfortunately, it’s something I’ve done quite a lot in my own life. I catch myself often saying “Oh, I can’t wear something like that” or “I wouldn’t be able to do that” or “I don’t think I’d do well working as a ____.”
In the last few years or so, my mom (who receives the brunt of my self-doubting rants) has been underlining the idea of thinking – what you think of yourself versus what your reality is like. She says things like “keep thinking like that and you will fail,” or “with an attitude like that you’ll prove yourself right and things won’t work out for real.” I would just shrug or come up with an excuse for my negative attitude, but honestly, she’s right.
Vibes, energy and (if you’re spiritual like me) God are all around us. And our inner thoughts and feelings are as well. When we think negatively, we’re tainting our surroundings – our environment, our air. I don’t know about you, but if I have the choice, I don’t wanna breathe in some stank air. That stank air is gonna dirty everything else up inside of you when you breathe it in and before you know it…you’re contaminated. And you’ve contaminated yourself.
Believe me you, there’s enough dirty air or negative energy being emitted from the words and actions of others to go around. There’s always somebody rolling their eyes at you in envy, or judging you negatively based on assumptions, or acting ill toward you in some way due to their own insecurities. The world is polluted enough. Don’t pollute yourself any further with doubt, defeat, intimidation or discouragement.
Use your head. Paint your own picture…and paint it beautifully.
Peace, Love & Consciousness,
So I’m in the mall and I look around. I look around to see a whole bunch of us – buying purses, shoes, watches and everything else in Dillard’s. The store was 80% full of us. And it was a Tuesday. And all the while, everybody and their momma is crying broke.
But here’s the kicker – I was in there too! And I had my heart set on a BAD gold watch. And I already have not one, not two, not three, but four watches at home.
Am I missing something here?
Lyrics constantly promoting being irresponsible with money: “20 on my right wrist, 30 on my left wrist, 100 on my neck iced out for my respect 20 f*****g 10 I’ma blow the whole check”
Waiting in lines for shoes – and valuing them so much, we’re killing each other for them: “Right here in Houston, another young African-American man has lost his life over the latest pair of Air Jordans, and his death has left a family grieving and seeking justice. What began as a simple trip to the mall for two young men, took an unfortunate turn for the worse, when 22-year old Joshua Woods was shot in a northwest Houston subdivision. Woods was shot about 10:30 a.m. Friday, December 21, in the 1700 block of Plumwood near Hallfield in northwest Harris County.” (Houston Forward Times)
And equating our self-worth with material things: “She’s so precious with the peer pressure; couldn’t afford a car so she named her daughter Alexus”
Wait. That’s it – Equating our self-worth with material things. We ALL do it to a certain extent.
“The higher self-esteem, the less clothing affects it, but the opposite is also true – the lower self-esteem, the more power clothes and fashion have over a person.” Says Edward Rybacov of Ezine Articles. But why? Why are these material items so interrelated with how we feel about ourselves? Many scholars point to history.
“Africans would go and capture their people and sell them to Arabs and later to white folks. They did this for over one thousand years. Historical records show that they were already selling themselves to Arab Muslims by 700 AD and did not really stop doing so until around 1900 (when Europeans finally took over most of Africa and stopped slave trade). Around 1500 AD Africans added selling themselves to Europeans. You can see the product of that heinous behavior in the millions of African-Arabs and African Americans. Can people who sell their people have good self- esteem?” — Ozodi Osuji, Ph.D.
The history – it’s all there. Osuji’s historical standpoint still stands today. Because our ancestors, our communities have been so conditioned to be so divisive, to compare ourselves to one another, many of us are CONSTANTLY on a mission to keep up.
“Man I spent $400 bucks on this – just to be like ‘nigga, you ain’t up on this!’”
And just imagine how much African slaves looked up to the slave owners themselves? Many rich slave owners boasted fine china, gold, the nicest clothes and the finest foods. Meanwhile, our ancestors, often dressed in rags and viewed as having just as much worth as a farm animal, co-existed in these lush plantations alongside wealthy slave masters, admiring the free life – a life seemingly filled with the splendors of the world. And the closer a slave could get to these splendors, the better – whether it meant a house slave selling out a field slave for a quick come up or a brotha entering the Mandingo fighting ring to kill another brotha for a night in the mansion, away from the condemnable slave quarters. This slave mentality, although from years and years ago, still sits thick in today’s air.
Dr. Osuji, a Nigerian professor, suggests a possible solution:
“Africans that put other Africans down, desecrate them have particularly low self-esteem; their low self-esteem is as bad as their ancestors who captured their people and sold them into slavery. People who have good self-esteem, who like themselves do not sell their people, and do not insult people. People with good self-esteem love their selves and love those around them, respect their selves and respect those around them.
If you have good self-esteem and you see poor people or suffering people what you are motivated to do is do your best to help them. People with good self-esteem uplift downtrodden mankind. They do whatever they can do to make sure that those around them feel worthwhile and value themselves.”
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with liking nice things – I like nice things myself – believe me. But when it gets to the point where we’re willing to sell our souls, put down or even kill others for these things, its gone way too far.
Let’s take a step back – recognize, realize and re-evaluate. If slavery was abolished way back when, why are we still running around with the mindsets of the house slaves and field slaves, the self-hatred of Mandingo Fighters and a desire for the slave master’s riches?
We’re all in this together, remember.
“We’re all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it” – Kanye West
Stand Out or Sit Down
There comes a point in time where, whether you want to realize it or not, you’ve longed to fit in. You’ve longed to be like everyone else. In honoring the legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou, who passed away this Wednesday, I think we all need to stop and think about our desire (or former desire) to blend in with the crowd.
Maya Angelou has centered a lot of her work on image and identity. In Phenomenal Woman, she teaches us to embrace our bodies – our wide hips and our full lips, among other things. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she shows us that although we may have been through some wretched times, our songs, or our testimonies are still worth sharing. But, despite the brilliance of Maya Angelou and the beauty of individuality, many people still choose the value being like everyone else.
I remember being in middle school and in seventh grade, my pants got a little tighter. My hips started to fill in and it seemed like this booty appeared overnight. And I absolutely hated it. My pants never fit right because my waist was much smaller than my booty (often a problem still) and the bottom half of my body was growing much faster than the top half, if you know what I mean. And then my tallness set in, on top of it all. But most importantly for me at that time, my body wasn’t like most of the girls’ around me. The skirts my ‘straight up and down’ girlfriends wore were practically a crime for me to wear and although I have never been overweight or obese, I certainly felt so being the size 4/6 among the plethora of size 0s.
And even as late as my college years, as a writer for my school’s newspaper, I sometimes felt the urge to write more vanilla – and to blend in better with the masses. As a writer of controversial topics at ritzy private school, I was praised by those who were down all while I was shunned by the naysayers who refused to confront the dirt that had been hidden under the rug. I was faced with threats, hate mail and even vandalism just as often as my column made top 10 – Every. Single. Week.
“Why can’t I just have a normal experience?” I thought, reflecting on my newspaper stint. Slander, meetings with deans, more slander and my dad wanting to pull me out of school for the semester to protect me only pushed me and my writing closer to mediocrity…all but for a second.
Standing out isn’t all that bad.
My shape? I’ve embraced to the hilt. I love my curves. Now at 24, I find myself flaunting my curviness, in the cleanest of ways of course. Looking back on my middle school haze, I laugh at my seventh grade self. The same girls I found myself wanting to look like back then…long for the curves that I have been blessed with and the confidence that has been paired with it today. I was able to change my mindset from phenotypically challenged to phenomenally created. And my writing? Writing is my air. And I value my point of view more than ever. It’s a healthy way to deal with my frustrations with society and it’s my way of singing my song…and hopefully, the song of my fellow caged birds that are still afraid to sing.
It would be a lie to say it’s not tempting to fit in. It’s easy. It doesn’t require much effort. And quite often, it’s more comfortable than standing out. But there is beauty in standing out. More so than in fitting in. So stop fighting yourself to be like everyone else. It’s a fight you’re never going to win…because the moment you strive to be “normal” is the moment you lose yourself.
Stand out or sit down.
“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”
– Maya Angelou
Peace, Love & Consciousness,