black women

Why Having a Black Friend Is Not Enough

In case you missed it, on Monday a video surfaced of a policeman in Columbia, South Carolina dragging and pulling a black student from her desk while her classmates and teacher watched. Almost immediately conversation and speculation swirled around the internet.

While some wanted to wait to see if the student “provoked” the officer (which would not have warranted that type of force on a student) others immediately felt that it was another instance of police brutality against Blacks in America. And it was.

I don’t need to know what she did before the police officer attacked her, I don’t need to know if she had a history of disobedience at Spring Valley High School. What I need to know is why is this still happening after almost a year and a half of conversation about race and police brutality against Blacks in America.

So on Tuesday, to shed some light on the situation, Sheriff Leon Lott got up on a podium and tried to justify the deplorable acts that occurred Monday afternoon and it was very problematic.

First, Lott said their investigation would only based on if the officer acted within the training he received from the police department, insinuating that he force the officer used could have been appropriate. Then he patted himself on the back for “swiftly” asking the FBI to investigate this case as well. And finally, Lott attempted to dispel the idea that the officer treated the student the way he did because she was Black by saying the officer who used unnecessary force to handcuff the student “has been dating an African American female.” But since when does dating a Black women mean that a person can’t be racist? Why does dating a black women automatically excuse him from the crime?

It seems that any time a person says or does something that is racist the excuse to quickly follow is something along the lines of “I’m not racist, I have a black best friend!”

But what does that do for me? What does that do for the mother who has to watch her child get slammed to the ground over and over again on various media outlets? What does that do for 12 year old Tamir Rice whose life was taken away from him way too soon? What does that do for his parents? What does that do for the little black boys and black girls scared to leave their houses every morning because time and time again the world has shown them that their lives in fact do not matter? That they deserve to be treated as men and women when they are barely over the age of 14.

I need people to stop using having a Black friend, significant other, family member, etc. to excuse the racist comments that come out of their mouths or racist actions that occur.  Knowing a Black person, smiling at a Black person and even hiring a Black person are not reasons to ignore the problematic things that happen to Black people on a daily basis. These things are not the same as being an ally and should not be confused with that either. Racism is a systemic issue, it is deeper than your personal relationships with Black people.

You want to be an ally, use your privilege during intense moments, call friends and family members out when they try and belittle the treatment of Black people by police in this country. Provide overwhelming support for Black loved ones in your life, we need it. And finally never, ever use your relationship with a Black person as an excuse for why you cannot be racist or oppressive.

I am (still) not my hair

This is the second posts I have written about natural hair, you can find my original thoughts here.

So it’s Tuesday night, I’m doing my nightly scroll through Facebook when my finger slips and accidentally clicks on a video I had no intention of watching. It’s a black woman, a news anchor, and almost immediately I hear the words “natural hair” and “in the workplace” and as a curly girl new to the working world, I’m intrigued. The next minute and forty seconds is complete and utter bullshit to me, but for the sake of reference, here’s the video I am referring to.

Malcolm X once said “The most disrespected woman in America, is the Black woman,” and the fact that the video above even had to be made and published for all of society to weigh in on proves that statement, if only a little bit. I really don’t understand the obsession that society has with policing black women’s bodies, but it has got to stop. We cover up too much, we’re prudes, we show too much skin, we’re hoes and if we wear our hair the way it grows out of our head, we’re unprofessional and it’s a distraction.

This video and the way Corporate America reacts to black women’s hair upsets me because still, in 2015, people of color are scrutinized, ostracized and down right rejected because of things they cannot control. I understand that broadcast journalism is a different playing field, and no I have not seen a woman of color rock her natural hair on a newscast yet, and that is exactly the problem.

Natural hair is deemed unprofessional because it is unfamiliar, because this student’s (probably white) professor does not understand it, because they don’t have to. But it’s about time that society stops using a lack of knowledge as an excuse to police someone else and how they were created.

The fact is, there is NOTHING unprofessional about natural hair. In the past year alone I:

Represented Dell on the University of Missouri campus with natural hair.

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Represented Bud Light on the University of Missouri campus/in Columbia, MO with natural hair.

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Graduated from the University of Missouri while rocking my natural hair.

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And got a full time job in the journalism field all while having natural hair.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 9.16.35 PMFascinating, isn’t it? And would you believe that my hair has yet to disrupt the flow of a work day, crazy stuff.

If you’re reading this and you are perplexed, I want to help you: first, there is nothing wrong or unprofessional about the way hair grows out of a black woman’s scalp. Second, requiring a black woman to change her appearance, especially when it is something she cannot control is truly what is unprofessional. Lastly, think about why natural hair is unprofessional to many. What about it bothers businesses so much that they think it is okay to ask a woman with natural hair to potentially damage her hair in order to fit European standards of beauty?

Here’s a thought; instead of criticizing what you don’t understand, ask questions. Stop demonizing black women for how they choose to wear their hair. Stop pushing European standards of beauty on a group of women who were not made to look like that. And please stop associating black features with unprofessionalism and ugliness, doing so allows others to and continues the stereotype that black women cannot be beautiful the way they were created.

Continuing a Stereotype: Olivia Pope as the Independent Black Woman

This past Thursday I was selected as one of ten students from the University of Missouri Department of Communication to present a research project that I did in my TV Criticisms class last semester. It was such an honor to be chosen and I was so proud of the work I did on the poster that I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

So, what better way to do that than by using the internet!?

Scandal Poster

For my project I looked at the show Scandal, a popular drama written by Shonda Rhimes and starring the amazing Kerry Washington. I talked about how Shonda wrote this amazing character who’s successful, the lead of the show and African American, which we don’t see that often. The independent black woman is this new character in media that we’re seeing now and it’s awesome because we’re seeing black women do some amazing things, but it’s also still perpetuating stereotypes of black women in media.

In order to prove this, I looked at the three man stereotypes of black women in media: Mammy (mother figure), Jezebel (sexually promiscuous) and Sapphire, (ghetto, attitude) I also pulled quotes and examples from each season of Scandal where Olivia is portraying these stereotypes.

Mammy- Olivia’s entire line of work is to take care of people, as a mother would, no matter how much her clients or even her associates mess up, she eventually forgives them, just like a mother would.
Jezebel- Olivia has many sexual partners, but commits to none because the one that she wants, is taken…and the President of the United States.
Sapphire- Olivia definitely is not afraid to fly off the handle and get in someone’s face when she needs something done. She demands attention and respect from those around her (as most people would). Unfortunately, when a Black woman acts like this she is often seen as ghetto.

I argued that the reason fans (of which I am one) don’t realize these stereotypes are being portrayed within Olivia’s character is because 1) they’re happening all at once, which is something that other Black women characters on television don’t do and 2) Shonda Rhimes has added this layer of independence to the character. Because Olivia is so successful and great at what she does, we tend to overlook or ignore the stereotypes of black women that have been ingrained in American society dating all the way back to slavery.

Olivia is independent of her family, her friends and a significant other, which makes us love her. She’s powerful and has created a name for herself in Washington D.C., she is a future PR woman’s role model, but despite all those things her character still perpetuates stereotypes of Black women in media.

I concluded with one main thought: Scandal is not new. The show is not a new concept, but rather a very well written twist on past stereotypes of Black women in media. It is so popular among minorities, specifically women because for once we are seeing a successful Black woman, on her own. In fact, the theme of the Independent Black Woman is very popular right now with shows such as Being Mary Jane and How to Get Away With Murder. 

I’m not arguing that Scandal is a terrible show, my eyes are glued to the screen for an hour every Thursday just like everyone else. I am looking at Scandal from a critical view. I can enjoy the show, while also recognizing it’s flaws and I believe sharing my findings will help other become critical media viewers as well.

Like I said, it was such an honor to be grouped with so many talented students for this undergraduate research presentation. I had so much fun sharing my findings and gushing about Scandal with students, faculty and alumni.

I am NOT My Hair

Black hair, it is often misunderstood, and the butt of many immature jokes. But what happens when a college student speaks out against the stereotypes of her races hair, in order to break away from the stigma?

This week, in my Sociology, class we watched a short documentary called “A Girl Like Me,” which can be watched here. Though the topic of black hair was only a minute portion of the video, I feel it is still a very important one to address.

I was taught from a pretty early age (so early I can’t even remember when) that straight hair was expected. It was the standard and  it was what successful black women did. So, as soon as I could, I got my hair chemically relaxed. I remember the first time I did it. It was life changing. My hair was long, down my back, it was straight and you could actually tell that my hair was a lighter brown and not black like I had thought before. I was in third grade and I spent all night running my fingers through it. I felt powerful and beautiful, and I loved it.

For those of you that don’t know, black women with straight hair get it that way by using a chemical relaxer that makes it straight. When we are born, our hair is usually curly, often tight coils.  As you can imagine straighter hair is much easier to manage, but constantly getting relaxers damages your hair. Most black women know this when getting them, but that standard of beauty is so strong they don’t care.

I kept getting relaxers until my senior year of high school. I’m not really sure what came over me. I just got fed up with it. It was expensive, my hair wasn’t growing, and I was going to school 7 hours away in less than 3 months. I knew I wouldn’t have a way to get it done in Missouri (at least not right way).

So, I cut it.  My mom didn’t really understand it, my choice to “go natural” in fact, most people didn’t and still don’t. You see, I was born this way, the unrelaxed hair on my head currently is how I was meant to wear it, otherwise, God wouldn’t have given it to me, right?

Now a lot of people will say it’s unprofessional, it’s nappy, it’s weird, its making a political statement, but none of those things are true and this is something the video, “A Girl Like Me,” failed to mention.

In fact, a lot of documentaries and TV shows address the topic of black women returning back to their natural roots, but few feature actual black women stating why. And the reasons can vary. This clip, from the Melissa Harris-Perry Show, on MSNBC, offers a few reasons why women might choose to return to their natural roots. They can be as simple as mine, or some act of rebellion, it just depends. No matter what the reason, lumping all natural hair girls in the same category will never be okay. In fact, it’s actually pretty ignorant.

There’s nothing super special about my hair or why it looks the way it does on a daily basis. I’m not this deep misunderstood individual because I’ve got curls on my head while most black women my age have long black weave. It’s a personal preference, not a political statement, nor a standard of beauty.

The more people learn that, the better off we’ll all be.