Dear Stacey Dash,
I spent the majority of my middle school years trying to make my coarse hair feather back like Suzanne Somers and Farrah Fawcett. Do you know what happens when you try to make cotton-textured hair bend and blend? You end up looking like an airplane trying to take off — with two fluffy wings sticking straight-out on both sides of your face.
To add to my hair issues, I had no idea that I wasn’t supposed to use “Sun-In” to get blond highlights in my dark brown hair like some star said they did in Tiger Beat Magazine. Who knew that hair could turn bronze — the color of a penny? That summer, I learned that it indeed can.
That wasn’t the end of by beauty failures. Green eye shadow, purple eye-liner, baby pink blush completed my clownish looks. I got the combo brush/curling iron stuck so severely in my hair that it had to be cut out. Heck, the magazine said it would a”add body to my curls.” It wasn’t just me. I have girlfriends who tried curly perms (nobody told us that they weren’t for us).
I poured over the articles about what colors to wear to make blue eyes pop, how to mimic a “natural blush,” how to deal with rosacea, and how to prevent chlorine from turning my blond hair green. Not that ANY of these articles addressed me, a Black girl with natural, Black hair, but it was all I had. Seventeen and Teen magazines were designed for teen girls—just not Black, teen girls; but I like every other vain, teen girl out there craved the beauty tips, so I settled for the only things that were readily available.
Thank goodness, I could go to my Granny BB’s house every Sunday for dinner. She subscribed to JET magazine. In the middle, on page 43, there would be the “Beauty of the Week” and she was always brown—like me! I loved each and every Beauty of the Week because besides telling me their measurements and zodiac sign, they told me that Black is beautiful. Seventeen and Glamour weren’t telling me that. They weren’t even addressing me, speaking to me, showing girls who looked like me—at all. I was invisible to them.
Now, I’d like to say things are greatly different in 2016; but they aren’t. As I did, I encourage you, Stacey, to go check out the magazine racks at your local stores. What do you see? How many Black or Latino faces do you see on the covers? Then flip through the magazines. How many Black and Brown pictures do you see on the inside? If there weren’t Essence, Ebony, and O magazines where could I find a publication in which I could see myself—to have my issues addressed? I’m also curious to know if you have issues with the magazines directly created for and about Cowboys and Gun Enthusiasts?
Let’s talk about BET (Black Entertainment Television), which you say needs to be done away with, as well (quick question: were you cool with BET when you were cashing their checks for your work on their show, “The Game?”). Guess when the first Black artist was shown on MTV: December, 1982. December, 1982!! Prince’s, 1999 and then Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Billie Jean premiered in 1983. Before then, I sat 6 inches in front of the television to study and stare at Madonna, Olivia Newton John, and Blondie. Yes, that means that along with my jacked-up hair, I was walking around with lace gloves.
Consider who is the most popular background video star of all time?: Ola Ray (with her leopard print, capri denims), who was in Michael Jackson’s Thriller. You know why? Black little girls like me were so desperate to see someone Brown and beautiful on TV (and not just the traditional Esther and Florence characters). We ran out and got curly kits and a turquoise, capri jeans to mimic her. Her beauty was attainable. Do you understand what it’s like not to see yourself anywhere?
And do you know what it’s like not be celebrated anywhere, by anyone? You work as hard as everybody, oftentimes even harder, and no one says “nice job” or “good work.” So we, Black folks, created our own shows: The NAACP Image awards, the Soul Train Awards, the BET awards. They were the only venues in which our people could receive recognition for their shows, movies, music and achievements (and that sadly remains largely true), which is evidenced by the Oscar nominees.
Not only are our current accomplishments not celebrated; our past ones are largely ignored. Ask any student current or past: according to today’s History curriculum our people were slaves, and then there was Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s it. Period. How do I let my children know how great they are, how do I build them up to have pride in themselves and their people when history only presents them as slaves?
Accordingly, I have to provide my sons with the complete history of our great nation: fill in the omissions and correct the lies. “No son, you didn’t come from people who were slaves. You came from great people, who were stolen from their land and enslaved. No son, Africa is no more a country than Europe is. Africa is a continent. No son, Egyptians are Africans. Yes, our people built the pyramids and developed math. Yes son, Martin Luther King, Jr. was an incredible man, but there are so many incredible Black men and women who paved the path for you. Let’s talk about them. Yes son, our people fought in every war.” With the current history education that my children and all children receive, they leave schools believing in the myth of Christopher Colombus and not in themselves. So, Black History Month was created. Black people want their kids, White kids, and Brown kids to know that we are America too. So, we’d love to get rid of Black History Month and just celebrate American History—all year long, all of it, with all of us.
So, yes, my dear, we, Black folks, made up our minds a long time ago if whether wanted integration or segregation. Perhaps you should spend some time studying history to see how very much we want it, how very hard we have fought for it, how people—Black and White –have died for us to attain it.
BUT, we want it in substance and not just in form. We don’t want to simply be invited, we want to be included. We want to open up mainstream magazines and see Black and Brown faces throughout their pages. We want to turn on the television and see shows that are representative of the population, instead of shows like Seinfield and Friends that somehow were shot in New York but had NO diversity. We don’t want to be allowed to attend award shows in which, as history has shown us, we have almost no chance of receiving a nomination – let alone winning an award.
So, let me repeat: we made up our minds. We are so clear: WE DESPERATELY WANT INTEGRATION—REAL, AUTHENTIC, WHOLE, COMPLETE, INTEGRATION. We will stop being separate when things are truly equal. Until then, we will find a way, make a way to be seen, acknowledged and celebrated– one way or another –just as we always have – ‘cause that’s just the type of people that we (including you) are.