Amber McAllister, a self-proclaimed white country girl, asked a very innocent and thought-provoking question on Facebook about an article in Essence Magazine that reminded me of a question I’ve been asked so many times before: “Why are there so many black magazines?”
I used to answer this question bitterly with another question, “Why are there so many white magazines?” And I’d get the usual response, “These are not white magazines. These magazines are for everyone.” The first time I ever heard that response from a white woman, I was in line at the grocery store. I’d looked at the covers of Vogue, Glamour, and Women’s Health. Then I’d glanced at GQ, Time, and People. And I remember thinking to myself dismissively, These magazines are not for me. And I also remember wondering why are magazines with black people on the cover and on the pages in between only for black people, but magazines with white people on the cover and in all the pages in between are for everyone?
As I started to explore that question with books and articles about the history of black people in America I also started to discuss the subject with people of other races and cultures and I formed my current opinion based on that research. First of all, let me point out the fact that Ms. McAllister even thought enough to ask the question shows me there are still a lot of gaps between our races that can only be filled through further exposure of the black culture – and I ‘m not just referring to music, food, and fashion. But also, I am relieved that the question is being asked, because it shows that there is a healthy curiosity and an interest to bridge the gaps.
Now let’s get to my lengthy, opinionated response…
Ever since Africans were brought to this country we have been systematically and intentionally excluded from society even after we legally became a part of it. We were not portrayed in the media in a normal, positive manner. And we – as well as whites and other races in the US – were conditioned by the misrepresentation of black people in the media to believe that blacks are neither intelligent nor attractive, that blacks are more violent and quicker to anger than other races, and that we are incapable of normal, romantic relationships as well as many other human connections. Therefore, we were deemed inhuman and have been treated inhumanely as a result.
Being excluded from any group can cause emotional scars, but when you add the poor displays in the media it’s most comparable to a school girl being treated as an outcast by the popular girls who are also spreading untrue, negative rumors about her to the entire school. This sort of bullying would cause a tremendous amount of psychological damage to that poor little girl. She may even go so far as to attempt suicide as a means of escape. So imagine what that sort of cruel and unprovoked treatment would do to an entire race of people over hundreds of years and throughout generations. For blacks in America it bred low self-esteem and perpetuated a deep-seated feeling of inferiority which has led to many other side effects within our culture.
In order to change the way we as black people feel about our race, we decided to empower ourselves by carving out a place for black people in the media. This action was taken for the sole purpose of providing our race and other races with more realistic images of black people while displaying our distinct differences (such as skin color, dialect, hair texture, body type, family dynamics, humor, etc.) and our commonalities with other races (such as basic human qualities like health, relationships, careers, parenting, emotions, etc.). These images were of people we could relate to, who didn’t make us feel like we were invisible and inferior. These images helped to dilute the misrepresentations of the past and to reintroduce ourselves to other races. And that’s why we now have magazines, television shows, networks, news outlets, movies, commercials, cosmetics, clothing, and other products that are marketed specifically towards black people. A part of this movement in the media has brought about slogans and hashtags like #blacklove, #blackgirlsrock, #blacktwitter, #unapologeticallyblack, and #blackgirlmagic.
These labels aren’t meant to divide the American people at all. They are meant to celebrate the qualities that make us different, which have for so long been degraded and disregarded. They are also meant to encourage black women, black men, black girls, and black boys to feel that it’s ok to be themselves and still feel like an important part of this country; to feel like we do matter because we haven’t mattered in this society for most of our inhabitancy in America.
IMO white people as a race do not seem to require this sort of support system within their culture because white people have always been fully represented in the media and therefore white people generally do not appear to suffer from the effects of societal exclusion. Many refer to this condition as white privilege and many believe that neither white privilege or institutional racism against black people still exists. But the truth is that both conditions exist and the denial is what keeps this country divided, not the acceptance of their existence.
I just want to add that I’ve noticed recently how natural it is for one person to respond to another person’s pride with disdain. For instance, if I tell my friend, “I am very intelligent and very beautiful,” she might think me conceited. But why is it conceited to believe that I am very intelligent or beautiful or to acknowledge it as a fact in front of others when every women’s magazine and daytime talk show out there encourages us to do so? Why is self-degradation more acceptable to hear than self-confidence? Shouldn’t we all celebrate what makes us individuals as well as what makes us a part of something bigger than ourselves?
I am a proud, petite, American, black woman from Baltimore City. I believe that the best things come in small packages. I believe that the Baltimore Ravens are the best football franchise in the NFL. But I don’t put down any other team (not even the Steelers even though it’s a fan requirement 😉 ) I believe that Abby Wambach is the best soccer player in the world, but that doesn’t stop me from wearing Marta’s Brazilian jersey. I believe that black is beautiful. It doesn’t mean that I think people with blond hair or with slanted eyes are not. I also believe that America is the greatest country on earth. But I loved the time I spent in England and France and I consider Germany my second home. These beliefs are just my way of celebrating what makes me me. If we can’t allow others to have pride in their individuality, then what does that say about how we feel about ourselves as individuals?