Dark Girls- The Ugly Ones





   I was eight years old and my two sisters and I where “helping” my mom do her weekly grocery shopping. You know, how eight year old’s “help” by sneaking biased- candy-based-food products into the cart and hoping mom doesn’t notice until the cashier swipes it at check-out. Well we were in the isle with all the cereal and such, and we passed by a lovely dark skinned woman that seemed quite excited to see us. She stopped my mom and her eyes brightened as she gleamed,


“You have such beautiful little girls!”

My sisters and I puffed up until the woman continued,


“Are you all mixed with something? Especially the young one she is very light.So pretty.”


  Stop right there. It was as if the woman implied that my light-skinned sister was the prettiest because she was lighter than my sister and me. It was as if she only complimented us in the first place because we might have been mixed with something other than black.As if the non-black part of ourselves was what made us so pretty. Light-skinned, a term thrown around the black community quite often with usually positive undertones. It is the sad, sad light-skinned/dark-skinned dichotomy that the new film “Dark Girls” builds itself.


  Dark Girls originally premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and after great reviews and grapevine chatter, made it’s way to OWN. The dark-skinned/ light skinned dichotomy is an issue that stems all the way back to the slavery, where the light-skinned slaves where deemed “good enough” to work in the house while the dark-skinned slaves were left to tend the fields. Over four hundred years later, the black community is still dealing with the backlash of this value system, and Dark Girls takes on the the difficult job of introducing this struggle to a nation that doesn’t seem to notice this is even a thing.We live in a society where black skin is scientifically the most unattractive of all the races, a society where an all American girl is quickly presumed to be blonde and blue. Of course it’s not surprising young girls of the darker persuasion feel like outsiders.


   I was one of those girls. As a preteen I remember searching online for ways to lighten my skin. I saved up my well-earned allowance to buy skin lightening creams meant for dark, under eye circles or minor discolorations. I would wish and dream and hope for the day I could be just a few shades lighter. I wasn’t bullied because of my skin color and it wasn’t even mentioned or discussed. No, it was the subliminal messages of our society, those little tiny signs in our everyday lives that tell us that white is better. The “nude” colored stockings meant for alabaster complexions, black rappers with their music videos in which they only include fairer-skinned black women as their “dime pieces” (while offensive in many other ways, still a low blow to dark-skinned women), those damned “skin tone” band aids that forever clash against my dark brown, paper-cut ridden fingers. Our society is white-centric, and as Dark Girls mentioned,  this is not just a black issue. There are far too many non-white societies of our world that face this desire to be more and more pale.


 The United States are the monarch of media for all of the world and as such, we have a responsibility to stop with the Euro-centric representations of beauty. Yes, it’s too ambitious to assume that the U.S. has the power to completely alter the world’s ideas of beauty. Many of our concepts of beauty are biological and therefore innate. However, let’s be mindful of the power of media. Subliminal messaging is a real thing. Dark skinned,young black girls that don’t even know the term “subliminal messaging” know to pick the white doll over the black one. That, my friends, is not innate, that is learned.


So call me greedy but I found myself wanting more of this. Dark Girls began a conversation our nation should have started a while ago and we should use it as a catalyst for more discussion. I do feel the black community is quite aware of shade preferences, and I’m extremely thankful for this film for bringing it to the attention of non-black people that may have been in the dark, so to speak. I must say, I am proud of my skin now. I’m beyond the wish of being white because I feel special and different in this skin now, rather than an unattractive outsider. But there are many young girls out there that are nowhere near as comfortable. We’ve gotta help them out. I wonder, were you aware of the dark-skinned dilemma before learning about this film? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

Advertisements

HBO’s The Out List

    First Published 6/23/13

 

 While doing my usual “what’s gay today” surfing on the Google, I came across a BuzzFeed article that damn near made my heart melt. As of June 27th, we all have the pleasure of watching interviews from the likes of  celebrities like Wanda Sykes, Neil Patrick Harris, and my queen of queens, Ellen DeGeneres as they express their opinions, stories and struggles of being out members of the LGBTQ community in the public eye in the HBO documentary, The Out List.

I can’t even imagine the plight of a queer pioneer. I simply came out to my family and close friends and that was the scariest situation I’ve ever experienced. To think that these people had the strength and fortitude to speak out about something so personal to everyone, in spite of what the reactions may be, blows my mind. Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian right in the midst of a booming career and her very own  television show. There was an immediate backlash from the media and even some of her so-called fans, and her career suffered from discrimination for years afterwards.Up until her admission, real-life lesbians were invisible in the media. No one spoke of them and it seemed easier to just pretend like we didn’t exist. But not anymore.


Thanks to phenomenal queers like Ellen, there’s no longer a need to hide . Look at all the queer representation in film and television now, what with shows like Glee, The New Normal, and arguably Rizzoli and Isles– we’ve come so far as a nation! These celebrities have trudged through the early disapproval and disdain for the LGBTQ community and because of them I am able to write openly today about my queerness and it’s not seen as strange or the sort of thing that needs to be kept secret. So, of course I’ll be catching this documentary when it comes out on June 27th! Gotta pay homage to the pioneers that have made my life just that much easier. And kudos to HBO for making a film about the rising acceptance of gays. They will definitely be on the right side of history with this one.

Peppermint Patty Man

First Published 5/26/12

A lot of people might despise commercials. Not me! I don’t need to wait till the Super Bowl to enjoy a good advertisement on the best razor or body wash. 

A lot of my joy for commercials comes from my joy of analyzing. I love breaking down the ad and trying to figure out exactly how they came up with a concept like that.  I find myself thinking things like-


 “Why did they choose a woman to be that spec of dirt dreaming of a sufficient mop to save her?”

 OR 

“ Why on earth is Jimmy Fallon reppin’ a credit card? Does he actually use Capitol One?”

 I believe advertisers are pretty intelligent folks and I know they have a significant and elaborate reason for every little discussion they make. So, of course I was overjoyed to find a candy-based commercial for Peppermint Patties featuring…wait for it… A MAN! 

 

Yes, I witnessed a man in pure bliss, devouring a peppermint patty. What a rare occurrence. Usually those Peppermint Patty commercials feature women. Quite frankly, actors in food based commercials that combine that element of ecstasy and pleasure are almost ALWAYS women. This is a breakthrough! I would argue that food commercials showing that much emotion are presented as feminine, but this guy just broke the mold. Advertisers are aware that every image they put out makes some sort of statement. So Peppermint Patty man does mean something. He represents a significant shift in our media. This man was masculine. Yes, of model attractiveness, but masculine none the less. A masculine man illustrates the idea that you don’t have to be a woman to treat food like an aphrodisiac. You can be a man and express obsessive emotions, strong cravings and melodramatic feelings. Being very emotional or quite moved by something does not make a man a punk. Thank you, Peppermint Patty man for being one of the first guys to change the tone. We needed that. 

All Those Ghetto Black Women

 

     

 

    Please take this time to imagine a black woman.  Name any old stereotype that comes to mind. Don’t be shy! Curvy, big ass? Loud? Ghetto.  Welfare queens. Tons of baby daddies. Overtly sexual or religiously prudish.“Angry black women”? I didn’t make these up. These are actual stereotypes that exist in American society today. No really, I literally just Googled “black women.” I must say, as young black woman living in the United States, none of these stereotypes represent me. However, too much of American media perpetuate these stereotypes on a daily basis. This makes me sad.

      If you decided to present a black woman on a TV show, so many factors come into play. You must be cautious not to create a stereotypical character-so as to not offend. But what sucks is you can’t have a loud, feisty,black female character without perpetuating stereotypes of black, feisty women. Minorities don’t have the privilege of just being human in media. If a feisty, loud white female character is on TV, white women don’t have to identify with that character as someone that represents their whole group. 

      That feisty white woman would be just an aspect of humanity; just a wacky character rather than a representation of female whiteness, because there are so many other types of white women presented each day in media to counteract. 

Now, let me level with you. There are definitely more white women in the United States than black women. There just are. This is no conspiracy. But that’s exactly why it’s not okay to perpetuate minority stereotypes in our media. It’s inevitable that stereotypical characters will stand to represent the whole minority. 

    So how do we solve this? Just don’t do it. No more stereotypes. I know, rash statement, but really that seems the only way to stop this. As an oddball skinny black queer with a degree in film and vegan parents, I’d love to see more minority female characters that I can relate to. It’s not so hard. Really! I once had a professor in college make the argument that if we all eliminated race descriptions from our vocabulary, that would accelerate our overcoming racism. I understood her point, though I feel that approach is far too Utopian. Instead, I propose we un-define race descriptions through our media but debunking deeply-rooted stereotypes in our characters.

 

 

     “Community” does a great job of presenting minority characters that are well-rounded and unique. There’s Abed, an Indian and Polish young man with autism and an obsession with film and television, Troy, a sensitive and imaginative black man with a boyish charm, and Shirley; while a single black woman with children, she’s also a brilliant ping-ponger. In spite of her mammy-like sweetness, she’s been known to have her fair share of romances and sexy-time. Shirley is humanly balanced, not stereo-typically flat.  Come on, it’s so lazy to write a black character that “just so happens” to fit every stereotype in the book.  Real humans are more than labels. And minority characters deserve more of these boxed-in portrayals. Thank you “Community” for all your quirky goodness. Now- More please.

I Wanna be Like Maude

 

Harold and Maude. I’d been contemplating seeing this film for at least a year before actually watching it. All I heard was that it was “really good” or “worth watching,” which I’m sure is understandably vague. For that reason, I had no idea how amazing it actually was! Ok,  Harold and Maude  tells the story of a death-obsessed, twenty-ish fellow that lives with his wealthy mother. He spends a lot of time faking his own demise, until he  meets the coolest, most adventurous 79 year old woman you’ll ever lay your eyes on, Maude.

 

 They develop a friendship that becomes a romance and while you may think this is odd from the outside looking in, I don’t think you’ll feel that way after watching this. I only say that because I found nothing strange or odd about their relationship. I found myself rooting for them. Really! The real reason I love this film? 

 

 

I wanna be like Maude when I grow up! Maude steals cars on a whim, dresses like a bohemian gypsy, totally borderline-horder status without seeming crazy, and truly practiced carpe diem. Maude represents the most natural and graceful form of beauty because she embraced  all that she wasl; No apologies! She wore little to no makeup and grinned her wrinkled smile with pride. Age meant nothing to Maude and I think that’s why their relationship seemed so … acceptable? Contrasting Maude to normal representations of beauty makes her even more unique. Youth seems to exemplify some sort of advantage when it comes to beauty. 

On one hand, this is understandable seeing that old age inevitably means less time to live, and most of us aren’t obsessed with the subject of death like Harold. Maude embraced her old age as an advantage rather than disadvantage. She appreciated her life experiences and took each day for what it was. She was thankful for her years rather than regretful of her past. Old age is often taboo, but with this story, it’s accepted. Maude shows us that aging gracefully, naturally and happily is beautiful. And I so admire that.

You Sweet Darling Little Girl, You

 

    Since age seven, I had a very narrow idea of the gender expectations of a young girl. And I must say,  I hated them.  I despised what ‘being a girl’ represented. A good girl is dainty. A good girl is sweet. A good girl is polite and kind and wears dresses; and heaven forbid she ever gets dirty. 

 

     I believed practicing femininity required a certain level of submission that I’ve never been too keen on. Whereas I saw masculinity calling for a bit of aggression and good amount of assertiveness that I’ve always felt was much more desirable, for the simple fact that assertion leads to more control, therefore more agency. Submission linked to femininity is the main catalyst to the flawed concept of womanhood in relation to men; that women are the weaker sex. I didn’t even realize that my ignorance was only fueling this dangerous belief.

You see,  I feared for many years to use my assertiveness,  in fear of being seen as too boyish, or too much like a tomboy. And this on top of my then closeted genderqueerness made everyday interactions with cis girls and women VERY difficult for me. 

     It wasn’t until my preteen years that I learned that being a woman does not mean you must be submissive. Let me rewind. In middle school I was very shy and quiet and insecure. One day one of my classmates thought it was funny to pester me with one of the arts project we’d just made in class. It was homemade potato head made of a real potato. Yes. Though I was annoyed, I sat there like a good little girl and did nothing at all.  He kept swinging the potato at me and I simply rolled my eyes, hands neatly clasped at my desk. But then I couldn’t hold it in anymore. The real me came out and I flung my hand out to knock his annoying potato out of my face. Before I could shame myself for being so bold, the guy punched me right in the temple. Like, right there. I’m surprised I didn’t faint. Everything I had learned up to that point about being a young woman flew out the window. I got up and beat that kid’s ass like a boss. No inhibitions, and far more impulsive that I’d EVER been before.

    It’s not the fight that changed my life but the reaction from my friends and teacher that completely altered my concept of femininity. And it’s all because instead of being scolded, I was congratulated for standing up for myself! For weeks the kids in school gave me the nickname Ali. When I got home my mom told me my teacher called and expressed how proud of me she was. What? I was so confused. I thought girls had to play nice. No. Submission is only a rather negative, stereotypical display of femininity, not what makes a woman. I know now that women can be assertive and aggressive and even crude, and that, I love. 

Queer Eye for the Bi?

 

 

  (first Published 5/26/13)

    Remember that time Cynthia Nixon said she chose to be gay and there was this huge backlash from the gay community over it? Well this is my take, months later. 

 

    Nixon later clarified her “choice” statement, claiming  bisexuality is indeed a fact, not a choice. However,  she still says that she chooses to be in a gay relationship.

    I don’t see why this was such an issue. It’s true that bisexuality is often viewed negatively in the gay and straight communities. Possibly because of the strong need for binary establishments in our culture. Bisexuality blurs the lines of sexuality that many feel should be black and white. Grey areas are confusing, and confusing topics are often misrepresented. 


   Nixon made an interesting statement on the sexuality spectrum when asked in a Daily Beast article whether she was a heterosexual woman in a lesbian relationship, or the other way around:

 

 

 “…I think for gay people who feel 100 percent gay, it doesn’t make any sense. And for straight people who feel 100 percent straight, it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t pull out the “bisexual” word because nobody likes the bisexuals. Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals.”

 

     Why is it so questionable that there might be more of a sexual spectrum rather than straight versus gay? As much as we like to box things in, it’s not always the case that everything is so easily defined, binary, or concrete. Honestly, as an out gay, genderqueer, I can’t say I haven’t found a few Ryan Goslings or John Cho’s attractive. Sue me. Let’s just face it; The fear of ambiguity stems from humans fearing the unknown. The unknown often leads to discrimination because if you don’t understand something, it’s difficult to relate. But an open mind leads to learning things you may not have known, otherwise. Think about it. Maybe, just maybe, bisexuality is more than just a stop on the road to Gaytown.