How 2016 Became My Blackest Year Yet
You wouldn't know it judging by my recent #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackGirlMagic Facebook posts and tweets, but there was a time not so long ago that I was ashamed of being Black. I'll spare you the details, but growing up, I'd pray to God to make me White so I could be as beautiful as the skinny White pop stars who graced the covers of the teen magazines I read religiously. Obviously, you can see that didn't happen and I couldn't be happier.
One of my college friends has noted that I've gotten sassier in my older, but it's probably because I'm more "woke," which for those of you who don't know has been defined by Dictionary.com as being "actively aware of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights.”
I've always been aware of these injustices, but have only recently started to be as vocal about them on this blog and my various social media platforms. Why? Because I have a platform and I'm going to use it, dammit.
The Blackest Black History Month Ever
It all started, coincidentally, in February, which one of my favorite bloggers, Awesomely Luvvie, referred to as "the Blackest Black History Month ever."
First, Queen Bey dropped "Formation" aka the official Black Girl anthem out of NOWHERE. And White America realized for the first time that Beyonce is, in fact, Black. Lest anyone get confused by her light complexion and honey-blonde weaves, she let the world know "My daddy Alabama. Mama Louisiana. You mix that Negro with the Creole, make a Texas bama."
I kid you not, I probably watched that video about 10 times on repeat when it came out. The cinematography alone was #Flawless (not to mention the wardrobe, the hairstyles and the choreography). From the opening scene with Beyonce atop a submerged police cruiser to the image of a young Black boy dancing in front of a row of police officers who surrendered to him in a hoodie no less with the phrase "Stop Shooting Us" in the background, "Formation" was LIT. And to make matters even better, Beyonce performed "Formation" live at the Super Bowl the very next day. Bow down.
Then Kendrick Lamar came through the Grammys and brought the house down with a political statement about incarceration and Black men.
On Facebook, one of my White friends called his performance "scary." Why? Because there's a free Black man speaking out on a national platform about the injustices he faces on a routine basis because of the color of his skin?? I respect Kendrick because, unlike a lot of artists, he uses his platform to speak out on important issues and doesn't shy away from controversy.
And then, there were the Obamas celebrating what was most likely the Blackest Black History Month that the White House had ever seen, complete with an HBCU marching band (shout-out to my sister's alma mater, Morgan State University!), step team and EVERYTHING! It was glorious.
Almost as glorious as this...
Anywho, these epic moments set us up for what Luvvie refers to as the Blackest year on record. Please refer to the list below.
In April, Beyonce surprised us all with the feature premiere of her second visiual album, Lemonade, on HBO. And it was every bit of #BlackGirlMagic you'd expect it to be.
Despite claims of Jay Z cheating (did or didn't he?) and speculation regarding the identity of "Becky with the good hair," Lemonade was an ode to Black women everywhere.
And that was just the beginning...
See something, say something
In my personal life, I noticed a lack of diversity on two different panels within months of each other and spoke out about them. I just don't understand how, in 2016, in Chicago of all places, there's a blatant lack of diversity on panels about media.
Editorial board panel representing most of the mainstream media outlets in Chicago? Old, White men.
Women in media panel? Funny how it was only straight, White women and I know this because I'm Facebook friends with all of them.
Once upon a time, I would have just let it go and chalked it up to ignorance on behalf o the organizers. But 2016 L'Oreal was all "NOPE." It's like the TSA security message: when I see something, I say something. As a result, I now sit on committees for both of those organizations because it's hard to have a voice at the table when you don't have a seat at the table. Not invited? Invite yourself.
This summer, my high school (an all-girls mostly all-White Catholic high school, mind you) asked me to change the wording in my personal essay (ironically about finding my voice) in the alumnae magazine from "skinny White pop stars" to "unrealistic pop stars" and "feminist" to "strong feminine leader." I was NOT having it, so I fought back (politely, of course, because politics).
Listen, I get that your demographic and donors may be "uncomfortable" with race, but I'm not going to censor myself to make them feel better about themselves. It's not that that pop starts I admired were unrealistic (Beyonce is unrealistic, but at least we're both Black), it's that the fact that they were White and I did not see myself reflected in mainstream media. Representation matters, y'all. Also, feminism is not a dirty word. Long story short, they ended up keeping the original wording. #SmallVictories
Truth is, I'm not the timid, token Black girl I used to be. I have opinions and I have a voice and I'm willing to use it to fight for what I believe in.
Just because we're magic, doesn't mean we're not real
Then there was the BET Awards in June. I'd mostly tuned in to see BET do justice with a proper Prince tribute after the Billboard Awards failed miserably. But when the show opened with Beyonce and Kendrick performing "Freedom," I knew this year's show was going to be different.
Later in the show, Greys Anatomy actor and activist Jesse Williams delivered an EPIC speech after accepting the Humanitarian Award. You can read his full speech here, or check out the video below:
Admittedly, I used to shy away from political or polarizing social media posts in the past so as not to "offend" anyone and/or to "protect" my brand (it's fun, it's positive, etc.). And I didn't want to perpetuate the stereotype of the "angry Black woman." But I was angry. Enough was enough, I could not and would not remain silent any longer. And if I lost a few friends or readers in the process? Then so be it.
When men who look like my dad, my husband, my uncles, my cousins and my friends are being slaughtered on the streets, it's tragic, it's inexcusable, it's saying out loud for everyone to hear that Black lives don't matter.
Most of the White people on my timeline were up in arms about the tragedies in Paris and Orlando, but when Black men are being gunned down on American soil? Silence. And we all know silence speaks volumes.
Interestingly enough, some of them had found their voices AFTER the Dallas officers were killed, which for the record is also a tragedy, but said NOTHING about the Black deaths that preceded theirs. All lives matter, right?
To stand idly by while your friends are hurting, that's the epitome of White privilege.
And to those who did speak up and speak out, thank you. Thank you for seeing us, our pain and the injustice.
As a writer, all I have are my words. All I have is my voice and I'll be damned if I allow it to be silenced. And to all my bloggers, writers and influencers out there, I encourage you to use your platform and your influence for good. For change. For justice.
Don't let the nice-girl demeanor, college education, proper English, condo in Lincoln Park and relaxed hair fool you. As the above pin states, "I am VERY Black." And if you've got a problem with that, I ain't sorry.