We are the Dream and the Hope of the Slave. Not Somebody’s Stereotype

Courtesy of Disney ABC Television Group
Courtesy of Disney ABC Television Group/CC BY-ND 2.0

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

— Maya Angelou

Just in case you hadn’t heard…

Social media outlets exploded last month when the satirical website, The Onion, called Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis the “C” word. You heard right: They referred to a 9-year-old actress as a c**t. Being called such a derogatory name at any age is upsetting, but when you’re 9 years old and completely innocent (and adorable), and the name-calling happens on a social platform that reaches millions of people instantly, it can be downright embarrassing.

Hundreds of people jumped to Wallis’s defense and eventually, The Onion issued an apology. The apology — however sincere it might be — does little to fix the main issues with this all-too-familiar situation. First, there’s the issue that someone apparently thought it was cool to apply that word to a little girl, even in an attempt to be funny. Then, there’s the fact that this type of thing happens too often to too many black girls and no one bats an eye.

If it’s not name-calling, it’s all those popular reality shows that help maintain the ill-mannered, neck-waving, finger-in-your-face stereotype. You know the ones: a cast of otherwise gorgeous black women pulling off ponytails, throwin’ bows, cursing, and engaging in all-out catfights at the dinner table.

Even when black girls attract the spotlight by exhibiting pure talent or by accomplishing an amazing feat, their achievements are downplayed with crazy trivial attacks. Think about Gabby Douglas and her 2012 Olympic win. After making history, the media chose to criticize her hair (which looked perfectly fine, BTW), rather than celebrate her skill. Even Malia Obama was bashed online back in 2009 for wearing her natural hair in twists. And now, there’s Quvenzhané, the most recent example of how little respect is shown for us.

No matter what, know that your appearance — natural, relaxed, whatever — is gorgeous. Embrace those versatile strands that can be straight one day, braided or twisted the next, or worn in a ‘fro or poof, among other options after that. Not only can we black girls rock our hair however we very well please, we also get our education and deal with situations without the need for a neck spasm.

And while we might not be able to change everyone’s perception of us, we can change the way we see each other and ourselves.

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