Is There A Strong Black Woman Trapped Inside Of Every White One?

Lifetime’s new show Girlfriend Intervention is not subtle about its message. Its premise is four black women giving a makeover to a white woman on the theory that, as they put it, “Trapped inside of every white girl is a strong black woman ready to bust out.”

They don’t even have to say “weak white girl” or “lame white girl” or “ugly white girl” or “unfashionable white girl” or “boring white girl,” because all those things are, before long, implied.

The four makeover makers are Tracy Balan on beauty, Nikki Chu on “home and sanctuary,” Tiffiny Dixon on fashion, and many-many-many-time reality star Tanisha Thomas (most notably of Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club) as your — this is real — “soul coach.” Thomas lays out her philosophy early in the first episode, saying that black women are taught that no matter what else is going on in your life, “as long as you look fabulous, that’s all that matters.” On the other hand, she says, “with Caucasian women, you get married, you marry the man of your dreams, you have his children, and now it’s time to stop taking care of you? Girl, I missed that memo.”

Are you a black woman? You might find this offensive. Are you a white woman? You might find this offensive. Are you neither? You might be thinking at this point that you’re lucky to be left out of the entire thing. (Be aware, though, that no one is safe. Near the end of the first episode, Thomas exaggeratedly compliments the hotness of the made-over white woman by yelling, “Muy caliente, salsa picante mucho!”)

Like so much of makeover television, this is shaming dressed up as encouragement (they actually call the segment where the makeover candidate shows them how she currently dresses the “catwalk of shame”). It’s conformity dressed up as individuality, and it’s submission to the expectations of others dressed up as self-confidence.

Only now, with obnoxious racial politics slathered all over the entire thing!

It is not like those politics need to be introduced by the viewer, either: They are the premise of the show, and they are repeated over and over. Black women, we are told in so many words, are unerringly confident, gorgeous, stylish, unflappable, and — ah, yes — better at pleasing men, especially black men. In the first episode, the target, Joanie, has a good-looking black husband, which the women make clear makes sloppy dressing a worse crime than it would be otherwise. “A black woman would never let herself go with a man like that,” the soul consultant announces. The second episode, in fact, also features a woman, Emily, whose partner is a black man. “Now, I know there’s a hot mama hidden in Emily. After all, she got a black man!” says Tracy.

(By the way, just when you think the show can’t get more awkward, the second episode brings a moment in which Emily explains that she met her husband when she reached out and, fascinated, touched his hair. Do we need to talk about how one does not do that? One does not do that. This goes unmentioned.)

Black women are also presented as more fundamentally honest. Your white friends are lying to you: “With Caucasian women, everybody’s afraid to say how they really feel.” Your new black friends, on the other hand, are here to save the day: We are told that they “have the guts to tell you what everybody is really thinking.” But they’re not mean! “We do it out of love. Tough love, as a sister to another sister.”

All of this is overtly about the manipulation of identity. It is made clear from the beginning that dressing in the way these consultants suggest is, to them, fundamental to being truly black if you’re black, and to bringing out your inner black woman (who is presumed to be superior to your outer white woman) if you are white. The fashion consultant, as she observes Joanie’s clothes, says, “No self-respecting black woman would ever hide herself in this if she wants to keep her black card.” And the hits go on and on: In the second episode, Emily is taken to a studio to rap. And she’s given a gold chain. And a hoodie. For the empowerment, you know.

On this show, all toughness, and in fact all showing of spine among women, is associated with being black, as we learn when Joanie shoots one of the consultants an unhappy look about an unflattering outfit in which they’ve placed her, and they immediately seize upon how easy it was to bring out her “black woman.” With all due respect to these particular four women, I learned the throwing of a proper stink-eye from my mother, thank you very much, and I would put my stink-eye up against anyone’s.

The casually insulting way these consultants approach their white … clients? … is unappealing, certainly, but the show’s approach to the consultants themselves, and to black women in general, is hugely problematic, too. The black women on Girlfriend Intervention, like the gay men who did the work on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, are supposedly being saluted for their (stereotypically) superior style and knowledge and backbone, but are cast as helpers and facilitators for the benefit of, respectively, white women and straight men, valued for what they can offer and required to display sass at all times in sufficient amounts. (Among other things, it’s unfortunate that other than Thomas being the loudest, they don’t much distinguish the four stylists from each other, either.)

Popular entertainment targeted to white women is thick with obnoxiously other-ish fairy godpeople: the gay friend, the keeping-it-real black friend, the Latina neighbor, the wise black boss. There’s always some earthier, real-er, truer person whose task it is to flutter around to provide perspective, to fix what’s broken, and often to embarrass you for your foolishness. This is problematic for white women who don’t care to be cast as badly dressed, helpless dummies who need constant life coaching, but it’s no better for black women who don’t care to be cast as flashy-dressing, finger-waving, fast-talking fixers whose mission is making Cinderella presentable for the ball, or for gay men who don’t care to be asked to tag along on shopping trips.

It’s not your black friend’s job to tell you how to believe in yourself and keep your man (the concept of not having a man one is desperate to keep is seemingly foreign to the interventionists); it’s not your gay friend’s job to style you. Friendship is not quite so transactional.

(It must be said, too, that one of the show’s challenges is a simple and serious one: at least in the first couple of episodes, the woman doesn’t look very good or very comfortable in the things they choose for her. It’s one thing to be in charge of sewing Cinderella’s dress, but if she looked better when she was cleaning out the fireplace, you have a problem.)

What makes this particularly disappointing as a Lifetime show is that Lifetime is a network that has actually tried to appeal to more diverse audiences, as NPR’s Priska Neely reported just last month. It’s entirely possible, moreover, that there’s a good show to be made in which black women and white women talk about beauty, confidence, self-care, and how they may see and experience some of those things differently. There’s such a thing as the politics and emotional weight of hair, of style, of body image. But you don’t get there by appointing black women as essentially beauty and style assistants to white women they treat like dolts.

Speaking personally, I walked away unconvinced that I have an inner black woman. I probably have an inner white woman who’s more confident than the outer one. I probably have an inner white woman who’s better at dressing myself, and I probably have an inner white woman who’s better at interior decorating. I definitely have an inner white woman who wears better shoes. But no matter what women I manage to raise from within, they will all be white women. Nothing I say, nothing I do with my hair, no color I put on my walls, will make that any less true. And frankly, I feel neither entitled nor required to act otherwise.

Black woman

*Article originally published on NPR.

Why I Am So Upset Right Now!

Mike Brown Jr

What if Mike Brown was your child? How would you feel? What if your child was unarmed, murdered & left for dead in the street, uncovered, for up to 4 hours? What if you weren’t even given the name of your child’s murderer or witnessed the character assassination of your child all over the news? How would that make you feel?

Today the body of Michael Brown Jr. was laid to rest near St. Louis, Missouri. For more than 2 weeks, protestors & people around the world have shown their disgust & disagreement with how Officer Darren Wilson handled the entire situation.

This affects me personally because as an African American, I understand the systemic forces this country exercises against people of color (particularly people of my color). Time & time again we have seen young unarmed African American men get shot down by White officers, resulting in little to no justice. It hurts to think that in 2014 you can lose your life just because of the color of your skin.

But Mike Brown was a criminal – didn’t he just steal from a local convenience store? Since when does petty theft, “strong-arming” someone or even jay-walking mean your life should be taken? It doesn’t. Mike Brown was not yielding a weapon, aggravating the police or was given the opportunity to defend himself before being murdered in the middle of the street. Whether or not these young men have children out of wedlock, dropped out of school or have even committed crimes – none of that merits being gunned down in cold blood.

This is not a Black/White issue; why is everybody making this about race? Because it is. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, from 2006 – 2012 a White police officer has killed an African American at least twice a week in this country. African Americans are almost twice as likely to be killed by police as cops are likely to be murdered in the line of duty. How is that not racially profiling? Simply put, police kill African Americans more frequently than you may realize.

I watch the news. I see how much crime they commit. African Americans are more likely to get caught, arrested, and jailed for longer periods of time than their White counterparts for the same crime. The Human Rights Watch has found that people of color are not any more likely to use or sell drugs than white people, yet they have a significantly higher rate of arrests. African American citizens encompass 14% of regular drug users but are 37% of those who are arrested for drug crimes. Same crime, but a harsher punishment. How is this our fault? Not to mention that the media paints a bad picture of African Americans in general. How is that when African Americans break into stores & take things out of protest it’s called “looting”, but when the news is talking about the Iraqi’s doing the same thing (as in ISIS), it’s called “marauding”? What’s the difference? The difference is that one term is used to portray African Americans negatively. And that’s where the misperceptions begin – people watch the television & think African Americans are savages because they are speaking out. But they’re really not – they are just fed up!

Infographic 1

Let’s take a look at some of the lives of African American men we’ve lost over the past 15 years. What do all these young men have in common? They all died at the hands of White cops, unarmed:

  • Amadou Diallo – Four New York City police officers were acquitted of all charges in the death of Amadou Diallo. He was shot 41 times as he stood, unarmed, in the vestibule of his apartment building in the Bronx. (2000)

Diallo

  • Patrick Dorismond was a security guard & father of two who was killed by an undercover New York Police Department officer. The undercover police officer approached Dorismond and his friend as they were standing outside of a lounge and asked him where he and his partners could purchase marijuana. Although Dorismond declared he was not a drug dealer he was shot to death. He was only 26. (2000)

Patrick D

  • Timothy Stansbury – There was no warning & the police didn’t even identify themselves. Stansbury was shot in the chest and staggered, bleeding, down five flights of stairs to the building’s lobby where he collapsed. Even the police commissioner held an immediate press conference to acknowledge that “there appears to be no justification for the shooting.” (2004)

timothy Stansbury

  • Sean Bell – Undercover cops fired at least 50 rounds of bullets into a car carrying Sean Bell and two of his friends as they left his bachelor party. The police fired 31 times, emptying two full magazines. Bell was shot in the neck, shoulder and right arm and died at the hospital. He was only 23. (2006)

Sean Bell

  • Oscar Grant –Ever hear of the movie ‘Fruitvale Station’? Grant was fatally shot in the back by a transit officer at an Oakland train station on New Year’s Day 2009. The now-former transit officer admits he mistakenly used his service revolver when he meant to grab his taser. A criminal court jury convicted the transit officer of involuntary manslaughter in 2010 but completely acquitted him of murder. He was released in 2011 – that’s right, he only served 1 year for killing an unarmed young man. Grant was only 22.

Oscar Grant

  • Kendrec McDade – A 19 years old & unarmed, he was killed in a shooting by Pasadena, CA police. A 911 caller falsely reported that two men with guns had stolen a backpack from his car. As police chased and fired several shots, some from close range. The Los Angeles County District Attorney cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing. (2012)

McDade

  • Ramarley Graham - 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was leaving a Bronx bodega with his friends, when he was followed by members of the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit of the NYPD. Footage from his home’s surveillance camera shows that Ramarley approached the door of his house, unlocked it and walked inside. Multiple officers swarmed the house, entering through the back without a warrant and letting others in through the front. He was followed upstairs and into his bathroom, where he was shot in the chest. No weapon was ever found. (2012)

ramarley graham

  • Jordan Davis was gunned down by citizen Michael Dunn recklessly as he shot into a car full of African American teens after complaining about the volume of their music in a convenience store parking lot. Three of his 10 shots struck Davis, killing him right away. Davis was only 17. (2012)

Jordan Davis

  • Trayvon Martin - a 17 year old Floridian was fatally shot & killed while holding a bag of skittles & wearing a hoodie. He was gunned down by a neighborhood watch volunteer, who was acquitted of all charges. (2012)

Tryvon martin

  • Jonathan Ferrel - Ferrell, was working two retail jobs and had recently moved to the Charlotte area. Mr. Ferrell was dropping off a work colleague and drove down an embankment. The car was so damaged he had to kick out the rear window to free himself. Unable to find his cellphone, he stumbled to the first house he found and knocked. Inside, a white woman home alone with her infant daughter panicked and called 911. A Black man, she said, was trying to break in. Three officers arrived & one fired a Taser, which missed its target. Then 12 shots were fired, 10 of which hit Mr. Ferrell. Autopsy results included in the lawsuit show the bullets entered his body and traveled downward, which supports that Mr. Ferrell was already on his knees or lying on the ground when he was shot. Officers then handcuffed him after he was already dead. He was only 24 years old (2013)

Jonathan Ferrell

  • Seventeen year-old Kendrick Johnson was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat in a South Georgia high school in January, 2013. The school has tried to cover up his death & the circumstances surrounding this tragedy are still unanswered.

Kendrick  Johnson

  • Eric Garner – a married father of six, was murdered after a New York City police officer put him in an illegal chokehold. He repeatedly stated that he couldn’t breathe & and the medics weren’t called for several minutes. Once they arrived, they took no action to save Garner’s life. Eric Garner was unarmed. (2014)

Eric Garner

  • Ezell Ford – a 25 year old mentally challenged man was shot and killed in Los Angeles while lying on the ground. He was unarmed. He was only blocks away from his home when officers stopped him. Police claim that it was an “investigative stop” but have not stated why Ford was being investigated. (2014)

Ezell Ford

  • Unarmed Michael Brown Jr. was killed after being shot 6 times because he was walking in the street, “blocking traffic.” Brown was a recent high school graduate and was scheduled to start classes at a Missouri trade school, just two days after he was killed. He was only 18 years old.

No parent should EVER have to bury their child. This has got to stop! If you want to be a part of the movement, contact your state Senator and tell them you want a more diverse police force & better trained officers in your area. If you’re not registered to vote, click here to register so you can vote the best officials into office. This November make sure that you vote for the people who you feel would best represent your community – NOT just you.

No one deserves to be gunned down for the color of your skin. Speak out now; Michael Brown Jr. could’ve been your child.

MikeBrown