Another day on Twitter, comparing black women to dogs.
Ari Lennox and Teyana Taylor are very familiar with backhanded compliments.
Recently, one user tweeted, "Ari Lennox and Teyana Taylor's ability to have dangerously high sex appeal while simultaneously looking like rottweilers will always amaze me." To which, both singers responded by calling out the cultural toxicity that still attacks black identity. Lennox retweeted the post with the reply, "People hate blackness so bad." Taylor shared Lennox's response, commenting, "No lies detected."
People hate blackness so bad https://t.co/yXtTmhyf1S— Ari Lennox (@Ari Lennox)1577908095.0
@AriLennox the bad part is that people think this is a compliment— big idiot energy ✰ (@big idiot energy ✰)1577908207.0
But the discussion launched thereafter delved much deeper than the persistent scourge of cyberbullying celebrities. By comparing the two black women to dogs, the passive aggressive attack drew from a history of anti-black sentiment that's particularly targeted black women.
Lennox took to her Instagram livestream in angry tears to address the history of prejudice, systemic racism, and oppression behind the remark: "How people hate black people so much, how black people can sit up here and say, 'that's not my problem' or 'she does look like a Rottweiler'–that's fine–but you want to talk about being so sensitive?"
Most cuttingly, Lennox addresses the internalized racism behind the comment. In response to the argument shared by many that more culturally sensitive and inclusive language limits freedom of speech, she rejoined: "That's fine…but… Why is this your speech? Why are you so comfortable tearing down black women and no other race?" She called out the prevalence of racism and prejudice within the black community compared to other identities: "When are Hispanic women ever compared to dogs? When do they do that to white women? When are Hispanic men doing that to Hispanic women?"
Unfortunately, intra-racism, or internalized racism, occurs regularly among all groups (let's put aside, for now, the problematic issues with the word 'Hispanic').
Hence, we've tried to adopt a term to address such complex layers of misogyny, racism, bigotry, and all forms of oppression: "intersectionality." While the word's been badly misinterpreted among groups all along the political spectrum, the casual comparison between black women and dogs exemplifies the heart of its meaning. Simply, an individual is "impacted by a multitude of social justice and human rights issues," to the point that even conservative writer David French calls it "common sense": "An African American man is going to experience the world differently than an African American woman," French told Vox. "Somebody who is LGBT is going to experience the world differently than somebody who's straight. Somebody who's LGBT and African American is going to experience the world differently than somebody who's LGBT and Latina. It's sort of this commonsense notion that different categories of people have different kinds of experience."
All too often, those layers of different experiences produce particular forms of prejudices. The original poster, @WinEverUWantIT, was inundated with replies calling out the hypocrisy and misogyny of him, a young black man, criticizing the appearance of two successful black women. "Black men are the weak link in the black community," reads a top comment, followed by, "Let me clarify. Black men like YOU are the weak link in our community."
This caption is stupid.. 🙄 "Ya'll got Ari Lennox fucked up" ??? All of us should feel fed up with how people tr… https://t.co/ZbqO9gTZ8Z— Gigi 🇧🇸 (@Gigi 🇧🇸)1577970314.0
Lennox then tweeted, "Moms and Dads please love on your beautiful black children. Tell them they're beautiful constantly. Tell them Black people are beautiful. Tell them black features are beautiful." This past summer, Lennox told Buzzfeed she'd had many experiences with social pressure and prejudice to change her features, from her natural hair to her nose. "I would never get surgery and I love my nose," she said. "I just feel this is a conversation that needs to be had. There are black babies that have insecurities 'cause culture says it's funny to insult black features." She uses her platform to denounce the notion that black women's features exist outside society's standards of beauty: "Rocking my natural nose, hair, and skin — that makes me feel so empowered, because there's so many people out there that would rather me not do that," she says. "I refuse to change for them. Knowing that I can encourage someone else to rock their natural self really empowers me, as well."
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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