Dear Little Brown Girls,
I saw something.
And while I'm speaking to you, daughters of color, I hope you know that this attention comes with a responsibility--a requirement that when you see something (and I assure you that you one day will), you too will have to say something. Especially if it is on behalf of a sister, no matter the tone of her skin. I hope that you will talk to your girlfriends who are not brown about what's in this letter. Because even though what I saw isn't about them now, if we don't start speaking up--louder and louder, together and together--it will be about them next. Soon. Or, more than likely, they'll start to see the ways in which it already is.
First, little sisters, this is who I am: unambiguously dark brown. My soon-to-be husband is white--with a Nordic, cool complexion and eyes the color of some place tropical. I am disabled; he is not. We are both activists. We are both artists.
We are in love with each other, with fighting injustice, with cultivating spirituality, with caring for our relationships.
And we are in love with the crafted work of the artist's soul. If they make music, movement, or meals, we find it captivating to be in the presence of someone who has something to say; it is a privilege to witness them share it through their art.
And because Justin is a musician and I am a dancer, it isn't surprising that our life as a couple is enveloped in music. We cannot resist a groove. And I've got to say, I am feeling Zayn Malik's new single, Pillow Talk. In fact, if I had just listened to the song and not been browsing on YouTube where I happened to stumble on the video, I would not be writing this to you now.
But I didn't, and I was, so here we are.
As I said, little sisters, I REALLY like the song. I think it's dance-able, mature and just the right kind of raw enough for consenting adults who are doing their thing [read: want to have sex]. Because I am living with a terminal illness, I am someone who encourages people to talk about the "unspeakable things"--illness, death, dying, etc--I can respect the fact that Zayn's openly singing about sex, another often unnecessarily taboo topic.
My 14+ years as a middle school educator make me wonder if adults would just have safe, honest conversations about sex with young girls (and boys) like you as they're growing up, maybe some of the complications and confusion you face--maybe--could be allayed. I hope each of you has or finds a big sister in your life like that. Someone who can guide you through the heaviness of growing through your adolescence. Someone who can also explain why it's probably not a good idea for the really young ones of you to be singing the lyrics of such a sexy song like PillowTalk...
As you get older, you'll find that it is possible to hold two opposing views in your mind. You can simultaneously like something while at the same time dislike something about that thing.
Like how it is possible that I can like the song and be bothered enough by the video that I felt I needed to write you this letter.
When you watched the video, did you see her? Did you notice?
The dark brown girl.
Her nakedness is out loud--in color. "Other".
She is naked. Not "nude"; on her, it is more crude.
Her face is REPLACED--not once, but twice
with tips like metal, tips like ice.
Yes, there are other hints at nudity on other female figures, but not like on the girl who looks like me.
The other girls are shaded by psychedelic tones and trippy lighting and filters.
The other girls are shielded in their nudity.
And the only girl that I can identify with when I look at this particular piece of "art" for some sort of self-representation--some piece of my story-- doesn't even have an actual face.
Did you notice that, little sisters?
Once during my years as an educator, when I was particularly frustrated with something a student kept doing over and over, my mentor told me in a teachable moment , "You're going to have to go at this from a different angle. Remember, their BEST thinking got them here in the first place. And clearly that's not working out for them." Their BEST thinking...
When the men and women sat around the tables discussing this video vision, I wonder what worldviews and systems were already set in motion for each of them such that choosing her--brown, naked, faceless, spread eagle, screaming, metallic-- was their BEST choice.
The video has been out several days now. I can't find commentary from people noticing and being bothered by this. I've looked. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough, but should something like this be that hard to find? Really? No.
And that tells me that we are used to this story. We are used to the story where the black beauty is faceless or so grotesquely misrepresented that we don't even flinch. So, little brown girls, I do not want you to grow up one more second thinking that you are subject to the rules of the kingdom of beauty erected in nearly every mainstream video, magazine, billboard, band-aid shade (for the past SEVERAL decades), shampoo, make-up aisle, or most things labeled "flesh-tone." Anything where the default is clearly other than you. Where the assumption, the automatic response is NOT your curly, your kinky, brown, black, mocha chocolate shades.
The ancestors say, "Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter." Little girls, you are not faceless. I see you. Pick up the pen. Hunter be damned. Write your own story. And tell it like it is.
Love, mnikesa #LionLearnsToWrite #LLTW
For an alternative view of explicit, sensual, brown beauty in a video, I think these artists killed it.