On Sunday, BET aired the annual Black Girls Rock! awards show. Each year, Beverly Bond takes her nonprofit to the stage to give shine to black girls who rock. Hosted by Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King, the entire show is dedicated to honoring black women in entertainment and in local communities who are setting good examples for young black girls. The show has never been meant to produce negative social commentary or to denigrate any other ethnic group. Instead, its only purpose is to uplift. Sadly, uneducated haters on Twitter felt threatened by the popularity of the show and created the hashtag #WhiteGirlsRock in response. The ignorance which ensued is a great lesson in understanding one’s own self-worth independent of others who might want to bring you down no matter the cost.
Why does Black Girls Rock! have a place in our community? Well, because many black girls do not receive positive messaging about their bodies, hair, abilities, or aptitude from the media. As Olivia Cole at Huffington Post put it,”We need Black Girls Rock! because black girls and women are almost invisible in American media. Because if you were a black girl growing up in this country, watching TV and movies and reading magazines like every other kid, looking for some representation of yourself as something beautiful or heroic, you would be sorely disappointed.” Black women are typically slotted into three main roles (Mammy, Jezebel, or Sapphire), that is if they are allotted a spot at all. Statistically speaking, if the American public was comprised solely of the images we saw on television and in movies, there would be virtually no black female doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, singers, models, etc. Black Girls Rock! exists because the media continues to provide limited personae when it comes to black women.
One would think that an evening dedicated to honoring positive role models in the black community would be off limits. Not in this case though. Twitter users upset by the proclamation that black girls have worth too identified the hashtag #BlackGirlsRock as potentially racist and polarizing. Immediately, they countered it with #WhiteGirlsRock. Presenting the two as both antithetical to one another and mutually exclusive, these folks were saying a lot more than they may have meant. In essence, they were saying, “If black girls rock then white girls don’t and we know better than that.” They were saying that black girls can’t rock because white girls aren’t allowed to proclaim their worth on such a grand stage without seeming bigoted.
What those people don’t understand is that they don’t have to proclaim anything for little white girls. 90% of children’s shows feature white characters. 90% of dolls are white. Most of the hair textures of people on television are just like theirs. Being a part of the majority awards one with the ability to one’s self pretty much everywhere. Whites can see themselves in local markets, on the Supreme Court of the United States, at the head of most corporations, and in pulpits across the country. Little white girls haven’t typically experienced institutionalized racism teaching them that their hair texture is inherently wrong. Little white girls haven’t typically endured the pain of colorism. So, they just don’t need to be told that white girls rock. It kind of goes without saying.
Amidst stellar performances by Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Rowland, Ledisi, Eve, Alice Smith, Janelle Monae, and others, there were many awesome moments honoring and awarding positive role models for young black girls. Patti LaBelle, famed singer, was honored with the “Living Legend” award. Queen Latifah, rapper, singer, talk show host, and producer, was honored with the “Rock Star” award. Mara Brock Akil, writer and producer of “Girlfriends” and “The Game,” was given the “Shot Caller” award. Marian Wright Edelman, the mind behind Headstart, was given the “Social Humanitarian” award. Venus Williams was presented with the “Star Power” award. Famed black ballerina and trailblazer Misty Copeland was given the “Young, Gifted, and Black” award. And, one of the most powerful recipients of the evening, Ameena Matthews received the “Community Activist” award for her work to decrease violence in Chicago. Each of these women have worked to better the status of black women. Each of them has pioneered some facet of black women’s identities in their own right. And, each of them helps to show young black girls that they indeed rock too.
In her interview with MTV before the show, Queen Latifah summed it up well.
“It’s great to be honored here but really this is more a celebration of [Black Girls Rock! founder] Beverly Bond and the work that she’s been putting in with Black Girls Rock!. ..And [she's] really trying to tap into the community of young girls who are out there, who need inspiration and motivation.”
Little black girls need Black Girls Rock! because they don’t see themselves everywhere. And, often, the images they do see of themselves are stereotypical and caricatured. Black women having pride doesn’t diminish white women or any other group for that matter. That is the great thing about self-worth. It is non-transferrable. It doesn’t lessen or weaken based on any external impetus. It just is. And, we all have it.
Hopefully, those people took a moment to actually research the show and the nonprofit behind it after they made their comments. It’s saddening to think that such positive events can be hijacked by uneducated, limited thinkers. But, it just underscores the need for foundations like Black Girls Rock! and The Worth Campaign. The more we do to normalize our self-worth, the less others will be able to do make us question it.