Yesterday, the Onion sent out a tweet. It read: “Everyone seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?”
Why would a respected mainstream media source write such a statement, even if, like the Onion later claimed, it was supposed to be an ironic joke? Why would someone think it is okay to use the word “cunt,” a hate word which, like bitch or fag or nigger is politically loaded and insulting—a curse word recognized as unsuitable for business or professional communication? And, of all people, why pick on the little 9-year-old girl, the ONLY African American given a nomination, and attack her sexually the way Black women have been attacked by a certain aspect of white America throughout history as documented by the movie about slavery that was only given a nomination (and an award) to the two white men involved, however brilliant they may be?
This is just another example of the dismissal of the personhood of women and of people of color—and the special brand of prejudice, sexism and racism reserved for those who inhabit the intersection of being a woman and being a person of color. If you need the butt of a joke—why not make it at their expense? It’s the way it’s always worked in this good old boys club.
But its 2013.
Why can’t we get past this already?
Consider Gabby Douglass and the racism that made her move training facilities from the South to Midwest…not just the act of racism but how certain media outlets then tried to made it seem the racism was all in her head, ignoring the racist incidents and and their own responsibility in perpetuating it through their discourse and lack of coverage.
Consider the Williams sisters—two beautiful talented girls who were laughed out of tennis clubs, called men, threatened with steroid tests and ridiculed as “animals” and unfeminine, too strong.
Consider the First Lady, whose body has also been critiqued unendlessly for the last 5 years as being too lesbian, unwomanly, unfeminine, ugly, too fat, too dark, too nappy…all handled by Mrs. Obama with her usual unending grace and class.
Consider another little girl: Willow Smith, vilified for not pouring toxic radioactive chemicals on her still growing body to “relax” her hair, instead choosing a succession of natural styles to show off her self-love and self-confidence in defining her own girlness, her own Blackness, her own sense of self.
So, you may ask: What does this all mean?
It means that racism, sexism and stereotypes are alive and well. That there is a box young Black women are placed in, both by society’s prejudices and our own Black self-hatred after internalizing these prejudices. That this is unfair, this nexus of racism and sexism that twist our beautiful curly hair and brown skin and muscled feminine bodies into something to be ashamed of, rather than proud of. That the strength of these young ladies to transcend the hatred of others and rise, is remarkable. That this is the same strength that propelled them to push their talent to the top of their game, to be better and better each day until they were simply the best. That this makes us respect them more. Kudos to them.
But what about the rest of us, who are not that strong?
So many voices and other possible contributors to better our culture and society—silenced. Not to mention the dangerous effect on individual psyche and society as a whole by trying to silence and stifle the identity of our sisters. Because, to quote the great MLK Jr., “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”