I’m a long-term subscriber to Essence magazine. I’ve had a hard time finding a magazine that “speaks” to me, instead cobbling together features from various periodicals in an attempt to read articles that engage all of my interests. And so, I also occasionally peek at Esquire, The Atlantic, and Glamour—three additional appealing publications.
I’d state that Essence, however, is a requirement for African American women seeking information on beauty and fashion. Its tagline is appropriately, “Where Black Women Come First.” For other “women’s interest” magazines not only do not cater to a black woman’s needs, but are often blatantly harmful to black women in their use of brown skin and black cultures as a backdrop to highlight white beauty. And so, I’ve had to reject entertainment that purports to be for everyone, but in reality excludes or is dismissive of those who are black.
It is the reason why so many eyes are rightfully rolled when an uneducated person awash in anti-blackness decries the lack of a White Entertainment Television. One, there are dozens of stations that claim to provide universal entertainment, but in actuality serve the needs of white Americans solely or white Americans first. Two, Black Entertainment Television is not owned by black people—and exists to serve black entertainers to mainstream audiences. Black people have not owned BET since 2001 and are no longer the curators and censors who determine which black voices are deemed worthy of being heard and which black people are worthy of being seen. If you are angry at the existence of BET, I suggest you take the matter up with Philippe Dauman or Sumner Redstone. Black people have no control over the issue nor are their desires of any importance. The B in BET stands for who is providing the entertainment, not who is being entertained.
Even Essence is hamstrung by a tagline that claims to provide for all black women. In actuality, articles that do not deal with beauty and fashion are heavily geared towards a black female audience that is American, Christian, and straight. And that is exactly what happens when a form of entertainment claims to be for all—privileged groups are given preferential treatment. Attention is not equally allotted to all groups unless voices demand to be heard.
In the “Natural Hair” movement—created and nurtured by black women who face institutionalized discrimination due to the texture of their hair—there is currently a discussion over whether the white women with curly hair who have brusquely demanded inclusion in the movement should be embraced. To reiterate, members of a group that instigated the institutionalized bigotry against black women with coarse hair textures, denying them inclusion in countless arenas, now wishes to be part of the movement established by black women as a coping mechanism to deal with their bigotry. Why? Because that coping mechanism has developed into a community that is profitable and popular and is now deemed to be of worth. The refrain seems familiar.
The white women who demand inclusion in the Natural Hair movement know full well that due to white supremacy they will be given preferential treatment over black women within the movement—making the community wholly useless to black women as a coping mechanism. They know this and do not care. They will take from black women under the guise of inclusion, snatching what black women were able to scrape together and build on the outskirts they’ve been restricted to for centuries.
For privileged groups, the idea that there could be one small item on the board—a board they primarily rule—that is not under their control, that is not designated for them first and foremost, infuriates them. And their response is to (1) demand inclusion, (2) usurp attention, (3) dominate, and (4) destroy as if a small, petulant child.
And yet, it is possible for one to be privileged in one way and stripped of representation in another. In other arenas, the comic character Wonder Woman has developed over the years into a powerful feminist icon and a deservedly beloved power fantasy for young white women and girls. Each and every child deserves to have a character that champions the idea that he or she is deserving of power and autonomy! Each and every child deserves to have a story where he or she is served first. Due to decades of notoriety, Wonder Woman is sought out above lesser known female characters such as Black Widow and Captain Marvel (great characters in their own right) as a national symbol of female power—a testament to the fact that a woman can be equally as strong and savvy as her male counterparts. Such a symbol is needed both in the wider world and most certainly in the mainstream comics industry, where white men primarily give voice to most characters and where the desires of white men are served first over white women, even when the characters being written for are white female characters.
“I think she’s a beautiful, strong character. Really, from where I come from, and we’ve talked about this a lot, we want to make sure it’s a book that treats [Wonder Woman] as a human being first and foremost, but is also respectful of the fact that she represents something more. We want her to be a strong—I don’t want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.”
I believe I understand what Finch, slated as the new artist for Wonder Woman, is attempting to say. He wants a Wonder Woman that is relatable, less of a symbol and more of a sympathetic character. But what Finch does not seem to understand is that when one strips feminism from Wonder Woman, one strips the power fantasy from the character. One makes the statement that yet in one more place the desires of female readers will not come first. Wonder Woman cannot be a feminist woman for women and young girls; it is more important for her to be a “human being” for all. The focus is on inclusion. Unfortunately, inclusion in an entertainment industry riddled with sexism is simply code for preferential treatment for men. A Wonder Woman that is not feminist is simply another sex symbol for male readers—in a landscape that is littered with them.
However, there is more than one Finch on the new creative team of Wonder Woman and I believe writer Meredith Finch understands the responsibility she has earned and the audience she is writing for. Meredith, as a woman, likely will not balk at the idea of putting women first—not in all things, but yes, in this one thing.
“Being able to take on that quintessential female superhero who represents so much for myself and for millions of people out there—especially at a time where comics are coming more into the mainstream—I feel like it’s really special, and that’s really where I’m coming from when I’m writing this. I want to always keep who she is and what I believe her core is central to what I’m doing.”
I cannot stress how important it is to have women writing about women for women—to have female authors in the mainstream who are willing to put women first. And yes, we need that for all oppressed groups on a national stage until the time comes that inclusion honestly means for all. I only hope that one day the mainstream will have black authors that are able to do the same for black people.
It is not discrimination, or “reverse racism,” or a claim that those who are not black cannot write black characters—no more than placing a female audience first in one book is evidence of sexism or the oppression of men. It is the honest admission that all Americans are taught anti-blackness by consuming a biased culture that denigrates black people, and only African Americans are forced to unlearn it in order to become emotionally whole (and some, sadly, do not). Those who are not black can simply continue to embrace anti-blackness if they wish to (though, thankfully, some do not) and are often rewarded for doing so due to how lucrative the exploitation of black people is in American society. Americans are taught to put the desires and needs of black people dead last at all times, even when creating material that feigns to be for and about black people. A black power fantasy that does not put black audiences first is not a black power fantasy; it is a story about black people for mainstream audiences—a mainstream where black people are perpetually held in last place.
To dismiss the demand for power fantasies for ostracized groups, to silence their voices, to angrily crush their desires for a miniscule region where they are allowed to come first is to hoard Band-Aids while those around one suffer from festering, open wounds. Yes, such dressings are insufficient—our culture is gravely injured—but to deny even that in a fit of selfish greed is incomprehensible.