Black Miss-Representation: We Need More Cicely & Less Meg
About 13 years ago, sometime around 2008, one of my colleagues in my doctoral course did a presentation on race and gender, specifically focusing on Black women. I remember that she pulled up a google search online. First she pulled up white women as a search. She showed the class what the images and stories looked like. It was very diverse. You saw white women as doctors, lawyers, business owners and even actresses. The imagery was overtly positive. The images were not misogynistic; they were images that if I was a white woman, I could be proud of. They were items that any woman could identify with and be proud of by saying they are representing me, who I am, or what I aspire to be.
Then she did the same exact search for Black women. I don’t know what I was expecting, but honestly since I personally value Black women, I never assumed that it would be any different than the imagery presented of the white women. Conversely, it was starkly different at the time. The imagery that popped up about Black women at that time all had to do with sex or imagery of the Black women’s body. Everything had to do with presenting Black women as an inanimate sex image. If memory serves me correctly, you had to go to the third page or so on google to see anything positive on Black women. Black women have been sexualized and idolized for the wrong reasons for a very long time. Of course this is not truly representative of who Black women truly are. Black women are so much more than shapely figures. Black women are queens, scientist, educators, lawyers, doctors, and entertainers.
When you do the same google search today the imagery is very different. When I did the search for white women I saw quite a few articles and imagery that deals with white women’s insensitivity to race and a lack of understanding of the privilege they have. When I see the imagery it reveals a page that has white and Black women displaying a melting pot of images and ideas. Not being very techy I am not sure what drives the SEO development, but I know the narrative has changed compared to 13 years ago. The articles of Black women are all uplifting and overcoming to achieve success. The imagery was of all beautiful shades of Blackness. Women exhibiting their natural hair and fully clothed. The narrative has changed over the last 13 years while doing a google search. That is a progressive step in the right direction for a change in thinking and a change in the representation of Black women.
However, there have been changes on some platforms, I see how much influence entertainment and entertainers have on generations. Take Meg Thee Stallion. She is the hottest female on the block. Her success wasn’t overnight. It came through years of hustle and hard work, waiting for the right opportunities. She has turned into a global sensation watched and adored by millions. Specifically, young Black girls. Black girls all over the world identify with Meg and publically sing about WAP or know the dance for I’m a “Savage” Classy, Bougie, Ratchet. Look it up if you don’t know what it WAP means. Meg has many facets to her as do all Black women, she proclaims to be classy, bougie, ratchet, and then the next minute she writes a phenomenal piece for the New York Times on protecting Black women. She carried a 2.7 GPA on her way through her college degree.
When you google Meg you see many images of her as the star that she is, but as a Black man who appreciates beautiful Black women, the first imagery I see that is most prevalent to representing Meg is as a “Stallion” stacked with a banging body. Showing off her assets as a Black woman. As a man I do not have a right to judge what a woman does with her body. The imagery that is created is entertainment and art, but it is selling an image. The image that it is selling to all, specifically to Black girls is one of a sexual objectification. Meg is beautiful and talented and doesn’t need to put her assets out for all to see. The identity that too many Black girls form with that is in line with what men, but specifically white men have seen for years stemming back to days of slavery and sexual servitude. It teaches little Black girls to lead with their sexuality to get what they want. Meg is so much more than a sexual being and it is believed that she has a responsibility as one of the biggest entertainers on the planet to present herself in way that that little Black girls all over the world don’t see WAP and Savages as their identity.
Take the late great Cicely Tyson for example. She died recently at the age of 96 after a career that stemmed over 70 years. She played in over 100 films, television shows, and live stage shows. She was an icon and a legend before and after her passing. Early in her career she played a variety of roles, even some as prostitutes, thus displaying Black women negatively. Somewhere around 1972 she was quoted as stating she will not play any more roles that do not postulate the Black woman in a positive light. She stated that she would rather go back to starving than play anymore of those roles. She won an honorary Oscar, and was inducted into the hall of fame for TV and Theater. There are too many accolades to name even after declaring that she would not represent Black women negatively anymore. She stood on values, morals, and principles which put forth imagery for young Black girls to identify with in appositive light.
nment is a powerful industry and Black women entertainers have so much power. Black girls in the daily struggle dream of making it out. Dream of making it big one day. Often entertainment is an escape to the struggles of reality. Your favorite rapper or actress often becomes the “Shero” for so many across the globe. It’s art, its entertainment, you can do, and make what you want. Yes, you can say your music is not for little kids, but when the 8-year-old is listening to the radio in the back seat of the car singing about WAP, what is Meg’s responsibility for that? Some may argue my points with valid arguments, but even the clean version on the radio says enough without saying it all. I do not wish to diminish any Black woman’s success; I just implore a level of consciousness to present messages and imagery that is in line with google 2021 instead of google 2008. We need more Cicely Tyson and less Meg’s, in not a call to cancel Meg, but to ask her and others like her to consider utilizing her voice and the rest of her career with the wisdom of her ancestors like Cicely. Understand your power and voice and that you will make your money because of your talent, not your assets. Little Black girls are watching everywhere and need more Cicely Tysons.
Dr. Paul Miller is an educational success expert with more than 21 years of experience creating systems and tackling approaches that help Black young men graduate. He is a speaker and the author of We Need To Do Better: Changing the Mindset of Children through Family, Community, and Education, and Cyberbullying: Breaking the Cycle of Conflict.
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