When I heard about the “#whitegirlsrock” hashtag that trended on Twitter, my immediate reaction was, “Well, duh! Of course white girls rock. Are they unaware?” White women's beauty, talent, diversity and worldly contributions are affirmed everywhere: on billboards, on television, in magazines and in textbooks.
However, the breadth and depth of the beauty, intellect, work and legacy of black women is often marginalized. The cultural, intellectual and social contributions made by women across the African Diaspora are a part of human history and should be valuable to all people. The participants in the #whitegirlsrock hashtag, who heralded accusations of reverse racism, fail to acknowledge the history of racism in media including the perpetual absence of diverse stories and representations of black women. They also fail to recognize that this absence impacts the way women and girls of color, around the world, see and value themselves.
As a humanist, I believe that we all rock. My issue is that the commentary that followed the “#whitegirlsrock” hashtag was not even about affirming dynamic white women. Instead, it was about critiquing or even punishing black women for having the nerve, the audacity and the unmitigated gall to love and affirm ourselves!
In an article in the Huffington Post, Olivia Cole, a white girl who most certainly rocks, points out the exclusion of black women in various public spheres. In response to the white community that was offended by “#blackgirlsrock” Cole writes:
“All of the things you take for granted are what you're protecting when you shout down Black Girls Rock: your Whiteness, the system that upholds your face as the supreme standard of beauty, your place in the center of a culture that demands people of color remain hidden in the margins, present, but only barely and never overshadowing the White hero/heroine. Your discomfort with black girls who rock tells me that you prefer the status quo: you prefer for black faces to remain hidden, you prefer for America's heroes to have White faces, you prefer for black actresses to wear aprons and chains.”
Like Cole, I also think the anxiety that people have about Black Girls Rock!-ing reveals the blind spots associated with white privilege, including the inability to acknowledge that the privilege actually exists, a lack of accountability for prejudices and an overwhelming deficit in cultural competency. So whoever is offended by Black Girls Rock!-ing and whoever thinks that black empowerment threatens their own power should confront their own racism.
I started Black Girls Rock! to honor the many amazing women of our past and present whose unique leadership, strength, resolve, wisdom, talent and spirituality has catalyzed the advancement of humanity, yet who are often left uncelebrated or have gone under the radar in mainstream media and history. The affirmation Black Girls Rock! does not mean other girls don’t rock, nor is Black Girls Rock! an ornamental phrase used to cloak ourselves in vanity. Saying that we rock is a response to the tremendous neglect that black girls feel when they grow up in a society, or, as Mara Brock Akil said in her 2013 Black Girls Rock! acceptance speech, “where they grow up in a home where their picture is not on the wall.”
It’s insulting and quite nervy for a social media mob to attack a platform that affirms positive images of black women and girls in an attempt to belittle a movement that uplifts and celebrates our lives and legacies—yet to also remain silent about the plethora of damaging media messages directed toward black women and to blatantly ignore the social issues that black people endure.
I started Black Girls Rock! because the overwhelming social disparities within black communities and the toxic media messages targeted toward our youth has yielded a generation of black girls crippled by a lack of critical literacy, self-worth and positive identity development. I started Black Girls Rock! because I knew that we needed to hold our sheroes up as shining examples of excellence so that future generations of girls can continue to see positive role models who are proof of the dynamic women that they can also become.
From the suffragist movement to the civil rights movement, social change organizations and programs have been born out of sheer necessity. Because of the severe need that I observed, I created a platform where black women across the world can be seen in our beautiful and rich complexity. It is a space where black girls can rock in remembrance of our sheroes like Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Bessie Coleman, Lena Horne, Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks and Nina Simone!
The show Black Girls Rock!, which airs on BET, salutes those who stood on the frontlines and who endured unfathomable horrors while fighting for liberation. We celebrate the women warriors, past and present, who are crusaders for justice and champions of our people, our communities, our families, our race and our gender. And like the dynamic legends of our past, I know black girls will continue to rock because, as Iyanla Vanzant said in her 2010 Black Girls Rock! Awards acceptance speech, “We have no other choice!”
All are welcome to take part in this celebration of our history and our contributions to mankind, but know that our empowerment does not limit your own power, purpose, potential or worth. There is enough room for all of us to rock together.