An open letter to Amandla Stenberg
July 16, 2015 at 2:00 am
I just want to thank you on behalf of myself and many other black women. We are so happy to see you flourish in the midst of backlash and perpetually-plugged ears, tone-deaf apologists and people who refuse to get past their insistence on making white young women forever the victim. We know your comments regarding Ms. Jenner’s hairstyle were not just about the braids. They were about us being visible in a society that constantly borrows inspiration from us without acknowledging our ability to be beautiful before they wear our culture as a costume for Instagram likes.
Black women are always told to hush. We’re accused of over-reacting, blowing things out of proportion, being angry, over-sensitive and the like. Your ability to express your concerns regarding our continual erasure is remarkable. Not simply because you are a poised young woman with endless amounts of patience, but because you know, even now, that you have a right to speak. We all have a right to make our voices heard, to share our stories and to insist that we be seen. You are one of the many bright lights doing so on a public stage. I am sure in the coming days, people will look to find fault with what you have done. They will continue to refer to you by your association with other people and reduce your intelligence and relevance because it’s easy for the world to dismiss strong black female voices.
A lot of what you said and who you said it to will be awash with hyperbole, dismissed as a gossip-based teenage feud instead of an integral part of a more important discussion, that we matter. You matter, your voice matters. Your thoughts matter. Black girls’ lives matter. But better still our words are worth hearing, especially when they make people uncomfortable, because peop are so used to brushing us off and praying that we just calm down. I stand behind everything you said, but I am also thankful that I know above all else that you are not afraid to say it.
I think it’s so easy to underestimate the lack of black female voices in the media. We all need to be reminded that we have a right to speak up, speak out and to do so often. We all have a right to remind the world that our voices are not angry because they are precise, our words are not harsh because they are true. Instead our voices are needed. We need young women like you to know it’s ok to share and that other people’s lack of comfort with you doing so is an indicator that women, in general, don’t speak up enough.
Black women are expected to be silent as we watch the world celebrate other women who capitalize hand over fist by emulating us and fetishizing our male counterparts. White women collect well on pay-days based on how many features they can amass at their plastic surgeon’s office in the hopes that they will resemble us without having to carry our burdens. Our voices should not be drowned out by the cries of other appropriating celebrities because they are unable to take ownership for their own abuse in relation to our image.
Keep speaking up and keep speaking out if you are moved to do so. Your voice matters, it is appreciated and it is valid. No matter what they say. We deserve to say our peace. We deserve to join the discussion, it’s long overdue.
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