Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 12 NOON
April 25, 2013 @ Broadside Press, The Wright Museum, Detroit, MI
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The character Sarah Jane Johnson was depicted by actress Susan Kohner.
Sarah Jane is a beautiful girl. She has dreamy brown eyes, long dark brown hair and a super curvy figure. Her parents are both black people. Her mother, Annie, is dark brown with a similarly curvy figure and pleasant full cheeks. Her father, now deceased, was also black but with very light skin and straight hair. Sarah Jane has her father's complexion and hair texture. She has the type of beauty that most people notice immediately. But Sarah Jane has a problem. She hates being black.
One Christmas when she was a child, her mother told her and another little girl the story of Jesus' birth. She promptly asks, "What color is Jesus?" There was discussion back and forth but little Sarah Jane finally settles the matter with, "He was white -- like me." She could not fathom celebrating a Savior of color. There were other incidents. In a fit of tantrum, she rejected a black doll over a white doll. She publicly denounced her mother in front of classmates and work mates. She openly rejected any social settings that involved black people. Sarah Jane wanted nothing to do with the African blood in her veins.
Fast forward to my life and this past Thursday morning. It started like any other morning. I had on a suit. I purchased my usual grande soy chai latte. I concentrated on the press releases that I needed to send out and the event I had to attend later. It was completely unremarkable.
That is, until I hear the radio personality talk about some scientist/researcher/knucklehead type who had written a blog about how African-American women are less attractive than women of other races. This was not in the Enquirer or The Star or People Magazine. This was in Psychology Today. A supposedly reputable source…
I spent the rest of the day reeling. African-American women get plenty of reinforcement about their "ugliness" in this society. Especially my type of African-American woman… You know the type: heavy-set sisters with flat noses and short hair and full lips and dark skin.
Our images are rarely shown as beautiful. We are often not the first choice of African-American men or men of other races. When we make it into a mainstream movie, we are most often not the love interest. At best, we get cast as the loud, bodacious, tough-talking friend. Probably all that testosterone…
Oh yeah, didn't I tell you? The article states that African-American people have higher levels of testosterone. It makes the men more attractive and it makes the women less attractive. The underlying subtext is that the less African our features are than the more attractive we are. But isn't it about more than attractiveness? Isn't it more about white as normal and everything else as other? Sarah Jane understood this at a visceral level so she spent a lifetime struggling to fit in with a society that labeled her as unworthy based upon the African blood in her veins.
So what's my point? I'm not sure. I think I am just angry. I am tired of this society calling me ugly. I am tired of trying to prove that my ideas and my existence are just as valid as those of my non-black companions on this earth. And yes, Sarah Jane is just a fictitious character from the 1959 movie, Imitation of Life. But her story rings true and tugs at my heart strings. As black women, there is an underlying subtext that we are not valuable. Sarah Jane, as flawed as she was, understood that societal subtext better than most.
But if I am wise I will take the advice of Sarah Jane's mother, Annie. While I don't agree with her devotion to caring for her employers at any cost, I recognize her as the true beauty in the movie. And in the words of the very wise Annie Johnson, "It's a sin to be ashamed of who you are." The one exception is Psychology Today. They should be ashamed for publishing such a dehumanizing, insulting piece of dreck.
Read the article for yourself:http://theangryblackwoman.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/psychologytoday.jpg
(Thought this poem would be appropriate in the face all this talk about beauty.)
For the Girls
This poem is for the girls
who don't think they're pretty.
The girls who didn't date in high school.
The awkward sisters
who aren't admired for their looks
in the streets.
because they don't fit a narrow idea of beauty.
Not enough bosom.
Not enough booty.
Hair too short.
Skin too dar.
TV-fueled Saturday nights
barren and stark.
This is for that woman.
The one who doesn't know her worth.
Thinks she was deemed inferior at birth.
This is for the girl who doesn't realize
she was fearfully and wonderfully created.
Beautiful by design. Intrinsically fine.
This story was mine.
I dedicate it to you
and all the other girls who
don't think they're pretty.
© Rhonda Welsh 2010
excerpted from Red Clay Legacy
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