Siri, play I Am Woman – By Helen Reddy
I have loved Gabrielle Union from a distance. She was the cheerleader you loved to hate on Bring It On, the successful media personality on Being Mary Jane, and the badass cop on LA’s Finest. Over the years, I have watched her light up the screen without fully seeing her beyond the characters she portrayed. With her book, We’re Going To Need More Wine, I have never felt more connected to a woman of color in the entertainment industry. It’s like she held the door open to all the wisdom she’s acquired over the years, and I walked right in and took a seat. Of course, she is beautiful, strong, and funny. But in this book, I see her grow from a vulnerable child to a woman who has overcome so much to have a seat at the table. She had me crying, laughing, nodding, and sometimes, disagreeing. But most importantly, through this, I have come to value her voice and her ability to depict her struggles as a black woman unabashedly. As I read her book, I found myself highlighting some of the quotes that stood out to me. They’ve given me a lot to ponder on as a black woman and I hope it touches something within you too.
ON BLACK BEAUTY.
“You are pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” For years, whenever I heard this, I would tighten my lips into an impassive smirk, tilt my head as if I didn’t understand what the person was saying, and move the conversation elsewhere. Or I would simply end it. I know, it sounds like I was just called pretty. I get that it can be confusing. The phrase is used in the black community as if an evil unicorn had just been spotted prancing across 125th street. By God, all things are possible, and it is even possible that He sometimes makes dark-skinned women who aren’t ugly. Somehow, I escaped the curse of my melanin and Afrocentric features to become a credit to my skin tone. And you know what? I’ve grown tired of ignoring these remarks and what they mean about all dark-skinned women.”
“My mom was the most beautiful woman in the world to me — and I looked nothing like her. And as for my mother, only now do I understand why she decided to never praise my looks. It is because she grew up being told her looks would be enough. And they weren’t.”
“I was certainly guilty of being color struck in junior year of high school. I knew I was cute because I began pulling people the dark-skinned girls were not supposed to pull. That was the barometer of my beauty: who and what I was winning in spite of my blackness.”
“I have been told repeatedly that I am not worthy, so when someone says that I am, it feels like a setup.”
“You were fly, dope, and amazing from birth. From the second you took your first breath, you were worthwhile and valid. And I’m sorry you had to wait so long to learn that for yourself.”
ON BLACK HAIR.
“It would be naïve of me to say that hair is just an accessory. I recognize that black hair has been politicized, and not by us. We have since reclaimed that politicization. We have ascribed certain characteristics to people who rock a natural look versus wigs and weaves. If you choose to have natural hair, or even to promote the idea of natural hair, you are somehow a better black person than someone with a weave or someone who straightens their hair. You have transcended pettiness and escaped the bonds of low self-esteem issues. But I have traveled around the world and I know this to be true: they are assholes who wear natural hair and assholes who wear weaves. Your hair is not going to determine or even influence what kind of person you are.”
ON OWNING OUR BODIES.
“From a young age, most girls are not given the most basic information about their bodies. This means that we grow into women who often do not go to doctors regularly. This is because we are too busy putting others in our lives first or we shy away from sharing our personal medical information. People talk about our bodies solely as reproductive systems. So, we remain just as clueless as the Virgin Mary, learning she was but the vessel for something greater.”
“Repeat after me: I resolve to embrace my sexuality and my freedom. I resolve to do with my body as I see fit. And I will learn about my body so I can take care of it and get the pleasure I deserve. I will share that information with anyone and everyone who it may help. And I will not politicize the usage of anyone’s vagina but my own.”
ON COLORISM AND BIAS
“Most black people grow accustomed to the fact that we have to excel just to be seen as existing. And this is a lesson passed down from generation to generation. You can either be the super Negro or the forgotten Negro.”
“Bias, whether implicit or explicit, hits every industry. To be a black person is to understand what it is to be automatically infantilized and have it be assumed that you don’t have the talent or the skill set required to do your job.”
“People don’t know what to do with you if you’re not trying to assimilate.”
“Issues of colorism run so deep in the African American community. But more and more, I see it spring up on social media as #teamlightskin versus #teamdarkskin. It’s an age-old us-against-us oversimplification that boils down to the belief that the lighter your skin tone, the more valuable and worthy you are. The standard of beauty and intelligence that has historically been praised by the oppressor has also been adopted by the oppressed.”
“We darker girls should not be pitted against our lighter-skinned sisters. But our pain at being passed over should also not be dismissed by people saying, “love the skin you’re in.” You can love what you see in the mirror, but you can not self-esteem your way out of the way the world treats you. Not when we are made to feel so unloved and exiled to the other end of the beauty spectrum.”
ON LOVE AND COLOR.
“To say love sees no color is just dumb as fuck. If your “love” were kidnapped, you wouldn’t go to the police and say, “help a lovely soul was just snatched off the streets.” You would give a thorough ass description. Height, weight, and scars. You would even begin with skin color and tone. So, in truth, you do see color. Love sees everything. You’re making a choice. And when you make that choice of putting yourself in a position to fall in love with a very specific person who looks nothing like yourself, that says something about your choices. And for those who have decided to date outside of their race, to not be tainted with more melanin than they already have, maybe it isn’t necessarily their preference of light-skinned people. But it is all about them preferring you. To choose you in spite of your blackness. But if you can truly love your skin, then you are not going to see darker skin as a threat to your worthiness and value.”
“We talked about the disconnect between the adoration so many black men shower on their mothers and grandmothers, and their refusal to spend the rest of their lives with a woman who resembles their hue. Why isn’t the same type of woman good enough or even worth considering? — do they even know they’re doing this? Aren’t these men so acutely aware of what it is to move through this world in the body of a dark brown boy? These men grow up seeing how people with lighter skin are respected and treated differently. Dark skin is weaponized and continually used against us day by day.”
ON WOMEN SUPPORTING WOMEN
“When you have struggled with low self-esteem, to have anyone root for you feels good. To have women rooting for you who have been in your shoes and felt the pain you feel, feels like a thousand little Angel wings beating around you.”
“Once you’ve been the victim of a violent crime and you have seen evil in action, you know the devil lives and breathes in people all day, every day. You can figure out how to move through the world, but the idea of peace? In your soul? It doesn’t exist.”
ON SOCIAL MEDIA
“So many people love the attention they get by trolling. It’s a temporary cure for their invisibility. There is always an audience for negativity. The exploration of other people’s pain drives so much of our culture and conversation.”
“There is an epidemic now of people “being real” when they’re being anything but.”
“You’re always going to find people who don’t want to watch you fail.”
“The world is only as small as you make it.”
“Do not underestimate the power of genuine conversations.”
“Even when you know better, it doesn’t mean you’re going to do better.”
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Quotes from: We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True. By Gabrielle Union.