Like many women of colour I grew up looking at magazine racks with row upon row of White faces staring at me. I would be lying if I said that it didn't have an impact upon how I perceived my race and gender growing up. Things have not changed much and now I find myself wondering how this exact same circumstance is going to effect my niece as she grows up. As a woman of colour, I cannot divorce my race from my gender. This is why the row upon row of White women staring back at me from magazine racks continues to impact me. Even when I look past it and validate my own self worth, it does not mean that those I interact with see me as an equal, let alone human. There can be no doubt that Whiteness continues to represent the idealized form of womanhood. Sojourner Truth's Ain't I a Woman speech, is still highly applicable today.
On her facebook page, Jada Pinkett-Smith wondered if the best path forward to deal with the ongoing equality in magazine covers, is for magazines created for POC to be more open about having White women grace their covers.
There is a question I want to ask today. I'm asking this question in the spirit of thinking outside of the box in order to open doors to new possibilities. These possibilities may be realistic or unrealistic. I also want to make it clear that there is no finger pointing here. I pose this question with the hope that it opens a discussion about how we can build a community for women based upon us all taking a deeper interest in one another. An interest where skin color, culture, and social class does not create barriers in sharing the commonality of being... women. With love and respect to all parties involved, my question is this...if we ask our white sisters, who tend to be the guardians of the covers of mainstream magazines, to consider women of color to grace these covers, should we not offer the same consideration to white women to grace our covers? Should women extend their power to other women simply because they are women? To my women of color, I am clear we must have something of our own, but is it possible to share in the spirit in which we ask our white sisters to share with us? I don't know the answer and would love to hear your thoughts.What Jada fails to acknowledge is that these magazines were created specifically because of the erasure of our experiences in the mainstream media. While her approach is well intentioned by allowing White women to grace the covers of magazines that have been created for women of colour, it reinforces the idea that there isn't a single place where Whiteness does not belong. Historically, people of colour have always been asked to turn the other cheek and hold out an olive branch to Whiteness, even as it works daily to ensure that we remain second class citizens. This olive branch which Jada suggests, will not force Whiteness to be more inclusive; it will simply reduce already limited opportunities for women of colour.
The truth of the matter is that we cannot pretend that we are simply a community of women. This is the same argument that feminists have used for years, even as they try to erase the effect that racism has on the lives of women of colour. It is naive to expect the White owned and run media to suddenly capitulate and work towards more inclusive coverage. No powerful force in history has ever just handed over power, or even consented to share power and why Jada thinks that this would suddenly be the case, if only people of colour would consent to share our spaces is beyond me.
We cannot treat Whiteness as though it is some benign force, when it wages war against people of colour across the globe daily. The sales of the all Black Italian Vogue show that there is a market for inclusion and still yet these magazines refuse to capitulate. Clearly, maintaining White hegemony is far more important than the bottom line. Since this is a fact, I must ask, what reasonable sense does it make to open up the few spaces reserved for WOC to White women? If they cannot be motivated by their own financial best interest, why would our sacrifice cause a moral quandary?
What we need to do is act from a position of strength. It's already bad enough that in many ways businesses that target Black people, have either been bought out by White run companies, or controlled by White management. How much of our power can we afford to give away? We have already seen that as a result of these actions nothing has changed. It's a foolish person who keeps repeating the same action, while hoping for a different result.
When integration occurred, the Black community lost institutions that have been our backbone for a very long period of time. We have seen as a result, less cohesion and less forward movement. This is not to say that integration didn't have positive results, but that it came with a cost. It was a compromise that never should have been made because Whiteness has no interest in the dissolution of its social, or institutional power. While I agree that we need new ideas moving forward, making room for White women is a backward step and nothing good can come of it.