Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Lupita Nyong'o Experience: Thoughts on Learning How to Love Black Womanhood

I am enjoying the post-Oscar glow that so many Black girls and women have right now after watching Lupita Nyong'o receive her well-deserved award for Best Supporting Actress! She looked beautiful. She gave a moving and emotionally impacting speech. She was radiant. I couldn't have asked for anything more!

Nothing can take the shine away. Not the racists who are "hiding" under a very, very thin veneer of stanning for Jennifer Lawrence. Not the so-called pro-Black people who chide Lupita enthusiasts for supporting the racist Oscars (and they're right about The Oscars being racist, but I'm still happy for Lupita and for myself! Representation matters!)

But what does bother me is the respectability politics. There is something so infuriatingly poisonous about how some Black folks have chosen to speak about Lupita Nyong'o. I knew it was only a matter of time until Lupita Nyong'o would be pitted against other Black women as an angel while everyone else is a demon.

Here we go again!

If anything, Lupita has created new possibilities of how to divest of anti-Blackness and respectability politics and truly embrace the totality of Black womanhood. Yet, we squander our chance to challenge respectability politics by making coy references to how she is so much better than so-and-so.

Yes, Lupita is educated and articulate. She is traditionally feminine. Conventionally beautiful and very thin. But notably, she seems to be interested in the sum-total of Black womanhood rather than setting herself as the new standard.

Perhaps this is why she is so important. Lupita reminds us of what it means to love Black woman and Black womanhood.

It does violence to the notion of Black womanhood to only admire a very strict subset of Black women. It is contradictory to claim to love Black women while upholding every form of oppression (including racism and sexism) to judge Black women.

It is insincere to make a Black woman's worth contingent upon respectability politics. Our "love" for Black women must be more than an occasional verbal assertion. It must be a standpoint which incorporates anti-racism and anti-sexism.

The truth is that a lot of us (and this includes Black women) mistakenly think we love Black women.

We think we love Black women because we enjoy some Black women aesthetically. Or because we like Strong Black Women around us who don't remember that they are human and deserving of love and instead pour all of their love into us. We want the "you is kind, you is smart" routine and expect it.

We looooove body parts: the Saartjie Baartman ass. We like the "ebony" section in pornography. We love mammies. We are fascinated by Jezebels and use their image as the blueprint for "deviant" sexuality (see Miley Cyrus). We love the Queens and the sistas which of course means that we hate the thot's and the hos.

But we think we love Black women.

We love the Black women who fall in love with men, get married, and have kids (in that order). We love the Black women who have degrees but ain't too independent. We love the "she got her own" Black women as long as they don't emasculate the man.

And we love the Black woman who is behind us. We are wary of the ones beside us. And we hate the ones ahead of us. Because there's only room for ONE successful Black woman.

We think we love Black women because there's a few who we think are good role models. And we spend the rest of our time explaining why the rest of the Black women are not. We think we love Black women because we hate twerking. Because we hate slang. Because we hate Real Wives and Scandal. Because we give "tough love" and quote Steve Harvey and Tyrese.

We think we love Black women. But we don't know the first thing about love. We are still buried in white supremacy and patriarchy.

We don't know how to escape and we're not even sure that we want to. Because we don't know if we have the spirit and the energy to truly love Black womanhood in its multi-faceted and complete nature. We believe in tokenism: there's room in our hearts to love a few.

But that's not true. It is easier and freer to love without contingency. It is the beginning of a powerful self-love which would translate into genuine political and social power.

That's why I cried listening to Lupita Nyong'o's speech. In that moment, it was as if every barrier to loving Black women was gone and it was our moment. Our dreams are valid no matter where we come from.

We have permission to love ourselves. And that an set the precedent for how we allow others to love us.


Just like that Lupita? Just like that.

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