Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Viola Davis Is Classically Beautiful Although It's Not Her Job to Be

I was very offended by the New York Times' article that insisted (among many other racist assertions) that Viola Davis isn't "classically beautiful." The author, a white female veteran journalist, said this along with calling Shonda Rhimes and the Black female protagonists she's created "angry Black women."

I think the root of my great offense came from the knowledge that beauty, or rather the need to be beautiful, is held over the heads of girls and women from birth.

There is no greater insult than being called ugly. Mostly because for women being ugly is simultaneous with being less worthy. Less worthy of affection and love. It comes with the absence of being desired. And patriarchy dictates that a woman's role is to be desired, to be gazed upon. Her value comes from the (approving) gaze of others.

Now of course this is incredibly problematic. A woman's value should not at all be dependent on the gaze and view of others. Particularly because beauty is inextricably connected with skin colour, race, age, ability, sexuality, and other intersections of identity.

So I suppose I dislike two things: (1) that the need to be "classically beautiful" is held over the heads of women due to patriarchy and (2) that dark skinned women such as Viola Davis are automatically cast outside of "classic beauty" because of white supremacist standards.

It shouldn't be my or any woman's job to be classically beautiful. And yet, classic beauty shouldn't be denied of any woman.

Attacking a woman's looks still has the cultural power to deny her worth and value. The New York Times' wasn't simply attacking Viola's physical appearance. It was attacking her right to have a leading role in what is set to be a popular and successful show. It gave the connotation of: "Why her?"

Asking "why her?" in the veiled language of attacking her beauty and resorting to the trite stereotype of the "angry Black woman" is symbolic racist violence. Asking "why her?" marginalizes dark skinned Black women and puts us on the defensive for why we deserve success, for why we deserve the limelight.

Why NOT Viola Davis? And why, in light of her incredible acting ability, is this only her first major role in a TV series? Why wasn't she cast into an incredible acting career a long time ago?

It's not because she's not "classically beautiful." It's because authors such as the white woman who wrote this demeaning and racist New York Times article subscribe to internalized misogyny and white supremacy.

That's why.

P.S. I watched the pilot for "How To Get Away with Murder" and it was incredible. So thank you Shonda Rhimes and Viola Davis for another hit.

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  1. Bless you for this post. You hit the nail on the head.

  2. I was SOOOOO happy when Black folks put that NYT writer on FULL BLAST for her silly little article! As a matter of fact, I am so happy to see so much empowerment in our community of late, in publically calling out abject racism. What is very interesting is that white media keeps trying to "race card" every injustice that we point out. However, I am glad that we are not stopping the blast just because they do not want to engage. I am so happy that we are talking to EACH OTHER on public forums, while giving them the opportunity to come and go as they please, but WITHOUT allowing them to shut down our right to discuss whatever the hell we want! I have been so pleased to see this worldwide reawakening of Black Consciousness.

    The truth is that white people have an unconscious fear of Black people and they become SO jealous when we are successful. I think this is because we tend to scrub the floor with everyone in site when given the opportunity to step into a particular space. I was also happy to see Shonda call this bitch out, and let her know that her comments were unacceptable.

    I am also happy with our collective empowerment on some of the other issues that effect our community, such as Black people recording all police stops. We need to continue!

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