Posts Tagged ‘Black Girls’

Where My Girls At? Images of Black Girls and Girls of Color in Media

So, I shared before how I’d had the distinct honor to attend the Oprah Winfrey Network Doc Club screening of MissRepresentationand its subsequent taped discussion on the Rosie Show. The reviews have been phenomenal and garnered lots of calls for action. I absolutely loved the doc. It served the purpose media, especially documentaries, have to not only call attention to an issue, but empower as well.

MissRepresentation’s overall premise is familiar to most, yet the critical component is the campaign to strategically use information as teachable moments. This will definitively build a movement to change the portrayal of women by/in the media. What’s more amazing is that the film is a catalyst for funding organizations such as the Women’s Media Center to continue the discourse, advocacy, media literacy and research. Simply powerful.

While watching, I was hard pressed to keep track of all the fascinating and inspiring quotes.

Pat Mitchell, President and CEO for Media Former President & CEO of PBS shared this insight, “The media is the message and the messenger, and increasingly a powerful one.”

“You can’t be what you can’t see,”  was a quote from Marie Wilson, founding President White House Project

And though I sought us out, I must say the lack of diversity and representation of Black women and girls beyond the narrow lens of reality TV, albeit the mainstream go –tos like Miss Winfrey and Soledad O’Brien, was obvious.

It was only when I heard the reference to symbolic annihilation that the documentary fully resonated with me and connected to what is my life’s work; empowering girls like me in urban America to use critical analysis to navigate beyond media and cultural messages. Girls Like me who are portrayed as “bad girls”, violent, angry, poor, uneducated, low-class and “ghetto.” Black women who are “successful” or who meet the standards of beauty are held up as seemingly novelties, with no connection to urban America.

So as soon as Rosie invited questions from the audience, I jumped to speak to that point. In the midst of a studio full of white women, I could feel the discomfort in the room as soon as the words came from my mouth. But it is a necessary conversation, and if we are to truly tackle media’s exploitation and misrepresentation of women, there must be intentional inclusion of perspective from all women, pointedly those who have the least voice in shaping their own stories in the mainstream.

Carol Jenkins, journalist, producer, and founding President of the Women’s Media Center gave such a poignant response that penetrates to the very essence of why this matters so much. Watch our exchange in this video:

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Still, a few days prior to the MissRepresentation screening one of the oldest and most prominent girl-focused organizations hosted a Twitter chat on media images and girls. I noticed there and in  other arenas exploring the topic, somehow race and culture are skirted around. This troubles me.

What about you… do you agree race and culture belong in this conversation? What are the media images that you most connect/resist? Are they tied to you as a woman or to your experience as a fill in the blank woman

It apparently troubled others like Bessie Akuba Winn-Afeku, founder of She is Me Program. Now we have both linked arms to collaborate and host a Twitter chat dedicated to examining the images of girls of color in media and to offer best practices that resist stereotypes, empowering girls to create their own messages.

That is the goal of #girlsmediachat which will take place on Twitter Thursdays, 8p CST, beginning Nov. 3.  We hope you will join us, share your perspective, recommend guests/topics, and invite others.

Follow us on Twitter

Girls Like Me

She is Me Program   

Please share and follow the hashtag #Girlsmediachat

Also, MissRepresentation is now a movement. Take a moment to take the pledge to join the fight!

Missrepresentation—what we need to see on TV!

As soon as the link popped into my Twitter timeline, I was compelled to see what MissRepresentation was all about. I watched the trailer and immediately recognized this documentary was speaking to me, about me and for me. For goodness sake, what woman has not felt slighted and exploited by media because of her gender? In today’s society one of the most powerful forces in the universe, feminine energy and perspective, are discounted and played cheap by media powers that be.

But I think the world had better get ready to reckon with women everywhere as Missrepresentation has remixed our view, put the spotlight where it belongs. The film made its debut at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was subsequently picked up by the mighty Oprah Winfrey Network as a part of its documentary Club. Before January 2011, there has not been a space for this kind of film on network television. That is not until a woman owned a television network. Marinate on that thought and absorb the powerful impact…

I can hardly express how excited I was when I was invited to screen the film on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, taped here in Chicago at Harpo Studios. Without giving away too much, I will say the statistics that are revealed in the film, the incredible testimonies, pull you out of the graphic haze of American media. It forces us as viewers to give a critical eye to the portrayal of women in the media and how this shapes our society.

Missrepresentation is a conversation-starter. Yet, beyond the revelations, shocking stats and information, the take away is that everyone who watches will have clear direction on next steps. It is a film that empowers with the knowledge and belief that we can make a difference to change the media landscape to be better for our daughters and future generations of boys and girls alike. Each viewer understands it is our individual responsibility to do so.

So much of the film resonated with me, but more than anything there was a phrase from one of the doc’s sources. It struck me and held me captive. It is because of the implications of this phrase is what pushed me to create my program Girls Like Me. I caught my breath in an Oprah “aha moment,” that I’d been given a name, a way to articulate what I have felt since I was a little girl watching television.

It was so powerful for me, that I jumped up to ask the first question when Rosie opened the floor to the audience. If I don’t get left on the editor’s cutting floor, you’ll be able to hear for yourself what struck me so.

Still, my question is but among the millions you and others will have after watching. I know you will hear the call of action, too. So take a moment to view the trailer, then be sure to tune in to OWN, Thursday, October 20 at 9/8 CST. I can’t wait for us to watch it collectively and move the discussion forward!

In the meantime, take the first steps in challenging the media’s portrayal of women:

Like the MissRepresentation FB page

Follow MissRepresentation on Twitter

Now take the pledge to represent!

Closing Catherine Ferguson Academy: Robbing the Cradle of Hope & Promise Part II

It seems like this story has been written for us since we were forced upon the shores of these United States of America. A grotesque picture book with chapter and verse depicting African men, who before being sold away or savagely beaten to death, granted only the freedom to breed Black children with the African women that would be left alone. The story, ripe with illustrations of these women held hostage by the sweet pain of mothering past loneliness-struggling to survive the harshest realities, the umbra of birthing babies void of hope.

Seems like the story was a grand mastermind of intentional design…and today the story lives on, yet told in epic portrayal.

So I instantaneously connected to that story when I began seriously contemplating the fate of Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, a school for teen mothers and their children. To catch up on the struggle of CFA, read my previous post. But as I was saying, CFA is a school for teen mothers and their small children. We know from any evening news broadcast, the whereabouts of the fathers are highly likely behind prison walls and in detention centers, the new American plantation.We know this because our tragically failing education system disproportionately cripples our children, driving our boys into the prison pipeline and our girls into teen pregnancy and welfare dependency.

A hopeless cycle that has repeated itself unto our community so many times it has become the norm for too many across the African Diaspora. And so it is in Detroit. Yet, when vested and progressive educators got back to the basics, enhancing core curriculum by teaching economic development, agriculture and farming; honing affirmative parenting skills; encouraging breastfeeding (as we know the nutritional and research-based cognitive and sociological benefits this provides both mother and child); the results have stagnated the cycle of destitution and dependency. Now that the village of Catherine Ferguson Academy has found a way to slowly reverse a generational legacy of teenage pregnancy and dropout rates that buoy functional illiteracy, the system that created the “grand mastermind of intentional design” is interrupting progress and success.

Threatening the school with closure.

Now, granted not all Black girls are experience teen pregnancy or consider dropping out of high school. Many flourish, from being recognized as the brightest in their class to being accepted into distinguished universities to receiving Gates Scholarships. And so it may be very easy to separate the girls in our family on our block from those attending CFA. Maybe…

CFA girls and others like them may live a harsh life that when glanced at seem perpetuated by bad choices. However, we know inherently these are our little sisters…and we know their children are our children and future. What they become has strong implications on our community. We also know what plays out at CFA, is but a microcosm of the greater plan (call me a conspiracy theorist) to destruct the moral fabric and cultural fortitude that are implicit in our contributions to this country, and moreover the world. So much is invested in exacerbating vicious cycle of poverty and culpability to government. Many pockets are lined from the devastation of the poor. Jailhouses are built with the poor in mind, grants are written to big foundations, checks cut to lobby for the vices of the poor (tobacco, alcohol, gambling,). Poor people are preyed upon for the almighty green dollar. No question.

WHERE IS THE LOVE?

But here is where I become angry and a sinister dread hangs in my spirit. It is because of the obvious silence, or dare I say total disregard, in relation to the struggle of poor black girls by other Blacks.

Now, the Black community turned Jena Louisiana into a Mecca for the quest of justice when Back boys were damned into the bowels of a racist judicial system deep in the heart of Dixie. I was right there, so I know how we chartered buses, posse’d up our motorcycle clubs, and stepped into the fight with our sorority sisters and frat brothers. We braved KKK deep back roads to free our boys. Let us not forget the countless public voices that gave their platform to rally the community and urge us to keep up the fight. No proof or discernment was necessary. We fought the good fight.

Add to countless times we have swooped in to rally around Black boys in trouble. The Tookie’s and Genarlow’s and Troy’s.

I can even point out the cries of anguish as black boy after black boy is gunned down in our inner city streets. We cry hard when we’ve lost our fearless warriors. Oscar, Sean, Derrion, Amadou.

When we are threatened to lose our Black boys, we lose our collective minds. And this is as it should be.

Yet, on the other side of that, why is it, that the squalid life prospects we are losing our sisters to only renders us silent.

Where is the outrage? Yes, we hold a few conferences and have intellectual intercourse over subjects from films like Precious and Colored Girls. We wax poetic when a verbal injustice is done to our revered celebrity sisters. And we seem to come alive in all our fiery colorfulness if we discuss domestic violence of a high profile sister.

So why can’t we muster a single sentence or tweet or Facebook status or magazine spread for the sisters among us who struggle with some very real shit every single day of their young lives? How cheap do we play ourselves, and these sisters, who if not by the grace of God we could be sitting in their shoes. The little sisters at Catherine Ferguson Academy and ghettos across the country, Black girls like me and you, are living straight out of the Good Times theme song. Keeping their heads above water. Water that in their lives is a cesspool of abuse, broken hearts, hopelessness, neglect, welfare, toxic and temptation of cigarettes and alcohol, debris from failed education systems, and all the dank funk of poverty.

I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that CFA being a village of promise, where young mothers are given the tools to become self-sufficient with a vision of the future, is set to close yet I’ve not read or seen a single mention across my social networks dedicated to this issue. Is it because no one cares? Or have we too lost hope for our girls. But how can we? We’ve seen this story before… we know Maya Angelou, poor teen mother without a father for her child, high school drop out. We know Oprah, molested as a teen and left pregnant. What hope did they have…who pulled them along?

Our living legends give us a dazzling example as proof that the future can be bright for these girls, who among their alumna has produced doctors and PhD students. Let us not dim it by ignoring the present fight that we must engage. It is the responsibility of us all to put on the full armor. Put some gloss and add real shine to our lip service. Save Catherine Ferguson Academy. Save our community!

So I know the reason is not that there is no love for poor Black girls. It has to lie in that I am just not connected to the right folks in my virtual network. It’s simply because I have not reached you, but now that this has made its way to you…please take it personal. Catherine Ferguson Academy needs you to see the connection it has to you.

We need action! Many are gathering for a protest rally at the school today. Still, others around the country can support from afar. Sign the petition. Spread the word. Write letters to congressman and legislator, Detroit city officials and Detroit Public School administrators.

Beyond this travesty, let us please make meaningful connections to our little sisters in the struggle, before they ever believe they can walk a college campus. Join the National Cares Mentoring Movement in your city. Volunteer at a public school in your area. Invite a group from a girls’ home to lunch with you and your colleagues at work. We have more work to do. Need to add some shine to our lip service. For real!