What's in an Image?
March 2010

Black people, even Black feminists, seem happy and excited that Mo’nique won an Oscar. I must admit that I am not among this group. As a matter of fact, I am stunned at our contradiction. How can we celebrate the success of a black actress who makes it on the back of Black women? In other words, I ask, how can we celebrate a Black actress who accepts a role in movies that represents Black women as bad mothers, as did Precious and the movie Blind Spot? Is her individual success more important than the consequences of feeding the public images of Black women as whores, immoral and unloving mothers, and parents who love dope more than their children? I am not denying that this type of Black woman exists. Nor am I saying that all representations of Black women must avoid our failures. I am saying, however, that these narratives and representations are dangerous in a popular culture where this is the pervasive image.

When Black actresses sign on to a script like Precious, they fertilize these lies and locate their work within the contemporary lie of Black women welfare queens. A lie that Ronald Reagan created, and that the conservatives used to the hilt as another example of Black immorality and bad parenting. Conservatives used the misrepresentation of Black women to carry out punitive and racist public policies. Mo’nique cannot have it both ways. Nor can we! She had a perfect opportunity to represent, and she failed us. It does not make her right, because White Oscar members give her legitimacy. As Audre Lorde said, our “wants do not make our actions holy”. Our hunger for fame should never exceed our hunger to advance ourselves and the race with dignity, while creating grounds of resistance and reaffirmation that preserve and extend our liberties. In other words, what is the end game of Black art in a society where Black is a dirty word and oppression is a silent killer that touches all of our lives?

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