By Denise Rhone, Age 30
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” –Viola Davis, 2015 Emmy’s.
Yes, Viola. YES.
For those who don’t know me, I do not hide my emotions well. Just not good at it. So when I saw my girl Viola up on that stage, looking like a beautiful dignified queen—quoting Harriet Tubman, owning her blackness and gently but bluntly pointing out the media’s lack of diversity—it was over for me. My hands flew into a frenzy of flutter claps and my neighbors could probably hear me screaming “AHHHHH….” from my living room.
(And did you see the love Taraij P. Henson was giving her fellow sister as if she won herself? Yes, Taraji. Yes.)
Even as I played her speech again as a refresher to write this blog, goose bumps waved up my arms and my eyes welled with tears. It confirmed this truth for me: we are all hungry for role models, for examples of what we can become, for representation.
And my girl was REPRESENTIN’.
But in the midst of this sweet victory, I am still overwhelmingly aware of how little women of color are represented. And simply put, it hurts.
It hurts that it took me 27 years to learn to love and appreciate my thick, kinky, curly, what my peeps call Puerto Rican-fro hair. My mother started using relaxers on me when I was about four or five years old. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term, a relaxer is a chemical hair product used to straighten curly/kinky hair and is especially common in the black community. If left too long, or if you scratched your head too much prior to application, it burned the mess out of your scalp! How pretty I would feel after it was washed out, even if I had a scab or two in my head—my curls were so loose, my hair so thin and long. *flips hair*
It hurts that growing up, the only women of color I remember seeing on t.v. were hip-hop video vixens. As absolutely gorgeous as these women were and are, being hyper-sexualized is not uplifting, and for years I based my worth on the plump booty and hips all the boys told me I had.
It hurts that my half-Black, half-Latina daughter showed me a self-portrait she made in art class, and suddenly I was staring at a picture of a girl with fair skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. What the?!!! No matter how much I intentionally sought to instill self-love through words of affirmation, by example and by monitoring her exposure to t.v. and radio—the media was still winning! *Pulls out hair*
Thank God that things can change. Thank God that women like Viola Davis star in t.v. roles. Thank God for self broadcasting media such as YouTube!
I stopped my mother from relaxing my hair in high school, but it wasn’t until I was 27 that I found beautiful, kinky-haired queens on YouTube empowering women by teaching them the various ways to style their hair and what products to use. It was like a coming out party for me! I learned that my hair was actually the ish—not the nappy mop some of my relatives called it while growing up. It is beautiful, thick, full, versatile, big and commands attention.
I am even proud to say that after forty-some-odd-years (not giving away her age), my mother recently stopped relaxing her hair and for the first time is learning to love it for what it is. Go mami! Woop!
And as far as my baby girl and her portrait that almost had me flip? After giving it some thought—I came to the conclusion that it’s going to be okay. She has to learn to navigate this world like I did (and still am!), and the best thing I can do for her is be the role model not so commonly seen on t.v. Be the God fearing, first generation college graduate, career oriented, home-owning, self and community loving, creative, adventure and laugh seeking, flawed, still-figuring-it-out woman that I am. She’s watching. Other girls and women are watching. And I’m confident they’ll see.
Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.