On Monday, Jada Pinkett Smith offered a question to her Facebook followers trying to prompt conversation around the topic of whether or not black women should be willing to allow white women to grace the covers of Black magazines such as Essence. She asks:
With love and respect to all parties involved, my question is this…if we ask our white sisters, who tend to be the guardians of the covers of mainstream magazines, to consider women of color to grace these covers, should we not offer the same consideration to white women to grace our covers? Should women extend their power to other women simply because they are women? To my women of color, I am clear we must have something of our own, but is it possible to share in the spirit in which we ask our white sisters to share with us?
While I appreciate the effort to spur dialogue, this question shocked me for a number of reasons. Since Jada has said some powerful and radical statements regarding her ideas of motherhood, (specifically asserting that her daughter Willow has the right to her own body), it surprises me that she would think of herself as “thinking outside the box” to offer this question. While she might think that this question is being revolutionary, it’s a quite trite and common misunderstanding of how racism operates. It is essentially the “why are all the Black kids sitting together at the cafeteria” dilemma. Namely, this idea that spaces which are intended to celebrate the beauty and particularity of Blackness are somehow exclusionary. It’s an idea that suggests that Black people, or people of color more broadly, are themselves perpetuating race-conscious ideologies by insisting on spaces of our own. It places the burden of racism on people of color by saying “if only we could just learn to be accepting and welcoming of our white brethren, we could all begin to see each other for who we really are…just women!” (As if gender is somehow less complicated than race?) The grand irony underlying all of this is that Essence magazine specifically is not Black owned, and past Black editors of the magazine have revealed their struggle to ensure that the magazine actually responds to the interests of Black women!
To be honest, I actually find arguments akin to Jada’s (which have been made in worse forms to be clear) to be both demeaning and unfair. The “spirit” of many Black people is a loving, sharing, and inclusive spirit. I am sure that many of us would want nothing more than to live in a utopian place of racial harmony. We have carved out spaces to celebrate ourselves not because we harbor racial animosity or are unwilling to be “coworkers in the kingdom of culture” as DuBois once said, but because we need these spaces for our own humanity and self-love. To be frank, how many white women are beating down the doors to celebrate Black women? That is the real question.
These sorts of questions need to stop, or at least be re-calibrated, especially when they come from Black people who have a lot of clout and influence to determine broader discourse. Racism and racial ideologies aren’t being perpetuated because of Black people’s failure to be inclusive and/or progressive. In fact, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.