Friday, November 19, 2010

Letter to a Young Black Woman: Don't Whine Over White Princesses

I am most definitely not a Pollyanna, always seeing the best in everything, but neither do I see the worst. I consider myself to be a realist who sometimes battles an inner pessimist. However, I think in order to maintain sanity that if you're going to be pessimistic about your prospects, then at least ground your pessimism in reality. So, when I read an article at today by Helena Andrews that declares "There are no black Kate Middletons" and saw her go on all weepy about an absence of black princesses, my eyes crossed.

Andrews is also the author of Bitch is the New Black, but her article at The Root is the most tedious mash-up of whining over black womanhood that I've read in a while. "Dear Helena," I whispered while reading it, "please grow up."

I don't mean to give this one young black woman and writer a hard time, but as a woman who is probably old enough to be her mother, I am giving her the same advice that I would give to my 29-year-old daughter if she started spouting this nonsense. I confess that I'm developing a low tolerance for young, educated African-American women crying over their so-called horrible lives.

The article frames Middleton's recent engagement to Prince William in the context of the plight of black women and Disney's fictitious black Princess Tiana of all things. I responded at The Root, but I had to cut out some of what I wanted to say because of the site's word limit. Here is my response in full:

This lamentation concerns me because it's not grounded in reality. I hope the writer will consider the lives of the other real white princesses of Great Britain who captured the imagination of America not that long ago and grasp that their lives were not fairy tales. Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson married Prince Andrew and Lady Diana married Prince Charles (Prince William's father). Fergie and Andrew are now divorced, and her life was just this year sinking in scandal. But the greater scandal was how Prince Charles handled Diana.

Prince Charles cheated on his princess with the woman he really loved, the one who he was not permitted to marry the first time. He and Diana divorced eventually, setting Great Britain on its ear, and later Diana died being chased by paparazzi. So, neither of these British princesses knew the genuine love of a prince because their princes were human men, not fantasy men.

Furthermore, if we look beyond the Disney cartoon mentioned, we will learn that Princess Tiana of The Princess and the Frog is based on a real black woman in New Orleans, Leah Chase, the owner of Dooky Chase restaurant, whose life has been successful. She didn't marry a monarch in waiting. She married Dooky. Her grandchildren now help her run the restaurant. If she had spent her youth focused on what she couldn't have or how much better off the white women around her fared, I wonder if she would have achieved anything.

But why does this article focus on how white men portrayed a black female cartoon character anyway?

As others have told the writer, there are real black princesses in the world to compare to the real white princesses of the world. Oprah just had on Princess Akosua of Ghana, a princess by blood not marriage, who played Celie's sister in the The Color Purple movie 20-plus years ago. She is a beautiful woman who was once married to the director James Singleton, and now lives a productive life without him.

This article may have been written for the sake of drawing hits to The Root, but going for the hits at the expense of making black women sound like pitiful souls who can't live full lives without princes like those from white monarchies does us all, both black men and black women, a disservice.

I recommend that instead of looking at ourselves through Tyler Perry's lens, which distorted the affirming message of Ntozake Shange's iconic play, and instead of seeing a potential role model in Disney's fictitious and only black princess, that we reflect on the more empowering words of Zora Neale Hurston:
"... I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are hurt about it. ... No, I do not weep at the world. I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”
Hurston lived through a historical period of oppression that far exceeds the kind of oppression black women face today in terms of white society vs. black society. She didn't spend a lot of time crying in her bed. Neither should today's young black women cry in theirs because their opportunities for greatness surpass Hurston's.

Black women should not view reality, as this article seems to suggest, as some dismal prospect over which they have little power. If you act like a queen, if you pursue the dreams, maturity, education, and wisdom of a queen, then you are a queen. Queens trump princesses.

Nordette Adams


Pamela Lyn said...

Thank you, thank you and again, thank you.

Vérité Parlant said...

You're welcomed, Pam. The article rubbed me six wrong ways to Sunday. :-)

msladyDeborah said...

This is on point!

I recently read Bitch is the New Black, it was difficult for me to relate to Helena's headtrip about relationships period. I'm sure that is generational on my part.

However, the lifestyles of the Royals is not all that great. If she had really been paying attention during Lady Di's lifetime, she would of known that a free thinking and independent acting woman is not exactly great princess material.

Vérité Parlant said...

Thank you, Deborah. I too am wondering if my reaction to this young lady's way of thinking is generational.


Vérité Parlant said...

Oh, and I'm seeing comments on this at Facebook too.

Anonymous said...

...and the people said AMEN! I do not want to diminish the challenges young women face with their relationships these days! But buying into the American culture's princess fantasy by accepting media portrayals of the British royals is a colossal waste of time.

Your post is perfect and right on time! Thank you!

Gena said...

I never wanted to be a princess. You have to wait on folks to find you and give you stuff. All you have to be is "pretty."

Sounds like that is the optional model the young ladies are griping about. No instant prince. No magic formula that will poof the perfect man before their eyes.

Snow White was incapacitated for years before she was kissed. It that was we want? A women to be functionally incapacitated until the anointed one shows up?

This cultural meme is ingrained in our societal fiction so I'm not gonna come down too hard on the young ladies.

Long term brain washing is effective but it can be deactivated by exposure to the truth.

We have to keep speaking and writing it so they can hear us.

Vérité Parlant said...

Thank you, Gina and Gena. :-) I don't want to come down too hard on the young ladies either, but I do want them to understand that they are setting themselves up for a lot of suffering if they focus on fantasy or adopt a pessimistic view of their potential to find a mate, if that's what they really want.

I especially appreciate your point, Gina, about people being duped by media presentations.

Gena, while I wouldn't come down hard on young black women in general, I think Ms. Andrews needs to think about her credibility and the message she's sending to her peers as she promotes her book. It may be advantageous to her book sales to paint a dismal picture, but it is not advantageous to black women and the people who love them.

Gena, you definitely give young women food for thought with the Snow White under glass imagery. "Who wants to be incapacitated?" Game show anyone?

Deborah Hernandez said...

I stumbled accross your blog, ironically, while looking for ideas for a princess costume for my daughters 5th birthday. As a white woman, I really appreciate your comments. All women seem to have a tendancy to compare themselves with the "Disney Princess" fantasy, disregarding the wonderful things they have in their "real" lives. These are the things divorces and depression are made of. Longing for things that are not based in reality, causing unhappiness in a life that could be a fairytale because someone chose to work on it and make it so.