On the Year of the Black Girl, Cardi B, and MHP

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by Erica Thurman

By now you've probably heard that 2016 is the year of the Black girl. But even if you haven’t heard, you’ve been seeing it everywhere. It’s possible a lot of people don’t recognize it because sometimes Black girl wins don’t look familiar to most folks.

A prominent example of this is when a Black woman, in this case Melissa Harris-Perry, walks off her job. Leaving your source of employment, with or without securing another position is almost always considered a prima facie loss. But that’s only if you leave your intersectional lens at home. See, the thing about employment (and school) is that we spend a significant amount of time and energy there. And if that environment is toxic, the consequences can be fatal to both your career and well-being. All too often that toxicity is created by racial and gender discrimination, micro aggressions and passive aggressive behavior. For Black girls and women, those consequences extend to your family and your community because our success is tied to so much more for so many people. Harris-Perry walking away from her job may have initially been viewed as a loss because we saw the show as a win for Black girls and women but we know there are layers to this. Harris-Perry been putting in work. For the past 4 years, she used her platform on network TV to discuss issues that impact the lives and livelihood of Black people and to bring those marginalized voices to the table— all while rocking braids, and that matters.
Since Dr. Harris-Perry started her show, there has been a change in the atmosphere. Black girls and women are bringing the issues of our enclaved counterpublics to the forefront in an unprecedented manner (in large part due to social media and increased representation like that of Dr. Harris-Perry) and the world is taking notice. To be clear, we been getting into #Formation since the movement for Black liberation began—the moment the first slave said, “Nah. We out. You go left, I’ll go right.” Some folks just ain’t been paying attention and sometimes we just didn’t need folks all up in our business while we strategizing. Silent don’t mean sleep but the drumbeats are getting louder by the minute. Harris-Perry's drum included.

Understanding that Black girls and women rarely own the media platforms used to amplify our voices, we know that sometimes the powers that be have a different agenda in mind for allowing us to use those platforms (i.e. the appearance of diversity, ratings etc.). And because they own it, they have a large degree of control which is what Harris-Perry was ultimately faced with—the fact that while she built the brand and the following, she was still sitting in a house that didn’t belong to her, at a table where she didn’t control the menu. And when the network insisted on keeping her on a diet that bordered on starvation, Dr. Harris-Perry got tired of what was being served at the table so she left. Thing is, she didn’t just get up from the table— she flipped it over. Potato salad (no paprika) and pumpkin pie all over the floor, chile.

And that’s where it got real. Quick. Dr. Harris-Perry made her concerns public by sharing an email to her team about the show being “disappeared,” the network responded and there was a mutual agreement to go their separate ways. By “mutual,” I mean Harris-Perry had already told them folks she wasn’t playing with them and wasn’t going to be their token or mammy sitting in place just so they could say the network was diverse. Enter the negotiations phase and true to industry form, the network wanted Harris-Perry to sign a non-disclosure clause. Basically, in order to get her severance coin, she had to agree not to talk about how they played her. If you thought somebody couldn’t flip a table over, walk back into the same house and flip it over again, you clearly don’t know Black girls and women. Because that’s exactly what she did. Not only did she not sign, she took to Twitter to spill the tea the network wanted to keep quiet. She straight brought the facts, we’re talking bar graphs and everything.

Through all of this, Black girls and women were listening, learning and loving. Listening to what it means to be a Black woman in a space still owned and operated by people who don’t look and live like us. Learning what it means to walk away when your pockets are being fed but your soul is being starved. And loving Melissa Harris-Perry for speaking her truth to power.

#BlackGirlMagic all up and through here.

And because this is the year of the Black girl, Dr. Harris-Perry ain’t been the only one showing how #FreeBlackGirls are living in 2016. Bey doing it, Rih doing it, Serena doing it. FLOTUS doing it. But maybe it’s easy to see how they do it given the public attention, accolades, awards and coin they receive.  There are tons more examples of #FreeBlackGirls sprinkling #BlackGirlMagic, living and loving among us. Sophina. Charlene. Me and you, your momma and your cousin, too.
Recently, I found some #BlackGirlMagic in an unorthodox source— Love and Hip Hop. Wait, let me explain. While reality tv is full of madness, mayhem and foolishness, every now and then you get a glimpse of real life experiences (even if they are scripted and staged). And sometimes, you get to see Black girls win after using the show as a stepping stone (i.e. NeNe Leakes and Draya Michele). So trust me when I say that I get my life watching Cardi B from Love and Hip Hop. Cardi (birth name Belcalis) is a Dominican and Trinidadian Bronx born and raised sister living all kinds of free. She will openly discuss sex and sexuality, tell you why she embraces her crooked teeth, explain that stripping allowed her to leave an abusive relationship and she’ll weigh in on the current election cycle all in a 15-second Instagram clip. And keep you laughing the whole time. It’s clear that Cardi operates outside of spheres that require standard English and critical argument as the only valid forms of political/personal/public communication. She’s tough and vulnerable at the same damn time— an “emotional gangster,” as she puts it, she cries “once a month.” She’s also a philosopher. Cardi examines respectability politics, self-love, sexism and classism in a way that her audience gets (an audience of 2.5 million on Instagram alone).

Cardi got sound bites for days. She got tattoos. A sailor’s mouth. She even got bars. What she ain’t got is patience to sit at the tables of folks that ain’t serving what she needs. Much like Dr. Harris-Perry. Cardi B is all about building her own house and preparing her own table. And I’m here for everything she serving.

Erica Thurman is a writer, speaker and consultant with a focus on diversity, inclusion and intersectional approaches to sexual assault and domestic violence prevention/intervention. She is the founder of B-Girls RAP, a mentoring and empowerment program for girls and young women of color. More of her work can be found at ericathurman.com.

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