For Colored Girls Who Loved Prince

 photo chrisr_1398965581_PrinceApollonia.jpg
by Donnetrice Allison

Thursday April 21st around 1:30 p.m. is a moment in time I will never forget. A co-worker came into the copy room where I was scanning a document – I’m not even sure what compelled her to come in there specifically to tell me, but she said, “I just heard that Prince passed away.” I looked at her dumb-founded for a few seconds. My first thought, “If my dog died, how would she know? Did my husband call the main office?” Apparently, she noticed my confusion and clarified, “Prince, the singer.” I was shaken to the core. I returned to my office to try to complete the work I had intended to do that day, but I couldn’t concentrate.
Luckily, I am a college professor and my classes were finished for the day, so I had to flexibility to leave. I had to leave. I had left my cell phone on my desk when I went to the copy room and I noticed several texts and voicemails, some from folks that I hadn’t spoken to in months. But everyone who knew me knew – this day, this hour, this moment in time, would be incredibly difficult for me. Even my sister, who was all the way in Haiti on a missionary trip, texted me, “Are you okay?” I suppose this sounds strange to you – the reader. Why were my family and friends so concerned for me? Did I know him personally? No. Did he know me – touch me to my core at the most impressionable time in my life? Absolutely. I first met him when I was about 12 or 13, pressing my ear to a boombox speaker, rewinding, listening, and rewinding again – Erotic City. Was he really saying that on a record? Then, by the time I was 14, I fell utterly and completely in love with him, as I watched him sing to Apollonia, “Do you want, or do you want me, cause I want you?” Remember that look on her face, the tears in her eyes? I had that same look, the same tears, he was singing to me. The only difference – I was a little brown girl with big lips, a wide nose and kinky hair, when it wasn’t straightened by a hot comb.

In the weeks since Prince’s death, I’ve been falling in love with him all over again, listening to his music daily, listening closely to the words, allowing my three children to listen – to the non-sexual songs, of course – and watching my only daughter, who is right around the age I was when I met him, fall in “like.” She is intrigued with him. I don’t think it’s as intense for her as it was for me. But, I think more than anything, she is using this opportunity to get to know me – to understand why her mom is so impacted by this man she never met. I have also had the opportunity to reflect on Prince’s impact on little brown girls like me and like her. I am a media scholar and I specifically focus on media portrayals of African Americans. I have been doing so for more than two decades, but when I met Prince, I was clueless. I had no idea of the subliminal message his choice of women had on me.

Recently, I went back and reread a short story that I wrote about him when I was 14. The title was, “For the Love of…” And it started like this, “This is the story of a young college girl named Trina Taylor. She is in her 2nd year of college and she is 19 years old. She is mixed with Indian, white and black blood. She is the most popular girl on campus. She is also very attractive. She has grayish color eyes, light skin, long silky hair, and a petite model’s shape.” Needless to say, I don’t look anything like the young woman I described, but that was what the women that Prince was attracted to looked like – Shelia E., Vanity, Apollonia. So for the sake of my story, which was a love story between this girl and Prince, that is what she looked like. That is what “I” looked like, because of course the girl was me. Over the years, I watched his music videos, films, paparazzi photos, memorized by his beauty and the beauty of the women on his arm. And I never unpacked the reality that none of them looked like me. I never unpacked the reality that he had no brown girls on his arm, with thick lips, thick hips and natural kinky/curly hair. Did he love me like I loved him? I told myself that he did, because his music spoke to me and filled my soul, but when I look closely at who he surrounded himself with, I couldn’t be sure.

During the “Controversy” years, Prince played with perceptions. He sang, “Am I Black or white, am I straight or gay?” He seemed to enjoy keeping us guessing and questioning. He got rid of the afro he wore on the “For You” album cover, curled his hair, wore heels, ruffles and lace, and oozed sexuality. Yet, in recent years, he’d gone full circle. He returned to his afro, spoke out about Black Lives and sang a song about “Baltimore.” He became more vocal about his Blackness than he’d ever been, yet still, the look of the women on his arm changed very little. So what’s a Black girl like me, like my daughter to think? In today’s media climate, where images of Black women and girls are primarily negative – fighting, cursing and carrying on – I’m left to wonder: Who loves us? Did Prince? Again, I don’t know. And I dare not ponder that in his death. It’s still too painful a question to ask, because I still see him through the eyes of the 14 year-old girl whose soul he touched.

Donnetrice C. Allison, Ph.D currently serves as an associate professor of both Communication Studies and Africana Studies at Stockton University in Galloway, NJ. Dr. Allison has published several articles and numerous conference presentations on hip hop culture and media portrayals of African Americans - at national and international conferences. Dr. Allison is currently editor of the book "Black Women's Portrayals on Reality Television: The New Sapphire," published by Lexington Books.

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