Have you seen it? It’s appalling. The video titled Dina and the Prince Story. It’s making the rounds on social media. It’s a children’s cartoon about a beautiful angel who falls in love with a prince, however, she is forbidden to speak to him. If she does speak to him, Dina is warned that she would lose her beauty. And of course, as any narrative arc would dictate, she speaks to him and alas, loses her beauty. In the cartoon, losing her beauty–becoming ugly–is indicated by her skin being turned from white to Black and her hair going from straight to textured. Yes, you read that right.
A couple of years ago, I sarcastically and jokingly responded to a blatant act of cultural appropriation that a friend called out on his Facebook feed. Several of his friends all chimed in with humorous, yet frustrated comments about how fed up we were with the pillage and commodification of other cultures by white people. A “friend” of mine saw my comment and proceeded to tell me that I was acting like a victim.
I am fairly confident that there is sufficient evidence to confirm that I have never lived my life as a victim. But, why is it so hard to acknowledge Black women’s hurts? The bruises on our hearts from the persistent indignities that come at times when we least expect it, like that f****ng cartoon? I can give you example after example of the typical Black women archetypes that feed our daily image intake–the Jezebel, the Mammy, the Strong Black Woman who endures the typical “urban” tragedy, the Resilient Badass, the Fat Sassy Sidekick, the Angry Black Woman–shall I go on?
When and where do we really examine the Black woman with the broken heart? We sympathize and broadcast the pain for those we force into the public eye as they are smacked by the ever-present hand of injustice–Trayvon’s mother, Sabrina; Michael’s mother, Lesley; Eric Garner’s daughter, Erica. . who died at the age of 27 from a heart attack. We expect them to conjure up the strength of mountains to lead us in a movement, but do we tend to their hearts?
I recently had a lively discussion with a small group of Black women about the concept of Black excellence. We debated over the fact that we have to set the bar high. We have so much to contribute, right? One point that was raised, however, was how can we be expected to strive for excellence when we are merely trying to get our basic humanity acknowledged? It was the most poignant statement of the evening.
I’ve been pretty transparent about the fact that my pregnancy was not planned so when I decided to go through with having Emmanuel, I wasn’t expecting some magical fairy tale commitment from his father. He wasn’t ready for that. I thought at the very least, he would be a friend. This was a man with whom I had a familial connection since I was six years old. We had been romantically involved off and on for over nine years at the time. We were grown adults. I was thirty-two, he was thirty-nine.
Instead, he walked away. During my pregnancy, he started a relationship with another woman. . .a white woman. . .with dread locked hair like me, but not. . .and he went all the way across the country to be with her. He did it with complete indifference to me, like he was possessed by a spirit other than the man I thought I had known all of those years. I was devastated. It was traumatizing and left me haunted on so many levels.
Whatever joy and strength I could manufacture in my heart and mind, I directed it towards the baby I was carrying. I read loving chapter books to my belly. My favorite was Guess How Much I Love You. I was obsessive about eating right and exercising. Loving the life growing inside of me was the only way I could manage and mask the heartbreak I was experiencing every day.
Then one day, I was sitting in my car listening to an NPR broadcast about the horrors that were occurring in the Sudan. It was 2004 and the Arab Janjaweed were killing and raping African women in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the region. Something exploded inside of me and I fell apart in my car, sobbing over what felt like a collective hatred of Black women. I felt it in my own life from the father of my unborn child and I felt it for all of those women.
When the world observes these phenomena, whether it’s the Black father that abandons or the severe brutality inflicted on Black women across the globe, we deem it as a “pathology” of a people, of a race–and perhaps in some way it is–one of the many produced by the white supremacist air we breathe. However, beneath the surface of this sterile analysis lay the brokenhearted.
This Dina and the Prince Story cartoon called to mind the 2007 Rutgers University women’s basketball team. They had just lost the championship to Tennessee despite a valiant effort and radio talk show host, Don Imus, threw salt in their wounds by calling them “nappy-headed hoes” during his live broadcast. He was duly fired and rightfully so. When confronted by the ladies in a meeting, their most compelling and urgent question was simply “why?” They couldn’t understand why he would make such a statement without even knowing who they were and while they were nobly reaching for a dream.
That’s the thing. There is no why.
So, the brokenhearted begin the long journey toward healing, forgiving our offenders and daring to open our hearts once more. I used to joke with my friends long after Raliegh and I had made amends as co-parents that if you cut me open, my heart would probably be this mangled piece of meat held together by duct tape and string. We make our own repairs and carry on.
The Black Lives Matter movement was launched as a plea to the world to stop killing our sons, brothers, fathers, uncles and cousins. Here we are begging for the bare minimum–please, at the very least, don’t kill us. Perhaps it’s time to raise the bar and start asking for not just our lives, but the love to mend our broken hearts.