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Is This Gap Ad Racist?

Photograph by GAP

This week Gap apologized for an ad where several acrobatic kids are highlighted as being able to do anything. Angry Internet users came out against the ad, arguing that the black girl was being used as a prop and that Gap could have highlighted her talents more effectively.

Let me start by saying that I understand the concerns expressed by many black people on social media. One of the problems in our society surrounding issues of race is that there are so few complete depictions of black people in the media that images like these hit an already deep wound. The stories and images we see of black people often are limited and don't reflect our true humanity, our fullness and our complexity. We are often portrayed through the lens of historical context, and to put it plainly, that is unfortunate, disheartening and hurtful.

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But in my opinion, this ad is not racist. We see with eyes of racism, otherness and privilege due to our inability to heal what has created these broken perceptions. Seeing as a black woman in this society, which is all I know about, is tainted with feelings of isolation, being invisible, abandoned, raped and shunned.

For generations black women have not been able to see ourselves or celebrate ourselves, at least in the media. I know it seems like we have been front and center on TV for ages, with shows like "Scandal," starring Kerry Washington, and the first black First Lady, Michelle Obama, being celebrated as a heroine for all women. But this is all relatively new. Only in the last decade have images of black women come center stage in our media in a plethora of ways.

We react so adversely and see what may not be intended because we believe in some ways that we are still not equal.

For me, witnessing the social media protest of the Gaps ad campaign points directly to the wounds that lay unhealed within black women. Honestly we cannot continue to repress the desire to feel seen for who we truly are and deserve to be seen as. We no longer can continue to assimilate ourselves to standards of beauty that don't include us or represent our natural ways of being.

However, we go about this in ways that focus on changing the outside without addressing what's happening within us. For instance during the summer Olympics in 2012 Gabby Douglas was shamed by black women for not having her hair fashioned appropriately. Also more recently Beyoncé was attacked for not combing her daughter's hair and allowing it to be natural. In my view this points in the schizophrenic inner workings that can occur within the cultural experience of black women regarding race, value and our images—and social media is the place where the revolution is televised but it does not tell a complete story.

I think it is good that Gap acknowledged those who complained and took the appropriate actions. It's not due to error on their part, but due to a greater conversation that might help people, black women in particular, look at our wounds and take responsibility for our healing journey. This issue of racism is very complex and not as simple as protesting photos and advertisements.

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I know I want to feel better within myself in our culture. I desire to experience my humanity and have it represented accurately in the media. But it starts by me genuinely loving and being myself. In this revolutionary action of healing we can start showing up in ways that generate new ideas about who we are. We have outstanding examples of this with Shonda Rhimes, Beyonce, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and so many more. It is up to us to heal from how we have ingested the social constructs that deem us less than. They are false constructs. But we react so adversely and see what may not be intended because we believe in some ways that we are still not equal.

The image of this little acrobatic girl, standing beneath the arm of another girl (who we now know is the black model's sister) can be seen as pure fun and play. It can be interpreted in ways that highlight the freedom, accomplishments and skills we all desire. What we see is our choice and comes from our history until we choose to heal those wounds, close that chapter and create a new dynamic future. What we see is our choice, even when it's not necessarily true.

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