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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.
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
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
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
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.