A Letter to My Daughters
So an errant fake lash led me to a Google search. This search led me to the L’Oreal Beauty Blog. Always looking for makeup wisdom, I glanced over their other articles and saw a piece called “How to Make Your Lips Smaller.” The artwork for the piece featured a Black woman who looked like me. Lips like mine. Skin like mine. Body like mine. I looked at this woman — my own reflection. I questioned my sight. I looked for the date thinking surely this article was a fossil from a more unenlightened time. Circa 1950. No. It was written and posted in 2021. Months ago. I sent the image to other Black women friends who were equally stunned. According to this article, my lips — replete, ancestral, a remnant of my majestic mother — were a thing to be made “small.”
Now, right now! Black women’s bodies, STILL, for all the veneration (often thinly masked appropriation), remain a place of conflict in American culture. More upsetting, they remain mere material, a commodity to be diminished, or erased at will. A thing that services.
The expression “Black Is Beautiful” feels anachronistic now. Cringey. Regressive. But when I saw this article, I am cannon-shot back to the need for this rallying cry. That, in 2022, “Black. Is. Beautiful” are still words we need to guard us against the blows of a beauty company, a beauty industry, that tell us our lips, our bodies’ glad claim to African shores, are not only not beautiful, but undesirable, something to be erased like the lancing of a pimple.
My daughters, this is why your work is necessary. Hear me. For every woman like me who reads an article like this and finds it absurd, laughable even, there are countless more who will read it, and follow the instructions word for word. It’s a step-by-step guide to self-mutilation. Destroying our bodies, rendering us invisible.
The good news: Your faces, your beautiful faces are the antidote. The craft that you use to bring the fullness of Black womanhood to the screen is the antidote.
We thank God. We thank her for Mary J. Blige’s “Good Morning Gorgeous.” We thank her for Quinta Brunson’s “Abbot Elementary.” We thank her for Bisa Butler’s quilted imagination for they remind us of Zora Neale Hurston’s exultant words, “I am not tragically colored [or bodied for that matter]. There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul… No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”
Yes, as writer Christina Sharpe asserts, racism in this world is “the weather.” Yes, patriarchy will try to blind and bind you. Make you feel that original power is still male. Please see it for what it is even as it hides behind “method,” “art” and “production value.” Demand work environments that are safe and affirming. Demand to be paid well. Fight to be written for and about in a way that is a full measure of who you are. You will have to do this. I got the scars to prove.
It is up to you to show a new kind of leadership, one that is expansive, horizontal, and listens. We cannot espouse systems of power that are mere replacements of domination. You must manifest this on and off camera and off set. The kind of leadership Ella Baker used to usher in the Freedom Rights Movement in this country. It is up to you to confront the “-ism’s” and “-ity’s” that still try to plague the creativity of Black women. One of the worst being conformity. It’s up to you.
My daughters. I’m not worried. I’m not worried. For I have sat next to you, held your hands, breathed your rarified air, and fainted at your brilliance. Yes, you are magic, but not of the ephemeral “rabbit in the hat” variety. For we are not ephemera, we are bone and flesh and feeling. You are the magic that Alice Walker describes as “craft+talent+courage.” I’m not worried. I’m not worried. For I see constant Dawn in your eyes. The jewels you wear are “Ruby’s.” In your voices, I hear “Truth.” You rage with laughter.
My daughters, Demi, Saniyya, Layla, Daniele, and Mikayla, Jada and Jurnee, and Ebony and Dominique and my baby Bowie.
My bright, Black future.
Your mama on the screen, your aunt on and off screen, your friend for life,
Aunjanue Ellis is an Academy Award nominee for her portrayal of Oracene Price, mother and coach of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, in Warner Bros.’ “King Richard.” The prolific actor and producer has also earned two Primetime Emmy nominations (for “When They See Us” and “Lovecraft Country”) and will next star in the AMC drama “61st Street,” opposite her “Lovecraft” cast mate Courtney B. Vance.
Throughout the month of February, Variety will publish essays from prominent Black artists, artisans and entertainment figures celebrating the impact of Black entertainment and entertainers on the world at large.