by Britt Julious
A few months ago, I started using the hashtag #blackweirdgirls as a means of describing the women I began to meet both in-person and online through various circles and social media platforms. The idea of a “weird” black girl is a rarity in pop culture, with Denise Huxtable from The Cosby Show and A Different World being the example that most can identify. But Denise Huxtable was a character from more than 20 years ago, and since then, the image of the black woman in pop culture can best be described by one of two stereotypes: the tragic and the divine.
When we think of the divine, we think of Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey, women who seem almost mythical in their grace, intelligence, and beauty. Like the #blackweirdgirl, the divine figure of the black woman is a rarity in pop culture. More often than not, we are given the tragic figure, one that either asks for our pity, or provides a source of ridicule.
Running consistent through both images is “strength” over weakness and stoicism over troubles. Constantly promoting this image in public can be both beneficial and detrimental. As a benefit, it gives us a means of addressing the adversities we face head on. We must push through it. We must move past it. We must do what needs to be done and that is that. But pushing through often means pushing down, supressing, or minimizing. This is only a solution for the immediate future. What happens weeks from now, months from now, years from now? Our problems are not always clean.
This is not a call for sadness, but a call for a multifaceted representation of the complications of the human experience. But as a black woman, I know we are much more complicated, more rich, and more interesting than the stereotypes that we’ve been given to represent our complete being and essence. Stereotypes are limiting in that they give a picture of the “whole” by providing a picture of the “part.” The complete “being and essence” of a black woman is one that can’t be described by any one stereotype or archetype. With public figures, however, the best way to bring about change is to embrace change.
Last week, 12-year-old Willow Smith released a new song, "Sugar and Spice," that is dramatic, angst-ridden, and perhaps one of the most radical public acts of black female vulnerability in the public eye in years. It is especially rare and important that a girl would be the one to actively (and unknowingly) break down the barriers of the image of black femininity in the public eye.
This is probably not Willow Smith’s main intent by releasing the song, but for someone one generation older than the young singer, her work signals an important change in the confidence of younger generations to express an “alternative” and little seen side of the black female experience. It is okay to cry, to feel, openly and without restraint. Facing the world around us means facing it from all sides.