World-renowned drummer Sheila E. shouted into the audience with an unapologetic defiance and power that exemplified the spirit of “Black Girls Rock!” — the television special dedicated to awarding the achievements of young Black women.
As the awardees took the stage, I was thrilled to watch something on TV that finally showed Black women in a positive light. I saw role models I never knew I could have — artists, educators, and entrepreneurs who had changed their communities through their hard work.
But many people didn’t feel inspired; for them, the awards aroused anger.
The awards — which have run on BET for five years — have frequently been called “reverse racist.” In 2013, the hashtag “#WhiteGirlsRock” flooded Twitter in response to the program. What’s more, when Michelle Obama spoke at this year’s “Black Girls Rock!” awards last Sunday, social media erupted with criticism. Some viewers said that she sent a message to white girls that they don’t matter.
Everyone deserves equal and fair representation on our television screens and in the pages of our magazines. But unfortunately, television shows rarely boast Black protagonists and appearances of Black women in leading roles are even scarcer. “Black Girls Rock!” is essential because it makes a statement against this flagrant lack of positive images of Black women in the media.
Too often, Hollywood appropriates Black culture while simultaneously criticizing it and popularizing negative stereotypes against people of color. Furthermore, awards committees rarely recognize the work of Black women. For instance, it wasn’t until this year — the 72nd Golden Globes — that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated a Black woman for best director.
The show’s critics are quick to say that “Black Girls Rock!” discriminates against white girls, yet they often omit other women of color from their argument. The hashtag that trended in 2013 was #WhiteGirlsRock, not #AllGirlsRock.
It excluded women of color from the conversation about discrimination and represents the notion that the inclusion of white people is necessary for a narrative to be considered legitimate. It categorizes women of color as “other,” and therefore not worthy of the praise that white women deserve.
In addition, the hashtag intensifies the Black-white binary that feeds into the oppositional dualism that strengthens discrimination. #WhiteGirlsRock epitomizes the precise lack of recognition for people of color that led to the necessity for a program like “Black Girls Rock!”
Proclaiming, “Black Girls Rock” is not synonymous with saying, “White Girls Don’t Rock.” Instead, it’s a seldom-heard reminder that Black girls have achieved and will continue to achieve great things.
by Sarah Bruley