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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Black women don’t need a mascot

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The other day, I received one of the strangest requests ever. Someone wants to be my personal spokesperson! Well, full disclosure, the request was not extended to only me, but to all Black women, from none other than social media maven Misee Harris. If you immediately said, “Who?” allow me to bring you up to speed. Three years ago, Harris was offered a role on ABC’s hit show “The Bachelor.” She turned the show down, because she did not want to be the “token Black girl who gets booted in episode two,” or the “ratchet ethnic character that gets drunk and pulls another girl’s hair out on TV.” Right. Harris instead challenged ABC to give her her own show and make her the first Black bachelorette. That, of course, did not pan out, but she parlayed the “Black Bachelorette” moment into other ventures.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Harris two years ago when she accused her former employer of some discriminatory practices. Harris, who at the time worked as a pediatric dentist in Tennessee, was secretly being monitored on social media by her colleagues. Following a post on her personal Facebook page featuring a cartoon depiction of slain Ferguson teenager Michael Brown with the headline “Open Season on Black Folks,” Harris was given an ultimatum: Either tone down the controversial content online or leave. Harris chose the latter and took her former employer to court. She then moved to Los Angeles to continue practicing medicine and building her brand as a YouTube beauty vlogger, model, actress, writer and entrepreneur.

I’ll admit, when I first spoke with Misee two years ago, I was very impressed. She was 29 years old, beautiful, intelligent, community-conscious and a boss! She was what some people would refer to as #goals.

In the message I received earlier this week, Harris states, “Black American women need a voice. With Oprah’s show gone, Michelle Obama exiting the White House and the generations shifting, we don’t have that at the moment. I mean, who is going to speak for us? Al Sharpton? Gloria Allred? Blac Chyna? It’s not a good look.”

After I laughed (heartily), I felt myself growing increasingly agitated. Here’s the issue: I mean no shade by this at all, but regardless of all that Harris has accomplished and what she represents, I am not interested in having her be my spokeswoman. Why? Well, I don’t think I need one. Black women do not need an ambassador or a mascot. We are fully capable of speaking for ourselves individually. I would like to think she has good intentions, but this smells like nothing more than a weak publicity stunt, and Lord knows Black women have been exploited enough.

Harris went on to say she wishes to launch her public campaign to be “National Spokeswoman for all African American women” on “The Steve Harvey Show.” Seriously? I wish I were making this stuff up. Steve Harvey? The guy who made his post-comedy fortune telling Black women that in order to get a man they have to begin thinking like one? Let’s first start with unpacking the respectability politics wrapped up in this whole thing. Too often, women are told by people like Harvey, other know-it-alls and, in this case, by one of their own, that the only way they can be seen as valuable or worthy is to follow a list of very ambiguous social guidelines. This is amplified when race comes into play. Be sexy, but not too sexy or you’ll be deemed a whore. Be sophisticated, yet relatable, or you’ll be deemed bourgeois. Be outspoken, but not too direct, or you’ll be called a (insert expletive here). It is exhausting. Every day, I get on social media and see memes plastered all over the place shaming Black women for some of the most mundane things. We are critiqued from the tops of our weaved-up or natural heads to the soles of our spa pedicures or severely overworked feet. We are constantly reminded of how good we aren’t and not celebrated enough for how excellent we are. Those tides are thankfully beginning to change. All over the globe, Black women of all walks of life are building legacies, overcoming obstacles and embracing their beauty like never before. Statistics from the National Center of Education Statistics revealed that Black women are the most educated group of people in the United States, and a study commissioned by American Express Open showed Black women as the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the country. If you need another example, Google #BlackGirlMagic or visit the sites of three of my favorite women — Januarie York, (theiisneversilent.com), Tina Jackson (thetinajackson.com) or Elle Roberts (shehive.org). You will not be disappointed.

Yes, some of us have come a long way, but we cannot exclude those who, due to systemic oppression, may never have the alphabet behind their name, a phat savings account or a closet full of brand-new designer threads. We all deserve to be honored and celebrated.

I love Black women and I am proud of us, period. Despite my issues with her, I am proud of Misee Harris, but I do not need her (or anyone else) to be my spokesperson.

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