Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

Image is Everything by Janaye Ingram

Jun 15, 2012

Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 22) It’s important to put a human face on certain issues that have only been theoretical for too long.  Reality requires attention.

I start every week with the intention to figure out what I am going to write about on Tuesday, begin typing on Wednesday, edit on Thursday and publish on Friday.  It’s good in theory and keeps me striving for something, but the reality is I normally start thinking and writing on Thursday and send it in during the wee hours of Friday morning.  This week has been no different.  I’ve had several different things come to me that I could have focused on and some I’ll likely save for another week.  But a few things happened within the last week and a half that all converged in my mind under one theme: “The Black Image”.

Last week a story came out in the Chronicle of Higher Education called, Hating The Obamas.  I was interested in the author’s take on why the President and First Lady have come under such scrutiny.  I have my own opinions and have written as much, but it’s always interesting to read or hear other thoughts.  The author mentioned several attacks on the First Family, but particularly the attacks on Mrs. Obama struck me.  While the media generally says that she is beloved, that doesn’t mean that is the case with everyone.  As the article mentions, a candidate for the Illinois legislature took to Facebook to call the First Lady a “hoochie mama” and made a joke about President Obama at a baseball game getting ready to throw Michelle because he misheard that he was supposed to throw the “first pitch”.  Reading the article, I thought about the other things that have been said about Mrs. Obama, such as her being “Barack’s Baby Mama”.  As a woman who recognizes that Michelle Obama is an intelligent, accomplished, beautiful, and successful role model not only for black women, but for all women, the attacks stung.  They hurt personally.  If Michelle Obama can be baselessly thought of as these things, well, so can I.

Earlier this week, I got an email from someone who was offended by an image which she attached to the email.  When I opened the photo, it was a drawing by a black man of four different ethnic groups where each of the men were bench pressing the weight of the world.  The white, Asian and Latina women were all helping to spot their men, encouraging and supporting them.  But the black woman was not spotting, she was chiding her man for not letting her do it as he struggled under the weight of the world.  The title of the drawing was “We Need Your Support”.  The message was disturbing, but not one I’m unfamiliar with.  I’ve heard these comments in group conversations, I’ve read them on social media sites like Twitter and Facebeook and I’ve had encounters with men who date outside of their race solely because of that notion of thinking.  I thought to myself if this is what our men (and frankly, some women) think of us, it’s no wonder the rest of the world assumes we’re angry, unsupportive hoochie mamas.

The next day, I saw a flurry of action on twitter about how Gwyneth Paltrow apparently used the “n-word” and now some rappers and other entertainers are coming to her defense.  That conversation further developed into whether anyone should say the word.  This, in particular, is what led me to want to talk about this issue of the black self-image.  This is not the first time that the black community has had this sort of conversation about a contrast in principles (we can say it, but they can’t).  When our negative language used by us to talk to and about each other, even in a “loving, jocular” way, is then employed by someone who is not within our group suddenly we are up in arms.  Have I heard girls call their best friends “hoe”, “b—h”,  and “slut”?  Absolutely.  And I hear and see the N-word more than I hear people saying not to use the N-word.  When we tell the world that we are “N—-s, B—-es, hoes, hoodrats, hoochie mamas, etc. why should we ever expect anyone think that we aren’t?

I found a quote on Twitter that sums up the explanation.  Life coach and Author Tony Gaskins said, “You teach a person how to treat you by what you ignore, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”  We have taught others how to treat us by ignoring when we talk to each other with negative language, we have not stopped this behavior despite public awareness campaigns and Congressional hearings, and now we have some who are trying to reinforce that it’s okay by giving a “pass” to certain people.  But our perception of ourselves and each other will tell others how to treat us.  It doesn’t mean that people won’t form their own ideas or opinions, but we prime them and their perception of us.  Image experts will tell you that how you present your brand will help people form their opinion of what you are offering.  Some psychologists will tell you that how you see yourself dictates how you allow others to treat you.  The Bible tells us “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  An old English quote says, “Call a man a thief and he will steal.” And yet, we pretend the negative images we assert in “fondness” and “familiarity” are not only positive, but harmless.  However, what they breed are connotations that we don’t control and as others hear and use them, we are then forced to defend who we are.  The assertion that Michelle Obama is a “hoochie mama”, that black women chastise their men and that we are N—as is clearly defined by our large group conversation.  And though we have the power to change the course of these negative images, we choose not to.

I started this by typing what my horoscope said; I need to put a human face on this issue.  The face that goes on this issue is yours, your mother’s, your siblings’, your niece, your nephew, your grandmother, your father, your child, or your best friend.  Look in the mirror.  Would you introduce yourself or your loved one to a stranger as a “hoe” or a N-word?  Imagine that someone saw only those words, not the many other things that make us all who we are.   That is the very real face of this issue. We can never change how others see us, but we can definitely change our own narrative, the story we tell others about how we want to be defined.  Years from now will we want future generations to say that we abused one another by spewing vitriol wrapped in candy?  We gave hugs while spewing hate?  We would never allow a stranger to come to us and say these things, so why do we allow ourselves to do it to each other?  Words undoubtedly have power.  As writer Melissa Donovan said on her website, “The words we choose in our writing and everyday conversations reveal a lot about our attitudes and thought patterns.”  By simply speaking in positive terms, we could potentially find the encouragement we need to address some of the deeper and more critical issues in our community.  Let’s change the conversation and create a better self-image.