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Four Ways To “Re-Brand” Black Women

***Before we begin, we’d just like to welcome the lovely Liz Burr to “club 30” today. She is the wind beneath our wings, the sim card in our smartphone, the Oreo pieces in our cookies and cream milkshake. Basically, she is the shit, and please wish her a very masculine birthday.***

"Paging Don at Sterling, Cooper, Draper Price"

There’s a running inter-office joke about “strong Black women.” I’d explain, but it won’t be funny because it’s one of those ‘you had to be there to get it’ insider things. But it all stems from how for the annual Do Right Men Issue years ago, there were like fifty guys featured and we asked all fifty, “What do you love most about Black women?” The logic was, Black women get so-piled on (that was for you Psychology Today) and many feel so unappreciated, overlooked, and criticized by Black men, that it would be a nice shout out to the ladies. Don’t recall the exact number, but almost all of them started out with, “they are strong…”

This excerpt is from Demetria Lucas’ “The Re-Branding of Black Women,” a piece that asks if our favorite go-to terms to favorably describe black women contribute to the feeling that sistas are somehow less feminine than other types of women. To that, I offer a resounding YES.

We can pretend all we want that there’s no such thing as a masculine adjective, but words like strong and resourceful and enduring and supportive sound more like you’re describing a plow horse or some industrial strength Brillo pads than a woman. Yes, women can definitely be “strong and resourceful and enduring and supportive,” when these types of words are always the first things we say when asked to volunteer what we love and respect about black women, it’s not difficult to start to understand why many of us don’t immediately associate “sista” with “feminine.”

It may seem like I’m playing a semantics game by harping on our word choice, but when attempting to re-brand black women — changing the conversation from “black women are less womanly” to “black women are the epitome of femininity” — everything matters. And yes, like Altria (formerly Phillip Morris) and Old Spice (whose series of quirky ads with Isaiah Mustafa resulted in an 11% growth in sales after the first “I’m on a horse” spot aired), black women are due for a serious re-branding.

Why? Well, it’s not that black women are any less beautiful, smart, feminine, and womanly than any other group of women. They’ve just had a couple hundred years worth of some really, really shitty PR.

Anyway, while we can’t change everything overnight, there are some things that we (black men and women) can start and stop doing to begin this process. Throwing away “strong” and thinking of another, softer go-to term when trying to describe black women (shit, how about “soft?”) is step one, and here’s a few more things we can all do.

Stop paying attention to idiots

This means no more conversation, text, blog, tweet, and email space should be given to Slim Thug, Albert Haynesworth, Yung Berg or any other not really all that high-profile imbecile who might have something disparaging to say about black women. Seriously, who the f*ck gives a f*ck about anything any of these people have to say about anything?

Sh*t, in the case of Yung Berg and Slim Thug, we’ve actually made them more famous and more relevant by paying attention to them (Yes, I’m guilty of this as well. Thanks for reminding me.), and entertaining these motherf*ckers does nothing but continue the “woe is me and my ugly-ass” mindset that leads to ghastly documentaries like “Dark Girls” being made.

End affirmative-action attraction

Look, if we want to be on an even playing field, I think we — and by “we” I mean “enlightened and educated negroes” — need to stop the well-intentioned but ultimately self-defeating process of referring to someone as beautiful just because they happen to be darker-skinned. Like with any other possible complexion, there are millions of extremely beautiful dark-skinned women. And, just like with any other possible complexion, there are millions of dark-skinned women who probably wouldn’t be at the top of most people’s looks scale…and that’s ok!!!

Life isn’t a 10 and under soccer league where every participant gets an award, and always making sure to include a token dark skinned girl when speaking of very pretty women is shameless pandering that 1) makes people tune us out because it seems like we’re “trying too hard” and 2) subconsciously reinforces the idea that a woman has to be considered beautiful by all for her to be useful¹. Just because a woman might never be on the cover of Vogue or Cosmo or XXL doesn’t mean that she can’t be on the cover of Time or Life or Black Enterprise, and it definitely doesn’t mean that there won’t be men or even just one man who is very attracted to her.

Create and maintain environments that allow women to be…ladies

While the rough exteriors and demeanors many African-American women work to maintain have been the cause of much consternation, many women either do this as a defensive mechanism or a learned and emulative behavior from those using it as a defensive mechanism. Basically, they learned to act that way because the environments that many of them grow up in forced them to learn to act that way.

And, while we can’t do much about racism, gentrification, the drug war, the recession, Detroit, or Michelle Malkin, we all (black men and black women) can work to create a community where a visibly unburdened sista is the rule instead of the too rare exception.

Anyway, people of VSB: The homie Demetria began this conversation, and I’d like to extend it. In light of the Dark Girls documentary (this year’s early favorite in the annual “Hard To Watch” awards), the Psychology Today Mess and more, do you think black women just need a little “re-branding?” If so, what else would you do to start this process?

¹This is something I’ve been guilty of as well. It’s no accident that I 1) make sure to list brown to dark-skinned black women (ie: Kenya Moore, Nona Gaye, Bria Myles, etc) when I namedrop attractive women and 2) make sure to list lighter skinned women and/or white women (ie: Lisa Lampanelli, Evelyn Lozada, etc) when naming random unattractive women. Shameless panderer I am.

—The Champ

No rapture means that God wants you to stay on Earth and purchase the paperback or the $9.99 Kindle version of “Your Degrees Wont Keep You Warm at Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide to Dating, Mating, and Fighting Crime”

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • *rubs 30th birthday glitter all over Liz*


    (throws goonish confetti)

  • IsOurChildrenLearning?

    “Seriously, who the f*ck gives a f*ck about anything any of these people have to say about anything? Sh*t, in the case of Yung Berg and Slim Thug, we’ve actually made them more famous and more relevant by paying attention to them.”

    We are giving these fools power by acting as if their words hold any weight with right thinking people.

    and THIS!!

    “we”…… need to stop the well-intentioned but ultimately self-defeating process of referring to someone as beautiful just because they happen to be darker-skinned.”

    Holding on to the idea that every dark skinned woman is a killer is following the same line of thinking that we as black women are rallying against, that there are complexion based qualifiers to feminine beauty.

  • i’m pretty sure i’ve never characterized black women as “strong”…not ’cause they aren’t, but because i think it’s femininely inherent–and it’s definitely not the first thing that comes to mind.

  • Mel

    Happy Birthday Liz!

    On Topic: I, as a Black Woman, am so tired of hearing about the plight of the Black Woman. This tired horse has been beat to death. In the most eloquent way I can put this: Get off deez!

  • oh–and happy birthday notorious l.i.z. :)

  • Andi

    Happy Birthday Liz Lemon!!! <3 <3 “Stop paying attention to idiots” is the best way to do it. Other than that, I would recommend living the best life you can and educating your fellow man. Be personally accountable and socially responsible. I think Jhane Sez and O had a great dialogue about it last week. Reach out to those who need it and do it with love. Mmkay.

  • AfroPetite

    1. Happy Born Day Liz!

    2. The color complex debate always hits close to home for me. I agree with black women needing “re-branding” of sorts. It’s frustrating to always hear women drop the complexion card for every little thing. Ex: “Rappers suck, there aren’t any darker girls in their videos giving dome, tooting-n-booting it, or swinging around their ta ta’s in pasties!!!” Ummm….ok I guess. Whatever battle that black women have going amongst ourselves we need to attempt to end. First step to that whole process would be to recognize that melanin (or lack there of) is beautiful. Dark or light, black is the epitome of beautiful.

  • Tes

    It’s late and I’m easily confused, so I’ll sit this one out for a bit. *lays out on a beanbag chair*

    Although, I do agree women, especially black women need a re-brand. As Evan said, “strong” is a given. You know were babies come from? That’s some gangster sh*t…what was I saying?

    I support remarketing of black women as sensual, smart and nurturing beings starting with ads around the country, maybe billboards. If somebody could billboard people into believing the Rapture is coming, anything is possible through big print.

  • Taylormay

    Happy Birthday Liz!

    I know people are probably going to hate me for this but the whole “independent woman” thing with black women has got to stop! Now there is nothing wrong with BEING independent but I cringe when I hear women singing or TALKING about imma independent bish. In my family, the women who scream I’m independent are the some ninjas ain’t ish, lonely but i don’t need a man, life is hard, bitter women and they all seem more manly/ unattractive/ unladylike/ hard/rough in comparison to women who are interdependent or who are quietly holding it down.

    Oh! And the keeping it real/ imma speak my mind women get painted as angry black women.

    Again its not every black woman but oftentimes its the negative or loud aspects of a small nugget of a community that get blown out of proportion to make it appear as if the entire population is the same.

    If so, what else would you do to start this process?
    * I honestly don’t have an answer. Perhaps we should strive to not give more attention to things and people who don’t really matter and support independent or even the rare mainstream black projects that align with our morals and principles. Maybe black women should start playing black women instead of black men and comedians

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