I was thinking the other day about visibility and how important it is to see yourself in movies, on television, on billboards, and in magazines. We discuss this here at BNP frequently. We’ve picked up visibility, unwrapped it, shone a light on it, and let it glow in the ether while you whip your hair back and forth basking in its realness.
As much as we’ve talked about the importance of visibility, I don’t think that we can ever talk about it or act on it enough. The importance of visibility is why sites like Black Nerd Problems, and even figurative entities like Black Twitter, exist.
On visibility, poet and activist Nikki Giovanni says “…You’ve got to find a way to let people know you’re there.”
So, here we are and here we stand and here we shout and stomp our feet in gladness when other people seem to see us. Speaking for myself, I get excited when a new commercial comes out showing Black girls with natural hair and dark skin doing everyday things like, you know, drinking milk or eating cereal; the everyday things that we all do. I also get a nice little flutter of butterflies in my tummy when I see a gay or lesbian couple on an advertisement shopping or just walking down the street hand-in-hand. Many of us shout for joy at these depictions of marginalized folks getting visible play doing the regular shit that folks do. I mean, eating cereal may seem like nothing, but it’s real life. Black folks don’t just jump public transportation everyday singing Coca-Cola jingles.
I mean, that’s not to say that we don’t EVER or that I didn’t try it out a few times back in the day, just not everyday, ya know? Growing up as a teenager in the 90s, the main depictions of Black folks in commercials was that; singin’ & dancin’, a-shuckin’ and a-jivin’. My little heart appreciated some of it, while developing a side-eye that I didn’t have words for yet. Now, I’m like, can I just see a cute Black lesbian couple washing dishes together without relying on YouTube searches?
Speaking of which… I was enjoying a heavy YouTube rotation of 90s love songs earlier this month when I saw something that I’d never seen before. Well, I’d seen the video, maybe a hundred times or more but never noticed this particular scene. Okay, let me just get to it. KC & JoJo. All My Life. You may be sitting there wondering what in the hell I’m talking about, but stick with me. Yes, this duo is Black. No, music videos from Black artists or any other artists of color are not/were not unusual to see. However, this was released in 1997 and if you skip to 2:31 on the video, you will see a couple not commonly portrayed positively in the 90s. What is that? A same sex couple? YOOOOO!
I can nit-pick all I want and talk about how same sex cis-gender female couples are typically more acceptable, how the women seem to be NPOC, etc… Honestly, I just can’t believe that in 1997 this representation was there and I missed it. How many of us missed it, and why? At 16 years old, I was thinking about my sexuality, but not necessarily labeling it. I was mainly thinking about getting out of the hood and getting out of high school with some notability and maybe a date or two sprinkled in there. I didn’t identify as bisexual at the time, so is that why I missed it? It was just abut 2 seconds long, but the other day I promise it felt like an entire episode of The L Word.
I don’t have those answers, but I think the questions draw us back to the importance and necessity of seeing ourselves, our WHOLE selves, portrayed in different media outlets. Young and old, we need to see ourselves in books, magazines, the big screen, commercials, billboards, etc. We need to see ourselves doing amazing, incredible, breathtaking things and doing regular, everyday, mundane things. Whether you identify as POC, LGBTQIA, a person with a disability, or any other group of historically marginalized people, I hope that one day soon you find yourself outside of a Google search and on the big screen doing amazing shit. The kinda shit that privilege tries to erase from our lives because it doesn’t make them laugh. Thanks to KC & JoJo for slipping that one in there and thanks to Mary Lambert and the Ad Council’s Love Has No Label Campaign for that amazing commercial that I see at least ten times a day on television.
Keep shouting, y’all. We out here. Let’s be seen.