As part of African-American heritage month, Emerson’s Black Student Organization EBONI, along with Multicultural Student Affairs partnered up in hosting the Black Women in Society forum on February 11th. The panel featured prominent women in the fields of academia and youth advocacy.
Its primary purpose was to, “educate the Emerson community on the everyday struggles of black women in society in relation to race, culture, and media,” said Co-President Taylor Jett, a sophomore visual and media arts major. Among the panelists were Kim McLarin, novelist and writer-in-residence at Emerson, Angela Cooke-Jackson, health communications expert and an assistant professor in Emerson’s Communication Studies Department and Nia Clark, the activities coordinator of the Home for Little Wanderers.
“It’s impossible to teach anything in America without talking about race. As educators, we are delegated to do so,” said McLarin. In both her writing and African-American history courses, McLarin explores her student’s definition of race, and its context.
Cooke-Jackson teaches about the N-word in her classroom as a means of exploring the new trends that have changed the way society views the use of the word. “We make choices when we don’t think about the other [individual,] when you’re culturally conscience, that person knows not to go there.”
Nia Clark, activities coordinator of the Home for Little Wanderers, remembered her private school days in Brookline being one of two students of color. “Race was a non issue, a non discussion. I was almost under the perception that we don’t see color here, we are all the same. I lost my individuality as if I was one of many,” she said.
Topics like education, dating, and marriage were among many issues discussed during the event. “I really had to love who I was, that really became what was most important to me,” said Cooke-Jackson. She was educated at a Baptist college, where relations between blacks and whites were not allowed. “I received a good education, traveled all over the world and was independent. I didn’t concern myself with marriage, I let that come naturally,” said Cooke-Jackson.
One way that Cooke-Jackson was able to become better self-aware was through journaling. “What troubles me is that I don’t see people being care takers of themselves. On the top of my journal I would write ‘who am I?’ This allowed me to focus on myself and how to become a better me,” she said.
McLarin said that much of the stigma attached to black women and success looked to be full of vast exaggerations and scare tactics. “We have to be careful of internalizing this narrative, that becoming ourselves fully makes us unlovable.”
Each of the panelists’ spoke openly about ways in which women of color can grow personally and professionally especially with the challenges women face within society and from the mainstream media. “We need to spend more time appreciating our beauty and intelligence, because internalizing this can be destructive. What they, (the media) mean serves mo meaning to your life as an individual,” said McLarin.
Body image and appearance in the media played a significant role in the lives of these three panelists, especially Clark who struggled to come to terms with the lack of support in being a male to female transgender person. “The reason why I do my own hair now is because I didn’t feel the need to support a black business that isn’t supportive of me. I was tired of going to salons, sitting and getting a wash and set while people talked about me using words like abomination and disgusting,” said Clark. “We need to send early messages to young girls to take pride in their hair.”
McLarin was concerned of the damage internalized racism has on people of color. By definition, internalized racism is the internalization of a person’s racist attitude towards members of their own ethnic group, including themselves.
“We have suppressed so much hatred about our skin tones and hair trying to fit into what society considers the norm [fair skin, long straight hair,] and it continues to affect us,” she said.
When asked what could be done to create change on how black women see themselves, Cooke-Jackson emphasized, “It all begins with the individual. Who are you? How comfortable are you in your own skin? I ask myself that every day. I am a work in progress and I will continue to be one.”