Monday, June 11, 2007

An Open Letter to "Buffie the Body"

Dear Buffie Carruth,

I would greatly appreciate it if you did not make the attempt to speak for women like me or to elevate yourself to the status to which you recently alluded in an interview with the New York alternative newspaper The Village Voice. In an article dated May 31, 2007, you were quoted as having said the following:

“I'm the definition of a true black woman. . .
I'm not light-skinned, my mom is not from China, and my dad is not fromYugoslavia. People normally see the light-skinned, small girls with the pretty hair in magazines, and maybe they were just tired of that and wanted to see something different, something real.”
While I respect your attempt to claim beauty as an attribute of dark skinned women, something oft-neglected in media portrayals of women of darker hues, I am baffled by your complete inability to recognize that black womanhood is defined by more than just the color of our skin. As a black woman, you should know quite well that blacks come in many colors. Your assuming that darkness of skin equates to true blackness sounds more like the words of a racist or an essentialist of another group than a member of our own. Our spectrum of tones runs from a pale “almost white” to a black “as dark as night.” How can you ignore the beauty of our diversity? How could you, in one sweeping statement, deny my mother, my grandmother, me of our blackness simply because we are lighter than you? Does your definition also prohibit women who are darker than you from joining you in a claim to true blackness? Are mainstream models like Veronica Webb or Alek Wek not “true black women” in your eyes?

Maybe you think you are the definition of a true black woman because of your body. However, Buffie, your physical features do not an archetype make. There are plenty of skinny sisters out there who would be quick to challenge your claim that your blackness is truer than theirs. While you may fulfill the fantasies of your admirers with merely a forward bend in a video one day or a magazine spread the next, there is much more to black womanhood than “back.” I quickly tire of other people trying to assert authenticity when it is based on stereotypes, and physical ones at that, of what we as black women are expected to be. We own our blackness in various ways, and no one has the authorization to dictate otherwise. We already have enough people trying to speak on behalf of black women via blatant untruths, so we do not need another.

Another aspect of your statement that makes me give pause is your indirect assertion that people of multiracial descent (which, in fact, accounts for most American blacks just like you), whom you seem to target here as your beauty rivals, are not members of your true black woman club. Yet as so many blacks are multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-national, how can you not welcome mixed people into the demographically fluid boundaries of blackness? Considering our shared history and experiences, blacks are quite capable of transcending the limited racial definition in which you choose to corral us. We are still in the process of discovering what "black" even means. How could you bring all this discussion to a halt in order to feed your hunger for attention? "True blackness" goes far beyond vanity.

I recognize that you are not a sociologist or a historian, so why did your opt to speak in a manner as such when addressing the white man who interviewed you? Did you feel it was the perfect time to speak on behalf of all black women, to put down those of us whom you deem as not being “real”? Do your conscious efforts to become what you are today (i.e. weight gain shakes you admit to drinking, hair extensions) in any way constitute a revocation of your claim to realness and your denying us of ours? From where I sit, your statements bear the stench of hypocrisy, just as those of others who have attempted to live in the spotlight under the guise of representing the interests of the black community.

I would like to think that you, as a woman who has experienced a great deal of adversity early on in life, would reconsider vocalizing such a cheap shot at women who, despite the differences they may exhibit in skin color, body type, or racial/ethnic background, may have had to struggle just as hard, if not more so, to find their way along the path to success. So with that said, please do not attempt to speak for black women, particularly if you decide to insult a portion of the population on a whim.


Wendi Muse

P.S. You can also keep your comments on hair types, which are clearly the remnants of brainwashing that you claim to be above, to yourself. We as black women don’t need any more reminders from the media of what about our bodies, including our hair, is “good” or “bad.” Thanks.


Wayetu Moore said...

Media portrayals of black women stem from an inability to accept our diversity; an acceptance would find fault in centuries of unfair characterization, demonization, and false labeling. Because of this, because an acceptance of the group at the bottom of the ladder seems to be centuries further away, black women in the media frequently use their platforms to attempt to dispel myths , undo notions, and reset standards. By saying this, I do not think that Buffy was attempting to attack or discredit the blackness of light skinned, or smaller black women. I think she was attempting to challenge the standards of her audience, and maybe even simply basking in the fact that she, maybe once "the little dark-skinned girl", had made it despite the odds that may have been set before her. Her articulation of it may have been a bit presumptious, with the "I am a true black woman" statement--but again, I think that it was simply a (poor) attempt to challenge media's standards. Most black women who are not small and/or light skinned that find themselves accepted by media will play it up, comment, and at times exploit themselves in order to be that ONE that is the symbol and voice of an underrepresented group. Beyonce did it--"not all women are small and I want to show women that they can love themselves for whatever size that they are". Lauryn Hill, Foxy Brown, and even Naomi Campbell have made comments about being dark skinned entertainers in an industry more partial to European favoring women. Most black women have gone through some form of isolation, teasing, and even physical harassment from other BLACK women because of the color of their skin, their size, etc. The Comedian Monique says "skinny women are evil"...she doesn't say "skinny white women are evil". Her pain, as with the most of us, has come from the inside. Her triumph, consequently, is something that she can say she did despite the "inside", and is a catalyst for her statements of being a representative of "big" women everywhere, in an effort to show them that they can do everything that smaller girls can do.
So perhaps that is the challenge; instead of using our positions to be "the first true black woman", "the first big black woman", "the first dark-skinned black woman", and on and on and on, we HAVE to learn to uplift each other. We HAVE to learn to stop using our platforms to laugh into each others' faces. We HAVE to learn how to articulate our victories, our fears, and our anger. That is absolutely the only way that as a group of people, we will get anywhere. So for the little light skinndedededed girls out there that got chased and ostracized because of the accusation that they thought they were "all that", for the dark-skinned sisters that always took the back seat to a girl that they told you was more fair than you, for the voluptuous beauties whose ears still ring with the sound of their words, let's all uplift each other. Let's all remember each other. And let's all realize that we are truly in this together.

Wendi Muse said...

yeah i agree...i think she was trying...and i understand what she was trying to say...but when you are in the public eye, you have to be careful what you say...especially in a magazine with a diverse set of readers...i think her career choice also makes her statement doubly a "true black woman" also one who relies on her sexuality to get ahead? i think buffie, serving as a self-nominated role model is ...a bit...problematic? her timing was off...

Wendi Muse said...

cross linked comment from Natasha Moscow (

natasha moscow said...
What a nice way to nip a voicing of self-essentialism and plain nonsense! Well, there goes the definition a "true black woman." I am sick of “announcements” that want to shatter the skeptical sensibility about “being a black person." As for those who seemed to be heading that route (with of course the hope of avoiding all the wounds and the lies that will come along with the winning medals and the prestige), I doubt that any formulation of the “true definition” is ever going to capture the existential qualities about what it means to be a black woman. It is just not about being a “self-representation” of whatever these “announcements” are actually about. Now, who is the next woman who is going to paint herself into a black face? Classic Fit, anyone?

virtual-Toast Wendi

DAVE BONES said...

she is a babe though...

Anonymous said...

Great post,Wendy!!

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