Pax Jones is the mastermind behind #unfairandlovely, a hashtag campaign she started with two Sri Lankan friends that has become a melanin movement for the Asian community. But a series of thoughtful tweets she posted in January have resurfaced, sparking dialogue online about why the public face of young black feminism in America does not involve any dark-skinned black girls.
I love Amandla & Zendaya, but are we going to acknowledge that the face of young black feminism is the light skinned, biracial aesthetic?
— pax j (@thepaxjones) January 8, 2016
On the black progressive Son of Baldwin Facebook page, fans weighed in with thoughtful commentary about who gets to be the ‘public face’ of black womanhood in a country rife with racism and colorism.
We discussed the tweets in a BGLH writers meeting and found them to be surprisingly true. After trying to come up with a list of young dark-skinned actresses and entertainers who are vocal about black issues and have been given a similar platform to Zendaya Coleman and Amandla Stenberg (primarily in the form of mainstream magazine covers and media features), we could not come up with any. The closest we could find is 26-year-old Jessica Williams, the wickedly funny, sharply intelligent and absolutely gorgeous Daily Show correspondent, who has been holding it down on cultural issues for a minute.
But she has not been given the same platform or attention, and while it could be argued that her lane is different because she is a comedienne, it’s worth noting that Amy Schumer has graced multiple fashion magazine covers while, to date, Jessica has only covered one — BUST Magazine.
There is also 22-year-old Keke Palmer, who is admittedly not as eloquent as Coleman and Stenberg, but has had an incredible career nonetheless, including being the youngest talk show host in television history, the first black woman to play Cinderella on Broadway and publicly identifying as sexually fluid. She cast Cassie as her love interest in her I Don’t Belong to You video, but the bold video barely made a ripple in feminist circles.
She has only graced black magazine covers and has yet to cover a mainstream fashion mag. And nobody is calling for her opinion on feminism as it relates to being a young, black, sexually-fluid steadily-working actress.
It seems that lighter-skinned actresses gain both industry and black culture followings much faster. Coleman, Stenberg, Alexandra Shipp, Zoe Kravitz, Kiersey Clemons and Yara Shahidi managed to become industry ‘it girls’ in their teens and early twenties (it is worth pointing out that all, except Shipp and Kravitz, began acting as children or young teens.) But on the flip side, it seems that dark-skinned actresses take a much longer time to gain traction. Yes, Teyonah Parris, Tika Sumpter, Aja Naomi King, Danai Gurira and Viola Davis are all having amazing moments right now. But they are also all in their 30s or older, and have only recently become household names despite being on the grind for years (I mean, have you seen Viola Davis’ IMDB page? Lady has been hustling for DECADES.)
It could be argued that Coleman and Stenberg are unique for the stances they’ve taken and what they’ve chosen to say. But the implication there is a bit dangerous. Amandla, in particular, has been VERY bold, and gained her notoriety for taking accusations of cultural appropriation right to the Kardashians’ front door. And for that she is to be rightly revered. But are we saying that there are absolutely no teen or twenty-something dark-skinned actresses and entertainers who are speaking up for the causes of black feminism and black rights? It seems more likely that those voices haven’t been given the same platform.
Ladies, what are your thoughts on all of this?