I am the first to call out some racial jankiness. I am a black child of the rural South, the child of two old-ass parents who do not have the best memories of Jim Crow. As a matter of fact, my mom’s graduating class was the last all-black graduating class in South Carolina. I heard (and continue to hear) a whole lot of “white people this” and “white people that” because it’s still very real to them. So forgive me for being hyper-aware of racial injustice. I will pretty much notice it every time, even if the guilty parties didn’t necessarily mean it as such.
But at what point does it cross over from pointing out latent racism or correcting stereotypes, to being too sensitive? This weighty subject didn’t just come out of the blue. I was involved in something superserious and superimportant that got my wheels turning and I decided to write a few words about it.
Let’s talk about Dance Moms!
That show…………………………..is everything. IT IS EVERYTHING! Quick rundown for those people with sad lives who’ve never been privy to this amazing spectacle:
Dance Moms is a reality show that follows 5(?) moms and their pre-teen daughters as they rehearse and compete as part of the Abby Lee Dance Studio. Abby is the biggest (literally) ball of contradictions I have ever seen. She loves kids so much, but she doesn’t have any and she belittles her students all the time. She’s the director of a “prestigious” dance studio, but she weighs about as much as a fully stocked refrigerator. She is forever preaching teamwork to the girls and their moms, but anytime a mom voices an opinion, that screaming cow goes OFF and tells them to go find another studio.
(obviously Abby does not care about my opinion)
It’s the best show on television.
Tonight saw the black mom and daughter, Holly and Nia, finally front and center for an episode. Usually they’re just brown window dressing around the periphery of the episode, but Abby decided to give Nia a brand new solo with a brand new costume for this week’s competition. Most of the girls got some kind of solo. One of them had some lyrical angel piece all dressed in white. I saw an acrobatic number by the oldest girl in black and white sparkles. Some other unimportant child was jumping around in some kinda red strappy sequined thing.
Nia got to wear a leopard-print pimp-esque jumpsuit with an afro wig for a number Abby named “Call Me Laqueefah.”
Not Latifah. LaQUEEFah. Like LaPussyfart. Dressed up as a pimp. In an afro.
(also, the music was TOTALLY BY SHANGELA!)
So Holly got mad. She let her daughter do the dance because Nia had worked so hard on it and it would be unfair to not let her perform, but she was not happy. At one point she pointed out how hard black people have worked to moved past stereotypes, how putting Nia in jungle print and having her call herself Laqueefah is just two skips away from putting a napkin on her head and choreographing an Aunt Jemima number.
And she’s totally right. I don’t see Abby dressing the white girls in stereotypes or developing numbers for them based on their ethnicity. I mean, they’re in Pennsylvania—I’m sure at least one of them has some Amish or some Quaker in their bloodline, so where is the horse-n-buggy churnin butter number? I was fired up right along with Holly.
But the more Abby talked, as horrible as she is, the more she made sense.
First of all, the other girls have better ballet and dance technique. She gives them lyrical numbers and acrobatic numbers because they can do them. Nia has bad feet, poor turnout, a sway back, and bent knees. Right off the jump, she’s not gonna have the same choreography as the other girls.
Secondly, Nia is black. That is Real and Relevant. If somebody comes to the studio casting for an ethnic role, Nia is the only one who gets to go. She could potentially play a lot of various roles written for a wide variety of people and Abby is familiarizing her with some styles she can’t really introduce to those white girls. Dance is a part of African heritage—Holly even studied African dance in college—and it comes with a different style and different movements.
So who’s right in this situation? They’re both wrong. If Abby wants Nia to embrace her blackness and if she wants to teach Nia a wider range of styles, there are ways to do that aside from sticking an awful wig on the girl’s head and having her prance around like a ghetto superstar. And it’s Holly’s responsibility to explain that to Abby instead of jumping straight to “why is my child a jungle creature in an Afro?”
(Sidenote, Holly is so whitewashed and assimilated she doesn’t even see her OWN racism in being so appalled that Abby would want her to wear an afro. God forbid Nia become familiar with her hair the way it naturally grows out of her head without the aid of chemicals and processing! But that is a topic for another day.)
It got me thinking about all the times I’ve cried RACISM!!! and if they were warranted or if I was overreacting. I had a long talk with myself and I came to the conclusion that I, Rafi D’Angelo…
…was not overreacting at all, and we live in a racist country where foul shit happens everyday.
Thank you, and goodnight.