Little girl devalued….not

Like many today, I am still grappling to find the words to express my disgust over last night’s turn of the events at the Oscars. Quvenzhane Wallis was the youngest actress ever nominated for a best actress award for her breath taking role in Beasts of the Southern Wild and while she did not win, we won’t be forgetting Wallis anytime soon. Sadly it’s not because of her amazing talent, it’s because on what should have been one of the best nights in her nine years, what we will be remembering is how others decided to show us how little value a little Black girl has in our society.

It’s no secret that in our society women and girls are still routinely subject to second class status and that we are still struggling to be on equal footing. However for Black and Brown women and girls that second class status comes with additional baggage, a history of being blatantly dehumanized and sexualized. Where our bodies are not our own, not even our names belong to us. A world where Black and Brown girls are not even given the same privilege of just being a kid that is extended regularly to their white counterparts and taken for granted.

In a night of horrors, Quvenzhane Wallis was subjected to a reporter who couldn’t be bothered to learn her name and instead thought it cute to refer to Quvenzhane as Annie, the name of the character she will be playing in an upcoming film. For most of us who have lived long enough that type of offense is the price we pay for being different in this society, it’s small, it’s annoying but at a certain point you have to pick and choose your battles lest you end up stroked out. Next up Oscar host Seth McFarland thought it would be a cute joke to make a sexually charged joke involving Quvenzhane and George Clooney “To give you an idea of how young she is, it’ll be about 16 years before she’s too old for Clooney.” Again this is the price of admission when you are a brown and black girl in this society. Yet how many people would care to hear such a joke about their young daughter?

No, the real showstopper on again what should have been an amazing night for an amazing child was The Onion, a satirical newspaper tweeting that Quvenzhane was a real c**t. (normally I have no problem saying a word but that word bugs me on so many levels that I just can’t say it). That tweet sat for an over an hour before it was pulled and The Onion’s CEO, Steve Hannah issued an apology on their Facebook page but not before major news publications and social media put this horrid incident on full blast.

Of course there are many who felt The Onion was just trading in their trademark use of satire but for many including yours truly, there are lines you don’t cross and calling a child a sexually charged word is one of them. No laugh is worth the sexualization and dehumanization of a child. Already there are many who are downplaying the racial side of this unfortunate series of events saying that race should not be a factor but I disagree.

For all our talk of post racial America and using President Obama as proof of how evolved we are as a nation, the fact is there is a historical and documented precedence of how little, Black and Brown bodies are valued in this society. It was not that long ago, that little girls like Quvenzhane were sold on auction blocks, no matter how much we like to pretend that it never happened. No matter how much we want to say that race was not a motivator even on an unconscious level is to ignore the reality that Black and Brown bodies are not valued in this culture. When one looks back on the plethora of child actors, no one can think of another child being subjected to such treatment. Of course not.

However as painful as this event is, I am heartened because one of the greatest equalizers in modern life is social media and the ability for all voices to have a say. Last night and this morning, fellow bloggers, writers, and social media users refused to let this go. Already many pieces have been written by writers far skilled than me including this most awesome letter to Quvenzhane.


10 thoughts on “Little girl devalued….not”

  1. Hi! I tried to comment on this using my phone, but it didn’t go through…I watched Beasts of the Southern Wild for the first time last night, and I sobbed harder than I have probably for any movie. Quvenzhanae Wallis gave such a powerful performance. So I googled her as soon as my tears dried, only to find all this crap about Ryan Seacrest and the Onion. As a white woman, all this stuff makes me cringe deeply. Both the C-word comment and the refusal of Ryan Seacrest and other TV presenters to deign to learn the child’s first name is just inexcusable and awful. It makes me feel deep shame because while I don’t know anyone who would apply that obscene label to a child, I know more than a few white people (especially those I work with in public education) who routinely butcher the names of African American children and don’t really care about getting the names right, or the effect that this has on each child in question. As one prominent blogger pointed out, the mainstream media has bothered to learn the names of Zach Galifianakis, Arnold Schwartzeneggar, and Renae Zellwegger, all white celebrities with supposedly convoluted and difficult names. So why this refusal to learn a young black girl’s name, which by the way, is really not that difficult anyway? To refuse to take the time to learn someone’s name is to passive-aggressively negate who they are, and when the name is a cultural marker of sorts, it’s also a negation of that person’s cultural, race, or background. As someone with a first and last name others have always found difficult or “weird,” it has been a constant source of irritation when people get it wrong. But I am white, so I have never had to endure the condescending comments about my name (besides the fact that my parents must have been hippies), or the suspicious/put out looks that so many white authority figures give to black children when first becoming acquainted with their names (I have seen this first-hand). Blecccch. It’s just such a shame that when Quvenzhanae looks back on this period in her life that she will have to remember these ugly incidents too (hopefully she’s been sheltered from them). Hopefully, for her, this is just the first step in a wonderful career, and she will have a lot more positives to look back on.

  2. Watched Beasts of the Southern Wild last night for the first time. I sobbed at the end and for about 15 minutes afterward. What a movie and what a performance. Then I googled Quvenzhanae and found out all the nauseating stuff with Ryan Seacrest and the Onion. It is such a shame that when Quvenzhanae remembers this amazing time in her life (hopefully just the first chapter in a great acting career), she will be forced to remember this crap too. And as a white woman, I have to admit while cringing deeply, it IS about race. The thing that is the most horrible in my opinion is some remembers of the media never even bothering to learn or pronounce her name. As a prominent blogger stated, we know the names Schwartzenneggar and Galifianakis, the convoluted names of white celebrities,and at least when journalists get them wrong, they bother to make the attempt. Not refuse to learn someone’s name is a passive aggressive negation of who they are. I hope that we know the name Quvenzhanae Wallis long after the name Ryan Seacrest had faded into obscurity.

  3. @Jenny
    “I don’t understand why we are wrapping up misogynistic with racism.”

    Black women experience a type of misogyny/racism combo called misogynoir, racio-misogyny, or gendered racism. It’s not one or the other. It’s both combined. A good example is the constant focus and denegration of Michelle Obama’s body. No white FLOTUS has had her body picked apart and scrutinized this much. This sort of thing does not happen to male politians. Finding fault and mocking the black female body is as old as the Hottentot Venus. There is a film called Black Venus (Venus Noire) made in 2010 on Netflix that will take you straight to the origins of misogynoir.

  4. Just a few words of support for your insight, your perspective which, as an older white woman, is sometimes difficult for me to ferret out from all the talk, the laughter, the “socially acceptable.” Keep it coming!

  5. And yet, Jenny, Dakota Fanning didn’t get this much humiliation and disrespect on her awards night, did she? Nor Jodie Foster back in her day. In fact, not sure I know of any white child actors who’ve been treated this way on a night in which they should be able to shine and revel in the honor of being nominated for something special. Can you share an example that refutes me? If not, then I’m left with Occam’s Razor on this one: The simplest answer is race.

  6. Jenny, are you genuinely asking your questions, or are you passive-aggressively complaining?

    BGIM, like you I was a little devastated when I saw that tweet last night. Child-hate directed at celebrity children is nothing new, and does happen to white celebrity children of course. However, the timbre, tone, and frequency directed at brown and black girls is as you say, often of a supremely dehumanizing and sexualizing nature. I am glad you wrote about it, here.

    I was glad to see The Onion apologized and as far as I can tell, it was a pretty good apology. They cannot undo the harm they did by this tweet (and it’s many RTs). It will be interesting if they take things further and put any work into a real amends.

  7. I completely understand being outraged at calling a little girl a C-word but why do we have to bring up the fact that she’s black? Would the uproar be the same if it had been towards Dakota Fanning a few years back?

    I don’t understand why we are wrapping up misogynistic with racism. Is it all of them? None of them? Or can we just agree that it was a bad judgement call and a stupid thing to do without bringing race isn’t it?

    Oh wait, I’m white…I can’t ever say something isn’t racist.

    • Jenny Georgio-Who,

      The fact that she is Black is exactly WHY the incident occurred so unfortunately, so race was brought into it by the persons who made the comments.

      Black women/girls are overly sexualized in this country (and others) and always have been. Our little girls and young women aren’t allowed to be guarded, cherished and protected. Instead they’re regulated to body parts and sex even before they even comprehend those themes.

      Ms. Wallis is a perfectly example of that. BGIM’s husband brought up a very valid point. Were they any off colored jokes about Kirsten Dunst’s after her portrayal of Claudia in Interview? Of course not. So maybe ask yourself why?

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