I glanced down at my phone and saw a new message alert. It was my brother! I was beyond excited. Last night I was already floating on a high from the success of our family photo shoot and NOW the ancestors had blessed me with the gift of contact with my brother whom I hadn’t spoken to in months. What a day! I wondered what new adventures he had to share with me. A new move? A new job? I opened the message eagerly.
“Is this your image used here or am I trippin’?”
Not quite the greeting I was expecting, but yup. That was my face. But what was that caption? I panicked as I picked through each word.
Single mom…Wait. I’m not single…goes viral…OH GOD! When did I go viral???…for DEMANDING her baby daddy…Is that nyugga outchea lying? I haven’t demanding ANYTHING from him besides peace and quiet for YEARS…
I confirmed it was me, laughing nervously. But more immediately I wanted to know how I could get my face taken off of this post.
“You have to contact the YouTuber,” wrote my brother.
“I can’t find his email!!!” I wailed. “All I can see is his stupid Patreon.”
I’m hopeless at these sorts of things, and once again as he’d done in the past, he was compelled to help his big sister out with tech. I could almost hear his disgust as he dropped the email address in the chat. Perhaps he could hear the sound of my breaking heart as my eyes hovered the offending image, which may be why he offered these words as a consolation:
“Another chapter to write about.”
My brother perceived correctly. The only way for me to process how and what I was (and have been) feeling is to write about it.
BUT BEFORE I DO:
You guys know I have an uncanny ability to make light of anything. Death, destruction, the devastation of find grey pubic hairs; anything can be a joke. It is a survival mechanism inherited from a legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and 30 years of disappointing Ghanaian governance. But if you find yourself chuckling at any point in this piece, know that it’s not my intention to make light of what I’m feeling. Humor just finds a way of effortlessly boring its way into my wordmongering…Kind of like my face. No matter how sad, serious, or sensuous I try to appear there is always something that people find comical – and therefore utilitarian – about my face.
This face. SIGH.
I remember the first time someone had used my image to sell an idea. It was in 2014 and somehow, a blogger had gotten a hold of some pictures a photog friend of mine used to test her new camera equipment. As you can see, I hadn’t even drawn my eyebrows in that day so I certainly wasn’t going to post those photos. To this day, it’s still a mystery how the blogger got a hold of THAT picture, because even I don’t have possession of it. Nevertheless, there I was, the “face” of an African-American woman who had written in for help on how to deal with her Igbo beau who refused to commit. I was apoplectic that day.
Now I find myself experiencing similar emotions of anger, mystification and injury upon seeing myself feature as the face representing all the worst stereotypes of Black womanhood. Entitlement. Laziness. Violence. Aggressiveness. And yes, reputed unattractiveness.
The picture that the YouTuber (an unabashed disciple and worshiper of the abysmal teachings of the late Kevin Samuels) has featured in several of his posts dating back to 2018. Yes, you read that right. He has been using my face to promote misogynist and anti-Black causes for four full years, all unbeknownst to me until last night. Take this thumbnail for instance:
You know what’s crazy? I remember taking that picture. It was posted on my old Facebook account. We were still living in Atlanta and it was a scorching summer day. The AC was out (it had not been repaired for two summers), the kids were going nuts, gas prices were out of control, my job wanted me to cover an extra shift and I was TIRED. I took a candid selfie to capture the face of a woman who was at her limit. The YouTuber saw an unhinged, dark skinned woman who fit the description of everything he had likely been taught or come to believe about Black women. He has used my face to promote divisive causes on at least three occasions .
Here is the third:
This video took the cake. Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I don’t care who you date. I don’t care about Black men and their “preference” for Caucasian and/or off-white skinned women. All I have ever asked is that they don’t disparage other Black women in their pursuit of their romantic prey. I am certainly not going to attack a white woman for dating a Black man. To what end? And yet, there I am…eye balls bulging, lips curled like a savage beast devouring its kill…
I asked the vlogger to remove my picture from his post(s) as I did not want to be associated with this kind of hood foolishness. He responded within the hour, saying he was sorry for the “confusion”. A few hours later I discovered other posts where he used my face to promote sloth, greed, feral motherhood and rage. Since I had the YouTuber’s attention, I asked him WHY he used this picture to promote these topics and waited for a response.
My husband said I was asking for too much. He knew what I wanted: An admission of hatred for Black women and dark skinned women in particular. Some demonstration of self-interrogation about why the (now 10 year old) image of me looking disheveled and delirious appealed to him so much. And why, most importantly, out of all the pictures of Black women on Google, why didn’t he select a creamy skinned gal with bouncy curls and a similar snarl instead? I told the vlogger that I had my suspicions but I wanted to give him a chance to explain, rather than speculate. Here’s what he said:
Okay, so hubby was right. He often is.
But I have to wonder: What search terms did he plug in to find THIS picture? If y’all figure that out, let me know. You know what? Cancel that. You might find shots of my bare ass out there, and that I cannot explain to my children. Speaking of whom, I’m glad you brought them up.
“Tell him you have children,” said Aya when she saw how upset I was. The funny thing is, he knows the women he’s disparaging have children. His primary goal – like his dead lord and savior, Kevin – is to attack single mothers and to put them in “their place”. If their children have to get hurt in his pursuit of clicks, likes and paltry ad revenue then they were injured for a worthy cause: the elevation of the Sidelined Black Man. (TM)
It’s not that I am angry about being the face of single motherhood. I was that face for a time. I was the face of the woman who needed WIC to feed her baby and who had to cuss and beg a “father” to do the bare minimum for support. What I am angry about, what I resent, is how my face has been used as a caricature to portray a life event that either choice or circumstance relegates many women to. Single motherhood comes in all races, social classes and life events. Angelina Jolie is divorced and as much a single mother as the inner city woman rushing to catch the bus with her baby in tow, yet only one is seen as noble and the other a pariah. I have no doubt that Jolie has cussed out an ex for some infraction. Why is she or someone like her the face that comes to mind when we think “entitled single mother?” Why don’t middle class and rich white women feature on these types of YouTube videos, despite similar family dynamics faced in Black family circles?
We all know why.
I am tired to the BONE of these kinds of interactions with Black men, who seem to be younger and angrier than their predecessors. What does a young man like this have going for him outside of spewing hatred and misogyny? My own son just turned 13, and it would destroy me to know that after all the years of loving, supporting, educating and investing in him, he could not find enough love and God within himself to do the same for his community…Which, yes, includes single mothers and Black women who look like me. That after all of our struggle together, and all that he would have undoubtedly overcome, all he could offer the world is such ugliness.
What a disappointment that would turn out to be. I wonder if this vlogger has enough self-awareness to be disappointed in himself. I’ll have to ask hubby.