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Rihanna, Jackie And Our Responsibility

Video model cast of E!’s “Candy Girls”

Since Monday morning, the Parlour crew on both sides of the Atlantic have been mutually shocked, angry and busy breaking and translating the news surrounding Dutch women’s magazine Jackie and their use of the term “Niggabitch” to refer to Rihanna, plus colorful language such as “ghetto ass” in describing her style and incorrectly labeling her Jamaican (she’s Bajan). A poor apology from the magazine was issued, Rihanna fired back in her own way and now the magazine’s editor has resignedfrom her position.

While reporting and updating our readers on the entire debacle, I spent some time looking at the comments our posts have generated, in addition to the various media attention this website has received. Overall most readers, especially women of color, have shared similar outrage — but there have also been a fair share of opinions that attempt to explain how it was “just a joke,” “American rap music is to blame,” or most shockingly “Rihanna got what she deserves … she dresses like a slut.” I don’t personally agree with any of the aforementioned opinions (Jokes are transparent, Rihanna is not a hip-hop artist, and a no woman whether in a bikini or a burka should ever be referred to as a “Niggabitch.”) however the larger issue that very few have addressed is one of responsibility —and the lack thereof when it comes to us creating content as editors, directors, image makers, etc.

It would be unrealistic to think that we will eventually live in a world where the terms “nigga/nigger,” “bitch” or “ghetto” aren’t used, or when the ubiquitous video vixen, loud-mouthed “round the way girl” or angry black woman stereotypes aren’t present in global culture.

Let’s collectively let go of that utopian dream.

Instead, focus on the responsibility to creative positive, realistic and complex images of black women that are multidimensional in character, that are sexy and attainable. When creating Parlour, we knew that we had the chance to represent all sides of the spectrum of modern women of color, from sex workers to R&B and reality tv  divas to  international executives — women like us. This gives a context of reference to those obviously unfamiliar with the diaspora when talking about black women. Remember that we are less than one lifetime away from maids, mammies, prostitutes, drug addicts, criminals, over-sexed hot-bodies and savages as the only images of us and these weren’t restricted to the United States. Take that, plus a language barrier and see what happens.

Had Jackie editors really been concerned with integrity and accuracy in their discussion about an international pop star like Rihanna, they would’ve done a little bit of research and added some global perspective and we wouldn’t be where we are today. To reference “American rap music” as a justification of the use of poor words by any journalist is right up there with relying on Twitter for accuracy in reporting the death of notable people – word to Bon Jovi. It just doesn’t cut it and only amplifies the obvious — you just didn’t give a shit.

There are power in words and images, but let’s not rely on others to treat us with respect and display us in all of our forms, it starts with us. Don’t be afraid to make your own image and speak your own voice to the masses.

With Love & Good Whiskey,

Shannon Washington (@shannboogie)

Founder, Publisher & Creative Director, ParlourMagazine.com

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