In all the turmoil over the Vanity Fair “Hollywood Issue,” another magazine cover controversy has gone relatively unnoticed. It seems that a lot of Essence readers are upset over the magazine’s decision to feature Reggie Bush on the February cover, the “Black Men, Love and Relationships” issue. The problem? Essence is supposed to be black women’s magazine. And Bush just happens to be dating a white woman – Kim Kardashian, to be exact (although part of the controversy involves whether Kardashian’s Armenian ancestry qualifies her as “white”). It seems that in crossing the color line in his romantic relationship, Bush has failed the racial litmus test. By at least one segment of the population, he has been deemed as insufficiently black.
Here’s the kicker: among the names that have been bandied about as more appropriate cover choices is Robin Thicke. Yep, that one. The ivory-skinned, soul-singing son of Growing Pains star Alan Thicke. The younger Thicke is married to African American actress Paula Patton. It seems that qualifies him to be an icon of black love, according to some Essence readers.
Confused? Okay, the equation goes something like this:
White man + black woman = Affirmation of all black women
Of course it’s madness. But the easy thing to do is to scoff at the women who think like this. My first reaction upon reading about the “controversy” was to do my best Bill Cosby impersonation: “Come on people!” My second reaction was embarrassment that some of my sisters (assuming that these are actually black women making these comments) are so publicly living into the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman.
But there’s an important question here, I think. What has American society done to make the self-image of some black women so fragile that they equate interracial relationships involving black men with personal rejection and view interracial relationships involving white men as a form of validation? The answer to that question is not simply, “They got issues.” It implicates all of us, regardless of our race and gender. And it’s not just a historical question. It certainly starts in slavery. But it doesn’t end there.