Reggie Bush and the Essence Cover Controversy

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:

Black man + white woman = Rejection of all black women
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.

3 thoughts on “Reggie Bush and the Essence Cover Controversy

  1. (Sorry for the earlier comment deletion. I had to correct a typo!)

    Hi Dr. Barnes. Enjoyed the post. Sorry that I am not leaving very substantive comments yet, but I'm sorta processing your comments. More valuable streams of thought may occur later (smile).

    My friend Kathryn Broyles forwarded me your blog. Will look forward to reading more of it.

    I appreciate your confrontation of the 'Angry Black Woman' archetype. However, I think it's the quantity of Black Guy and White Woman situations that we see in life, society, and the media more so than the other way around that produce such rejection. I live in Denver where the number of interracial relationships outnumber same-race relationships, and most of these are Black Males with White women. As a matter of fact, interracial children outnumber Black Children here. There are very few of the other group. I am married to a Black man (an immigrant from NC), but I can't help but wonder why these men gravitate to these women (or in the case of the Kardishians, they gravitate to the men.)

    Is it not understandable that a sense of rejection would eventually result in seeing so many of these? Even when we straighten our hair, try to get as skinny as a white woman, there is a migration/attraction to them if there is a choice? I'm not sure of what the Psychology of Attraction is, but doesn't it start with the family origin? Isn't this at times a passive-aggressive action?

    Just thinking….probably not worth the toilet paper it's written on (smile)

    Pamela Robinson-Tate
    Littleton, CO


  2. Pamela – I agree wholeheartedly. The anger comes from a sense of rejection that has a real basis. Black women are even having a hard time getting hired as booty-shaking extras in rap videos!

    I'm being only slightly tongue-in-cheek when I say that. Ironically, that same Essence issue has an article on the new phenomenon of African American men flocking to the Dominican Republic for sex. There's a clear exploitative dimension there. But the island is also popular because many of the women have light skin, long hair, and – drumroll please – big butts.

    But I wonder…behind this sense of rejection seems to lie the unspoken idea that if black men don't find us beautiful, no one else will. As long as we hold that belief, we'll always be angry and resentful toward those brothers who date and marry outside their race.

    I don't think black women have the luxury of waiting for black men or white people to give us our self-esteem back. We need to reclaim our selves and our power, even in the midst of the cultural attack. Of course, that's easier said than done.


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