Hey, Black Girl...You're Beautiful: An Open Letter to Leslie Jones

Hey Black Girl...you better not change a single thing.

Dear Leslie,

This message is my way of wrapping my arms around you right now. You may not remember me, but we met a long time ago through a mutual friend in Los Angeles. I used to live in the Valley and we hung out from time to time for a brief moment. I helped you with some animated banners for your MySpace page (yeah―that’s how long ago it was). I believed in what you were trying to accomplish so I did what I could to help. During that time, my life was a horrible mess. I had a string of bad roommates and trouble finding adequate work after being laid off. I was beyond broke and my car engine decided to catch on fire while I was driving on the 101 freeway, so I was also left without a car in the San Fernando Valley in the middle of the summer. I was barely making it and our mutual friend was trying his best to help motivate me through my stagnation. After giving up my condo rental because I couldn’t afford it, I spent four or five months couch surfing before I was forced to return home to Minnesota. Technically homeless. Broken. Defeated. Running in the red. You didn’t know that when you met me, but that’s where I was at.

You may not remember me because I’m just a regular girl from Minnesota, who was just another LA transplant. My biggest accomplishments to date are being able to have my art and writing pay for some bills here and there over the years, having a few blogs go viral, and compiling a massive My Little Pony collection that I am quite proud of. Oh yeah, I have a cool family and a husband who is weird, cute and seems to like me a lot for reasons I haven’t quite yet figured out after five years of being together. I’m just a part-time artist with a blue collar job that provides me a somewhat quiet life, full of the stability I lacked when you and I first met. There are a lot of things about me that are rather forgettable. However, if someone asked me about you I would have to say that you were one of those people that are truly unforgettable.

I have always had a love for comedy. I remember my mom putting on Moms Mabley albums throughout my childhood. At one point in my life, I could recite most of Bill Cosby, Himself verbatim. I endlessly watched George Carlin on HBO with my father, which explains a lot of my cynicism, views on organized religion and my dark sense of humor. Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Sinbad injected the reality of existing while Black in a white supremacist society into my sheltered existence through comedy. As a pre-teen and teen, I would stay up late to record Def Comedy Jam on VHS, where I became a fan of many Black comedians before they became the famous names that we know today. Back then, there weren’t too many Black female comedians in the forefront like you are today, but there were a few that I loved like Sommore. David Chapelle writes the satirical stories about life that I feel in my heart but I am not funny enough to tell. I’m one of those people that is only “funny if you know me”. You, Ms. Jones, hold one of the few keys to universally open hearts and that’s the power of laughter. The job of a comedian is to find the smallest details about our shared human experience and analyze those details until the beautiful ironies and pains of life turn into laughter and joy. People like the aforementioned and you have a gift that I don’t. Comedians are the griots. Comedians speak the truth without offense being considered a reason to not speak that truth.

The first day I met you, our mutual friend took me to a comedy club to see some live comedy in North Hollywood. I had never laughed so hard in my life. We all went back to our mutual friend’s house and watched one of his acting scenes that was aired on a late night talk show. I sat in a room full of successful comedians and actors, just on the brink of becoming household names while I was on the brink of eviction. I was just the nobody friend of someone who is successful. You gave me the greatest compliment that I have ever been given in the funniest way I have ever been given a compliment. I won’t repeat what was said, but it was truly one of those hilarious moments that I laugh about every time I recall the memory. That night, I knew that I sat in a room of future stars. That’s why it was no surprise to me to see your stand up show on Netflix, which I have watched quite a few times. It didn’t shock me at all to see you on Saturday Night Live or any of the comedy movies that you have been in. None of this came as a shock to me, because I knew that you had that “it” factor that would propel you into the realm you now reside. My joy from your expected rise in celebrity and accomplishments recently turned into sadness as I read on my timeline how you have been treated in Hollywood. I am writing you, not as a fan, or as a blogger, or as someone who wants to ride on the latest headline. Black woman to Black woman, I needed to say: Hey Black Girl, you are beautiful.

You have the lips that other people pay to get. Your skin hasn’t seen a wrinkle and probably never will, which is the evidence of your possession of the Methuselah gene that one out of five ageless Black women will inherit. You are doused in melanin that protects you from the harshness of time and struggle. You are not a Barbie doll. You are a Nina Simone. The song that you sing into the world is one of laughter, which shows the world how to draw victory out of pain. You are an Afeni Shakur, unapologetically Black and powerful. You are a Maya Angelou—an undoubtedly phenomenal woman. You are not the Playboy model that body shames other women at the gym—you are a Wonder Woman, built like an Amazon with a lasso of truth which is your ability to critically look at the world and find the humor in the darkness. You are not Becky with the good hair—you are Leslie with the bomb ass blow out.

As a light-skinned, mixed race Black girl, I can truly say that I don’t have a clue about what it feels like to be a dark-skinned woman in this society. As a petite woman, that stands a mere 5 foot 2, I have no clue on how it feels to be taller than average. Although I have never been “skinny”, I have for most of my life been an average sized person. There are certain things I cannot relate to with your experiences because of the fact that certain aspects of my physiology happen to be closer to the ridiculous Eurocentric beauty standards imposed on us than yours. Society won’t be so quick say I look like a monkey. They won’t say I’m “pretty for a dark-skinned girl”. They will still judge me on the color of my skin, but the cream that’s in my coffee will often provide different treatment than a woman of a darker complexion. They will compliment the softness and fineness of my 4A/B hair, versus referring to the coarseness of someone who is 4C. They will not discriminate against me as overtly as they did with my darker-skinned African-born co-worker, who I stood up for at work when our workplace began to treat her differently due to the shape of her body. Coming from me, you will hear no light-skinned tears. I can see with my own two eyes how you are treated differently than me just because of your physicalities. I hear you. I am listening. You deserve everyone to lend you an ear so that your experiences can be heard, uninterrupted. 

I’m writing you because I feel that the issue of colorism and racism is so pervasive and women like yourself who are beautiful, dark-skinned, successful, and non-conforming bear the brunt of the hatred of blackness and the powerful femme noire. You become the target because you don’t fit into the stereotypical view of how a woman should look and act to be considered acceptable and often times you stand without the support of your lighter-skinned sisters. But I need you to know that I believe that light-skinned silence is consent and that I need to speak out and tell you, Leslie—you are fucking beautiful. And I’m going to speak on it. I am sick of light-skinned women not speaking out and forming a shield of protection with our voices around our sisters with darker skin to inoculate them from the abuse of blatant racism and find a way to help you heal from the scars that society has unjustly put onto your shoulders. Often times, some of us fuel the flames. That #teamlightskinned mentality needs to die. We’re all on #teammelanin. 

Hey, Black Girl...You are gorgeous.

I’m going to say it one time for the bigots and self-hating Black people in the back:

Hey, Black Girl...You are beautiful.

Dear deep chocolate brown girl, you deserve fancy dresses for your tall and statuesque figure just like everyone else. You deserve for your accomplishments, successes, and victories to be celebrated and not met with hateful slurs that strip your humanity from you. You deserve to be in the spotlight, so that the next generations of Nina Simones, Afeni Shakurs, Maya Angelous, Toni Morrisons, and Leslie Joneses see women that reflect their likeness becoming their dreams manifest.

Not one single thing that people have said about you is true. You are more than average. See, I’m average. Your success, your struggle, and your willingness to speak out against the white supremacist Hollywood culture as people viciously attack you makes you exceptional. Some young Black girl is out there, watching you do comedy late at night after their bedtime, remembering your routines verbatim. Some young Black girl out there is seeing you walk the red carpet, showing the grace, power, and elegance that only a beautifully melaninated woman can possess and she is starting to believe that she matters too. #Representationmatters

Since day one, I’ve been rooting for you. You have something special. Don’t let people take your light away. Don’t let them dim the fire that you have kept burning for years, despite the limitations that society has put upon your shoulders. Hey, Black Girl...I won’t stand here while people dehumanize you without extending my love to you, so that you know that we are behind you—cheering you on.

Hey Black Girl...you better not change a single thing. Be loud. Be outspoken. Be free. Be Black. Be Black as fuck. Keep your hair short, blown out, and adorn the temple of your body with fine clothes that are made for you, and you alone by designers that know it’s not the size that defines a person, but their unique style. Keep inspiring people like me to chase our modest dreams, using your big dreams as fuel to keep us going. So be free, beautiful brown girl.

Show them the power of #BlackGirlMagic in it’s pure and raw form. Unadulterated.
And let them choke on it.

Love,

Sydney

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