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​Taraji P. Henson and Mo'Nique
Her Voice

Black Women Speaking Their Truth Publicly Doesn't Work

Black women should probably stop talking or “raising awareness,” as I’d like to call it. Yes, you read that correctly. Because, at this point, it is quite clear that the internet is not a safe space for Black women to air out their grievances about the world, the workplace, and especially about how they’re treated.


By now, you’ve caught wind of the comments A-list actress Taraji P. Henson made about wanting to leave Hollywood for good. In addition to pay disparity being an issue, the 53-year-old co-star of The Color Purple added that food and transportation were also a concern while filming, forcing her to stand up not only for herself but for her fellow costars. But not long after her revelation to the public, Taraji suddenly became a villain simply because social media decided that her problem was not our problem. Her frustrations and her tears were quickly diminished to her simply complaining too much. The worst part about it, though, is that a lot of those complaints came from Black people!

Talk To Your Therapist, Not Us

Taraji’s story paints the perfect picture of why people do not speak out about being disenfranchised. Instead of standing in solidarity with Taraji, social media users suggested she should have waited until the film was over before airing out her grievances. People also suggested that because Taraji is rich, she shouldn’t have much to complain about. So, does that mean that Black women who get paid less than her or those who work a 9-5 get treated better? Help me understand.

Taraji has received so much negative feedback online that she’s now asking us to redirect our focus back to the film. However, she is still standing on her comments regarding pay disparity, telling Today.com that we can’t keep pretending like this isn’t happening in Hollywood, adding that change happens by talking about it.

We've Literally Heard It All Before

While Taraji’s comments are recent, we’ve heard this story several times before. The Oscar-nominated star previously expressed how Tyler Perry was the first (and at this point, only) executive to pay her her worth. We’ve also been here before with esteemed comedian and actress Mo’Nique. She, too, expressed how she’s had to fight back against a Hollywood that can award her with shiny trophies but not pay her what she’s earned. Following her claims of being lowballed, Mo’Nique also had to defend herself against social media backlash, from being called “Donkey of the Day” on The Breakfast Clubto even having to defend how she handled the (lowballing) situation, from her brother in comedy, Steve Harvey on The Steve Harvey Show.

More recently, Mo’Nique addressed being on the outs with Hollywood heavyweights again during an interview with Shannon Sharpe on Club Shay Shay. After being seemingly blackballed from the industry, she has since somewhat bounced back. Time will tell if Taraji’s transparency will end in the same fate, but this piece isn’t about Taraji or Mo’Nique. It’s about us, Black people. This was our chance to finally stand with our Black women, and we are failing them yet again.

Taraji's Problem Is "Not" My Problem

So many Black folks online truly believe this and are working so hard to ignore what Taraji said because she’s rich. The truth is, you do relate to her. Why? Because you are her. What Taraji is fighting for is not new. But we have to raise the bar on how we see ourselves in our own work spaces, to fully get it. We have to raise the bar on how we allow our own jobs to treat us and pay us. Do we not have enough examples to prove how these corporations like to play in our faces…unprovoked? If we can’t see our own worth, then we’re never going to understand what Taraji P. Henson, Mo’Nique, Viola Davis, or even Angela Bassett are fighting for.

What Happens When We Publicly Discredit Each Other Online

If we keep at it this way, Black content will continue to get shelved. Us not understanding our own value, is why we continue to have these same old conversations online. Understand that the powers that be see our division and will have ZERO incentive to change anything if we have ZERO incentive to change anything.

It is counterproductive to have these types of debates on social media platforms that are NOT OWNED BY US! How is it that we can all agree that these women weren’t wrong…but at the same time, we’re shaming them for talking about it? Which one is it? What started out as a conversation about equal pay and proper treatment on set has now spiraled into so many other things, including an alleged beef between Taraji and Oprah (beef which both women have strongly denounced).

When they see us being divided online about issues like this, what does that tell them?

It tells them that Black people are not on one accord, do not have each other’s backs, and will also contribute to each other’s downfall. And nothing will change. They will continue to play in our faces. Think I’m wrong? Take a quick glimpse at the uproar from social media after learning that MAX has canceledRap Sh!t, yet another popular Black show. Take a look at Netflix. The streaming service received backlash in 2022 after firing an entire team full of diverse, well-established, creative women of color. The same group of women were courted by the company and then let go within months of getting hired.

The powers that be are telling us directly in our faces that they are not on our side. So when Black social media users and even fellow Black co-actresses publicly denounce what Taraji is saying by adding that you “can’t relate” or over-explain how good you have it on your TV show….just know that you are a part of the problem. It is counterproductive! It is quite literally stepping back on all the progress we’ve made for Black women. Since when do we need to relate to someone who’s been victimized? This rule only applies to Black women! She doesn’t need to be perfect, to look like you, or to work the same job as you for her story to be valid. It is such a cop-out to deflect from the message.

People Get Treated Unfairly All the Time…AND?

The victim blaming has to stop. Does your job require you to pay a team full of people? No. Does your job require you to be away from your family for months on end? No. This attempt to try to humble Taraji for her decision to pursue acting as a career is insane. Telling her she should have “waited” to say something is also insane. There is literally “no such thing” as the perfect victim.

Standing up for yourself is never limited to time, space, or opportunity, and I really wish we could grasp that. The real question is, why aren’t you (the consumers) following in these women’s footsteps? Why aren’t you fighting to get paid what you’re worth at your job? Why are we so comfortable and accepting of being looked over, paid less, treated less, and everything else in between…instead of rallying together to “make” change?

Black women are allowed to speak out about their experiences, celebrity or not….they are still working individuals. They are still fighting for their livelihoods just like everyone else. What do you think the writers’ and actors’ strike was for exactly?

But I Watch Black Content, So I Do Support It

It’s about more than just watching Black content. We’ve made it crystal clear that we can show up in droves to support Black creatives, Black content, etc; we are the trendsetters! But dare I say, what’s happening in the back of the house is just as important, if not more. We’ve seen how powerful social media is in making changes happen. We, as black people, must use social media to stand behind each other. Keep your counterproductive comments in the group chat. Stop speaking against us on public platforms that are NOT OWNED BY US.

Issa Rae didn’t give a call to action for us to boycott Max after Rap Sh!t's cancellation, but look how quickly people started posting that they’re boycotting MAX for consistently canceling Black shows. We also had no problem supporting Katt Williams and are even entertaining the idea that he should get his own podcast to air out more Hollywood tea, but the goal-post somehow gets moved when Taraji speaks up for herself? Come on. We also have to stop supporting corporations, films, employers, etc, who do not hear us. We can’t claim Taraji, Mo'Nique, and Viola Davis as ours, say they should’ve won the Oscar, etc., but then other them when they’re asking for our support. It’s not enough to say, “Well, that’s how is.” Stop accepting scraps! Raise the bar!

What's the End Goal Here?

We are too comfortable seeing Black women struggle in silence. We are too used to seeing them so strong that we don’t give them space to be vulnerable, to be human, to make mistakes, and not get reprimanded for doing so.

We need to figure out what we want as a collective, specifically as Black consumers. Do we want change? Do we want to get treated fairly and paid fairly? Do you want to be told the truth, or do you just want to be entertained no matter what’s happening behind the scenes and who it’s happening to? Do you want people to be able to share their experiences, or do you want them to suffer in silence? Or is outrage only allowed when it affects you?

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Feature images by Emma McIntyre/WireImage/ Paras Griffin/Getty Images

 

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