The New York Times is having a rough week. Shoe leather must taste delicious because not only did they call Scandal genius Shonda Rhimes an “angry black woman” (and a “romance writer!”) but they slammed Viola Davis, the star of Rhimes’ new series How to Get Away With Murder.
Columnist Alessandra Stanley showed how to execute a stinging backhanded compliment when she first described Davis as “sexual and even sexy” (don’t sound so surprised, Alessandra!) but then added that the Oscar nominee is “older, darker-skinned, and less classically beautiful than Ms. [Kerry] Washington.”
This came as a surprise to Davis’ legions of fans who definitely find the 49-year-old award-winning actress smoking hot, in addition to being super talented. The remark was particularly awful as it highlighted the longstanding issue that darker skin is still viewed as less attractive than lighter skin on black women, especially in the media. You just have to look at what Elle did to Gabourey Sidibe, L’Oreal did to Beyoncé and Vanity Fair did to Lupita N’yongo to get an idea. (Oh and when Time magazine profiled OJ Simpson after his murder trial, they darkened his skin tone. Ahem.)
But as awful as the original piece was, the response has been so much bigger and better. #lessclassicallybeautiful has taken over Twitter with people showing the diversity in beauty.
One woman fired back at the dark-skinned comment:
Chillin' in my #LessClassicallyBeautiful brown skin and loving every minute of it.
— Kenya Young (@nprkyoung) September 20, 2014
Another woman pointed out the blatant hypocrisy in a society that hawks fake tans and butt implants:
BW are #lessclassicallybeautiful but the more "classical" type tan, undergo surgery to mimic our shapes and now rock our hairstyles.
— Rev Rell (@awkward_duck) September 19, 2014
This woman is just not having this nonsense:
Black women are beautiful. Hate from all sides, but we don't break. Big lips, big hair, high cheekbones we slay. #lessclassicallybeautiful
— Beauty in Color 🏳️🌈 (@PoCBeauty) September 19, 2014
In addition, dozens of women posted pictures of their similarly “less classically beautiful” gorgeous daughters, mothers, grandmothers and aunts.
The ever-classy Davis responded to the Times piece saying simply, “You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise!”
One of the Times editors who approved the piece, Danielle Mattoon, responded to the hailstorm of criticism saying that, “There was never any intent to offend anyone and I deeply regret that it did. Alessandra used a rhetorical device to begin her essay, and because the piece was so largely positive, we as editors weren’t sensitive enough to the language being used.” Mattoon then added that she felt the article raised some “interesting and important ideas” that thanks to the internet backlash were “being swamped.”
So basically Mattoon is invalidating the black women’s experiences. In the meantime, the rest of us are hoping that the #lessclassicallybeautiful campaign will bring about more modern change in how we define beauty.