There is never a time where representation won’t be important, as the saying goes “You can’t be what you can’t see” and I feel like if you’re a little brown or black girl, that saying goes double time. We all see women of every color every day doing phenomenal things, but it would be a flat out lie to say that it didn’t and still doesn’t make a difference to me that the women I look at are brown. It matters in every way I can think of.
I never really thought representation until I became an aunt for the first time and in 2009 when my oldest niece was three; Disney released The Princess and The Frog. At that moment, I realized my nieces got something I never did, at their age, they got to see themselves. Princess Tiana was a black, southern Louisiana Born woman with a crazy work ethic, who became a princess and also married a man of color. Watching that movie with my nieces as a 16-year-old was as life-changing for me as it was for them, even if they didn’t understand the unfathomable significance at the time.
As important as representation is for kids, I never realized that it’s still just as important for adults. I’d never really sought out or realized that I was looking for that 20 something representation.
As important as representation is for kids, I never realized that it’s still just as important for adults. Now, there are the Kerry Washington’s, the Viola Davis’ and the Janet Jackson’s of the world who inspire women everywhere, myself included, but it wouldn’t be a lie to say that I attach to women I relate to closer to my age, especially because as a part of a generation of 20 somethings trying to reach a goal, you can get lost in the sauce. I’d never really sought out or realized that I was looking for that 20 something representation. However, that changed in October 2017, when I first heard Fifth Harmony’s Deliver ultimately causing me to zero in one of its members: Normani Kordei—or as she’s known now, just Normani.
At first. I could figure out what it was that gravitated me toward her. I knew she was the only black girl in an ultra-successful, diverse girl group, but there was something else there. After watching the 21-year-old in countless interviews (where she made sure to declare her love for Beyoncé) and observing her fans and support on social media, I realized I look at her the way she does Beyoncé. This was life changing for me. She wasn’t just a pretty, successful, 20 something from a pop group; she was a black 21-year-old woman, a part of the most successful girl group of their generation, and for the first time I saw myself, specifically; my blackness and age in a place I could identify.
One of the quickest things I learned about the emerging R&B star was that she and her work ethic will mop the floor with anyone that doubts her. In 2017, the then 20-year-old competed on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, while on the tail end of Fifth Harmony’s 7/27 tour. Not even an acquired injury stopped her!. If that doesn’t prove the girl is up for a challenge, that she will body with no problem, nothing will. There is a certain amount of hustle and commitment required in my own life as a disability activist and writer. Those gigs may not be as physically demanding as doing the Argentine tango and then going on stage to sing and dance 12 hours later, but it can be as mentally exhausting. From the moment I wake up, I always have to be “on”, and as an activist I have to know what’s going on in my community at all times, especially in the current political administration. As a member of a community who is also black (the disability space like a lot of marginalized space is largely white), and identifies as queer, living my own life can be complicated. It’s not a far cry to say that I want to give up a lot more than I want to succeed, sometimes, but fighting for change means I can’t quit.
That’s where Normani comes back in, I’ve come to realize there isn’t much that will stop her, did you see her slay the shit out of the Billboard Music Awards? That spin? – come all the way through, sis!
I think about the strength Normani has and what it was probably like to dealing with cyberbullying, living through Hurricane Katrina at the age of nine, which caused her and her family’s entire lives to be uprooted. Whenever I think about the course of my own life; I think about the adversity I’ve experienced, I think about what it was like to be displaced and homeless with my family, immediately after graduating from high school. I think about being diagnosed with a mental illness and feeling like my only out was taking my own life. That years of bullying and ableism contributed largely to having depression so much so that sometimes I can’t understand how I’m still here. With that, I realize we all have these defining moments in our lives and for me, connecting those moments to someone I look up to helps me carry that load. I can make it because not only have those before me made it, but people growing at the same time I am.
Normani isn’t just this singer I’m a fan of anymore, she’s a reminder of what black girl magic is and how much of it I possess.
Normani isn’t just this singer I’m a fan of anymore, she’s a reminder of what black girl magic is and how much of it I possess. The more magical, talented and fierce you are, the more others will try to squash you. The things you’ve been through have built you to handle your purpose, rather that be racism, ableism, displacement or mental illness– these are all challenges placed in your way to turn into who you’re meant to be. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have moments of doubt, I’m sure Normani does too. However, you have to learn to block those doubts and negative voices out. Normani and all her success is beautiful, but I’m quite sure before she got to the yes that led her to her group and ultimately what’s shaping up to be a fantastic solo career, she faced a bunch of “no’s”. Thank God, she didn’t listen because she wouldn’t be here and I would not be writing this right now.
You have to believe in yourself and sometimes you have to do so by looking at a music video on the screen in front of you; Nomani had Beyonce and many, myself included, have her. She’s a reminder for me, that I got this, that I’m a badass and what’s for me will be mine!
Whatever’s next for Normani, she’s going to knock that shit out the park. As for myself, I know what I’m here to do and I plan with all the power and will of God to crush that shit. I know there are other 20 something black women in addition to little ones, who may be disabled, are activists or may be like Normani with incredible voices and stage presence. Those people need to know that they can do this, they’re not alone and that what is for you is for you and no one else.