This past Saturday, while I was out of town and couch-crashing, I managed to come across a very interesting show on Centric TV. It was called Being: Lisa Nicole Carson and it chronicled Carson’s rise in the acting game throughout the ’90s up until her sudden disappearance throughout the 2000s and, now, her return.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole show. I learned a few things about Carson that I didn't know and was vividly reminded of some things I’d forgotten. However, one thing stood out to me now, as an adult, that I had never even considered as a teenager: Lisa Nicole Carson is the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic.
Now, hear me out. For the past 16 years, we’ve been dealing with some tremendous highs and lows when it comes to the progress of black women. Many issues from the past still exist today. Many trends have come and gone. Many ambitions once frowned upon are now seen as pinnacles. Somehow … we missed the part where Lisa Nicole Carson was at the forefront of many of the positions black women find themselves in today, and I think it is high time we pay her some credit.
Now, you may think I'm just reliving things through my rose-tinted glasses after being reminded that as a teenager, I was smitten out of my gotdamn mind by Carson (you gotdamn right I am). Mind you, though, I know this makes sense. Let me prove why:
Natural hair: The natural-hair vibe that black women openly enjoy now was a long, hard and exhausting fight for a very long time. It shouldn't have taken so long for the world to understand that there is beauty outside of European standards. However, Carson was killing it with the lovely, frizzy, honey-brown ’fro in 1997. It's weird how quickly that’s been forgotten, but maybe her hair planted the seeds for what we see today by being on national television all those years ago at a time when you rarely saw natural hair.
Beauty standards: Carson is, has been and perhaps will always be thick. I don't recall when I was a teenager seeing any black women on TV as shapely as she was without it being objectified in the worst way (mostly in music videos). Carson was fortunate enough not to have her body treated as an extreme sexual tool. There has to be some credit for that, especially since it allowed women of certain sizes to feel better about their bodies after seeing a woman like her representing on the screen.
Breaking barriers: This is a little-known fact that needs to be emphasized because it is proof that black women have been breaking down doors for a long time but have rarely gotten the recognition. Lisa Nicole Carson was one of the first actors (I'm not even saying “actress,” because this accomplishment is so much bigger than gender) to simultaneously star in two prime-time network TV shows at the same time on different networks. Playing Carla Reece on ER and Renee Raddick on Ally McBeal, her most notable role, meant she was on Fox and NBC at the same damn time for almost five years. That is a huge deal because it's still a rarity for any actors to do it, let alone a black woman. That is a broken glass ceiling.
Mental health: This is an important point to me, as someone dealing with my own mental-health issues. Carson is bipolar, a topic she discussed in depth on the show as the main reason why, from 2002 until recently, she'd remained out of the public eye. To battle a mental illness that distorts your perception of reality is beyond scary; it's upsetting. It can destroy everything you've created, and for a time, that is exactly what happened to Carson. I found her honesty about it refreshing and uplifting. It is especially for us in the black community, where we still have a hard time speaking about mental illness.
Currently, Carson's going to star in the New Edition miniseries (BET, please, please don't ruin this). I honestly feel that someone of her unique standing will flourish again. In the meantime, I'm just showing respect where it's due.
Rise, black woman, rise.
Joel Philip is a 30-something from the land of bullets and blueberry muffins known as Brooklyn, N.Y. He specializes in being awkward, daydreams of being Mr. Robot and tries to live the theme of Toy Story 3 every day of his life.