Why We Need Separate but Equal

She Matters: From the Emmys to fashion-show runways, black people are still ignored in mainstream America.

Kerry Washington (Rodrigo Vaz/Getty Images); generic image (Thinkstock)

There was plenty of fuss on Twitter, of course, where people expressed that they had really been rooting for Washington. I thought, “How sweet,” in that same way I think of kids who still believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny.

A black person winning at a mainstream awards show? I mean, it happens, and sometimes it’s televised. But that’s still an event, and everyone talks about it for years because that’s how long it’ll take to happen again.

Washington is the first black woman to lead a series on network TV in 40 years and the first to be nominated for best lead dramatic actress since Cicely Tyson in 1995. This is why we need the BET and NAACP Awards and black-owned networks.

I’ve thought about this essential whiteout before when I was searching for wedding gowns. I actually (and finally) caught wedding fever after putting it off for a long while, and I created a Pinterest page and bought reams of wedding books. By the end of the first day of pouring through images and magazines, I realized that I was hard-pressed to find a black bride on a mainstream site or in a mainstream magazine. I could flip through an entire magazine and find nothing, or I could go to one of the bridal salons mentioned in the directory and scroll through 100 dresses from the last few years of collections, and there wouldn’t be a single black bride.

I know that statistics for single black women are a little high, but the majority still get married. Don’t they buy wedding dresses, too? Sheesh. I finally put a picture of a black Barbie in a long dress that may or may not even be a wedding gown, just to have some color on my page on principle. This is why we need Munaluchi Bride.

This infuriates me to Naomi Campbell-level anger back in her phone-throwing days because there are few mainstream places where black people are present, whether we’re talking about fashion designers who just refuse to use black models, despite the buying power of black people; business sites that just forget to include black women on their lists of who is smart on Twitter (that means you, Fast Company); black people being virtually ignored by companies except in February — or December, when they trot out Kwanzaa ads (and I don’t even know anyone who practices it); or studios green-lighting so few black movies that when you say on Friday night, “I’m going to see the new black movie,” everyone knows what you’re talking about because there is only one.

It’s continuous and institutional and annoying and wrong. And it’s all a summary of reasons that black people need their own [insert “separate-but-equal thing” here]. We’re ignored or overlooked or disregarded (or, worse, our contributions are horrifically appropriated, but that’s another essay) in the mainstream. Black studios, magazines, designers, network award shows and anything else black aren’t examples of reverse racism — more like a reaction to plain old racism.

Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.