The Venus Hottentot would be proud.
Okay, maybe she'd probably be mortified that the very fetish that took her basic humanity and subsequently her life, the folks at Nivea have turned that fetish into a viral advertising campaign on YouTube that should have the Reverend Al Sharpton and Eleanor Smeal planning their protests as I write. Though somehow I doubt it. What does the African-American ass mean to you, or our society, generally speaking?
Personally, I have been existentially flummoxed by those questions ever since my high school days in the late 70s, when I was "complimented" on my "white girl legs" and vilified for having "no ass". In my yearbook, the "Best of Class" winners including an accolade for "Best Physique-Female", complete with a photograph of the winner's hips displayed high-five style. Our school administration forced the yearbook staff to reconsider the original wording of "Biggest Butt-Female, 1978". The winner -- I can't recall her name but her ass lives on in my gray matter -- got a ribbon for her maximus efforts, just like the Wilbur the Pig in Charlotte's Web.
I remember my mother shaking her head when she saw the "winner", muttering, "this child has an ass that could back-haul greens to Memphis". I weakly defended my classmates perspective -- black women's bodies should be celebrated; we should reject white folks' standards of beauty for ourselves. "Yeah, well let's see how all your big-assed girlfriends feel when their tits and asses fly South for the winter; your front on your knees and your ass on your ankles. I ain't never wanted a big ass. Be glad you got my body; (it) will only get bigger, you know. Gravity is cruel to women." And then Mama delivered the death blow: "Besides, do you really want the 'Black Woman's Curse"?
"What is 'Black Woman's Curse, Mama?"
"A big ass and bird's legs."
Mothers always know the right things to say.
Too bad Debra Dickerson didn't know Mama.
Recently she wrote in Salon about the dangers of encouraging women of certain ethnic persuasions to pack in on the backside.
Ms. Dickerson got clobbered five-to-one for her journalistic warning shot in the Letters-to-the-Editor responses. Thirty years later the same defense that my mother shot was screamed over and over again: a big black booty is a rejection of the European standard of beauty that has in many ways destroyed the self esteem of generations of black women while financially enriching the girdle, hair relaxer, and straightening comb manufacturers.
Now comes Nivea, albeit a covert campaign. I wonder how the brainstorming went? "Say, let's put the campaign on YouTube to avoid all of those race pimps, cardiologists, oncologists and women's health organizations that may have an argument with our encouraging black women to be loud and proud about the junk in their trunks".
Is the tagline for guerilla marketing to big-assed black women "Got More Ass? Use More Nivea Lotion for the Ash!"
Is Nivea's covert campaign sexist and racist? Yes. But the real damage is the celebration of very real and sinister health problems that exist for women of every color, and borderline pandemic for black women, with extra fat in all of the wrong places. Our lives are not all about being phat and fatter. It would be nice to believe Nivea would want the target audience of this campaign to live healthier and longer lives; see their children at least graduate from elementary school. To hell with Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and the no-talent creative suits at Nivea. Nivea wants all of you to "Respect the Booty".
But let's respect our bodies first. My job is to do alI that I can to stick around to see my daughter enter adulthood, and not to prematurely leave her behind with the memory of her mama's bigger, softer behind and the empty bottle over overpriced lotion.