I may not be a fan of everything comedian and Academy Award-winning actress, Mo’Nique, has performed in, but the response to her call to boycott Netflix has me vexed. The immediate dismissal and caricature of her argument could be seen as another facet of respectability politics – and in some aspect, misogynoir.
Mo’Nique is not the type of woman some of us want as the face of an issue affecting us (us, as in African-Americans). Yes, she’s loud, heavy-set, brown-skinned, broad featured. She has an African-American husband that’s not of an elite or prominent background. He also does not stay in the background in matters that concern her business affairs. In some ways, she reminds us of the Sweet Browns of the world; the women that are our skin-folk, but who we don’t prefer to claim as our kinfolk. The women from the hood, who stand by their men through thick and thin. The ones we’re laughing at, not with. She is the kind of Black woman we distance ourselves from. The kind that reminds us of poverty; though she’s anything, but impoverished. It doesn’t seem to matter that she is the very definition of that upward mobility propaganda we’ve been indoctrinated with all our lives. The kind that gives us a false sense of where the playing field starts in American society for us (but that’s a topic for another blog). Instead of upholding Mo’Nique as an example of making it against the odds. Of reaching and grabbing the stars despite everything telling her she never would. We revile her. Instead of applauding that she made it to #OscarsSoWhite by being the person we’re told she could never be; likable, and at times, not as likable. We abhor her. She is everything we fear, and everything that contradicts that fear.
Those of us who feel we need to distance ourselves from people like her, no matter if the info she brings to light is of importance to our people or not, do so at our own peril. We believe we’re accomplishing something for the betterment of our people. We implore others to see our humanity, our worthiness. We believe that if they just see that we too are just like them, they’ll eventually give us what we want. But the truth is that they’ll never give us what we want by being implicit. It works against us every time. By dismissing Mo’Nique, we’re missing the bigger picture and missing an opportunity to act in our collective best interests. Because today it’s Mo’Nique. Tomorrow it’s Wanda (well, it already was). It’s Tracee Ellis-Ross. Next week, maybe Kerry or Viola. Danai or our other Oscar winners, Octavia and Lupita. By the way, where are their headlining movies?
Of course, people will deny these are the reasons for dismissing Mo’Nique’s argument and list everything under the sun in support of why she should keep her mouth shut and go with the flow. Including using Wanda Sykes as some buffer argument. See, if we were talking about Wanda…she deserves that kind of money. White people like her! It’s always about the white lens, right?
But there’s one problem. Wanda, said, not today, and would not allow herself to be used as an argument against what Mo’Nique was addressing. Whether you choose to boycott or not. That’s true AA solidarity. That’s courage. Shutting each other down in the name of respectability is not a new phenomenon. Neither is the inequity between the races and genders. But I didn’t need to tell any of you that. Did I?