This piece is dedicated to the beautiful Ja’Net DuBois (1945-2020). Good Night, Willona. Love, Errebody. -JBHarris
It seems unfair that Ja’Net Dubois died on Toni Morrison’s 89th birthday, and she has only been gone from us a year. The thing is in the passing of Ja’Net, it forced me to remember just how many women that looked like me and the people I knew–whom are now leaving the world.
This is never going to be cliche or trite to say, “Representation matters.” For most of us, we get most of our ideas for what other cultures or people look like is from television more than any other media. From that, representation is always needed. Through the lens of Norman Lear, he gave us the Evans family and the beautiful and sassy, Willona Woods. Yet, there were some before her.
Representation on television seems to be something we have all forgotten about. It is easy to embrace now, why with reality TV, YouTube channels and social media. But there was a time, dear Torches were you could count the number of Black folk on a show! The talented Academy Award winning Hattie McDaniel said, “I’d rather play a maid than be one.” Representation matters. Representation will always matter. How Black people are seen on television is how they are perceived in public! But here, right now, we celebrate.
We celebrate the sassy Willonas, the stoic Floridas, and the mighty Claire Huxtables. We celebrate every Black woman that was before a camera and swept up a studio.We celebrate the girls that look like us, reminding us that Black girl Magic is our birthright, and yet, always was. We celebrate the Louise Jeffersons, both Aunt Viv’s, and Cherry’s grandmother on Punky Brewster!
We celebrate the Harriet Winslows, Nell Carters (Gimme A Break!) and Debbie Allens (Fame)! Today, as we remember one of the sassiest of the bunch, made immortal by pen and camera lens, we are grateful we are old enough to remember what was and young enough to remember what lay ahead.
It is more than having people that look like you on a show you like. It is more than taking a vested interest in a show because there are people that look like you. It is the feeling of being seen–the world around you being seen–your experiences!
It is you looking back at you.
There is no feeling quite like it.
[images from TMZ and blackthen.com]