My Bittersweet Feelings About Tyra Banks’ 3rd Greatest “Sports Illustrated” Cover of All Time Award

11 Feb
Tyra Banks' 2nd Sports Ilustrated Cover and 1st Cover by herself in 1997

Tyra Banks’ 2nd Sports Ilustrated Cover and 1st Cover by herself in 1997

Those who know me know Tyra is my girl! Not literally because she doesn’t know me from a can of paint, but in my head she’s like my fun big sister and mentor. Recently, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, the annual swimsuit edition published by SI, aired “50 Years of Beautiful.” The two-hour special consisted of the SI Swimsuit franchise history, behind the scenes footage of the most famed covers, and a countdown of the 10 greatest covers of all time. Ms. Banks came in at an impressive number three for her 1997 red and pink polka dot bikini! While I of course feel she deserved the number one spot, I didn’t feel as though it was a total rob like some other award shows (i.e. The GRAMMYS!). Since Tyra, there has only been one other black woman on the magazine cover (Beyoncé, 2007). So from 1964 to now, there have only been two–as in TWO… as in 2… as in dos–black women covering the magazine. It’s made that much more real to me when I break it down like that. The most disturbing part, in my opinion, is not the lack of diversity, but the lack of shock because we’re all so immune to it.

We’re constantly reminded how rare it is for women of color to be paid proper dues in general, particularly in the entertainment and beauty industry. Remember Halle Berry’s tearful Oscar speech in 2002? She was the first Black woman ever to win an Oscar for a leading role; that was only 12 years ago. I’ll never forget that moment and I revisit it often as a reminder. “This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me: Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened,” said a very emotional Berry. More recently, the Miss America pageant crowned the very first Indian, Nina Davuluri. The beauty gap is made even fresher in our minds this week, as we’re in the midst of NYFW for fall/winter ’14. Last February, according to an article on Jezebel, Asian models made up 9.1%, 6.2% were Black models, Latina models came in at 2%, and .3% fell in other. White models made up the majority at a whopping 82.7%. Even if you were to add up all the models of color and combine them in one category, they still wouldn’t make up 50%–not even 20%. That’s absolutely insane!

While this is a very unjust reality, I’m not as bothered by it as I used to be. Mainly because I’ve grown and matured into realizing that these means of recognition and praise are polluted with dirty industry-politics and are an inaccurate representation of what we all know to be true. Also because I don’t rely on a board made up of one-dimensional “experts” to validate any woman of color’s beauty, contributions and accomplishments. What does get a little under my skin, though, is the “Thank you’s” when we are finally–after years and years and more years–recognized. As much as I love Tyra, I nearly cringed when she thanked SI for putting “a black girl on the cover,” as if it was some kind of nice gesture that they didn’t have to do. No, they had to do that and should have done that. It wasn’t a favor; it was a responsibility. A responsibility to show another color and shape of beauty. I don’t get a pat on the back for paying my rent every month. Likewise, the entertainment and beauty industry shouldn’t get a “thank you” for having a more inclusive take on beauty. Neither actions deserve an applause because they are responsibilities. And even if we were dishing out thank you’s to media outlets for showcasing diversity, surely we wouldn’t give one to the magazine who only found two black women in 50 years to put on their cover.

Tyra's acceptance speech. photo cred: @tyrabanks Instagram

Tyra’s acceptance speech. photo cred: @tyrabanks Instagram

Every time the first person of color wins something, it’s always reported on as some kind of major accomplishment. “First African-American wins…” or “First Asian to win…” Winning should be the accomplishment, not winning as a minority. The fact that the winner’s ethnic identity is revealed in the headline should be an indicator that there’s a frightening lack of diversity. We never say “White actress Julia Roberts wins an Oscar,” because it’s not headline worthy. Why is it not headline worthy? Because it’s not shocking when white women and men win–and it shouldn’t be. When Halle spilled off that list of legendary women who came before her, all of them were just as qualified to have stood in her same position, holding the same award, but prejudice got in the way. So, when I read about that indeed emotional moment, it’s not emotional to me because of the “accomplishment” of being the first in 74 years. (And that’s the real number; 74 years). My emotion is bittersweet, as I’m happy that this hopefully means more to come, but also bothered that it took this long for mainstream media to recognize another face and the sad implications that go along with that.

So where do we go from here? To start, we can continue supporting Essence magazine, the NAACP Awards, The Mindy Project, Latina magazine and other forms of entertainment aimed at promoting people of color. Celebrities of color can also start shifting their vocabulary at award shows. There have definitely been those who’ve spoke out on it, to include Tyra Banks on numerous other occasions, Iman Bowie and Kanye West, but there still has to be a level of consciousness when accepting awards, etc. Instead of essentially saying “Thank you for not being racist this year and awarding me this trophy,” maybe something along the lines of “Thank you for recognizing my work, and I challenge you to let this be the start of a new pattern. One that is more inclusive of people of color” will be a better fit. Saying that on national TV calls out the industry and makes them aware that we’re not oblivious to the injustice and would like things handled more responsibly. This will hopefully lead to more inclusiveness with time and then everybody wins. Minorities are recognized, and Kanye West isn’t compelled to interrupt an innocent teeny-bopper’s big moment and shout who really should have gotten the award!
*Watch Tyra’s acceptance speech below

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3 Responses to “My Bittersweet Feelings About Tyra Banks’ 3rd Greatest “Sports Illustrated” Cover of All Time Award”

  1. sudom121 February 11, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    love this!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Christi February 16, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    You hit the nail on the head, as the old folks say lol! When I was younger, I used to always want to go to all of these awards shows. But the older I get, the more I realize how rigged and imbalanced they are and have absolutely no interest in even watching them on tv. So much hoopla and fanfare to celebrate the same faces year after year. It is definitely bittersweet and very saddening.

    Liked by 1 person

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