While everybody is still talking/reeling about Nicki Minaj’s “Hell raising” performance at the Grammys, we totally missed the two little British girls do their thang on the red carpet.
Sophia Grace Brownlee, 8 and her cousin Rosie McClelland, 5 are probably best known for their sickeningly cute cover of Nicki Minaj’s hit song, “Super Bass” on YouTube. The video of them twirling around in pink tutus and princess crowns was so big that it got the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who brought the girls on to perform it live with their idol Minaj. Eventually, this led to them being invited back to perform Keri Hilson’s version of “Turn My Swag On,” and a request by Ellen herself to cover the American Music Awards for the show.
On Sunday, the British invasion known as Sophia and her sidekick Rosie glided around the red carpet in gold and pink princess costumes rubbing elbows with Lady Antebellum, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Fergie, and Taylor Swift among others. During the show, Rosie confessed to Ellen that “we weren’t nervous but we were hungry…” so they even paused for a sandwich and juice box break on the red carpet. I swear children can be so deliciously cute sometimes. It makes me want to have a bunch of them but then I realize that I have to take care of them and go back to playing with my dog.
Like the rest of America, I have sort of fallen in love with Sophia and her off-beat cousin. Ever since watching them on YouTube and then again on Ellen, I marvel at how talented and sophisticated they are to be so young. But I do wonder though if Sophia Grace and Rosie were two little black girls named Tamika and Shante, would we consider them special? Or would they, along with their parents, be chastised for having those kids sing songs that are way too grown for them? I mean, I can probably go outside right now and find several little Black girls singing all sorts of popular songs off the radio, so what makes them different?
Whether we like to own up to it or not, there is something both gravitating and gratifying about watching white people appropriate other people’s culture. We love it when Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake do a melody of rap songs more than we love watching the rappers, who actually sang them. We marveled at the spectacle of the white girl with her keyboard sidekick jamming through “Look At Me Now,” even though we don’t like Lil’ Wayne and Chris Brown. And what about the video of the white teenager singing “Rack City” with his grandma? It was quite cool watching his grandma do the awkward jig in the background while her sweat jacket-hooded grandson lip synced to the uncensored version. Those sorts of things are amusing to us. However we better never catch Tyreek and Grandma Bertha doing that. We would be the first people online searching the yellow pages for the number to Child Protective Services.
The implication here, of course, is that the fictitious Tyreek and his Grandma Bertha are not innocent or impetuous like the hooded white teenager. The assumption is always that they probably live in a predominately Black community and therefore are pre-disposed to criminal activity. Therefore, they need both help and condemnation. Whereas the white teenager and his grandma, well they are being delightfully mischievous. Of course, I’m comparing a real life instance to a ghost example however study after study has revealed that there is some truth to how we internalize these ideas. For instance, CNN recently conducted their own version of the now famous black doll/white doll test and showed that even 60 years after the initial experiment, both black and white children not only prefer the lighter skinned dolls but also identified the darker skinned dolls as bad.
This sort of subconscious association makes it easier for folks – Black, White and in between – to readily accept or even make stereotypes based upon what we have been conditioned to believe. Even if the truth is as far away from the stereotype. Just ask the Chicago news reporter, who took the words of the innocent 4-year old Black boy, who just witnessed a murder, and manipulated them to make him seem like a little serial killer in training.
Now I don’t say all of this to throw shade at little Rosie and Sophia. I honestly think they are cute as buttons. However I do wish sometimes that we have the same sort of whimsical fascination with little Black girls and boys as we do with them. In many ways, our attempt to shield our children from stereotypes placed upon us as a race has done just as much damage to their self-esteem than the actual stereotype could. If they grow up believing that, because of their color, everything they do is inherently wrong and worthy of added scrutiny and punishment, then can we really blame them when they grow up to be ashamed and distant from identifying with being Black?
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
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