A couple of weeks ago, LaNaadrian Easterling, Psy.D was enjoying an annual Christmas trip to Big Bear with her close friends and family. Days after the trip, an annual group photo that includes Easterling, actor Lance Gross, his wife Rebecca and three other couples, went viral.
In addition to the silly memes, the image garnered many discussions, at times heated, about colorism.
We caught up with Easterling to discuss the contentious photo and how she’s using her unplanned push into the spotlight to put that spotlight on something positive.
MadameNoire: Can you briefly explain the annual trip?
LaNaadrian Easterling, Psy.D: Even though the trip has been an annual tradition for more than 10 years, I started attending about six years ago. With the exception of Lance and Rebecca, most of the people who came on the trip were single. Over time, most of my friends have gotten married and had children, so the trip has evolved from a group of friends, to a family vacation.
Years ago, the actual picture started out with a bunch of single people and evolved into a couple’s photo when people started bringing their significant others. The first year I noticed this, I jokingly told my friends, “Y’all aren’t going to leave me out of the photo just because I didn’t bring a date this year!” So I joined the picture and hugged myself. Every year, we continued to take this silly picture, and I tried to outdo myself from the year before by making a really awkward face or hugging myself. It was all in good fun.
MN: What did you think when you first saw the comments on your friend’s Instagram page?
Easterling: I thought they were completely ridiculous, disrespectful and hurtful, but I didn’t take it personally because they were strangers. I couldn’t believe how fast this photo spread. Frankly, it was embarrassing. Whatever insecurity or negative thought people had about single, brown-skinned women was bubbling to the surface and spilling all over the Internet. I was fascinated by the idea that people, who have no idea about who I am, who my friends are, or why we were on the trip, had drawn very specific conclusions about the intention of the photo. I knew that I needed to respond, but it needed to be in a thoughtful and intentional way.
MN: You mentioned that you do have a boyfriend. To clarify, why wasn’t he present for the trip?
Easterling: Yes, I have a boyfriend, and he is an amazing, intelligent and successful Black man. However, at the time of the trip, we had only been dating for about six months, and he had not met my daughter yet. As her mother, I am extremely protective, and I do not introduce her to men that I am dating until the relationship has progressed to a point where I feel like it is appropriate for that introduction to take place. The Big Bear holiday trip was not the time nor place for that initial meeting to occur.
MN: Why do you think that some people looked at the photo in a negative way? Were you disappointed by such a perception? If so, why?
Easterling: I think it rubbed salt in a very sensitive, deep-rooted, painful and complex wound in our community, especially for Black women. I noticed several recurring themes in the responses: Questions about my relationship status and questions about why I would choose to attend a couple’s trip if I was single; Thoughts about why the “dark girl” was single and why the “light-skinned girls” had a man; Debates about whether or not the other women in the photo were Black or Black enough; Suggestions that my friends and I staged this photo on purpose, with the intention of emphasizing that I was single because I have a darker complexion than the other women.
I want to make it very clear that I 100 percent understand colorism, and many other issues that we face in the Black community. I know that self-hatred, or what I refer to as negative self-identity development, is a serious problem in the Black community that has plagued our families for centuries. The assumption that my complexion is the reason why I may be single and unhappy is an unfair mischaracterization and further perpetuates the colorism that many were upset about themselves. Colorism impacts all people of color on both ends of the spectrum. Many of the women in the photo have been told their entire lives that they aren’t “Black enough” and have been rejected from people in our own community, sometimes facing this issue within their own families. Furthermore, it really bothers me that in 2017, people are still angry with who Black men choose to date. Black men and women have the right to date or marry whoever they want to marry, and to love whoever they want to love. As a Black woman, I couldn’t care less who my brothers choose to marry, whether that be a light-skinned Black woman, a White woman, an Asian woman, a Latina woman, or a man! Who they date or marry doesn’t make me any less beautiful, attractive, or desirable.
MN: What truly inspired you to create She Made Lemonade?
Easterling: I needed to create a forum for people to express their feelings and perspectives about this controversial topic [colorism] since this is a deep issue in our community that needed to be addressed in a thoughtful, intentional and respectful way.
Like most of the Black women I know, I was very inspired and impacted by Beyoncé’s recent album Lemonade. So when I was submitting proposals to speak about my research at a conference this past December, I affectionately titled it, Okay Ladies, Now Let’s Get in Formation: Enhancing Ethnic Identity Development in African-American Adolescent Girls. The irony in this situation is that three weeks before this photo was taken, I was literally presenting my research and professional work with Black girls at a national conference for educators at independent schools about the exact topic that I became the center of in that photo controversy. Recently, I was asked to present at other schools and to provide social media or online training about this very topic.
MN: What do you hope to accomplish with this platform?
One of the most significant moments that I’ve had since I created @shemadelemonade was an exchange that I had with a mother who commented under a photo on Lance’s page. She wrote that she had a 12-year-old daughter who saw this photo and started crying because of what people were saying about “the dark-skinned girl.” This mother shared that her daughter had dark skin and wondered if she would face the same humiliation that the woman in the photo was facing. I explained to her that I work every day to make sure that girls like her daughter never grow up feeling this way. As we continued our dialogue, we were able to break down what seemed like a huge barrier. I was so encouraged when she told me that I have her support, and most importantly, that some of the images I’ve posted on my page have also encouraged her daughter.
Additionally, I created a website, SheMadeLemonade.com, to provide a larger outlet for Black women to share their stories of trials and success to inspire the next generation of Black girls who are watching us. I want to highlight Black girls and women who are making moves and doing positive things in their communities.