A few weeks ago this photo featuring actor, Lance Gross and several of his friends at their annual holiday trip in Bear Mountain, struck a nerve with countless black women online. Many say the photo is symbolic of colorism within the black community as it shows the lone dark skinned woman single and lonely while the light skinned women in the group are all coupled up. Soon after the backlash ensued, Lanaadrian Easterling, the “single” woman from the photo, spoke out saying the photo is a joke they do every year. Besides her explanation, many are still calling foul.
Easterling recently spoke to MadameNoire.com about the infamous picture and why she thinks black women shouldn’t care who black men date.
About 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.
How she felt about the comments
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.
On her boyfriend…
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.
Why she thinks the photo caused such a stir…
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.
Having self worth is one thing. All women should be able to tap into the power regardless of the male gaze. But to honestly say that black women should stop caring about who black men date is reaching. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should be consumed by it. We all need to get to a place where our outward beauty and the way we are perceived by others isn’t what defines who we are. But that doesn’t make colorism and how it plays out in our society any less detrimental, especially considering the fact that the plague of colorism affects young women the most. We can tell young girls that they matter, they are beautiful, attractive, and desirable, but if the world around them doesn’t mirror those facts, the chances of colorism causing long-term damage are greater.
So yes, we should continue to feel beautiful, but don’t hesitate to call bullshit if you disagree with how some men directly or indirectly shun an entire group of women based on the color of their skin.