It’s about two in the morning and the air is electric with the after buzz of the club letting out. He’s a bit of an exhibitionist and I’m a Pisces. After a few chuckled “I don’t know”s, I walk with him behind the club. We are right off the alley–us and the brick wall. I don’t remember the name of the club—I think it’s closed now—but I remember how hard I was praying, “Please don’t let anybody I know walk back here.” Age: early-20s
“Oh s**t!” We’re scrambling like runny eggs. Scared fingers fumble with buttons and zippers, while headlights glare through the fogged up windows of a Chevrolet Celebrity sedan. Just be cool. Be cool. When you’re in high school, there aren’t many places to go to be alone, so in the car with boys it is. What the heck are police doing rolling through here this time of night anyway? I mean, a randomly parked car in the lot of a junior high school after hours doesn’t look fishy to me… Age: mid-teens
And so goes my mind, ego-tripping through the memories of a young girl-woman, with all her bags of unwise choices, hurts, regrets and tricks. She’s got hundreds of these stories folded ever-so neatly, but the bags get lighter and lighter with each wise choice I make, lesson I learn and story I share. Looking back, I’m starting to think maybe my load wasn’t as heavy as it is for young women growing up in these digital times.
I thank the grace of God more than anything, and the fact that I came of age in an era where having my own phone line in my room, an Ameritech pager—the one with the turquoise button—and late night chats on “The Party Line” was about as social as my media got. It’s a whole new game today. Folks will just whip out their phone and take a picture or video of you on the train and have it posted online before you get off at your stop. I think I would just die if I was 14 and something I did with a boy was posted all over the Internet. This is why two days after hearing her name, my thoughts and prayers still time travel back to Amber Cole.
Amber Cole, a young girl whose character and life has been sound-bited down to simply the 14-year-old girl caught on tape giving oral sex to a male student outside on school property. Nearly everything about that sentence bothers me. Not the part about two teens engaging in sexual activity. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of what’s going on. It was true back “in the day” and it’s still true now. To put it in perspective, my maternal grandmother had 14 children, I believe the first was at age 15 or 16. She loved and raised them all. I definitely don’t think of my grandmother in terms some people have used to vilify Amber Cole—dumb, hoe, slut, stupid, getting what she deserves, dirty girl, whore (and these are all putting it nicely; some of the full comments I’ve read are inhumane and heartbreaking).
I’m bothered that I know her full name and every reference to her co-star are as “a classmate”, “a student” or “her ex-boyfriend”. I haven’t seen the video, but I’ve seen one still photo and you can see his face. He’s identifiable. Why is the responsibility of this act solely on her name? It’s Janet and Justin at the Super Bowl all over again.
I’m bothered when people use words like “caught.” When I hear caught, I think of catching a criminal. I think we should be less concerned with Amber Cole being “caught” on tape, and a little more concerned about who was doing the catching…and the uploading. Another student filmed this, either with or without her consent. Then , it was uploaded to the Internet. Can we “catch” this person?!
I’m bothered that it happened at school and outside. I don’t say this to be hypocritical of my own “why’d I do that!” choices, but in wisdom found only in the hindsight of those choices. Here we have a situation with two young people that don’t care (or don’t care enough) about the potential of being discovered. What if other students walked by? A teacher? The principal? Whatever was the motivating factor for each of them was stronger than their sense of dignity and self-esteem at that time, or their understanding of possible repercussions. Maybe they just didn’t know it could all play out like this, which is also bothersome because by 14 students should be getting training in social media literacy.
Last month, I shared my concern about music oversexualizing and desensitizing our young girls. As much as I want to protect and defend them as victims of media brainwashing and underdeveloped/undernurtured self worth, I also know full well that young women are sometimes the big, bad wolf and not naïve Little Red Riding Hood. They want to show you they can work it better or pop it harder than anyone else. Sometimes, they’re doing it like they’re doing it for TV because that’s where they want to be, like in Beyonce’s song, “Video Phone.” This is another song that makes me cringe.
You saying that you want me
So press record, I’ll let you film me
On your video phone, make a cameo
Tape me on your video phone, I can handle you
Watch me on your video phone, on your video, video
If you want me you can watch me on your video phone
When we, meaning adults, talk about videotaping like it’s something fun and desirable and ENCOURAGED, how should we expect youth to act? And when it’s coming from someone as influential as Beyonce, it makes sense that young men and women listen and act accordingly, especially if there aren’t louder voices in their ears (mentors, parents, teachers, etc.) telling them otherwise.
Amber Cole is not Beyonce. She is not Kim Kardashian. She is not Paris Hilton. I doubt this video will ripple effect 15 minutes of shame into a marketable brand with endorsements. Amber Cole is being cyberbullied, accused and attacked. The rules of the game aren’t the same for those without money and fame.
When I was discussing the Amber Cole situation with a friend of mine, she made a point that really hit home: “I feel like if you wanna play the game, know the game and your competitor.” Our young women are already playing this game, but they are losing. It’s not #Winning to have your name casually tossed around as the school or neighborhood “go to” girl…wearing clothes that are much too tight because you want to be “thick” and not deal with the reality of your weight…doing sexual favors for clothes, hair and shoe money thinking it’s “tricking” when you’re really the one being tricked..doing what feels wrong (and not empowering) to get love and attention from a boy/man that will be on to the next one faster than your heart or knees can heal. It’s fourth quarter and we need to step in and give young women the knowledge, tools and resources to play the game and WIN. The most powerful weapon is self-love and as we learn it, we need to teach and instill it.
This is our wake up call.
The face of the Amber Alert in 2011 is not a cute dark-haired, freckled face girl and she is not missing. No, Amber is a beautiful, brown-skinned princess and I know exactly where she is. She’s in every city, walking the blocks, going to school, talking loud on the buses and trains, reading quietly in her bedroom, kissing boys, running from trouble. She’s the face I see in the mirror and the faces my eyes see when I look out into the world.
Instead of saying “I SUPPORT AMBER COLE”, I simply say “I AM Amber Cole.” She is me and I am her and every other girl/woman that’s journeyed too far off the path on her way home. How far am I willing to go to save myself?
#OperationBlackGirlsToday….details coming soon.