Before Beyoncé there was Whitney. A pop icon, with the face and voice of an angel, Whitney Houston was and is an American icon. Perhaps more resonating, Whitney Houston is a pillar of black femininity. As the first face of color for Seventeen Magazine, and the most awarded female artist of all time, Houston emerged from the absence of black women in designated white spaces marking a presence that would come to be unforgettable.
As a child, I remember pretending to be Whitney as I screamed “Queen of the Night.” I played “I Will Always Love You”so many times before I turned ten that sixteen years later I can still sing every word by memory. “The Preacher’s Wife” remains my all time favorite Christmas movie, as it featured the acting, singing and remarkable beauty of Whitney Houston. Houston sings the soundtrack to my childhood, and remains an obvious influence to contemporary artists that have been crafted in her image.
What I admired about Houston was that her talent and beauty stood for themselves. Houston never reduced herself to hyper sexual lyrics, clothing or behavior. She was enough, and as a representative of black femininity she proved that we, as black women were also enough.
I write this piece amidst the seemingly non ending discussion of Houston’s drug use. It seems that a discussion of her troubles, makes it way to each and every conversation surrounding Houston. So my question in response to such negativity is:
Does the crack in a diamond make it any less beautiful?
While the responses may vary, a chipped diamond is still very much a diamond.
In the case of Whitney Houston, the “chip in her diamond” is a testament to her humility. A flaw doesn’t stop a diamond from shining bright, and Houston’s light illuminated the path for me as a young lady trying to herself in the darkness of self-discovery.
The scrutiny that Houston was forced to endure reflects society’s need to dim the light of black celebrities.
To be fair, Hollywood challenges all who cross her path, issuing enough slander to make the subject question their own validity. However, the price of fame for black celebrities comes at a much higher cost than their white counterparts.
As a member of a subjugated group, this misfortune of black celebrities are seen as a token of truth rather than “a mistake” or a “troubled period.” Now white Hollywood certainly has its bad apples, but in most cases, white conflict doesn’t overcome white achievement.
So as a result, a dark cloud is cast over the halo of Houston’s talent. However, it is up to us as members of the black diaspora to decide how we will remember our heroes. For we can not allow those who have distorted our history to destroy the legacy of our stars.
Bearing the burden of blackness, femininity, and celebrity, Houston was subject to irreversible scrutiny. Most who cast such criticism will never feel the heat of stage lights on and off the stage. These critics only know how to cast, not bear the gaze of a million eyes.
But any gaze solely capturing the flaws within the purity of beauty and talent amidst the venom of stardom is reflective of he/she who cast the gaze, not the subject.
So to the world Whitney may be a fallen star. To the world she may be a disappointment. But to me she is representative of the flaws within black femininity– present, but not compromising of the rarity and beauty that the construct beholds.
I can only hope that regardless of where Whitney Houston is in the universe, that she is granted the peace robbed of her in life. I hope that Whitney rests in the same peace that she has given me as a fan, and as a black woman.
I will always love you, Whitney.