A video clip of former 3LW members Adrienne Bailon and Naturi Naughton reunited on Daytime Talk show The Real surfaced this week, inciting many to question the authenticity of the now the popular apology. In the clip, co-host Adrienne Bailon offers an apology to former band member Naturi Naughton who was eliminated from the group prior to the two original members making it big as Disney’s Cheetah Girls. After the split, Naughton aired the mounting tension occurring moths before her departure, referencing a particularly humiliating moment where food was thrown at her.
Differences among coworkers is almost a guarantee, however given Naturi’s drastically different appearance and body type from the other members of the group—it seems that Naturi’s chocolate skin and budding curvy figure was not a good pairing for the group’s crossover ambitions.
As I watched Naughton, a beautiful, and graceful black woman, seated in a sea of women desperately pleading for white acceptance, it became clear that Naughton symbolized a black person discouraged from greatness solely due to the color of their skin. To most, blackness remains aligned with unattractiveness, ignorance, uncouth and moral and economic poverty, an alignment that influences how black bodies are generally compartmentalized. To many, the black body exists to solely validate whiteness, and once this is fulfilled they are discarded .
Also, given her nervous and overcompensating behavior, Bailon’s authenticity seemed a poorly executed attempt to veil her true feelings. Now, flash forward to fifteen years later, Nature has a college education and has played notable roles on the big and small screen. She became something despite the adversity and alienation handed to her by girls she believed were her friends. Naughton embodies the black female solicited to encompass the antithesis to the lighter and more aesthetically marketable bodies that surround her strategic placement. Naughtion functioned to heighten their otherwise average aesthetics by composing their binary opposite and tossed aside upon fulfillment of the initial goal.
Many whites and non-blacks see it as their duty to dissuade the black body, attributing said actions as “saving” the black body from disappointment. This is of course a psycho path’s attempt at empathy, hollow, cold imitation of what they perceive as a “normal” reaction and a smokescreen to one’s true intentions.
In considering intention, inauthenticity and rejection my mind journeys back to a defining moment in my adult life. As a graduate student, my ambitions to one day pursue a doctorate degree remained at the forefront of every discussion I had with my advisors and instructors. In the summer before obtaining my degree, my advisor– a Latina passing for white, wrote me a lengthy later stating that my writing was not good enough for a doctoral program and that I should seek other means to explore my ambitions at the current level. She blatantly stated that doctoral programs would encompass superior writers, and that learning to exist on their level would prove an impossible feat under environmental pressures. I truly believe that she thought she was doing me a favor. She felt that there was no place for a young (ish) black female like me in academia and felt that deterring me now would make my future “easier” if I settled for average and gave up on the exceptional. However, anyone who understands racism and the role in plays in black life, understands that easy is seldom an option. Also, it is imperative to note that to discourage the black body is to eliminate competition . If the white or non-black body succeeds in convincing the black body not to run the race, then they inevitably win. Whites and non blacks have the most to gain from deterring black potential, as their superiority is solely based on black denigration.
This was not the first time that I received word that me and my greatest love were incompatible. I received an invitation from countless individuals in my life encouraging me to settle for a comfortable and moderate path that puts food on the table but defers my dreams into what becomes wrinkles on my forehead. I had a white male professor at Howard (if you cannot already see the problem), that used class time to berate the writing of his black female students. Our writing was that of “high school students” he stated, drawing attention to our clothing instead. My college advisor, a middle aged black woman deterred my ability to get into Howard and encouraged me to apply to a city university. These situations are not unique. Rather, rejection is a guaranteed component of black life.
The frequency of black rejection and hearing “no” and “your not good enough” functions to validate these assertions over time. They function to deteriorate black confidence and encourage the black body to seek refuge in mediocrity. Naughton admits to a rough period following her ejection from the group, and I similarly was knocked down and stayed down for a long time. It was not until I revisited The Autobiography of Malcolm X, namely the part where Malcolm’s white male teacher, upon hearing Malcolm’s ambitions to become a lawyer talked him down to considering a career where he’d work with his hands. Despite the white teacher’s efforts to discount Malcolm’s examples, Malcolm would surpass western expectation on all fronts. He’d do this because he got to a point where white acceptance did not matter. Thrown at the feet of white supremacy as a inmate for his white girlfriend’s crime, it was the teachings of black nationalism that saved Malcolm from the complacency of assimilation.
Thus, to see Naturi, humbly receive an insincere apology from someone who did not believe in her, illustrates a moment familiar to any black body that has dared to dream. Bailon’s desperate attempt to appear supportive of Naughton and enthused by her success, also mirrors the white or non-black body who tries to shield their racism by claiming that they “always believed in” the previously discouraged black body. Similarly, when news of my doctoral acceptance made their way through the channels of my former department, this once discouraging professor was one of the first to offer her congratulations, despite her grave efforts to deter my ambitions. When the black body realizes that they do not need validation from the white or non-black body, then the praise follows as a means for the now non- central white or non-black body to include themselves in the black body’s triumph.
Before I conclude this piece, I feel compelled to state that while I do appreciate Naughton’s talent, I do not favor the roles she’s played, which are seemingly contingent on displaying her nude body. I also understand that not every black body will contribute in the same manner as Nat Turner, Assata Shakur or Dr. Amos Wilson. There are some who will contribute in a manner similar to Josephine Baker–illustrating what happens to black bodies who obtain visibility by kneeling to western expectation. Naughton illustrates the price that far too many blacks are willing to pay to prove the white man wrong. I did something similar in applying to white schools and white programs where I was likely to face the same discriminatory discouragement of my graduate institution. Similarly, elder Malcolm, like many others within the black collective, dated inter-racially and took to street hustling to obtain the white man’s wealth. Mimicking our oppressors is what we are programmed to do as abducted Africans. Our resistance is central in freeing ourselves from the many manifestations of white validation.
Furthermore, black success is solely contingent on the black body’s ability to decentralize whiteness. It seems a central component of the black body’s journey to the mountaintop to realize that whites are not at the top.
I, like countless other blacks throughout the diaspora, have been Naturi Naughton– underestimated and rejected. I can only hope that the teachings of her past remain a pedagogical prophecy of her future endeavors and that the birth of her child forces her to reevaluate bearing her bare bosom on the white man’s network. Until then, I can only hope that members of the black collective see that the rejection and discouragement of black bodies is as American as “apple pie” and reflective solely of the oppressors, not the worth of the oppressed.
How have you overcome rejection? Share a story in the comments 🙂