Dear Sista Friend,
I vividly remember the moment Jenna Bush Hager uttered the poor combination of words, “Hidden Fences” at the 2017 Golden Globes. My reaction while on the couch was a combination of, “oh no she didn’t” and “God bless her heart.” However, the gag is…I uttered those exact words some days later. Join me as I walk through my unfortunate blunder and provide some lessons on how you can learn from it.
Several days after the 2017 Golden Globes I was in a group chat with my sistafriends and the topic of Black art, specifically film, was introduced into the discussion (because we’re cultured like that). As we took count of who saw Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Fences, I casually typed “Hidden Fences” into my phone. Zero point eight seconds later I received a response from one sistafriend…”haha, stop making fun of Jenna!” It was at that moment when I understood my careless and embarrassing statement. I immediately wanted to blame autocorrect, Jenna, or maybe act as though I did say the words in a facetious manner. However, this is where my first lesson comes into play:
⇒ Lesson #1: OWN UP TO IT. I don’t care if you are in a board room or a casual group text, own up to your mistakes. This lesson can be applied on a macro level, but for the purpose of this post I want to attach this lesson to the representation of marginalized communities. If you say something culturally insensitive or inappropriate and immediately realize your fault, there is no better time than the present to rectify your mistake. Firstly, those around you will see and hear that everyone is not perfect in speech or thought in matters of underrepresented communities. Secondly, you will build trust and an inclusive environment with those around you so they become emboldened to influence a different set of people. It will take a hit to your ego, but the impact will be more than a fleeting moment.
After a brief self-inspection, I responded that I wasn’t joking and that I honestly made the same mistake I was lambasting Jenna Bush Hager for days earlier. The response from my sistafriends was a combination of humor and “let me snatch you up real quick.”
⇒ Lesson #2: CALL PEOPLE OUT We can’t always count on others to address their mistakes, so we must become ambassadors for putting people in their place. I was blessed to have my group of sistafriends put me in check (with a touch a love and humor) IMMEDIATELY, and I thank them for that. So many people say foolish things, but they don’t have a person who will educate, correct and challenge them. Be that person to someone who needs it, because although words are common, they can become insidious if unchecked.
After my texting gaffe, I then went into a rushed state of introspection, “How could I say that? Both films were glorious, so how could I combine them and insult the actors like that! I just gave Jenna Bush Hager hell for saying that earlier! For goodness’ sake, my career is in diversity and inclusion!”
⇒ Lesson #3: EVERYONE IS SUSCEPTIBLE I don’t care if you are Black, Hispanic, Latinx, LGBTQIA, Native American or a member of any other marginalized community, that does not make you immune to error. Since marginalized communities have been underrepresented, or not represented at all, there are so many unknowns to explore! Find the beauty in understanding that you cannot be a master in all cultures. Learning is essential and the growth that comes from learning is a life-changing experience. If you are a member of a marginalized community and make it plain that even you must seek out cultural knowledge, that sends a message of encouragement, and hopefully a call to action, to others.
The power of the media is palpable in our daily lives. Two simple words such as “Hidden Fences” diminished the worthiness and beauty of two films centered in Blackness and had damaging residual effects. We must hold ourselves and others accountable to acknowledge mistakes, seek truth, and educate others along the way. So as the 2017 Academy Awards approaches, you have the right to get angry if you hear “Hidden Fences” but I hope after reading this you will now follow that anger with bold action.
Your Sista Friend,
Amie Kromis O’Riley
Amie Kromis O’Riley is from and currently resides in the two states most known for country music, Tennessee and Texas, but she’ll take old school soul music any day. AKO works in the unexpected career of construction as a diversity and inclusion manager for one of the top construction and development firms in the world. In her spare time she loves to earn points with loyalty programs, listen to NPR and chill with her husband/best friend.