What Are You Supposed To Tell Your Sons About the Black Woman Chair?

What Are You Supposed To Tell Your Sons About the Black Woman Chair? January 22, 2014

black woman chair

When an international magazine editor sits down on a chair called “the black woman chair,” for an editorial magazine…

…heads are scratched. Pearls are actually clutched.  Swear words are articulated.  Anger is not just in the head or heart, it is felt in the body.  From anger to sadness to despair.

Then you remember this IS our reality.  You forgot…since yesterday.

You post it on Facebook and every one feels ALL THE RAGE.  And you feel confirmed that it IS -in fact- jarring, awful, perhaps even evil.  A piece of  “art” gone rogue.  A misstep by an editor, a photographer, a magazine editor, a publisher.

They apologize, say “everyone is equal” but you know in your heart this was no unintentional misstep.  This chair was made to be intentionally “provocative,” they can call it “not racism,” and a “piece of art,” and you can call bullshit all day but mostly you stuff it down because if you didn’t each new instance of your objectification would suffocate you.

You wonder what you’re supposed to tell your two young sons about the black woman chair.  They are only 4 & 8 and Lord Willing will not see it due to limited internet use but you know they will catch get wind of how black women are objectified and over-sexualized from ALL THE THINGS.  Things as “innocent” as Miley Cyrus appropriating black women on prime-time to the not-so-innocent portrayals of black women as sluts, hoes & bitches in song lyrics and music videos.

You think about your boys seeing this about other black women, but what about you?  Haven’t they all ready internalized it in YOU –their own flesh and blood Mama is different and not in a good way?

Your heart aches because they can articulate that your natural hair styles are “crazy,” “too big,” “silly,” & “out of control.”  You smile and they smile because they are little people, articulating the only truths they know: you & all your hair look different from the messages I’ve all ready been told about what is beautiful and acceptable. 


You are not beautiful, black woman, you are silly.

It’s a small thing really in comparison.  Yet, it sends a message you know loud and clear: by the time these boys are 14 &  18 they will know -maybe even believe- black women are worth less than white women.  They will know their Mama is a part of one of the most marginalized populations on the planet and God help them if you don’t raise them up to be responsible advocates.

You wonder what message a chair like this sends to little boys in light of African-American history.  You wonder how your boys will respond when they learn how often black slave women were raped by white slave owners, how painting the picture of black women as Jezebels, harlots, whores and sluts is a socially accepted way of interacting with us?

To degrade the black woman then is now every bit as acceptable in art.  Art, it covers all manner of sins doesn’t it?

You will teach your boys that half of us -HALF- have been sexually abused by 18.  One day, you will tell your boys their own black grandfather spent 8 years in prison for doing just that to their Mama.  They will hate him, and you will try to teach them the freedom in forgiveness.  You will try to help them understand black women’s bodies aren’t their right to use, denigrate, objectify as they please…even as you try to understand this yourself.

You wonder if you can use an image like this -at least the idea of it- to explain the emotional violence against you and your Sisters face every day.  The positioning of her legs, the belt, she is vulnerable.  My positioning in this country, is every day as vulnerable.  Will it help to tell them my sons how often black women are molested and told to keep quiet?  Will it overwhelm them if they know how often black women are raped?

You want them to know this because you do not want them to grow up without understanding how vulnerable we all are.  You want them to know if you were ever murdered or stolen they may never see justice because folks simply won’t care.

You want them to see little black girls in the 7th grade with big natural hair or dreads and find them every bit as beautiful and desirous as the blond haired blue-eyed baby girl across the row.  You hope that one day your sons will find a strong black woman marry-able not “too loud,” “too crazy,” “too angry,” “too natural,” “too sexual,” “too dark,” or “too” anything.  Yet, this is not the path of least resistance, this is The Hard Path.

For your sons to choose to marry a black woman means them seeing past images and messages like the black woman chair over and over and over again without internalizing it, while choosing to acknowledge both their male and light-skinned biracial privilege which will likely allow them to float through life without having to deal with any of this unless they choose to.

You want to be hopeful but you worry.  You feel as if you could suffocate.

You worry because even when you are beautiful and successful the media will lighten your skin to look like…well, me.

You worry because you know you may not get the next job promotion your very fair skinned sons may get due to your natural hair.

You worry because many black women die without honor.

You worry because researchers have linked the experience of constant racism to cases of adult onset asthma in black women.  That’s if your not dead all ready since black women are the leaders in death rates due to heart disease and heart attack.

You worry because seemingly EVERYONE is afraid of our black men whom we love! Our brothers, our boyfriends, our husbands, our sons, our uncles.  And when they are afraid they imprison and kill them.  So you worry.

You worry because you try to be a bridge for reconciliation but you are exhausted.

You worry because you fear more black women will be murdered without justice.

You worry because even our First Lady can’t escape being objectified at best as a prop to a political statement, at worst as a sexual object.


This may look like “just a chair.”  Just an unfortunate editorial misstep “taken out context,” but don’t lie to yourself.

As a black woman, here’s what I know: this “art” is an image representative of our positioning on this earth.

Almost an exact representation.

Have a seat.

Or stand up and advocate.

The onus to teach our sons a different way is on all of us.

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  • Krista Dalton

    This is gospel.

    • true! It’s Jesus’ gospel that none are marganilized and dehumanized & sexualized. no one. amen and amen.

  • wow, grace. you’ve got a fire in you, and i know those boys of yours will be good men. thanks for raising your voice. it’s life and death, and it matters. you matter. grateful for you.

    • yes, “a fire” is a good way indeed to describe it!!

  • That image is so unnerving. I cannot fathom how anyone in good conscience could even sit on that chair. I can’t shake that image, or your words.

  • sethhaines

    “You wonder what you’re supposed to tell your two young sons about the black woman chair…”
    I wonder what I’m supposed to tell my 4 sons, too. When I saw the photograph, I hoped hard that my boys don’t stumble across it. I don’t want to have to explain it. But if I do have to, know that I’ll be pulling many of my words from your page.

    • I also wonder what my daughter will think if she ever sees this…hopefully it would inspire some good conversation. I too would pull words from you, Grace.

      • thank you so much, Carol. I appreciate your constant encouragment & support!

    • Our precious sons. we have SO much to explain don’t we? it can feel so overwhelming. sigh.

  • So much ugliness and perversion in this world. Lord, help us.

    Thank you for being a light in the dark places, Grace.

    • thank you so much, Alyssa for your affirmation and friendship!

  • I just can’t get over that picture. *tears*

  • Dear god in heaven, I cannot believe anyone would say that is “just a chair” — they are evil or desperately deceived.

    • Likely deceived. Love & pursuit of money & sales is a powerful thing. =(

  • Saskia Wishart

    Wow Grace. Thank you for your words.

    This photo is appalling, but I am grateful/proud/overwhelmed by how you use your voice.
    For the standing and advocating you are doing – I know it is not easy. But it matters.

  • Yeah. I’m running out of energy…

    • aint that the truth?? May the Lord be our strength in this!!

  • Thank you Grace. Your story, your perspective, and your passion are so very needed. I could hardly bring myself to look at the image, so I can’t imagine how terrible it must be for you. It’s the worst, and we need to say so.

    • Yes, we do. Thanks for your support and friendship, ED!

  • HisFireFly

    thank you for your voice
    loud, strong
    be as wild as your hair
    in His image, standing up
    for what is wrong
    clear the temples!

    I had not seen this
    I am appalled, embarrassed
    can’t conceive of this even existing

    • THIS:

      “thank you for your voice
      loud, strong
      be as wild as your hair
      in His image, standing up
      for what is wrong
      clear the temples!”

      FAVORITE comment EVER!!!! I LOVE this thought. yes!!! may it be lord!!

  • I’m standing with you, Grace. So grateful for you and your voice. Let those who have ears, hear.

  • Oh my god, Grace. That chair. Oh god. 🙁 Thank you for writing this. All my love and support.

  • Maggie H Johnson

    What the hell. Such a storm that’s taking place in my heart right now. Thank you for speaking up. Thank you for writing this.

  • TRice

    Thanks for bringing attention to this awful … thing. There are no words. It isn’t art. And thank you for writing about it with such power and dignity.

    • your welcome & thank you!!

      • TRice

        Grace, I was convicted by Osheta Moore’s post about more white female bloggers speaking out about racism. I’m not at all from the south–although God knows my great grandmother in Texas probably dabbled in things I never want to know about, and I know she was specifically talking Southerners. But I took Osheta’s words to heart. I’ve taken your words to heart. I always feel inadequate. Some of my favorite people in the world are my black friends, but I cringe even identifying them as such, because they are just simply MY BELOVED PEOPLE. But I tell you that to let you know I care deeply. I don’t want to live in an ugly bubble of privilege and ignorance. So in my stumbling way, I’ve tried to share my heart through my own story this week and the inspiration of Dr. King and all he was up against as he clung tightly to hope. And what grew from my story and his is this: http://hopefullyknown.com/2014/01/24/hope-depression-dreams-mlk/

        I wanted to link to your piece, but didn’t want to come across as taking anything away from what you’ve written here or trying to ride on its coattails, because nothing more can or should be added to your powerful words. All that to say, I want bloggers like you and Osheta and others to know that not every white blogger will chose silence. We may not be heard. (I wrote about “hot” and got almost 1000 views … I wrote about MLK and got about 30.) But I will keep at it. That’s a promise. Because our children just HAVE TO inherit a better world.

  • Megan Westra

    that photo is heinous and i am beyond troubled by it.
    your bravery, conviction and passion are astounding.

    thank you for speaking out.

    – from one who is learning what it is to stand up

  • mongupp

    Awful 🙁

  • that picture is horrific. it is NOT okay. All of it.
    So glad for your voice on this.

  • Michelle

    Wow! Where do I begin? For the past
    few days I have been unplugged from
    Most media so I hadn’t heard or seen this.
    And actually when I saw the title I thought
    Oh, Grace must’ve gone to the beauty
    Shop and now has a funny story to tell
    About the ‘black woman chair.’ Boy was
    I wrong and NOTHING could have prepared
    Me for this. This picture, just looking at
    This picture makes me feel sadness, rage
    And tiredness. I am just shocked that
    Anyone ANYWHERE believed this was
    Okay. Yeah, how did this get past all
    Those you mentioned? Photographer,
    Editor, publisher, etc. this speaks volumes
    And quite frankly it just makes me tired.
    This life just seems like an uphill battle
    Sometimes, well, most of the times.
    But we must hope, always hope, eh Grace?

  • Michelle

    Oh fantastic article. You have beautifully explained what many of us feel.

  • kim

    Thank you, Grace for helping me find words. I lost all of mine when I saw this image. Reading and rereading all you wrote. I will pass your explanations and responses on to others and let them sink into me.

  • That chair is AWFUL. Gut-wrenching, powerful, important post, Grace. I join you in raising our children to know better, to fight harder, and to speak out and stand up for justice.

    • Yes, may we work hard to gift our children with the burden of advocacy!!!

  • That picture doesn’t just make me angry, I actually find it frightening. And I’m sure my feelings about it don’t even scratch the surface of how it makes you feel. This is a hard, brave post, friend. Standing with you.

    • Thank you so much, bethany! appreciate it so much!

  • I found this blog on Twitter and I’m glad I did. Sending love and strength to you.

    • Yay for Twitter! Thanks for stopping & commenting! Love & strength right back atcha, kiddo!

  • jontrott

    Grace, thank you for your thoughtful, heartfelt, post on yet another disgusting reminder of just how deeply racism is rooted in the 21st century psyche. As a white Christian male, one often asked by other white Christians just why I “sound so 1960s” about racial issues, your post is one more helpful link to pass their way. Which I have done via face book… again, thank you for your post, and the many links you provide within it.

    • Thanks so much, Jon. Appreciate the support & I’m glad to hear my words have been helpful!!

  • Tamara

    Tell them there’s a ‘white girl chair’ (and other tasteless pieces) by the same artist and that they’re all bad. http://nicholasspyer.com/2011/05/24/hatstand-table-and-chair-by-allen-jones/

    • How does that address the degradation they will see in this image & the countless others that show how little black women are valued? I can show them the white one & it will make very little impact b/c there are hundreds of daily messages telling them how valuable/beautiful/cherished/honored white women are. What the freak does one have to with the other when it comes to what my boys see? What they see is this BS picture that again displays our objectification & hyper-sexualization.

      • Christi

        Hi Grace. This image is deeply saddening and repulsive! I really appreciate your discussion about this. The racial issue is heinous and as a white woman I call all of my sisters and brothers to join in the fight against marginalization of black women and girls!! You are very right that many white women at the very least least turn a blind, complicit eye to the situation and often add to the stereotype, marginalization and objectification of black women and girls and it makes me want to vomit. One of the things that saddens me is that this is also a case of “hurting people hurt people.” As a white woman I am given many privileges and yet I am still marginalized and sexualized by many white males and many white females. It would not surprise me given our society to switch out this image with a white male sitting on the “white woman chair” or even a white male sitting on a “black man chair.” How do we honestly engage all people – all races and both genders to combat the horrific, sinful practice of marginalization, injustice and abuse of power? I am ready and willing to join in a fight against these things and I believe that our God will be on the side of justice!

        • I hope that we can continue to fight against marginalization of women in general but certainly when it pops like this and when others celebrate it.

  • Hi Grace! I have to admit if I didn’t know the context at all and just saw this visual with no preface, no context whatsoever, I probably would not be offended. I would automatically assume it was a piece of highly provocative yet forward thinking art meant to expose all of things that you are so very rightly protesting here. But context is EVERYTHING. The medium IS the message, yada, yada, yada. So in that case, the very idea the very word actually knowing that it is “fashion” disgusts and infuriates me. Fashion, in my humble opinion is the enemy of art and thinking and explicitly designed to perpetuate classism, rasism, sexism, agism and every other great divide.

    • interesting perspective, Wayne. i love fashion but I agree it can perpetuate all the “ism’s”.

  • Kristi Scott

    I love your heart and everything about this. I would be shocked if your
    boys didn’t grow up to love black women and be proud of their heritage.
    They have an incredible black mom teaching them what to fight for.
    Here’s to standing up!

  • Thank you for this powerful piece. As I was reading, I just kept thinking how much I agree that I don’t want my children to internalize these damaging, racialized messages that are so prevalent. And that same desire that they understand and recognize their biracial, light-skinned, bilingual privilege. Thank you for your vulnerability and putting words to this parental worry.

    • yes, a parental worry indeed. It’s such a rocky terrain that we have to take our kids on…but so worth it.

  • Marie

    So awful and so wrong…have people no shame that such a “chair” like this exists??!

  • I never know what to say after reading articles like this. It stirs me to the core, and I’m so sad and frustrated and torn. I was raised to believe we are all equal and to never judge or treat someone badly because of the color of their skin. I didn’t grow up in an area with many African Americans, very few in fact. I never understood why people were so mean to them as every one I have ever met was so nice. As I moved around to different areas, I discovered a little taste of racism, but I’ve never seen it the way you’ve described. I hope I never do. It’s just sickening to even think how people can be treated so badly by each other. It’s inhumane and sickens me to the core.
    I wish I knew how to take this epidemic and wipe it off the earth for good. All I can do is teach my children that we are all children of God no matter what race, religion or gender. If there is more that I can do I will gladly be of help in the cause to fight this injustice. I won’t stand for it. I won’t listen to anyone who reeks of such vulgarity and cruelty either. Grace you are here for God’s work to bring light to the darkness. Thank you for your words. It touched me today, truly.