Tiffany Haddish failed. The comedian and actress took the stage for a sold out New Year’s Eve gig in Miami and she bombed. Badly. Rather than ignore reports of her failure, Haddish posted an article from The Root and tweeted an admission “Yes this happened. I wish it was better Miami. I prayed on it and I have a strong feeling this will never happen again.” That should have been the end of the debacle. Alas, when the comedian involved is both black and a woman failure is rarely an isolated incident but rather evidence they were never worthy or talented in the first place. In 2019, I want to see more black people fail. Especially black women. Pick your jaw off the floor. Here, take my hand friend and allow me to explain why the spectre of failure cripples black women when it should be seen as a necessary part of success.
Since Tiffany Haddish’s meteoritic rise to prominence following her role in 2017’s Girls Trip a giddy excitement has captivated her naysayers as they waited with bated breath for her to make a misstep. You could almost hear her detractors orgasm en masse when Katt Williams tore into the Emmy award winner last September claiming Haddish had been “doing comedy since she was 16. You can’t tell me your favourite Tiffany Haddish joke. Why? Because she ain’t done a tour yet. She ain’t done a special. She has not proven the ability to tell jokes, back to back for an hour…” Finally, they had confirmation that this woman was not only not funny but worse unworthy of her achievements. Their confirmation came from bona fide, Emmy award winner comedy titan Katt Williams, no less- his claims must have been true.
You see when black women excel in their careers every aspect of their success must be scrutinised and approved by all men before the success is deemed permissible. Look at the man who heckled Haddish at the now infamous Miami event. “I went to see if @TiffanyHaddish was actually funny” he tweeted as if he’s any kind of barometer for comedic excellence. Even men not worthy to touch the hem of your garment must be first alerted then made to feel at ease with how you attained your success before you can truly enjoy the fruits of your labour but I digress!
Tiffany Haddish’s fuck up was bound to happen. Not because Katt Williams or that cretin heckler were right but she was destined to make a mistake because she’s human. And as part of her humanity it is important that we affirm her right to make mistakes, fall down but then also get back up and try again. Now, pay close attention to the kind of mistake in question. Tiffany Haddish did not write homophobic tweets ten years ago and tell the LGBTQ+ community to get over it, she did not masturbate in meetings, she got on stage and gave a poor performance. She had a bad day at work. You know how many bad days I’ve had at work? Days where I’ve got to the office (or, when I was a waitress, put on my hairnet) and just cried nonstop because what even is life? The reason I was able to get up after I had fallen down was because I was afforded the safety to understand neither my livelihood nor my success were at stake because I had an off day. It is this understanding of the necessity of failure on the constant journey to success that I want to extend to all black women. And make no mistake that it is BLACK cis, trans and queer women I am specifically speaking to and about.
While I value Michelle Obama, I recognise the potential for harm her black excellence, when they go low we go high ethos does to black women. It’s not realistic. Obama’s fortitude in her memoir Becoming felt stifling when it was designed to be uplifting. She was never afforded room to have an off day. And of course she opened up about the ways in which she struggled and was clear about the pain she endured at the hands of those determined to malign and denigrate her but make no mistake it was only once her husband no longer held the highest office on earth could she speak to her truth. The representation of all African-American women was riding on her ability to never set a foot wrong. This is dehumanisation at work. Pascale Denise explains The Black Superwoman Syndrome is an attempt by black women “to right the ill societal perspectives and characterizations of the black woman as the “Welfare Queen,” “Jezebel,” and “Mammy”” on the website People of Colour Mental Health Matters. Denise goes on to outline the key symptoms of the black superwoman syndrome as an obligation to:
1. manifest strength;
2. suppress emotions;
3. resist being vulnerable or dependent;
4. determined to succeed despite limited resources; and
5. help others.
Riddle me this, beloved, where is the space to fail if you’re constantly manifesting strength, suppressing emotions, resisting vulnerability, succeeding on limited resources and helping others? This pressure increases when you are the only black person occupying an all white space. Is Tiffany Haddish my favourite comedian? No. But I recognise that black women deserve to have diversity of representation the way others do. Just because she’s not Jocelyn Esien, London Hughes, Natasha Rothwell, Twayna Mayne, Athena Kugblenu or Nicole Byer doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve a seat at the table. And to suggest that we as a people should throw Haddish away because she might not be everyone’s favourite is headassery that perpetuates the toxicity of the black superwoman syndrome. “Be excellent all the time or into the trash you go.”
White people and black men are allowed (encouraged even) to make mistakes as part of their growing process. Kevin Hart is welcomed into Ellen’s loving arms and given an almost uninterrupted 6 minute free reign to explain away his inception of mistakes. Black women have been taught that we cannot afford to make mistakes like this. We have seen what society does with black women who fall out of line. We were there when Diane Abbott was torn asunder for failing to remember important figures during the 2017 general election. We saw the fallout from the bad days she had at work, how the British media as a whole released a torrent of abuse at her and the ways in which she continues to deal with the abuse and threats as a result to this day. Hell, we saw how you dragged Michelle Obama during her husband’s tenure and she didn’t even step out of line. Black women have long been bound in a cage of respectability that warns us should we ever make a mistake we’ll pay with our careers and/or reputation.
So yes, I want to see more black women fail. I want to see more black women make mistakes. I want to normalise this human trait within black women. I want other people to stop looking at black women for the answers all the time. And do we want to make mistakes? Should we tarry with stupid because we see white people and black men doing it? Not at all, but mistakes happen even when your intentions are to do your best. When black women fall short, I want to hold them accountable, pick them up, dust them off and set them off again to continue their journey of success. Black women need to see other black women make mistakes so they know they are free to also learn, grow and become better. The spectre of failure disallows black women from recognising the value in mistakes. I am very lucky to have people around me who I can be honest with about my mistakes, who’ll help me do better and who I in turn offer the same safety. I wish the same for black women everywhere. It’s invaluable for the next phase of the revolution. I wish Tiffany Haddish all the success in the world going forward and I see she’s already booked and busy.
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