The name Amanda Bynes didn’t mean much to me until a few months ago. I don’t recall ever seeing a television show or movie with her in it. Nor did her name come up during my weekly hairdresser appointments, where all celebrities of note are discussed with much relish and in great detail.
But Bynes became a part of my beauty-shop chatter recently, with her frequent mean-spirited tweets calling other famous people unattractive. Just this Monday, she took to Twitter to proclaim that President Obama and the first lady are “ugly.” That post caused Twitter, as well as my hair salon, to explode with the most obvious of questions: is Amanda Bynes racist?
While there is no real way to answer that for sure, it is a question worth asking, and one I’m surprised wasn’t discussed seriously weeks ago.
Without a doubt Bynes is in the midst of some type of mental breakdown in full public view, no matter how much she and those around her disagree. Bynes was once a teenage Disney star with her own show, and we all know how easily fame and fortune at a young age can destroy the most talented of stars.
Still, it’s hard not to be bothered by the fact that so many of the people Bynes deems ugly just happen to be black. While she has gone so far as to call her mother, sister, and father ugly, as well as Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron, her most vicious and vile tweets have been aimed at Rihanna and Drake. Jay-Z also has appeared on her ugly list.
It appears the actress may have a love/hate relationship with Drake, given that her public musings about the current GQ cover star veer from adoration to downright hateful.
After tweeting that she wanted him to “murder” her private parts, Bynes posted this about the Canadian rapper: “He has the ugliest smile, ugly gums, uneven teeth ugly eyes.” The next day she apologized and said she hoped to be friends with him one day.
But love/hate isn’t an apt description for Bynes’s tweets about Rihanna. In May, Bynes suggested that Chris Brown beat up Rihanna “because she wasn’t pretty enough.” Bynes was referencing Brown’s 2009 arrest for assault against his then-girlfriend. Bynes also tweeted that she almost named her dog Rihanna. Then the actress dropped to a real low by by accusing the Bajan singer of trying to be “white.”
The former Disney star quickly deleted the tweets when she came under fire and went so far as to say she hadn’t posted them at all. I’m not sure many people believed that claim, but I know Bynes’s hurtful words hit a raw nerve among many African-American women.
Imagine Beyoncé, nervous breakdown or not, using a public platform to say the same things about say, Jennifer Aniston. Well, maybe not Beyoncé, since she is a true A-lister.
What irks me most is how easy it seems to be for non-black people like Bynes to attack black women with so little regard for the damage they cause.
Let’s say Ciara decided to accuse Aniston of trying to be something she wasn’t. And worse, suggested Jennifer wasn’t pretty enough for Brad Pitt and that’s why he left her for another woman. Can you imagine the uproar and outrage over a black woman taking such verbal liberties against a beloved white star? Even on their craziest day, I doubt Ciara, or Beyoncé for that matter, would dare go there.
On a deeper level, is Rihanna “trying to be white” in Bynes’s mind because her so-called ugly face appears on the covers of countless mainstream magazines, including Vogue? Or is she “trying to be white” because of the millions of dollars she earns each year through record sales and product endorsement deals—options usually reserved for, and limited to, women who look just like Bynes?
Part of Bynes’s apparent resentment toward Rihanna may be tied to the actress’s off-again/on-again attraction to Drake, whom Rihanna dated shortly after breaking up with Chris Brown. Bynes seems to resent the singer’s ability to attract famous men—another option usually reserved for women who look like Bynes.
But what irks me most is how easy it seems to be for non-black people like Bynes to attack and insult black women with so little regard for the long-term damage they cause. Who can forget John Mayer’s infamous quote a few years back saying he didn’t find black women attractive?
Just two years ago, Psychology Today posted a story by psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa that asked, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” The article was based on some obscure study of Kanazawa’s that supposedly found black women were the most unattractive of all women because of our weight issues and other “masculine features.” The story was quickly deleted, but little attention was paid to the fact that an established scientific magazine saw no problem with posting such an offensive and hurtful article written (and not very well documented) by a man who’d also produced such classics as “Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes?” and “If President Obama Is Christian, Michael Jackson Was White.”
Writer/producer Mara Brock Akil was so upset by the Psychology Today article that she decided to use it in the storyline of her recent BET television movie, Being Mary Jane. In the movie, a single black female news reporter highlights how most mainstream news organizations dismissed the story and its damaging impact while refusing to cover it. “No one spoke up to say, ‘This is ridiculous,’” remembers Akil.
It’s also ridiculous that black women continue to be judged by traditional, or European, standards of beauty. Despite what Bynes may think or tweet, Rihanna does apparently fit the idea of “pretty,” but her recent Vogue cover resulted in a 30 percent drop in newsstands sales. It seems that even when black women do fit the beauty mold, we’re still not quite good enough.