Dear Ms. LaKendra Tookes, Ms. Leslie Jones and Ms. Sasheer Zamata:
Congratulations on joining the staff of Saturday Night Live. One can only imagine the arduous steps it took to reach this place in your career. I hope you take a moment to breathe in the sheer magnitude of what you have accomplished and celebrate accordingly. You deserve it :-).
As you are more than aware, the hiring decision comes amidst a public outcry for more diversity on the late night variety show. As a former fan of SNL, particularly during the Fey/Poehler/Rudolph/Wiig days, I was especially vocal (my hard thought choice to no longer support the show came after the airing of the sketch, "White Christmas" on December 8).
When I heard the news that SNL had hired three black women, I was hopeful. Not because I hoped you three would be tasked with educating the community or furthering a social justice agenda. I was hopeful because of the chance this opportunity has given you three to share the breadth of our humanity with a society that doesn’t always see it. As a black woman, I am hard pressed to find an image of myself in the media I can be proud of. The media has exploited the worst parts of our humanity, whether it be beautiful black women attacking each other over petty disagreements and worthless men, scantily clad black women wearing the term “bitch” and parading their sexuality in a way that holds little worth or sanctity, or useless statistics about the desirability of black women paraded about as fact. As a black woman, it is a choice to hold my head high. It is a choice to see beyond the stereotypes and attacks and celebrate my own beauty and worth. The thing is, although my personal battle may have been won, we are losing the public one. I can muster all the pride I have when walking into a boardroom; however, the stereotypes arrive before me. The media fiction becomes a perverse fact. An opponent I must battle every day in reality to prove I am not who they say I am.
|LaKendra Tookes (l), Leslie Jones (r)|
Now, look, I understand your job is to be funny. Who am I to task you with anything different? I’m not signing your checks or making hiring decisions. I am merely a 32 year old black woman with a law degree, a husband, two kids, and a television. I want you to make me laugh. I am rooting for you to make me laugh. I just ask that you consciously avoid making me the butt of the joke. That in your artistic process, you have dignity; you never feel shame; and you create a body of work that gives you pride. Despite the circumstances of your hiring, I want you to never chalk up your presence on the SNL staff as the “black” seat, yielding to roles and tasks that celebrate stereotypes and damaging images.
SNL alumna, Tina Fey once said, “I want to keep creating comedy that is, as my old improv teacher would say, at the top of our intelligence or higher. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just cranking out things that are good enough to sell.” I ask that you be more than "good enough to sell" and be brave enough to challenge yourself and those around you. Leave footsteps that we are proud to walk in, not just more hurdles that we have to overcome.
Love and Light,