The zygomaticus major is a facial muscle attached to the skin of the cheeks. When that muscle contracts, it causes visible indentations – referred to as dimples – on the face. Doctors assert that dimples are face abnormalities caused by the zygomaticus major being too short. When people first meet me, the first two things physically noticeable are my vibrant pupils and my multiple dimples. I’m blessed with four of them, two in my cheeks and two on both sides of my lower lip. They appear when my lips turn upward to grin, when I smirk at offensively snide comments and even in the throes of food ecstasy when I bite gently into that first bite of tender, oven-baked porkchop or Oreo ice cream with a smidge of fudge topping.
In my 23 years, I’ve often been a societal dimple – positive in the wake of unrelenting circumstance, large-breasted among prepubescent, tall among short, confident in the present of the insecure. I’ve camouflaged those flaws among fellow black women – in church, in school, within other social structures – to maintain a sense of normalcy. I lost that comfort last summer when I spent 10 weeks in a newsroom full of white people that viewed me as the singular representative of a collective. For the first time, I was the other. I, an African-American girl from Queens, New York, with an eastern accent, box braids and large hoop earrings was a monolith for my people. It was the worst and best experience of my life.
After decades of forming kinships with other black folks, I had my first authentic white friends, including one woman who recognizes privilege and even directly addressed it as we watched a lily-white episode of “Girls,” which is supposedly set in Brooklyn, New York, the most diverse borough. But even I as sipped margaritas and listened to Nelly with my newfound sisterfriends, I was abnormal – like a dimple. It was the first time that I took on the burdens of blackness in the face of whiteness.
As a child, I never cared what people looked like. It didn’t matter if my buddies had colorful bom-boms and barettes in their pigtails like me or wore beaded dresses and turbans. We still bonded over the Rugrats and performed TLC’s greatest hits for our families. Now, I realize how different we were and that I was being taught tolerance and colorblindness. But as I’ve aged and experienced the issues that race presents in the life of the marginalized black woman, I’ve realized that the latter of that above sentence doesn’t exist. Colorblindness is an illusion used to depict American culture as “post-racial” because we’ve finally elected an African-American to the highest office.
While attending Bennett College, I was insulated in a bubble of brilliant, black women. It burst last summer and I was left with questions about race and micro-aggressions. But I had no language to articulate these experiences. I’m pleased to report that has changed. This semester I’m immersing in critical intercultural communications studies with critical race theory as the primary framework. It still amazes me that I’ve found what I’ve been searching for as a scholar. It has finally happened after months of shedding an ocean of bitter tears and begging God for guidance. And I’m thrilled that critical intercultural communications provides me with a foundation for examining media.
It never occurred to me until I arrived at Southern Illinois University Carbondale that others thought they were dimples as well. I was surrounded by scholars much more versed in feminism and intersectionality than I was as a journalist and writer. It was intimidating. But what was striking was how their experiences broadened their perspectives of race. Critical race theory asserts that race matters in all situations; it articulates all that I’ve thought, felt and never conveyed. But for the first time, I feel safe to tackle racism and race in everything from reality television to the Civil Rights Movement. And I feel comforted in this figurative and literal space where I am no longer a dimple.