waiting to exhale

4 Reasons I Will Always Love

I try not to take it too hard when celebrities pass away. I feel a bit guilty mourning for someone I don’t know. It feels strange to me to bond with people over a tragedy that didn’t actually occur personally to any of us.

I also didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral, so maybe I just feel guilty about not having mourned properly for something that did actually happen to me. (In my defense, I was still a teenager when she passed away, I wasn’t anywhere near home and from what I heard about the event, my absence probably protected me from many things on many levels.)

But I woke up this morning and realized a couple of things. One, that though most of us don’t know most celebs, the whole point of celebrity is that they in part belong to all of us. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be famous, so maybe it’s okay if I get down about it. Two, that I’m very sad that Whitney Houston is gone.

It’s always tricky for an Oreo, even in difficult times, to show allegiance to certain celebs. That’s why for all of middle school, I had to lie and say that no, I didn’t think Taye Diggs was fuckingsexyasfuck. It was made somewhat easier to deny that charge, because I hadn’t learned the word “fuck” yet.

But Whitney, I realized today, touched my spirit and life in very important ways.

1. She made out with Kevin Costner. I have exclusively been in interracial relationships–this is not news. But there was a long time when I honestly felt like a complete freak for being attracted to the red-headed kid. Shows like Boys Meets World where Black Irish looking Shawn fell in love with Angela (who I’ve been told I look like…which is a lie) helped me feel better. So did The Bodyguard. It looks silly to type it out, but it meant a lot to me at the time. And still does.

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2. She was in a movie where black people were regular. I remember when my mom bought home a VHS (I’m old) of Waiting to Exhale. I was furious and refused to watch. I knew that per society, the kids at my church who told me I wasn’t allowed to like opera or French and the casts of most prime time TV shows, that I was supposed to like the movie because it was black and so was I.

I finally watched the film…and it was pretty good! It’s no Dead Poet’s Society or Chinatown. But for a “chick flick,” it was layered, well-done and still holds up. Whitney was delightful in it and one of my favorite things that she did was not overpower the group when they sing Happy Birthday to another character. It’s a super short, quick moment and in no way integral to the plot, but as a kid I always thought about how intimidating it must have been for all those other actresses to sing with her and how sweet Whitney was to keep her voice close in that scene and give focus where it was due. If she had busted out with a powerful rendition of the song, no one would have faulted her. I still think it’s neat that she didn’t.

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I also think it’s neat that once upon a time, a movie with an exclusively black cast could be regular and Madea didn’t have to have a cameo. I hope to bring such a thing to the screen again soon.

3. She gave me something beautiful to creepily sing at Mike R. at prom. Run to You is gorgeous. So was Mike R. I didn’t always make the best decisions.

4. She reminds me of how but for the grace we’re not all parodied. It was no secret that Whitney had a problem with drugs and a troubled marriage. Comedians, writers, TV and tabloids had their fun with that and many people had a good laugh. It probably seemed relatively harmless at the time.

But as someone who has struggled with eating disorders, anxiety attacks and more than one bout of dangerously dark thoughts; as someone who can be labelled the “survivor” of a couple of unsavory things, I can empathize. I don’t know why I was lucky enough to never stumble upon most controlled substances or why I had the good fortune to not take to the ones I did try. I do know, however, that just because someone else didn’t have that luck doesn’t mean they’re bad, doesn’t mean they’re shameful, doesn’t mean they deserve any of it. Just means they do deserve to be loved the way they let us know they would always love us.