The AMERICAN WOMAN project seeks to highlight black women, but a similarly titled CNN project could overshadow it | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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The AMERICAN WOMAN project seeks to highlight black women, but a similarly titled CNN project could overshadow it 

“I wanted to start a dialogue, and I also wanted it to be very visual in that, well, what does America look like?”

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For Young, the whole situation recalls issues surrounding the recent #MeToo campaign and activist Tarana Burke (who also happens to be one of the first subjects Young shot for AMERICAN WOMAN). When actress Alyssa Milano began promoting the hashtag in response to allegations surrounding Harvey Weinstein and others, many women of color noted that Burke had launched a Me Too campaign a decade earlier, specifically to protect black women and girls. “So, people were angry,” Young says. “They felt like it was erasure, and that a black woman’s creation and movement had been co-opted for a broader usage without her being credited for it.”

Milano was receptive to these concerns and began publicly crediting Burke and involving her in press around #MeToo. (Burke’s most recent high-profile appearance was as actress Michelle Williams’ guest at the Golden Globes.) “I think that was a great move on [Milano’s] part,” Young says. “I think that’s what an ally is supposed to do.” 

Joy KMT, photographed at Sanctuary Pittsburgh - PHOTO BY SARAH HUNY YOUNG
  • Photo by Sarah Huny Young
  • Joy KMT, photographed at Sanctuary Pittsburgh

And she’d like to see Baldwin take a page from Milano’s book, using her influence to include Young’s project in the spotlight. At the very least, Young would like to see a name change for the CNN project — “Even just ‘Brooke Baldwin’s American Women,’” she says. In addition to the branding issue, she says, “That title means a lot to me.” 

“This isn’t, of course, to say that I’m the only person that gets to celebrate women in the U.S. or that I have ownership of the title or moniker ‘American Woman’ in any way,” Young wrote in her official statement about the issue. “However, that the original AMERICAN WOMAN series is very specifically about black women in America — American for multiple generations, first-generation American, or American via naturalization or dual citizenship — is a very important distinction that I intend to protect. … That I named it AMERICAN WOMAN and not BLACK AMERICAN WOMAN is very purposeful.

Young has yet to hear anything from CNN, but she’s not planning to let the issue rest. 

“I think that if Tarana and her community wouldn’t have advocated for her to be involved in those conversations around #MeToo, I don’t think [she] would have gotten the visibility that she did, which she deserves,” Young says. “I think that would be ideal if I could get some kind of visibility for my project on a platform of that size.” 

Young says she is frustrated because the experience is like “[b]eing invisible again, which is an ongoing issue with women of color in the world and in this country anyway … just being othered constantly … being pushed to the side when something bigger and flashier comes along.” 

Considering the project was meant to highlight black women, Young says, “It’s actually hilarious how ironic all of this is.”

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Follow AMERICAN WOMAN on Instagram and Twitter, or view the project here.


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