8 photos that flip the script when it comes to stereotypes about black women.

Black women are beautiful, complex, and worthy of love. It sounds so simple, and yet here we are.

While representations of black women have increased on television and movies, it's still an exercise in extremes. It's easy to scan from well-worn negative tropes and stereotypes like the "angry black woman," or "the baby mama," or the "hypersexual black Barbie" to the powerful leading ladies of "Hidden Figures," "Being Mary Jane," or "Black-ish," but there are few stops in between.

What have you done to support Viola Davis today? Double it! Photo by  Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures.


In fact, according to a 2013 report in Essence, negative depictions of black women appear twice as often as positive ones. These representations are demoralizing, and, speaking from personal experience, exhausting and embarrassing. Thankfully, we can look beyond television and film for positive representations in pop culture.

Mickalene Thomas brings bold, powerful representations of black women to fine art.

Based in New York, Thomas is known for her large-scale paintings of domestic interiors and multi-textured, rhinestone-covered portraits of women. Her work is colorful, vibrant, and affirming. Her paintings of women appear as collages, with small pieces accenting and challenging each other. Each woman is more than the sum of her colorful, mystifying parts. Time passes quickly as you attempt to "figure her out," but you can't. Therein lies the beauty.

Mickalene Thomas, "Racquel Leaned Back," 2013. © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Thomas' photography series, "Muse," seeks to challenge norms of black beauty.

In the series and book, "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs," she portrayed black women in highly stylized, fantastical portraits.

Mickalene Thomas, "A Moment's Pleasure #2," 2007, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

With each photograph, Thomas redefines black beauty for herself, pushing back on tired stereotypes and outdated norms. Each one is a stunning act of resistance.

Mickalene Thomas, "Calder Series #2," 2013, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Thomas drew inspiration from portrait photographers like James Van Der Zee (who beautifully documented the people of the Harlem Renaissance with his pioneering tableau portraits) as well as pro-black modeling campaigns from the 1970s featuring stars like Beverly Johnson.

Mickalene Thomas, "Remember Me," 2006, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). Courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Instead of using professional models for her series, Thomas' muses include her mother, sisters, lovers, and friends. These visually stunning portraits are a truly shared effort between Thomas and the women who've had an impact on her.

Mickalene Thomas, "I've Been Good to Me," 2011, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

In addition to "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs," released in 2015, Thomas has exhibited her work in galleries around the country.

Through March 12, 2017, "Muse" is on display in the Meyerhoff Gallery at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Thomas also curated  a companion exhibit of photography, called "tête-à-tête," which is also on display at MICA.

Mickalene Thomas, "La Leçon D’amour," 2008. © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Representations and depictions of black women are vital.

It's still too easy for little black girls to grow up seeing few positive depictions of black women outside of their families. It's easy to grow up feeling less than or unworthy when women with curly or kinky hair, women with full lips, and women with rich, dark skin don't make it to your picture books — or your history books, for that matter.

Mickalene Thomas, Din, "Une Très Belle Négresse #1," 2012, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

That's why we need to shout out and celebrate black women as the superheroes they are.

Black women write laws, start businesses, make art, explore the natural world, build towers, save lives, and teach at local schools. Yes, we are strong, but we are also tender, loving, and vulnerable. Black women are the embodiment of balance and resilience, holding down families, communities, and nine-to-fives, while pushing back against racism, sexism, and privilege. It's hard work. It breaks you down. But black women, for better or worse, keep grinding.

There is beauty in our strength, but you don't get to see that. Not nearly enough. And that's why black representation matters, why black art matters — it's a love letter to our persistence.

Mickalene Thomas, "Negress With Green Nails," 2005. © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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As millions of Americans have raced to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, millions of others have held back. Vaccine hesitancy is nothing new, of course, especially with new vaccines, but the information people use to weigh their decisions matters greatly. When choices based on flat-out wrong information can literally kill people, it's vital that we fight disinformation every which way we can.

Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a not-for-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to disrupting online hate and misinformation, and the group Anti-Vax Watch performed an analysis of social media posts that included false claims about the COVID-19 vaccines between February 1 and March 16, 2021. Of the disinformation content posted or shared more than 800,000 times, nearly two-thirds could be traced back to just 12 individuals. On Facebook alone, 73% of the false vaccine claims originated from those 12 people.

Dubbed the "Disinformation Dozen," these 12 anti-vaxxers have an outsized influence on social media. According to the CCDH, anti-vaccine accounts have a reach of more than 59 million people. And most of them have been spreading disinformation with impunity.

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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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