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Happy 50th Birthday Whitney Houston: Black. Woman. Genius.

Happy 50th Birthday Whitney Houston: Black. Woman. Genius.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today is Whitney Houston’s birthday. This would’ve been one of those milestone birthdays for her, because she would’ve been 50 years old today! In celebration of the day, I thought I’d repost this wonderful piece by Tanya Steele, originally published in March of 2012.

I have tried to avoid weighing in, publicly, on Whitney Houston’s death. I didn’t know the woman. I didn’t know her family. I didn’t even care to know the rumors surrounding her life. I never heard the ‘wendy williams‘ interview (until, last night). However, I do know addicts. I know addicts who have experienced unspeakable horrors and that use substances to try and stuff them down. And, I could see the road Whitney was traveling. As I saw her struggle, my only thoughts were, “please, give her the strength to make it.

You see, there are very few things said in the culture about black women. The one label we do get is that we are “strong“. Lately, I’ve been listening, really listening to the message of Whitney’s music. I’m appreciating how she pierced that veil of ‘animal’ strength that black women have been burdened with. She expressed that we are vulnerable, soft, thoughtful and, sometimes, empty.

Whitney’s voice is so brilliant, it arrests. I’ve never had a playlist that didn’t have Ms. Houston’s music. My particular favorites are “All At Once“, so pure, “Run To You“, the earnest yearning, “You Light Up My Life“, the raspy vulnerability. And, now, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength“. The latter is, particularly, meaningful. As a black woman, I’ve come to know my own strength but, like Ms. Houston sang, it came after surviving my darkest hour, after crashing down and getting through all of the pain. She shatters the myth that we, black women, are born with it.

Whitney resembled the women in my family. All are brilliant, beautiful, sophisticated and complex. As a child, I watched their struggles with men, the love, the addiction, the brilliance, the survival skills. Whitney was ‘familiar’ to me. She was “every woman“, it seemed. I knew her narrative. I know black women who possess unique gifts. Women who stand on the edge of who they are. Black women who think, feel and move through life with a sensitivity and sharpness that stuns. A gifted black woman, searching for love, looking to God (who seems to be the provider of unconditional love for many black women), grasping for peace. I can’t erase the image of her tragic end, alone, nude and fallen into a bathtub. The one space, in the culture, that is a private zone, a healing space, a space of calm and serenity for many black women.

Since her death, I have been looking for clues, evidence, some emotional truth. A life always leaves evidence. Something that would help me wrap my head around her untimely death. I’ve watched and read as many interviews as I can bear. On Sunday, I watched Oprah Winfrey’s interview of her family. I wanted to understand why she was trying to destroy herself with such aggression.

As an observer of the culture, I am clearly aware that “genius” black women are rarely seen as such. In the culture, black women are video vixens, angry shrews, mindless creatures. When “genius” is in a black female body is not given the same pedestal, thoughtfulness and reverence as when it is in the form of a white body or even a black male body.

I know the masks that black women wear. The “loud” mask. The “fun” mask. All to deflect people from seeing the pain. The interview that Whitney did with Oprah in 2009 was very revealing. Actually, it helped to put a lot of the questions to rest. It seemed, she survived, she knew her demons and she was going to recover.

The Oprah interview, on Sunday, was also revealing. She was always a “loner“, she was aware that her voice was gone, she left her daughter a road map for a career. When Oprah asked Pat Houston if Whitney was erratic, days before her death, Pat said, “she had a drink“, “she could be loud“, “but, I don’t know what happened on that day“. “That day” was referring to the day that she died.

With addicts, it’s never just a day, it’s the culmination of a lifetime. I understand the family’s need to do damage control and to protect her legacy and squash the rumor mill. I also understand that they are in the midst of tremendous grief. Tremendous grief. At some point, I’m hoping that the truth of what Whitney was struggling with will reach the surface, without all of the “Whitney was crazy girl” talk, without all of the “God” talk. We know, black women know God. Black women need a religion of self-compassion.

Over Ms. Houston’s lifetime, it seemed, her addiction became a sideshow. I’ve been listening for clues, hoping to hear that there was a voice of reason or understanding around her. Was there someone around her who understood what it meant to be a black woman, with such tremendous gifts, in a culture that degrades us?

In the 2009 Oprah interview, Whitney clearly stated that she was abused by Bobby Brown. Now, I don’t lay Whitney’s addiction nor her death at Bobby Brown’s feet. Whitney’s trauma started before Mr. Brown. He was just a reflection of abuse or trauma that she was familiar with. Hearing that this woman, who went from the height of heights to being “spat on” by her love, is haunting. Hearing how she stayed in her room, alone and in pain was deeply disturbing but so human.

And, what was even more disturbing, was Whitney’s brother Gary (in the Oprah interview on Sunday) stating that Bobby Brown was a “good guy“. I thought, what he was trying to convey about Whitney in that moment? Was this a man protecting an abuser? But, more importantly, his sister was dead, clearly troubled and trying to destroy herself. Why didn’t he speak to that or show any compassion toward it?

Many think, “Whitney abused herself“, “Whitney threw away her career“, “Whitney was ghetto.” I’ve heard it all, all of the harsh criticism, the judgment and the scolding. Ms. Houston’s mask was deep, layered and convincing. I have noted, the deeper the hurt with black women, the harder the mask. It can turn you off and make you rigid with contempt because it’s so biting. When I see it on a woman, I stop, take a breath and look her in the eye.

The other day, I was in my local market. There is one, very young, cashier who wears this mask. I went to her to checkout. I looked at her, I said, “you’re my favorite cashier.” She was thrown off, she asked, “Why?” I said, “Because you’re tough. Most people are afraid of that, I’m not.” We looked each other in the eye, she bowed her head. She was thinking about it.

A few days later, I go into the store. She was not on the register but, she was neatening things up around the store. I could feel her following me, looking up to see if I noticed she was there. Before I left, I turned, she was right behind me. I said, “I see you.” I laughed and she did, too. You see, it is one thing to be “loved“, people have learned to say “I love you” on command. But, it is quite another thing to be understood.

Hopefully, in the future, there will be less attention paid to damage control around Whitney’s legacy. And, more attention given to truth. The truth will help those women and girls who are trying to bring forth their gifts while struggling with trauma. The truth of Whitney’s experience can break this narrative of the “loud“, “shrew“, “crazy“, “downtrodden“, “biologically broken” black woman. I work, very hard, to challenge this narrative of black women. It’s everywhere. It’s inescapable. We have to get to heart portraits of black women to pierce this veil of suffering. Contrary to popular belief, black women were not born to suffer.

Whitney was a superstar, a Supernova, whose life, in many ways, reflected the experience of the black american woman. And, thankfully, she managed to share her genius with the world, for many years, uninterrupted. I will keep creating with a commitment to replace the image of this Supernova lying face down in a bathtub, naked, alone and dead. I will have this hope for the next black woman genius knowing, full well, that there will never be another Whitney Houston.

My loved ones and I can’t figure out why we’re still grieving Ms. Houston’s death. I realized it’s because we know the narrative. I’ve seen too many amazing black women walk away from their light, run for shelter in a broken man, medicate, mask their insecurity and pain. So, I’m grieving for us, too.

Whitney sang our experience. Her voice goes right through you, past the bulls**t, to that place that makes you feel understood. I wish we could have offered the same to her. Ms. Houston was suspended somewhere between genius, trauma and God. As a black woman, in America, that space holds very little compassion.

Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at Or visit

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I just had to log in to thank the OP for this piece, I missed the original "airing" of it and the anniversary the other day. I have read it twice now. I was late to the WH fan club. I grew up on all the legends/Icons of the day, Whitney, Prince, Michael, and I am ashamed to admit how much I took them for granted. Whitney wasn't relatable when I was a young tween. She was beautiful and talented and to me represented the first Black real live Barbie doll but I was into straight Rhythm and Blues and the burgeoning Hip Hop culture at the time. In my later teens, I like many Black youth, became apathetic towards Michael (his personal life and looks confused us) and Prince (his musical boycott threw some of us for a loop). Whitney married Bobby Brown and it was a major WTF moment for me, however, drug rumors not withstanding, I later admitted how refreshing it was to watch Whitney keep it so real on 'Being Bobby Brown.' But alas, as is often the case, hindsight is 20/20. When MJ died back in 2009, I was CRUSHED, consumed with grief. Last year, when I heard Whitney had died, I was out having dinner, getting ready to see the latest Denzel movie. I couldn't concentrate on the movie at all. I didn't want to believe it, not again. There were rumors back in 2001, right after another fallen star, the sultry and super talented Aaliyah died, that Whitney had passed….what a relief to know it wasn't true but still, as a society, we derided Whitney for her drug abuse. When I saw her interview with Oprah, I was so happy for her, she seemed poised to recover her lost years. I was rooting for her to show the world what they had been missing. I wanted the same for MJ. It wasn't meant to be. One thing remains the same though, there will never be another MJ, or Whitney Houston. Their legacies will live on, and the bad will be banished to the dustbins of "the internets," while the Truth of their LIGHT will shine forever.

Sterling Cooper

Have to admit I was never a rabid Whitney fan. I sure did love her first two records, though, when they first came out. After that, I kind of slept on her work, unfortunately. I'd met a few times, and each time I met her she seemed to run me the wrong way, guess I don't respond much to that whole diva-thing, which she played royally. But dammit, I heard "Run To You" on the radio the other day in the car, and why did I start tearing up like a little girl? Must have been that onion sandwich I had for lunch. Rest in peace, sweetheart.


"Black women were not born to suffer." So true. Yet we do. It makes me feel good to read an article of someone who understands us. Thanks for writing this.

I will always love Whitney.


Well written. Like you, I believe that there was more to her challenges then what we know. And, some of it I could here in her many interviews that hit home. One of the biggest might be family. It is sometimes sad to know that folks are more interested, at times, in saving face rather than dealing with the challenges. And, for an icon like Whitney in the public eye, there is really now room to deal with the issues in the way one needs to. There is so much at stake. This is sometimes characteristics of Black families. I see that response sometimes feeding some of the many challenges we have as a people. I hope her daughter takes a different path, goes to college, chooses the limelight only when it is positive, and trusts in the Lord to bring her needed peace.


This response is for AccidentalVisitor,

I'm going to be as nice as possible. Here is the definition of genius:
-Exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.
-A person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect: "musical genius".


The day she passed, I played one of her songs each hour for 12 hours straight. She shouldn't be gone, she should be here, sober and well. Miss you, Whitney. Blessed be, dear lady.


She was a great singer. Yes, most of her songs were light weight soul and aesthetically pleasing pop that sold lots of records even though ultimately never amounting to much when critics put together all time lists of songs. But the woman had great vocals.

A genius though? Please. A genius creates. A genius writes and produces and innovates new sounds. I could easily argue that Billie Holiday was a genius even though she didn't have nearly as great a voice as Whitney. I can argue that a-hole Kanye West is a genuis even though he can't sing at all. But they could play a far greater role in crafting a great song than Whitney ever could. Same could be said for Beyonce who is also much more responsible for her material than Whitney was for hers. Whitney will have to settle for being an all-time great singer. And what's wrong with that?

Monique M.

Thank you so much for republishing this beautiful and poignant article on what would be Ms. Houston's 50th. Happy Birthday, Whitney! We will continue to (always) love you!


I enjoyed your article so much. Still today I miss Whitney so very much.
Thank you for a well written beautiful article.


Tanya Steele…great article. I will definitely follow your writings. Shadow & Acts…thanks for introducing me to this writer.


Thank you for placing Whitney in your HEART, as she sang from her Heart for all of us…I love what you wrote for Whitney , Black Women, White Women , ALL WOMEN …


I thank you for this article about whitney. I, too, was not a follower of Whitney, but my heart felt the pain from her death. It seems to go without saying, that beside Oprah, Whitney represented a black woman that had made it to the top. But, the silence begin after the rise to the top. Afterall, this is the height of heights and now I am in control. Somehow, with all the dues whitney had paid, all the people she had taken care of the two people mention below were the only two that seem to try and understand Whitney's mind. Kevin said something important at the funeral. Whitney was wondering was she good enough? After all the preparation that went into building an image for the world to accept, the real Whitney Houston did not feel good enough, pretty enough, talent enough, or deserving enough to even have the role. She was given a double duty that to be an actress and singer, composer, etc for the movies that she says was overwhelmly. She even thought about quitting and giving them their money back. Bobby Brown convince her to stay on though and she did. The rest is history. However, the revealing facts shows that a woman that could wear the mask, but the mind had not been transform to this new found success. She sound almost like she felt undeserving of this fortune. Well, we don't know the price that was paid to get the role, why she was chosen, nor the price she paid. Robyn was the other individual whom Whitney shared a little bit about her mindset. Robyn recalled once at a party with Whitney and she told her she was tired. Whitney reply was I can't get tired. Just having said that show me a woman that knew she was walking in a destiny that was going to require every ounce of energy she had to pull it off. She would be on the set 10 and 12 hours and she would spend another 8 and 10 hours in the studio working on songs for the movie. Now what was sacrifice for this level of success. We know for certain that the long hours took it toll on her body, mind and spirit. She was not a bionic woman, but a woman made of flesh and blood. No one around her seem to care except Robyn. Robyn was very protective because she could see the fragile woman who refuse to break, but was crumbling under the pressure and succumbing to extensive drug use as the buffer between genius and insanity. What a weight to put on yourself? At the end of the ride we can see what God told us from the beginning that "You can't build all of your hope on things that does not last!" All of the sweat, pain, and tears what was it all for? Fool's gold. It reminds me of a part time job I had as a bartender and I had become so nervous from the extra work or stress, that one day I concluded that what would I accomplish to make a few more pennies and pay them all on doctor bills. So, I quit Well Whitney was a different kind of lady, she would rather die than quit. Isn't it amazing that her situation ended up like Job in the bible? The thing that he feared had come to past. The same thing happen to Whitney. She was so afraid to not be good enough, pretty enough, or talented enough and at the end, these things came to past. She preach her own eulogy. Every road I taken led to some regret. I'm sinking not to rise no more.
I'm lost without a cost. Take me far from this battle, set me free. The hard thing for us all to cope with is that she didn't glorify God, but Satan kingdom was glorified. The body guard wasnot a witness for Christ quite the contrary, it was a beautiful black woman becoming invovle with a white lover. The plot is a bit too much her son was the product of her sister's boyfriend seem like in the movie. The message is if you are young, gifted and black you can do what you want without any consequences. This is and always will be a lie. Whitney was used as bait and the world bit the bait. The bait was in a package that looked harmless, beautiful, gifted, heart wrenching, but the choir at the end of the day was not to glorify God or heaven, but now everyone is saying maybe she has found rest at last. I, too, want this, but deep inside, I hear the scripture echoing out of my spirit . What does it profit a man to gain the world and loose your soul. Whitney said it best, I have no fighting left. So much to say, but this is enough for now.


Beatiful writing. She WAS a genius and that's a hard road no matter who you are. I like her last recordings the best, they're so deep. But she was under a lot of pressure from every direction and a lot of it seems to fall under what's been did and what's been hid. In videos the only two people I've seen her with where she really seems totally at ease are Kevin Costner and Robyn Crawford- she always looks like she's playing a part with Bobby Brown. But a married white guy and a gay black woman are undoubtedly the last two people those making a living from her talent would have wanted to see her associated with. Who knows how much she had to hide? It all costs and it all hurts. The song R. Kelly wrote for her, I Look To You, is a great song and nobody will be singing it like she did. It's really Hellhound On My Trail with an orchestra. But Robert Johnson only got his due after death and I think Whitney is the same. She's home now and like Kevin said, she's in a place where she's good enough.


Poignant, precise and piercing. Bravo Ms. Steele. You helped me identify why I still skip songs on my pandora by Whitney today because it still hurts on a closer level and your article forced me to acknowledge why. Thank You.


Really appreciate this. It is the first time I read a piece written from the heart and with respect and with the distance that comes when you write about someone you – actually- do not really know, but whose talent you've witness and whose death is ultimately a sad news i.e. she was a mother and a daughter. No one would dream of surviving his daughter. All children would like their parents to live forever.


Tanya, after writing this beautiful piece, the first thing you should have done was turn off the comments. It's a heartfelt tribute to Ms. Houston, marred by silly talk. You don't have to give every a__hole with an opinion a place to be heard. Especially if they have nothing insightful, or even interesting, to contribute.

Brilliant & well said… Thought it was just me


She could sing. And with mentoring and the right money behind her she could become a great singer. Many others can sing and could become great too. But genius? No, she absolutely wasn't a genius. I wouldn't even call her a role model. She was a flawed and diseased human being who made bad choices. Oh, and she used to sing really well.


Why is every Black american woman who makes it big treated as an exception? Surely bw have had a more successful run in music than black men, white women and even white men.

Why am I asking this? Because if you use up all the 'exceptional bw' stars on Whitney's portrait, what are you going to do when Halle Berry (god forbid) dies?

1. She was the first black woman to blah blah
2. She was the only black woman considered to be gorgeous blah blah blah
3. As a black woman she broke the barrier of blah blah blah
4. Because of her light skin, she was the only black woman blah blah…
5. My friend Tim at work said she was the only black woman he blah blah blah
6. As a black woman she achieved the womanhood blah blah blah

^^ How Halle will be described once people inevitably move on from Whitney.

It's the same 'woe-is-me-but-lucky-her' bw narrative that can be applied to several bw in the spotlight! I mean, it seems every bw who gets an ounce of success is treated like some sort of magical negress who did what other bw can never do.

How about a new narrative and outlook on life as a bw, so as to start this damned 'healing process' you keep talking about:
Whitney Houston was beautiful because she was a Black woman. A darkskinned one at that. RIP.

A lot of the time she was the first Black woman to do this and that because she was in fact the first WOMAN or HUMAN BEING to achieve her feats. Don't just relegate her achievements to her pigmentation. That goes to both black and white media.

And what exactly constitutes 'crossover appeal'? Because there were other darkskinned bw before her who were sex symbols e.g Donna Summer.

At least bw get face time in music and movies, what about asian women? C'mon now.
Forgive me for living my life and not crying along with you about being a bw, due to your assumptions of what people think about you and your 'womanhood' (like you should care). Too dramatic for my tastes.


this article did nothing to honor Whitney Houston it seems all you did was talk about her personal struggles in her life.why didn't you just focus on her career everybody goes through struggles in their lives Whitney is human. I'm sure you had some problems in your life as well that you may not ever want people to find out so you cover your self and talk about Whitney's personal life shame on you.saying Whitney's voice was gone well that's your opinion to me and her true fans her voice was just fine as long as her fans loved it nobody else counts.the media and jealous people have always talked bad about Whitney's voice and talent from the very beginning of her career till now so why should we listen to them or you.if you paid any attention to the interview you can clearly see her brother and sister in law have a mental condition if they think bobby brown was a good guy than those are not the people you want to do an interview with oprah should had known that and ended the interview right then and's funny how you didn't write about what Bobbi Kristina had to say about her mother Whitney Houston but just wrote about what Whitney's brother and sister had to say. why didn't you write about Bobbi Kristina I know because it was to positive nothing negative she said to many good things again shame on you tanya steele.and you shouldn't write about how Whitney Houston was found dead if you weren't there because you really don't know your just going by what people have said and the media and they all have different stories. I must say this is one of the worst journalist writings I have ever seen you don't have any of your facts straight all you have is gossip from bad sources you are just's sad that Whitney Houston had to deal with jealous people like you in the media pretending to be a supporter of her's and just lying behind her back it's crazy journalist like you that try to tarnish her bad it's Whitney Houston's own black race that do the most damaging you should know better but you must not be very educated or married to a white man and don't like your own race. sad we got losers like you in the black comunity you should of died not Whitney Houston!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


You are a gifted writer. Part of that gift resides in the ability to open people to new possibilities. I am thinking of the response from Laura in particular. Here's one black woman saluting another for a fine piece of work. Thank you. Keep it up. I see you.


I remember hearing the news and all I could do was call her name over and over again. Hoping this was another rumor of a celebrity's death. I always was vocal in support for her. Saying that Whitney was going to make the biggest comeback in history. I just knew her voice was going to be restored. I guess I was wrong. I do not regret in believing the best for her. For I know that hope and faith are the best things that someone can have. Whitney I want you to know that I love you and will always keep you near. Eventhough the chances of meeting you are here on this earth is gone. I know that you are in a better place where all things old and damage are made new again. May Bobbi Kris and Cissy find the strength to carry on. This is coming from one of your true fans! ~Namaste~


What most people fail to realize, is that we all fall short and that we are human!! As humans we make mistakes and we are here on this earth only to do God's will and share our gifts with the world and Whitney did that…Who are we mere mortals to Judge what God ordained on that warm August morning in 1963?? God gave us one of his Angels to tell her Story and that story was told through song…Thank you Lord for allowing this angel to share her gift of song with Mankind.



Dr. F. A. Young, Esq.

So many broken heart powerful watchers watched! ?Who was close 2 her could touch her & failed to pull her from the jaws of evil – the jaws of the 7 deadly? ?Who r those that fed her the poisons – fed off her beauty & talent and gained so much but gave so little real love-had no real compassion? So many powerful people claim love 4 her – but was it really love – caring forgiving real spiritual love? or was it only love of the 'feel good' her beautiful voice and soul gave – and gave – and gave? So many creative/talented people are consumed by their creativity – their 'art' – by the powerful energies that drive their creative selves; media feeds on them and the demons feed on their vulnerabilities and moments of weakness & the watchers watch and watched as a beautiful soul is devoured – drained – sucked dry by beasts. The Creator of all the Worlds has taken her from this undeserving small corner of the universe. Peace came to her – found her alone in a hotel room and stayed with her – comforted her and she slipped away.


Here's my thoughts not to defend or disagree, it's tragedy all around , not matter what, all around, it's like when I was growing up and my Mother would mourn the death of her favorite Jazz singer, that now I later understood through the music the impact that would be lost and the living celebration of that person as they would live and make music that we could live with and through. I can not say her name with out thinking about a powerful voice that had not even tapped the full breadth of what she would be able to do in the coming years, how powerful an aged Whitney would be, singing classics that were done for her. How her music would be related to events, like those great Jazz singers of old, how much she rode with us through time and saw her through time. it is a tragedy that will be bigger in time, cause we will all ask the questions what would we she sound like 10 years from now, when her classic voice would have simply surpassed all the other studio assisted digital enhance singers. No matter what , it is a tragedy for all!!!


Talented? yes. genius? uhhhh. not really. I love the thoughtfulness of the memoir in article format; but, I'm always a bit skeptical when it comes to the hyperbolic adoration of celebrities that are clearly not what fans make them out to be.


While I appreciate the enduring fascination with the beautiful and the celebrity, let's do keep things in perspective. Whitney Houston was a gifted singer but most of the time she was just a drug addict. Because Whitney Houston had enablers.

In the light of Michael, Heath and now Whitney, I'd like to see someone do a story on these parasites. Hell, you probably even know some.


why do bw always have to put a womnan who happend to be black into this "bw" fold cant we just talk about her as a gifted woman why do you have to symbolize her? you can relate to her without having to put her in this peculiar bw mould. She is a person, a human being and was a beautiful classy and talented WOMAN first! I liked the article but im a little bored of this "woe is me im a bw" rhetoric that I hear ALOT from aa. Not everyone has the same experiences what makes you think that whitney's experiences and fears were related to her race and geneder? And she might not even have been so racially "concious" maybe she just saw herself as a woman not as a BLACK woman with all the burderns according to you that go along with it. When I first saw whitney as a i saw a bw allowed to be just a WOMAN and thats what i looked up to as a child.


To whom it may concern , 'Please contact me I am a black women that so much pain & hurt in my life that I won't let no one in my world'- Masked) ' I am mother of 3grown kids and grandmother of 7'. I'd had so much connection with 'Ms. Houston , pain and untimely death that I ask 'God , why am I feeling so much pain , hurt and connection to 'Whitney Houston …I Loved her so much and did not care what people said about her … Although, I'd never abuse drugs , but I'll abuse myself – mentally , physically and emotionally. All I hear from my pastor to some friends that knows my story that I am strong ….only if they knew how much I hurt inside and at times hurt the ones that Love me. I put up a (Masked) so long ago and Praying to God to help me release the pain, hurt that I've being carry around for 46yrs'. I tried to reach out to people – They just don't understand it's hard for me to Love and wonder why they-kids/grand(s) Love me….Praying for direction in my life and do know that God has told me to get my story out there that it will have a impact on 'Women & Young Girls life/lives ….Trying to seek help with this project'. Thank you for this well written story on 'Ms. Houston I see clearly'.


Well written….

Shan Smith

Wow well written piece still in Aww thanks for your words of wisdom


OMG cousin! I am in tears, in awe, in love, in respect and in full understanding of this beautiful piece. I too tend to ask myself weeks later, why do I still tear up when I hear a song of hers? Why did I just ball like she was MY family member when Oprah did the last interview? Because as you stated, she was MY female family members over the years. I related to her. I loved a woman that I didn't know because I saw me, my mother, my aunts, my cousins in her, in her music. THANK YOU!


sista tanya. dear sistah tanya. words cannot grasp the depth of my gratitude for you and for this so very helpful, clear-eyed look at our sister whitney and indeed at all of us. as a mid-fifties woman who has learned to mask, be strong, be funny,etc., i have frequently warned/encouraged my daughter to not walk that path. i sometimes make fun of how us black folk will say "that was deep"; your insightful reflection is bone-deep and very, very necessary. as i read it i was reminded of many words of wise women: ntozake shange's "my love is too complicated to have thrown in my face"; eisa davis' "i wonder if you can see that i am soft black steel in the hour of chaos"; toni morrison's "and she was loved!" There are so many 'take-aways' from your reflection. I will share, and share, and share; with my sister and sistahs, my daughter and community daughters, my students, fellow artists, and my sons, all with the fervent hope that we will move toward a "religion of self-compassion", leading to a space and place where we can feel and KNOW it is safe to be black. woman. genius. asante sana. on and up


Goddamn, this was a good article! It completely and I mean completely summed up how I've been feeling about Whitney's death. Watching that earlier Oprah interview with Whitney definitely made the feeling worse yet helped me clear up a few questions. That is the most telling interview Whitney ever gave. I felt so much empathy (rather than just sympathy) for her after that interview. I had been so confused with myself that the death of a celebrity could stir up such a reaction in me, one that lingers for weeks and weeks. You're right, Tanya: it's because of Whitney's narrative, a narrative that many black women like myself in the country are all too familiar with. Damn, girl. This article was most definitely necessary.


Hello Tanya and S & A visitors. After the initial day of Michael Jackson's passing, I could not and did not view any news accounts, nor read any blogs in which I thought he would be the center of discussion, for at least a month. I didn't even discuss him at my local barber shop. In fact, I wrote a piece called "I Don't Look In Caskets". Anyway, as I was reading Tanya's well written piece on Whitney, all my exact memories and emotions returned. I had not read any blogs on Whitney. I have not viewed any television programs or interviews, nor engaged in any conversation concerning Whitney (NONE!). See, I grew up with Whitney & Michael. I sang along with Whitney and Michael. I was Whitney and Michael. I loved Whitney and Michael. So I did not need, nor desire to hear the opinions of others. I couldn't do it. However, I read a few opening comments to this thread (side column of home page) so I peeked in. The following instantly caught my eye. I knew Tanya was going to bring the real thing. HERE—> "I have tried to avoid weighing in, publicly, on Whitney Houston's death. I didn't know the woman. I didn't know her family. I didn't even care to know the rumors surrounding her life. I never heard the 'wendy williams' interview (until, last night). However, I DO KNOW ADDICTS". ~ Tanya. That statement just about says it all for me because I lived that life. Consequently, I understand! I understand Bobby Brown and Pat Houston. I understand "the harsh criticism, the judgment and the scolding". I understand the sublime to the ridiculous. I knew most of the "words of wisdom" would be "gossip" and nothing more than unsubstantiated "talk". I surely understand and can relate to " I don't lay Whitney's addiction nor her death at Bobby Brown's feet". I even understand Whitney's brother Gary. I know why he would state that Bobby Brown was a good guy. For one, Bobby Brown, like all of us, probably was, and is, a good guy (at times). I understand the ADDICTION process, the addict, his or her family, friends and enemies, and ALL that goes with "it". Tanya, thanks for the memories, and thanks for an insightful well written piece.


Thank you for this. Such a beautiful and moving piece. You pretty much captured and shown so eloquently why we have taken her death personally, as if she was a cousin. Because what we see in Whitney is ultimately what we see in ourselves.


HI-5. I could not have worded this better even if I tried. If she (Whitney Houston) could have read this I believe she would hug you and call you sister. You right, many of us that mourned her did not know her but yes, as a black woman, I have to admire her strength to carry on, giving her best to a world that didn't show much compassion for her struggle and survival. To me she accomplished more professionally, personally and spiritually than most who have had to deal with addiction and abuse. And when I say abuse, I am not talking about Bobby, I am talking about the abuse she endured as a woman who had to wake up constantly to a world that was constantly throwing rocks at her pain. I agree with Shawn, BRAVO!


BRAVO! This was beautiful and so touching. It actually brought me to tears when you spoke of the cashier. I too, find myself searching others eyes, becauase I tend to have the ability to see through all the BS, the masks, the formidable walls that we construct.


This is a well written moving piece. Full disclosure: I was never a fan of Whitney Houston's music. Although I always knew she was a gifted singer. And I think the reason why I was not a fan of her's was because her voice was better, way better than the material she sang. So when I heard that Whitney Houston passed away, I said to myself it was sad and moved on. I did not get caught up in the emotional outpour that a lot of sistahs did because I never purchased any of her recordings. And I refuse to look at the media circus that followed her death. Your piece is the first post Whitney-passing piece that I decided to look upon. I did not understand the emotional investment that many sistahs had in Whitney's life, thus her death. Reading your piece and the comments helped me understand. Whitney was the first Every (Black) woman pop star to have cross over appeal. I think Whitney represented the possibility of Black womanhood that we as Black woman yearned for in American culture. Sort of an emotional truth that we always wanted to express and convey. For that, I will rethink her music and embrace her music legacy. I tip my hat to Whitney. Her's was the voice for we –the voiceless. Thanks for the write up.


Nice piece Tanya. Its sad that only through death, Whitney has finally found peace.
RIP Whitney.
I love and appreciate when opinion pieces like this are written on S&A.



Yes that is the only way to describe this:

Rest In Peace Whitney. You were an inspiration to us all.


This is definitely the best thing I've read regarding Whitney. Well done, Tanya.


Beautifully said! Whitney in more ways than one is 'all of us'. Thank you for sharing!


This is the most honest and beautiful thing I've read online in a long time. Thank you for sharing this. I completely connected with this as a Black woman, and one who loved Whitney too.


I see you, and I understand.


The pressure of being perfect. The beautiful, super-talented token black woman that all little girls aspired to be (in the beginning) and black folks initially put on the highest pedestal ever created. Yet, despite her talent, whites devalued her (e.g. the whole "she must be lip synching the national anthem because nobody can sing that well on their own" mock scandal) and blacks later mocking and deriding her before any signs of drug abuse or emotional instability (e.g. she's too bougie, she's a sellout, she's a lesbian, etc…) All the chick wanted to do was sing. Too bad she couldn't do that without all the snooping, speculation, put-downs even when there was nothing there to dig into. People needed (and still need) to get out of her and her family's business. To hear some of them talk, they know more about Whitney's woes than their own family members.


I appreciate you and your talent, your skill and ability continues to ring loud in my head. I felt the balance of your words. I challenge you to see the Whitney in all of us, Kevin Costner talked about this beautiful woman/child being so insecure about her beauty and abilities that he had to tell her he would hold her hand every step of the way and confirmed that she was beautiful. You see that myth of the superwoman is what has enslaved black women from seeking help when we need it, from admitting our shame, our insecurity with our bodies, our fear of revealing our weaknesses. Am I pretty enough…will they like me….she still struggled with that. Us poor ass, overwieght, blemished and tarnished sisters would never be able to stand out front and center as she did. Sometimes I feel the pain of being invisible to the world, no models body, no to for die for makeup job, no hairdo that cost 500 to sew, just a plain old colored girl unable to birth children and unable to keep what I have gone through from showing in my eyes. Whitney sought the pain reliever that we all wish we could get, to numb us out, but not kill us. You see no matter how genius our voices, how beautiful our faces, and how perfect our bodies….we still hurt, and seek reassurance that we are worthy. Worthy to seek help, to expose our shame to be women loving women, to be less then perfect…..God did not save her….we got to save each other. I appreciate you Tanya……thanks


Black women need a religion of self-compassion.


This essay cuts through the bulls**t.


Best thing I've read today…


I am so thoroughly impressed by this piece and your writing. Very beautiful Tanya. For some reason, I feel proud. Very proud of you.


What a great piece of writing Tanya. I have always been a fan of Whitney's music but until she died I never really appreciated what she did in music because I got too caught up in the media and publicity surrounding her drug abuse. It wasn't until she died that I took to YouTube to watch interviews, and performances and just started to wonder…WHAT was Whitney going through that would cause her to go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. As I watched a lot of her interviews, you could tell by the early 90s, Whitney was struggling. With some of her statements you knew deep down inside she wasn't happy BUT at the time she was in the midst of her biggest record to date, a booming movie, and at the absolute height of career. I've continued to watch more interviews, not only was she musically gifted, she was incredibly smart, and strong (you can't get to the place she was in her career without being so). The question I always had at the end of every interview and every performance was how did this happen to her, what was she battling that she took the most comfort in numbing the pain by drugs. All in all, it made me realize, as she would say in many of her interviews that people did not KNOW her. No matter how many performances or how many interviews we did, we didn't know what she was going through, we didn't understand her. And whether it will ever surface, what Whitney's true demons…I am not so sure. The demons she battled are due to a multitude of experiences in her lifetime. As it was mentioned, she was a loner, even Dionne and Cissy did not experience the height of fame (although successful) that Whitney received. Very few artists receive the height of fame and success that Whitney received. She was a highly successful, incredibly gifted, extremely famous BLACK woman…that alone qualified her as loner in the public eye. Which is why I feel we will never really truly understand Whitney, only she knew, and unfortunately we won't ever hear her side. We can speculate just based on seeing or hearing things but her life shows a point…we all want to be validated (e.g. understood)…and when we aren't…we do what we can to get that validation even if it means self destruction (e.g. too many psych classes for me sighs lol).


Her death has hit me pretty hard too, in fact my mother and I are still talking about why we can't quite get over it. Perhaps it is because she so closely resembled women in my family or women that I know and care about.

Whitney went through a lot and chose not to speak at length about it publicly. Of course she was in a terrible marriage that she said was unhappy after the first year, she had multiple miscarriages, her father got very sick and died, she developed nodules on her throat after The Bodyguard tour, not to mention all of the public pressure on her to be perfect.

THANK YOU for pointing out Gary and Pat's comments about Bobby. Gary has a history of drug addiction himself. He's been arrested more than once for possession of cocaine and crack. Perhaps he thought revealing things about Bobby would in turn lead to Bobby revealing things about him. Gary didn't even attend Whitney and Bobby's wedding because he was in rehab. Of course, Gary has also been to court several times because he refused to pay child support – which Whitney ended up paying so maybe he sees much of himself in Bobby.

Saying someone who slapped your sister, pushed her into a wall and spit in her face is a "good guy" is beyond absurd. There was even a 911 call and enough evidence of his abuse for the court to file charges. I don't blame Bobby Brown for Whitney turning to drugs. But I think acting as though her terrible marriage didn't lead to increased drug use is silly. Someone said to me "Well why did she stay so long, it must not have been that bad." What? Tina Turner was married to Ike for 19 years, I guess that means he wasn't hitting her that hard.

Whitney was, and always will be, a legend, icon, the number one diva and yes, a genuis. That is how I will remember her. I remember the first time I saw her, she was smart, funny, amazingly talented and she looked. like. me. Her troubles weren't any different from ours or our family members, they were just unfortunately made more public.

C. Swanson

Very insightful and moving Tanya. Well done. I too am still grieving Whitney's death and this helped me to understand a little why.


Tanya, I love your words. I also was disturbed by Pat & Gary Houston defending Bobby Brown. I turned the channel after hearing their ridiculousness. It is , definitely , a end to an era- we no longer have Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross , and now Whitney Houston. No other music artists can touch these folks.


beautifully written. well said.



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