The annual Black Girls Rock awards show aired last night on BET, and true to form, it was a star-studded venture in which women of color were celebrated for their influence across a multitude of industries, from arts and entertainment to business and science. Tracee Ellis Ross was more than game as host, channeling Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, and her mother Diana Ross in a fun, spirited opening number. Many other powerful women were in attendance that night, including Shonda Rhimes, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and former model and DJ Beverly Bond, creator of the event.
A highlight among the festivities was Rihanna’s acceptance speech for her hard-earned Rock Star Award. From beginning to end she encapsulated the importance of a voice like hers for women of color, expressing how honored she is to be recognized “just because I’m black, and just because of what I do … Thank you so much for celebrating us in a world that doesn’t celebrate us enough.” The entire speech is worth watching, but the moment that stood out the most, to me at least, was her full-on embrace of a title she’s frequently rebuffed in the past.
“Role model is not the title they like to give me, ya know?” she wisecracked, as the audience erupted in laughter and then applause. “That’s why tonight is so important to me, because I think I can inspire a lot of young women to be themselves, and that is half the battle.” It seems that Rihanna has finally decided that role model doesn’t necessarily have to have antiquated connotations related to how a woman is “supposed” to act (namely, chaste), and that simply being unafraid to make mistakes and do your own thing can and should be something to aspire to as well. If that’s the case, our favorite IDGAF pop star certainly fits the bill, and we could all stand to learn something from her abundant self-confidence. Coming from anyone else, the “be yourself” mantra would be most cliché—but coming from Riri (someone who clearly walks the walk), it sounds newly inspiring.