When you have an amazing example of what true marriage and partnership looks like, it’s hard to settle for what you know you don’t deserve. And for Power star Naturi Naughton, whose parents have been married for 47 years, she knew it was time to walk away from her partner, despite the two welcoming a beautiful baby daughter, and despite initially feeling the pressure to wed.
“I don’t want to be married if it’s not the right marriage and the right person,” the 35-year-old actress told ESSENCE. “Pressure is really induced by living up to other people’s expectations, and instead of trying to live up to somebody else’s expectations for me, I just need to be happy.”
“A lot of people think that marriage is the quintessential success, but it’s not if the marriage is not grounded in the right foundation,” Naughton added. “I went through a lot of feelings of inadequacy about why did my life not turn out to be the perfect picture story, but that’s just not what was written for me.”
Like any artist, after Naughton “prayed about it,” she channeled the emotional experience into her music. She penned a forthcoming song about the break-up titled, “Stay Too Long.”
“The song is literally about my story,” she revealed. “One of the lyrics is, ‘Three months after the baby was born, your love for me was gone. How could you flip the script on me?…Love makes you foolish and stay way too long.’ And the chorus is literally how we don’t see the signs. We don’t accept that this is not the right thing. We want to be in something so much that we stay in something that’s not good for us.”
As time has healed her heart’s wounds, Naughton is now focused on raising her daughter, Zuri.
“God gave me a beautiful child, and her father is great and still in her life, and we’re co-parenting. That’s a blessing in itself,” she said of her ex, Ben.
The two parents are working hard to instill in Zuri, even at nearly two years old, that she’s beautiful. Naughton said she feels it’s her “duty” to teach her how to have an abundance of confidence in a world that doesn’t value Black girls, Black skin, Black hair and Black attitudes.
“When we wake up, we have a regimen,” she explained. “Once she’s dressed, we stand in front of the mirror and do these little affirmations that say, ‘Who’s that pretty girl? I’m that pretty girl!’ And I say, ‘Zuri, that’s you!'”
Naughton said that their routine is “not for vanity’s sake, it’s for affirmation.” It’s also to help little Zuri develop a “confidence from within.”
The Power star, who will return for the hit Starz’ series final season on August 25, said she understands the importance of teaching her daughter of seeing the beauty in Black because she’s dealt with her own struggles as a child and even in the entertainment industry. It’s why she’s lending her voice to the #RedefineBlack campaign, which is a partnership between Procter and Gamble, My Black is Beautiful and DoSomething.org.
The campaign sent a petition to all major dictionaries, encouraging them to redefine the word “black,” removing that it connotes something evil and dark. The campaign has already had success with Dictionary.com, which is committed to updating and revising their definition of the word.
“My journey and my struggle as a Black woman, particularly as a Black actress in this business, I’ve had to come up against some of those stereotypes being a Black actress,” Naughton said. “And just being a Black woman in the world and being told sometimes that I wasn’t marketable or wasn’t commercial or my look wasn’t what is perceived to be beautiful.”
The actress, who’s been featured in Mad Men, The Playboy Club and now Power, said that even in auditions she’s had to combat stereotypes of what it means to embody Blackness.
“In auditions, I was told, ‘Can you blacken it up? You know, can you make it a little more Black?’ I’m like, ‘Well what does that mean?’ ‘Well, you know, harder,’ they would say, ‘Can you be harder? Can you be more Black?’ I’m like, ‘Well I am Black, but what would more Black be for you?’ And they wanted me to either act coonish or in an ignorant fashion or to do something that doesn’t align with who I am.”
Thankfully for Naughton, and other Black actresses, she feels Hollywood is “changing so much.”
“I feel so embraced now,” she said, “But we have to start these conversations. We have to figure out how to make people realize that being Black and the word ‘black’ doesn’t have to be one thing. We are complex. We are beautiful. We are strong and powerful.”