After “Manicure & Mimosas,” The Soul Sistah Series very first event this past Sunday, I had a woman come up to me and say with a beaming smile, “I’ve never seen so many women with natural hair.” Another woman told me it was exactly the kind of day she needed after the kind of week she’d had. Another women told me how refreshing it was to be able to express her views about life in a place where she didn’t feel like she was crazy for saying so.There were so many women who expressed how happy there that they came and after a while one thing became clear to me in addition to everything else.
Other women of the Diaspora want this space to exist as well as Soulsistah4real and I do.They really do! And you know what? That makes me feel less crazy for thinking this could be possible. It also gives me great *pleasure to say that our next Soul Sistah Series event in May will be twice as amazing, filled with as much pampering and enlightening challenging discourse as “Manicures and Mimosas” was.
I’m thinking of writing a short story or series of short stories. I’ve been finishing up Chimamanda Adichie’s collection of short stories from “That thing Around Your Neck” which I don’t need to tell you that is freaking fantabulous. I’ve always been fascinated by successful short form writing. Haruki Murakami and Richard Brautigan are two other writers whose short works I have loved over the years.
This morning I woke up early and not as annoyed and reluctant as usual and made a list of all the things that have impacted me in the last few weeks because it has been unusually intense and highly active in one way or the other. The list came really easy to me and sounds almost like a series of episodes in a wacky television drama or collection of short stories. And I think I’m going to write them. Ya know? Like my first excercise in short form creative writing.
I imagine the format of it being like the Black female version of Brautigan’s “In Watermelon Sugar” except not in an symbolically alternative psychological universe. LOL!
‘cause over the mountain I see the bright sun shining
And I want to live inside the glow
I wanna go to a place where I am nothing and everything
That exists between here and nowhere.
I wanna got to a where time has no consequences, oh yeah
The sky opens to my prayers.
“Beautiful” by Indie Arie is one of those songs I listen to at moments in my life when I need to hear something gentle, hopeful, soulful and…well…beautiful. Because when I listen to Indie sing this song, I feel the same way I did when it was first released on “Acoustic Soul” in 2001. I feel held, supported and understood, because I know plenty about wanting to “live inside the glow” as I’m sure we all do.
Indie Arie is one of those rare artists whose appearance and presentation she never allowed to stray too far into gimmick. When she sang “I am not my hair,” it was a genuine message sent out to women of color everywhere that we should not define ourselves based on other people’s expectations of how they think we should look.
Little girl with the press and curl Age eight I got a Jheri curl Thirteen I got a relaxer I was a source of so much laughter At fifteen when it all broke off Eighteen and went all natural February two thousand and two I went and did What I had to do Because it was time to change my life To become the women that I am inside Ninety-seven dreadlock all gone I looked in the mirror For the first time and saw that hey….
I am not my hair I am not this skin I am not your expectations no no I am not my hair I am not this skin I am a soul that lives within
We need more Black female artists like Indie Arie who not only sing with a message about accepting ourselves for who we are within but who also lead by example. Indie Arie represents pride in her race, her culture and in the beauty of her femininity. She is always seen rocking an eclectic, Urban and African inspired look, celebrating her natural hair and gorgeousdark skin. And she has never compromised her image or her message to feed a market heavily catered to with empty, superficially packaged personalities.We are worth so much more than that and Indie Arie’s music is a brilliant and rich testament to our worth.
She inspires us in ways she may never know and I thank Goddess for Indie Arie’s commitment to remaining authentically herself.
The first film I remember seeing Viola Davis in was “Antoine Fisher” in 2002 where she played Fisher’s long sought after mother, Eva May. She was only in the film near the end for about ten minutes or so and was completely silent for most of it but in my opinion she stole the entire scene. Her performance was so indelible that it’s what I remember most about the film. That same year she also played a supporting role in one of my favorite films, “Solaris.” She played Dr. Gordon, the only Black person on a space ship crew, or actor for that matter in an all white cast. There was no missing her talent here. She was fully committed to the role, self-possessed, passionate, intense and powerful; another unforgettable performance that could have easily been underplayed by a lesser performer.
Since then she has played supporting roles in a string of hugely successful and critically acclaimed films leading up to her starring role in Shonda Rhimes hit television series, “How to Get away with Murder” as Annalise Keating, the headstrong and controversial lawyer. From taking on ignorant and insensitive comments about her dark skin and allegedly “non-classical” beauty to her decision to remove her wig and all of her make-up in one of the most talked about episodes of HTGAWM, we have been fascinated with Viola’s ability to strategically expose America to the ways in which real women, women of color particularly, negotiate public appearance and a sense of inherent value in a world designed to marginalize, fragment and fetishize our entire beings.
Remaining poised, elegant and confident in both her strengths as a formidable actress and a Black woman, we look forward to seeing Viola Davis continue to tear down these reductive standards in ways that challenge, disturb and engage as well as speak authentically to the parts of ourselves we rarely get to see on screen.
Most Tuesday nights I slip into the bedroom with a glass of wine or grape juice and watch “Being Mary Jane.” I don’t update my Facebook status and I rarely tweet about it. I just sit back and watch.
I’ve had this conversation several times with soulsistah4real, that I sometimes find Mary Jane hard to take. I wish that she was happier and that the show was less depressing. She tells me that while she sees where I’m coming from, she still appreciates the show because it depicts a reality she understands. I’ve let that sink in for a while and continue to watch the show because I realize that just because it’s not a reality I understand, that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly relevant. In addition to that I always try to be critical of where the standards I measure television shows come from, particularly shows featuring women of color. So I ask myself questions like:
-Why do I need Mary Jane to be happy?
-Where does my definition of happiness for female characters on television and particularly women of color on television come from?
-I happen to claim “dark” and challenging dramas and films in general among my favorites and they are usually dominated by white actors and actresses. Why do I need one of the few hit dramas on a Black television network to be more of a delightful romp?
-What is my definition of happiness anyway? (That’s a subject for a whole other blog entry)
Through my study of film in undergrad, and research I did for term papers on early Black film, it became obvious to me that because of the pervasive monopoly White America has long held over film and television studios, the visual and verbal dialogue of racial prejudice and stereotypes have become the things which Black filmmakers have either dedicated themselves to reacting to and disproving or swallowing the lies and profiting from. As people of color begin to create more films and television programming that address our own interpersonal, social issues and struggles, the reality that is unearthed is often tied inextricably to the daily and long term effects racism has on multiple parts of our lives in ways that predominantly white dramas do not.
“Sex in the City” the hit HBO series about the relationship challenges of white women in their 30’s and 40’s employs a large percentage of fantasy and artifice while selectively addressing issues of gender equality, sexual politics and oh, maybe there was like one episode where Samantha dates a black guy and we’re reminded that racial politics exist in this white world of fashion, sex, shopping and female bonding. Oh yeah, there are Black people in New York City ladies. Interesting. Now let’s get back to Manolos and Mr. Big.
In Mary Jane, a show about a highly accomplished Black reporter who takes care of her family, faces numerous relationship challenges, desperately wants to be a mother, and like all of us makes bad decisions that have worse consequences (like real life) why do I struggle with wanting there to be more “lightness.”
The last few episodes of Mary Jane find her making some tough and ballsy decisions for herself despite the ways in which they may be received by men who think she’s crazy, friends who think she’s gone off the deep end, family who find her exacting, snobby and know-it-all and employees who probably think she’s a bossy Black bitch with some nerve because she wants full control her own show which would cover Black issues only.
Mary Jane doesn’t have gay accessory friends like SATC’s “Stanford” who disappear with no explanation after a few seasons. She has one good friend and co-worker who is gay and going through the heartbreaking experience of seeing a relationship end because he was unable to be open about who he was to anyone but Mary Jane. She has brothers, one of whom gets racially profiled by cops just for sitting in a parked car near a school. She has an overweight and unemployed niece with children who refuses to let her Auntie meddle in her life and yet relies on her for financial and moral support
Why should I expect these things to happen to Mary Jane and then end with her buying bags of shoes and then meeting “the girls” for cosmos.
This is not that show.
This is “Being Mary Jane.”
And I have to say, I really look forward to it, because I don’t always get what I think I want but I always get something that makes me question what I think I know about what it means to be a Black woman in America.
“For listeners to feel compelled to pick it up, they must be able to recognize themselves in it, but also feel that they’re encountering something much greater than themselves.That’s where Björk’s voice factors in. It’s a beautiful and powerful instrument, a valve for emotions bigger than our own, with a rasp that sounds like it’s coming from someplace between adolescence and adulthood. Basking in it can feel as nourishing, life-affirming and dangerous as an afternoon spent in the sun.”
-Chris Richards Washington Post
“You have a minute and fifty seconds.” Said the security guard at the entrance.
We are then lead into what appears to be a large sound proof room with all black interior and a large screen, one each on opposite ends of the room. I sit down on the carpet with about thirty or so other people and watch the music video for Bjork’s “Black Lake” for the first time.
I am consumed.
The base from the song makes the entire room tremble. Bjork is in a cave singing and convulsing and walking and emoting and releasing her full throated heartbroken testimonial . And I feel as If I am in a cave as well.
Her face is beginning to show age and I love that it doesn’t matter at all to her. She’s still the same inside. Still letting out all her pain, her passion, her heart in long guttural, primal yells, still depicting nature as the natural extension her own body and exposing her vulnerability, showing us her insides, the power of submission. As always, Bjork utilizes art, nature,technology, movement and sound to describe (not always interpret) her insides in ways I have never experienced before.
When it was over we all clapped. We were then ushered into another dark but larger room where long, flat, vibrant pink cushions were laid against the walls on each side. I found a spot on the floor way up front where I sat in rapt attention for over and hour while Bjork videos I had never seen before played and played and played.
I forgot I was hungry. I forgot I was tired. I forgot there were people all around me. No one made a sound for hours. I put my phone down. When “Big Sensuality” came on I started to sing in a tone low enough not be heard over the music except occasionally. I laughed and smiled and tapped my feet to the beat. When “Army of Me” and “Human Behavior” came on, I wanted to shout.
I was in Bjork world, not a world which is easy to describe except to say that no one else but BJork could make walking through a deserted landscape wearing a dress made entirely of bells seem like it’s the thing to do.
I want a dress made entirely of bells.
When you’ve followed and loved an artist for as long as I have Bjork, seeing a retrospective, even one as cramped and poorly executed as this one, it feels like you have a connection to absolutely everything on display, but it was really the music videos that absorbed my attention for hours. Every Bjork music video is an art piece. She is one of the few artists I’ve known whose musical work has always extended beyond the boundaries of sound and spilled out into the art world. Still, if music was all she had to offer it would still be more than enough to establish Bjork as an artistic genius of sound.
Her incredible new album “Vulnicura” (I don’t even know if this is a real word or something made up in Bjorks’ mind), inspired by the heartache of her recent break up from artist Matthey Barney is, like all her albums tend to be, an experience, an emotional journey. I listen to the sound in the beginning of “Family” and it calls to mind the landing of something extraterrestrial, something falling from the sky and hitting the ground softly. Despite it’s being the introduction to a song about the dismantling of a family, It’s a very comforting sound, for me signaling change and sudden unexpected shifts. Add to that her cathedral like, orchestral compositions, fusing classical with electronic, sonic and pop, what is produced is a sense of inhabiting a fully realized multidimensional world that attempts to express not merely regret but healing, declaration, transcendence and even joy as well as raw and sacred spaces within her where the nuances of these emotions reside.
Before Issa Rae, it never would have occurred to me that I could get hooked on a web series on Youtube. But after being introduced to “The Mis-Adventures of and Awkward Black Girl” I was rushing to Youtube every week to see how J was going to deal with racial and cultural insensitivity in her workplace, making friends, dating interracially, dealing with obnoxious and annoying co-workers with odd and irritating behaviors (people who speak in really a really tone when they’re right in front of me drive me crazy as well) and also being conscious of the ways in which her own awkwardness defines her and her relationships.
Being a Black woman, working in an office, dealing with ignorance, pet peeves and tough dating choices is something that as women of color we can all relate to. But Issa’s exploration of the role in which “Awkwardness” plays in her every day life and her use of it as a metaphor for the discomfort caused by a range of social insensitivity was an application of comedy as it related to the life of a woman of color that I had never seen before in quite this way. What it means when someone really gets you has long been relegated to comedies like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” where the New York locations we natives are familiar with all feature prominently but our faces are for the most part are non-existent.
As producer, writer and director of “Misadventures of and Awkward Black Girl” Issae took it upon herself to fill a void in the white washed world of comedy and tell a story she had never seen told on network television. This web series was very much a do it yourself collaborative effort by a group of people who dedicated themselves to very involved and detailed shooting schedules while still working day jobs themselves. Thanks to the overwhelming response of viewers, followers and fans of the series, Issa has been able to finance entire seasons in response to the demand for more. Which reminds me I really need to catch up!
Since the success of this web series Issa has written a book, developed other youtube webisodes and also signed a deal with HBO to release a new show called “Insecure.”
I can’t wait to see where Issa’s adventures on a major network take her next.
I’ve had some very interesting conversations with women of color since we created the SOUL Sistah Series page and promotional commercial for the first in the series of discussions on March 29th.
One woman whom I had asked to interview for our promo commercial declined on the grounds of personal loathing for the label “Black woman.” She was born on the continent of Africa and has a very different relationship to race than that of Blacks born in America. She said that she had experienced hatred and been ostracized by Black Women because of this. While I understood her reason for declining, I also understood why Black Women born in America would find her position offensive. I was probably one of those women not too long ago before I read Chimimanda Adichie. And to be honest I still felt a sting hearing the sentiment of not wanting to be identified as “Black.” So in a way I still feel that resentment a little but like I said, after reading “Americanah” I have way more insight into the experience of people of color not born in America and their difficulty with relating to our experience here. Being raised as the daughter of a Trini-born mother helps with that as well.
The other most recent conversation was one I had at work yesterday afternoon with a co-worker who did participate in the promo commercial. It started when she shared a bad experience she had on her previous job at a Black owned and run educational organization which lead to the sharing of bad experiences we both have had at other Black run establishments in Harlem that we regretted because we wanted so much to have the opposite experience.
Both of these conversations lead me to think about the roles these negative experiences play in what we as women of color believe about what is possible for us to achieve together, with one another and for one another. It’s like the old “Black women can’t get along” stigma. It exists to divide us before we even seek to reach out to one another. And it’s not true.
Daughter of legendary diva, Diana Ross, Tracee Ellis Ross is best known for a her role as the controlling but loving and supportive, Joan Clayton in the hit comedy, “Girlfriends” and now as the hilarious mother and wife, Rainbow Johnson on the hit comedy “Black-ish.”
I won’t lie. Although I was super excited for the premiere of “Black-ish,” I wasn’t taken with the modern Black family comedy right off the bat. But my husband never misses it and since I love spending quality time with him, I now watch it every week. And I have to say, I really love it. It’s smart, funny, fresh, bold, a perfect vehicle for Tracee’s quirky brand of humor. One of my favorite Tracee moments so far is the one where she goes off on her husband’s mother, played to perfection by the great Jenifer Lewis for changing her daughters hair. Nobody performs a melt down on camera as hilariously as Tracee and she manages to turn the situation into a teachable moment about tolerance and boundaries at the same time. I love it when a woman known for beauty and style is just as comfortable being apart of and creating moments where looking ridiculous and silly are required. I don’t know how I would get through life without the ability to laugh at myself and make others laugh as well.
Tracee is the creator and moderator of her very own website, traceeellisross.com where she does commentary on everything from style, beauty, rap lyrics (She’s obsessed with T-Murda), her deep love of bowls and oh yeah, her bodacious booty. She is also a huge supporter of organizations like Black Girls Rock that promote acceptance and self love among women of color and uses her own unique brand of infectious humor, honesty and self acceptance to inspire and motivate. She is a true renaissance woman; outspoken, eclectic, mutli-faceted, and seriously funny.