The only reason I started watching youtube beauty tutorials, reviews, GRWM (Get ready with me if you didn’t know) or style vlogs was to see Black women doing it. I mean, initially, I started watching to find my shade twins and see how certain colors, foundations, lipsticks I like, might look on me. But I ended up watching and following Black women across the Diaspora with a broad range of skin colors because we are so gotdamn beautiful and the range of our skin tones is NO LIMIT!!!!!
And I LOOOOOOOOVE watching Black women put on make-up. I just do. I love all the different ways, the reasons, the looks, the attitudes, the approaches.
I clicked on a White chick’s video once but
Nothing for me to learn there that I haven’t been working on the daily to unlearn. And I mean personally, it’s just not attractive to me. That’s not what I’m checking for. I’m checking for me. And it’s not to say that White supremacy is not still alive in complex and dangerous ways on the Black channels but at least there I feel like I care about what’s happening. I’m invested, because I am represented.
Our troubles as women in America pale in comparison to theirs. In my opinion, the things women complain about in the United States cause us to look like a bunch of ungrateful piss ants! I wouldn’t dare take a stand with a bunch of cry baby white American women. Why are you so upset? White women aren’t being shot down in the streets like dogs. You aren’t being incarcerated by the masses. Your families aren’t being torn apart while you struggle against a system designed to keep you behind. Until you take a stand for the disparity Black men encounter daily, I give zero fucks about your hurt feelings.
Yesterday, a co-worker informed me that she would be off today and offered, that in part, she was taking the day off in commemoration of International Women’s Day. Now, I was dimly aware that this was happening at some point but since I had no interest in participating, I never took note of its approach. So I was like, what’s that, what happening now? She explained to me the intent of “A Day Without Women” as a way to show how valuable women are blah blah blah… and that I should wear red tomorrow.
Internal blank stare…
Then I asked “What is this in response to? Did something happen?” Did someone else’s pussy get grabbed? She couldn’t really give me any other explanation except to say that it’s to so show how important women are….
…internal side eye
Great! “Happy International I Have a Vagina and it’s important but it’s really about White Women Day!” Enjoy that shit.
This morning my best friend in Divine Black Feminine Love posted an article by Shemeka Michelle titled,
In it she expressed my sentiments about this day and more. And basically it just gave me all the life I needed to carry on through all this Women’s Day BS. Because as a Black woman when I hear the words Women’s anything, just like when I hear the words Americans, I think only one thing.
And Michelle just confirmed the fuck out of my feelings with facts to back it up and pettiness like honey to sweeten one of the best reads I’ve heard all day. Let’s give thanks for BFFS who give the gift of facts with righteous frustration and pettiness sprinkled in.
I passed this article on to another sistah this morning and she was just floored with confirmation. She got it. She called me immediately thanking me, and telling me that she subscribed to the blog. This is how deeply we need community, need our own space and platforms to express our true feelings about things. Because otherwise, we (Black people) get bombarded with what the majority deems as event that are appropriate to celebrate and circulate without even fucking knowing what that shit has to do with supporting or acknowledging the truly marginalized, the oppressed, the underpaid, incarcerated and brutalized. What the fuck am I Marching for “women” for? I’m a woman and I have no problems being one. I have no complaints. The way I am treated as a woman is not and never has been the point of my contention in America. Point blank period.
As Michelle says in her blog entry:
I will NOT stand with you. You’ve climbed the corporate ladder at the expense of many Black men and women. You are just like the White men that you want us to help you fight against.
So count me out of this and every other pussy hat brigade organized protest from now until the end of time. I and everyone who looks like me has been counted out by a violent monopoly of systemic racism for hundreds of years so that should be easy.
Plus, I saw like tons of women at work today, like everywhere I went, women were working, like at work, like at jobs…working.
Soooo….exactly who the fuck was taking the day off today?
I viewed this amazing video posted on Facebook by Angela Laketa Tanksley for the first time several weeks ago but so far, no matter how many times I view it, it always gives me life. I mean it’s not just that she was bold and brave enough to take on creating a remake of one the best Beyonce videos ever, “Grown Woman” but also that she did it to commemorate her 35th birthday. And even more than that, she didn’t try to be Beyonce. She emulated some of the best things about the energy of Beyonce and Destiny’s child videos, like friendship, Black women together, beauty, motherhood, marriage, strength, sexiness, fun and laughter and she used the resources that applied to her life, like the baby carriages (oh God I loved the women dancing next to their baby carriages!!!!!!! I loved it!!) and her husband opening his door to see his wife and her friends raising a ruckus in the hallway inspired by Beyonce’s “7/11” video. The look on his face and the shake of his head was pure husbandness. LOLOL!!! He was like, I don’t want any part of this. Back to my X-Box. Omigod, I just loved it. It made me feel like I could actually make a video like this one day!
Angela did do some literal depictions of her favorite parts of Beyonce’s “Grown Woman” in ways that I loved. She had her husband on the couch and was rubbing his knee, showing her pride in marriage and then had her kids on her bed all around her while she laughed and smiled as her son kissed her and then there’s a bit where her and friends are dressed in sexy black outfits doing the dance routine that Beyonce does with two back up dancers near the end of “Grown Woman.” Angela shot her choreographed piece in a neighborhood that looked like a suburb somewhere outside in natural light. They killed it.
It was like fun sleep over/dance party at a hair salon mixed with grown sexiness defined by some of the best things about being a grown Black woman, and just showing how versatile, how dynamic, how sexy, how fun, how beautiful it is. I think I’m gonna go watch it again right now!
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.
We’re all here for Oshun so I equate that with Oshun being here.
-PBS Documentary on the Nigerian Oshun Festival
So I’ve been working on this project lately that has required a study of different illustrations of the goddess Oshun. Oshun is one of hundreds of Yoroba Orishas, a Goddess who embodies, beauty, sensuality, healing, abundance, harmony, divination and the feminine archetype. I am discovering that there are many different interpretations of what Oshun represents but essentially she is in some ways to ancient African religions what the Virgin Mary is to Catholicism, what Venus or Aphrodite was to Romans and Greeks. But unlike those latter mentioned, Oshun, to my unending delight, is represented primarily as a very dark skinned Black woman. Her colors are represented as a constant spectrum of gold, amber, yellow and orange. She can be found near bodies of water and always carries a mirror. She likes sweet things and is often shown wearing a veil which allows her to see the world eternally as a sweet heavenly vision of beauty. Doesn’t that sound dope?
It hit me yesterday as I looked at all the googled images of her, how powerful the symbols of her identity are with regard to visual interpretations. With all the different versions out there, there are those basic elements that never change. Like the Virgin Mary, Venus or Aphrodite, artists understand that key colors, elements in nature and symbolic objetcs are what communicate to the viewer who and what this woman represents. This is art 101 obviously but I never really even understood this even in art history class. I wish it had been taught to me in this way. A Picasso version of the Virgin Mary will not look like Carravagio’s, but the basic symbolical indicators will be there somewhere whether literal, obscure, abstracted or minimized.
Blue, white, rays of natural light. Yellow, gold, mirror water nature. When we wear these colors, spend time in specific natural spaces, we can recognize that certain religions and cultures would see us as invoking saints, goddesses, gods, spirits that are represented by these things. We attribute powers to elements based on both ancient practice and natural metaphysical laws.
Why do the colors deep blue and purple represent royalty? Why does yellow invoke joy and lightness? Most of us have been conditioned to an unconscious reflexive knowledge of white as representing purity. The color black however has had the worst rap ever. Buried in decades of negative association with death, evil, abyss, black actually symbolizes the highest seat of wisdom as seen in clergymen and ministers who wear all black or martial arts masters who acquire the Black belt in the various disciplines of Martial Arts. We all know that a Black Belt can only be acquired with intense hard work and commands great respect. For me, seeing so many versions of Oshun with this dark black skin is even more of a validation and praise of the color black. It sends the message to my heart that blackness is beautiful, is sacred, is virtuous. And every version of Oshun must be dark skinned in order for me to understand that she is Oshun.
It is said that in the Vatican, there is a black version of the Virgin Mary hidden somewhere and that this is the one the Pope worships behind closed doors. Oooh! My google search of Black Virgin Mary has produced such a range of beautiful renditions! The darker Goddesses are stepping out into the light.
My commute to work is not very long at all. Twenty minutes, maybe thirty if there are service delays. So this morning while I was immersed in the world of “Americanah” I got a little sad when I looked up and saw that I was already at my stop.
I had been listening to “Run the World” and “Superpower” on my phone while reading Ifemelu’s blog post on “Why Dark-Shinned Black Women–Both American and Non-American–Love Barack Obama.” I was still remembering the amazing time I had last night at Open Expression in Harlem. The feature, a powerful and giving woman, Naa Akua who was accompanied by two others, “Royalty” and “A Lyric” who sang a song about beautiful dark and cinnamon skin and invited us all to join in was still coursing through my memory. The second to last Thursday of every month for over two years now, we have come together to share and create and be inspired by our own worlds.
I remember raging against Beyonce’s audacity with everyone else when “Run the World” came out. I was tired of hearing women referred to as girls. Plus which, I thought it strange to assert something that to me was obviously a lie when we know who really runs the world.
I had never really listened to the song.
I ADMIT IT! OKAY? This was before my full on Beyonce love and appreciation.
But one evening this week I was playing Pandora on my stereo (I don’t listen to the radio anymore) and when “Run the World” came blasting on I stood at full attention. And I was up and dancing and totally elated, a reaction that has become very familiar to me with regard to many Beyonce songs. I don’t even think about it. I’m just up! When it was done, I bought it on iTunes. Heard it, believed in it, needed it on my life.
Needed it in my life!
And I thought to myself while listening to it, aren’t we supposed to act as if in this world if it’s not the way we need it to be?White people create their own realities constantly, without even being aware of it. They play their reality like a perpetual number one hit song, pumping it into the veins of the masses, which is how indoctrination works. It is not the sharing of any truth with the sacred intent of enlightenment and movement but a force feeding of falsities, and fabrications for the purpose of control.
In “Run The World” Beyonce is celebrating achievements made and yet to be made by girls and saying, fuck a day when! We run this now! How else will little Black and Brown babies believe if there isn’t someone out there powerful enough to sing their praises so everyone can hear it the way A Lyric did last night? My mom ran my world. And damned if mothers don’t run our worlds as children period! I mean, what if Beyonce is right? I think she is. I think that perhaps the reason why it’s so hard for us as women to believe it when someone tells us we run shit is because we don’t even understand our own power. We say it’s a man’s world because that’s what patriarchy requires us to do in order to reap empty promises. And we fall in line.
You know that old “Behind every great man…” line right? Everybody does. It’s meant to make women feel revered and recognized about being behind the scenes and never really being seen. “Yes, he was a great man but he would not have been anything without this great woman behind him.”
Well if women are so powerful behind the scenes, what would happen if we stepped out front? Oh that’s right. We would get torn down and ripped to shreds by other women, the women who still behave unconsciously on behalf of white male, patriarchy that is. That little white man dancing invisibly in our heads will never give us what we need. We have to create what we need for ourselves. But first we have to know what that need truly is. Figuring out what we need as women of color in this world is a journey, a work in progress which is changing the world with every passing minute.
I don’t know that I ever understood who Olivia Pope was outside of a fixer/handler/help who wears the “White hat” quivers in the presence of power, aka Fitz and hires people to kill people but is shocked when she realizes her intimate proximity to killers. If Joe Morton, who plays her father had not joined the cast when he did, I doubt I could have continued to watch the show, particularly after they killed off Harrison and gave him that wack ass funeral. If Poppa Pope hadn’t already been around by then, I just don’t see what other reason there would have been for me to stick around. Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy the other story lines. But Olivia’s is meant to be the one we watch for and frankly it’s making me nauseous.
Look. I realize that interracial relationships happen. I’ve been in a few myself. But I look around on television and all I see is white couple TV shows and in Shondaland where Black women are the main characters of two hit shows, for some reason, they can’t be seen with a positively portrayed Black man! WTF?
My good friend at Life as I Know It and I were having our Court Street Car chat last weekend after attending a lecture at the Brooklyn Museum about unpacking the definition of the Diva. We were discussing the reasons why we felt Olivia and Annalise were not only in exclusive relationships with white men but the fact that the little bit of Black men in both shows have been portrayed as either untrustworthy, dead or monstrous. All the powerful white men in Scandal are evil, murderous and selfish but it’s clear that whoever has Olivia’s heart is the hero. And it ain’t her daddy. I can’t get into “How to Get Away with Murder” right now but that story line is starting to go downhill for me as well. She’s doing everything she can for her asshole husband while the only Black man we’ve seen her with is running around in the shadows trying to avenge himself against her.
Let’s talk about Olivia’s father, Rowan, played expertly by veteran actor, Joe Morton. Every time he starts talking, I’m on the edge of my seat. I need to know why, when they write for Rowan, the language he uses clearly subverts a truth about race relations that is never fully brought to light in the racial dynamics of the rest of the show.
“Those people are not your people.”
“Don’t you ever leave me for one of them.”
“Twice as good as them to get half of what they have.”
I could go on.
And I know he’s supposed to be an asshole but I need Olivia to give a shit about her family. I need her to put family before these dudes no matter how dysfunctional it is. Why is it that the obvious dysfunction, crime and perversion that is inherent in both Jake and Fitz is seen as the lesser evil for Olivia when compared with her father? It’s hard for me to believe that she was actually going to sit across from her father at dinner and while “those people” blew his head off. I wasn’t feeling her method of betrayal at all. To pretend she actually believed what her father was telling her to lure him into a trap rather than understand that what he was saying was the God’s truth. Now I don’t know where Shonda is trying to take this, but if it doesn’t pan out or make any sense to me, I can’t continue to watch “Scandal” any longer. I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal to have a Black man and woman in a couple on tv who are loving and supportive of one another, but it’s starting to bug me that this is what stands in for someone’s idea of progress or a “post racial” reality. I mean I could see if we had just experienced decades of positive Black images in relationships and families and influential figures in film and television and THEN Scandal came along. MAYBE. But that hasn’t happened.
I remember that before it was cancelled, my husband used to watch the show “Happy Endings,” a comedy with an all white cast of couples and friends except for Damon Wayons Jr. whose character was married to a white woman. I peeped just enough of it when he watched to see that the show was funny and well written but I refused to watch it. I am not familiar with this reality. What world is that they were living in? No one outside of that circle ever addressed the situation of Damon’s character being the only Black person in his social circle with any seriousness, I’m assuming because it was a comedy? I couldn’t get past it. I couldn’t accept it, because there was never any equal or opposing representation to compare it with.
What television has done effectively is to say, forget about seeing Black people together and loving one another! Lets just skip to situations where they are represented in the minority again! Let’s get over all this racism stuff! There’s not racism anymore! There’s also not one single new show on prime time television (besides “Black-Ish”) where loving, supportive couples, relationships and or families are played by BLACK PEOPLE!
Erm….but we’re so over race right? We’re all equally represented right?
In addition to myself, I know Black people who are married to, dating and in relationships with other Black people and people of color. But I have NEVER seen this reflected on television in any but the most occasional and exceptional of ways. The Cosby Show was great but can we move on?
My main concern is with the message that audiences of color are being fed. I can’t be bothered with what white people may or may not think and I can’t say that I really care. All I know is, I finally get why a lot of Black men hate both of Shonda’s shows. They can’t see themselves portrayed in them in any but a negative light. They continue to be either made to look like terrible people who are violent and manipulative in ways that do not earn them either status, power or love or they are removed altogether, as if they were never important, never needed and never remembered.
When was the last time you saw a leading actress remove all her make-up in an extended, tight, super close up shot?
The only scene that leaps to my mind is Glen Close as the Marquise in the last few minutes of “Dangerous Liasons,” one of my all time favorite films. As she removes her make-up in a show of total ruin we see how truly ugly she is in spirit because she has destroyed any chance there ever was for love in her life. Now it’s Viola Davis in the last ten or so minutes of the last episode of “How to get Away Murder” when she removes all her make-up and gains more and more ground with every swipe.
I’m only just beginning to immerse myself in the series and I have to admit, I still have not seen the first episode in its entirety as yet.
I KNOW! DON’T THROW THINGS AT THE SCREEN.
I think I was just a bit annoyed at all the law student characters. All I wanted was Viola but they’re starting to grow on me and I can see where they are essential to the plot and the movement and development of the show. There have only been four episodes of the series so far and with each one, I see more than I’ve never seen in any television series before.
For instance, I think it was in one the two episodes before the last that Annalise is shown at her home taking off her wig revealing her own short natural hair, pinned back to her head. I was not prepared for that and was immediately intrigued by the fact that Shonda included this reveal with zero fanfare. I watched Annalise deep in thought, and sitting in bed alone and something in me was just like wow. This happens all the time, everyday. Women come home, take off their wigs, make-up, sit in front of a mirror and contemplate. But rarely see this process documented on screen. The idea with everything women do to beautify themselves or appear presentable, particularly Black Women (because we’re not supposed to consider ourselves beautiful unless we have applied some cosmetic form of skin lightener or hair straitening, curl loosening potion) and especially as power players in a high level positions, is that even if the world knows your appearance is a constructed facade based on white standards of beauty, or male standards of power, you never show the world how you put it on or take it down.
When Annalise is shown in this last episode, not only taking off her perfect wig but slowly removing all of her make-up in front of her dresser mirror, there is such a powerful and subtle statement being made. It was no surprise for me to learn that this was actually Davis’ idea. The removal of all her cosmetic arsenal does not disarm an actress like Viola Davis. And I don’t believe it is meant to disarm her character. You don’t even get the sense that she cares about any of it. She’s quite beyond the power of make-up or wigs to define who she knows she is. The scene is electric with the building up of inevitable confrontation with her husband. It addresses a multitude of systemic relational dynamics by engaging the audience with it’s own feelings about what is taking place rather than making Annalise a victim or soul representative of something many Black women fall prey to with regards to the dominant culture’s construction and evaluation of female beauty.
This scene is not primarily about make-up or wigs the removal of them or their application. Shonda just shows you what happens in the households of nearly every adult American woman alive on a daily basis. She leaves it up to you and proceeds on with the development of the story.
What kind of world do I want my unborn daughter to grow up in? It’s a question I’m asking myself more and often lately. And it kind of scares me.
How do young Black girls come to love themselves if they ever do? I know way more about how they come to hate themselves and each other. Though I have never hated my skin color, I myself struggle all the time with the crippling tendency to identify my value with how I look each day, my weight, hair, make-up, clothes. It’s an ongoing process. In my searching and my studying about the power of the human heart and mind, I understand that these things are only transient, fleeting symbols in our lives. But when I’m in the thick of these illusions on a daily basis it’s a real challenge to remember that these images are not who I am at the core. It’s even harder not to always be angry, disappointed, cynical and even a little apathetic to the oppressive nature of racism and the ways in which it subtly and systematically pumps out the message that people who look like me are not as important, valuable, lovely, integral and human as those who identify as white.
And let me be clear. I don’t hate white people. Just by default of the nature of the way I was raised, (home schooled and vegan) I often have a lot more in common with some white people than most blacks until I don’t. But I’m still uncomfortably aware of the way racism and white privilege work to stereotype, demonize, dehumanize and destroy the character of people of color in ways that have not changed since slavery. I am a woman of color and as such I fall into a category which is largely stereotyped, marginalized, brutalized and undervalued to the end goal of mental, emotional economical and political obliteration. It is the evolution of slavery.
This weekend I was hanging out with six lovely ladies at the house of my good friend and academic mentor. We were eating this great chili that her daughter made and chatting about topics like the inhumanity of incarceration and the experiences of mixed race children and how they make their way in the world. Some time later in the evening I started talking about being a home schooled vegan who graduated from a charter high school. Incidentally her daughter also brought up her experience at something called the Afrika School. I asked her what that was and what emerged was this realization the both of us were raised by women who took us to institutions to educate us about African heritage outside of the system of Westernized indoctrination and education which leaves out completely the stories of African Culture pre Slavery time. We were both enrolled in African Dance, Art and drumming classes as well as holistic and alternative practices like meditation, chanting, smudging, vegetarianism, veganism, cleansing, crystal healing, altars prayer and a respect for feminine energy.
But we never talked to our peers about these experiences. And though we never put them down we also never shared them, revered them or boasted about them. That’s another thing we had in common. I think we both agreed that while we didn’t regret it, we also didn’t know how to fit what we had learned from these experiences into the world we existed in where the majority of young black women and men did not receive his kind of tutelage. And when you already feel strange, or odd, or different from people as a young person for whatever reasons, it’s rare that you make the decision to be your “self” not knowing who that is yet or to share stories which would potentially alienate you even further. In High School, fitting in is about being like everybody else. College is about “reinventing” yourself. It’s all a fucking marketing tool.
In any case we exchanged some of the hijinks of these experiences and had a few awkward laughs over them but agreed we were better off having had them rather than not at all and I told her that I would be interested in interviewing her about our shared experiences at some point. I think it’s important to have a space of comfort and pride with which young black women take part in self affirming practices. I feel bad that as a young person I was not more out of the closet about my time at the Shrine of P’Tah learning about Imhotep, the pyramid architect or at the Fanny Lou Hamer institute learning more about Black Educators with a small group of young people whose parents had the same ideas my mom had. I might tell myself I wasn’t embarrassed about these experiences but if I wasn’t why would I choose to keep it to myself?
1. Popular culture aka white identified systems of oppression, never brought it up and young people respond to popular culture even if they live under a rock.
2. I was embarrassed to share things that were not discussed in popular culture.
I do hope that by the time my children get here, this is no longer the case. But in the meantime I have to do what I can to make up for all that I kept to myself by staying connected to those with like-minded ideals for the promotion of spiritual and historical education of young Black hearts and minds. And while I do that I have to confront and dismantle any residual shame or embarrassment that still exists in me over the possibility of not being accepted by popular culture or any majority.