Category Archives: culture

Head Wrap Friday

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Is this what Chimimanda Adichie feels like all the time? Because she exudes confidence, grown woman sexiness and just grace whenever I see her. Only a few days after my Friday head wrap debut and I already know this look is going to be a permanent part of my Summer wardrobe.

First of all!

It feels very sexy in a way I had never guessed before. There is something really feminine and pretty about seeing a woman’s face framed only by a creative and classic up sweep of boldly colored fabric. I might need to incorporate this in other ways at home.

Wink wink*

I have to say, leaving my apartment in a head wrap felt very regular. I almost totally forgot about it until I saw myself in occasional urban reflective surface. And I was happy about that. I wanted it to feel fabu-normal. Yes, I just made that word up. Other than a few sweet compliments, my interactions with co-workers were normal and without incident.

Except for one.

K. is a woman of color who rarely speaks to me, mostly because I rarely have occasion to see her. She works on a different floor and pretty much keeps to herself. But last Friday she came up for some coffee we had out at reception and when she saw my head wrap her face lit up. “I really like it!” she said to me. Without being able to go into too much detail about what I know of her feelings about working where we work as a woman of color, I know that for her, the head wrap was a symbol of resistance and perhaps even liberation and I was so happy that she communicated her genuine admiration and respect to me. That maybe meant more to me than anything because it inspires me want to continue.

We are all famndjamn (strong woman in Hatian Creole) women and one of my deep desires has always been to demonstrate the strength it takes to dress on the outside in a way that reflects how one feels on the inside without shame or self consciousness, to reflect my culture, my pride and the unique twist that makes me who I am, like no one else can. Imagine how amazing we would all feel, if we could do this even just once a week!

I know it’s not something that can happen in all places of work and that dress codes often restrict our ability to wear our cultural or distinctive accoutrement on a regular basis but I would push women, particularly women of color to question exactly what we can get away with wearing in the work place and why or why not in regard to perceptions of respectability, uniformity and cultural stereotypes.

What kind of styles, hairstyles, jewelry, clothing have you wanted to wear at work that made you hesitate because you felt it might be seen as insubordinate, or keep you from getting a promotion or just make people perceive you in a way that caused them to treat you disparagingly?

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Podcast Junkie: Listening VS Looking

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So maybe it’s not the best idea for me to listen to emotionally compelling podcasts during lunch because I tend to get very emotional and weepy when I learn about other people’s breakthroughs, especially when I can so closely relate or am deeply fascinated with the particular phenomena being discussed. But I can’t always tell how a podcast show will affect me and that’s part of why I like the ones I’m discovering so much.

I love taking in information through audio because it allows me to feel in a different way than when I am bombarded by imagery. Now you know I love imagery but podcasts have started to fill just as significant a space in my life as film and television media. This is partially because I can take them anywhere with me, listen to then any time and partially because people communicate differently when their means of communication is intended primarily for audio. I have yet to listen to any fictional podcasts. I just listen to people discussing topics and telling their own stories and I have to say that most of the time it really shifts the way in which I look at life and at people. But I suppose that has as much to do with the podcasts I choose to listen to than anything.

“Girl on Guy” with Aisha Tyler has recently become a fast favorite. I was never sure what to make of Aisha Tyler, a tall, beautiful Black  comedienne, the only Black Cast member “Friends” ever had, the voice of a sexy looking, snarky agent on “Archer.” I think I always thought she was too something to be funny. Too pretty…too feminine? No matter what I think, I tend to have predominantly white and or male expectations of comedy because it is literally over run with the two. And I mean Aisha is not funny looking at all. I mean that literally. Looking at Tracee Ellis Ross when she’s being funny in a still photograph makes me laugh. Tracee has a very unique combination of glam and comic going on. Looking at Aisha Tyler does not incite laughter for me.

But listening to “Guy on Girl” I find that Aisha Tyler is more than just funny. She’s emotionally generous, giving, supportive and sensitive to her fans. Sitting with people for anywhere from 45 minutes to over an hour talking and listening is not something a lot of people commit to on a whim. Although the podcasts I enjoy often have an interview format, the hosts I prefer thrive on letting the discussion meander off topic occasionally and not being restricted to a set of pre-authorized questions.  I  have decided that there is a very special talent involved in it, which requires both a presence of mind (and I can tell when someone is really there, particularly over the phone) and a genuine interest in human story. It’s rare. But when it’s real, it’s real and I find it addictive to listen to.

Yesterday I was scrolling around my podcast app at lunch when I came upon an NPR segment called “Invisibilia,” Latin for “All the invisible things,” a podcast which is described as being about “invisible forces that control human behavior.” This episode, which it turns out was the first in the series is called “The Secret History of Thoughts.” I found the study which was composed of anonymously shared stories to be disturbing, fascinating, heart breaking and hope giving. I can never anticipate what I will discover when I go looking for an interesting podcast but most of the time, it’s pretty amazing, inspiring and empowering for me. But then that is what I look for. So that’s what I find. I was obsessed with Ted Talks in this same way for a while last year. OOOOHH Ted Talks! They made me feel so smart! LOL!! I still love them. With podcasts I just get to use a different part of my being to “see” and engage without the conditioned reflexive pressure of comparison and judgement that often comes with “looking.”

I’m all about that.

Where the Black People Are

Is that a Black person following me on Flickr? No? Oh. Okay. Hey is that a Black woman in a feature on a Mind Body Green article? Oh. no. Hey, is that a Black person following me on IG? Oh cool! I look them up, check out their profile, look at their images, etc.

When I got married in June of this year, a trusted adviser (A woman of color if you haven’t gotten the gist) recommended the magazine New York Weddings to me. When I finally found a copy at Barnes & Noble  I noticed that, like New York Weddings, every single wedding magazine had a white woman on the cover. Flipping through one or two of these magazines didn’t reveal much diversity in ads or feature articles. Wedding dresses are white enough! I needed to see some color and variety in shapes in these dresses. I never bought one single wedding magazine during the months of planning leading up to my wedding.  I just couldn’t. This was too important. And with things that are this important in my life, marriage, art, health and more, I get excited when I see Black and Brown faces representing. And as a Black woman I am always aware of the fact that I have to go looking.

We have to go looking.

With dolls, we have to looking, with hair products we have to go looking, with children’s books we have to go looking, with photography we have to go looking. Quick! Name a famous living Black Photographer! No, not Gordon Parks! I said living. I said famous. Not too easy is it? Is it because they don’t exist?

Carrie Mae Weems exists. I don’t mean to be condescending. I know you all knew that.

Right?

Getting back to my point. When I was getting married I found a site and Web Magazine called Munaluchi Bridal Magazine, the only one I’ve found so far which featured Brides of color in all phases of nuptial and post nuptial planning from engagement photos to wedding ceremonies to mommy to be images. And that was one of my most primary references for ideas about my own wedding. I was so happy too see Brides of color in my IG feed every week and not just the standard stick thin models but actual real women of color with real bodies getting married all over the country and sometimes the world! There is where I stayed.

About  a year ago, Life as I Know It told me about a nail shop in my neighborhood in Harlem called Bed of Nails. B.O.N. is owned and run by a young Black woman who hires Black nail technicians. I had my own reservations about going there for the first time, the kind anyone would have about a brand new place of business. Would they know what they were doing? What would the ambiance be like? Would they be nice? I made my appointment, showed up one afternoon and the minute I walked in I was greeted by a sister who took my coat and offered me a choice of tea or a mimosa.

HUH? YES PLEASE!

Exposed Brick on one side and a wall of designer nail polish from Christian Louboutin to Deborah Lippmann on the other. Six velvety Black high back chairs set up in the back for pedicures have a very inviting and royal  to them. A large purple sofa in the waiting area with natural light streaming in from the window behind you. It’s a very warm atmosphere, not just because of the layout and design of the place but the treatment, professionalism and yet laid back casualness of it all. No one is rushing you in and out. They want to be there and they want you to be there as well. Plus they play the best mix of hip-hop/R&B up at the front desk while you’re getting your nails or feet done. It’s so relaxing. And there I stay. I never go anywhere else to get my nails done. This is the experience I want. If there was a Black owned, Black run Bed of Nails chain in Midtown Manhattan I would go there.

The reason I bring this whole subject up is that there are certain white people who like to pull the Racist card whenever Black people manage to organize or build anything of their own or patronize Black owned businesses exclusively that cater to the people in their community. Listen. If I didn’t have to go looking so hard for representation of Blacks in the areas of life that are most important for me in the first place, this wouldn’t even be an issue. It’s not my fault that dominant culture has tipped the scales in it’s favor for so long that any logical attempt towards filling the needs which are not met by this culture will be interpreted as “Reverse Racism,” a term whose definition I will not even dignify with a discussion because it is a fiction.

The idea that you get to fuck with descendants of African people for this long, tell them to get over it so that you can absorb them in a culture that is defined and built on a foundation of theft, genocide, appropriation, assimilation, and gentrification of native and indigenous spaces is what’s really sick and racist.

If I decide I want to go away to an island where only Black and Brown people exist (and sometimes I really do), I damn well have every right to. After all, White people do this all the time.

It’s called a vacation.

What place freedom?

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?

Two reasons.

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.