My Holiday Wishlist – Gifts Under $100

As adults, the holidays are more about spending time with family, friends, and loved ones than receiving gifts. In fact, in my family, we do a Secret Santa gift-exchange so that the focus isn’t on fighting through the massive crowds at the mall and stressing out, trying to find the perfect present for each and every family member. So, because of this, I usually don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I want for the holidays.

But this year, I decided to go old-school, if even just for myself, and make a holiday wishlist just like when I was a kid. All but one item is under $100 and there’s a good mix of practical and fun stuff too. So if you’re still stuck trying to find the perfect gift for your impossible-to-buy-for loved one or if you’re looking for a holiday gift for yourself, check out my list!

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“Chill out, it was Just a Joke.” – Is America Getting too Sensitive?

 

I get so annoyed when people complain that America is “getting too sensitive”. What does that even mean? Is it wrong to respect humanity so much that we get upset if anyone commits mental and emotional violence on others with their words and actions? Is it wrong to be concerned that negative ideologies, beliefs, and stereotypes are being reinforced by the media or people who simply like to hear themselves talk?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fun and “ratchet” music and TV or a (thoughtful) satire or a sarcastic joke as much as the next person but sometimes humor and entertainment value are used as excuses to continue to cast a blind eye on how marginalized groups are treated and viewed in this country. Sadly, the unwillingness to learn about others takes precedence over understanding others’ experiences in order to simply treat people better. And it doesn’t stop at entertainment and social media. There are many offensive things that take place in our everyday lives that have been so accepted that it is hard to convince people of their harmful nature. Things like work and school micro-aggressions, exclusionary practices, and cultural and ethnic erasure and homogenization are just a few ways we have ingrained ignorance into our existence.

 

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Black TV: “Unrealistic” Black Excellence vs. The “Relatable” Stereotype (Part II – The Black Woman)

Just like the Black family, Black women have had a similar struggle to be represented positively and accurately on TV. It’s important that Black women are not only given more roles but that these roles are accurate and positive, thereby making them for us, not just about us.

But throughout the years, it has seemed like too much to ask to see TV shows that were both about Black women and also made for Black women. Black women have been awkwardly inserted into TV shows as the token on mostly white shows or as incidental characters on shows with Black ensemble casts (e.g. if the star of the show is a Black man, he will most likely have to have a Black girlfriend, wife, mother, etc.) These characters don’t always necessarily speak to our real experiences as Black women and that is usually not the purpose that they were created for.

I believe that for these shows and characters to be not only about us as Black women, but for us, the shows must be created by Black women, or at least feature our writing or direction so that we can have more control over how we are portrayed. Then we can create characters that exemplify attainable #BlackGirlMagic as well as the relatable girl-next-door persona. We don’t need any more characters who represent the gamut of negative stereotypes; from being fetishized to being the best friend with no love life to being the angry Black woman. In addition, it’s important to note that depending on the era, the face of the Black woman and how we want to be portrayed on television changes.

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#MillennialGirlMagic

As far as I’m concerned, people in my generation are the only true millennials. I mean, I graduated from high school in the year 2000, the beginning of the new millennium (by popular opinion, if not the actual beginning). They said that those in my class represented the future. It was an honor, yes, but it also came with very high expectations. Apparently, now there are two decades of people, most of whom are younger than us, who have been dubbed millennials and for whatever their reasons, older generations look down on millennials as a whole today. I guess things have changed.

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My Feminine Experience

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My Feminine Experience, for She Cult

My feminine experience is characterized by my pride in being a woman. As a woman I can express myself and my femininity however I want, no matter what anyone else thinks. I express my femininity in little things like changing my hairstyle at random and trying to enhance my novice make-up skills. I express my femininity in the broader sense by being multi-dimensional and representing brown, queer, womanhood.

I represent the fight and the struggle and the magic and the glory that is being a woman. My mother, my grandmother, and even my little sister taught me how these important ingredients work together to make women so unique and powerful. Feminine of center people all share these characteristics because presenting as feminine has always been seen as a weakness and we have always had to defy the odds – both actual and presumed. I take pride in defying the stereotype of being unable to withstand or survive. When I am loud, when I am opinionated, and when I am a fighter I am proudly embracing my femininity. When I cry, when I am quiet, and when I am vulnerable I am proudly embracing my femininity. I proudly embrace my femininity while I am actively taking a stand against gender norms because I know that gender is a spectrum and therefore so is femininity. Anyone who falls anywhere on the panorama of the feminine identity should be respected for who they are and not judged on who they are assumed to be.

My queer feminine identity is what some people would call a “femme” identity. I do present physically as a femme but I reject the stereotypes that come with it. Being petite and an introvert, I have always had to surprise people with myself. My identity has been no different. Having once identified as bisexual, I’ve had to reject all the categorizations that coincide with sexual orientation too. I’ve been stuffed into the boxes of passive, delicate, confused, and unsure of myself when, in fact, I have always known who I am. I just never knew the person others thought I was. And although I tried to get to know this person, she has remained a stranger to me. I only know the woman who appreciates women and all things feminine; the softness, the strength, the beauty, and the courage – the things I see in myself and the things I love in others.

I may like to dress up, cover my eyes at the scary parts of movies, and am pretty bad at most sports but I am not afraid to work hard or get dirty, I am more than capable of standing up for myself, fighting for what’s right, and having fortitude in the face of adversity. Every day I become more and more comfortable with having the unpopular opinion, the unexpected identity, and standing on my own two feet when people tell me I am not who I know that I am. I may be reserved and quiet at first glance but I know what I want and I am not afraid to say it. I am 100% feminine and, despite popular opinion, this femininity is evidence that I am capable to withstand anything the world throws my way because without this capacity, people like me with a feminine experience wouldn’t even exist. Our survival is what makes us unique and also what gives us our infinite power. I am proud that as a brown, queer, feminine woman, I have inherited and earned this strength and can share my unique experience with others of the femme persuasion.

This essay was written for She Cult’s Fall 2016 E-zine. She Cult is a collective for feminine-of-center queer people based out of Emerson College.

 

Carol's Daughter

OMG, I’m Gay!

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When did you realize you were gay? That’s the question that many people who identify as queer have probably heard at least once in their lives. It’s an odd question because no one asks straight people when they realized they were straight. Nonetheless, many of us rack our brains trying to figure out the exact moment that we realized that we were attracted to the same sex. For some people it’s easy. For others, not so much. For everyone, it is a crucial tidbit of information because without this informational badge of honor, can you really consider yourself gay? People, gay and straight, are just now getting the memo that sexuality and gender are both on a spectrum and can change for each individual person throughout their lives, although it may not necessarily. Until this idea really hits home though, many of us queer people struggle to pinpoint exactly when the “gay revelation” happened to us.

To try to figure out when you knew you were gay is to assume there was a time that you didn’t know you were gay. But how can that be when people are born gay and there are some people who say that they knew they were gay from the day they were born? The reason is that this knowledge is subjective and extremely susceptible to societal norms. For example, if we don’t grow up with a context for being gay or, what’s worse, we don’t have an accurate representation of what makes a person queer, then coming to a place of realization can seem tricky. Continue reading

The F!@#$%&* Word

7d3dae0986567e077ab4d6679d2acc33At first, I was only going to write about what feminism means to me because after all, everyone these days seems to be a feminist and yet so many people have different interpretations of feminism. But recently, I have noticed that people are still struggling to grasp what feminism is at its most basic definition. There is still a significant stigma behind the word and there are many people going around explaining (and mansplaining) what they believe that it is.

I don’t have an issue with most of the varied interpretations of what feminism means to people who identify as feminists because it is usually related to how each person practices or displays their feminist views in their own lives. But I do have a huge problem when people who aren’t feminists decide that they know exactly what feminism is when, in fact, they don’t. I have heard the usual – ‘feminists are women who hate men’ and ‘feminists are lesbians.’ Sadly, I’ve heard these definitions from just as many women as I have men.

But the other day I found out that some men are in the practice of swiping left when a woman’s profile reads, “feminist.” While I’m sure the women are better off without a date with these men, it was still puzzling to me. But my confusion turned to disgust when I learned some of the reasons why a woman identifying herself as a feminist would be a turn-off for some men. But, to protect the innocent, I won’t even get into those reasons. Just know that they are gross.

For all of those who don’t know, feminism is the belief that women and men should have equal rights. That’s it. It isn’t a hard concept. I guess it’s difficult for people to understand in the same way some people will never get that #BlackLivesMatter means that Black lives are just as important as White, Yellow, Purple, Brown and even *gasp* Blue lives, so we should start acting like it. More and more every day I wish that some people would just pick up a book and read it.

Anyway, I like to believe that I was a feminist before it was the thing for “strong, independent” women (and men who were ‘down for the cause’) to be. Even though some people still think of unshaven underarms and bra-burning when they hear the word feminist, today you hear one celebrity after another claiming to be a feminist. I’m not hating on that at all, I’m just saying it has become a bit of a fad, complete with its own key phrases – “lean in”, the “shine theory”, and even “pop feminism” (think Taylor Swift).

I’ve always had kind of off-center ideas about what a woman should be expected to do and how women should be expected to act. But before I knew exactly what the word feminist actually meant, I just figured I was thinking as if I was a man, which just goes to show that I was still being constrained by traditional, stereotypical gender roles, despite my liberal ideas. It wasn’t until two of my male friends called me a feminist that I began to look more into feminist theory. Sure, one was playfully mocking me, but the sound of the word in reference to me sounded very fitting.

Today, I know that feminism is the belief that women should have the same opportunities and rights that men have. But to me, more specifically, feminism is also the belief that women should have the freedom to be the kind of people they want to be, just as men are able to do so without question. Our personalities and our dreams shouldn’t be stifled or drowned out by what society expects from us solely based on the fact that we are women. Continue reading

Mickalene Thomas: Layers of Black Womanhood through an Artist’s Eyes

 

La leçon d’amour, 2008

La leçon d’amour, 2008

I first came across Mickalene Thomas’ work on – where else? Pinterest. Because I’m obsessed. Anyway, besides her work being gorgeous and the fact that it focuses on black female identity and sexuality, I was drawn to find out more about her when I discovered that not only is she an openly gay black artist, but she is also from Camden, NJ, where I was born. To top it off, she is now based out of Brooklyn, NY, just as I am.

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Solange – True (limited edition EP art)

Thomas’ work is a cross between that of Romare Bearden, Henri Matisse’s fauvism, and pop art. She often uses mixed-media, a technique in which she incorporates acrylic paint along with glitter, rhinestones, and other materials. She also utilizes photography and multi-textured collages filled with patterns and bright colors. On her use of patterns, Thomas says in a 2011 interview with PMC Mag that, “Pattern has been an important part of my work for a very long time–I use it to create rhythm and dissonance in the work as well as to reference an array of influences and sources.”

Thomas also creates amazing installations, which are works of three-dimensional creation, often used to transform a space into a representation of a certain concept or theme. Below is Thomas’ “Better Days” installation, which depicts a childhood memory of when her mother hosted parties and other events to raise money to fight causes that affect the Black community.

Mickalene Thomas’s “Better Days” installation

“Better Days” Installation, 2013

Remarkably, Thomas introduces the Black woman into classical art in a beautiful and poignant way. This is especially apparent in her 2012 exhibition, “The Origin of the Universe,” where, as Huffington Post puts it, she “…trad[es] in Romantic renditions of milky skin and auburn curls for glamorous black women, their nude forms replaced with bold, printed ensembles, playful wigs, and electric makeup…Thomas does far more than insert black women into an artistic narrative from which they were, for so long, excluded.” With each new exhibit, Thomas challenges societal norms of beauty and forces the viewer to come face to face with how she perceives it.

Even as her work evolves, Thomas continues to put the Black woman at the forefront as she does with the many-layered tapestries and landscapes that surround them. She is able to achieve the fine balance between a Black woman’s sexuality, strength, and femininity and by doing so she allows her work to exude a certain truth and sincerity that is often lacking in the one-dimensional portrayal of the Black woman.

In a 2016 Women in the World, New York Times interview, when asked how her work is affected by how the black woman’s experience is often erased in the feminist dialogue, Thomas says, “By selecting women of color [as my subjects], I am quite literally raising their visibility and inserting their presence into the conversation. I like to think of the portraits as mirrors… We are not validated until we see ourselves, and the mirror is a tangible object that works as an evidence to external appearance. Not only are we present, we demand that we be seen, be heard, and be acknowledged.”

In an Interview Magazine feature, Thomas specifically speaks about the importance of representing the Black woman when it comes to ideals of beauty. She says, “Out of necessity, black women have always had to consider others’ perceptions of a certain beauty ideal, just starting with the skin color.” This is where her art comes in; it not only validates the Black woman’s existence, it seeks to educate the rest of the world on just how beautiful and precious a Black woman’s skin, hair, and body are and that these are not to be devalued by any outsider who may not understand their worth.

I Thought You Said You Were Leaving, 2006

I Thought You Said You Were Leaving, 2006

In total recognition of her intersectionality, Thomas’ art also conveys powerful messages about the female body and women’s sexuality. Thomas’ “Origin of the Universe” is an invocation of Gustave Courbet’s “Origin of the World” (1866), where Courbet painted a headless torso of a woman with her legs spread, leaving everything for full view. With her rendition, Thomas strips the power away from such a male-centered, controversial work and turns it into something much more empowering. She uses herself as the model, spread legs and all, and in her signature style, she incorporates glitter into the portrait. Thomas makes it her own in such a way that seems to exclaim, ‘It is my body and I will allow you to view it when and how I please!’

Thomas is also adept at seamlessly featuring intimacy between Black women in her artwork. Another piece in her exhibition, “Origin of the Universe”,  called “Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires” (also an invocation of Courbet’s work), depicts two Black women with limbs intertwined, taking a nap in the midst of a garden full of disjointed colors and shapes.

Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires, 2012

Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires, 2012

Keeping in theme with intimacy between Black women, Thomas is known for using subjects that she has good relationships with, both working and personal. Her most recent work, “Muse”, is based on a book of the same name and is dedicated to her photography of many of the women she works with. The exhibit and book feature several of Thomas’ personal friends and acquaintances with whom she became closer with as she continued to use them as subjects in her pieces. Continue reading

Cultural Appropriation: What it is, What it is Not, and Why it Matters

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When I first had the idea to start this blog I knew that one of my focuses would be topics that affected me as a member of the Black community in America, among other things, and at the same time balance it with not-so-heavy topics because everyone deserves to smile every once in awhile, despite all the injustices and annoyances in the world. 

So here goes, my very first serious topic, cultural appropriation. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. This is such a loaded topic so we will start by breaking it down. I think we can agree that culture is a culmination of the characteristics and practices of a particular social or ethnic group and that to appropriate means to take for oneself, often without permission. Simply put, cultural appropriation is the theft of what makes a community of people unique.

In my experience, this term has most often been used to describe what mainstream-White society has done to minority or other cultures, such as Native-Americans and Black/African-Americans. We all know that White society stripped both of these communities of their cultures from their very first encounters with them hundreds of years ago. These cultures were not just erased, but many parts were stolen as well. But the usual question for people who just don’t get cultural appropriation is, “How is it happening today?”

In a bit, I’m going to use the example that irks me the most: hair. I have seen so many arguments about how a hairstyle is or is not cultural appropriation that it is clear that mainstream-White society and even minority community members oftentimes completely miss the point. Let me break it down.

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Social Media (& Black Twitter) – The Gift & The Curse

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As a new blogger (I know I’m super late to the game) I have been realizing that I have to step up my social media skills. Not to say that I don’t usually do social media, because I do. I just miss the days of Facebook, for example, where not everyone and their mom could sign up and it wasn’t such a free for all. Mind you, I’m not one to be elitist about things, especially not something like Facebook but I enjoyed it a lot more when friends were actually friends.

Nowadays, even if you do actually know your Facebook friends in real life, some of these “so called” friends might not be so friendly. We all know of people who use Facebook as a platform to spew their ignorant, often hateful or just plain old judgmental speech. It gets so bad that we end up having to un-friend these people. As a writer, I’m all about free speech but it’s come to a point where I dread having to log on to Facebook, a network that I used to use to keep in touch with friends and family and share with them the current statuses of my life. If I wanted to hear ignorant, hateful speech, I would turn on Fox News and if I wanted to argue with people, I would join a debate Meetup, or better yet, call one of my exes. I wish I could permanently log off of Facebook but alas, it is connected to pretty much every app I use and as intrusive as this may be, it’s pretty damn convenient for log in purposes.

And then there’s these new-ish social media platforms like Snap Chat. Don’t get me started on that one. It looks so fun when other people use it, but for the life of me I can’t figure it out. I’m more of an Instagram person. As much as I love words, there’s nothing like a simple yet beautiful or funny picture and a cute caption to go with it – not that I am in any way an expert on captions. I’m more of a “Happy Friday!” captioner.

Anyway, the one social network that I still don’t entirely get but am determined to add to my very small social network repertoire is Twitter. It can be a great way to spread the word about everything from a blog, a movie, or even breaking news. So I was all for it, ready to start tweeting, sharing links and pics, re-tweeting and mentioning. But after following a few of my favorite personalities, bloggers and podcasters, and seeing the hell they get from not only trolls but *gasp* Black Twitter, I began feeling a little intimidated.

Trolls are awful and can’t be helped, I suppose, but Black Twitter is actually something that I used to imagine that I could be a part of, until recently. I will say Black Twitter is very in tune with what is going on in the Twitter-verse (or is it Twitter-sphere?) but they are also always ready to pounce, sometimes without the proper information. It doesn’t help that there probably is no vetting process to becoming a member. I’m pretty sure you just have to identify as Black, have an active Twitter account, and use whatever clever hashtag all the other members are using. I’ve never been one to back down from a good argument but like I said above about Facebook, who wants to be involved in unnecessary Twitter beefs? I just want to promote my blog and put my words out into the universe, not be a part of any drama.

But, at the end of the day, I have decided to forge ahead with my entry on to Twitter because I have to admit that Black Twitter does attack those who definitely need to be attacked, not just the undeserving, and Black Twitter is funny as hell and consistently provides me with laughs.

Here are some examples of Black Twitter moments and hashtags that I’ve enjoyed and also some not so great Black Twitter attacks:

1. I love when Black Twitter gets political: The hashtag #WhichHillary #WhichHillary Trends on Twitter after BLM activist interrupts Clinton fundraiser (Note: this hashtag was used by many on Twitter not just Black Twitter, but it was started by a Black Lives Matter activist and member of Black Twitter)

2. And when it fights for Black feminism and social justice: See New York Times Dubs Shonda Rhimes and Characters the “Angry Black Woman,” Black Twitter Attacks; and the hashtag #LessClassicallyBeautiful #LessClassicallyBeautiful Takes Over Twitter Challenging NYT’s Review of Viola Davis and White Beauty Standards; and the hashtag #SayHerName Twitter Expresses Outrage Over Sandra Bland With #SayHerName and 32 #SayHerName Tweets That Spotlight The Police Brutality Black Women Face, Too

3. I especially love when Black Twitter is just plain old hilarious: People Are Doing #TrapCovers Of Pop Songs And It’s Incredible, #WhitePeopleInvitedToTheCookout Is The Best Thing To Happen To The Internet, Once You See A Little Bit Of #BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat You Just Can’t Stop, and Black Twitter Nailed What It Was Like #GrowingUpBlack

4. But we can’t forget when Black Twitter is simultaneously thoughtful while making jokes, a skill in and of itself: The hashtag #CNNBeLike BLACK TWITTER REACTS TO RACIST REPORTING OF OTIS BYRD WITH #CNNBELIKE and the hashtag #AllLionsMatter #AllLionsMatter Parodies the Fact That People Are More Outraged Over Cecil the Dead Lion Than Slain Black People

5. Unfortunately, a thoughtful and funny response can sometimes go wrong: The hashtag #RealBlackPeopleQuestions hashtag was great Black Twitter asks #RealBlackPeopleQuestions after this Buzzfeed Video fail, but then Black Twitter attacked Black Buzzfeed writers who had nothing to do with the video Why Buzzfeed’s Latest Video “Questions Black People Have for Black People” is Out of Pocket

6. And sometimes attacks can be divided, and in some cases both sides can be totally off base – even if only in the delivery of the message: Black women attacked Ayesha Curry and then, surprise surprise, Black men attacked black women for not being more like Ayesha Curry after a Tweet she posted, see Ayesha Curry Ruffled A Few Feathers On Twitter With Commentary On How Women Dress

What I’ve learned about this social media world is just like with so many other things, I’m going to have to take the good with the bad, and most importantly, enjoy the laughs along the way. Oh yeah and I will have to avoid the dreaded #hoteptwitter and Hotep Facebook at all costs. Those who don’t know what that is, consider yourself lucky. Just know that if they dare come for me, I’ll be ready – maybe even with my own Femme-inist Black Twitter posse.