The Top 10 Books on My Christmas Wish List

 

As I have said before, I used to be an avid reader growing up. Even now, I absolutely love reading. But, as I got older I’ve had less and less time to read. Or maybe I just wasn’t making the time. Either way, adulting definitely distracted me from my favorite hobby. Thankfully, I have started to get back into it.

Here’s a list of books that I have on my Christmas wish list. Some of them I have been hearing great buzz about lately and others are books I have known about the past few years but I haven’t gotten around to reading them. This holiday season, I hope to get all of the books on this list, and more!

1.

Another Brooklyn, By Jacquline Woodson

This book speaks to me because I remember when I was younger there were so many coming-of-age stories for white children and not many for young women of color. So when I did come across any, I would be so excited to read them. Another Brooklyn is about a woman reflecting back on her experience as a young Black girl growing up in Brooklyn during the 70’s. This seems like the perfect adult coming-of-age story and I can’t wait to read it. 

2.

Purple Hibiscus, By Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

This is the debut novel by acclaimed author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, so I’m a bit late. But better late than never. I knew this book had to be on my list because I really enjoyed reading Adiche’s other work and the story, about a young Nigerian woman’s internal struggle for autonomy from her family, was something I think many people can relate to. 

3.

Underground Railroad, By Colson Whitehead

I read a lot of historical fiction when I was younger but, as an adult, I haven’t found any that sparked my interest. What struck me about this book was that not only is it set in pre-civil war America, but Colson added his own spin – the underground railroad is an actual railroad and not just a metaphor. It tells the story of a courageous young woman who escapes slavery via the railroad and all of the adventures that come with that voyage. I’m sure this book will be just as heartbreaking as it is exciting but I’m looking forward to the entire experience. 

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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. Read More

Fall is Here, So What to Wear?

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As New York Fashion Week 2016 (showing Spring Summer 2017) comes to a close, I’m reminded that a new season for fashion is here. Though it may still be nice out, you can feel the crisp Fall bite in the air. Time to break out the boots and layers,  but don’t put away the summer dresses and tees just yet.

When I was a teenager I used to live for the extra thick back-to-school fashion issues of all my favorite magazines that came in August, in preparation for September. Now, as an adult, it’s no longer back-to-school shopping time for me, but Fall fashion is no less exciting and I still pore through magazines – and blogs, Instagram, and Pinterest, of course – looking for what pieces to add to my wardrobe for the upcoming season.

All the top fashion and lifestyle magazines, and their corresponding social media, never fail to deliver the latest trend forecasts and the masses happily follow them – sometimes without even realizing it. The only thing is, many times the examples of these trends are just a bit out of the average person’s price range since many of the looks are ripped from the runway and haven’t trickled down to mainstream retail yet.

So I decided to put together my own Fall Fashion Trend list, complete with shopping options for any budget. This list is largely based on looks that were displayed in some of the most popular designers’ Fall Winter 2016 collections, as well as all the fashion content I could get my hands on this month. Enjoy!

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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. Read More

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. Read More

Summer Fashion: Where did the time go?

 

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If you’re anything like me, you don’t have nearly as much fun getting dressed for a regular work day as you do for the weekend or even an after-work outing. I know work clothes can be fun too, but since I’d rather spend my money on trendy or chill clothes, my work attire can be described as, at best, cute business casual. In other words, boring. Work fashion doesn’t excite me as much as everyday fashion does, especially street style, although I may not be brave enough yet to don some of the cool outfits I see and love.

But having to dress for my 9 to 5 for 5 out of 7 days in the week leaves me with the dilemma of not having enough time to experiment with new looks. Now, I’m no fashionista, but I do dabble and at least know what the trends are, even if I don’t wear them every day. In the beginning of each new season, I usually make a list of key pieces I want to get and go on Pinterest and Instagram for looks I want to try. But this summer is going by super fast! So what’s girl to do when it seems there aren’t enough days in the summer for fun, warm weather fashion?

I decided to post some of my favorite looks on here and challenge myself to execute all of them by the end of the season. Challenge accepted.

Here are the particulars:

Blue and White Porcelain Matching Set @ Cupshe

As seems to be the case every season lately, prints are in this summer. In addition, so are matching separates. With this outfit, you get two for one. I love the fringe-y sandals too. Thankfully, I have a pair already!

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More prints; this time, a little bit of mix and match. My favorite part of these looks are the use of the pineapple, which also seems to be big this summer, and the tropical plants in the bold prints. As usual, the Quann sisters are killing it.

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America, Police Your Racism

Police Brutality Protest in Union Square

In just two days, two black men were gunned down by police officers without justification. One, Alton Sterling, was pinned down by the police who were restraining him. He was immobile and his hands were nowhere near his pockets, yet the officers shot him multiple times, killing him. The other, Philando Castile, who had a license to carry a gun, told the officer who had pulled him over for a supposedly broken tail light that he had his legal gun in his vehicle. Despite him having done nothing wrong, the police shot and killed him in front of his fiancé and young daughter who were in the car with him. These stories are becoming entirely too familiar.

What disturbs me the most about the continuous police brutality that black people in this country face today is not only that it is still happening, with little or no consequences to the perpetrators and endless demonizing of the victims, but that not everyone in this country, where we all claim to value freedom above all else, sees these killings as a problem that must be solved. There are people who would rather point out that there is violence all over the world and that, according to them, there is so much black on black crime that more black people dying shouldn’t matter so much. Violence in any country is horrendous, but who are we as Americans to use that as an excuse to ignore the atrocities that happen every day on our soil? So much for patriotism.

As for black on black crime, of course that is upsetting but it is horrible in the same way as people on people crime is. When people of any color are involved in violent crimes it is deplorable but there is a specific difference. With racially motivated violence, there is an added layer of trauma. It is not just the tragedy that violence causes that is of concern, but it is also the hatred that spurns such violence and the fear that creeps into the back of every Black-American’s mind that they could be next. This violence is even more sinister when it is at the hands of those who vow to serve and protect us but yet in the name of their blue badges, they gun down men, women and children simply because they are black. How is this not a problem that we all care about and all want to change?

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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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In a World Beyond My Cubicle

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First off, I never would have imaged that two degrees and 30 plus years living my life I would be working from a cubicle. But that is another story, for another day. For now, let’s just chalk it up to me living in one of the most crowded cities in the world where there’s not much real estate in most buildings for even managers to have their own offices, let alone “lowly” contract workers like myself.

Anyway, the other day I was looking up at the ceiling, above my cubicle walls, and I remembered being a small child, laying on the top bunk of my and my sister’s bunk beds. I would stare at the ceiling in the dark and imagine a make believe world, all the characters that lived inside and, most importantly, their stories.

I’m not sure whether it was a way for me to escape – only God knows what I thought I was escaping from – or just that I had a crazy-active imagination. Whatever the reason, I have always made stories and I have always been very “in my head”, thinking about things and trying to figure out why they are the way that they are. It is why as a child I wanted to become a writer and as an adolescent I wanted to study psychology. My sense of justice took me in a slightly different direction, namely, law school. But I have slowly found my way back.

Words are powerful. They can be persuasive, they can cause confusion, they can create joy where there otherwise would be none, and they can demand retribution. Throughout my life words have taken me places. My words have gained me acceptance into spaces I may not have been allowed to enter and they have caused rifts in my interpersonal relationships. My lack of words when I’ve felt especially introspective has brought me to face significant changes in my life; changes that were a catalyst to me struggling to find the right words to decipher what was really going on. Those are the times that writing helped me to find these words and eventually find myself.

Whether I am thinking them, screaming them or writing them down, words have always been there for me. As I go through yet another change in my life, I have come to realize that words are my saving grace and hopefully this blog is the spring to action that I needed to create my own story. There was a reason that that little girl had so many words and ideas floating around in her head. Now, I have the opportunity to turn them outward and as I do I will continue to discover the world around me and my purpose in it.