Melanin Poppin’ – Afropunk Brooklyn 2017 with My Girls

For those of you who don’t know what Afropunk is, in just a few words, it’s a two-day alternative music festival that incorporates fashion, art, food, activism and other creative expressions of blackness. It originated in Brooklyn but now has festivals in Paris, London, Atlanta and Johannesburg, South Africa. Afropunk is a huge event that is a convergence of many different interests, but for me, the dress-up aspect is the most exciting part. Just do a Google search for “Afropunk fashion” or “Afropunk street style” to see what I mean. Or better yet, continue reading!

Last year was my first time going to Afropunk, although I had been wanting to go for several years. When I finally made it there, I ended up having so much fun and decided that I would definitely go again next year. This year rolled around and I was able to get my ticket early, thank goodness because the prices go up as it gets closer to the date. This is an issue for some since prior to 2015, the concert was free of charge. But one thing to note, whether you consider it a good or bad thing, once it stopped being free, the acts moved closer and closer to being mainstream. The concert still features alternative acts, but I think one difference is that Black alternative music is becoming more popular, as I mentioned in my post, “Is Alt-R&B a Thing? (What I’m Listening to These Days & a Review of Ravyn Lenae).”

Anyway, I was super excited about this year’s show, which would have, among other acts, a Saint Heron Stage that included performers curated by Solange herself. So I got a group of 6 of my closest friends and family together to go with me. We were going to have a mini girls trip! I even created a What’s App group chat for us to plan. For weeks, the seven of us chatted and laughed about what outfits and hairstyles we would be rocking for the big event. We sent each other Pinterest pictures for inspiration and thought of DIY ideas for accessories and anything else we could think of.

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Is Alt-R&B a Thing? (What I’m Listening to These Days & a Review of Ravyn Lenae)

One thing you should know about me is that I like listening to a variety of music depending on my mood – from 90’s-00’s R&B, to Indie-Pop, to Trap Hip-Hop. So I’ve been wanting to write a music blog post for awhile now. One of my favorite genres to listen to these days is what music know-it-alls are calling Alt-R&B, despite whether the artists themselves want to be labeled as such. Pretty much if the artist sings, their production has Hip-hop or R&B influences, and they aren’t mainstream, then they’ll probably be considered Alt-R&B. I feel like it should be deeper than that but that’s pretty much the trend I’ve noticed. Sometimes, these artists are characterized as Neo-Soul but, although I love the Neo-Soul of the early 2000’s, I don’t 100% agree with that characterization of the music today. I’ve even heard Electronic Soul or Future Soul as labels. I’m not sure about those either.

Anyway, some of the non-mainstream-R&B artists I’m listening to now are Sampha, FKA Twigs, Banks, Hiatus Kaiyote, The Internet (and Syd), Little Dragon, Kelela, Abra, Kilo Kish, Nao, and Xavier Omar (fka SPZRKT) – just to name a few. And I haven’t even gotten to the producers and DJ’s like Sango and Kaytrynada. These singers do vary from more of a jazz-funk sound to more electro pop and sometimes right there in the R&B lane. But what is most important to me is not the label, it’s that it’s not the stuff you hear on the radio (no shade) and it always gives me good vibes. To get an idea of the sound, think of the songs and artists you would hear in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, on the Insecure or Atlanta soundtracks, or at AfroPunk.

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You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: The Urban Novel

 

Something that I have been wanting to write about for awhile is the plight of the urban novel. I love a good urban romance or street lit book, but there are so many nowadays that it’s a challenge to find ones that are written up to a certain standard. Even so, there’s the common misconception that poorly written hood fiction is a direct result of the skill level of the authors who write them, but this isn’t necessarily true.

Urban novels often get a bad rap, not only because of their “hood” content but because some of them are not written well. As I have been toying with the idea of self-publishing my own books, I’ve realized that much of this has nothing to do with whether an urban novelist is less capable of forming a grammatically correct sentence than a mainstream fiction writer. Instead, it has very much to do with the self-publishing process or, in the alternative, with underfunded publishing companies who sometimes can’t afford to hire a good editor.

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A Little More About Me: My Journey as a Writer this Past Year

I wanted to take some time out to write a little bit about what my goals for this blog and my personal goals are and my journey to get there. My vision is to create a brand for the multi-dimensional femme identified person that represents lifestyle interests and social justice as two things that are not mutually exclusive. More specifically, I want to create a blog that discusses art, fashion, pop culture, and socio-political issues from the perspective of a feminist, queer, woman of color. However, as I continue to build this brand, I’m not sure that I always make those things clear. It’s a work in progress. Now that I am writing full-time (at least for now), I have more of an opportunity to delve further into this adventure.

As those of you who have been reading this blog from the start know, it all began with me trying to figure out how to incorporate my desire to write into my life as more than just a hobby. Secondly, I wanted to figure out a way to return to my passion for social justice since my legal career unexpectedly took me in the opposite direction over the years. Neither writing or fighting for social justice are easy goals or things that would necessarily earn me a living, but last year, I decided that I was ready for the challenge. So, I started this blog,  began freelance writing, and have been learning so many things along the way.

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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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The Top 10 Books on My Holiday 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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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

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.

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.