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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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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Freedom: The Fight isn’t Over

I have been avoiding writing about this topic ever since November 9th. But in a few days, our nightmarish fate will be sealed. People say not to have a defeatist attitude but it’s hard not to.

After the election results surfaced I was devastated, as many of us were. I couldn’t express my feelings in full sentences but the one word that did come to mind was, “Angry.” I tried so hard to make some sense of what had happened by writing. All I could think of to write were these words, “An open wound, salt, never been more woke, beaten and beaten, we are being tested.” I couldn’t get any farther than that incoherent string of words. As I bring my mind back to that day and weed through the foliage of my thoughts, I think this is what I was trying to say:

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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

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