Posts tagged ‘Women of Color’

“Topless Black Girls” & other keywords that lead to my blog

I am currently taking part in Rosetta Thurman’s 31 Days to a Brand New Blog Challenge! I’m really excited about it because I have been wanting to take my blog to another level, especially with my new life here in Los Angeles and beyond as I start my grad school applications. I wanted to do more with the blog, and I though the Challenge was a good place to start.

For the Day 1 challenge, we were asked to take a look at our blog stats and analyze the stats. There were a few things in my stats that were surprising–for instance, it’s interesting that my “meet elledub” page is still very popular. Didn’t know that many people wanted to know more about the girl behind the blog!

But what was more intriguing to me were the keyword terms that were most used to find my blog. There were a few repetitive ones with obvious explanations (“black girl” “black girl blog” “essence fashion and beauty editor” “for colored girls”); some terms came up because of things I’ve written about on my blog. “Are there any Black People on Mad Men” wasn’t surprising since I’ve spent a few posts pondering that very question.

Then there were some off-the-wall terms; “topless black girls” come to mind. While I’m sure this had to do with this little post I wrote about a topless bust of Michelle Obama, it’s such an interesting insight into what people look for when they look for info about black women online. In fact, one google search on “black women” gives you a strange mix of the mundane and the obscene. It’s very possible that the keyword terms that people use to find my blog is just a microcosm of what’s already out there when it comes to finding images of black women on the internets, which is exactly what I’m hoping to achieve with this blog.

For those of you who do blog, what are some of the craziest keyword terms that people use to find your blog? If you’re participating in the challenge, I’d love to hear from you too.

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Essence Hires a White Fashion Director

Yes, you read that right.

From Fishbowl NY:

The door continues revolving atEssence: now, the magazine has named Ellianna Placas as its new fashion director and Tasha Turner as its new senior beauty editor.

Placas will make her debut with the magazine’s 40th anniversary September issue and will oversee the conception and packaging of Essence‘s fashion coverage, feature stories and multi-platform packages. She began her career in publishing styling cover shoots for 0: The Oprah Magazine. Placas has also worked forUs WeeklyReal SimpleNew York,More and Life & Style.

Former Fashion Editor Michaela Angela Davis had some choice words to say about Essence’s recent decision on her Facebook Wall:

“It’s with a heavy heart I’ve learned Essence Magazine has engaged a white Fashion Director. I love Essence and I love fashion. I hate this news and this feeling. It hurts, literally. The fashion industry has historically been so hostile to black people–especially women. The 1 seat reserved for black women once held by Susan Taylor, Ionia Dunn-Lee, Harriette Cole(+ me) is now-I can’t. It’s a dark day for me. How do you feel?”

….

There is one precious seat at the fashion shows that says Essence the magazine for black women. When asked, “What is your unique perspective for black women?” How is that answered? Even if they got Anna Wintour herself (which editors inside Essence assure me she is NOT) it still would hurt. From a brand perspective there should be a unique lens through which information is filtered…at Essence it is believed that filter is black, female..connected through shared history and soul…I believe we’ve not come far enough for this move.

There’s already been a lot said about this story, so I’ll try to make my comments on this brief. Aside from the most obvious argument–that having a white fashion director at a black women’s magazine raises a few eyebrows–I have to make the point that not hiring Ms. Placas based solely on her race would have been discrimination. But furthermore, Essence has been white-owned for quite some time now, so how surprised can we really be?

I do worry about how having a white fashion editor at a magazine that is supposed to be devoted to the life and style of Black women will effect the magazine’s brand, as Clutch brings up in their write-up on the news.  What does it mean when a magazine for Black women sees fit to have a white fashion editor when there were so many other (black) candidates to choose from? What about her experiences positioned her to become the editor at a Black women’s magazine? And what will she do differently that a black editor wouldn’t have done?

On the other hand, maybe we can’t judge too harshly until we see what Placas does. I’ve heard this argument several times this week, but it’s hard when as a girl I looked to Essence to see images of black beauty and style and I remember wanting to be as regal and as beautiful as the women in the magazine. Essence fashion spreads made me embrace everything that black beauty was and could be.

What does it mean when a new fashion editor of the most popular black women’s magazine didn’t grow up with that experience?

Tyler Perry, step away from the camera.

Last week we found out that Tyler Perry revealed the cast for his film adaptation of for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow was enuf by Ntozake Shange.

Read ’em and weep:

Black Voices has learned that writer/director/producer Tyler Perry has selected the cast for next film, ”For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.

At last night’s premiere for his latest film, ‘‘Why Did I Get Married Too?,’ the black box-office maverick revealed that the cast will include Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Jurnee Smollett, Kimberly Elise, Kerry WashingtonLoretta Devine and Macy Gray.

Based on Ntozake Shange‘s award-winning 1975 play, the film is scheduled to shoot in June in New York with a possible winter 2010/ 2011 release date.

I’m not even going to go in on the cast for this film nor about Tyler Perry films themselves because I know there are plenty of conversations going on about that. I know that we are all looking at Janet Jackson getting top billing and wondering why she’s there in the first place. I know we’re wondering when Macy Gray became an actress or why one “aight” performance in Precious makes Mariah Carey a capable of playing, say the Lady in Red. And lastly, I know many of us are questioning of Tyler Perry knows what he’s doing with a Shange play in the first place, or if he knew about for colored girls… before Oprah mentioned it that one time at Sunday Brunch.

for colored girls… has a special place in my heart. When I was 17, I had the amazing honor and privilege of spending a whole day with Ntozake Shange in Taos, New Mexico during the Taos Poetry Circus. While there, I participated in her small group poetry workshop where I shared some of my work. I spoke with her in depth about for colored girls… and her inspiration for it.

So when I heard the news that Tyler Perry was directing for colored girls, I was disappointed.  Nzingha Stewart, a black woman director, was originally slated to direct the film adaptation of the play, but all of a sudden I started to see Tyler Perry’s name all over it.

Hmmm. There’s something totally wrong with this picture, and it has nothing to do with Janet Jackson getting top billing.

I’m certainly not convinced that Tyler Perry is the best black filmmaker out there regardless of what his box office sales are. But my biggest problem is he is seemingly unable to give up the reins of power, step away from the camera and allow for other Black screenwriters and directors to have their shine.  What would have been wrong with Nzingha Stewart directing the film and even selecting her the cast by herself while Tyler Perry funded and promoted the project? Nothing, unless he wants to convey the message that he is uncomfortable sharing   the wealth and  the limelight with other (young and/or female) talent.

Precious was not a perfect movie, but if it didn’t show us anything else, it showed that Tyler Perry has the potential to fund the projects of other Black filmmakers and help make them a success. Part of being a leader in any industry is helping other young people rise to the top as well. The Black experience is not a monolith; some of us like myself never grew up with a character like Madea. Because of this, it’s important that we have a large variety of filmmakers who can speak to the myriad of ways a Black person can experience and live in society. Perhaps a successful, wealthy director like Tyler Perry is in a position to support other directors in their projects, but what bothers me more than his so-so movies are his unwillingness to step from behind the camera and let someone else take a crack at it.

Black, Successful, and (not so) Unhappy

It’s taken me a long time to talk about the now-infamous Helena Andrews profile on Black Girl Blogging, because it made me so upset. Not because I think there is truth to how lonely, sad, and unlovable black women are, but because I know that there isn’t much truth to it to begin with.

What really sticks out to me are the lack of narratives about Black women who are happy for reasons other than finding and keeping a man. The “single, sad, lonely Black woman” meme assumes that without a man we can’t be happy and can’t even begin our search for happiness.

My black girl blogger-in-crime Rosetta Thurman has started a “happiness project” of her own called The Diary of a Happy Black Woman. A few nights ago on Twitter, she talked about why she has decided to embark on this new project.

I hadn’t thought about this angle of the story until I saw it mentioned in the above tweet. What really has annoyed me about the whole damn dialog about the poor, single Black women is that it not only paints all Black women as unlovable, but it also assumes that until we find a man we can’t be happy or fulfilled. It even pre-supposes that Black women should be perpetually unhappy.

Yes, there are Black women out there who are sad and who are lonely…and perhaps who are also angry. But those feelings often have very little to do with their marital status (or lack thereof). Many of us  can find ourselves feeling that way even after we’ve found the supposedly elusive relationship with a successful Black man. I should know: I was one of them for quite some time before ending my last immediate long-term relationship (another story entirely).

It’s true that I have since then started a new relationship with a new partner, but I spent the better part of 2009 getting back in tune with the things that make me happy outside of being with someone who liked me and cared about me and took me out on dates and stuff.

In 2009, I lost 42 pounds after getting back in touch with physical activities I love (yoga, dance, walking/jogging), and doing something else I loved too–cooking delicious, healthy meals. I explored new angles and avenues to the media career I have chosen for myself and began to carve my own niche. I traveled to different cities and went to some great conferences. I kept in touch with old friends and made new ones. And I did all of that despite not having  a boo by my side to witness me doing all of this. I did the “brave” thing and started last year without a relationship, having broken up with my then-boyfriend around this time last year. And I regret not one damn second of it.

My soror and friend Cheri had a great response to the profile on Helena Andrews, with whom she happened to have attended Columbia once upon a time:

She said “I’m a successful black woman” several times, listed off the things that validated the statement, and then says she isn’t happy. I know many women who describe themselves this way, and they too end up in that same place at the end of the sentence. “I’m a successful black woman, why can’t I find love or happiness?”

It might be worth while to go back to the beginning of the sentence and see where we made a wrong turn.

What is success? I’ve heard it described a number of ways: having a degree (or two), a house, a car, a job, the right clothes, and/or invites to the right parties. Some women define it as beginning married or having a child. But in many cases, all of this “success” is not accompanied with happiness.

If what you want is happiness, then are you really successful without it?

Someone along the way told us the work is done once you get the tools. We want a cake – so we get the eggs, sugar, and the flour…. but we leave them on the counter and go get ready for the club. We go out, drink, dance, have a good time, and wonder why we don’t have a cake with cute rose petal frosting details when we get back. We want the results but have not done the work.

In this first week of 2010, I’ve had the chance to think about what new things I want to do at Black Girl Blogging this year and in years to come. If there’s one thing Helena Andrews’s new book Bitch is the New Black and the accompanying profile in the Washington Post showed me, it was the need for more Black women telling their stories and having their stories told their way. Stay tuned and join me as I feature and highlight Black women (and a few men) who have made their lives and their work about a pursuit–or several pursuits–of happiness.

Amber Rose in Complex Magazine: Sexy Beast (?)

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saartjiebwJezebel talks about Amber Rose’s most recent photo shoot for Complex Magazine:

The industry’s general unwillingness to embrace models of color as anything besides the exoticized “other” is thwarting the development and popularization of other kinds of black beauty. Even Alek Wek, the Sudanese supermodel, noted that she was often asked to pose in spreads that she felt fitted into a wider and more troubling tradition of black peoples representation in the mainstream media, particularly with regard to a Lavazza calendar where she posed inside a coffee cup, her skin intended to represent the espresso. As Wek wrote in her memoir, “I can’t help but compare them to all the images of black people that have been used in marketing over the decades. There was the big-lipped jungle-dweller on the blackamoor ceramic mugs sold in the ’40s; the golliwog badges given away with jam; Little Black Sambo, who decorated the walls of an American restaurant chain in the 1960s; and Uncle Ben, whose apparently benign image still sells rice.”

It’s worth noting that in re-creating these pictures, Complex did tone them down; gone are the chains from the whip photo, and so too is the raw meat and the sign explicitly referring to the model as an animal in the cage photo. The choices the Complex art director made are almost certainly intended to mitigate the offense of the original images; we’ve come at least some way as a society since Jean-Paul Goude’s day. But how long will it be before we automatically recognize any picture of a black woman caged up like an animal as offensive?

If the pictures above look oddly familiar and even similar to you,  they should. When I see the image of Amber Rose  or Grace Jones in a cage, I immediately thought of Saartjie Baartman, a black woman in the 18th century captured in S. Africa by British imperialist and then put on display at carnivals and fairs because of her voluptuous body.

It’s no secret that the “black woman as sexual beast” meme is still very prevalent in portrayals of Black women, particularly in fashion and music. That said, I really don’t think it was that deep for Complex. What I mean is, I don’t think their intention was to fetishize Black women at all in these pictures. It seems as though they just wanted to pay homage to Grace Jones* and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. However, even though the magazine had the best intentions it doesn’t mean that the implied racial and sexual implications of these picture don’t exist.

*and stereotypes aside, Amber Rose ain’t SEEIN Grace Jones in these pictures. Grace Jones is SO stylin on her.

Vogue Italia’s Black Barbie: A Step Forward or a Step Back?

This month, Vogue Italia is doing another take on last year’s successful Black Issue: a fashion spread featuring all Black Barbies.

from Jezebel:

Last year, Italian Vogue shook the fashion world with its “All Black issue, which sold out on many newsstands. This year, the July issue features Kristen McMenamy on the cover, but comes with a delightful supplement devoted to black Barbies.

It is Barbie’s 50th birthday, after all, and Mattel does have those new black Barbies to promote. And while this supplement is not full-sized like a regular magazine (it’s about 6 inches wide; 7.5 inches long) somehow the doll scale makes sense.

As a girl growing up in Los Angeles, my mother always made sure to buy us Black dolls, especially Barbies. I even had a Black Ken doll! And while it was great to have a doll that looked like me, the reality was that it still sold me and other little girls dangerous ideas about what a woman’s body should look like, and what was considered beautiful. In preparing to write this post, I spoke with a friend of mine who happens to be a Black dad with a young daughter. He told me that while he reluctantly buys his daughter Barbies because she loves them, he is concerned about what it teaches his little girl about having a positive self-image. As a result, he makes it his responsibility to teach his daughter about how special and beautiful she is as a black girl.

I loved Vogue Italia’s Black Issue last year. I loved that it featured Tocarra, a voluptuous, curvy woman who was far from a size 2. And I like the concept of using all Black Barbies in a Vogue spread. But I have to wonder if it is actually a step backwards. Barbies themselves use the white female body as a the prototype for beauty. Even the new Black Barbies do not have the hips, ass and curves that myself and other Black women possess. It’s great that Mattel has barbies of all shade, but what about all sizes? What taking into consideration that other races and ethnic groups have different ideas of what women’s bodies actually look like? The fashion industry often creates fashions, ad campaigns, and yes, even Barbie photo spreads that leave Black female bodies out of the equation and therefore, out of the question when defining what a “perfect body” looks like and who is able to possess it.

So what does everyone else think? Is the Black Barbie issue of Vogue Italia actually progress? Or does it still perpetuate anxiety and even denial of the Black female body as one that is indeed normal and beautiful?

The Audacity of Spirit: Lessons from a New Modern Woman

June 20th marked World Refugee Day. Here in Washington there have been events throughout the month to bring awareness to the issues that refugees face here and abroad.  Ihotu Ali, a Center for Progressive Leadership New Leaders Fellow, talks about the images of refugee women here in America. I had the pleasure of meeting Ihotu at a Message Development training a few months ago and of course,  she is yet a another smart, fabulous black girl blogger.

After a college degree and several months of working in the political capitol of the Western world, I know a bit about power. Daily, I experience the power of crisp black suits, sleek cars, and boldly colored heels clicking their own new rhythms into the echo of marble halls.

However, Washingtonians may encounter an affront to this idea of power, through the advertisements of CARE, a nongovernmental refugee organization. In its trademark public campaign, CARE portrays a refugee woman, very young or very old, dressed in the tradition of her country and looking deep into the camera’s eye. The universal caption: “I Am Powerful.” In the midst of Washington, D.C., this may seem more a wistful ideal than reality. Reality teaches that even the most educated and top-earning women only make 72 cents on a man’s dollar, and that women around the world are most vulnerable to illiteracy, poverty, domestic abuse, and a lack of access to the handbag of characteristics which we call “power.” Yet these women stare out evenly from photographs and billboards to silently declare that they, even in a displaced state, are powerful.

A refugee woman may actually be the most powerful being you will ever meet. Whether she walked in tatters or designers, reality tells that she likely walked past dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people whom she left behind. People who didn’t make it out, and yet people exactly like her. She may recall their stunted journeys with every step. And yet she continues to walk. You might be unaware of the expression on her face. She may not disclose how many different lives she led, from fear to hope to indifference to ferocity. Reality provoked her to emotions of such nuance and contradiction that one would think humanity had not discovered them, before inhuman circumstances broadened the capacity of her human face. What you may see is blind faith, or a steeled persistence. You may have never seen what power it took to keep eyes so willing to remain open to new sights, a mouth so willing to continue to speak and engage and a face turned toward a new, possibly terrifying reality.

You may not see all this. Or you may equally see it in the faces of fellow American women who struggled for their power. But take a moment to look deeply into the power of these women. They may not have the traditional trappings of wealth or fame. And they may not vie to be recognized among the masses, nor do they wield their strength like a sword to bring others beneath them as they rise. Instead, consider their power as a catalyst, with which we all regard one another and ourselves with more clarity and humanity. This is a power of faith, hope, and resilience despite the most dire of circumstances. These women are not unbreakable, but they never allow brokenness to be a permanent state. They teach others the power to learn, to forgive, to accept and adapt.

As a friend and family member to such women, I often visualize their faces when I want to embody that power. What we all in Washington could learn from these women is not just the power to win the war or survive the battle. We already know this. They teach us the power to thrive, with an audacity of spirit, in the face of reality.