In Memorium: To The Dudes That Saw There First Pretty Black Girl In JET, & All The Black Girls That Wanted To Be On The Cover of EBONY

 

Image result for jet magazine

I remember my mother subscribing to EBONY and  ESSENCE Magazine when I was a girl. I remember I would pour over these magazines before I would give them back to my mother. I would even carry a copy of either or both of these magazines in my backpack or purse. They would be devoured at lunch, after classwork or waiting to be picked up by my parents after school from 6th-8th grade.

Image result for ebony magazine

 

EBONY was a part of my middle school girlhood. I was a part of the ritual of going to beauty salon with my Mama. It was part of knowing who was doing what, and how many people we could identify! I remember what it meant to pick that up, see it in my house, and even in my classrooms at Yeatman Middle School on the Northside of St. Louis, Missouri in the St. Louis Public School District. I even remember some of the guys in my classes sneaking looks the JET Beauty of the Week!

That is how far back it goes. And this was only the mid-1990’s, fam!

Image result for ebony magazine

 

And this week? I find out that EBONY and JET are firing freelancers, getting rid of other staff and these historic portions of Black media are…going away. These publications are one of the reasons I wanted to be a writer. Why I wanted to be a journalist. Why I was a fierce reader. These publications, shaped my Black girlness and emerging womaness, while collecting my collective ethnic, cultural history.

To know that this is being erased, taken from collective Blackness is the resurgence of all things melaninated, dope and from and in front of Black Jesus?! This ain’t fair!

Image result for ebony magazine

 

THIS IS NOT FAIR!

Roland M. Martin was talking about this on his YouTube Channel today. We know the Johnson Publishing Company, the family company that owns EBONY and JET, has had financial issues for past few years. This is no secret. But! The news that is being unveiled  now suggests that the company which has a 70-plus year history, is about to fold! Like how can this be happening!

Roland Martin was saying that there are a lot of Black media groups that have not made the adjustment to podcasting; consolidating with other media groups; valuing the building over the product the building produced. But, there is a truth to this. But the fact is we need our histories too! We need our legacies preserved too! We need to adjust with the times, too!

Twenty-five years ago? I snuck these magazines in my backpack! Now, download this from the site and follow 9 other podcasts just like it! On my iPhone! Does that mean I don’t like the physical copy? No. I still by physical magazines! But it’s the convenience, dear ones.

Image result for jet magazine

 

Just like this blog is for you right now.

But, my heart, dear ones, is grieved. I am so grieved! First the HBCU’s and now this. First the GoFund Me’s and Crowdfunding for Bennett College, and there’s about to be no more EBONY or JET in same year Blackness is about to be supernova?! This is a hellafied Faustian baragain, y’all.

Bruh, I am looking forward to being on the cover of a magazine of and because of these 26 letters I whip together all the time! I wanted my face, my staff’s face on the cover of EBONY! That is the one magazine everybody Black still reads and their grandmother and ‘nem keep in the curio cabinet! That is cultural history, beloveds.

 

Image result for ebony magazine

I don’t know how we come back from this one. But, I don’t want any more Black creatives or creative outlets to take unnecessary losses, dear ones. We keep saying what we do for the culture–then let’s start preserving it.

 

 

 

 

For CoCo

 

I am getting old, fam.

I freely admit this, as a face forty! But with that vantage point, I know that I am of the age where  I remember when there were no Black girls that looked like me playing tennis, bruh. I remember hearing about Venus and Serena Williams when I was in like middles school and high school. So, my mom was a fan of tennis (namely, Pete Samfras!) and I watched with her.

I knew who Althea Gibson was. I knew who Arthur Ashe was. But the girl that looked like me, cornrowed, beaded, bold and Black? And she was in my Sassy and JANE magazines!  With Nikes! I mean, it was everything! I even remember that Venus was ranked higher than Serena at the beginning of their careers! But, mane! When they played? It was phenomenal.

And it still is.

But here comes Cori ‘CoCo’ Graff, at 15–whuppin up on em in this year’s Wimbeldon. When I saw her fist pump for the first time? It reminded me of the Williams’ sisters. And I was so happy. Among that happiness, I came to the realization that what I do–someone is watching. When she beat Venus? When she gave her the honor of telling she ‘grew up watching her?’ I cried inside.

Do you know the power of having a hero? Do you know how powerful it is to see someone doing what you desire to do? And then, believe that you can do it?!

Man.

The way she feels about Venus and Serena is the way I feel about Shonda Rimes.

Is the way that I feel about Toni Morrison.

Is the way I feel about Susan Taylor.

Is the way I first felt when I picked up a pen.

CoCo found her hero–and beat her. But, the little girl in me imagines her ‘playing’ the Williams sisters in her imagination often. How she pretended to be either of them when she played other girls–or dudes, for that matter.

It reminded me of the power of vision, and the sustaining nature of any vision.

At 15, I wanted to be a famous writer. And only had a handful of heroes to look up to.  And 16 years later (which feels like a lifetime ago), I began to be serious about becoming one! Yes, that means I’ve been on this hustle for about 5-6 years now. Am I where I want to be? Nope. But yet, have another goal in mind. If Shonda and Tyler can, why can’t I?

But, the thing is…I think CoCo did the same.

Why can’t I?

If I had anything to say to CoCo, it would be–“Who told you that you couldn’t?” 

The best thing you can do for an ambitious child is to give them space and voice–and in her case, a tennis racket.

Eff em up, sis! Eff em up!

Why It Comes To This

There are certain things in this American pop culture that people clearly don’t want trifled with. Now, me being the fan of language that I am, and as big a fan of storytelling that I am, let me put you on game real quick.

Walt Disney, the machine that is DISNEY, did not have an original idea. Aside from Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Daisy and Goofy. The powerhouse stories are taken from The Grimm Brothers, and in the case of The Little Mermaid, it is a taken from the Hans Christian Andersen story. You can link that here. What Disney has done in adopting these stories for the entertainment of children, is take a source text to adapt it to a suitable audience.

This is the beauty and nature of literature and art. What we not about to do is champion the craziness that is found in this campaign of #NotMyAriel or #MakeArielWhiteAgain. We not about to do this over here. We really not. What the Disney has done, again, is take a source text and reimagine it. I don’t have time to go into the literary breakdown of how cool that is, but I will say this.

First, Halle Bailey will be amazing as Ariel.

Second, if you think a mermaid–an imaginary creature from an almost 200-year old Danish story–which is a play on the sirens of ancient Greek mythology, cannot be Black? You are part of the problem.

What is the problem, you ask? The problem is your issue with visibility, diversity and the challenging of what you think should or could be acceptable representation of Black women and girls. It would seem that the people of this adamant persuasion regarding The Little Mermaid, are hilarious. But perhaps, this was the most potent social media comment pertaining to this situation:

 

 Imagine this.

*Not seeing yourself in any media depiction that wasn’t subservient. That wasn’t magical. That was delegated to the maids, mammies, and shadow people. Imagine that the casting of someone that looks like you, in a public medium like film, and having the reaction as vitriolic as Halle is having? Imagine having the color of your skin, your hair, your very being seen as so ‘offensive’ to what people call the ‘original’ film? Can you imagine how insane that would be?

Furthermore, as a Black girl who grew up before Tiana in The Princess And The Frog, was a voting adult before the election of President Barack H. Obama, as a Black girl that was told there were limits on my own imagination–representation is everything. If there was a little White girl that can imagine herself as Ariel, why can’t a little Black girl finally see herself as Ariel?

Is it the seeing of a Black girl as more than a caricature that is offensive? Is it the desire for diversity, in the insistence of our personhood, our presence, or magic? I wasn’t so struck by the need for this level of diversity with this particular film until my oldest daughter, whom will be 12 in September, gave me a gift. She made this mermaid sculpture at a camp. The mermaid was blonde, with brown hands, and a white face. She had never seen a Black mermaid. There weren’t even any Black mermaids in The Pirates Of The Carribean! I remember there being a Black mermaid (read:  tokenism!) on the cartoon in the early 1990’s. But the insidious thing that I had to catch myself on? What I had to confront was because I had not seen it, I could not believe it, ergo it could not be possible.

As a writer, I had to dive into this. Why couldn’t I believe mermaids could be Black? only because I hadn’t seen it. The Little Mermaid, the Disney version, is now about 30 years old. I was 8 when this movie came out–and didn’t even see it in the theaters. I was more into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at age 8. However, in deconstructing this feeling, I was encouraged by the fan art which is making appearances on Facebook. Here are some of my favorites:

 

“Up where they walk,

up where they run.

Up where they play all day

in the sun,

Wanderin’ free–

Wish I could be…

part of that world.”

Indeed this lyric from Part Of Your World has never been more prolific. We are part of this world.

 

 

*Author’s Note:  I would be remiss in my writer duties not to remind you to watch the documentary Horror Noire which is still available on Shudder. In watching that documentary, I believe much more will make sense to you.

 

 [top image: Disney via Google. First Ariel image is by Nilah Magruder (@nilaeffle–she first displayed this image on her personal Twitter timeline.]

 

Daddy Lessons #5: The Hustle

“You can steal more with a pen than you can with a gun.”

-Richard L. Bush (1948-1998)

My Daddy wanted me to be able to write my name by the time I went to kindergarten. Not only could I do that, I had been reading since I was 4.

“You know the best place people think to hide stuff from Black people is? Books.”

I grew up hearing this, overhearing this and wanted to know why my father was so hard on me about being able to read and write and do math well. He was also a stickler on how his children looked. My father thought if his babygirls were beautiful and brilliant there would never be any door closed to them.

For the most part, Daddy was right. The appearance is just the gift wrapping for everything else! That, and a college degree along, the ability to count your own money and the sense to know how to code switch helps a lot. A whole lot!

But there’s this matter of the politicking, right? My Dad reminded me that the hustlers I saw, were all potential businessmen. He reminded me that there was never a need for me to steal anything that I wanted–I had to either ask, save for it, or go without. Whenever he heard of some big white-collar crime? He would always say this quote and laugh. It took me till I was good and grown to under the gravitas of it.

The street level hustle is nothing, bruh. It’s what you can harness your mind to that will always produce lucrative spoils. I never wanted to be a mafia doll (not longtime anyway!). I wanted to be a godfather! I kid…but the principle is the same, really.

Daddy told me that nothing was going to be handed to me. I was going to have to work for it. I was going to have to sacrifice. I was going to have some long nights. Frustrating days. And I was going to want to quit more than once. But it’s the vision of what I wanted that was to keep me focused. Keep me studying. Keep me grinding! Keep me from doing drugs. Or hanging out with the bad kids he saw.

The hustle was the degree–the master key to unlock my destiny. And I got it. And now, I have a knew dream. A new vision. A new reality to fuel and fund. And I didn’t have to bang Ray J to get it.

When Mama Can’t Protect You-Part 1 (Prelude To ‘The Talk’)

TW:  Police brutality, police abuse, wrongful arrest

 

This came through my personal Twitter timeline on Father’s Day of all things. And I was inconsolable. In looking through this thread, all  I could think is, “This could have been my daughter. This child is my daughter’s age.” I make no qualms about my valid, palpable distrust of law enforcement. I make no reassertion that I am changing my mind about that. I have not trusted law enforcement since I was about 10, and I’m almost 40. With that being said, I make no bones about my Mama Lion nature for my children. In reading this thread, my heart sank. I wanted to stave off having ‘The Talk’ with my oldest daughter. The same daughter that is beautiful, intelligent, and stands 5’6.5″ at age 11 1/2.  I am aware that the world will not always see her as a girl. As an adolescent Black girl.

When I saw this thread, and really began to digest what had happened to this child without her mother present, left me horrified. The rundown was this:

A group of Black kids were playing on a movie parking lot. The police saw them and told them to move along. The kids grumbled and muttered but they go on. Nicole (the woman in the screenshot), heard screaming. She looked up and saw one of the officers dragging one of the child to the car. There are more cop cars that appeared (Nicole said it was 5-6 cars). She gets out her car and asks what is going on. The cops tell her to move along. She sees on child in the car’s backseat–handcuffed. The other girl was shaken and about to be arrested as well. Nicole advocated for the child, and confronting the police officer. The handcuffed child did not have her phone, and it would seem she was arrested for ‘loitering.’ Nicole gave this child her phone to call her mother. The police said they were going to release her to her mother. Nicole continues to advocate for these children, and speaking to the girl’s mother–she waits for her to get to the area. Another older couple is parked nearby watching. The handcuffed girl’s mom arrives, and wants to know what happened. Turns out, the girls are arrested without being Mirandized, or without a guardian present. Once that’s pointed out, the officer tells Nicole to leave. She doesn’t. The girls are released to their mother/aunt. Nicole gives Mom the name of lawyers that she knows. 

As a mother, I was horrified. My husband and I have gone round and round about how to handle raising our girls when these situations exist. I know that the world doesn’t see Black girls as girls–especially if Black girls are tall or in any way shapely! I never looked my age from 11-17. And my mother had to gently tell me that I had to watch how I dressed because I didn’t look my age. Not to leave the house without my purse that at least had my school identification. I knew that the police wouldn’t think that I was 13, 14 or 15, unless my parents were with me.

With this though? I thought I had more time, at least one more year to allow my daughter to be protected completely by her Mama Lion. But that shattered yesterday. This is the paradox Black parents have:  we know the world sees our children as never being such. But we know they are. I have talked to my husband about our daughter having a cell phone. He said she was too young. I disagreed. I tried to tell him that the world is such that she needed access to us in case she needed us.

This is another reminder that she is becoming more and more visible on the real world’s radar. It was a reminder that if something like this happened to my baby, I would want someone to help her. To see her. I would want her to know how to handle herself if an officer stopped her, and had no right to do so.  I know that in having this talk, The Talk, with her, a portion of her innocence is, and will be gone. And there is nothing I can do about that.

 

 

Daddy Lesson’s #3-Finances

img_0618-5

 

“Always keep some money on you.”

– Richard L. Bush (1948-1998)

 

The running theme that I tell people is that I’m the daughter of a hustler. I really, truly am. My father didn’t like the word ‘No’, and believed in making sure certain things were in place so other things could happen. One of those things that he taught me was to make sure I could take care of myself. The best way he thought I could do that, was to make sure that I always had some money on me.

My father made sure my sister and I got used to carrying, purses and a wallet. He would tell us that we  should keep money on us in case we go somewhere. He wanted us have some sense of financial responsibility even then. I mean, when I was in fifth grade, when I started carrying a purse WITH money in it! I mean, it was my Dad that taught me how cool having a bank account was! He taught me and my sister how to use and ATM!

Daddy taught me how to hustle, and be okay with (as a woman) to have my own money. Even though he didn’t teach us how to save (that came later for me after he died), but it make me see money as a tool. It was this strange dichotomy:  money is  tool to be used, but not to be saved.  But there was a power in that as a little girl. I had the power to realize that I can do what I wanted to do–if I had the money to do so.

From that, I was never afraid to work for what I wanted. Ever. The dream is free, and the hustle is real…and it needs to be funded. Until the Lord sends more help, or you win the LOTTO? Hustle. It won’t kill you. I promise it won’t.

 

 

‘Stop Taming Us.’

 

Viola Davis, in December 2018, at Women in Entertainment Event hosted by Hollywood Reporter Event

I am 37. I am young, gifted and Black. I have also been told that I am descended from a family ‘too’s.’

I’m too smart.

I’m too loud.

I’m too driven.

I’m too ambitious.

Which is why when I heard Viola Davis say the phrase “Stop taming us?” I felt the same way I felt when saw Captain Marvel basically go hypersonic, and tear up that enemy spaceship to protect Earth!

I felt that I had been seen, understood and affirmed.

What I have learned in my almost 4 decades on planet Earth, is that people love classifications.

They love categories.

They like to be able to group, change and identify things (or people) they feel are interesting or strange. Ambitious women, especially ambitious minority women, are just that. Black women, especially, suffer from this systemic identification. There was a quote from the glory of the internet that says:

“Black women will always be too loud of a world never intent on listening to them.”

I agree.

For all my prowess and intelligence, I still have people that I know love me that wish I would ‘do a little less.’ That I shouldn’t want to own the platforms I post on. That I shouldn’t have the vision that I do. I ‘should just write and not worry about anything else right now.’ That I should pace myself.

Yeah, about that? Fuck that.

I work at the clip that I do because there was  time where the words wouldn’t come because I was shattered. There was a time where the words were alien, and bitter and were enigmas.

Once my heart was healed, the words overtook. My vision restored and by God, I was not going to be dictated to by people who were not and will not be doing half of what I’m doing!

So, no I’m not going to ease up!

No, I’m not going to listen to nay sayers, haters and the trolls, crows, cows or chickens that desire to stop me. Seeing since they cant’t out pace me.

I refuse to be tamed, because I have taken too long to burn! When I was 23, I got a tattoo on Black of the Japanese kanji for Phoenix. This was a nod to my sister, Ashley:  whom I admire more than she thinks I do; and whom I am not truly worthy to call a little sister. Octavia Estelle Butler, herself  ‘a rare bird’, says that in order for a Phoenix to live, it first must burn.

I have come too far, to have someone tell me to stop.

I write for the Oracles in West Africa whom I will never meet. For the Kings and Queens of whom I am daughter, benefactor and granddaughter:  whom forged courses with whit and faith. I create for the conjure women I am descended from whom could not read. For my enslaved foreparents whom had the stories beat out of them. Or were killed for daring to say what was a lie!

I breathe fire because my great-great-great grandparents and my beloved father and mother, walked through fire to get me here!

I know women like me and my ilk scare you. I know we’re loud. I know the drive frightens you. The fact we curse, say ‘No’, and make our own spaces and taketh no isht makes you clutch your pearls.

But saddle up buttercup. We ain’t going no where.

We are coming for everything they said we couldn’t get, with the mantra of:

If you don’t let me in the front door, I’ll do around back. If that’s locked, I’ll buss a window and jump in.