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April 2014
23
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I absolutely love her style here. Beautiful colours and textures. And she’s beautiful. Smoky eye is winning.

I absolutely love her style here. Beautiful colours and textures. And she’s beautiful. Smoky eye is winning.

April 2014
23
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Retta on Conan in 2012 with literally the best joke ever and she really was not here for the stereotyping and profiling while driving. #neverforget

April 2014
23

Lupita Nyong’o Is People Magazine’s Most Beautiful and Has Great Perspectives On Beauty Politics

Lupita Nyong’o is on the cover of People as the most beautiful person for 2014 in their annual “50 Most Beautiful” issue. This is the first time that anyone of her complexion has made the cover and she’s only the third Black woman to make the cover, other than Halle Berry (2003) and Beyoncé (2012). 

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She shared some insights on beauty in a behind the scenes video for the shoot for this cover. She made some really wonderful statements, some of which I included below:

The first person to tell me that I was beautiful was definitely my mother. She said that a lot, especially when I felt the least bit beautiful which is, you know, as an adolescent you go through times when you feel ugly in general. But my mother always said I was beautiful and I finally believed her at some point.

She’s regularly cited her mother as one of her main supporters in terms of fostering her self-esteem in her beauty, inside and out. She mentioned the importance of being content and I truly believe a part of her allure is her joy. It comes through in her every action and it’s beautiful where it just compliments her glorious dark skin, emotive hopeful eyes, adorable nose, incredible smile, and edges of the gawds, all on a remarkable symmetrical face. 

I feel most beautiful when I am content. That for me is more important than my physical presentation because it’s through inner contentment and happiness that I care about my presentation.

In the behind the scenes video, she also mentioned the role of laughter in her adult life and this definitely connects to the previous quote in terms of internal contentment being the origin for feeling beautiful.

I think the older I get, the more I laugh. I think I’ve laughed a lot in ways; I wish I remembered to laugh like that when I was a teenager.

This made me think of the carefree Black girl conception that many Black women talk about and it made me happy to hear her discuss the role of laughter. An internal source of joy and confidence in appearance are radical acts for Black women in a society that regularly denies us joy and beauty. I am acutely aware of how people hate Black women and also want us to hate ourselves. This dehumanization isn’t just emotional and interpersonal but is a foundation on which oppressions such as misogynoir and colourism rest on. There are people invested—deeply in fact—in not only Lupita being invisible but that no one find her beautiful. They’re terrified that the status quo may shift even a little. And it wouldn’t be a complete shift. Lupita is still very well educated, from a Black immigrant middle class two-parent family and is thin in accordance with most Hollywood standards, so there are elements of privilege as well.

Even so, that beautiful dark skin on the cover will be a problem for many. There have been Black men heavily invested in making sure no one believes she’s beautiful. This isn’t completely about the cishet Black male gaze in a sexual context, though a factor, but also about how it shifts some cishet Black men’s worldview where they may have nothing but “at least” they aren’t Black women. If Black women are to be loathed, Black men can justify their misogynoir as simply being what everyone else feels about us, and it is what everyone else feels about us. Black men did not invent the hatred of Black women nor do they enact it alone. However, if Black women are not to be loathed and some are even deemed beautiful and valuable—even the ones who don’t meet every Eurocentric bullet point in terms of what “beauty” is—then it shifts the ground for many Black men whose choices and gaze are shaped by misogynoir that remains unchecked. This presents a conflict for them and some have lashed out because of it.

There’s also the issue of the White Gaze where even suggesting that a Black woman is beautiful upsets Whites who think that then means White women are being called “ugly.” They purposely ignore the structural power and privilege difference and even the exposure scale differences in the mainstream for White women versus Black women. When I wrote Yeah, Black Women Are Great. Fin., I made it clear that Black women need the space to celebrate our beauty (and not just aesthetically, though yes, that matters as well when our exterior and interior qualities are degraded on the hour) without the White supremacist notion that not reifying Eurocentric beauty standards at every moment means Black women are somehow “harming” White women or any non-Black women. (The latter can be anti-Black at times and placed “above” Black women, as non-Black women of colour, in terms of beauty, but placed “below” White women. Then there’s the intraracial manifestation of colourism where some light skinned Black women may also reject this cover or dark Black women being considered beautiful as well.)

I’m also aware of those among us Black people who think this cover is as simple as “White approval” yet do not understand how visibility as fully human and recognition matters in the mainstream even as Black people create our own media. This is not an “either/or” situation but a “both/and” one. Representation among the mainstream—as it shapes media, politics and culture, which means it has a great deal of power—is not the desire for interpersonal White favor. It’s the desire for the affirmation of humanity so that we are not punished for not being viewed as human. We may not need Whites’ “approval” of us in the mainstream but we most certainly cannot afford Whites’ dehumanization of us in the mainstream. 

While I am not a fan of People and I most certainly don’t read it regularly, I’m also aware of what representation means. Lupita mentioned the importance of representation for Black girls, especially, in a previous speech at Essence Magazine’s 7th Annual Black Women In Hollywood luncheon:

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shame in Black beauty.

Representation as human, as beautiful and as relevant matters for Black women, especially dark Black women (in this case; in other cases Black trans women, fat Black women etc.). Lupita can have this moment without the suggestion that it somehow “harms” Black men (as if their gaze has to matter to Black women at all times) or White women (as if they cannot love themselves unless Black women hate ourselves; well…hmm), without the suggestion that it means Black people no longer care about the media and content that we create ourselves (because let’s be crystal clear here, the mainstream pilfers Black creativity and culture anyway) or any other nonsensical or cruel suggestion meant to harm Black women that everyone was taught to hate. Lupita is clearly at a point of a great deal of self-love. A lot of Black women are. And we deserve to be. 

I hope Lupita continues to thrive in her career (the acting one); I look forward to seeing her in any visual media (even as small as her Instagram). This People announcement as “Most Beautiful” made Lupita happy, as she tweeted, so I am (and many people are) happy for her. Congrats to Lupita Nyong’o. 

Related Essay Compilation: On Beauty Politics

Related Post: Black Women Do Not Have To Reject Any Mention Of Beauty To Be Womanist/Feminist

April 2014
22

Whites Who Use Conditional Anti-Racism “Allyship” As A Bargaining Chip

Conditional anti-racism “allyship” from Whites used as a bargaining chip is a nuisance at best, abuse by the norm and dehumanization at worse. It is ridiculous and it is common. I don’t think in a binary thus I am not suggesting unconditional ”allyship” as if I’m discussing conceptions of love as “unconditional.” No. Allyship should not exist within this binary in the first place but be a process involving consistent introspection and reflection without centering White privilege over the lived experiences of Black people as the praxis. As the brilliant Black feminist @FeministGriote has said "being an ally is a process, not an identity."

I recently tweeted about the irritating “threats” from Whites who “warn” me and other Black people about how they will stop being an “ally” if we challenge them when usually what happens is they barged their way into a conversation or space, demanded to be centered, tried to change the topic, engaged in gaslighting or did something else clearly abusive.

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This thing where White “allyship” (already regularly problematic, abusive, flawed without concern, and at times just the same racism as non-allyship) is held over my head like some sort of “special gift”—that I should be thankful for to the point the actual oppressions that create the potential for allyship cannot be critiqued and I cannot even disagree with something someone White says to me where they think they are going to “debate” my humanity as if there are 2 “sides” to an issue when one side is dehumanization and the other side is survival—is so disgustingly vile to me. Worse, many who think these unacceptable actions online is allyship shudder when it’s time to support a Black woman like me offline. Believe that. I’ve seen it and lived it.

Certainly this critique could apply to many oppressions in terms of privilege being leveraged over the oppressed person’s head, but I am speaking about RACE right now. And how I experience multiple intersecting oppressions is always a factor, but let me be clear that this conditional “allyship” most frequently occurs by Whites and in regards to race; sometimes specifically anti-Blackness where they strut non-Black women of colour in my face as a model of what I should be like versus “angry” and Black (which directly connects to misogynoir). Sometimes it is in regards to the intersection of race and gender for me as a Black woman since the additional expectations of servitude shaped by the mammy archetype accompanies their expectations to not be critiqued and how they will still hold a Black man’s opinions/experiences over mine, while still holding unexamined racist and anti-Black views on us both and all other Black people.

Irritatingly enough, instead of considering why I experience this “conditional allyship” on the hour online (I mean, most recently this morning in fact; twice) and regularly offline when in political spaces with Whites, most Whites who consider themselves “allies” are already ready to: proclaim “not all Whites,” email me some guilt-ridden email where they expect to be reassured on how good their “allyship” is and shift attention to their privilege, not my experience with racism, say “fuck” allyship altogether when they weren’t good allies to start with or respond in a completely overtly racist fashion. Then there will be the ones who will Whitesplain everything I just wrote/alter my words to other Whites and think that speaking over me is “allyship.” 

If the affirmation and protection of my humanity is a conditional “gift,” that I should jump through hoops to “earn” (since anti-Blackness means the denial of Black humanity through words all the way to dehumanizing violence is boiler plate) then they’re suggesting that I am not really human and there’s nothing worse that they could suggest. (I mean, even in the smallest circumstances Whites operate from a plane of dehumanization when interacting with me, which I’ve discussed many times, most recently in a Storify: "I Didn’t Know You Were A Person" and Other Tales of Dehumanization of A Black Woman.)  

How are they “good allies” when the complete lack of introspection and self-awareness regarding their behavior is there? Clearly their endless consumption (and consumption itself, from a position of White privilege is NOT allyship or activism) of my words means nothing in terms of actual expansion of perspective. Having the same “do not dehumanize me” conversation with someone after every tweet/conversation/essay etc? I want any Whites who do this completely away from me. And certainly having boundaries then evokes thoughts of my actual humanity in their minds so they lash out to violate them as best possible.

Part of the problem may be the individualism ascribed to Whiteness (where they reject an institutional/system perspective on racism and only view oppression as isolated racist incidents or “misunderstandings”) means they see “liking” me personally as “allyship” and “disliking” me as grounds to remove it. This is not about interpersonal relationships though and their fear of being cornered or challenged by the very type of person that they were taught is not human let alone smart enough to be knowledgeable on something that they are not, an expert on my own experiences and a subject in my own life, not an object. Allyship is not about friendship. It is a process by which Whites actively choose to challenge White supremacy beyond consumption of the pain that it causes in my life. I don’t need them to like me or be in my space to do that work if they personally dislike me. At the same time, when their dislike is based on resentment of me affirming my humanity and challenging oppression, then it is salient and a part of their White privilege unchecked. (I’m honestly not here “hoping” for their friendship and not focused on “making” them my allies; I wrote this because I write for myself and to Black women [though other marginalized people read here] and am describing abuse that not only I have experienced. Speaking truth about experience is important to my womanism.) 

The irony is that while they don’t want to check their privilege, they’re literally broadcasting it by expecting Black people like me to “perform” to “win” my humanity as a “gift.” They “threaten” me with "well you’re gonna lose a good ally!" This ludicrous “threat” is based on abuse and dehumanization in the first place. Thus, my response? "Bye. Just…bye." 

Related Essay Compilations: 2013: A Year Of White Supremacy and Racism In Mainstream Feminism, On Race IV, On Race III, On Race II, On Race.

Related Posts: 10 Ways That White Feminist and White Anti-Racism Allies Are Abusive To Me In Social MediaAllies Are Still Privileged; Don’t Forget It

April 2014
22
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This South African commercial for Bell’s scotch is so not what I thought it was going to be. It’s a familial intergenerational look at literacy and attaining literacy as a subject in one’s own experience versus as an object of pity and projection. And yeah, it’s sweet and I teared up; I liked that he was in his community and surrounded by family on this adventure, not just an object someone projects a White Savior narrative on.

It made me think of Quvenzhané’s Maserati commercial where a compelling story was told so much so that the product is beyond secondary, where the product could be removed and then you have a great short film, except with this commercial the product actually fits more than in the aforementioned. Creative ad.

April 2014
22

Read This Week

This is my 83rd Read This Week feature where each week I share the best articles, essays and/or journal articles/papers that I read in the previous week, which you may be interested in based on your interest in Gradient Lair.

Eldercare: The Forgotten Feminist Issue by @thewayoftheid on Hood Feminism is an important read. It was hard for me because my mother died at 48 as I’ve mentioned before. Never made it to old age. Even so, I know how important this issue should be to womanists and Black feminists since women tend to outlive men and since familial elder care is a critical part of Black culture. She mentions why it doesn’t get mainstream feminist attention as well. Must read.

Attacking The Stream by @blackamazon on Dissent is so good. Exquisite writing. A very important topic on oppressed people using social media, especially Twitter, and those with power trying to silence. She notes: "And that’s what it comes down to: survival. We can analyze it to death but ultimately we are using tech to survive, just as the government is using it to kill people. No matter what tools and platforms we are given, we will be ourselves, and we’ll keep fighting—to defend our block, our family, our identity."

On Colbert and White Racial Satire: We Don’t Need It by @BlackGirlDanger on Black Girl Dangerous perfectly explains my own opinions that I tweeted for days on this ridiculous myth that the regurgitation of racist stereotypes, and from a position of White privilege and power, in order to “critique” other racism is not only “satire” but is somehow helpful to people of colour. White liberals, especially, have convinced themselves that consumption of this “satire” (and I simply do not care if Whites think this is or is not satire) that mocks White conservatives, as if they don’t all share the same White privilege, is proof of allyship and anti-racism praxis. Perfect essay on this.

Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing by @djolder on BuzzFeed is a great read. To be clear, I despise BuzzFeed. This isn’t new to my readers or Twitter followers. However, I adore @djolder as a writer and Twitter buddy and this piece is very important. He notes: "Ultimately, editors and agents hold exactly the same amount of responsibility that writers do in making literature more diverse. The difference is, editors and agents have inordinately more power and access in the industry than writers do." Critical look at structural power and publishing. A MUST READ for all writers, methinks.

An Ask Box response by thingsthatmakeyouacey on Tumblr addresses being a person of colour here (or non-White person abroad) and being asexual and how racism has to be deconstructed from asexuality as a sexual orientation. It has excerpts from some aces of colour (including mine, but the post excerpted is a really personal one that’s 7 months old where I was working through some painful thoughts around self-identification; maybe instead see my more recent writing on asexuality) that puts perspective to how yet again Whiteness is centered even in the margins. As with everything. As with every single marginalized group that exists. 

If God Is Watching by @Karnythia on The Revelator is fiction short story and incredibly written. I mean the first sentence is just…damn!!!!!! It reads: I killed a man when I was 13. Not on pur­pose or noth­ing. But he still died.” On that alone I had to continue reading. I was in tears by the end. I need this to be a novel. Desperately. I knew she had skills with social commentary but on fiction she is straight stuntin’ on so many writers. Amazing talent and skill. 

Stay tuned for next week’s suggestions!

April 2014
21

A month of braids! I haven’t had box braids since 2003 (though I’ve had twists and faux locs in the last few months) so this was fun. It started out waist length with my existing shaved sides and ended up in a bob. Next hairdo soon come. These selfies are on my Instagram page as well. (The awesome wood earrings are from Rachel Stewart Jewelry; not affiliated with them so this isn’t a product review; just a happy customer.)

April 2014
20
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Obviously she’s Wonder Woman. I mean, look at this pose alone. 

Obviously she’s Wonder Woman. I mean, look at this pose alone.