Culture and Politics

We Owe “Scary Spice” An Apology

Originally published on Medium in the Human Parts Collection. It was also listed in Dazed Magazine’s “Best of The Web” the week that it was published. 

mel b

Lately, I’ve been in my Black Girl Hair feelings. It’s winter and I’ve been travelling up and down the East Coast, so I’m spending more time in beauty salons, straightening it so that I don’t have wash it and risk pneumonia while it air dries (into curlsicles). But really, there’s never not a time that Black Girl Hair isn’t in my feelings. Solange’s wedding photos had every Black girl in the world — me included — feeling some kind of way. And as I finish testing over 15 products for an article about affordable hair care products for women of color in Paris, I’m being confronted with the global issues of how little Black hair is considered, much less, the possibility that it’s beautiful.

Of course, there are those comments to think about. The comments about Zendaya’s hair. The sound bites: weed. Patchouli. Dreads. Deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, the subtext of these remarks “dirty,” “undesirable,” and “unworthy.” Hair that is so unabashedly Black that it cannot be fantasied into racial ambiguity or “otherness” and thus, must be dealt with severely for its inability to amuse and/or be exoticized. Coiled dreads that are so unabashedly Black that Zendaya — who months ago many claimed she was not Black enough to play Aaliyah — is now so Black that she reeks of weed and patchouli through the television screen.

All of this talk has me thinking about Melanie “Scary Spice” Brown. For me, she was the first Black woman who wore curls and wore them proudly, the first I could identify with. And I think of her when White women say they are excluded from the natural hair movement, the new focus on curly hair in beauty products that hesitates to mention that aforementioned movement for fear of associating with Blackness. And in 2015, where a Black woman’s hair on the red carpet is evocative of deviant behavior, it’s worth collectively examining how we consider Blackness in its follicle form and the pathological fears and stereotypes that those follicles are wrapped in for mainstream consumption.

Nearly 20 years later, I still can’t get over the fact that we thought it was okay to call a brown girl with beautiful curls “Scary.” I can’t believe that we’re still using that name for her in headlines. Sure, she uses it herself in her Twitter profile — but as a public figure who uses name recognition as part of her brand, does she have much agency in the matter? That nickname is awful, erroneous, and racist. Why was Melanie scary? Because she’s Black? Because she has big curly hair? Because she’s the only Black girl girl in a group of White girls? Because mainstream doesn’t know what box to toss her in?

I remember so vividly the first time I saw Mel B. and her curls bouncing across the Zenith television in my room. My eyes immediately zeroed in on the cool Black girl amongst the other White girls, feeling an immediate kinship with that mise en scéne. (I was one of the few Black kids at my suburban elementary school.) It wasn’t that I didn’t think that Posh’s Gucci mini dress wasn’t cute or that I didn’t want Baby Spice’s pigtails; it’s just that I knew those things were unattainable for me. There was nothing in Baby Spice’s long, thin, blonde hair pigtails that went almost to her waist that spoke to my curls-turned-cute Afro puffs, not in any way. (And my mother was not buying a Gucci mini dress for her 12-year-old.) But Mel B. — she was a girl who looked like me. I was immediately obsessed. I wondered if she fought with her hair the way that I did, if she had ever gotten a relaxer (a Black girl in the 90s that did not get a relaxer might as well have been a unicorn), if she had spent hours of her Saturday mornings in beauty salons slathering creamy crack onto her curly roots while her White girlfriends were at soccer practice. I wanted to be Mel’s friend or at the very least, a pen pal. I did numerous and unfruitful searches on Netscape 2.0 for “Scary Spice hair conditioner.” Without question, “Scary Spice” was my first Black girl crush. After an 80s and 90s childhood that demanded I find myself in Alicia Silverstone and Winona Ryder, that gave me hair advice and tips that would never apply to my hair, Mel B. and her ringlets were manna from MTV.

But “Scary Spice.” It felt so wrong to call her that. Why was I calling this beautiful woman that looked like me, “Scary”? Sure, I thought she was beautiful, but why would the “people in charge” (in my 12-year-old mind, everyone) call her “Scary” if she were really pretty? I looked at her, trying to find something to justify the name, but couldn’t. And then I began to think, “Well, is she as pretty as I think that she is? Does that mean that I’m ugly?” The girls at my suburban middle school, many of whom vacillated between wanting to be Posh or Baby Spice, did not notice Mel B. at all. Was it because she was ugly? Less than that, she didn’t even register. She was just “the Black girl.” And though the “lesbian” and “slut” coding of Melanie Chisholm (“Sporty Spice”) and Gerri Halliwell (“Ginger Spice”) are for another day, the invisibility of Melanie Brown’s beauty to my friends only made me love her more, as I didn’t have to compete with anyone to prove who was a bigger fan of Melanie B. But it was also a reminder as to how hostile the world would be to me and the things that made me beautiful.

In normalizing “Scary Spice,” we trained a whole generation of Millennials to think about Black women and Black hair as frightening. (Millennials are less racially tolerant than you think.) Without realizing it, we’ve helped create a generation of feminists that lack intersectionality; those excluded are made to create their own spaces because of a lack of inclusion. And we’ve given a whole generation the continued license to not consider Blackness as something that can be beautiful without Whiteness being a reference point, thus enforcing White supremacy by means of implying that Whiteness is a neutral, identity-less baseline of objectivity. Beauty standards built on restrictive norms enforce this idea that beauty is a scarce resource and that anything outside of those resource boundaries (i.e., Whiteness) must be attacked and diminished to preserve the potency of resource horde.

I don’t think for one minute that Giuliana Rancic was thinking about all of that colonialism, perpetuation, and preservation of patriarchy when she compared the scent of a Black woman’s hair to patchouli or weed. I really believe she didn’t understand why those comments were hurtful. I think her apology was sincere and should be an example of how to listen to people of color and be an ally. But that’s the thing; the messages of ugliness, the unworthiness, the otherness of Blackness has been so thoroughly engrained and approved by our society, that the bias is implicit and subconscious. The associations of inferiority that were made were so smooth and unassuming, just like the straight, thin locks our society covets. Some might feel that being cognizant of how stereotypes and tropes are perpetuated isn’t fun, but having one’s humanity confined by them is a helluva lot less fun.

We owed Melanie Brown the apology that Giuliana Rancic gave Zandaya 18 years ago. And I’m glad to see we’ve come far enough that Zandaya received it. I don’t know Melanie Brown in real life, but she seems to be a complex, beautiful, and rather full person. A collective disregard and fear of Blackness and Black femininity prevented a more thorough appreciation of Melanie Brown, both then and now. The casualness of saying that a young woman on the red carpet at the Oscars smelled like drugs because of her un-malleable Blackness is completely related to the fact that for almost twenty years, we’ve called another Black woman scary because she too, had non-negotiable Blackness.

Some might say Melanie Brown’s singing talents are mediocre. This may be true, but then again, when did that ever stop the majority of White pop singers in this country? Melanie Brown deserves more credit than what we’ve given her. Not because she’s an overlooked talent, but because she stands as a testament to our subconscious anti-Blackness that is still rampant in its casualness and frequency. Mel B. was a big influence to finally cut off the chemicals and embrace their curls, and their Blackness, for many Black women — myself included — who went natural in the early 2000s. And though she’s rarely seen today with her curls, I still want to ask her what conditioner she uses — and to apologize for calling her “Scary Spice” without understanding what I was continuing or condoning.

My Latest for Elle: French Hair Products For Women of Color

Here’s my latest for Elle.com:

french hair products

Aside from eating foie gras and cheese with wild abandon, I had one particular mission on a recent trip to Paris, and that was to find hair products. Now, this isn’t a particularly ground-breaking mission in the beauty capital of the world, but I was looking for hair products for women of color. In all of my years of traveling and living in Paris, I’ve never seen an article extolling the “must have” beauty products to be had in the City of Lights that acknowledges women who don’t have straight or “normal” hair, let alone the complex hair types and needs of women of color. Because of Paris’s colonial past, it is an incredibly diverse city, widely recognized by women of color as the place to go to go find hair and beauty products. So why aren’t they represented when we talk about Paris and beauty products?

Taking into account my prior experience with a leave-in conditioner recommended by a “Must Buy” guide, which left me with an empty bottle and wallet to match after two uses, I was on a mission to find affordable products, too. Before my departure, I scoured the blogs, finding a shout out or two for the usual suspect—Kérastase—which is great, until you have to pay for it in dollars. Clearly on my own in this quest, there wasn’t a Monoprix, pharmacie, or out-of-the-way beauty shop uptown that I missed. I journaled and Excel’d beauty products and their end results with a focus that’s equally vain and admirable, with one central aim: wanting to be represented.

beauty products

The editorial oversight is strange, because Paris is a pure treasure trove of products for women with “problematic” hair. When I went natural in college, I struggled to find affordable products that addressed my curls, which were dry and voluminous but when straightened, went flat and desperately needed dry shampoo. It was when I studied in Paris that I discovered that yes, black girls can use dry shampoo, and I found real leave-in conditioners, not left-in conditioner. Part of the reason I didn’t think I needed things like clarifying shampoos (which I now swear by) was because those products never featured women like me.

check out the rest of the article on Elle.com and the review of the products by clicking the link!

Whole Foods Is Expensive. You’re Poor. Stop Going.

Whole Paycheck.

Whole Paycheck.

It’s really and truly that simple – just stop going – but I understand; it’s much easier said than done. Millennials, I’ve said it once before, but it’s really true – you’re all poor. No really. But you must understand beloveds, Whole Foods is partly to blame as to why you have no assets. I get it; it’s easier to buy Maple water for $4 and feel solvent than it is to actually be solvent in this economy. And when your student loan balance is the size of a small country’s GDP, what difference does $10-a-pound buffalo meat make?

There’s a convincing argument to make for that argument. However, today is not that day. What I’m talking about instead are the dreams, unrealistic life expectations that keep you mired in the artistinal feudal system. Buying your way into the upper classes through Whole Foods and other aspirational stores (J.Crew junkies, I’m looking at you) is why you have no car, though you live in cities that claim you don’t need one or that the Metro is cheaper than owning a car. (Okay, New York.) Whole Foods is why you can’t afford a mortgage. Whole Foods is partly why you have three roommates. That’s simplifying things a bit (like overlooking your B.A. in Medieval English), but it’s essentially the truth.

Note: As we’re taking this pixelated tour of the ridiculously priced items in Whole Foods that stand between you and solvency, (or at least, a full grocery bag for less than $100) you’ll also have to excuse the quality of the photos, as when you’re busy taking photos and documenting Millennial poverty not buying food, you have to move quickly, lest you arouse suspicion. It’s one thing to be poor, quite another to act it, but capturing reality, or whatever.

People in New York will say that Whole Foods isn’t that expensive. Some will even say that there are statistics showing this to be the case. These are all facts. To someone. After Fairway, Whole Foods is the second cheapest grocery store in Manhattan. But this is all relative. Relative to the fact that people in New York and San Francisco are paying nearly $3 for five sprigs of kale. This is absurd folks and could be argued as a form of produce terrorism when people in Dallas and Houston are only paying $1.50 for a real, full bushel of kale.

better and cropped kale

the price one pays to eat in the People’s Republic of California

A while ago, I went to a Whole Foods in San Francisco with $10. Just to see. Laughable, I know, but what can I say – I’m a gambling woman. (But, to be fair, I now have a more empathetic view of what it feels like when men attempt to date notches out of their league.)

Whole Foods and I have never had a great relationship, but I still go, because in SoMa, it’s the only grocery store for miles. As far I’m concerned, Trader Joe’s doesn’t even carry produce when you must pay 75 cents per apple. It’s actually ironic; most poor Americans in this situation are subjected to K-town with bananas as spotted as plantains, but the poor in San Francisco, they’ll just have to make do with their $4.99 a pound hybrid fruit.

hybrid fruit limequats

As John Steinbeck would have said, I’m a temporarily embarrassed millionaire – with a very strong addiction to Siggi’s yoghurt.

siggi's yoghurt

At a $1.69, Millennial holistic crack Siggi’s ain’t cheap. But, it does come in a “basic” flavor, so, that’s a bonus, I suppose.

basic bitch yoghurt

does not come with “Pink” sweatpants.

Ten dollars does not go really much further than this. That said, the coconut, spiced pear, vanilla and acai & mixed berries flavors are BOMB. Try them all, though not all at once unless you can afford it. If you are truly destitute and have to pick one, I’d say go with the coconut and print coupons from the Siggi’s website. Because, again, $10.00 does not go much further than this, especially if you do not bring your own reusable bags. So, I begin backpedalling/doing the running man away and bump into the cracker aisle. Yes, the sustenance of The Poors. The BAF gods (Broke As F*ck) are looking out and this is fortuitous. But of course, crackers aren’t just crackers at Whole Foods. First, I find these dishwashing sponges Green Crackers, which I thought were for dogs at first given the Purina grade of green, but I was wrong. And they were $7.39.

Continuing to back pedal, I bump into alcohol. I’ve never been known to find myself at the bottom of a spirit glass, but I am also approaching an age in my life where I shouldn’t be against it. But what does one do exactly when it’s the prices of libations that makes you want to drink?

Christmas beer

And how is it, nearly a month after Christmas, beer from said holiday is the same price as regular beer? And this “sale” is going on until February 10th? Look. If Beaujolais can lower their standards prices after the season, surely this maison of craft beer can make some adjustments. I have no skin in this game; I hate beer. My grandfather called it “peasant piss” and though I agree, it’s neither here nor there. I just want to know what I could drink if I were destitute and despondent. This is not the drink of the actually poor. I keep the search moving.

This is just getting depressing and as such, the idea of sharing alcohol with people is even more depressing, so I begin to look for cheaper yet elegant ways to privately humiliate and depress oneself. Prosecco. Yes. Introducing American women to fake drunkenness since their spring semester studying abroad in Italy.

Eventually after fine tooth combing the entire wine selection like I’m looking for a last ponytail holder, I find some $5.99 house Chardonnay. It’s probably for the best, because at the point where I’d be willing to drink this, I’m not paying attention to the taste anyway.

Basically, breathing self-destructive behavior at Whole Foods is expensive, so I took it as a sign that perhaps I should look for more constructive ways of dealing with poverty in Whole Foods. Naturally, my mind wandered to that time that I heard Miranda Kerr, truly one of the Baddest Bitches in the Land, drinks noni juice religiously and puts maca powder in her green smoothies and thus, has not aged. (Disclaimer: as a Black woman, I will look 25 for the next 25 years, but still. I’m setting my bar at Thandie Newton/Tina Turner levels.) What can be more constructive than self improvement? I had actually been thinking of switching up my green smoothie routine and maybe this was just the nudge to do it.

Wrong.

prosecco

maca powder

noni juice

How the f*ck is this an everyday deal? Who is buying this sh*t everyday? Can they buy me some? Can Miranda Kerr buy me some? How does one achieve levels of Miranda Kerr bad bitchness when $31.00 juice is a requisite? I begin wondering if there’s a bar that I can go to that just mixes vodka with noni juice, but then remember even if this drink does exist a.) I hate vodka and b.) this drink is probably $15.00. c.) disregarding point “a”, I still will probably need three drinks to feel its numbing effects, cancelling out any therapeutic or budgeting effects.

The system is rigged beyond reproach.

it is what it is.

it is what it is.

$7.39. Yes, seven hundred thirty nine pennies. Plus the five cent California bottle tax. And I left my reuseable tote at home? Add another ten cents for the San Francisco paper bag tax. That’s obscene right? I can’t imagine any artists surviving in San Francisco off pasta sauce that costs $7.54. I mean, that’s like a two day eating budget for a real renegade.

Looking at the actual pasta was not worth the bother. Instead, I thought crackers were a more worthwhile pursuit. Can’t go wrong with crackers right?

this is what we've come to.

this is what we’ve come to.

Nevermind I couldn’t find Saltines and we won’t even talk about how one of the employees didn’t know what I was talking about. What the fuck are you doing in Whole Foods on a budget? At this point, I’ve spent close to $30.00 of my $10.00 budget. Onto the quinoa. No hipster diet is complete without this grain and though I didn’t have the time or money to make a $15 quinoa salad, I couldn’t help but to take a peek.

cropped quinoa

It wasn’t nearly as bad as what I thought it’d be – pasta sauce is more?! – but still. This budget is way over budget. In fact, the free honey and agave at the $4 coffee bar was the only thing that I could *truly* afford.

Are Millennials poor because of Whole Foods? No. Not technically. But, it’s also dumb to pretend that it’s not a status symbol, a consumer good onto itself and a means of projecting class ideals. Most people, let alone Millennials, can’t afford the upper-middle class aspirations that Whole Foods represents. It’s not just the whole foods they’re buying. In a time where higher education is out of reach for many, home ownership seems fantastical and living without roommates and saving for retirement simultaneously seems impossible, Whole Foods kind of represents buying a slice or two of the gluten-free American pie.

Don’t forget the $2 bottle of herbal water to wash it down, of course.

herbal water

From The Vaults: The Bee Gees’ “Fanny Be Tender (With My Love)”

the bee gees

The Bee Gees are some of the most disrespected, under-appreciated geniuses of pop culture and music. The creators of a sound that was so distinctive that even Michael Jackson borrowed it, the Bee Gees wrote close to a 1,000 songs for other acts, including Diana Ross, Barbara Streisand, Otis Redding, so on and so forth. So iconic were they, one of Al Green’s trademark songs, “How Do You Mend (A Broken Heart)” is actually a cover of their 1971 version.

Because this lack of knowledge is really reprehensible, I’m sharing one of my favorite songs, “Fanny Be Tender (With My Love)”. Have a listen, it’s really exquisite. You can read more about the song here.

So complex this song is, Maurice Gibb stated that while they all loved the song, it was hardly performed live, because of its intricacies. Honestly, this is one of the best love R&B songs ever written and performed. It’s one of the rare songs in which you can hear the range and depth of each Gibb’s voice; Maurice stuns with great harmony and Robin, long considered the best singer in the group, also shines with a surprising depth not normally seen in the fragile timber of his voice. It’s one of the few songs that Barry and Robin share lead vocals.

As to where this idea came from, last night on Twitter, where I frequently hold office hours, my timeline was full with love and admiration for the Bee Gees and a lack of understanding as to how deep and rich their catalogue is. And I get it; for those of us that came of age in the 90s and 00s, the disco era has been ridiculed so much that to actually like – forget about appreciate – the era, is almost a backhanded compliment of kitschy irony. I’m of the camp that the aesthetics of the 70s lead people to prematurely disregard the whole decade, which is both a mistake and a topic for another blog post.

But yet.

The Bee Gees’ catalogue is deeply, incredibly amazing. And genius. Their songwriting and harmonizing skills are truly genius – there’s no other word or hyperbole for it –  with no real peers of their peers. After all, Michael Jackson frequently cited them as his favorite band – which, if you listen to Barry’s his falsetto and consider Off The Wall a disco record (as Michael himself did), isn’t hard to see at all.

Check the receipts. And take a closer and more thoughtful look into the Bee Gees’ catalogue.

Paris is Classier Than Us All

This should have been a long time ago. My apologies.

I’ve been so busy raising hell on the internets and working on articles and most recently, at the very dope Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective in Toronto and speaking at Williams College, that I have not had an opportunity to tell you exactly what the hell I was doing in Paris, besides working.

And working.

my writing table at Mariage Freres. Not a bad gig, I know.

my writing table at Mariage Freres. Not a bad gig, I know.

But yes, besides testing fabulous teas and beauty products for articles, I did *manage* to have fun. (Imagine how tough THAT was.) Given that I mostly write about such serious things, I think it’s important to show that I have a lighter side as well. From finding what I think are the best macarons in Paris (sorry Ladurée) the best foie gras to the most amazing musée in Paris. And of course, affordable beauty and hair products, but I can’t really write about it JUST yet 😉

But back to macarons. Like, these right here.

the best stuff on Earth

the best stuff on Earth

The bag above is about 10 minutes old and half empty. It’s shameful – and it’s all caught on tape.

 

And of course, if you’re a tea addict like me, there’s only one real place in Paris to go for tea – and that’s Mariage Freres. There are a lot of amazing places to go for tea in Paris and one day, I’d love to do a blog post on the amazing tea services in Paris, but really there’s only one place in Paris to go – and that’s Mariage Freres. (Just in case you didn’t catch that the first time.)

there's tea, then there's Mariage Freres

there’s tea, then there’s Mariage Freres

one of the amazing teas that I sampled

one of the amazing teas that I sampled

And when I was not harassing the impossibly chic staff at Mariage Freres for samples and tea notes (“mais, je vais écrire un article, Monsieur”, I think I said about 10 times), I was more or less importing Monoprix brick by brick, or rather, shower gel by shower gel. And shampoo. And facial scrub. And hair masque. And leave-in conditioner. And toothpaste.

Side note though: Monoprix is the Target of Paris, but because Paris is so classy, imagine if Target sold foie gras and Bordeaux wines and Roger & Gallet perfume. That’s Monoprix and absolutely worth a visit.

beauty products

The other half of the haul is just too embarrassing to post, if only for the sheer amount of sh*t I had to bring back. Honestly, I’ve never really fancied myself as a beauty products writer and I don’t think I’m about to start. It’s actually a hard and time consuming job! And a lot of the products that I found for Black women and other women of color was truly off the beaten path, in the 18th and 20th arrondissements which means it took a lot of time to find them. I mean, it’s a ton of fun trying products, but you have to try each product for at least 3 – 7 days and if you don’t shampoo your hair everyday like me, some can take longer than others. So, um yes – that article is literally still in progress, or rather, in between hair masques.

Meanwhile, when I wasn’t doing my part to rebuild the French economy, I stopped into McDonald’s. Orrrrr, rather, my friend stopped into McDonald’s after tiring of hours spent at Monoprix. (I think I said,”But it’s for an article!” more than “Je voudrais”). I think at this point, it’s a rite of passage for every American in Paris to go into a McDonald’s and order a royale avec fromage as in Pulp Fiction and if you haven’t, please get it together – and watch this clip.

 

Can I just say for one minute, that McDonald’s fascinates me, for cultural and culinary reasons. I love McDonald’s – and I don’t have to be drunk to go. In fact, it’s one of my “last meals on earth” meals. But I’m under no illusions that I’m not eating food that will probably outlive me, which is why I find McDonald’s in Paris so fascinating. But leave it to Paris to give McDonald’s the majesty that its GMO food lacks. My mind was blown when I went inside and saw they had macarons at McDonald’s. YES. You read me right. Macarons in this b*tch.

mcdonalds macarons

And croissants. And pastries.

mcdonald's pastry window

And it was expensive. And there were mad people there shopping with bags all over them and it kind of reminded me of Times Squares, where everyone eats at the McDonald’s there after shopping because they’ve all spent their rent money at Zara. But I don’t think this was the case, per se. With prices like these (a full meal at McDonald’s costs about 13 euro), I think eating at McDonald’s acts as a kind of consumer good and conspicuous consumption act that can only make sense in Paris.

paris mcdonalds

And always being on a hunt for people to bother interview, I met a few subjects that were willing to give me a few quotes about the state of Parisian affairs with regards to race and postcolonialism, my favorite French subject.  The real gem was the man that stood outside of the line to the restrooms and told us all, for 20 minutes, how racist White people were in France and how we were all slaves to consumerism. The man had a point on all accounts, even if he was raving more than a little bit. He was too close for me to take a photo, but trust me, I wanted to.

Another cool thing about Paris? The street art and graffiti. On our bike ride, my friend and I kept seeing the work of Invader, whom I was unfamiliar with until this trip to Paris. This one piece that we saw on our bike ride, which was a nice consolation prize after standing in line for nearly two hours for the Picasso Museum, to no avail. (Spoiler alert: most of the Picassos you want to see anyway are at the MoMa in New York, though my personal favorite, The Old Guitarist, is in Chicago.)

space invaders

That said, bike rides: so much fun. The bike share in Paris: even MORE fun! I’m a big fan of them and often do them when I’m in San Francisco and New York. (C’mon L.A. I know you can do this.) When I lived in Paris, the woman that lived two floors below me (with her ridiculous collection of red leather bound books and the husband that she had been separated from for 14 years that came over for dinner on Wednesdays and sometimes with her boyfriend, BUT THAT’S A STORY FOR ANOTHER DAY) had a wonderful bike that she often let me borrow. So, it was great fun to ride my rented bike through the city and feel like a 21 year old student again. (But I’m much chicer than my 21 year-old self.)

 

My twin nephews just got their first set of wheels this Christmas and being that this will probably be a lifelong love with bikes of some sort, I just want it on the record that I told them NOT to ride their bikes in Paris, because it seems like a responsible disclaimer to put out there. Bike riding in Paris isn’t unsafe per se, if you’re used to riding with bikes in a major city, but pretty daunting if you’re not. And given how narrow the streets are…well, I wouldn’t say it’s for beginners, but then again, nothing is until you get the experience by beginning.  That being said, I absolutely think they’ll break my rule – as they should, which is why I also included this video for their future 20 and 21 year-old selves:

 

children's armour from the 16th century. My nephews need these for Halloween next year!

children’s armour from the 16th century. My nephews need these for Halloween next year!

powder flask

printemps window

And of course, there’s the other side to Paris that never gets written about until the banlieues burn or tragedies like Charlie Hebdo. And that’s the other Paris, the Paris of the 18th and 20th arrondissements, where many immigrants live, particularly Black and North African immigrants. It has a special fondness for me; my senior project in college was on French racism, mixed race communities and postcolonialism in Paris and so, it’s something that I intellectually revisit a lot. I did this project way before Tumblr and blogging became as huge as they are now, so it’s probably worth it to put that work online now. Either way, interviewing people of color, particularly women, was truly the highlight of this trip.

I’ve always thought it was fascinating that Paris became this refuge for so many African-Americans but was a very inhospitable place for so many people of African and North African descent. And given the subject matter that my own writing finds itself at the nexus of, it’s hard to not think and write about French racism when you know how bad it is. And many of the Black people in France are watching what’s happening in the U.S. and are in turn, speaking out about the rampant racism in their own societies. I don’t think that the search for equality in France is all that much different than what many Black people are fighting for, still, in the U.S. And I think it’s particularly important to make sure that Black oppression is put into a global context, because it happens globally and it has ramifications, globally. It’s important to look at what Paris, which functions as an example of civility and elegance throughout the world, especially the Western world, is doing with regards to its communities of color. Basically, what I’m saying is that its ironic that the most elegant city in the Western world treats a great deal of its non-White citizens horribly, in subtle and not so subtle ways. The pressure to conform to the proxy of Whiteness is all around, in subtle and not so subtle ways – like this skin bleaching cream below.

oh dear.

oh dear.

Though Paris is hardly representative of the world, it is very cool to see that the conversations of White supremacy, Blackness, anti-Blackness and inclusion are important conversations that are really on the conversational pulses of societies in Europe and from what I can see and read, elsewhere. Hopefully, this site can do its part to further continue and push that dialogue and those necessary conversations, in the states and beyond.

Something New, Something Blue and Something Not For Many of Us: A Response to Tiffany’s Gay Ad

gay tiffany couple

This was written by Joe von Hutch in a response to last week’s post about Tiffany’s engagement advertisement targeted towards the gay community.

Before diving into my response, I first have to apologize to all of my friends, married and unmarried who may be offended at some of what I say. That’s not my desire, but I enjoy open dialogue on my page so here goes.

First, to quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (sampled on Beyonce’s “Flawless”): “Because I am female / I am expected to aspire to marriage / I am expected to make my life choices / Always keeping in mind that / Marriage is the most important / Now marriage can be a source of / Joy and love and mutual support / But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage / And we don’t teach boys the same?”

Throughout what will fairly accurately be described as an anti-marriage rant, please keep in mind that I agree with Ngozi Adichie that marriage *can* be fantastic; at least in its modern form practiced by partners who are more or less equal. But, historically, marriage was state-sanctioned slavery and I think it is a mistake that LGBT activists have applied most of their intellectual and economic weight to this one cause (and usually at the exclusion of all others e.g. employment discrimination, HIV/Aids research, youth homelessness, etc.). But, here we are, and esp. when I think of my friends who have or will be married, the fact that they cannot do so in only 14 states is a tremendous accomplishment and a true testament to the hard work of all the men and women who fought and fight tirelessly for us to get here.

Now please take it back. Seriously, I don’t want it. And while I am happy for my friends who choose monogamy and monogrammed towels, I neither want the pressure to aspire to the same nor disapproval from both within and without my community when I choose to remain a deviant. Because what we forget is that the movement used to be about radical change and accepting people for who they are and how they choose to live. And I know society can only be changed in discrete ways, but images of (a seemingly happy and loving couple, mazel tov) white, well-to-do men being used to hawk bits of rock mined by Africans under, at best, questionable and, at worst, slave-like conditions just to further global capitalism, exclusion, patriarchy and white privilege is simply not my idea of true activism. Pandering, yes. Smart business, yes. But there is nothing radical or inspiring about this, at least not to me. I’m sure others will disagree, as they should.

And I think I’m also particularly rankled by this because I know people who are currently facing housing issues for being “dirty, disgusting faggots”. And people who do not feel comfortable being out at work for fear of what certain partners might think. And a lot of it is because the media (and we as activists) are selling an image of an antiseptic and non-offensive gay man or woman that rarely matches the reality of me and my friends on the pansexual, polyamorous and BDSM margins. And, domestically, while this image might do some good in convincing the few remaining dinosaurs that “I guess gay people are people too”, it will do nothing for the young queers living on the streets or the trans men and women, whose families slot them back into another sex at their deaths. And, internationally, I would love to see more being done to improve the lives of the people who actually dig these things out of the ground than the lives of those who can afford them.

A Confederacy of Colorblinds: Charlie Hebdo and French Racism

“You lack context!”

That seems to be the cry of defense for the French, on this blog and across the internet, this week and last as more and more people question the role of Charlie Hebdo‘s satire and the general state of equality in French society and of course, a controversial article on this site, Je ne suis pas Charlie.

There seems to be lots of context that I lack, according to the comments (and rants) of enraged Frenchmen of all hues. Lack of French cultural context, which to certain degrees, is very true. Lack of an understanding of French comedy, which to certain degrees, is also very true. The French are relentless in their assessment of the American political gung-ho cowboy approach, often with fair criticisms. The French make no secret that with a few exceptions, most Americans are considered to be classless and proudly ignorant. And given that most French citizens travel in a way that many Americans do not, they are fair in their right to hold that informed opinion. But America has a pretty long history in dealing with racism and calling it by its name – and probably know it better when they see it, even if it’s in another country. Why is it that the French identity and humor needs mounds of contextualization to explain comics, which by the very nature of not being dependent upon words, needs very little explanation? Why can’t a country which for better or for worse, is renowned for its fight for racial equality, not qualified to remark on a France’s problem with race, even though the French don’t know what their country looks like?

anonymous Creole woman from Martinique, 1880s

anonymous Creole woman from Martinique, 1880s

French identity, with regards to race, has always full of contexts, asterisks and explanations; it is a democracy that one could forcefully argue still has colonies. It is a multi-racial society which has no statistics to tacitly prove this. A haven for African-Americans seeking political asylum in the 20th century, it also put an African-American woman in a phallic, banana skirt, half naked on stage, to dance and amuse French audiences.

The irony of it all.

French identity, tolerance and esteem has always depended upon proximities to White Frenchness; a minister of Louis XIV described the value of the Canadian Indians ripe for “civilization” as, “one must summon the inhabitants of the country to a life in common with the French, instruct them in the tenets of our religion and our customs, as to form with the inhabitants…one people….” It was the beginnings of the privilege of “French extraction”, a colorful mélange that tantalizes the French imagination and aesthetic, satisfying equal fetishes for thorough Frenchness and the thoroughly un-French exotique. The privileges and obsession with mixed race people (and creating them) functions as trophies of French assimilation; it is still a standard and mechanism of progress in French society. For all France’s history of race based slavery, colonization, subjugation, an obsession with all things Asian that is/was so strong that it named a style of furniture, sexual exoticism of women of color ( lest we not forget that Gauguin was a Frenchman and was the first to document a sexual tourist vacation), France is a country that purports to not see race. In it’s “colorblindness”, France has created a system by which cultural colloquialisms and beliefs are de-facto yet unstable statements of Frenchness that serve as proxies as Whiteness, given one’s proximity to Whiteness. Thus, one is French by how close one is to White ideals and embodiments.

“…job applicants with obviously North African or African names are far less likely to get called in for interviews than those with traditionally French names. A study funded by the Open Society Institute showed that black and North African youths were much more likely to be stopped by police in France’s equivalent of stop-and-frisk.”

Race functions as a silent truth in Parisian society because Paris is a part of a country which was a colonial power, a brutal colonial power and subjugated people on the basis of race, religion and origin. Anyone, (especially people of color), that have spent considerable time in France or lives there knows that the French are anything but colorblind. I don’t know many people in France or Paris of color that actually believe this.  Yet, the denial of the lived experiences of Asian, African and North Africans in France as facts and thus, a social reality, only makes the presence of race in French society all the more there. In a democracy, where the individual right to express oneself is one of the most treasured rights and very much the anchor for the supporters of Charlie Hebdo, that right is only extended and protected for those that show that they are sufficiently French. And France has a particular history of infringing upon this right when it infringes upon ideals of (White) Frenchness. The burqa, a full veil that many Muslim women wear as a religious obligation, is banned, as well as headscarves in schools. Violators of this law are subjected to fines and “citizenship instruction”, as to remind them of what being French is and what it looks like. And the particular ire between the Islam and Charlie Hebdo is rooted in a strong anti-Muslim sentiment that is also rooted in the colonial history of North Africa, particularly Algeria. French colonization in Algeria was so brutal and unsuccessful that Tocqueville described the process of colonizing the country as having “made Muslim society more barbaric than before the French arrived.” (below is one of the most famous clips from the very famous film, “The Battle of Algiers”, which neo-realistically told the story of Algerian independence.)

It was in the simplest of terms, a wholesale subjugation of people to make them French via the annihilation and denial of their Berber heritage. It was one of the most violent forms of French assimilation. And when Algeria finally won its freedom in 1962, it marked the third time that the French had lost a colonial war,  a wound made deeper by the fact that Algeria was France’s oldest major colony and the colony which characterized much its colonial identity. The French could barely tolerate the occupation from a fellow European power; they were downright belligerent at being felled by the bon sauvage. (pour mes amis français, un retourné, bon sauvage en français.) The French have never forgotten it, nor as Charlie Hebdo’s most recent article cover says, was all ever fully forgiven.

“In France, the Algerian is the nigger. That’s because of the relationship of France to Algeria for 130 years: A very complex relationship in which Algeria simply belonged to France and when an Algerian came to France, he was treated and is treated as a mule…” -conversations with James Baldwin 

To repeat, the French state(s) keep no official racial or ethnic statistics (or religious demographics), the populace and the government alike reasoning that there is no such reason to do this when all citizens of France are French, irrespective of their histories and colors. Many French people feel that to do so would encourage people to see differences and focus on them. You see, Americans, in their race obsessed society, have so many problems because they are encouraged to see race, the French say. The banlieues in Paris don’t burn like the projects in Detroit. And they don’t burn like Detroit because the French are civilized, they are a fully integrated country which does not see Algerians, the Cameroonians as being the survivors of a brutal colonial regime and agents of their own freedom from this, but as French. A vision of Frenchness imagined in a colorblind image. The Vietnamese are not political refugees from a country that is still recovering from the Indochina War (which led to the Vietnam War) and French colonialism – they are “just French” and should consider themselves such. Muslim and Arab identity in colonial North Africa wasn’t suppressed by the French banning Islamic law and practices – they’re are “just French” now and should act as such. Nevermind all that stuff that happened so long ago. More or less. Comme ci, comme ça.

 banlieues outside of Paris in 2005

banlieues outside of Paris in 2005

But the banlieues do burn and sometimes, quite literally. And they burn because many people of color feel cut out of the French process and French society. Jokes about being welfare queens aren’t funny when you are North African and Black and you can’t get a job, because your name does not sound French enough, because applicants are required to put their photographs on their employment applications, because you live in the outer métro zones and it is more expensive to get into the city and because the métro closes between 12:30AM and 1AM, the menial jobs that you might be hired for, are difficult to transport to and fro. Jokes about the Koran being shit aren’t quite as funny when you fully expressing your religion is illegal. Many supporters of Charlie Hebdo in the comments section of this site claim that the humor of the publication is to “take the piss out of someone”, which is true. But the power dynamics of French society  for those that don’t have agency and the recognition of their lived experiences with racism is such that taking the piss out of them also amounts to having it thrown into their face.

But, the French persist, Charlie Hebdo isn’t racist – it’s equal opportunity slander. The slander is all the same, because they are all French. Everyone is equally taken a part, skewed, given their fair share turn at the gaulois (Gallic) humor which is known for it’s love of humiliation. The comparison for most Americans would work like this: if British humor is known for “taking the piss” out of someone, French humor might make you drink it. And that’s the égalité of French humor and Frenchness – everyone’s made to drink their own piss. And this is what Charlie Hebdo does, the French say; a round of piss for everybody! Here’s an excellent guide, in English, written by a Frenchman, as to why Charlie Hebdo isn’t racist, allegedly.

black person on a leash

In this drawing of a Black person on a leash being walked by two White people, the author of the post says:

“Oh my god, two white people have a black person on a leech pictured as a dog!!!!”

Yep, how much more racist can it be huh?

Context maybe? I mean that could help right? Last year, the strong conservative right wing side of France was on the streets to protest against same-sex mariage [sic]. At the same time, a few modern slavery stories made the front pages as some rich traditionalist families got arrested actually having modern-days slaves, usually immigrants with their passeport[sic] confiscated, that they did not pay and had work 20 hours a day at their home, with no possiblities [sic] to go out.

So Charlie Hebdo drew this, saying that in order to be accepted as “normal” by those traditionalists, gay people had to AT LEAST be like them: a family has to be made of two parents and one slave, like they were doing.”

It is not (French) context that is needed; it is for the French to understand the context of how humor which is defacing can not be divorced from the power dynamics at work in an unequal society. It is a myth to believe that people struggling for the basic dignities in a democracy and those that are not, are equally humiliated by the display of their culture, religion or likeness being defiled. Those that represent and maintain the dominant powers must understand and consider how humiliating people that have historically been held to be inferior and discriminated against, is not actually satire. And when it is perpetuated by people that have been historically responsible for such delineations of inferiority, it’s not funny, because it is cheap and it is cheap because it trades on inhumanity – and a perpetuation of the histories which White French citizens claim to have happened “a long time ago.” When Black youth are rioting because they can not get jobs, it is not funny that a group of White men and women should decide that they will fight racism by more tropes and images of racism. Nor is it equal when the children of said White men and women can get the jobs that the children of Asian, African and North African immigrants or third generation citizens can’t get. Making fun of Jews in a country so hostile to them that many consider leaving for Israel, is irresponsible. As one Frenchwoman of African descent told me, “I am not Charlie and even if I wanted to be, France wouldn’t allow me to be Charlie.” (A personal remark: I felt unsafe bringing a small menorah to France to finish the observation of Chanukah, because of the casual anti-Semitism that I have personally witnessed during my time in Paris. And I am not even Jewish, though part of my family once was.)

A photo of the Charlie Hebdo staff working on the edition.

this is a photo instead of the Charlie Hebdo staff working on the edition

 

I understand that it is offensive to portray the Prophet Muhammad, and do so not in disrespect, but because of the event and the story.

I understand that it is offensive to portray the Prophet Muhammad, and do so not in disrespect, but because of the event and the story.

I don’t agree with the cover and find it in poor taste, still. Those however, are my personal opinions on the matter. What should be a fact in a democracy and a press running in such society is that making fun of, or troping the most vulnerable members of a society by exploiting what makes them vulnerable to the most ignorant and least tolerant members of your society is stupid and it is dangerous. The cover, a persistent “fuck you” to the sensibilities and laws of Muslims worldwide, persists in the (White) French right to, as a lawyer for Charlie Hebdo said, “blaspheme.” The American press, most of whom have decided that they are not Charlie, has been lukewarm to the cover.

As one Facebook commenter put it, “…The North Korean government recently called Obama a monkey. That’s not a good enough reason to draw him like a monkey on a magazine cover and say you are making fun of the North Koreans.”  The French entitlement to believe that this is fair, or even substantive political commentary worth defending is a part of  the colonial French laws of assimilation, which were and still pedal notions of equality based on one’s French language and Frenchness – and leave no space to discourse the real realities of living in a society which has bias, inequalities, disadvantages, misunderstandings and exploitation that race-based.

It is possibly to mourn the deaths of innocent lives and renounce what their work and their institution stood for. It is possible to not identify with “Je Suis Charlie” because it represents a cheap laughs that encourage a society with deeply undiscussed racial issues to continue in blindness, not because you support fundamentalists. The French have every right to continue to print and support Charlie Hebdo. But that comes with a responsibility and a price. And part of that, is that some people might not think drinking piss is actually very funny or an acquired taste. They might just think you’re drinking piss.

 

Je ne suis pas Charlie/ I am not Charlie.

And before I get into this, I want to be first extremely and explicitly clear: I don’t condone the massacre. I don’t think the cartoonists and writers deserved to lose their lives. There’s just no way to logically defend their deaths without ignorance and/or hate.

But I’m not Charlie though. And I’m not Charlie for several reasons: Charlie Hebdo for many people of color in France, particularly in Paris, that don’t benefit from mixed or proximity-to-White French- privilege is extremely racist. It’s a particular brand of French racism and xenophobia sheltered under the grey tent of “satire”. It’s belittingly. It’s demeaning. And it’s a larger, published example of the explicit forms of aggression that many people of color in Paris live with, daily. The irony is that I haven’t been returned to the States for even a week from Paris when this happened, after spending more than a week meeting and interviewing people of color in Paris about their experiences with racism, exociticsm, discrimation and the aggressions of living in Paris while colored. Because to put those experiences and Charlie Hebdo into context, these are some of the images and “freedom of speech” that’s being defended.

racist charlie hebdo

un peu raciste, non?

mind you, the woman depicted is an elected official.

mind you, the woman depicted is an elected official.

"The Koran is shit; it doesn't stop bullets."

“The Koran is shit; it doesn’t stop bullets.”

This is the “freedom of speech” that #JeSuisCharlie represents for so many people of color in Paris. These aren’t isolated editions. This is the humor that many White Frenchmen and Frenchwomen find funny and even consider to be political commentary. And at what point, will we draw the lines between “freedom of speech” and “hate speech”? At what point do mainstream media outlets, which are largely controlled and written by White people, stop racializing Islam and stop creating humor based on the humiliation of people of color and their culture and faiths? At what point do White people have that moment of self-reflection, without the threat of terrorism to do so?

“Don’t be afraid, calm down, I won’t kill you,” the gunman told her in a steady voice, with a calm look in his eyes, she recalled. “You are a woman. But think about what you’re doing. It’s not right.” 

je susi charlie paris

Solidarity in Paris

The “Je Suis Charlie” hashtag and the cries across the world of the infringements on freedom of speech have shades of grey in common with the demands to release the “The Interview”, which for many represented the entitlement of “bros” to laugh and disrespect anyone in the name of humor and free speech. And again, it’s interesting and telling to see informally and (unscientifically) who feels that #JeSuisCharlie is about defending the right to say anything, at whomever’s expense. As with “The Interview”, I see mostly White people that feel this is an attack on freedom of speech, specifically, their freedom of speech.  From the commentary I’ve seen from people of color, the attacks are not about freedom of speech but extreme measures taken in the face of continued humiliation and White privilege and White supremacy in the degradation of people of color.As Asghar Bukari wrote about Charlie Hebdo, “White people don’t like to admit it, but those cartoons upheld their prejudice, their racism, their political supremacy, and cut it how you will — images like that upheld a political order built on discrimination.” What’s funny about two privileged White American bros trolling North Korea and the human rights violations there? What’s funny about the White writers of Charlie Hebdo depicting sex slaves as welfare queens? It’s not a “controversy.” It’s racist. It’s hateful. And history has taught us that more often times than not, hate is met not with tolerant compassion and civil discourse, but hate that ups the ante. Hate almost always ensues that more hate will follow.

"The sex slaves of Boko Haram are angry: "Don't touch my allocations!"

“The sex slaves of Boko Haram are angry: “Don’t touch our benefits!”

A Charlie Hebdo journalist, Laurent Léger said in a 2012 interview, “And if some people are not happy with this, they can sue us and we can defend ourselves. That’s democracy. You don’t throw bombs, you discuss, you debate.” But how do you debate hate that is protected as civil discourse and freedom of speech? How does a person of color debate in court their rights and the violations of such when France doesn’t even keep racial demographic statistics? How do you address these fanatical issues of racism and White supremacy (i.e., that 200 girls stolen from school are welfare queens) which are considered to be “discourse”, “debates” or even intelligently assembled? To elaborate on Ta-Nehisi Coates, it’s the privilege and weakness of Whiteness: to live in a world of myth(s) built upon unchallenged and uniformed thought, often of one’s own creation and be confident in the assumption and expectation that you should – and will – be taken seriously. It’s the privilege of French Whiteness to mourn the loss or perceived loss of the privilege to demean French minorities, lest they have to be considerate and rigorous in their assertions. It’s the privilege of Whiteness around the world to fear this fear for French Whiteness, lest they suffer the same fate in their own racially stratified countries.

I spoke with a woman yesterday that I interviewed for an upcoming article that I’m writing, ironically, on racism in Paris. It was a tense day for her. Surrounded by grieving, mostly White people at her job, Céline* stepped outside to whisper into her cellphone. “The White people are all mourning and I am too, but I look at this differently. Charlie Hebdo has done nothing but make fun of Black people, Islam, Algerians,” she said, rushing through her words. “This needs a nuanced look because my humanity is under assault everyday, in the French system and this press which thinks that they have to make political statements by humiliating Black people and North Africans.”

And I can’t help but to think of the people that I interviewed, in 2006 and 2014, that feel so completely shut out of French society and how this only speaks to their invisibility. In an effort to combat this pervasive feeling, a the hashtag, #JeSuisAhmed is gaining ground, named after Ahmed Merabet, the North African police officer that was killed point-blank by one of the gunmen during the rampage.

Je ne suis pas Charlie

je ne suis pas charlie copy

Some hope that it will to help stem the tide of anti-Muslim violence that people are expecting in the wake of this attack and also recognize that a Muslim man was a victim as well, killed for protecting the right of the writers of Charlie Hebdo to diminish, devalue and mock him. Those fears are not unfounded, as several mosques in France have been attacked in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. And continuing the trend of ignorance, in the video below, Don Lemon asks a Muslim human rights lawyer if he supported ISIS after his repeated denouncements of all forms of religious extremism, including Christianity’s: (at the 4:50 mark)

Muslims around the world, on social media and in news outlets are being burdened with the responsibility of denouncing the attacks of Brown Muslims in Paris. Newsweek declares, “Moderate Muslims must speak out.” Why should a minority of people be burdened with speaking for over one billion people that are at this moment, making sandwiches, praying or doing whatever else mundane things make up life, lived daily? Yet, White Christians are not expected to speak to the atrocities and ideologies of the KKK, the Crusades, the “discovery of the Americas”, the American Tea Party and other entities that speak and commit violence in the name of God?

Because.

Because no matter how insipid or egregious the offense, White privilege can and often is invoked to disassociate one’s White self from the White collective. The individual is invoked and dispatched like an airlift out of the messy reflection on the ramifications of Whiteness. Thus it’s possible to have the world rallying to protect Charlie Hebdo and stand in solidarity with the magazine and not have a conversation about how to change it for the better, so that it can actually represent free speech and spirited discourse that does not rely on humiliating religious, racial and sexual minorities. Charlie Hebdo, with the help of Google, French newspapers and a few other unnamed media companies, will run next week. Of course the edition will sell out. Of course it will be characterized as defiance in the face of tyranny, which it is in some ways and I respect them for that, refusing to be silenced by extremism. But unless a real conversation takes place about the rampant racism and hate in French society and Charlie Hebdo‘s role in perpetuating such, Charlie Hebdo continues to live in a world of myth, of unchallenged racial, religious and cultural assumptions and tyranny which asks French minorities to sacrifice their dignity and equality for a good rire. Because freedom of (widely distributed hate) speech.

*obviously not homegirl’s name

Correction: An earlier draft had “suis” misspelled as “sais”, which is equally clever, but an accident made in haste. My apologies for the confusion. My response to the comments can be found in the follow up article, “A Confederacy of Colorblinds: Charlie Hebdo and French Racism“.

Paris for the 99 and 2015

Happy New Year y’all!

I got a few tweets and messages about my absence – which was due to my work with organizing, writing and some time spent overseas. Here.

paris at night

Paris at night

champs elysee paris

Bonne Année from the Champs Élysées

accidental selfie

accidental selfie; rookie mistakes

It was wonderful to get out of the States, not just because I love Paris, but because of the continued fight for Black humanity and Black lives. Before I left, I just felt like, “Why are Black people fighting for a country that seems to not want them, not value them?” It’s a worthwhile fight, a necessary fight, but it can be emotionally draining and tough. It’s been a fight that I’ve been in very deeply since March 10, 2013. And while I was away, I was still working and will have some upcoming articles in Elle and elsewhere about racism in Paris and a more lighthearted topic, beauty products for women of color in Paris and affordable beauty products in Paris. (Because balling on a budget is a true story.) And being away really brought me back to a pivotal time in my life, when I spent 4.5 months studying post-colonialism, mixed-race communities and how they’re changing the definition and face of modern day France. That project really taught me how to combine the exploration of people’s humanity with history, respect and the truth in their experiences.

the trans and gay pride parade in Paris, summer 2006

the trans and gay pride parade in Paris, summer 2006

even the handicap come out to support

I’m excited about this new year and the projects that I’m working on and can’t wait to share with you all, here on this blog and elsewhere. The next few weeks will be crazy busy – I’m headed back to my alma mater, Williams College, with my mother to talk about police brutality and lead a write-in. I’m so excited about this! I’m also headed to Toronto to research and cover a really cool story that I can’t wait to share.

And I’ve been working on stories to cover here, that aren’t provocative for the sake of being, but so that it pushes dialogue and expands the humanity of those marginalized. It’s about having the space, grace, compassion and privilege to be flawed, to be normal, to figure it out and be messy – to be human without being penalized.

I hope everyone’s holidays were rejuvenating and awesome. I’ll post more about my time in Paris and the stories I worked on while there.

Chatalet selfie.

Chatalet selfie.

C

Timberland, Trends and Twitter: My (First!) Piece in Elle and How it Happened

Hey y’all!

Last week was a pretty busy week and I didn’t share my first piece in Elle about Timberlands. In case you missed it, there was a a big and valid brouhaha a few weeks ago about a particularly incendiary piece, claiming that Timberlands were “new”. I and the rest of Black Twitter were completely livid.

Screenshot 2014-10-18 15.38.16

But what happened next was actually pretty dope. Kate got in touch with me and we had a really great conversation via email about how to properly navigate the lines of appreciation, appropriation, history and narratives. Then her editor got in touch and saw some of the stuff that I’ve written. (Side note: you know what article on the blog seems to be pretty popular with some of the editors reviewing my work? This one.)  And from there, we all began to ask some question and it was interesting to hear the other side of the editorial and representation table. How do you manage to make something new if you’re constantly having to reconsider its past? The people who created it, are they the only people who get to wear it and make meaning out of it? Even when you know that there’s something that’s missing, do you at least acknowledge it or pretend that it’s not there, if you don’t have the people or resources to do it justice? I mean, these are real questions. It’s not just hiring more women of color, but women that understand that culture, history and narrative that you can’t learn in journalism or film school. When you are looking at the pool of writers in general that are any good, you are working with an extremely small number of women writers of color that are good and that get it. But they’re out there. And these publications which speak to so many women, have a responsibility to find them.

elle artice

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, just a lot of questions. If you’ve been following our journey here at The Maroon Colony, you know that’s the whole point – to at least ask the questions and try to find some answers. Because sometimes we aren’t even asking the questions. I’d like to think that I spend a good part of creating my career in not just asking those hard things, but hopefully making people look at something with a more discerning eye that asks people to confront and examine their own blind spots. And I think that your writing, whether you’re writing about race, fashion or the latest social app, you have to really examine how people are using this thing out in the world, but why they’re doing it that way. Why is this hard to talk about? Why don’t people know about it? The best stuff is from the hard stuff. And it’s really hard to talk to a bunch of editors about what they’re not getting right, but it’s probably even harder to hear that. And you have to remember, that however your audience has been doing it, they’ve been validated in that. So, you have to put up a pretty good argument as to why they should care to think and see the world differently.

Going forward, I’ll be writing more pieces for Elle and a few other publications that I’m excited to share with you down the road. I’ll still be writing here, but also in a few more places. Don’t worry, I’m not going to quit writing here; I’ve gotten the notes and emails about more posts and I’m definitely working on that! If anything, I’ll be re-investing more time in the writing and curating of articles online. The Maroon Colony began as a blog about my web-series and has really taken a life – and an eclectic band of readers – all of its own. And a huge thank you for the feedback. Please, email me at clabouvier@gmail.com or find me on Twitter @chaedria and as always, let me know how you really feel.

Article here