Urban haps of a grrrl on a mission to be a better writer, a new music master-blaster and a wonderfully brilliant razor-packing, MAC LipGlass wearing feminista...

Friday, October 26, 2007

When Is A Noose, Not A Noose?

Well it would seem that after reading this story that a noose ain't a noose when it's a lasso. Folks in Jena, Louisiana, (read Black folk) and throughout this country have had it all wrong. Here we are thinking that those students were making a racially defamatory statement when all along they were playing cowboy.
An investigation by school officials, police, and an FBI agent revealed the true motivation behind the placing of two nooses in the tree the day after the assembly. According to the expulsion committee, the crudely constructed nooses were not aimed at black students. Instead, they were understood to be a prank by three white students aimed at their fellow white friends, members of the school rodeo team. (The students apparently got the idea from watching episodes of "Lonesome Dove.")
This is crazy and so very insulting! When will this madness be called out for what it is... by everyone Black, White, Asian, etc? I'm wondering now, is this a result of some Black folk saying it's okay to use the n-word because it's seen as a term of affection? So now they can say we didn't know nooses were bad and offensive, we just thought they were used for catching cattle. And what about Isiah saying it's okay for Black men to call Black women b*tches? It's got me wondering how many of these perceptions and actions are by-products and the results of some of our own ignorance? If you gain weight from eating poorly, what the hell is gonna happen when a community thinks of themselves so poorly for so long?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Out of Fashion: The Absence of Color

Last night's discussion led by former model and agency owner, Bethann Hardison was in many ways like a long overdue family reunion. There were photos to be taken, dirty laundry needed to be aired and points had to be made, but mostly it was time to strengthen 'the ties that bind.'

"One of the first steps toward change is by pricking," said Bethann in her opening remarks, her hand motioning as if pinching at some indiscriminate matter. "Tonight we are here to continue the discussion and begin the process for change." And so it was that so many folks, mostly from the fashion industry, gathered at the NY Public Library to talk about the ever decreasing numbers of Black models appearing on runways and in major editorial spreads. I walked in with Beverly Smith (formerly of Vibe), IMG model Quiana Grant and Harriette Cole from Ebony magazine and as we were led through what had to be a 15-minute labyrinth of twists, turns and ramps and two elevator rides, the excitement became that much more palpable. Although this was my first time meeting Beverly and Quiana, I felt an immediate sense of sisterhood, which living in NYC, is something quite rare. Our rapport was warm and humorous like it should be between homegirls. And even though Quiana was the only model in our mix, Bev, Harriette and I knew that we were there because the dilemma, that thing that needed to be pricked, affected us all.

The event was sold-out and it was standing room only. No surprise after the article in Sunday's NY Times and the hoopla Vivienne Westwood made in Sunday's London's Telegraph. After taking my seat and looking around I noticed so many familiar faces in the crowd including Iman, Tia Williams, Claude Grunitzky, and Barron Claiborne all sitting in the front row. Also in the house were: Beverly Smith, Yaya DaCosta, Vera Wang, Michaela angela Davis, Beverly Bond, Marc Baptiste, Memsor Kamara, and Jaunel Mckenzie and so many more whose names escape me right now.

The night got off to a rather fiery start when former model and current agent, David Ralph spoke about the kind of Black models that are usually booked. Using Liya Kebede (think Estee lauder campaign) he asserted that the reason she is booked more frequently than an Alek Wek is that her features are "smaller and finer" and therefore more accessable (read European) in character than African. The straw that broke the camel's back though or should I say got under Iman's skin, was when he said that he knows these women are thought of as white women "dipped in chocolate." Immediately shooting from the hip Iman blasted back, "I take offense when people say to me I look like a white woman dipped in chocolate. I am African and I look like an African!" She put him on blast and everyone knew what she felt like saying was "That's bullsh*t," but Sister Iman, as I referred to her later that night in my comments, is a lady. She spoke, no she challenged Mr. Ralph on these notions and for her five minutes on the mic she never relented. It was so dang refreshing to see her, in particular, show just how personal, hurtful, rude and repercussive this kind of thinking can be. Too often we sit with our legs crossed and talk politely, intellectually, about racism and the weight it bears on our professional and personal lives, but every now and then we need someone to shout and show just how pissed off we are. I really wish I'd had gotten video of her and some of the other conversationalists, which included designer Tracy Reese, casting agent James Scully and stylist Lori Goldstein.

After an extensive Q&A that touched on a number of topics from why Black models wear weaves to a suggestion that we no longer support (ie. buy) goods from labels like Prada that do not hire Black models (that idea was immediately shot down b/c on an international level there just isn't enough of us that Prada would even care never mind be affected by our ban), Bethann wrapped up the night's activities by speaking about designers not liking models anymore and not developing relationships with girls and the consequences of no longer having models with personalities and its visual effect on the runways in terms of overwhelming blandness and subdued racism.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Glamour Mess, Black Girls "Out of Fashion" & Trace Mag

So this Glamour mess is still a brewing just stinking up an already racist publishing industry (don't believe me find out how many Black models have graced the cover of Vogue-- more on this later). On this site they delve into the issue by featuring a post entitled How Does a Black Woman Feel About the Glamour Controversy? The writer, Dodai Stewart, says some things that got me nodding in agreement but then she said quite a few things that had me saying aloud 'Oh hell to the no!' Like she questions what qualifies as racism at least two or three times throughout the piece. Are we still unsure... even in 2007? She says:
I believe that plenty of well-intentioned people make ignorant, misinformed, undereducated statements all the time. Does that make them racists?
I say 'Yeah, damn skippy it does!' That's like the comment I read online the other night when someone had the audacity to say that hanging a noose on a tree where Black students hangout or on the door of a Black ivy league professor isn't the same as actually hanging someone from a noose. Oh so now we gotta wait until the bodies are dangling? Until we hear the n-word shouted? Until the strange fruit blows stinking in the wind?!? Please people work with me. What she said is racist and yes that makes her racist. And no that doesn't mean I think she has a white hooded robe hanging in her closet next to her Nicole Miller sundress. There are many faces and degrees of racism. But it's all connected and it all stems from and is racism.

She then asks:
Would Beyoncé be the star she is now if her skin were darker, like her Destiny's Child cohorts?
Um yeah she would be! Bey is just way more talented (and driven) and no one can deny that. If Michelle were the lightest girl in the group she would NOT have been the star. I'm not saying the music industry is free of racism because we all know that's not true, but unlike the fashion and movie industries, there seems to be a bit more latitude. Look at Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Meshell Ndegeocello & Lauryn Hill. Sometimes nappy headed, dark skin sisters do make it through. And I'm sure this is largely because music unlike fashion and film is more of a visceral experience than visual. Even in the face of MTV it still matters more what you sound like than what you look like. Just ask Cassie or Britney! You will be hard press to find the same percentage of sisters like this in Hollywood and even more so in Fashion and I'm talking high-fashion not the Ebony Fashion Shows or Upscale magazine covers. I'm talking Gucci & Prada shows, Vogue covers, et. al. And because so many Black women purchase and rock Gucci and Prada that situation is that much more complicated. Even the usually comedic Miss J from America's Next Top Model had to speak out on the lack of diversity.

On that note, Bethann Hardison is back on the case-- focusing attention on the growing trend of not booking Black models for major cover and advertorial shoots and for fashion weeks here in the States and also in Milan and Paris. She created the, currently dormant, Black Girls Coalition in 1988 and it really seems like there is a need for that organization now more than ever. She had a forum in September that was attended by what seemed like all the top Black girls in the biz including Naomi Campbell, Liya Kebede and Iman. She continues the conversation this Monday October 15th. Please come out and support this important cause. From the aforementioned controversy there couldn't be a more apt time.

And finally, on the upside of Blackness in the media, I finally, finally got my Black Girls Rule issue of Trace mag. I know I'm mad late with this one, but I have been eagerly awaiting what y'all know is my favorite issue of this mag and one of my favorites of any mag. It seems like I can only find the issue on 23rd or 14th streets, but thanks to Carol at Susan Blond she hooked me up. And the issue was definitely worth waiting for cause Iman guest edits this time ‘round. The Unsung feature about all these cool sisters doing great community work should have been much bigger. I wanted to know more about these extraordinary women. The bi-racial story was well done and the Black models featured were on point (although I felt like I was looking at the same 3 wigs over the course of a 31-page spread. It would have been nice to see more variety-- hair that had some texture would have been hot and ideal right about now). Anyway if you can find it and check it out.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

VH1's Hip Hop Honors

Well last night VH1 unfurled and hurled at us one of their most notorious, most popular and probably most successful shows, their "VH1's Hip Hop Honors." It was something that I was actually looking forward to especially after not participating or attending one of the many events held in NYC in conjunction with this highly feted event.

I heard that Dougie Fresh performed at Plumm last Thursday night. On Friday there was some panel with the unfortunate, lame as$, oh so tired title "Does Hip Hop Hate Women" (hip hop is a culture first of all; and can we stop just looking at rap and look at our communities, at education, at family life... shoot the more interesting topic would be does the public educational system hate black children or does US Healthcare hate Black women and if so how do these dilemmas affect the shape and contours of Black (self) love). This panel was produced ironically by this hip organization with the crazy cool name Black Girls Rock! that on the following night, kicked it up 50 notches with an awards ceremony that honored women of color in the hip hop game like Missy Elliott, music industry prez Sylvia Rhone and designer Tracy Reese. If the weather wasn't so dang amazing this past weekend I would've love to have attended the awards ceremony, which I think is an absolutely wonderful and most needed exercise in these days when sisters are still overlooked for their many accomplishments. I was also invited to my very first 'gifting lounge' like the kind they have at the Oscars but alas the ocean was calling my name and I couldn't resist Her sweet whisper and so I headed to Sag where I went swimming, sunning and even attempted to fish with a rickety rod. I was totally, incredibly blissed out!

So last night back in the city I wanted to get my taste of Hip Hop Honors and see what I had missed. These are my thoughts. Please tell me what you thought:

The Best:
The tributes to Tribe and Wild Style (seeing Grandmaster Caz, KRS-One and Busy Bee, backed by Grandwizard Theodore on one stage gave me goosebumps) were top-notch but the best moment of the night for me was seeing Whodini on stage. They looked like they were having fun and when the guys started battle dancing and freestyling it instantly took me back to the days when rap music was pure fun and brothas used to dance and act silly all the while keepin it funky fresh. The fact they ended their set by literally pulling Grandmaster Dee of of the turntables was also special because everyone knows hip hop, back in the day, was all about the dj and so that was a very symbolic end to a hot performance.

The Worse:
There's nothing more excruciating than T-Pain w/o his vocoder or voice synthesizer. He can't sing a lick and tarnished the entire New Jack swing set. I know Andre Harrell was pissed!

The Most Inexplicable Guest:
Harvey Keitel

The Least Recognizable Guest:
Phife - man has he aged but he's been sick struggling with diabetes and from I've heard needs a kidney transplant so that I guess would also explain the bloating

Pepa – what's up with her Latoya Jackson nose job. And you can tell she obviously had the surgery after her VH1 loot came through because in previews of her and Salt's show she's got, what Paul Mooney would call, her Black nose. She unlike Phife has NO excuse!

Most Fun Moments:

Hearing the honorees talk about their genesis and evolution especially Snoop, Andre & Whodini!

Dead Air:
After awhile Tracy Morgan's taxi hip hop escapades got a bit redundant and stupid.

Overall it was cool. I am a big fan of Tribe and Snoop; I've had Wild Style on VHS since the early 90's; used to sweat out my press & curl dancing to Whodini's Friends and The Freaks Come out at Night; and I still have my Teddy Riley – Marley Marl 'New Jack Swing' mix tape that I recorded straight off the radio waaaay back in the day.

I'm not sure how it is that Missy who I LOVE got inducted before Queen Latifah. I just don't feel like she has the history or is a legend like that quite yet. Her all grrrl tribute though was nice and I must say I was most impressed by Nelly Furtado. Her tone, cadence and inflection of melody is stupid fresh never mind that fly Black dress she rocked. Does anyone know if she wrote her verse in the remix to Get Ur Freak ON? Yo she may need to start rhyming and if she can flow as tightly in Spanish and sing.. she could really do some damage.
It was good to see Tweet although I couldn't really see her for the mop on her head but you know what I mean. And after last night performance I look forward to finally hearing Tip's solo record. Has anyone seen him on tour with Common? It seems like he still has a lot of fire up in those bones and his vocal chords are still nice and chiseled with that quirky uniquely cute voice of his. What did you think of the show?

And what is up with women in hip hop? We weren't well represented last night but then again half of the ladies are going to jail or just got out-- Foxy, Remy, Lil Kim and Eve. A couple are alleged looney tunes Lauryn Hill and Da Brat. And the rest are simply MIA—Rage, Miss Melody, Rah Digga, Yo-Yo.

What other women in hip hop could/ should VH1 honor? Check out one of my faves> And someone please tell me where I can get a Wild Style t-shirt? Holllaaaa!

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Dis-sing: Disgust, Disillusionment and Discovery

It's Monday. Columbus "Discoverus Americus Post-Africanus" Day at that. Y'all do know that long before the Santa Maria ever hit the shore of this here "New World," West Africans were all up in this piece trading tools, gold and boats and frying okra. Anyway it's one of those days that I feel a lil' on edge. The activist in me resents that I have to work and this beautiful weather is just not making the situation any easier. I really can't believe I was swimming in Sag Harbor just two days ago in October! So in light of my discomfort and disgust, I feel a rant is in order.

Marion Jones-- a heartbreaker. And does her apology make her act any less vile? Nope. Should the entire 4x400 relay team be forced to return their medals for indiscretion? Hell no! I really hope they do not strip the entire team. Besides being shamed and possibly imprisoned, Marion will get her booty kicked if LaTasha Colander-Richardson has to return her gold medal.

Taking "the clear" and thinking it was flaxseed oil was stupid. I mean in 2000 I was so dang happy cause Black grrrls were killin it at the Olympic Games and I considered Marion to be one of the greatest athletes of my time. Her lack of judgement and poor management is really what I find so disheartening.

And speaking of stupid, asinine behavior... no I'm not going to bring up OJ that's just too obvious and too stupid. It looks like former Glamour fashion editor-- Ashley Baker, who told a room full of lawyers at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton about the (Black hair) dos and don'ts of the workplace got the boot last week and is making headlines today.

According to American Lawyer magazine, the editor showed a slide of an African-American female wearing an afro. "A real no-no, announced the Glamour editor to the 40 or so lawyers in the room. As for dreadlocks: How truly dreadful! The style maven said it was 'shocking' that some people still think it 'appropriate' to wear those hairstyles at the office. 'No offense,' she sniffed, but those 'political' hairstyles really have to go."

I wasn't sure if this was still newsworthy, but according to Gawker and today's Post I guess it is, which is ironic cause just last Tuesday night my stylist who is a sister didn't think it was still relevant. "Old news," she stated. And she added that if you have "messy locks and a big fro out to here," she extended her arms a foot above her head to make her point, "then that is unacceptable in corporate America and these young people do need to know." Needless to say we got into a debate about that that extended throughout my entire time under the steamer. I disagreed about her assumption that young Black women, specifically in this case, young obviously educated, Black attorneys, not knowing what is acceptable 'hair-code' and wondered why when we talk about fros and locks, the extreme position is assumed about our hair. It's gotta be big, unkempt, nappy, knotted and crazy. I mean of course that's unacceptable in a major law firm, but if Gabrielle Union never combed her weave and it was tangled, knotted and smelled, I'm sure she wouldn't have been invited to the set of "Daddy's Little Girls" either. But then again we rarely talk about relaxed her being unkempt, radical and outrageous. It's the political hairdos that get us sisters into a pot of lye every time.

And this whole situation stinks (like a pot of lye). Just like I don't believe for one second that Marion Jones thought that flaxseed was given her all of that strength and speed and muscle tone. (Dang every now and then I get a flaxseed booster in my smoothie and I'll be damned if I'm not huffing and puffing after I running for the 6-train, but I digress). I don't believe that Glamour's Editrix Cindy Leive had no knowledge of lil' Miss Baker's speaking engagement when it was posted on their site the day the presentation went down.

Secondly all of this talk about homegirl not being a racist just needs to cease. Her comments were ignorant and based on bias and therefore racist notto mention supa dupa dumb in light of what just happened to Imus. People often think that being a racist must mean you are guilty of calling someone the n-word or hanging nooses on trees under which Black students hangout. Although the folks in Jena don't think they are racists either, but often racism is more complicated and subtle. I remember my first job outta college was at Smith Barney Shearson and I was working in HR. The Friday before I was to have my relaxed hair cut into a short twisted natural, I approached the VP of my dept and told her that on Monday I would be sporting a short coif. I did it out of fear that I my new look may cause a rumble in the office. On Monday after seeing my lil twists, my boss exclaimed how wonderful my new hairstyle was and that it really showed off my beautiful features. A month later I was rocking an afro and got my first promotion. I'm not going to say that Black folk aren't professionally maligned because they decided to rock dreadlocks or a fro but for a lot of us that marginalization happens first in our minds and we seldom take the chance to show off our natural-ness. I feel like if more of us did then Ashley may have thought twice about saying what she did. Anyhoo she's resigned/ terminated from Glamour and can now spend her time looking for a new gig instead of trying to school lawyers on style. That in and of itself seems so absurd. What law firm has that kinda time(eh- hem besides Gottlieb that is)? In all of my years working, I've never had some type of company sponsored lecture on style. Sometimes I look around and wish we had one at my workplace, but then for the most part I feel like if you gotta work on a nonsense holiday in 80-degree weather then we should be able to wear whateva the frack we wanna wear.

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