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The Beautiful Black Rainbow

I absolutely adored this image and commended Mr. Mackey’s talent in creating such an exceptionally beautiful collage.  However, I observed something troubling.  Why were the lighter images on the bottom disproportionately female and the darker images on the top disproportionately male?  I felt that this feeds into the western concept  of lighter skin being associated with the feminine and darker skin being associated with the masculine.  I expressed this in a comment on Mr. Mackey’s blog (I can’t seem to find it though) and I asked why not include Cicely Tyson, Nina Simone, Viola Davis and other iconic darker hued beauties on the upper darker rows.

Please see Carlton Mackey’s thoughtful email response below. 

“Thank you for your comments Ama. You are not alone in your sentiments about the original 50 SHADES OF BLACK design. It is an honest and fair critique. The original design is both a statement and a question. I am making social commentary on multiple levels with it. What you point to is at the heart of what I was trying to communicate. If we are honest, we’d have to acknowledge that in the landscape of universally held sex symbols in the black community, the women that you mention don’t make the list. I’m not speaking on my personal opinion, but rather what I think would be widely accepted as truth if we did a “poll”. Nina Simone may be the only exception, but I would argue that while she fits in a category of high esteem in the black community. She falls short of being commonly called a sex symbol. What we may need to ponder collectively is why is it the case that there are more universally accepted light skinned female sex symbols. Why is it that being a dark skinned man is more appealing? With all of this in mind though I created 50 SHADES DARKER. It is solely about dark skinned women reclaiming their beauty. It picks up the conversation at the point where 50 SHADES OF BLACK leaves off. Let me know what you think about it.

Please Visit:
50 SHADES DARKER
http://50shadesofblack.com/?p=736 ”

My response: I love it.  These images are simply gorgeous and I want both on canvas – thank you.

Beauty Supply Owners Killed For Weaves. A 4-Month Old Baby With A “Press And Curl”. Has the Hair Obsession Gone Too Far?

“I am not my hair

I am not this skin

I am not your expectations no no

I am not my hair

I am not this skin

I am a soul that lives within”

-India Arie “I Am Not My Hair”

            India Arie spoke to many of when she released “I Am Not My Hair” because she expressed the struggles that so many black women have endured in dealing with heat, harsh chemicals, hair breakage and much more as we try to be considered beautiful by peers.  She called on us to redefine the issue, let go of the concepts of good hair being more European and bad hair being more African and focus on what is inside. But despite her wise words in 2006 and the wise words of others before and after her, we find ourselves still struggling in 2012 and I am asking myself if and when we will be able to appreciate the beauty of a wide variety of hairstyles while always recognizing that it is a person’s spirit that truly matters.  Too many of us are being harmed by the preoccupation with hair and the unrealistic standards of European hair beauty that often comes with that preoccupation. 

On the most extreme end we have the case of beauty supply owners who have been shot and killed by hair robbers.  The New York Times reported that there has been a rise in hair theft.  These situations involve cases where thieves walk right past the actual cash register and steal the actual weaving hair which they then sell from trucks or on ebay.

We also have the case of two adult women who were practically sexually molested as beauty supply store shopkeepers pulled down their clothing in efforts to apprehend the two women because those women attempted to steal items from the shop. You can see the whole video below – but I don’t recommend it because it is obscene.  I could not watch the whole video.  It made me physically sick.  But it helps all of us to understand the gravity of the situation. Obviously the behavior of the shopkeepers is extremely questionable.  But also, what could be so important and valuable in a beauty supply shop that you would have to steal it? 

Never Steal From A Korean Beauty Supply Store

 

Sadly, we also have the story of a 4 month old baby whose mother straightened her hair. We do not know whether a chemical relaxer, blow dryer or pressing comb was used but I would be fearful of any of those methods on the sensitive and still fusing skull of a baby so young.

On the less extreme end, we have the case of Olympic winner Gabby Douglass whose self-esteem, confidence and ability to concentrate may have been negatively affected by all of the media hype surrounding various twitterers who viciously condemned her hair.  I could not even understand what they were seeing. Her hair looked just fine to me.  Additionally, she made Olympic history by winning gold medals for all around gymnastics and winning the team gold.  Her hair should not be a concern.  I could not help but to wonder whether all of the criticism affected her and contributed to her less than stellar performances in later finals for the uneven bars and beam. Gabby Douglass herself admitted both that she had seen the media frenzy about her hair and that she was mentally and physically exhausted.

How can we cultivate the type of consciousness that would prevent these types of sad incidents?  I suggest promoting images like these of beautiful short -haired women and women with stunning natural styles so that we are not only seeing images of long straight haired beauties and we can truly understand that all types of hair are beautiful and that you don’t even need any hair to beautiful.  What are your suggestions?

 

 

Is Marriage Worth It For Black Women? YES, Despite the Negative Hype.

Some people are hesitant to get married because of all of the negative statistics in the media and the examples of marital stress in their own circles.  But at the end of the day, most of us long for human connection and companionship and marriage provides that in a way that is a public commitment surrounding shared emotional and sexual intimacy.  Nothing can replace that and it can be such a beautiful experience.   Please see the article below by Loveessence’s co-founder.  It was published on 7/26/12 on the Grio. 

Month after month black women are bombarded with articles surrounding the “black marriage crisis.”  On top of that, movies as old as Waiting to Exhale and as recent as Think Like A Man have provided wide screen images of beautiful and successful black women who are dying to have some man put a ring on it.  Most of this media production seems to assume that all black women want to get married.

But is this an accurate assumption? 

Month after month black women are bombarded with articles surrounding the “black marriage crisis.”  On top of that, movies as old as Waiting to Exhale and as recent as Think Like A Man have provided wide screen images of beautiful and successful black women who are dying to have some man put a ring on it.  Most of this media production seems to assume that all black women want to get married.

But is this an accurate assumption?  The social research and anecdotal evidence regarding marriage would not necessarily lead to the conclusion that marriage is even desirable.  Lets discuss the perceived negatives before we discuss why marraige is indeed worth it for everyone, including black women.

First, the fact that approximately half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce is certainly not encouraging. Certain statistics suggest that African-Americans are more likely to divorce than their white, Hispanic or Asian counterparts.

Second, while social research overwhelmingly suggest that men benefit from marriage through longer life spans, increased access to sex,  lower rates of physical disease and lower rates of depression, the jury is still out on whether marriage equally benefits women.  Some studies suggest that married women are less successful, more depressed and less healthy than their single sisters!

Third, the presumed economic benefits of marriage may also be diminishing for some women.  With general male unemployment exceeding female unemployment for both the general population and the black population, it appears as if many black women and non-black women believe that marrying men, including the fathers of their own children, presents economic and emotional burdens that are simply not commensurate with any potential rewards.

Sadly, women assessing this cold, hard fact may feel as though marrying a man would be like assuming the care of another child, because their potential mates would not provide additional earnings and would not engage in their fair share of domestic work such as cooking, cleaning and child-rearing. Perhaps it is for this reason that today — for women of ALL races — more than half of births to women under 30 are occurring outside the institution of marriage.

For women whose potential mates are gainfully employed, marriage may bring significant economic benefits as household bills are split in two and surplus cash may be used for nice family vacations, domestic help, private schools or piano lessons for the kids.

But still, a high-earning single woman or a single woman with family and a supportive social network should still be able to afford or gain access to child-care help, extra-curricular activities, and the other niceties (or necessities?) that go into raising productive little ones. Such a woman could presumably enjoy the company of family, good friends and an exciting sexual companion here and there — without the burden of housework and other inequalities that plague many women in their marriages.

So we ponder the question: is marriage worth it for black women?

With the odds being difficult that many black women will find a partner who matches them economically and socially, and the extreme length some are going through to get, keep, date, or even share a man, if you can take care of a child yourself — or don’t want children — some might wonder “what’s the point?”

Is there something to be said about marriage that transcends the allure of fulfilling the inner little girl’s dream of receiving dazzling jewels, wearing a stunning white gown and enjoying a kiss from someone dressed like prince at the wedding ball?  The vast majority of the single and married black women that I asked answered with a resounding “yes!”

Although Marie-Gabrielle Isidore, the twenty-something and single CEO and Co-Founder of Brand Haiti, concedes that marriage can appear scary because of discouraging statistics, she told theGrio, “Marriage is something that is extremely beautiful and I look forward to it one day.”  Marie-Gabrielle bemoans the negative media image of black women as not being worthy of love and protection from men and or society’s institutions. She feels that black people should work towards strengthening and empowering the institution, especially considering the ills of fatherlessness, which is linked to the poverty that severely impacts blacks.

Please read the rest here.

Are Dark-Skinned Black Women Perceived to Be the “Ugly Sisters” of Bi-racial Women?

Thandie Newton is a remarkable actress and human being.  But I have to admit that when I first laid eyes on her in a commercial for the movie “Mission: Impossible II”, I was not sure whether she was a black woman.  The commercial showed flashes of her and with her pale complexion, rail thin physique and bone straight hair she could have been of any race.  Later I would learn that she is mixed, the child of a Zimbabwean mother and a British father.  It is this bi-racial background that has made many of us shocked and appalled to find out that she has been successfully casted to play Olanna, the voluptuous, brown-skinned and strikingly beautiful Igbo heroine of the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award winning book “Half of a Yellow Sun”.  Simultaneously, the lovely brown-skinned Anika Noni Rose will play Olanna’s unattractive dark and boyish-framed fraternal twin sister Kainene.

To me, the casting may reveal the embedded prejudices of Hollywood.  Did the people who casted the film find it hard to conceive of a strikingly beautiful brown skinned, shapely and unmistakably Sub-Saharan African woman?  Is the term “black and stunning” so much of an oxymoron in their minds that they had to choose someone who is half white?  Is the idea that shapely is more attractive than thin so untenable that they casted the shapelier woman to be the “ugly sister” and the thinner woman to be the “beautiful sister” and thereby disregarded Adichie’s descriptions?   I’m reminded of a Facebook conversation that I had with Kola Boof in which she said that she literally could not get an accurate film adaptation of  one her books because the protagonist of her book is a sexy charcoal skinned lady and movie execs could not fathom a sexy charcoal skinned beauty.  This insult was not lost on the Nigerian people and in January of this year a Nigerian woman named Ashley Akunna created a petition on change.org to protest the casting.  These are some of the most poignant words from the petition.

“Thandie Newton is an accomplished and talented actress in her own right. However, she is not Igbo, she is not Nigerian, and she does not physically resemble Igbo women in the slightest…This petition is important, because we live in a world where mass media sells us the belief that white, and anything close to white is right, and black is not only wrong, it is unattractive, and undesirable. We are indoctrinated into these beliefs consciously and sub-consciously through media images. Like many other countries in Africa, Nigeria suffers from the epidemic of skin bleaching. ..This casting choice is an abomination to Igboland…This petition is not an attack on Thandie Newton or bi-racial people. It is simply a demand for accuracy and authenticity.”

The demand for authenticity is a demand to be human and to be seen and appreciated as we are as black people without the pressure to be mixed in order to be perceived favorably.  There are roles in which the complexion of the character is not a part of the movie or where the character is specifically bi-racial.  The role of Olanna is not one of them. 

Let me be vulnerably honest, I’m saddened by the thought that women like me or Anika Noni Rose may usually be perceived as and portrayed as the “ugly sisters” of biracial women.  I hope that love is enough for our collective healing.

Here are my other random thoughts.

The image of a stunning brown woman like CNN’s Aisha Sesay came to mind when I read about Olanna.

 

Other more appropriate pairings might have been the more voluptuous Genevieve Nnaji as Olanna and the thinner Adepero Oduye as Kainene.

 

If more known American actresses were needed than perhaps Kerry Washington (she should put on a few pounds) as Olanna and Regina King as Kainene.

 

HIV/AIDS: Preventable Epidemic or Inevitable Consequence?

It is horrifying to learn that three decades after the initial onslaught of HIV in the United States, the disease is still ravaging many sectors of the population.  This is despite our immense knowledge about how the disease is transmitted and the existence of resources such as condoms that prevent transmission and anti-retrovirals which also decrease the risk of transmission when taken by the infected partner.

This new PBS Documentary entitled “Endgame: AIDS in Black America” sheds some light as to why the grip of the epidemic is so powerful.  It appears that the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS continues to be so strong that many of those who are infected keep it a secret and those who are uninfected continue to believe that it can’t happen to them or people “like them”.  In the documentary you will see an elder in a church who’s deacon husband knew he was infected before he even asked her on a date and yet said nothing because he feared that she would not be interested.  You will also see a young 22 year old woman who learned of her infection many years ago but refuses to tell her mother or her sexual partners because of her fear of ostracism.

But what boggles my imagination the most is the case of a young gay man who was fully aware before dating his partner that his partner had HIV/AIDS and who still engaged in unprotected sex with his partner and as a result has also become infected.

 Please see this very powerful documentary below.

Endgame: AIDS in Black America

Ladies, Are You Having Your Best Sex Life?

It appears that the answer is most likely no.  According to many studies 43% of American women suffer some sort of sexual disfunction relating to low libido, no orgasm or frigidity.  This is really not too shocking when we think of the manner in which sex is portrayed in the media. 

In my view, representations of sex often appear to be from a very male perspective.  Many women do not experience orgasms from penetrative sex and further many women need about 45 minutes of foreplay in order to fully enjoy penetrative sex.  Despite these facts movies and other media tend to portray intercourse as the pinnacle of sexual activity and the timeline given for this is way under 45 minutes – 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or maybe 30 minutes.  With this lack of foreplay and exploration of various forms of sexual intimacy, it is no wonder that so many women are being left unsatisfied.  How can we change our culture with respect to this issue?   I think that we women need to demand more from our partners and devote more time to pleasing ourselves, but of course this easier said than done.  Love is Enough to ensure better lovemaking.

-Loveessence

Can Envy Fuel Greatness?

We all hate to admit it, but we have felt envious. There has been some moment of our lives in which we have heard someone else’s good news and felt a tinge of envy because we so wished that we too had experienced that good fortune.

But here is the good news, according to Christie Aschwanden of O magazine that envy can be malicious or benign.  If we allow envy to make us bitter and to drive us to sabotage or destroy others then we may destroy ourselves in the process.  But if we decide that because of someone else’s good fortune, we too can manufacture such serendipity for ourselves and become even better then we may be driven to greatness.  What a sweet thought!

I’ll have to remind myself to love others as I love myself and that because I am human and others are human I am also capable of their great feats.  Love Is Enough to improve our lives and in turn improve our world.

-Loveessence