Celebrities, Culture, Events, Important People, International Relations, Life, Music, New York City, Travel

Afropolitan Dream- tapping into the soul of BedStuy with a day of arts and culture

On Saturday May 4th, the Afropolitan Dreams Block Party presented on by MoCADA Museum, an art institution which showcases art of the African Diaspora, promised a day of sunlight, music, style and mingling with creative entrepreneurs. The partnership with local Bed-Stuy businesses fused to create a rich event that truly captured the “Soul of Brooklyn.”

Brooklyn Zoo

This block party brought out the least likely of characters. Too risky to be named (it’s illegal to house wild animals without the proper license) Brooklyn based brothers brought their 2 giant snakes outdoors for some sunlight, fresh air and impromptu photo shoots with curious children and increasingly intrigued yet worried neighborhooders.   A boa constrictor and an anaconda seemed to enjoy the attention. “Her last owner didn’t take her out much,” says the eldest brother.  The anaconda spans 14 feet, weighs 155 pounds and eats live 30 pound chickens, although her owner says “rabbits are better for her nutritionally.” With the TLC and patience the owner says it takes to foster wild animals, she’ll have no problem getting to her maximum size of 38 feet and 700 pounds. This is interesting. Because he was rocking the passé urban uniform of baggy sagging jeans, chains, baseball cap and matching t-shirt, you would never expect this man to possess the big sensitive heart it takes to care for wild animals who would otherwise be killed into his home for safekeeping. He expresses that care through his mostly vegan diet as well. That was just one of surprising anomalies I stumbled on that day…

Art by Amit

amit sahu artist and his art

Bed-Stuy artist Amit Sahu stands next to one of his pieces with a local buyer…me! Photo by Akinfe Fatou.

Lured by a sign fashioned out of an old cabinet door that read “$1 art and plants,” I found a small Macon street garage sale on a block of beautiful brownstones. Amit Sahu is a local painter/sculptor/graphic designer whose pieces incorporate images of lions, naked female seductresses and chalky colors pastelled over chunks of recycled wood which take on the form of the subject in the painting.  His card quietly proclaims in small print that he creates “art for the public.” When asked what that means, Amit, who is East Indian, says “my art is not over conceptual.” He works with images that have inspired him from African and East Indian culture. Because of its striking appearance it’s very accessible and consumable for the public…and affordable. I surprisingly walked away with a two piece set for 20 dollars, named “Cleopatra.”  When asked about the price of the pieces Amit shrugs, “I’ll work with you,” he says. Lucky me!

The concert was peppered with people…

…Including campaigning politicians. Before the crowd thickened, I ran in to Reverend Conrad Tillard, the “committed concerned consistent” candidate (in his own words). What stood out about his impromptu speech was that he seems committed to the arts, as he wants to allot 1% of city’s budget to arts programs if he gets into office. He represents the Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights area of Brooklyn.

It had gotten so cold that people went home to their nearby brownstones and put more clothes on their children. An hour and fifteen minutes after the promoted time of 7pm, Blitz the Ambassador prepared the crowd for take-off. Rightfully so. This is what many had been waiting for, along with the arrival of international superstars Les Nubiennes. Via simulated airline announcement Blitz informed us that we would be taking a virtual trip to Accra, Ghana. Finally, it was about to get real.

Horns moving in unison

Blitz the Ambassador perfectly commands the stage

Blitz the Ambassador perfectly commands the stage. Photo by Akinfe Fatou

Blitz, with his fast raps, regal Ghanian attire and perfect command of the stage performed songs from his former album, Native Sun. It includes nuts, bolts, and smoothies: a fusion of afro-beat, hip-hop and neo-soul that always sounds better live.

A sample of Fela’s Water No Get Enemy trickles in and at this point the base could be felt in your chest. Literally the heartbeat of that song was that of the city. Blitz starts rapping in an obscure language, Twi.   “Akwaaba (the song’s title) means welcome” is the refrain. Ambassador Airlines, our vehicle for this musical journey, flawlessly combines hip hop and contemporary African music. Through his beatboxing and samples of “Soul Makossa”…I’d say he was a pretty good captain. Then came the command to scream: How often do you get to scream at the top of your lungs without being judged? So I screamed as if my life depended on it.

blitz and les nubiennes

Blitz the Ambassador and Celia of Les Nubians. Photo by Akinfe Fatou

Les Nubians perform their classic, "Makeda." Photo by Akinfe Fatou

Les Nubians perform their classic, “Makeda.” Photo by Akinfe Fatou

Highlife music resounded, and then a mysterious siren came from nowhere. Our captain of the airline became  commander in chief and spoke of martial law and the hornmen became an army. Blitz proclaimed this next song “The national anthem of the crooked African leaders, ‘Free Your Mind.’” Then, along w Les Nubiennes, serenaded the Motherland with “Dear Africa.” His booming evergy blended perfectly with their soft sweet voices that lilt. Talk about an Afropolitan Dream.

“Usually when I fly people to Africa I don’t bring them back, I just leave them there, ‘cause who wants to come back?” The crowd nearly drowned him out with cheers as Blitz the Ambassador concluded that he wishes to take the Afropolitan Dream (Also the title of his new album) Block Party all over the world.

I hope he does. And it’s fitting that he’d begin in Bed-Stuy. With the influx of celebrities moving to Bed-Stuy in the past few years: Solange Knowles, Les Nubiennes and even Blitz himself lived not too far from where he performed…it’s all coming full circle. Of all the talent that originates here and snakes around the world it’s only right that Bed-Stuy would boast an international line up. There’s a bright future for Bed-Stuy beyond the usual implications of gentrification. This event proved that by bringing brown bodies together for one full day of arts community and pure Afropolitan dopeness.

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Culture, Events, International Relations, Life, Nature, New York City, Personal Liberation, Politics/World Issues, Sprituality

Peace in the Midst of the Storm

Grounded in Mother Nature

I went out into the forest today. It’s a place I often end up when I’m lucid dreaming. Today, I went there in real life. After Hurricane Sandy, I wanted to see the damage that was done, if any. I was really oblivious to the storm. I was cozy in my room, only knowing that the MTA was down, so I wouldn’t be going to work. (My sister and her wife too. Major cause for celebration in this house.)

I expressed these sentiments on Facebook, and most people were concerned for the practical issues: will you get paid while you’re out? My response “Not in money, but in happiness and orgasms.”

The storm brought deep personal shifts for me. I became orgasmic with someone that I wasn’t able to cross that threshold with in the past. Something truly opened up. They say Oya brings winds of change.

To give thanks for being spared anything but more rest, more time to myself, and deep relaxation and all the other blessings the storm brought, I decided to go to the park and commune with Nature. When I got there I found some trees lying about the ground. They looked like they were resting. As you read in my last post centering around the wonders of Nature, “Nature is the New “Church”, trees talk to me. And this is what they had to say this time:

This  part of the tree was laid to rest

That tree in the distance was completely supine.

We are one with the events of Nature. We are not upset or phased when a tree is broken or uprooted because of the storm. What we say to humans is Use Us! There is still good wood here. We understand that we are here as resource to humans that you have taken for granted, but this storm is not a bad thing. Things change. Nature is change. God is change.”

Now, maybe you’ll think about that the next time you decide to count the death toll instead of your blessings. If even the trees who have been snapped off their base or maybe even ripped from the ground are not phased…why should you be?

I thank God that I was spared. For every storm, even since Hurricane Hugo I was spared. I slept through it, curled up like a baby at 6 years old on the living room couch. Maybe that’s why I feel that there’s nothing better than falling asleep on the couch, to this day. That little house built from brick and that little girl inside was kept safe from the wind and rain. It brought my family closer, and I was thankful even then. So, I don’t too much get caught up in the monsoons of life for others. I have work to do here, and although I’m compassionate…I know there’s a reason for every season, every tragedy, every disaster. For my family, even though I am the biggest cryer, I am also the one to take a detached emotional approach to death when someone transitions…since even a pre-teen, saying, “Don’t cry Mom, there is no death…they’re in a better place.”

I don’t take anyone else’s suffering lightly but I also know what to take in and what to block out. That’s why I never watch the news. To each his own. That flooding in the streets became my own when my orgasm flooded out of me, this is how I make the storm personal for me…I won’t take on more hardship than was given to me, not now. I’m OK and believe that everything will BE OK. This is what it means to have peace in the midst of the storm. Thank you, Sandy.

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Celebrities, Culture, International Relations, Life, New York City, Personal Liberation, Politics/World Issues, Race Relations, Sex, Uncategorized

Pre-Election Day Dreams: President Obama Saw Me Naked

long braids implied nude

Maybe there are some suppressed sexual implications for my dream of being naked in front of President Obama…I mean, who doesn’t have a crush on the man? Hence my flirty shoulder and smile 😉

Yeah right! In my dreams! No, really, it was:

I was at my grandmothers house in the backyard, completely nude. My brown thick yet long and slender body was glistening in the late afternoon Georgian Sun. Somehow President Obama with his entire family, the first lady and the two girls, pulled up in a car. I don’t know how an entire street ended up in my Grandmother’s backyard,  but that’s besides the point: the President saw me naked! He motioned with his head to the two girls in the car, as if to say all cool like, “What are you doing, put your clothes back on!” The girls were eating McDonald’s of all things, it was as if they were on some type of road trip. (Maybe just to see me!) Michelle looked a little confused as to what was going on, but she wasn’t outraged, just going with a flow, a study in femininity.

He got out of the car to deal with the um, situation, of me being naked. Or maybe he just wanted to stretch his legs for the pit stop, because that’s the last anyone else in the dream even mentioned anything about my me being bare. I’m not sure if anyone else in the dream ever saw me, but I was starstruck. I couldn’t believe the President was here, to see me, and let alone I was naked. This was such an epic moment! I wondered if he knew about my topfreedom movement and my quest for love and personal liberation. And full nudity is something l’ve always wanted to try in public as well; being that I was in a private setting (although I can’t really imagine doing it at my Grandmother’s house) this was a perfect place to test out how I felt in my own  skin in a literal sense. I just knew I’d get an interview with him and this would make my hits online soar. I walked up the stairs to the laundry room of my Grandmother’s back porch, which is an extension of the kitchen where she also keeps her freshly baked cakes and pies, and went to tell the rest of the family like my aunt and my…Grandfather? He transitioned several years ago in July 2008… yet he was alive, shiny, dark, thriving, tall, and very REAL in my dream. I’ve dreamt of him before and he was always at peace. He actually pulled the President aside and said “Come here son, let me talk to you for a minute.” He put his arm around him and they began to walk away to exchange father and son like murmurs, and the most touching thing about it was that President Obama was totally receptive, respectful, and eager to learn from an elder Black man who was a political legend in his own right in the small town of Commerce, Georgia. (Riley Harris was a politician, preacher, veteran, father, husband, grandfather, writer, and he built my Grandma’s and his house with his own two hands. He was my hero and I supposed that’s why he shows up in my dreams ever so often, a symbol of what my “dream man” would be.)

Another strange part of the dream I was in the salon, my hair was dyed (I promised myself in my waking life that I would never do that again) and I was pressing it (also banned). While this was going on, suddenly I COMPLETELY lost my hearing. It was quite strange. I could see people’s lips moving, but I couldn’t hear anything: The whir of the blowdryers, the click clacking of the hot curlers (suspiciously similar to the sound of the overseer’s horse’s hooves on plantation hard-packed dirt roads), or the senseless gossip. Then without warning-It came back.

So there you have it: President Obama and Helese, who was naked. Go figure! If anyone interprets dreams I’d be happy to hear what you think of this one. Care to find out more about what goes on in the depths of my subconscious mind? I might continue sharing my dream life if this post gets enough comments!

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Culture, Events, International Relations, Life, New York City, Personal Liberation, Politics/World Issues, Race Relations, Technology, Uncategorized

This Friday Live: Radio Show will Discuss T.I.T.S. Movement and The Social Politics of Black Female Sexuality

My deepest fears of ridicule by the intellectual and academic world are being obliterated now that on this Friday, September 7th, 2012 I will be interviewed by Dr. Richard Cooper for his show “Karamu” (which means “feast” as in “food for thought,” click on his name for his bio), along with the former Director of the Human Sexuality Dept. at Widener University in Philadelphia, and more. Many students from the graduate program of Human Sexuality/Social work will be calling in to express their views. See the piece to be discussed, “Topfreedom: The Right to Bare Breasts” here. It promises to be TITillating!!!  Details outlined below:

SHOW DETAILS:

Date: Friday September 7, 2o12

Time: 4:00PM EST

Show: 900 AM Wurd (http://www.900amwurd.com)

How Listen/Ask a Question: Call 866-361-0900 or 215-634-8065 or go to http://www.900amwurd.com and CLICK ON PLAY BUTTON in the red banner at the top of the station’s website to stream LIVE! But you can’t join the conversation unless you call! 

I trust all of you will listen in and post your comments here. Again thank you for your support on my quest to raise important questions and seek personal liberation. Join me!

Update on 9/12/12: THE SHOW WENT WELL! Unfortunately,  the former Director of the Human Sexuality Dept. at Widener University in Philadelphia could not join us. Stay tuned for the recording of the show, as I will be sharing it with you as soon as it becomes available for listeners who missed it. Thanks again for the support!

Update on 5/3/2020: Going through my archives, removing the topfree photos as I feel they’ve done their work. There’s no link to that radio show now but you can listen to my very new podcast here. I can smell you following now…😊

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Culture, International Relations, Life, New York City, Politics/World Issues, Race Relations, Technology

Education Industry Creates Greater Inequalities…Here are 2 Solutions

It’s about time I addressed the problem of the education industry in this country. I’m sure you’ve never heard it described that way, education as an industry. I haven’t. I have heard that college is a business but I have never heard those two words put together. It’s about time it is addressed though. I can’t take it anymore.

The reality is that income is disproportionately distributed in this country. The better schools are often in the more affluent neighborhoods. So if you have a certain group of people getting the better schools, more scholarships, the degrees, and then you have these jobs that a person WITHOUT a particular degree could do, requiring college degrees…who will get the better jobs that pay more? And how DARE some of these jobs require degrees and pay you close to minimum wage? Isn’t this policy ensuring that people who have had to work their way up through the ranks of certain fields, gaining a lot of experience but never going back to school, isn’t this ensuring that they will be locked out of the better paying jobs, therefore ENSURING THAT INCOME WILL CONTINUE TO BE DISPROPORTIONATELY DISTRIBUTED?

First policy I want to bring up, if I had my way:

It is unlawful to require a degree for a job candidate who demonstrates experience in a field related to the job. I don’t know if this is worded right, but if two people who have the same amount of experience apply for a job and one has a degree in an unrelated field, I don’t think that a person who does not have the degree should be thrown out of the job pool just because they didn’t obtain a degree. Other factors like volunteer experience, life experience, and self-study should be taken into account.

My second gripe is: If I owe a school money, I can’t get my transcripts from that school unless I pay off my balance, so I can’t transfer to another school that has my choice of study, staff, location, or a more affordable tuition. If I can’t get a decent paying job because I didn’t finish my degree, then I won’t qualify for a personal loan because of lack of income. Student loans only go back so many years. Even education awards from programs like AmeriCorps won’t cover balances over a certain number of years.

The 2nd solution: I think it should be REQUIRED BY LAW for the school to RELEASE THE TRANSCRIPTS if a student expresses interest in attending another institution or for any reason, and the institution must work out a feasible payment plan based on various factors so that they can MOVE ON WITH THEIR LIFE. Why should I keep paying for a mistake I made when I was 16 or 17 years old? I made the decision to attend a $30,000 a year cockamamie school and my parents did all they could to pay it all. $1100/month for housing. I scoff at it now, it makes me sick, because at 16, I DIDN’T KNOW THE VALUE OF A DOLLAR.  (Blame my parents and I’ll curse you to to hell.) The point is, colleges constantly engage in false advertising like most business who inflate the quality and price tag of their services. Now I’m indebted to this institution and there is NO WAY that they will release my transcripts except by me paying out of pocket. It’s ridiculous and it needs to change now. It would work out in the institution’s best interest as well because they’d be getting paid rather than getting nothing and having a lot of bad energy directed at them in the form of resentment. I’m just sayin’.

See the conversation below to see how I responded to an actual prospective employer (names have been omitted)…

On Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 6:13 AM, Helese wrote:

Hello,

My name is Helese, and I feel that I am a perfect candidate for your position. As a past and current resident of Brooklyn, I am deeply invested in the community. I have utilized the community resources here to create a show that educates and entertains called Helese TALKS! I have a strong relationship with YAA where I gained experience doing outreach, working with high school interns, and planning events and curriculum for children of various ages. I enjoy building relationships with parents and connecting young minds with big ideas to their world around them. Thank you for reviewing my resume.

My apologies; in my last email I failed to submit a salary requirement: from $24,000-$26,000/year.

Best Regards,

Helese S

On Aug 13, 2012 3:45 PM, he wrote:

Hello Helese,

Thank you for your application.  One of the job requirements is a bachelor’s degree and it is unclear to me based on your resume if you have on or not.  Could you clarify this please?

Thank you,

Program Coordinator
On Mon, Aug 13, 2012 at 4:02 PM, Helese wrote:

No, I do not, but my last job required one, they hired me despite not having one, and they kept me on for two years and counting. Also I just got hired by a child care facility where an associate’s degree is required, but honestly they pay close to minimum wage which is why I am still looking. I find having a degree has nothing to do with actual capabilities.

If you have any more questions please let me know.

Best,

Helese S

On Aug 13, 2012 5:09 PM, he wrote:

Thank for your response and your interest in the position.

Best,

Program Coordinator

This is how I want to respond:

Does that mean you will still consider me the position, or not? If not, then I would like to use this dialogue with you as inspiration for my next piece in the Black Star News and my blog, Helese TALKS! I want to address the degree requirements for certain jobs as a form of income discrimination. College is a business and not everyone can afford to go or complete their studies. Employers often have told me that having a degree can never trump experience. It is absolute nonsense to require a degree for the position you are trying to fill, when if you didn’t think I had the experience to do the job you would not have replied. Regardless if these rules are yours or are coming from someone higher up, it must be addressed. You want someone who will work with youth and encourage them to go to college. Why not give someone like me who couldn’t finish because of financial reasons a chance to give someone what I didn’t have? Ironically, I find the people who are awake enough to know that anything that college teaches in the classroom can be learned by self-study, are the ones who benefit from college the most because they are the most resourceful and most likely to use opportunities that come as a result of being a student who can gain college credit. I am one of those resourceful people. I am using even this conversation as a resource and I’m going to use it to put my voice out there via various channels and hopefully this type of thing will become illegal after a while. Do you want to put an average person in the midst of these geniuses who don’t even know their own worth? Someone who will accept no for an answer and lay down without a fight? That is not how change in this society is made! Or, do you want to have someone who defied all the odds and knows who she is regardless of a piece of paper, has the experience and passion to enlighten youth…will you pass a gem like me up because I didn’t have the finances to finish college? And still don’t. The time will come when I will get the degree, but now is not that time. I don’t know if you can afford to wait that long though. Of course, with all due respect, it’s your call.

Best,

Helese S

What do you all think? Is this a wise decision? I can’t be quiet any longer…

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Friendship, International Relations, Life, New York City, Relationships, Sex

Vulnerability=Love-Ability=Being Loveable Pt. 2

It’s OK to cry. Trust me.

What’s my love-ability quotient? Can this be quantified? Can you really measure how well someone can love?

I’m a fan of tooting my own horn and saying how good my lovin is, in more ways than one. But what does this really mean?

I think your capacity to love is somewhat influenced by your ability to be vulnerable, and let all of the layers of guilt, doubt, ego, and shame fall away.

I’ve experienced the truth of this throughout the past couple of months when I proclaimed that I wanted to find true love, or better yet, allow it come to me.

I’m very big on the law of attraction, and it seems that everyone is these days. I think it makes sense that in order for you to find someone real, and connect with them through the layers of their personality and ego to get to the core of them, the Love, you would have to relate to them in a way that is totally authentic. A concept called Progressive Love created by the founders of Jujumama, LLC has been helping me through this process in the past month or so.

The Universe keeps bringing things and people to me who are helping me to fulfill my deepest desires. I’m learning secrets to things that I felt somewhere in my spirit, but I just couldn’t put a name to. I, being in my left brain alot, need to assign names to things and have things make sense in a scientific way, appreciate the language and culture that Jujumama is creating around this topic of “open relating”, which, throughout my life I have been simply calling “Just keepin it real.”

It hurts and it’s scary as hell to be open. But I’ve gotten only good results. I feel that most people are craving for the people in their lives to CONFESS that they love them, miss them, need them, want them around, are sad when they go, feel afraid of losing them, think they aren’t good enough, are carrying pain around from the past that causes them to fuck everything up in the here and now…people want to hear this because it allows them to now be open as well. Creating a safe space for communicating your true fears and desires while not blaming, is something I have learned is so necessary if you want to build a strong foundation for a relationship.

I’ve never been this way before. Remember when I stopped blogging for a few months? If you read my last post you’ll see why. I met someone who is exactly who I need to learn how to be open and just real. He’s wonderful, honest, and supportive. And guess what? We’ve “broken up.” But guess what else? Our “relationship” or simply “how we are with each other” has been more satisfying than when we were “together.” (I’m putting quotes around all of these terms and phrases because I’m asking myself what do they really mean?)

I still want him. I’m going to love him as long as I need to for me to learn the lesson I need from him. I still want to know he’s OK, and I’ll always want him to be  happy, even if it’s NOT with me. I’ve heard that if you love someone you have to let them go. But I have a spin on that: If you love someone you have to let yourself go. Meaning let go of all of those layers of: expectations of how a perfect relationship is supposed to be, (which then puts pressure on yourself and the person you’re relating to), shame about your past, guilt about how you’ve hurt others, doubts about whether or not you’re good enough, and finally fear that nothing is going to work out for your good. Expecting the worst is like a vicious cycle, and we can break it by embodying the type of brokenness that is born of vulnerability.

While I’d like to think that I’m perfect, I know I have a sludge of stuff I need to work through, but I’m meeting people who bring this out of me. I’m grateful for it. I’d say if you could measure my ability to Love right now, it’d be pretty high on the scale. I’m finally getting it: Your life is a reflection of what you expect it to be, and who you love is a reflection of you. If you want someone to drop all facades and be real and from the heart, you’ve got to start with number one.

See the first part of this article here

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Culture, International Relations, Life, Politics/World Issues, Race Relations

Dark Girls- A Film Review

As I sat in the legendary Apollo Theatre, which I had just performed at in September, I knew that I was experiencing an event that was truly epic. As the dark girls the moviebeginning credits of the premiering film began to roll, the song playing in the background made my heart smile because the singer spoke true words about black women: there aren’t many songs written about our beauty.

I wanted to hear something positive. I didn’t know what I was in for. I wanted something that would make me feel warm inside. I expected the unexpected from the movie Dark Girls. But then in one swoop I was disappointed. I heard the words “enslavement” and talk of trauma passed down to us through our cells, post traumatic stress disorder and such, and I took out my pen and made a note to myself, “Got-damnit!” When are we gonna stop talking about this same bull-”

…I guess I became like a lot of white people in that way, I was just sick of hearing Black people talk about the history and presence of racism and it’s very real affects on Black people’s lives in general, and Black women’s in particular, self image. I wanted to hear something I hadn’t heard. And I didn’t wanna hear about me being oppressed. I’m living my dream right now. I’m in my bubble. Ain’t nothin’ oppressing me.

I guess it’s because when I first became “conscious” as a Black woman, meaning I studied some of the history of my people, (some hidden, some public) I really came into my own. It started when my sister gave me her copy of The Auto Biography of Malcolm X. I indulged myself in so called self-righteousness. I read Roots, I hated white people for a while, and I was a Black supremacist for a while. I think that’s what can happen when a person is well read on a certain topic. They get “over-zealous.” Instead of letting the highs and lows of life (which is a really good teacher), sound wisdom passed down through generations, and a really good book that has been banned from the library (just to spice it up for good measure) teach them some universal truths, we tend to get one-sided with the information that we obtain. So at that point in my life I was pretty unbalanced.

When I really started to be real with myself, my life began to open up in new ways.

I felt a knot in my stomach, like I was leading a double life, when I said that white people were the devil. I knew it wasn’t true. I knew it couldn’t be that simple, because if it were there’d be no need for me to continue living, because they simply cannot be escaped. And neither can my skin. One time on Facebook I posted “sometimes I wish I could forget my skin.” Not because I felt less than beautiful. It was because identifying with it too much made me feel less than spiritual. And in a way, less than connected to other humans. Less alive.

Basically, I didn’t wanna be sad for the rest of my life because I have melanin. In fact, it’s a reason to praise God.

I still remember riding in my Mom’s red station wagon pretending my skin was lighter and that I had long brown curly hair, and that my sister was light skinned too. But by the time I was in 5th grade, my sister told me I needed to get more Black friends, “dress Black” and start reading about my culture. I still love her for that, because it was important for me to interact with other children who were experiencing some of the same things that I would. It was just good to have one more thing in common with them.

Honestly, I don’t live inside a white supremacist framework anymore. That framework can only exist in your experience if it exists in your mind. I never said I was color blind. It’s not that I don’t see the difference in race in the wider context, but when dealing with individuals, I must feel their vibe first. (I’m sooo New Age in that way.)

So, I actually thought I had this whole movie Dark Girls wrapped up. But about 20 minutes into the movie, I realized I was wrong. That’s when I put my pen down and stopped writing. I realized that on this road of colorism there were some twists and turns I hadn’t yet seen, and I wanted to take my shades off and really take it all in.

What I realized about colorism, is that when you look at it through the many lenses that the movie does, you see that the rabbit hole goes as deep as one can imagine. I felt literal visceral responses to what was being said, good and bad. It would have been ideal if I could have paused the movie and had discussion upon discussion about almost every scene. Some of it made me angry, but maybe not for the reasons that one may think. Others just made me, more importantly, want to ask more questions to everyone around me, including the people in the film. The filmmakers, the characters in the film, and the person sitting behind me. This film will make you want to TALK. I have to give it to Bill and Chann (the co-directors/producers of the film), they threw me for a loop. Talking heads and oft reused b-roll can be powerful if the words spoken are from the heart. The real stories and accounts from real women who had once lived their life in skin that made them feel less than enough took me for a ride. But who knew the journey would be so rich, nuanced, so bumpy, disgusting, sad, disheartening, riveting, exciting, and beautiful? It made me feel a little guilty for not going out of my way to support more media that focuses solely on this issue…but then, I had to not beat up on myself for being where I am in my life.

There was once a time where if it wasn’t Black media, I wasn’t buying it. And I criticized and nitpicked every mainstream piece of media I saw. I thought my world was going crazy, my friends were watching Friends DVD’s and not bothered by the fact that there was only one Black woman in the whole series, when the show is set in New York City, the melting pot of the world. But now I’m just into what makes me laugh. And now that I’ve truly accepted the fact that regardless of all the scientifically proven superiority of melanin versus lack of melanin, spiritually, we all have a chance to live our dreams. Dark Girls burst my bubble. But tonight, as I close my laptop, I will go back into it, my crazy world in my head, where everyone forgets their skin, and doesn’t see a Dark Girl, they just see me.

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Culture, International Relations, Race Relations

The Odd American

My nickname used to be “Crazy American Girl.” It was given to me by a friend from Suriname (a small country in South American next to Guyana.) Funny thing is, I never knew I was American until I met her and she pointed it out to me. The only labels I truly identified with was “young” (still am), “Black,” and “female.” And now that’s it’s been 10 years since I moved to this city, I also proudly identify as a “New Yorker.”

Ever since I came to New York I have been constantly approached by African men. In South Carolina, where I’m originally from, there isn’t a large community of Africans. When I got here though, I discovered people from Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Senegal. I liked them, they were proud of where they were from and they laughed at all of my jokes. They thought I had spunk. They came in all shapes and sizes and some of them even had businesses. (LOL, actually, I think every single African man I’ve ever met owned or wanted to own his own business. Never met one who was unemployed. But that observation is for another post.)

A lot of them introduced me to things I had never seen, heard, or eaten, and I love trying new things. Hanging out with brothers from the Motherland is very exciting to say the least! But sometimes, I feel like the odd one out. In the presence of mostly Africans, particularly at a traditional event, I recognize the differences between cultures and the tension that I feel is so thick it can be cut with a (_insert ancient African cutting tool here_).

Recently, I was invited to a traditional event, where the person who invited me graciously asked me to perform. I was honored, yet a little concerned. I’m a jazz singer. All music definitely has its roots in Africa, but the big band style of jazz that I sing sounds distinctly American and I wasn’t sure if it would be very pleasing to African taste. (You wouldn’t go to an Italian restaurant and order Bangkok Chicken.) I didn’t have time to change my repertoire before the show, plus, why should I have to? I think people enjoyed it, but what no one enjoyed was the awkward silence following the just regular silence that followed my greeting “Hey, everyone! I’m so happy to be here. And well, I’m American…”

Looking back on it, even as soon as seconds later, I know it was a bad choice of words. With me being the ONLY female who was not in traditional African attire, (I was told just to be casual) I already felt like a black sheep. Wearing all black. I felt so out of place in the cold and drafty banquet hall because I walked in beyond the time of being fashionably late (I was also told the party wouldn’t be jumping until after midnight, and those words led me to believe that no matter how different I looked I would be able to be lost in the crowd!) and there weren’t that many people to fill such a large space. I walked in during a speech. My black pumps click-clacked against a tile floor. (I learned from a previous unrelated experience to always dress a little dressier than a casual dress code.) A man escorted me to my seat and a woman in traditional attire immediately came over to me and asked me if I wanted food. I had eaten already, so I politely declined. But even the white woman sitting next to me was wearing a gele. I was nervous and uncomfortable so I started emailing myself this very post.

I thought I was coming to a paaaarrrtttayyyy! Or at least a party. But like my sister said “No liquor? That ain’t a party, that’s a meeting.” Glad I pre-gamed beforehand. But there’s no cute guys my age here, no 20-something girls at all, well, at least none wearing black stretch pants, except me. Talk about an awkward black moment. I feel like a black sheep walking in. Where’s the music? You can hear a limb drop in this place. But that’s the thing though. Let me hip you to a bit of African culture. They like to give speeches at their parties! Looong drawn out lectures. Well I guess the real question is… Can I be myself in the midst of such tradition, especially when it isn’t mine? That’s huge. But I guess we all have our insecurities. I feel way too slutty of a dancer for these people. I might embarrass myself even more if I get up. Plus I just don’t feel like dancing. It’s cold in here and my joints are locking up. But of course one of the keys to power is knowing how to fit in any situation. And also feeling secure that when you don’t want to do something, you don’t do it. I don’t wanna dance. And that is ok. I feel like a caged bird that wants to fly our of her ca-

That’s when I was brought up to the mic and I said, as if it wasn’t already so obvious, that I am American.

It didn’t go unnoticed. My African friend who invited me was like “Why do you say that you are American? You are very Pan-African in my opinion. You wear your hair natural, you’re cultured. Why all of these divisions? We are all brothers and sisters.” As if I already didn’t feel lame enough that no one laughed at my not so funny joke, this guy who’s like a big brother to me is telling me that not only did it look ridiculous, but it was actually offensive.

Anyhow I think that at the end of the day it’s not a big deal. I got to meet a few people who were interested in my singing, and even a real live queen. I enjoyed myself, because it was a new situation and it led to this post. I learned. Maybe next I’ll just be proud of all of my inappropriate clothes, and dance right out of them like no one’s looking. Or, more likely, I’ll try to blend in and not offend anyone. But you know what? I’m kind of liking this feeling of being different and standing out, no matter who I am.

P.S. I couldn’t find a video on YouTube that really spoke to what I experienced that night, so I decided to do one myself:

Maybe being the “Crazy American Girl” isn’t so bad after all.

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