Professional Black Girl: Video Series Celebrates ‘Everyday Excellence’ of Black Women

Professional Black Girl: Video Series Celebrates ‘Everyday Excellence’ of Black Women and Girls and explores the love language shared by black women, and how we twerk and work with unmatched professionalism. 

Episode 1

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#ProfessionalBlackGirl

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DURHAM, N.C. — Dr. Yaba Blay, renowned activist, cultural critic, and producer, launches Professional Black Girl, an original video series created to celebrate everyday Black womanhood, and to smash racist and “respectable” expectations of how they should “behave.”

Seventeen Black women and girls ranging in age from 2- to 52-years-old were interviewed for the series. Each episode features a candid discussion with personalities such as Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Rapsody; Joan Morgan, author of the Hip-Hop feminist classic When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost; and 13-year-old world traveler Nahimana Machen, sharing what it means to be a “Professional Black Girl.”

“‘Professional Black Girl’ looks like Taraji P. Henson at the 2015 Emmys jumping up to hug Viola Davis. It looks like Mary J. Blige and Taraji and Kerry Washington in that Apple commercial. It looks like me rolling up to a room full of people in Berlin to speak with my bamboo earrings on,” explains Tarana Burke, a non-profit consultant and fashion blogger featured in the series.

Limited edition Professional Black Girl merchandise, created in partnership with Philadelphia Printworks, is available now onphiladelphiaprintworks.com. The first full episode, featuring Dr. Blay, will air September 9, 2016, with an episode airing each Friday onYouTube and yabablay.com until December 23, 2016.

The terminology that is often used to describe and define Black girls—such as bad, grown, fast, ghetto, and ratchet—are non-affirming and are words that are intended to kill the joy and magic within all Black girls,” says Dr. Blay. “We are professional code-switchers, hair-flippers, hip-shakers, and go-getters. We hold Ph.Ds and listen to trap music; we twerk and we work. We hold it down while lifting each other up, and we don’t have to justify or explain our reason for being. This is us.”

Follow #ProfessionalBlackGirl across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to celebrate and affirm the everyday excellence of Black women and girls.

For more information, or to interview Dr. Yaba Blay, please contact Shakirah Gittens at 718-687-6231 or by email at info@DynamicNLyfe.com.

September 9, 2016. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , . #ProfessionalBlackGirl, African Americans, beauty, communication, persuasion, politics, teaching, professional writing, composition, cute, cuteness, design, digital literacy, ethos, fashion, feminism, feminity, gender, hair, media, play, politics, professionalism, race, rhetorics, sexual politics, style, technology, video, visual literacy, YouTube. Leave a comment.

Doodling To Keep From Crying

While Ben Carson rambled about Hillary Clinton being a disciple of Lucifer, I decided to make some digital art that focuses on bridging a progressive Democratic coalition that will defeat Donald Trump in November. I call her Viva Negrita Rosita. It’s a remix from the  NORML Women’s Alliance Foundation web page.

And since weed advocacy isn’t exactly my ministry, I added a top portion to her ‘fro and replaced a #BLM logo instead of the original cannabis leaf… Decriminalization of marijuana will be part of the DNC platform this election cycle. I’m looking forward to seeing how partisan Democrats will present their case next week. Anything has got to be better than this #RNCinCLE sh!tshow.

Whatevs. To each their own. In the meantime, I’m just doing what I can to keep up morale for the cause.

You’re welcome!

si se puede afro chicana rosie

July 19, 2016. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . #BlackLivesMatter, #RNCinCLE, art, beauty, communication, persuasion, politics, teaching, professional writing, conventions, design, digital literacy, drawing, GOP, media, party politics, political campaign, politics, rhetorics, spectacle, TV, visual literacy, visual rhetoric, voting. Leave a comment.

The Battle for Equality Is a WIRED Issue

Serena Williams isn’t just a tennis champion and singularly great athlete; she’s been a leader in the fight for equal representation and pay in her sport.

Source: The Battle for Equality Is a WIRED Issue

October 28, 2015. Tags: , , , , , , , . #BlackLivesMatter, African Americans, athletes, beauty, Blackness, communication, communication, persuasion, politics, teaching, professional writing, computers, cute, cuteness, digital literacy, education, gender, information design, photography, politics, race, rhetorics, Serena Williams, social media, sports, style, technology, visual rhetoric. Leave a comment.

Blowing Up or Selling Out: Carol’s Daughter & Scents of Nostalgia

A Black Cosmetic Company Sells, Or Sells Out? : Code Switch : NPR.

I remember when she started as an apothecary in Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue. It was in the early 90s… She used heavy mason jars, essential oils of ylang ylang, bergamot, sandalwood with *actual* jasmine flowers — all made to order and combined to heal. Her potions and balms were an indulgence and were more than affordable considering the quality. I used her baths and oils to pamper my young babies and spoil myself whenever I could and could not afford it. (She was artisanal before artisanal was a “thing” and the originator of what Joan Morgan’s doing nowadays.)

A Black Cosmetic Company Sells, Or Sells Out? : Code Switch : NPR

Fast forward a decade and a half
==>>  Department stores began carrying Carol’s Daughter after word caught on. Once time had passed I noticed a decline in more than just the packaging and now I can’t tell the difference between Tui Oil and Hot 6

Though to be perfectly fair, I’m not the same hand-dyed-gele-headwrap-wearing-radical-vegan these days, m’self… I’ve made more than my fair share of personal adjustments over the years trying to pay bills just like everybody else.

Who am I to criticize? And if I really think about it, it’s been Carol Daughter’s — whether it be her originally sourced ingredients or outsourcing to L’oreal — that has inspired me to get back into my kitchen with my butters, mixers, and essential oils to indulge the scents and sensuality of my personal beauty routine and grooming habits.

So I say, Play on playa! Go on with yo’ bad self, Sista Lisa and tua u.  That last part means “thank you” in early 90’s Black Brooklyn speak. (And if you have to ask, you’ll never understand!)

October 28, 2014. Tags: , , , , , , . African Americans, apothecary, beauty, Carol's Daughter, cute, economics, family, fashion, gender, hair, parenting, race, rhetorics, scents, sentiment, style. Leave a comment.

Portrait d’une negresse: Artfully Remixed?

benoist-louboutin-obamaThe painting furthest to the left is called Portrait d’une négresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist. The artist, a daughter born in 1768 to Parisian civil servants in 1768, created this painting in 1800 — only six years after the French ended their part in the African slave trade. Now housed in the Louvre, Portrait d’une négresse has since become a symbol of women’s rights and freedom for black people.

This iconic image has inspired countless imitations. A notable example is the Christian Louboutin 2011 Fall Lookbook based on several classic portraits photographed by Peter Lippmann. More recently there’s been the cover of Magazine Fuera de Serie (a lifestyle supplement to Spanish newspaper, Expansión) featuring a composite image of Benoist’s young slave girl, re-imagined as America’s first lady seated on the stars and stripes.

The reference is easily recognized by anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with the canon of fine art. Unfortunately, given the impoverished state of humanities education in America, the iconic meaning of this image has gone completely missed in the popular blogosphere.

The message, as Benoist originally intended it, represents the black woman as a figure of innocence and mercy. For the Hispanic world, deeply influenced by Catholicism, this representation of Michelle Obama inserts itself within the richly historical iconography of Our Lady of Guadalupe (or the Virgin Mary). The Spanish magazine article speaks of the first lady in glowing terms through the use of descriptive language like “intelligent, strong and classy” in order to convey the idea that Michelle functions as the president’s political backbone and social conscious.

Recent viewings of the magazine’s cover image have been mis-recognized by the American media. This, I think, is related to America’s cultural puritanism, which assigns any display of black female nudity to the field of anthropological curiosity or places it strictly within the domain of the pornographic. This point is aroused (all puns intended) whenever the subject of the black female nude is raised. Most American media outlets have obscured the offending nipple with strategic pixel placement or otherwise subjected the chocolate-colored areola to some other arbitrary redaction method. (Coverage of Mrs. Obama’s breast with a huge red star is among the most curious editorial objects noticed.)

This latest media dust-up reminds me of Janet Jackson’s Superbowl “wardrobe malfunction” controversy and demonstrates, by extension, America’s cultural fascination with the black breast — brown nipples, in particular — and highlights the racist American obsession with the sexual commodification of black women. Clearly, we can look at America’s antebellum exploitative labor practices of “employing” black women as wet-nurses for the children of white slave holders and understand this as a profound historical example. More generally, the cultural denial of breasts’ primary function for purposes of basic nutritional sustenance and the sexual fixation on this particular part of the human anatomy as an erotic object, when juxtaposed with the Eurocentric fixation on the gradient of colors from brown to black as signifying dirt or evil, might explain why this paradox still persists. Reactions to this Michelle Obama composite image easily call to mind a host of racist discourses surrounding black bodily hygiene.

What I find most interesting is related to the dismal state of visual literacy among Americans, which proves that critical approaches to reading images are so badly needed today. Alongside the nipple being perceived as indecent and improper, there is the problem of an overemphasis on appearance and form over contexts and content. (One gets the distinct sense that the same folk who can’t hold it together over a few misplaced commas and semicolons are the same individuals who are losing their minds over the sight of a little brown areola.)

As previously mentioned, so much ado surrounding the Spanish magazine’s supposed bad form has the unfortunate effect of overtaking the particular logos of the article and the collective ethos of Spanish religio-cultural aesthetic sense, in general. Moreover, and most egregiously, it seems to ignore the artistic pathos of Karine Percheron-Daniels who is known for her nude figure celebrity mash-ups. In fact, not only does the online version of the magazine article feature a nude likeness of Michelle Obama, but also featured are those of Princess Diana, Kate Middleton, and (yes!) Barack Obama too — all portrayed as classical nudes in repose.

August 31, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . African Americans, art, Barack, Barack Obama, beauty, design, Karine Percheron-Daniels, politics, Portrait d’une négresse, rhetorics, sexual politics, sexual politics, visual literacy, visual rhetoric. Leave a comment.

“Race” and “Beauty”

Few research studies have filtered into the mainstream discourse of race rhetorics more than the social psychology experiments of Kenneth and Mamie Clark. Their famous series of doll experiments beginning in the late 1930s have offered a particularly acute angle through which the dynamics of aesthetic ideology play out in the field of critical race studies. It was partly through their groundbreaking research (not to mention the brilliant legal minds of the day, under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall) that persuaded the US Supreme Court to abolish school segregation. Thus,  changing the law of the land that separate commercial facilities and public spaces constitute a fundamental social wrong, no longer to be tolerated.

The Clark doll experiments, as they are now referred to, demonstrate the twin phenomena of “in-group derogation” and “out-group elevation” among African American children and show that children of all races have internalized the racism and stigma caused by the legacy of colonization, slavery, and Jim Crow apartheid. Aside from the politics of color, the doll experiments become foundationally important in light of the empirical contributions made by more recent social psychology experiments demonstrating the ways people interpret facial appearance and intelligence.

You might think this issue would be put to rest, but then along comes Sutoshi Kanazawa who recently published a blog entry on a popular science website purporting to uncover a scientifically objective answer as to why black women are supposedly so damned ugly. Though, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, chances are you already know that is a false precept and notions of beauty are social constructions based on cultural biases.

According to the The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, these racial tropes and commonplaces are based on a history of discourses that have thoroughly entangled what it means to be associated with the human categories of “white” and “nonwhite” and is predicated on an Enlightenment doxa that racializes the word “black” by changing it from an adjective to a noun that is synonymous with “slave.”

As Painter demonstrates, we can thank Emanuel Kant for this unfortunate patrimony. Kant believed that there was a singular standard for human beauty and spent a good bit of his intellectual energy attacking the idea that such standards could differ by culture. Indeed, compounded by a popular and longstanding misunderstanding of Darwinian evolution rooted in nineteenth-century pseudoscience, a dialectic of race has emerged which holds the view that “blackness” equals ugliness and stupidity. Because of this combination of white Western thinking that equates racist stereotypes of blackness with that which is primitive and uncouth, a hegemonic standpoint continues to uphold whiteness as signifying purity and neutrality while blackness has come to represent stigma and provocation.

Don’t just blame the Western heritage of philosophy and science for this latest racial debacle. What many consider “beauty” has also been passed down to us through the disciplinary lens of art history.

The founder of the discipline, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, championed the idealization of ancient Greek beauty because of his inability to interpret ancient Egyptian and Greek art through anything other than his German-Italian aesthetic that was centered around the white marble statues replicating the aesthetic glories of antiquity, which he studied in Rome. As Painter explains, Winckelmann’s appreciation for whiteness qua whiteness initially developed as a result of his geographic distance from Greece.  From Rome, Winckelmann only had physical access to Roman copies of ancient Greek statues as they were translated into Italian marble. Unaware that the Greek originals were often dark in color, Winckelmann failed to understand – or simply ignored – the fact that the Greeks routinely painted their sculptures. Winckelmann, only having seen Roman versions of beautiful young men carved from gleaming white Italian marble, either knowingly or unknowingly, elevated sculptural copies of Greek statues into racial emblems of beauty – literally creating a new white aesthetic. For Winckelmann and his art history disciples, colorful sculpture was thought of as barbaric and unsophisticated, for they believed the ancient Greeks to be too refined to color their art. Painter (her name sounds funny in this context) goes on to conclude that the Western classical tradition has since adapted this preference for non-color, thus employing white plaster as the most common medium for the purposes of sculptural art education.

All of this explains just a little bit about how our cultural perceptions of beauty have come to be and why we cannot allow Sutoshi Kanazawa’s brand of pseudoscience to go unchallenged. Here is a link to the ColorOfChange.org website featuring the latest action campaign protesting the popular science journal’s editorial decision to publish Kanazawa’s racist canard. Tell the editors of Psychology Today to get a late pass; black been beautiful and the editors ought to apologize for circulating such flawed science.

May 24, 2011. Tags: . African Americans, art, beauty, cute, gender, history, race, rhetorics, science. 2 comments.

Quite Cute


MAC just stole my dissertation idea. ;p The cosmetics company’s latest spring line is all purpley-pink and pastel. The image to the left is a screenshot of the “Quite Cute” promotional campaign. Cute is so in right now. Alas, such is the risk of cuteness; sometimes being embarrassingly fashionable.

Karl Lagerfeld has nothing to do with MAC — he heads the house of Chanel.  In my opinion, the man is absolutely hilarious!  While watching a documentary about the man and his impact on the notoriously invidious fashion industry, Lagerfeld Confidential, I howled with laughter. If Roland Barthes had been into sewing instead of writing, he would’ve been Lagerfeld. (Punchline… punctum — what’s the diff?)

Also, Lagerfeld discovered Kimora Lee Simmons — who in turn founded the now defunct Baby-Phat clothing company. Weirdly, when Simmons was not much more than 13 years old, Lagerfeld plucked her from the suburbs of St. Louis Missouri, dressed her as a child-bride and paraded her across the world’s fashion runways.  The man practically raised her. Currently, Simmons holds licensing rights to the Hello Kitty image for a jewelry line she designs. I think the quotes below explain exactly why, at least judging from her reality show, Simmons is so, um, very… eccentric. Here are some of Lagerfeld’s thoughts on fashion, beauty, children, and (of course) cuteness:

“If you want social justice, be a civil servant. Fashion is ephemeral, dangerous and unfair.”

“Life is not a beauty contest, some [ugly people] are great. What I hate is nasty, ugly people…the worst is ugly, short men. Women can be short, but for men it is impossible. It is something that they will not forgive in life…they are mean and they want to kill you.”

“[Children] grow so fast, and having adult children makes you look 100 years old. I don’t want that.”

“Sunglasses are like eyeshadow. They make everything look younger and prettier.”

“[Sunglasses are] my burka…I’m a little nearsighted, and people, when they’re nearsighted, they remove their glasses and then they look like cute little dogs who want to be adopted.”

April 9, 2011. Tags: . beauty, children, cute, design, family, fashion, film, harajuku, style. Leave a comment.

Afro & Aura

When you google the search terms *african* *american* and  *cute* (with no quotes, of course) the first hits you get are associated with hairstyles. After that there are some hits for baby names.  This is a fascinating topic to me and I believe it begs a chapter in my dissertation. Among the biggest vlog topics on YouTube these days is that of one African American woman or another who has embarked on a “natural hair journey” or is otherwise describing some new miracle product that has finally knocked her kinky curls into place.

Hell, I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to picking up a few hair tips in my own quest for cuteness through watching YouTube.

Though I can’t help but notice that the YouTube natural hair community already has several of its own clichés like, “Hey Guys! It’s me and blah, blah, blah. My hair is blah, blah, blah. And it won’t ever blah, blah, blah no matter how much I try to blah, blah, blah. Bye Guys!” I even saw an upload titled  “My 27 Piece Weave Journey”! (For those of you who are black girl hair challenged, a 27 piece is a short weave like the one NeNe from the Real Housewives of Atlanta wears.) For realers. Very comical.

For me, this issue makes me think of Terry Eagleton‘s book, Walter Benjamin: Or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism, especially in the section where he highlights the late 60s – early 70s Black Power slogan, “Black is Beautiful” and discusses how this term is immanently rhetorical because of the way it calls attention to the falsity of Western beauty standards. Therefore, this verifiably questionable discursive utterance is deployed for the purpose of diametrically opposing and dislodging the Kantian assumption about the exclusivity of whiteness as ideal beauty.

Of course the period immediately following the civil rights movement, also known as the Black Power era, was the heyday of the afro and, for me, relates very closely to Benjamin’s notion of the hazy, blurry fluffiness of aura as an halo effect.  But then the afro and the (black) people who used to wear them have mostly gone out of style. Now we are told that “gay is the new black.” Or “green (politics) is the new black” and recently, I even saw a t-shirt that read “broke is the new black.” (Hasn’t it always been?)

Cute is governed by the canons of style (and delivery — as in the case of product packaging). So the racial rhetoric of cuteness is thus problematized, as it constantly moves African Americans in and out of style. As it stands, an entire category of humanity occasionally becomes vogue and then passé… and then vogue and then passé and vogue and passé and so on.

In Film Form: Essays in Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein blonde hair is implicated as the gold standard of photography and cinema culture, quite literally.  The golden, yellow hair of the Hollywood starlet is a fundamental pathos of the halo lighting effect used to imply desirability and is employed in almost all Hollywood films. As far as film culture goes, what we have seen little of is afro as aura. Well at least not until this public plural space of YouTube where black women are illuminating their own identities in the digital sphere. Stay tuned.

February 13, 2011. African Americans, beauty, cute, fashion, film, gender, hair, style, YouTube. Leave a comment.

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