Selfies suck.

True story: A week or so ago, after I’d done my hair, I decided to take a photo. I picked up my phone, and put the camera in selfie-mode.

The next thing you know, I was making a screwface at the thing, like, “What kind of [new-twist-on-old-swearword] is this?!?” My new ‘do–which was full and luscious IRL–looked like it was finna run off my head. My already-round face looked like a bowling ball.

When I tell you about the amount of prayer and contortions I have to subject myself to in order to look at least 50% like I do in person…? Taking a selfie is hit or miss, I swear. And it often involves more misses than hits. *chupse*

Men, this is why your GF takes 70 000 shots of herself ’til she finds the perfect one. Her camera keeps betraying her.

#imjoking #orami #sometimesilookdifferentinagoodway #butnotalways #selfiessuck #sorta

On “Black Friends”

Demetria just about covered it.

I read a bunch of comments about Adele on Grammy night that were ridiculous. I swear. My eyes rolled so hard, it’s a wonder they didn’t fall out of my head.

Then, I got introspective.

What do you hear when someone uses the words “Black friends”?

We live in an era where people are boldly, unapologetically racist. And I get it. The words “Black friends” have been used again and again (and AGAIN) by bigots when they’re straining to be polite. “No, Jay’s Blackness doesn’t bother me. I have PLENTY of Black friends…”

But this isn’t that.

Like it or not, the fact remains that folks have friends who are Black. People need to learn the difference between “Black friends” as condescending tokenism and its use as an accurate descriptor.

Black In The 519

blackinthe519-notitleI’ve lived in Small Town*, Ontario my whole life. Although certain things are happening now that make me feel hopeful, there are a few aspects of life here that get on my nerves. I’m one of the displaced: A person of colour who has struggled to make peace with life in a non-diverse part of Canada.

In the past, our town’s lack of diversity has driven me nuts.

Although certain changes are making things about living here more enjoyable, I can’t help but feel as though something’s missing.

Just the other day I was talking to someone who works here but lives out of town. They asked me what Small Town is like. “It’s quiet.” I cautioned. As I walked away, I wondered what I was thinking. Was “quiet” some sort of euphemism for “white”?

I’ll be honest. Ideally, I think a person should love where they live, but I’ve struggled. I realize that my lack of social interaction is my own fault. Yet in some ways, being here has been challenging.

ORIGINS

Once I was old enough to know where I was born, I figured it was a mistake. A horrible, horrible mistake. My parents immigrated to Canada from the Caribbean (Barbados and Trinidad) before I was born. They settled in the GTA and pursued their education. Eventually, my father got a job out of town. He was hired locally to work as an elementary school teacher.

Thus began Mom and Dad’s exodus from paradise. They settled in Small Town in the 70s. My mother and I have been here ever since. All along, it’s been hard not to notice the disconnect between us and our surroundings. Growing up, I used to wish my parents had fought harder to stay in Toronto.

SIGHTINGS

If I’ve made my town sound like a gigantic washroom with a Whites Only sign out front, I should apologize. That isn’t my intention. I remember one Black woman and her family used to live on a street near our house. They moved away several years ago.

Overall, my town’s lack of diversity is a major factor in the reason I’ve tried, repeatedly to make my escape. However my attempts have proven to be unsuccessful. The only place I can really imagine settling is Toronto, and that city is ex-PEN-sive with a capital E.

Meanwhile, since I fist graduated from university, I’ve begun to notice the occasional person of colour in town.

A few years ago I was taking music lessons. One day as I was leaving, Mrs. Music Teacher’s husband came home. When I saw him, I was stunned. Mr. Music Teacher was a Black man!

You know that moment when you’re shocked by someone but you don’t want to stare because that would be rude? Yeah. That’s what happened.

“How long have you been here?” He answered, and I’m ashamed to admit that I could barely believe him. If Mr. Music Teacher had, as he claimed, been here for years, why hadn’t I seen him before?

There’s a Latino family in my neighbourhood. A few days ago I saw a hijabi near downtown. Every time I see a person of colour in town, I feel a twinge of hope mixed with sorrow and curiosity.

Things started to really hit me though when I first saw a Black student at the grocery store about a year ago. She was with a friend. I couldn’t help but wonder what life was like for her here in town.

Was she like me—ever-conscious of the fact that she was an “only”—apart from her family, the only Black person around for miles? I couldn’t help but wonder if like me, she planned on leaving as soon as she was old enough to do so?

Well actually, that’s a lie.

I saw two other Black teenagers a few nights ago when I went to McDonalds. Once again, I wondered what their life was like. Have they been here for a while? Were they ever teased when they were younger, like I was?

THE MEETING

One reason I don’t like to venture out and about is that there’s a 50% chance that I’ll feel unwelcome. (Living here, I notice that either people don’t care less, or they seem to be genuinely bothered by diversity.)

A few years ago there was a public meeting on the county’s future. I moseyed over and sat towards the outer edge of the room. As usual, the speakers seemed concerned about preserving our county’s heritage. However that heritage has involved agriculture and manufacturing—industries that offer no options for those whose talents lie elsewhere.

At one point in the evening one speaker got up to speak about what he didn’t want to see unfolding in our town. Every now and then Toronto had been mentioned as a point of contrast. Comparisons to the city can be a sore point for a lot of people. We see its flaws spelled out in living colour on the evening news—poverty, crime, and carding. Yet something about the place keeps drawing people in. There’s a whole generation of Small Towners that don’t live here. I’d be willing to bet my life that the majority of them are in a larger city.

Why resent Toronto? What draws people to it? Diversity. Racial diversity, cultural diversity, diversity of thought, religion—you name it! In the city, opportunities to learn from a variety of human beings are endless. It’s inspiring to be in such a place.

I remember during the meeting, the townspeople were given the chance to speak. One of them was a middle-aged man. From what I can recall, he only seemed to have one intention—to complain about what he didn’t want Small Town to turn into. I cannot remember the details of what he said, however he spoke negatively of life in the city. I asked him to elaborate and specify exactly what it was about being in Toronto that was so offensive to his sensibilities. I was standing right behind him. When I asked him to clarify his points regarding the aspects of urban living that he didn’t like, his reaction didn’t go unnoticed. My request was met with silence.

I couldn’t help but wonder why. How hard would it have been to say that he didn’t like the crime or the crowds or the stench of overpriced real estate? Instead, he said nothing. That confirmed exactly what I’d feared about some of the people who live here. Whatever it was that offended this man about city living was likely something that wasn’t truly problematic, yet only got on certain folks’ nerves. Needless to say, my mind went straight to diversity. It’s the most obvious difference between life here and elsewhere.

In the week after this forum, I’ll never forget the way the press responded. A reporter from The Small Town Herald was there that night. He made it sound as though the man I’m referring to was genuinely concerned about condo developments over-saturating the town’s skyline. However, I was there. And as I said, his silence over a simple question spoke volumes.

My attendance at that meeting also made me self-conscious and want to assert myself. As one of very few people of colour, in town I almost think I should wear a t-shirt that says, ”I belong here!!”

In fact, while I was there, I wanted to stand up and launch into a soliloquy: “How long have I been here? Since there was a Calbeck’s and IGA!” These are both old grocery stores that were in town during the 70s and 80s, when I grew up. At that point, I would have gone on. “One of the ladies who retired from working at Sobeys has seen me shop with my mother since I was a child!” I might have looked strange, but it would have felt good to say something.

THE COMMERCIAL

Do you know those commercials by the Dairy Farmers of Canada featuring Canadian towns that share names with European cities? We have one. It’s been interesting watching it evolve. At first I was surprised and delighted…And even a bit confused.

It was obvious to me that it was produced by people who aren’t from the area. The first time I saw the advertisement and the announcer said, “This…Is Small Town…” I was stunned. It actually looked diverse. At one point there was a woman in it who had a gorgeous afro. Jokingly, I looked at my mom and said, ”Who in [this place] would have an afro, except for me?”

However, my surprise and delight was short-lived. The last several times I saw the commercial, I noticed something. It seemed as though all signs of diversity, aka actors of colour, have been edited out of existence. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. To me, although these changes were technically accurate, because Small Town isn’t exactly a melting pot…They were somehow wrong.

They also made me wonder about my family’s lack of a local footprint. If only a few people in town remember us, and they pass on over the next few decades, were we ever really here in the first place?

 

*The place where I live has a name. However I think my theme’s fairly universal.

Solid Saturday: Speak UP!!

Here’s a little something from way back when.

There’s nothing like hearing your old sense of ambition falling from your lips to remind you of who you are.

For the time being I’ve put my podcast aside. (NOTE: No matter what anyone else says, there’s no such thing as FREE podcast hosting. I mean…sure. Some sites offer “free” plans. But they don’t come without limits.) Meanwhile, somehow I still feel compelled to craft content. This notion really got to me this week. That’s when I got curious…

But, Claire,” I said to myself,”where can I get my stuff hosted for free?”

And almost immediately, the answer came:

Looks like I’ll have to start making videos!!”

Oy vey. Cue the anxiety and excuses.

I took a few test shots yesterday. The lighting was almost as hideous as it was in the video above. I kept struggling with where to put my eyes.

Then, earlier this afternoon I took a look at Jam Gamble’s Facebook page. Jam and I know each other a bit through social media, and she’s an amazing woman. Her pinned post on public speaking really struck a chord with me.

If you feel inspired to do something for your own growth or good, pursue it! Fear exists only to get in the way of your greatness.

The Magic of Misinterpretation

In addition to being shared here, I’ve posted this essay on Medium and recorded an audio version for my podcast.

#BlackGirlsAreMagic

When I was a little girl, there were times when I regretted being brown. My schoolmates used to tease me. Their comments left me curious about having different facial features and lighter skin.

As an adult, I found solace in the pages of The Bluest Eye. I couldn’t relate to everything in Pecola Breedlove’s life. Still, I remembered what it was like to believe that life would have been just a little bit better if only I looked like everyone else.

This week on Twitter, I learned that a writer named Quinn Norton objected to #BlackGirlsAreMagic. This is a hashtag created to celebrate Black beauty in a world where — in spite of the success of women such as Viola Davis and Nicole Beharie — we still often feel pressure to aspire to something else.

After her misinterpretation was righteously rebutted, Ms. Norton retreated and wrote an explanation of her critique that I am still trying to digest. Her essay can be found in full here.

Among Ms. Norton’s claims is the notion that #BlackGirlsAreMagic’s purpose is to display gratuitous shots of women’s breasts. She took great care to declare that

“if you look at #BlackGirlsAreMagic at the moment I am writing this, and you skip over the tweets about me, you can find black girl’s achievement in between a lot of boobs. That bothers me, because the idea what we do something good but BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS is what crushes many girls’ dreams of living a public life. The women who follow each other may or may not see the tag that way, because they may or may not look at that live flow. Even then we tend to look for what confirms how we see a hashtag, because that’s how human brains work.

(emphasis added)

In spite of my familiarity with #BlackGirlsAreMagic, at this point Ms. Norton’s words drove me back to Twitter. In an attempt to make sense of her concerns, I logged into the site and looked up the images associated with #BlackGirlsAreMagic. I found a few photos that were clearly posted by racist trolls. However apart from that, the majority of the images were of Black women looking…Good. Some were dressed up, some dressed down. There were children as well as grown women. All looked perfectly normal and content in their beautiful, brown skin.

The fact that Ms. Norton would see the images associated with #BlackGirlsAreMagic and conclude that the hashtag was designed to focus on women’s breasts is disturbing. Her attitude is reminiscent of an old-school colonialist, desperate to categorize a group of “others” as unacceptable simply because she is not familiar with them.

Furthermore, even if the photos of Black women displaying their cleavage were nearly as plentiful as Ms Norton claimed, her objection would still seem suspect. Black women are women. We have BREASTS. I’m shy about sharing mine with the world, but if another woman is comfortable with posting cleavage shots online, who is it harming?

At another point in her essay, Ms. Norton attempts to be informative regarding hashtag use. With respect to the idea of a person or group’s right to claim a tag, she said that “we can own a hashtag in a community, but we can’t own it a wider public sphere. It has a hashtag life of its own.” I can only assume that here, Ms. Norton meant to enlighten those who use #BlackGirlsAreMagic regarding how hashtags work. However it seems to me that she is the one who fails to comprehend social media dynamics.

Obviously, one cannot own a hashtag any more than a writer can claim to own the alphabet whenever she uses its components to express a thought. Yet from the originator to the community that made it popular, most individuals understand the purpose of a hashtag is to share relevant points pertaining to a particular topic.

To emphasize her point about a hashtag’s malleability, Ms Norton also states that “I’m not wrong about how [a hashtag] can and does change over time and to different audiences.”. And indeed, Ms. Norton is not wrong about the fact that hashtags are interpreted differently by different people.

However she misunderstands the influence that those who have nothing to do with a tag have on its interpretation. If a hashtag is irrelevant to a cause that someone cares about, there’s a chance that he won’t find it meaningful, and in all likelihood, dismiss it. That’s the way most hashtags work. Not everyone will find sense in a particular tag’s creation. Still, that’s nothing for them to worry about. If I stressed over every hashtag that I couldn’t relate to, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

As an aside, I can’t help but wonder, if #TransMagic was used to celebrate members of the Transgendered community, would it have been met with the same level of presumptuous imposition? There’s no shame in admitting to being wrong about a situation, without attempting to insult those that you unfairly criticized.

The wonder of humanity is how different we are in spite of our similarities. I believe these differences ought to be celebrated, and above all, respected. However, that was not the case with Quinn Norton’s critique of #BlackGirlsAreMagic. Her words provide an example of a bias within society that needs to be corrected.

I long for individuals to understand: There’s nothing wrong with giving those of us who are non-white or outside of society’s gender norms room to appreciate ourselves and each other. In those circles, ideas that do not pertain to you are bound to be discussed. Yet that does not mean that said discussions are inherently wrong.

Ode to the “F” word.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

  1. Today marks the launch of the Women’s Freedom Conference. You can attend it online for free.

2. Yesterday, this article showed up in my Twitter timeline.

I sent out a response.

I reckon there may be a few people out there who didn’t hear the “f-word” until Beyoncé uttered it. However, most of us know–and can teach them–the truth.

Feminism existed long before Bey was born. It’ll remain long after she’s gone. And more importantly, her contributions have done nothing to hurt the movement.

BeyFeminism2

Are You Oppressed?: A Checklist for Contemporary Martyrs

THINK, Dear Reader. Are you really, truly oppressed?

persecutionmeme

Source

It’s a serious question. I know it’s hard to tell these days, what with all these folks getting their way. Let’s face it, though. We don’t exist in a vacuum.

Surviving in the same country as ne’er do wells, it can be hard to tell if their Evil Agenda has taken control of your environment. Here are a few signs to watch out for:

Are your movements restricted? Are you prohibited from sections of public places such as restaurants and theatres? Are you banned from certain establishments altogether?

Do officials deny you certain services while placing no restrictions on those of another, dominant culture?

What about education?: When it comes to school, can you only send your offspring to institutions reserved for people of your background? If you attempt to do otherwise, is your family met by folks spewing verbal and physical threats?

ElizabethEckford
Source

If you’ve answered “no” to the questions above, then congratulations! You’re NOT oppressed!

KimDavis

Source

Sorry, Kim.

Be a dear, please.

Stop believing the lie that when people who have nothing to do with you are allowed to live their lives as they choose it’s a sure sign that they’re about to destroy yours.

Inspired by this Gawker piece, along with this weekend’s Twitter mayhem.

Cosmo’s True Colors

A few nights ago on Twitter, a set of images got under my skin. Can you guess why?

Earlier this year, Cosmopolitan published an article entitled 21 Beauty Trends That Need to Die in 2015. Typical, right? But their bigoted twist caught my eye. As far as I could tell from the images above, only Black women were featured in the negative (R.I.P.) column. Hence, when I first saw the photos above, I assumed that they were demonstrative of a wider trend. However, it turns out that I was only partially wrong.

Last night, clarity came in the form of a link to the original article. My irritation was somewhat reduced after I saw that not all of the “R.I.P.” women are Black. There are, in fact, Caucasian celebrities depicted in that category.

Yet on the side captioned “Hello, Gorgeous!”, I couldn’t help but notice the inclusion of only one woman of color. Even then, I took careful note of who the non-white celebrity was–Nicole Richie, a woman who, like Rashida Jones, has a background that is not necessarily apparent to those who are unaware.

What do I make of this?

I’m not sure. I have the distinct impression that someone instructed Cosmo’s reporters to make an effort to be more diverse, and the photos in this article came about as a result of their attempt to do so. (I couldn’t help but notice that the piece contains a disclaimer, undoubtedly written after the recent kerfuffle surrounding its discovery.)

Yet I also know what time it is. To this day, more often than not, lifestyle shows and magazines promising tutorials for “all types” of hair end up offering examples for those whose locs fit into categories such as really straight, kinda-sorta straight, and short-and-straight. Time and again, staff of TV shows and magazines demonstrate little-to-no imagination when it comes to offering their audiences authentic diversity. Now, they may claim they don’t need the help that would be available to them if they hired minority writers. However content such as that found in January’s Cosmo article suggests otherwise.

Sporty Sexism

It’s now evident to me that when I’m about to fall asleep, I need to resist the urge to check my phone. Chances are I’ll find something that leaves me vexed and itching to write an essay.

Consider last night. Meet Exhibit A:

MensHealthSexistSports

Hmmm.

I don’t follow sports very closely. Yet during the World Cup, I was mesmerized. My poor mother had to put up with me sitting in front of the television yelling

Kick it. KICK IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTT!!

over and over again.

As for the article itself, it was everything that that tweet suggested. The original title was “The Secret to Talking Sports with Any Woman”. I don’t know if Men’s Health let it see the light of day. Nevertheless, basically, it stated that when it comes to sports, women will be able to relate to the action on a field if they share a connection with the players who are running around on it.

And how is such a connection forged? Through regaling us with tales of compassion from the players’ lives. To break it down further, we “need story lines”.

I don’t know. In the moments when Soccer Fever took over, do you think I cared one whit about who was invested in whose life, or which players paid attention to Charity XYZ?

Nope.

In all seriousness, Journalists, we women do not need so-called manly things to be softened in order to appreciate them. We can enjoy pastimes like sports just as they are, no primping required.