Since I first heard about blow dry bars a few years ago, I’ve been curious. For those unfamiliar, the blow bar concept is a hair dressery that focuses only on blow-outs and general straightening, no cuts, no color, no chemical treatments. They include shampooing, but clients can also go without. I was initially intrigued because despite this sounding like a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that perfect idea for kinky and curly headed ladies who want a quick press without the wait, the salons are marketed primarily to women who already have straight hair. I knew that the black/white, textured/straight salon experiences are somewhat different, but it never occurred to me that many white women don’t go to hair salons as frequently as black women are generally accustomed. I grew up on a steady biweekly schedule that dare not be broken come hell, high water or trip out of town. The straight-haired sistren I polled averaged no more than a couple times a year for a new cut or color. According to The Daily Beast, this is one of the reasons blow dry bars are so wildly popular: a basic salon visit at an affordable price (around $40) is a novel concept for that demographic. And here I was taking scalp massages and 4-hour naps under hooded dryers for granted. Who says there’s no such thing as black privilege?
My opinions on blow dry bars were thus mixed. As any coily coifed woman worth her locks knows, straightening is a complex feat that’s not to be taken lightly. Our highly textured hair is more fragile and prone to heat damage, and most of us have been literally burned at least once. I liked the idea of a walk-in, quick service shop when the mood hit but I was doubtful that such a place could or would actually straighten my hair well without damaging it one way or another. A blow dry bar eventually eventually opened locally, but I was never pressed enough to try it (was that a pun?). It’s been a good two years since I last straightened my hair, I have to be careful in the shower, and I don’t think I even own a brush anymore. But when Jo Cowan, owner of the newly-opened Charlotte location of the Blo Blow Dry Bar franchise offered a complimentary blowout during the salon’s media preview, I jumped at the opportunity.
As soon as I added myself to the list, I reached out to Jo about the company’s general stance on textured hair and asked if I was even blo-able. I expected an enthusiastic, company-line “yes” that would give me little actual comfort, but I was pleasantly surprised when she responded with an equally enthusiastic, “I’ve been wondering the same thing myself,” and emailed the franchise head office for feedback. They replied with an enthusiastic yes that gave me lots of comfort:
I really appreciated the awareness and honesty. Blo was already getting brownie points and I hadn’t even hit the shampoo bowl! The exchange also highlighted the benefits of collective franchised training and consistency across the brand, with local ownership and a personal connection. I was pretty sure my tresses would be okay.
Before my appointment, I did a thorough detangle and deep condition in the shower and started on my way. And yes, I was 10 minutes late. Why? I mean, you can fill in the blank but I honestly went to the wrong location! There’s another, competing blow dry bar in my neighborhood with a similar name and I erroneously arrived there… on time. Luckily, Blo is right around the corner and I was able to call and let them know I’d be a little delayed. That rattled me and I was still a bit nervous about the whole endeavor but since it was their grand opening, there were plenty of sweets and champagne to soothe my spirit. Plus, all the treats were from local bakeries and confectionaries that I will definitely visit in the future. The Jewell Treats cupcakes were delicious and who knew there was a legit bulk candy store on Selwyn? Candy Girl Confections might become my new weakness. The champagne was provided by petit phillipe, which has been my favorite spot to splurge on special occasion chocolates for a while now.
Kaitlyn was my Blo Boss and though I was momentarily salty to not get one of the black stylists (I was still scared and hadn’t seen the champagne yet!) it felt like more of an adventure. But I was in good hands; Kaitlyn is actually very experienced (she previously worked at the salon I’d popped into earlier) and it turns out that a good friend of mine who I’d trust with my hair was one of her cosmetology school instructors. As for both clients and other stylists, I was pleased to see that it was a multicultural thing, and I wasn’t the only brown girl in attendance!
The first order of business was choosing a look from the menu, which threw me off a little bit. There are levels to this? Apparently so, as there are seven styles to choose from including ponytails and an updo. I picked the “Holly Would,” which promised bountiful curls. I was curious to know how some of them, like the tousled “Pillow Talk” would translate for me. My “bed head” has never been anything resembling sultry.
Kaitlyn washed and conditioned my hair with the Smoothing variety of both products and followed with 7 Second Leave-In as a detangler, all of which include thermal protectants. UNITE products are sulfate, paraben and alcohol free, which is a must for curly girls especially. I have a thing about not wanting to ask too many questions, but she didn’t seem annoyed at all with my mining for details down to the brand of brushes they use (Olivia Garden). After a good blowing that didn’t produce any smoke at all (unlike my many failed at-home efforts and some salon visits I’ve had), she flatironed and curled my hair simultaneously to minimize the time and amount of heat. Even with skipping the extra curling step, my hair took about 2 hours. That’s about average for me, but 2 clients cleared the neighboring chair in comparison. Simply because they’re accustomed to taking an hour or less per customer, I’d recommend letting the bar know if you have a head full of natural hair when making an appointment , just to make it easier for them to allot their time.
My hair turned out great! Kaitlyn finished off with UNITE’s Tricky Stryling Wax and a good helping of argan oil, which my hair absolutely loves, and she really took time to catch and/or recurl all the little flyaway pieces and ends. Those little straggly bits are usually more noticeable on our hair when straightened, for some reason. It wasn’t a shiny bone-straight china doll press, but I definitely got what I asked for and expected: lots of body and soft curls. I feel that suits my look better than a shiny super straight style, but next time I may experiment with the menu and see if it makes a difference to request the “Executive Press”. Kaitlyn also commented that I need my ends trimmed, which a loctitian had also pointed out a couple weeks earlier while my hair was ‘froed up. I get it! It’s been a good year since my last trim and I really shouldn’t have gone this long. But since blo can’t do cuts, I’ll get around to it. For me, that’s the one drawback of blo not doing quick, small cuts. I prefer to have my ends clipped while my hair is straight.
So the experience was great, the rock candy was welcomed, but the real test is how it held up. The weather was pretty cold and very dry so that was a huge plus, but my curls barely survived the afternoon. My hair was still pretty and voluminous, but (probably?) since I opted for the flatiron curls instead of the iron, I had more of an allover soft-body wave going on after a few hours and needed to touch up that night before going out. To be fair though, my iron-curls don’t super-set without a whole lot of drying alcohol spritz and setting lotions. Despite that, I was very happy overall. It actually lasted a full three weeks — that’s the longest stretch of straight hair I’ve had since 2001! I wrapped, rolled and occasionally re-curled it in the in-between, but I used minimal products and my hair never felt dried out. As for the bounce-back? There were no permanently straightened tendrils after I rewet it and my natural curls were back to completely normal just out of the shower. I didn’t need any crazy amount of deep conditioning or treatments to get back to normal, just my regular 3-Minute Miracle routine. I really think the UNITE products went a long way to helping that and I may purchase some of them in the future. There was a bottle of 7 Second Detangler in my goodie bag, so I’ll definitely try it out later.
So all in all? I give Blo a 4.5/5. One point deduction for the fallen curls, and I wish I could’ve gotten a quick clip, but add a half point for the cupcakes. The location is closer to my house than any of my standard salon options and the $35 price tag is a bit cheaper than the least expensive of those, so I will definitely check them out if I decide to straighten my hair on a whim in the near future. In fact, I’m inspired to get it straightened more often now! It’s a fun, different look and not quite as difficult to keep up as I remember it being before.
But maybe that’s just because I found a brush.
Blo Charlotte is located at 2850 Selwyn Ave. For more info or to book an appointment, call 704.375.7110 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet them @bloheartsyou or Charlotte franchise owner Jo Cowan at @carolina_curls.
In the past couple weeks I’ve read 2 viral (and vital!) breakdowns of exactly what’s wrong with [ostensibly, black] women to keep us single and to keep black men single by association. Because I turned down a date with a good black man to finish rollersetting my hair tonight (as a black woman, I’m hair obsessed and lack spontaneity) I decided it was only right to join the conversation. I’m just trying to uplift our brothers since we don’t support them enough. In anything. Shame on us.
Prerequisite reading: Evan Moore’s The Things that Keep A Woman Single
The Things That Keep This Woman Single Because Dudes Just Can’t Seem to Get Their Shit Together and I Just Dunno About White Dudes Y’all But I Might Try It If He Looks Like Robin Thicke. (alternate title: Child, Bye.)
1. Your friends and family are poisoning your love life. Nothing makes a grown woman cringe like a man who insists that his coworkers, Xbox Live friends list, and random people on the internet take on an advisory role in his life in general, much less his dating life. When you invite the opinions of those who either don’t have to live with the consequences of their judgment or who have their own agendas, you’re inviting frustration. How many times has your gym buddy or homegirl who was lowkey trying to hit told you to stay away from a girl who eventually turned out to be great (for someone else) but loved the crazy pothead chick who slept with your best friend… in front of you? And your addle minded ass listened. Be a big boy. Make decisions based on your best judgment. And work on developing a good sense of judgment. If you’re going to seek counsel in others, be judicious about who you ask. Why are you looking to your homegirl who has 4 kids by 5 different daddies for relationship advice? You know that saying “you’re only as successful as the five people you spend the most time with?” If your closest friends are all working real hard on looking cool, with no discernible long-term goals, where do you think you’re going? Be an independent thinker and doer, for your own sake.
2. Get out of your momma’s house. We get it. It’s a recession. Hell, I live with my mama too; we have a nice lil Grey Gardens type thing going on. But really, how is that going to work long-term for you, sir? For one thing, my mom goes on vacation for like, weeks at a time and I don’t have to lie about who I’m bringing over while she’s getting her groove back in Barbados or whatever the hell she be doing. Because we’re both adults. No adult female with scruples wants to be sneaking into your mom’s house while she’s at work, or hiding in closets when she pops in to let you know breakfast is ready. Every homebound man I’ve dealt with has been about some sneaking around like he’s 16, which makes me think they’re playing out some kind of teenage fantasy or working through some weird ass sexual guilt. If you have to stop in the heat of things to figure out which video game box, in which drawer, you hid your condoms in so that your mom won’t find them when she tidies up your room, I’ve already kinda lost respect for you as a man.
If you’re not even trying to be financially secure enough to have your own place, don’t expect anyone to really try to invest in booing you up for the long term. What, we all gonna live in this split level together? And if you’re 35, at home and not paying any kind of bills, rent, or groceries, how the hell is any woman supposed to envision you providing for a family?
3. Get in shape Men can generally get away with a few extra pounds better than we can. However, we’re pushing into these thirties and belly fat is a prime indicator of impotence and low stamina. That’s less time I have to deal with your heavy ass sweating on top of me, true, but I actually like sex. If you can’t bring it because you went to the gym… one time… yesterday… and your endurance and energy are now shot for the weekend? And Cialis is a no-go cause you got high blood pressure? Boy, bye.
4. Tone down the God stuff, really Some of y’all legitimately love the Lord, but if you only spend 2 Sundays a year in church, why are you claiming to want a “God-fearing woman?” For that matter, if you want somebody to do that nasty shit you know you like… you know the thing… ain’t no “good Christian woman” doing that for you before marriage and good luck after. Unless she’s a hypocrite. Who wants a hypocrite?
This has really only ever come up for me in online dating scenarios. (I guess I present as a heathen in real life.) Try removing that search filter and see who comes up. You might even learn something about yourself.
5. Shut up (your thumbs) and get off the phone Men are social animals. We understand that. But if you can’t get off Facebook or pause the ESPN push notifications long enough to carry or enjoy a conversation, how do you expect anybody to pay your ass any attention? If you’d stay away from boppers and shallow chicks with birdlike qualities, you’d find that there are a whole lot of super-interesting chicks who you can actually connect and carry on a conversation with. Cause we like, have brains and junk too. Y’all hot to get back to your texting ass friends but wait three hours to hit us back up? Are your friends potentially sleeping with you? I’ve never understood that logic.
6. Get out of the club… now! You are not on campus anymore. Being in a club four or five nights per week is not a good look. No woman with personal assets and/or a good job wants a man that has to have the DUI lawyer on speed dial. There are many ways to meet women without dressing up like an extra from a Jay-Z video and partying like its 1999. (That one was easy!)
*Unless you want an aforementioned bopper. Then by all means, locate the nearest referee-print leggings and let that bird cook. She might even go to church with you Sunday morning.
7. Your Facebook page is your worst enemy. In the social media age, your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram reveal a lot about you. Here are three things that are deal breakers with the ladies:
First, if you have 3000 domestic Foursquare checkins and are the mayor of anyplace other than an actual city, stop. The fact that you really want people to know where you are that badly, all the time, makes you look hella insecure. That you’re THAT hype to be checking in everywhere but you ain’t even leaving town (or going farther than Atlanta) makes you look kinda… basic. At least get a passport and level up so all that humble bragging can count for something.
Second, put some chill on. No woman wants to deal with a dude who’s tried and failed to run through her entire social circle and stays liking every attention begging “don’t I look cute today?” thirst trap post. You look desperate, or hoish, or both. That’s exactly what we as women want — a dude whose dick pics we’ve already seen in our girlfriends’ phones (equally unsolicited to make it worse.)
Third, control your emotions. Nothing says potential stalker/felon like a man who lashes out constantly in frustration over the women he dates, his coworkers or boss, waitresses being too slow in restaurants, how “boring” his city of residency is, people “offending” him on his FB page… if a dude’s trigger is that light and his aggression that deep, he’s gonna take it out on the nearest malleable person in his sights. And I ain’t trying to make that me.
8. Carry yourself like someone who actually likes women. Attitude is everything. The last thing a woman wants to add to her life is a man who is mean, combative, bitter, slutty, or misogynistic. If you have unresolved mommy/daddy/self-esteem issues, get counseling. A woman is not a punching bag or a psychologist. You want somebody who’ll hold you down? You may need to be held down on a couch while Ilyana fixes your life. Most insurance plans cover therapy now.
If every third word out of your mouth is about how dumb/manipulative/confusing/tiresome women are, or you brag about how you “treat ‘em like you treat ‘em” as though they’re trophies, why would a woman want you dragging her down? Some may gravitate to your bad boy attitude for a fling or take pity on your wounded puppy dog antics, but no one wants to stick around with that for the long haul. Women internalize our issues. Men generally take them out on other people. Although you’ll definitely find someone with self-esteem low enough to take it on, nobody really wants to be that person.
9. Know your role Your role as a man and a human being is to be clear about your intentions and act with integrity. If you’re not trying to do one or either, you’re going to have some problems. Lying, game-playing and being a jerk in general are the best ways to end up wiping Krylon paint off your car doors (dish soap works!) Make a decision about what you want and be consistent in it. Don’t set deliberately fuzzy boundaries or pretend you want more (or less) of a relationship than you’re willing to give, then gaslight the woman you’re dealing with when she seeks clarity. If you’re playing a chick to the sideline, don’t start acting shady in public when she renegotiates a better package with a winning team.
Basically, instead of thinking of women as some separate species to be maintained with games and machinations, think about them as human beings that have similar mental faculties and emotional range as yours. Would you pull whatever flaky, waffly, entitled bullshit you’re pulling on her with your job and expect to get away with it? Exactly.
10. Temper your expectations. We know your mother raised you and your four siblings by herself, with no help from your daddy[s], while managing to hold down three full time jobs and look like Pam Grier every day, which enabled her to bag your stepdad and keep him the happiest man alive. Right? Riiiiiiggghhht. But if she was so perfect, why’d your old man leave her to marry that dude you can’t stand to this day? I’m just saying… you’re chasing a fantasy.
You want someone young, fit and beautiful to keep the kitchen full and the house spotless, raise your children to be neuroscientists, hold you down through whatever fuckery you bring to the table, be educated and interesting enough to dazzle your friends and colleagues, respect you as HNIC in the household, have a good job and her own money so she doesn’t have to “depend on you”, and be ready to throw it back for you tired ass 5 nights a week. It ain’t happenin’ bruh. Or it might, but you’ve got to provide something more substantial than good dick and dirty socks to get all that. If you want a Michelle in your life, I’d think you need to at least aspire to Barack, right? It’s all about reciprocity. Be the man you’d need to be to deserve the woman you’d want. And remember your flawed ass ain’t perfect.
Honorable Mention: Just because a woman expects to be treated with a baseline level of respect doesn’t mean she’s trying to control, stifle or smother you. It means your parents and/or kindergarten curriculum failed to instill some basic values in you. Do better.
I had several cans of coconut milk but didn’t feel like making curry, so I put it to use. I noticed CurlyNikki’s coconut milk conditioner recipe a while ago and decided to give it a try.
Verdict: Fantastic! My hair looks and feels like a big fluffy storm cloud and it’s been reinfused with some much-needed moisture. But the recipe can use modifications.
1. Only use half a can of coconut milk. A full can is way too much and i’m pretty sure it will only keep in the fridge for a few days. With that adjustment, reduce the other measurements by 1/4. Halve the amount of lime. (I skipped the lime once and it came out fine.) My hair is shoulder length stretched and very thick, and using 1/2 can was exactly enough, and a better consistency without adding tons of cornstarch.
2. You can also use coconut cream instead of milk; this will also improve consistency. If you can’t find any, just use coconut milk that has had time to settle in the can — don’t shake it first and spoon the solid cream out, leaving the water behind in the can.
3. Don’t shampoo and condition the treatment out. Just rinse it well.
I’ve seen coconut milk conditioner recipes that also add mashed banana, and I may throw that in the next time just to see how it goes. My hair is currently still flat twisted from last night, but I’ll post pics when I unfurl it.
All told, this treatment will run you $10 at an absolute maximum; significantly less because you probably already have honey, some type of hair oil, and cornstarch at home (you should if you don’t, and plan on making hair and body goodies more than once.) A can of coconut milk is about $1.50.
I’m not watching the speech, so I have no idea what’s being said, but people go back and forth with the same tired arguments about gun control every time something crazy happens. Observations:
- “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” But regular people having legal guns haven’t stopped a single mass shooting yet. That I can think of, anyway. Feel free to prove me wrong.
- On that note, none of these mass shootings that I can think of were carried out by known criminals. Just regular ass crazy people. With strong guns.
- If high powered weapons are limited to “gangsters” and criminals and not regular ass (and sometimes crazy) people, I’m cool with that. Because gangsters and criminals tend to shoot up other gangsters and criminals over gangstery, criminal shit. If they all eventually kill each other… I’m good.
- For those second amendment literalists: there is not, and will never be, a reason for anybody in these Unites States of America to form a militia. Ever. The US has the most intense and expansive military in human history. They will never need your jackleg help. If you rise against them, you will not win. Unless you have nukes in your basement with all those canned goods and toilet paper.
But I’m sleep tho. Literally, it’s like 10. I have things to do in the morning.
I bought a new slow cooker! I’m so excited about it. I’ve been wanting a tiny 2-qt one for ages because the size is more suitable for 1-3 people. Target has round 2qt Crock-Pots for $11.99 and I picked one up last week. First recipe: veggie lasagna. Vegetable lasagna is truly one of my favorite foods ever (lasagna in general, really) and it’s so easy to toss in whatever vegetables you have around. Feel free to mix it up. If I’d had any frozen broccoli florets I would’ve added those too.
I’m trying to cut down on dairy and not do anything too fattening, so I really didn’t want to follow the typical ricotta-heavy formula. (Plus, ricotta is expensive considering how much you use in a casserole.) This is less cheesy than most lasagna recipes, but still really delicious.
- 1/2 summer squash, 1/2 a zucccini - 1/2 a portabello mushroom or a big handful regular white. - 1 (thinnish) carrot - 1/2 white or yellow onion - 2 cloves garlic (or equivalent paste or powder) - 1 can diced Italian-style tomatoes - 1/2 package no-boil lasagna noodles - about 2.5 oz baby spinach (or you can use 1/2 pack thawed frozen) - 1 bag shredded Italian 6-cheese blend
1. Give all your veggies except the spinach a good medium-small dice or julienne. Mix the squash/zucchini/carrot and the mushroom/onion together. (Yes, I also had some leftover tomato, so I tossed that in above.)
2. Break up your lasagna noodles so that they fit to mostly cover the bottom of the crock pot. You’ll have gaps, and you’ll want to overlap the pieces. It’s okay.
3. Cover your lasagna with a thin layer of spinach and top with a sprinkling of cheese. You could also mix cheese into the spinach if you want.
4. Mix your chopped garlic into your can of tomatoes. I used a garlic-onion powder spice blend to make it easier to incorporate. Spoon a thin layer of tomatoes over the spinach.
5. Top your tomato layer with the squash mix, then the mushroom-onion mix. Top those with cheese.
6. Start over again with noodles-spinach-tomatoes-squash-mushrooms-cheese layers. Feel free to mix as much cheese as you want throughout. You’ll probably only be able to fit two “stacks” into a 2qt. crockpot, so finish off with a layer of spinach (I love spinach!), another layer of pasta, and cover with cheese.
7. Cook on high for about 3 hours. Your cheese on top will be browned and you can poke a knife in there to be sure it’s all cooked through in the middle.
The hardest part about this is chopping the veggies, but if you have a food processor it goes a lot faster. I have a Le Chef gondola slicer so it hardly takes any time at all. You could just as easily bake this in the oven at a higher temp (like 350) for shorter time (an hour and a half?) and it would come out wonderfully. I forgot to season my squash and mushrooms with pepper or anything, but I actually prefer it; The squash soaked up the garlic and herbs in the spiced tomatoes and the natural mushroom and onion flavors very well. I’m not missing the ricotta cheese at all!
This is the second time I’ve looked at my tumblr and there are like 20 people following me overnight that I don’t know. And it’s always because that one pic got reblogged. That’s all the titties you’re getting, guys. Hound CHD:WCK! for more. Good luck, I still haven’t gotten my prints.
That brings up a conversation I had last weekend. The photographer is a friend of mine, so everyone in my local social circle has seen them. A friend asked the other day why I decided to do a nude shoot, and twice at that. Although I did it like a year ago, I didn’t really have an answer outside I’m just an exhibitionist. That’s not really the answer, but it seemed too complicated and personal to expound on over beers with a group of people who actually know me. So I’ll explain to people I don’t know on the internet, because that’s how it works.
He’d put the word out that he wanted a wider range of models, age, ethnicity and shapewise. My mom had volunteered to pose in the throes of a midlife crisis; I hadn’t because I was dating someone, but I knew I wanted to do some sort of private boudoir shoot (with a different photographer entirely) when/if I ever hit my goal weight. My mom eventually backed out.
I broke up with the guy and was feeling awful on a lot of levels, and I really needed to do something, anything, to affirm that I was not utterly disgusting and worthless. I figured being photographed naked in a field would do that for me. At the time, Chad didn’t have too many chunky girls. I don’t think he had any chunky black girls, so I wanted to give him a challenge.
At the time I was working on a project that accompanied an exhibition of Romare Bearden’s work, and I heard a story about an encounter he had (via Chester Higgins, Jr.):
During the harsh days of the Depression, prostitutes lined 125th Street and jingled keys to attract business. On his way to his studio, Romee encountered this particular woman jangling her keys; she called out to him, “25 cents ” but, sensing his non-interest, quickly reduced her demand to “a dime,” then “a nickel ” and in desperation called out “Mister, just take me. ” Romee asked if she needed a job. He knew his politically active mother would want to help. The woman quickly said yes, his mother hired the young woman to clean her building, and so she began employment there. A year or so later, Romee was sitting in front of a large blank canvas stuck in a period of inactivity. From the corner of his studio the cleaning woman, broom in hand, spoke out: “Why don’t you paint me?” Romee, turning with a dismissive expression, said nothing.
“I know what I look like, ” the woman said, “but if you can find beauty in me, you can call yourself a painter.”
That’s why I did it. Quite literally, I heard that story and sent an email immediately after.
So I guess he can call himself a photographer.
“While you wretched, ratchet plebes are watching Basketball Wives, I’m in here reading vintage Jet Magazines on Google Books.” – me, before Love and Hip Hop Atlanta existed.
Every time I get discouraged applying for jobs, I visualize my yet-nonexistent apartmentplace. The furniture is all-teak everything. Midcentury boheme modern. A couch I made myself out of shipping pallets that converts into a daybed. Maybe a daybed instead of a couch. A console stereo. An actual bar cart with highball glasses.
No matter what changes in this home in my head, even when it turns into a split-level rambler filled with kids and pot roasts and steel Kenmore appliances, my walls are postered with 36 x 48 blowups of vintage Jet/Tan/Hue/etc covers. Old school, one b&w photo, 1 spot color. I don’t know what it is about the aesthetic, the headlines, the fact that there were so many different black weeklies in the 1940s-60s. It’s just fascinating.
Immersing oneself in negro pop culture from the times when we were colored really helps put things into perspective. I mean, most people under the age of 40 see the black world pre-1970 as all civil rights, struggle, and Conkalene. Men were men, women were women, and above all else, Negroes were noble. But that isn’t really true. It’s never been true.
See, Negro Weeklies were like the BET/VH1 of the Jim Crow era. Not to minimize Johnson Publications’ contribution to society at all, but it’s true. For all their importance, they were also filled with fluff, celebrity gossip, and every so often a touch of well-oiled ratchetness. It was all lumped in there together… and I doubt anyone complained. Because people needed to know “What Happens to Negro Child Geniuses” just as much as they needed to know that Nat King Cole’s wife was getting drunk at his Paris shows every night. The Miami Negroes who sued a racetrack over segregated seats had every right to share page space with the ex-shake dancer who came into an inheritance but wouldn’t quit her job as a diner waitress. It was all right there. Where else was it going to be? That’s what I like most about old magazines. They gave you the good, the bad and the crazy without trying to shuttle the latter two under the rug.
So here we are in 2012 and Basketball Wives is the scourge of the earth. Now, I don’t watch a lot of reality TV myself, but I have to say that LHHATL has become my light. Maybe that’s why I can’t hop on the “destructive black images on TV” bandwagon. We ain’t all noble. We should stop holding ourselves to an impossible standard, like those heiffers on Mob Wives don’t scrap, and like Real World hasn’t been a rest haven for hoes since the 90s. “There’s gotta be an end to all these negative portrayals of whites on TV,” said no one ever. Because they aren’t held to that standard. They don’t hold themselves to that standard. Our own diminished self-worth as a people keeps us trapped and looking over our shoulders, afraid that someone will see — see one of us fight and think we’re all violent. See one of us gold dig and think we’re all gold diggers. See one of us cripwalk at the Olympics and think we all… white people don’t know what the hell a cripwalk is, y’all. Let it go.
We’ve grown so accustomed to viewing ourselves through an external lens that we can’t define ourselves. So we pick up the definition that’s placed conveniently in front of us: you are only as good as the worst of you. And we’ve internalized it until the best of us just cancel out. It’s so brilliantly insidious that we do it to ourselves without prompting. On the surface it seems well-intentioned but it’s stifling. It’s limiting. Above all else it’s unrealistic.
It’s like… pardon my language, but the day that niggas are free to be niggas is the day we will truly be free. I really mean that. There’s a space in the world for Steebie J and the Yin Yang Twins like there’s space for Stevie Wonder and Iyanla Vanzant. We’re just people. I’m all about making the community the best it can be and not accepting the unacceptable, but if they can have Honey Boo Boo, we can keep Waka Flocka Flame. It’s only fair. We have range and we should allow ourselves that range. I think the problems are twofold:
- there aren’t enough positive images to offset the negative and create a balance
- many secretly want what the “worst” have, so that’s ultimately what we become.
The first is pretty simple, and I’ll give that much. There really aren’t enough positive black images in popular mainstream media. We need to do a better job of creating and supporting them. However, that leads to the second issue: what we choose to emulate and propagate (and therefore support, even subconsciously) are the negative images. Going back to my earlier comparison, no white girl with scruples is trying to dress like Snooki. Why would she? That’s a figure for entertainment, not emulation. Yet 89% of black women own at least one pair of those giant hoop earrings with the spikes like Evelyn. I mean, if you don’t want to be identified with the behavior, why take on the trappings and persona? I don’t see too many people checking for Kerry Washington’s Scandal wardrobe though. Or Oprah’s. And if Michelle Obama can’t even get y’all into Chico’s, I don’t think anyone can.
So yeah… I don’t have any idea what to do about it. There’s nothing to be done. I’ma just keep reading my Jets and wondering if science really can cure the third sex.
Of my Favorite Stories, this is in my Top 5. This happened during my trip to Zambia in August 2008.
So, LaShaya, Sheree and I are headed to Zambia proper after flying into and spending 5 days in Malawi. Lake Malawi is really neat by the way, and is the subject of a whole ‘nother (yet to be written) story. Because my gate-checked bag didn’t make it off the plane (key factor in a different story), we had to travel from Sengha Bay by pickup truck, make a stop in Lilongwe to pick up all my worldly possessions, then head to the border via minibus and taxicab. It was maybe 5pm when we finally reached.
So we get to the border. This is literally two brick buildings next to each other, the distance two homes on a suburban street would be. There are a couple of guards along the street where the invisible border line is checking credentials of cars. Chill situation.
Shaya and I hand our passports over to the guard in the window. He gives them a really long lookover and we get the sense something is amiss. Sure enough, he tells Shaya her visa has expired. Now, it’s obvious from her (by then pretty full) passport that she’s made the trip between that border and others nearby several times, and that she’s a Zambian resident. He counts the days since her arrival and since the day we were leaving was the 5th day, her 5-day visa is supposedly overdue by one day. We’re going to need to turn around and go back to Lilongwe — which I think was about a 4-hour trip — and pay a fine at the immigration office to have it corrected. This isn’t really an option, as 1. it’s going to be dark soon and it’s best not to move at night. 2. we have no idea where to stay in Lilongwe, which was a major issue when we first got there (another story). 3. this dude is full of shit (as you’ll see momentarily.)
So Shaya argues. Returning to Lilongwe isn’t an option. He is firm. When she starts speaking Nyanja so he knows what’s up, he changes it up. She can pay the fine directly to him, but he, of course, won’t be able to write her a receipt. You already know what that is. His “fine” is 5,000 Malawi kwatcha (don’t do the math on that yet.)
Now, PC volunteers don’t get paid, really. They get a living stipend commensurate to the local average that will cover needs and keep one relatively comfortable. They have to buy their own furniture, food, everything. So LaShaya flips out. That’s a lot of money. Other people are in line behind us by this point, so we move our baggage outside the building so that Shaya can go to the back office and talk this through. So Sheree and I sit along the outside wall and are barely able to hear LaShaya pleading with the guards half in English, half Nyanja
After about 45 minutes, LaShaya comes out utterly dejected, talking about having to find a place to sleep for the night. Sheree and I are like no. This is crazy. Whatever the amount of the fine, we’ll just pool together and pay. I whip out a calculator and do the math on how much 5,000 kwatcha is in USD.
Sheree and I look at LaShaya like she is completely insane. “We’ve been standing out here while you argue over $32? Are you serious?” “But $32 is a LOT of money for me!” “Well it’s not for me. Let your Big American Friends pay for you this time.” She kind of balks and takes it. I want to wring her neck. We give her a total of $30, knowing the guard will be impressed by the US dollars and that he has no clue what the exchange rate even is. Keeping that $2 made us feel like we won something.
LaShaya goes back to pay the bribe. Meanwhile, Sheree is keeping a video/photo diary, narrating what’s going on via her brand new camera. Brand new because she’d lost her old camera at the club a couple days before the trip. Word has spread that there are three unaccompanied black females causing a stir at the customs house. Who are American. One of whom is lightskinned and very tall. One of whom has a huge afro. One of whom can inexplicably speak fluent Nyanja but has a U.S. passport. We learn over the course of the trip that these are all wild anomalies. So more guards start to gather to take a gander at this craziness. I notice one guy walk up behind Sheree, say something to his female associate (who is obviously his chick) and say to me, “Tell your friend she has a nice camera.” I wait for him to walk out of earshot and quietly caution Sheree that she may want to put her camera away, because the situation feels uncomfortable. “Why? I’m a journalist!”
Put a pin in that.
LaShaya comes back out, bribe paid, and reminds me that the guard still has my passport. He won’t release it to her, so we go inside together to retrieve it. As we walk back down the hall, past the window we’ve been standing under for the past hour+, relieved that this ordeal is finally over, we hear
“Stop her! She has a camera! She is a spy!”
There’s a bunch of scuffly type noise. A wail of dismay. 3 seconds later Sheree is being carried toward us down the hallway by our friend and another guard. “What?! I’m not a journalist! I was just taking a picture!”
LaShaya and I look at each other. We sigh. She silently turns to follow Sheree into the office from whence we just came. “I’ll watch our stuff,” I say.
Sheree had been filming LaShaya hand the money off through the office window and was taking photos as we left. They are both begging the guards not to arrest her or take her camera, since she’s just a tourist, not any kind of journalist-spy. At some point our friend comes out to let me know that Sheree is going to jail. I ask,
“Can’t you just take her camera?” “We’re going to take her camera AND put her in jail!”
I do the math — if we call Sheree’s parents tonight, it will take them about 4 or 5 days to get to Malawi. If they won’t let her out, maybe LaShaya and I can finish the trip and let them work it out?
LaShaya’s head pops out the door. “I just want to make sure you’re not out here popping off or anything…” “I’m not popping anything. Somebody has to be able to call the Embassy.”
Gradually the conversation changes. Shaya is explaining that it’s a digital camera, and the photos can just be deleted off the memory card like a cell phone picture. There’s some kind of demonstration. An hour and a half after I left the building, Shaya and Sheree appear. It’s dark by now. We get our stuff and walk approximately 15 dejected/relieved/embarrassed/grumpy/exhausted steps to the Zambian customs building across the border.
“Hey! So which one of you got arrested?!”
Half the guards there had been looky-looing earlier.
“It was her.” *motions in Sheree’s direction* “I WASN’T ACTUALLY ARRESTED!”
“Hey, hey! Don’t get mad. Leave that behind. You’re in Zambia! We’re nice people over here!”
And that was our exeunt from and introduction to the Warm Heart of Africa. Both nations claim the title. Go figure.
Billie Jean may not be my favorite Michael Jackson song. That honor is arguably reserved for the original demo version of PYT. However, 80% of the time I will argue that Billie Jean is not only Michael Jackson’s best song, but the best song. Like, the best song in pop music history, on visceral, technical, emotional, etc. levels. I can talk for at least an hour about it. It is Michael’s masterpiece.
The thing I love the most about Billie Jean is that I feel like I’m inside his head when I listen to it. I mean I literally feel like I’m in a large dark room that could be the inside of his head. That sounds so silly, but that’s the visual that goes with it for me. It’s not a straightforward narrative, it’s almost a stream-of-consciousness cry. And that bassline is like a throbbing heartbeat, like a pain in your temple. That song moves me something serious. There are all these little breaks in the storyline where if you just listen on the surface you’re like wtf is he talking about.. but then… I don’t know, the story fills itself in. Like he said once, the instruments are telling the story for you, you just have to listen.
It is my favorite song to really get into… like sit down in a dark room with headphones, get myself in a zone and just listen to it nonstop. I even like listening to the demo because it’s like another part of the story, before it’s all fleshed out. I rarely dance to it, and I get irritated if it comes on while I’m dancing, or doing something else, because I really want to pay attention to it. I usually have to stop what I’m doing or ignore it completely. And it’s weird for me, because I like happy songs… sometimes when I’m down I put on Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough and it doesn’t just make me forget about being sad, the song makes me happy. I can think of one other artist with one other song that does that. But Billie Jean… I dunno, it takes me somewhere dark, and a little sad, and angry, maybe? I can’t describe it. And when I get into that kind of mood, I just let it take me further into it, and it’s like I can come out of it again. It’s odd.
There’s an ad lib after the second verse; it’s distorted so that you can’t really hear whether he sings “do think twice” or “don’t think twice.” A friend of mine once described that as “the pinnacle of pop history.” I never realized anyone else noticed it. The lyrics to the whole song, when you really listen to it, are ambiguous. He’s telling you she’s not his lover, but he subtly changes the second verse and admits it (’cause we danced, on the floor, in the round) And he plays around with pronouns to confuse you:
She told my baby we danced till three, then she looked at me Then showed a photo my baby cried his eyes were like mine (oh, no!) ‘Cause we danced on the floor in the round, baby
the first “my baby” you think is his current lover, and the second one could be, which would take the meaning to, BJ showed my girl a photo and my girl said his eyes looked like mine and believed her…
but I never even thought of it being that way until pretty recently… I always read the second “my baby” as an admission of guilt, that the kid was, in fact, his son, because they had (danced on the floor in the round) Is his “oh no” an answer to his girl, or distress over the realization? (I effing love that “oh no”)
The fact that it can go either way is marvelous. He’s toying with you. the whole song, you never really know whether or not to feel bad for him or not. I remember being a little kid and being enthralled that he could get away with the song, because it was obvious to me that he was admitting the child was his and denying it at the same time. What is this anguish? Is it a lie or is it guilt?
People always told me be careful of what you do And don’t go around breaking young girls’ hearts She came and stood right by me The smell of sweet perfume This happened much too soon, She called me to her room
And there’s the literal and figurative climax that began the story but ends it, careening into a denouement of repetition that’s either the truth or a desperate attempt to make it the truth. He’s begging, pleading, but does he want you to believe him or forgive him? Excuse him? You don’t know. Does he know?
God, this song is something else. By the time I ever watched the entire Motown 25 performance full out, I’d already gotten into my thing with it… so the dancing with the song just put me over the edge. I’ve only watched the whole thing all the way through on Youtube. I don’t know if I could really stand it emotionally watching that performance on a full sized TV with stereo sound. The parts that always get me are when he does the jumps and runs at “cause the lie becomes the truth” and “happened much too soon/she called me to her room” and when he kind of does the slumped down thing and inverts his knees… it’s like a whole other storyline.
I can’t believe I just sat for a
half hour and typed out an essay on Billie Jean. See what this song does to me?
Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, Race, makes me think of my (great-great?) Aunt Marie Ragin, who passed away long before I was born. She was born and raised in or around Florence, SC. During a family gathering on Mothers’ Day, we looked up a page on Facebook that has become a digital family tree of sorts, curated by relatives far and wide. My grandfather, on seeing Marie’s photograph:
“That’s Marie! That’s mama’s sister. You know she moved to Florida and turned white for 20 years? She passed for white. I used to love when she’d come to visit, but hate for her to get close to me. She used to bite my cheeks. Lord, she used to tear my cheeks up! But whenever she came she would take me downtown with her, and you know, it was total segregation then. But they thought I was one of her maids’ children or something. So she could go inside Kress and all the stores. Go inside and sit right at the lunch counter and order food. And I would go with her. Sit right up at the counter!”
At some point later, after a bus accident that caused injury, she was institutionalized in Columbia, SC. My mother remembers visiting her there on occasion. She apparently kept her free spirit. I would have liked to know her.
I read this article earlier today, about the father of a slain soldier who is (irrationally) pissed at the governor of New Jersey for lowering state flags in commemoration of Whitney Houston’s passing. I know full well that comment sections on the internet are reserved for the worst human beings on earth to be able to speak the pieces that no one will listen to in real life, but I read anyway. Of course, there were gems like
Yeah and you’re so right that “she was definitely an icon”–she was an icon for pitiful, self-destructive and abusive behavior. I don’t care that she had a great voice and sold a sh-tload of records, she was a pathetically horrible public figure and role model. No flag lowering for such people, clearly. Christie is an absolute idiot for sticking his neck out this way!
It is great to see that some politicians think it admirable to idolize a burned-out drug-sucker.
it doesn’t matter what her problems were. Turning to drugs is the coward’s way out. She had enough money to buy anything she wanted, fame, a career, family, etc., but she ended up just another drug-addled celebrity, no better than any bum on the street whom you cross the street to avoid. How does that justify the honor of flags flying at half mast?
among the similarly-styled 17 pages. I know that this amount of vitriolic hate isn’t just because of people’s holier-than-thou attitudes about addiction and drug abuse (yes, I’m getting at what you think I’m getting at, but that’s not what this post is about) but it reminded me of a fleeting thought I wrote down a couple years ago after the death of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett: …both of them were strung out on drugs when they died. But for her it was acceptable because she had an illness people could see, name and identify with. But palliative care is somehow unacceptable when there’s something terrible going on inside, even when it’s just as debilitating.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mental and emotional illness in all their forms, and I keep coming back to the question: if we accept that there are some disorders that modern science and the human body cannot cure or heal, could it follow that some mental/emotional disorders carry the same limitations? It’s been proven to some extent that a lot of sexual-based mental illnesses can’t be “cured,” but does it go a step further? Are there some traumas that some minds just can’t deal with? Are there some illnesses that a person is never going to recover from or work through? Can mental conditions be as terminal as physical ones?
And no, I didn’t add a comment to the article asking if it would be acceptable to lower the flag for any of the (upwards of) 30% of veterans dealing with alcohol and drug abuse issues, most as a result of PTSD. The cognitive dissonance might blow minds.
Back in the mid-nineties, when the Kardashian girls were only struggling to be relevant to their father, the E! network used to basically only play entertainment trials, Talk Soup and reruns of old TV shows. My favorite of the bunch was the David Letterman show. I watched it during it’s normal time at night because my grandfather enjoyed the nightly Top 10 Countdown, and even though I wasn’t getting half the jokes in retrospect, I always thought it was hilarious. Operating on a child’s skewed concept of time, it never occurred to me that the reruns I watched during the day had originally aired before I was born.
One afternoon, Dave’s guest was a guy with a chicken who was apparently unbeatable at tic-tac-toe. Several games were played. Each ended in a chicken win or a draw. I was transfixed. The chicken’s home was said to be a video arcade in Chinatown. I promptly informed my mother of my new life goal: to travel to New York and beat that chicken. She murmured something about that show being filmed in 1978 and that chicken being kung pao’ed a long time ago, but I wouldn’t listen. That chicken and I were going to meet. The idea consumed me for like 3 days. Then I mostly forgot about it.
Some time later, my 6th grade gifted and talented class went on a field trip to NYC. Yes, I was gifted. And talented. As we meandered Canal street only half-supervised, spending all the souvenir money our parents had sent on fake Tommy Hilfiger watches and X-rated fortune cookies, I spotted something vaguely familiar in a video arcade across the road.
It was the cotdamn tic-tac-toe chicken.
I lost my shit. I try not to curse a lot, but no other phrase can begin to accurately capture my excitement. I approached in slackjawed awe. I looked at the chicken. It looked at me. It did a little dance. I inserted a quarter. The game began.
The chicken won.
I refused to let this critical moment of my life go unwitnessed. I ran across the street and gathered my friends. Yallgottaseethisitsachickenthatplaystictactoe AND THE CHICKEN ALWAYS WINS! We approached the garishly bright glass booth ready for a fight. We examined the animal as best we could, searching for signs that it was not in fact a robot or muppet. I noticed some red lights and circuitry flashing periodically near the chicken’s feet but wrote it off as the type of computer controls a genius chicken would require to play tic-tac-toe with a group of gifted AND talented schoolchildren. Our minds had been opened to the streets of New York City. We’d seen a dead guy in the subway. We were grown. Surely no chicken could beat us… in such a simple game, at that. I went in for the figurative, non-edible kill. I don’t know how long we were there, but I spent 8 dollars in quarters. All the spending money I had left.
After 16 grueling rounds of defeat, I gave up. Turn by turn, my friends also failed to best her. I just realized the chicken was a her. I’ve been calling it a he all these years. Anyway, as I turned away dejected and noted that my new designer watch appeared to already be showing wear in the leather, I was oddly without bitterness. Yes, I had been bested by that chicken, but I had met that chicken face to face. My sadness gave way to respect. I had no embarrassment. I’d simply met an animal with mental capacities I couldn’t explain. I felt like a better person for having taken the challenge. Cue the Rocky theme. End scene.
Of course, this was the first, if not the only, story I had for my family upon returning home the next day… after showing off my new watch, which by then had completely stopped keeping time. I remember repeating “I just don’t understand how the chicken got to be so smart! How did they teach it??” My mother, ever the pragmatist, always with a bucket full of rain for even the spazziest parade, put me out of my misery. If you feel about this chicken the way I feel about that one scene in The Muppet Movie, I suggest you stop reading now. (As you can see, she only suffered the “magic” explanation when she didn’t know the answer.)
The chicken, she explained, was shown what moves to play by a computer inside the fowl’s habitat. Those were the red lights I’d noticed. Just like our unbeatable Tandy TRS-80, the computer simply could not be outthought by the human mind. Therefore, neither could the chicken. She also reiterated that this was probably one of dozens, if not hundreds, of chickens that had been placed into these cruel conditions day after day since at least the mid seventies for the amusement of children like me. And now I, with my roll of quarters, had become part of the vicious cycle. The chicken had never donned a graduation hat or tiny glasses. It had never been to training in a lab. It was just a chicken. Just like the one I would be eating that night. There was no magic. Only exploitation of a tasty friend before frying.
She did make me feel kinda bad. But not that bad. Because in the back of my mind, I knew there was a key element that her fancy explanation didn’t address. The computer may have shown the chicken what button to push, but how did the chicken learn to push buttons?
Then, a few months ago. I found .
My mom can, figuratively speaking, go to hell. I don’t care about her advanced science and common sense. All I know is that for fifteen years, she could not extinguish the fiery joy that David Letterman placed into my childlike heart and mind. And that says something.
Thank you, Dave.