Don’t Speak: On Black Women, Queers and Sex Ed

 A version of this article was featured Bitch Magazine. Check it Out!

 

Black Queer Couple

Being the queerio I am, I have this pass time of regularly Googling queer sex related topics in the news for fun. Hey, who knows, maybe there’s some new sex toy I need to learn about #possibleTMI. Well this time, I was met with less than awesome news; Black women are less likely to get HPV Vaccines. According to a recent Health article,a  only 18 percent of black women from 18 to 24  as opposed to one third of white women ( across all income lines), have started taking the vaccine.

“Given that cervical cancer is more common and associated with higher mortality in African-American and Hispanic women than in white women, it is especially important to understand the barriers to HPV vaccination for these populations.”

Black women, as I’ll further explain, have a history of doing less when it comes to sex protection. So in the words of the ever-dope Salt-n-Pepa,  “let’s talk about sex”, people. No not that sex. The boring sex; sex education.

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, and it is the most common sexually transmitted infection of them all. To clarify, the HPV vaccine only protects against two out of the 40 different kinds of HPV. However, these two types, 16 and 18,  are the most likely to cause cervical cancers down the road.  I must be honest, for the longest time I thought it was far more difficult for one to contract HPV in lesbian sex than in heterosexual sex. Sadly though, it turns out we can catch it just as easily, and in similar ways, as can a straight person. According to the Cancer Network, we can catch cervical cancer through genital on genital contact, touching partner’s genitals then our own, or sharing uncleaned toys. Bisexual women and even some self-identified lesbians have also had sex with men, which increases the risk of HPV even more so.

As a black person from the conservative south, I understand that it’s not really a big thing in black culture to discuss sex. I notice more of a “mums the word” approach. In high school, I remember discussing with a few female friends, all black, the ever-awkward “talk” parents give. You know, “the talk.” I was stunned to find my mother was the only one out of all my friends to have given me some version of the talk when I turned ten. Though my mother’s awkward ramble was totally hetero-centric (as I was not out and proud at the mere age of ten), I’m so thankful today that she even went there for me, as I learned not a lot of parents do. I’ve noticed as I grow older that no matter how liberal sexually a black woman is, it is more respectable and acceptable to keep it to ourselves than to vocalize. In a poignant article from Bitch Magazine, Tamara Winfrey Harris further discussed the active silence black women practice when it comes to the subject of sex.

Respectability politics work to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems “respectable.”

Acting overly prudish whether we (black women) actually are or not,  is meant to work as a neutralizer for us when compared to non-black women, as we are already attached to so many other negative stereotypes. But I must ask, is it really beneficial to express virginity if you know that’s not what’s up? I think not, because it hurts us as black women on a fundamental health level, as you can see from these statistics, courtesy of WomensHealth.gov –

  • Chlamydia rates that are more than seven times higher
  • Gonorrhea  rates that are about 16 times higher
  • Syphilis rates that are 21 times higher

However, the avoidance of sex ed talk doesn’t just go for black folks.  Queers in general seem to have this air about us that implies some sort of magical-STIs- shield, more so than straight folks. I say this from a completely personal perspective, as my experience in relationships and conversations with close friends have illustrated this idea to me. It is as if we feel since we are not having hetero sex, we’re safe. That is why it’s important to broaden our understandings of what sex actually is, so that we stay protected in all sexual situations. Especially when facts like these exist; lesbians (of all colors) are far more likely to develop cervical cancers than are heterosexual women.

Full disclosure, I hate all doctor’s visits, let alone doctors that have total V.I.P  access to my who-ha. Nothing sexy about it. I especially don’t like having to wonder whether my doctor is LGBTQ friendly, because if they’re not, the whole experience can be quite traumatizing. Who wants discrimination while simply trying to be healthy? Well, I come to you with great news. Queer allies have got our backs when it comes to pre-sexy-time woes.  The Human Rights Campaign has created an annual Healthcare Equality Index in which hundreds of gay-friendly hospitals and clinics make themselves known. Also, many LGBT centers all over the country offer or support companies that offer free and low-cost HIV testing specifically for our community on a regular basi

Consider all those times you had sex and protection didn’t once cross your mind. Mhmm. It happens. But the fact is, it should. I agree, depending on what you’re into, it can be harder to protect against STIs as a vagatarian; Yep, I went there. But in the long run, caution is really the best way to go. I’m not saying we all need to run out and get that HPV vaccine like, now, as there are precautions and arguments against it, let alone the many qualms some people have with vaccines in general. The real concern this Health News article raised was the overarching need for women and queers of color to do so much more when it comes to sex education and protection. As much as I like to think of us queerios as some sort of superhuman species within ourselves, we must accept the fact that no one is invincible. We’re all subject to contracting a sexually transmitted infection. The great thing is, if we’re careful and responsible, there’s a lot we can do to avoid them.

 

MORE by Jaz Joyner

More by Jaz Joyner

“I’m not emotionally available. “

 “Are you… physically available?”

  I knew I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help myself. Here is this beautiful girl standing in front of me, once interested in me. Once wanting me. If the only thing holding her back was emotions, why the hell do we need those? She looked at me, angry and frustrated, her brows furrowed and her skin a burnt orange under the frying sun. She rolled her eyes and prepped her feet to stand and I stared at her. I watched her go before she’d left as if I could see the future. I felt myself wanting her the way I thought she’d wanted me, and I couldn’t take it. I grabbed her arm and squeezed like a child to its blanket. She was my security and without her I was naked. I felt vulnerable. Not in the way people feel when they’ve been exposed in a way that makes them uncomfortable. More like a part of me had been kidnapped and I had no leads on how to find it. I didn’t know how to change her mind or make her want me the way I thought she did before.

   “Kate.”

  I said, like speaking out her name unlocked some feeling in her she didn’t know she had. I was kidding myself. She ripped her arm from my grasp and stood over me. I felt like a piece of dust, just waiting for her to blow me away. I stood, towering over her, giving me this false sense of power I wish I had.

   “I’m sorry.”

    I would have rather she said nothing at all. Her words were poison. I didn’t want to stand anymore. She was moving away from me and I had no more ideas. I watched as her back turned to me and she slinked down the sunny sidewalk in her clunky red heels. I just knew she would look back at me. I knew she’d have second thoughts and come back to me, but she didn’t. She walked all the way down the block and I stood there like a zombie, wishing for more. More of anything really. I wasn’t picky.

Generation Miley

 

 

 

 Miley, Miley-Bo-Biley. What are you doing, girl? It’s a question many have asked over the past few months, from Jezebel’s poignant piece on the racial issues with Miley Cyrus’s new music video, to The Grio discussing Miley’s apparent obsession with modern-day ghetto culture.  But after Miley’s recent, uber rachet Video Music Awards performance, it’s all starting to make sense; Miley Cyrus is my generation, the good the bad and most definitely , the ugly.


The Good

Millennials don’t care about race or sexual orientation. A recent Pew Research Study showed that an overarching majority of 18-29 year olds support interracial relationships and marriage, averaging at about 90% across the board. We are a generation of open minds, with the most progressive  social views.

 

In Miley’s recent music video of ” We Can’t Stop”, Cyrus is most definitely referencing blackness, but in the same way white people imitate black people by tanning for darker skin. You won’t find many white people that tan because they actually want to be black. No, they do it for the superficial reason that they will look more toned, and appear to glow a little more as a result. Miley twerks and wears gold teeth and does all those offensive things black culture experts are least proud of within black culture not because she wants to be black, but because she wants to be cool. Be edgy and “badass.” When the time comes that twerking is no longer cool, bet you won’t catch Miley doing it. Professor Akil Houston of Ohio University had to say this about whether Miley will stick with this rachet girl persona for long:

…Madonna. Consider her career trajectory and the different stages of representation she has in her public performance. If Miley plans to have the longevity of a Madonna, we will see many shifts.

 Miley flirts with bisexuality because to Millennials, queerness is cool. So cool in fact, that every cool kid wants to get in on it. Dare I say, that’s a good thing.  To come from a time not so long ago that queers were expected to hide their relationships and “unearthly” desires from the world into a time where every female pop singer worth her weight in pennies has at one point hinted at their desire to kiss girls, looks like progress to me.

 

 The Bad

Millennials don’t care about race or sexual orientation. We are the colorblind generation.

Through research and continued study on the topic, Professor of Social Psychology at University of Washington, Anthony Greenwald, found that though younger generations ” think only older generations are still racist,” studies show biases with youth, as well.

“The truth is, we’ve found no indication that race bias is any less apparent among young people [than it is] among older people,” he said.

But the problem is thinking we live in a post-racial society. Ever heard the lovely comment “ I don’t see race?” That’s my generation for you. We are a generation that basks in ignorance.

 We don’t care that over three hundred and fifty years ago, slavery exist, and that we’re still facing backlash from it to this day. It’s old news. We don’t care about “the n word” and it’s extremely negative history. So much so that we throw it around along with the word “fag” constantly, because it’s “no big deal” anymore. In response to Rachel Jeantel’s thoughts on the n word, CNN’s Don Lemon interviewed three intelligent college students that admitted they, along with their peers (black, white or otherwise), have used the word “nigga” in “non-racial” way.

Jeantel explained to Morgan that “the whole world say it’s a racist word” but the version of the word that she testified Martin had used in reference to Zimmerman, spelled “n-i-g-g-a” doesn’t mean what most people think it means. It doesn’t mean a “black male” as Morgan assumed, she said, but rather any kind of man…

Assimilation isn’t always a good thing. While it’s great that generation y-ers are becoming one culture wise, it’s important that we recognize the different walks of life it takes to somehow meet each other in the middle. Let’s talk queerness for instance. the phrase “that’s gay” is thrown around constantly to mean something that, quite frankly, sucks. Gen Y’s apathy towards our differences can, and does, sometimes lead to accidental discrimination-which sorry to break it to you- is still discrimination.


The Ugly

We Millennials are a sloppy bunch.We appreciate rachet culture because it is innately rebellious against authority. To go out and present yourself to the world unattached to any rules or any etiquette is exciting for us.

It is super easy to borrow from the experiences of others as a way to be “fun,” or stretch boundaries on what is “acceptable,” without any acknowledgement of context or framework.

You know how old Hollywood with it’s Rosemary Clooney’s and  Audrey Hepburn’s used to do everything with a classy flair? We’re the opposite. Celebrities that don’t present any hint of rebellion bother us; #AnneHathaway. We’re all about pushing the envelope, the more outrageous the better. We get bored easily and we want to be entertained, and we’ve found that the best way to be entertained is to amuse ourselves with our own ridiculousness. Youtube is so popular now because Millennials, as the driving force, are constantly looking for the next crazy thing. We’re go, go, go all the time. To quote Miley “ We can’t stop, we won’t stop.”

 

The Real

Miley Cyrus may be a hot mess, but she’s our hot mess.  Her VMA performance was merely a reflection of just about every modern day American high school and college dance party. The only shock comes in Miley’s adamant attempts and successes of putting such offensive “young people trends” on blast. Let’s be real,  the term “twerk” didn’t make it into the dictionary for nothing. No wonder I can’t discuss my qualms with Miley with a group of my peers without at least half of them squealing,

 

“ But she’s so real!”

 

“I feel like we could be friends!”

 

I get it now. Miley is simply reflecting Generation Y of America in all our disgusting awesomeness.

Poor Kid, Rich Kid

   My sister teaches special education and my father has worked in the school system for over thirty years, helping to form my unapologetically biased love and respect for the value of our teachers in the United States. Furthermore, it’s no surprise that education was hugely emphasized in my upbringing. my ability to focus so strongly on school related greatly to my financial privilege, coming from a financially stable -middle class family. I recognize this privilege and understand  not every child is so lucky. However, it doesn’t seem our education system cares so much about this disparity, as child after child from lower income families is being left in the dust when it comes to quality schools.

 

With income disparity among the poor and the very rich higher than ever, and a system that values instant gratification over investing in our future, many low-income children are left in the dust of a stale and antiquated education system.

In  high-poverty schools, more than one in every five core classes (21.9 percent) are taught by an out-of-field teacher, compared with one in nine classes or 10.9 percent in low-poverty schools

  Though legislation like No Child Left Behind set laws to close the gap of unqualified teachers per low-income schools versus higher-income schools,the disparity between the two is still strong today.The Independent Budget Office of New York released a study showing the link between poverty and low test scores, stating that students who qualify for free lunch are far more likely to fail tests than student who are eligible for subsidized meals. Wealthier areas can afford to invest in their programs and curriculum, furthermore helping students from already privileged backgrounds, to excel even more. This goes the opposite for low income areas, in which poorer schools are not invested in, and students that already have late starts academically are left behind.

More than 40% of Low-Income Schools Don’t Get a Fair Share of State and Local Funds.

Teachers cannot adequately invest in this disparity.  In a response to the editors piece on the need for higher pay for teachers, T. Elijah Hawkes, principal of  James Baldwin School in Manhattan, stressed the dilemma in expecting teachers to transform lives of students in hardship simply by teaching.

Until we perceive child poverty as something to be fixed not by our schools but by wage, labor, taxation and health care policy, we will continue to place unrealistic expectations on teachers, and see them as to blame for dashed American dreams.

Low-income schools are subject programs that force underprivileged students to learn from insubstantial teaching standards.  Teach for America, while offering wonderful opportunities  for recent college graduates, does not benefit our education system as a whole. Unqualified teachers are sent to low income, over crowded schools where unaccounted for students need closer attention, not less. After months of minimal training and often times, no previous teacher’s training, these TFA recruits attempt to teach students to reach minimal test requirements. If we want to expect more from our teachers, we must raise our standards of what it means to be a teacher. Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, Mark Naison wrote a piece about how Teach for America has spoken out about his disdain for the program in the Washington Post

Until Teach For America becomes committed to training lifetime educators and raises the length of service to five years rather than two, I will not allow TFA to recruit in my classes.  The idea of sending talented students into schools in impoverished areas, and then after two years encouraging them to pursue careers in finance, law, and business in the hope that they will then advocate for educational equity really rubs me the wrong way.

Every child deserves the opportunity to excel, not just the kids from well-to-do backgrounds. No Child Left Behind, in which the administration attempted to close the gap between school’s successes failed, and much of that reason is because poor schools were not given the adequate resources to meet those standards that were expected of them. Teach for America is not the answer, and it’s time we move more towards a system that better recognizes  financial disparity rather than general requirements for students that are not starting out on the same level playing field as their peer.

Dark Girls- To All My Queer Minded Allies


women-of-color-are-at-risk-for-skin-cancer







Ever pass those “nude” colored stockings meant for alabaster complexions, watch the ever-so-typical Black rappers with their music videos in which they only include fairer-skinned Black women as their “dime pieces” (while offensive in many other ways, still a low blow to dark-skinned women), put on one of those damned “skin-toned” band aids that forever clash against dark brown, paper-cut ridden fingers, and think “Being white is awesome?” Well, I can tell you there are about a bah-trillion young, black girls that probably obsessed on that very thought. Dark Girls, a documentary that recently aired on Own, introduces this phenomenon of desired whiteness to a nation that overwhelmingly,  didn’t even realize this was a thing. In case you’re still wondering though…Yep, it’s a thing.

 

   I used to be one of those dark girls. As a preteen I remember searching online for ways to lighten my skin. I saved up my well-earned allowance to buy skin lightening creams meant for dark, under-eye circles or minor discolorations. I would wish and dream and hope for the day I could be just a few shades lighter, because lighter, to me then, equaled beauty. Whiter was better. Now a proud Black, out, queer, I’m faced with a new element of dark-girl-hating. What’s that you ask? Well, apparently, Black women are scientifically the ugliest women ever in the world. Wonderful. In 2011, evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa conducted a study that found Black women to be the least attractive of all races. There was immediate backlash from a number of media outlets claiming Kanazawa’s study had a racially biased undertone, forcing him to remove his article from Psychology Today. 


However, let’s move to the far less high-brow study from OKCupid’s blog to show that Kanazawa’s study may have been more of a reflection of America’s ideas of attraction that we like to let on. OkCupid has been a miniature savior for the queer community with it’s fresh and new ways of pairing up mates, with a clientele of supposedly progressive, well-educated young folks. But their study posted recently on how race affects the frequency OkCupid users get messaged shows clearly Black women don’t get too much love on the interwebs. It also showed that Black women respond almost two times more than the average, exemplifying Black women as far less selective than their non-Black female counterparts. In the predictable, non-twist of the century, the study also showed that white women and white men overwhelming showed interest in each other, while Asian and Latino people also preferred white OkCupiders.

 

And you wonder why little Black girls think whiter is better?

 

That, my friends is white privilege.  I recently spoke with a close friend about being told that I “acted white,”  and not being quite sure what “acting white” meant. To that she responded that she didn’t even see me as Black. Wait, what now? I was baffled by the implications of her statement. To say that you do not see my Blackness in a positive sense is to imply that Blackness is negative and therefore best left unnoticeable. 


Being color blind in a symbolic sense does not make you racially conscious, but does just the opposite. Unless you are actually color blind (which only .4% of women are, by the way) then you see color, and you see Blackness. We do exist. Consciousness is the barrier between non-minority women and women of color that often goes unnoticed. Women of color forever look through a tinted lense where quite frankly, anything can be made to be seen from a racial standpoint. Dating as a Black queer means that you must unapologetically flaunt your minority flag.This means that you don’t have the privilege of forgetting what skin you’re in because whether you like it or not, Black skin comes with a little thing I like to call stereotypes.  I mean, when you have to school a beautiful woman on why you feel weird eating watermelons, it tends to be a wee- bit of a damper on your lady-lovin’ parade.

 

  I have encountered many women whom I found very attractive that after my advances, quickly express how they’re “ not into Black girls,” or as my witty, queer pal Nichelle puts it “not down with the brown.” I hate to use race here, because — let’s be real — sometimes a girl is just not that into me. It happens to the best of us. But as a Black queer, a woman’s openness to dating brown (race) is always a factor for me. My goal is not to only date other Black women or queers, as many would argue should be my plan of action anyway to avoid discrimination (though some Black women don’t even like dating other Black women). I look for other conscious queers of any race; queers who recognize their white privilege, or their ability to blend in white privilege (meaning minority women who blend effortlessly into whiteness though they may not be white-identified)  and have made the active decision to see through an all-inclusive lense.



 

The question arises as to whether being unconscious to Blackness makes you racist. Mhmm, let me take a second on that. Yes…yes it does. In this modern day, progressing 2013 society, no queer (who are also minorities in our heteronormative society!) should be ignorant or forgetful of any other minorities within their community. The excuse of being raised conservatively is no longer acceptable. This idea parallels closely to the feminist fight in the United States, prevailing so strongly in the 1970s, in which women expressed the need for men to also claim feminism as it was a community effort, not just women’s war against our patriarchal society. Males are needed in the feminist fight if for nothing else, simply for their consciousness of women’s oppressions in the U.S. because if they are unconscious, as the majority, they would weaken women’s progression. For example, men that actively recognize women’s issues as significant would never argue against women’s birth control. In the LGBTQ community, white queers conscious of Black and minority queers, especially queers within lower income communities, would recognize the fact the Black queers living in poverty are probably not positively affected by the grand news of DOMA’s downfall, because they’re dealing with other classist or racial discriminations beyond DOMA. For example, imagine a young black queer living in the conservative south with low income and few queer-minded allies that has just come out to those close to them. Say that black queer is shunned by their family and forced to live on their own in the streets.The last thing on their mind will be the fact that they may one day be able to marry legally. This isn’t just a thought, it’s a real phenomenon for so many young minorities of the LGBT community. 



  Non- black queers conscious of black issues are able to work as advocates in queer discussions, and allies amongst the black queer community. They are able to speak on minority issues with a level of knowledge that may break that awkward line we cross when discussing race. Race relations are often avoided in discussions, even by the most liberal of queers,  because of fear of offending or saying something inaccurate about a community you aren’t a part of. The crazy irony is our fear of offending only leads to more offense, because we wallow in ignorance in hopes of “playing it safe.” So next time you have a question for your queer, black friend, lover or otherwise about why their hair is so kinky, or where that stereotype came from that black people love chicken (Fun fact; I was raised vegan) , or even what Dark Girls and this whole dark-skinned/light-skinned thing is about, don’t be afraid to ask. No matter how offensive you think it might be, go for it. Because as queer weirdos in this hetero-normative world,  we’re all in this together.

Injustice for Trayvon is Injustice for All

   First Published 7/21/13

 After killing an unarmed teenage boy whom he provoked, Zimmerman roams free. This is a truth of our nation. Though I assure you, this is not a truth our nation will pride itself in when we look back on history. My loved ones cried and I tried to comfort them in the midst of a storm that I knew all too well would come. I didn’t cry.Not because I felt nothing, but because the horrid truth of the matter is I was not remotely surprised. Zimmerman’s verdict only validated thoughts I have had for years, unable to unthink them because they’re all around me every day. Racism is real, injustice is real, and the worst part is, our culture has evolved into one that likes to ignore this fact.

 

Racism is no longer in the style of the KKK; blatant and disgustingly obvious. It is now hidden in our drug laws, and our justice system.

  We live in a world where five teenage boys of black and Hispanic descent can be wrongfully charged with the murder and rape of Trisha Meili, the Central Park Jogger  based on far less evidence than Zimmerman’s case. In an America where black boys and young men are stopped and frisked each day on the basis of “seeming suspicious.” In this same world we live in, a man named George Zimmerman shot an unarmed black teenager and is released on the grounds of self defense. We dare call this United States a “post-racial” society? It’s harder to see the prejudice when we have come so far as a nation. Optimistically, look at the improvement from separate schools and water fountains to a black president. You can’t deny improvements there. But to say that we live in a post-racial society in a world with Trayvon Martin, is a complete and utter lie. Racism is no longer in the style of the KKK; blatant and disgustingly obvious. It is now hidden in our drug laws, and our justice system.

stop and frisk nypd new york

 The majority white, female jury  should not be blamed for their decision, as they are not in control of the justice system that chose them, but had they at all been exposed to varieties of blackness, they may not have assumed such aggression from Trayvon in his attempt to defend himself from Zimmerman. This interview with Jury B-37 (who has since signed a book deal, by the way) makes it clear the tone of the majority of her fellow jurors was Zimmerman as victim, Martin as aggressor (See interview Below).

According to her logic, any time a teenager of “suspicious” descent walks in the dark in their own parent’s neighborhood with, dare I say- iced tea, skittles, skinny jeans and a tight hoodie,-don’t hesitate to practice your racism and kill them to “protect yourself,” since this teen is of course a natural threat for simply existing in their presence.We cannot pretend this is not racial. It is racial, in the loudest, most epic fashion. Because it illustrates the fact that young black men must expect to be assumed criminals in our society,  without so much as one crime done. 

 

 

 According to Geraldo Rivera, the absurdity of the previous statement is completely validated. Apparently, it’s necessary for black young men to refrain from dressing in any attire that is at all associated with “gangsters.” Is that gangsters, Rivera, or dressing in our societies perception of blackness? For the record, these graphic photos show Trayvon Martin lying dead at the scene of the crime, dressed in an undersized hoodie and khaki skinny jeans. If you have ever come across a “gangster” with khaki skinny jeans, please inform me at once, because there must also be a leprechaun and small bucket of gold by a rainbow nearby.  The sad fact is, the way Trayvon was dressed should not have been a factor. It should not be acceptable to assume that if a black man is wearing baggy pants, it’s somehow okay to profile him as a threat.  

 

  Are we really saying that if Trayvon Martin was Trevor Martin, a 6’2, 160 pound white teenage boy with iced tea and skittles khaki skinny jeans, that Zimmerman would have found this young, white, boy threatening? Would he have felt his life were in danger? I’m going to take a hunch and say that’s a definite no. This same tone rears it’s ugly head in laws like stop-and-risk, in which innocent young men are criminalized for appearing to cops to be possible criminals. Our drug war practices the same tone in which studies show that while blacks and whites consume almost equal amounts of marijuana, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for pot possession.. I suppose they just look more criminal.

 

 We are not a country that should stand for injustice. With the results of this Zimmerman trial, we as a country made the statement that it is OK to profile based on race. We should expect it. To that I say no. If Trayvon were alive today, he would be the same age as my brother. Almost two years ago, my brother could have been Trayvon. Tomorrow, my brother could be Trayvon. And I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sit right. Justice for all means justice for Trayvon, and in this case, he got none. Until justice is won, I am Trayvon. And for any American that believes in justice for all, you are Trayvon, too.

 

 

Dark Girls- The Ugly Ones





   I was eight years old and my two sisters and I where “helping” my mom do her weekly grocery shopping. You know, how eight year old’s “help” by sneaking biased- candy-based-food products into the cart and hoping mom doesn’t notice until the cashier swipes it at check-out. Well we were in the isle with all the cereal and such, and we passed by a lovely dark skinned woman that seemed quite excited to see us. She stopped my mom and her eyes brightened as she gleamed,


“You have such beautiful little girls!”

My sisters and I puffed up until the woman continued,


“Are you all mixed with something? Especially the young one she is very light.So pretty.”


  Stop right there. It was as if the woman implied that my light-skinned sister was the prettiest because she was lighter than my sister and me. It was as if she only complimented us in the first place because we might have been mixed with something other than black.As if the non-black part of ourselves was what made us so pretty. Light-skinned, a term thrown around the black community quite often with usually positive undertones. It is the sad, sad light-skinned/dark-skinned dichotomy that the new film “Dark Girls” builds itself.


  Dark Girls originally premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and after great reviews and grapevine chatter, made it’s way to OWN. The dark-skinned/ light skinned dichotomy is an issue that stems all the way back to the slavery, where the light-skinned slaves where deemed “good enough” to work in the house while the dark-skinned slaves were left to tend the fields. Over four hundred years later, the black community is still dealing with the backlash of this value system, and Dark Girls takes on the the difficult job of introducing this struggle to a nation that doesn’t seem to notice this is even a thing.We live in a society where black skin is scientifically the most unattractive of all the races, a society where an all American girl is quickly presumed to be blonde and blue. Of course it’s not surprising young girls of the darker persuasion feel like outsiders.


   I was one of those girls. As a preteen I remember searching online for ways to lighten my skin. I saved up my well-earned allowance to buy skin lightening creams meant for dark, under eye circles or minor discolorations. I would wish and dream and hope for the day I could be just a few shades lighter. I wasn’t bullied because of my skin color and it wasn’t even mentioned or discussed. No, it was the subliminal messages of our society, those little tiny signs in our everyday lives that tell us that white is better. The “nude” colored stockings meant for alabaster complexions, black rappers with their music videos in which they only include fairer-skinned black women as their “dime pieces” (while offensive in many other ways, still a low blow to dark-skinned women), those damned “skin tone” band aids that forever clash against my dark brown, paper-cut ridden fingers. Our society is white-centric, and as Dark Girls mentioned,  this is not just a black issue. There are far too many non-white societies of our world that face this desire to be more and more pale.


 The United States are the monarch of media for all of the world and as such, we have a responsibility to stop with the Euro-centric representations of beauty. Yes, it’s too ambitious to assume that the U.S. has the power to completely alter the world’s ideas of beauty. Many of our concepts of beauty are biological and therefore innate. However, let’s be mindful of the power of media. Subliminal messaging is a real thing. Dark skinned,young black girls that don’t even know the term “subliminal messaging” know to pick the white doll over the black one. That, my friends, is not innate, that is learned.


So call me greedy but I found myself wanting more of this. Dark Girls began a conversation our nation should have started a while ago and we should use it as a catalyst for more discussion. I do feel the black community is quite aware of shade preferences, and I’m extremely thankful for this film for bringing it to the attention of non-black people that may have been in the dark, so to speak. I must say, I am proud of my skin now. I’m beyond the wish of being white because I feel special and different in this skin now, rather than an unattractive outsider. But there are many young girls out there that are nowhere near as comfortable. We’ve gotta help them out. I wonder, were you aware of the dark-skinned dilemma before learning about this film? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

HBO’s The Out List

    First Published 6/23/13

 

 While doing my usual “what’s gay today” surfing on the Google, I came across a BuzzFeed article that damn near made my heart melt. As of June 27th, we all have the pleasure of watching interviews from the likes of  celebrities like Wanda Sykes, Neil Patrick Harris, and my queen of queens, Ellen DeGeneres as they express their opinions, stories and struggles of being out members of the LGBTQ community in the public eye in the HBO documentary, The Out List.

I can’t even imagine the plight of a queer pioneer. I simply came out to my family and close friends and that was the scariest situation I’ve ever experienced. To think that these people had the strength and fortitude to speak out about something so personal to everyone, in spite of what the reactions may be, blows my mind. Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian right in the midst of a booming career and her very own  television show. There was an immediate backlash from the media and even some of her so-called fans, and her career suffered from discrimination for years afterwards.Up until her admission, real-life lesbians were invisible in the media. No one spoke of them and it seemed easier to just pretend like we didn’t exist. But not anymore.


Thanks to phenomenal queers like Ellen, there’s no longer a need to hide . Look at all the queer representation in film and television now, what with shows like Glee, The New Normal, and arguably Rizzoli and Isles– we’ve come so far as a nation! These celebrities have trudged through the early disapproval and disdain for the LGBTQ community and because of them I am able to write openly today about my queerness and it’s not seen as strange or the sort of thing that needs to be kept secret. So, of course I’ll be catching this documentary when it comes out on June 27th! Gotta pay homage to the pioneers that have made my life just that much easier. And kudos to HBO for making a film about the rising acceptance of gays. They will definitely be on the right side of history with this one.

Peppermint Patty Man

First Published 5/26/12

A lot of people might despise commercials. Not me! I don’t need to wait till the Super Bowl to enjoy a good advertisement on the best razor or body wash. 

A lot of my joy for commercials comes from my joy of analyzing. I love breaking down the ad and trying to figure out exactly how they came up with a concept like that.  I find myself thinking things like-


 “Why did they choose a woman to be that spec of dirt dreaming of a sufficient mop to save her?”

 OR 

“ Why on earth is Jimmy Fallon reppin’ a credit card? Does he actually use Capitol One?”

 I believe advertisers are pretty intelligent folks and I know they have a significant and elaborate reason for every little discussion they make. So, of course I was overjoyed to find a candy-based commercial for Peppermint Patties featuring…wait for it… A MAN! 

 

Yes, I witnessed a man in pure bliss, devouring a peppermint patty. What a rare occurrence. Usually those Peppermint Patty commercials feature women. Quite frankly, actors in food based commercials that combine that element of ecstasy and pleasure are almost ALWAYS women. This is a breakthrough! I would argue that food commercials showing that much emotion are presented as feminine, but this guy just broke the mold. Advertisers are aware that every image they put out makes some sort of statement. So Peppermint Patty man does mean something. He represents a significant shift in our media. This man was masculine. Yes, of model attractiveness, but masculine none the less. A masculine man illustrates the idea that you don’t have to be a woman to treat food like an aphrodisiac. You can be a man and express obsessive emotions, strong cravings and melodramatic feelings. Being very emotional or quite moved by something does not make a man a punk. Thank you, Peppermint Patty man for being one of the first guys to change the tone. We needed that.