#HIDDENFIGURES: Uncovering Our Stories [+ CONTEST]

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We’re in a new year, filled with new dreams, goals, plans, and wishes. On a micro and macro level though, I’m seeing how important it is that we know where we’ve been so that we can know where we’re going. A perfect example of this is the upcoming official premiere of Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. Here’s a synopsis of the film:

Hidden Figures is based on the best-selling non-fiction book written by a Black woman (Margot Lee Shetterly) about three amazing Black women at NASA.

The film recounts the story of the African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who, while working in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center, helped NASA catch up in the Space Race. Using their calculations, John Glenn became the first American astronaut to make a complete orbit of the Earth.

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When news of this movie came out, the resounding commentary centered around the fact that this incredible story has gone relatively unknown until now. How much of our history – especially the history created by Black women – has gone uncovered?

In my writing last year, it was of great importance to me to use my platforms to share the oft-hidden stories of Black women, past and present:

For The Establishment, I wrote about Black Caribbean women who came to Canada in the 1950s under the country’s West Indian Domestic Scheme.

Over at For Harriet, I wrote about 8 women dancehall artists the world needs to know.

Speaking of dancehall, back at The Establishment I wrote about women in Jamaica’s dancehall culture and how they control their spaces within it.

On the Globe & Mail, I interviewed Eden Hagos, founder of Black Foodie, and discussed the intersections of food, race, and culture.

For Revolt, I featured the women of Gyalcast, to highlight the unique way they helped put Toronto on the map in 2016.

And on this very blog, I recently wrote about Viola Desmond and why she should never be called “Canada’s Rosa Parks.”

With so many people saying “I didn’t know about the women in Hidden Figures!” how do we avoid that same erasure in the future? Hopefully by continuing to uncover our histories and share our stories as they unfold in the present, we’ll be able to combat the disrespect shown to the contributions that marginalized people have made to society. It’s imperative that we not only find ways to learn about the hidden aspects of our relative histories, but to also use whatever platform we have to spread that knowledge to others. When we know better, we can do better.

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I’ve questioned some of Hidden Figures’ marketing strategies (I mean, it’s nice to say that strength, courage, and genius have no gender, limit, and race, but those are very real obstacles these women had to overcome – let’s own that and not sanitize it), but I’m ultimately extremely excited to see the film when it opens this weekend. Little Magician is too young to sit through the flick, but I feel it’ll be one of those oldies but goodies that I’ll bring out for her to watch when she’s older, so that she can be inspired by the accomplishments these women made in the past and – hopefully – how far we’ve come since then, and now.

Are you excited to see Hidden Figures? Comment below and let me know why – you could win a pair of tickets to see it during the crucial opening weekend when it officially opens on January 6th*

*contest open to Canadian residents only

VIOLA ISN’T ROSA: Viola Desmond & The Erasure Of Black Canadian History

Viola Desmond's sister Wanda Robson with Canada's Minister of Finance Bill Morneau - via lpress.com

Viola Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson with Canada’s Minister of Finance Bill Morneau – via lpress.com

I’m not sure what troubles me more – that so many Canadians are unfamiliar with Viola Desmond, or that so many feel the need to validate her experiences by comparing her to Rosa Parks.

Both of these options are tragedies. Let me tell you why.

Last spring, the Bank of Canada launched the #bankNOTEable campaign, soliciting votes from Canadians on which woman they would like to see on a new bank note. 26, 300 submissions were narrowed down to 461 eligible candidates, which was further whittled down to 5 finalists: E. Pauline Johnson, Elizabeth MacGill, Fanny Rosenfeld, Idola Saint-Jean, and Viola Desmond. Desmond was announced today as the winning selection for the campaign, thus becoming the first Canadian woman to be featured on a regularly circulated bank note, other than the Queen. Starting in 2018, Desmond will replace Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, on the $10 bill.

Upon hearing the news, I started a tweet thread about Viola Desmond and her history. Desmond was a Black businesswoman from Nova Scotia, who was arrested in 1946. While waiting for her car to be repaired, Desmond went to watch a movie at a theatre in New Glasgow, NS. Desmond had specifically requested a main floor ticket, but was given a balcony ticket – unbeknownst to her, the main floor was for Whites only, with Black patrons segregated to the balcony level. When the ticket taker blocked her from entering the main level, she went back to the cashier to clarify her request for a main floor ticket. The cashier refused, saying “I’m sorry, but I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.” Desmond took a seat on the main level anyways, once she realized that the only thing barring her was the fact that she was Black. Theatre staff later demanded that she move to the balcony, but she refused – she could see better from the main level, and could afford to pay the difference between the two tickets. The manager of the theatre advised that he had the right to “refuse admission to any objectionable person,” and refused to take her money to pay for the main floor ticket. Because of her resistance, police were called and she was dragged out of her seat, suffering a hip injury in the process. She was put in jail overnight, charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia of the tax difference between the balcony and main tickets (1 cent), and freed in the morning when she paid the $20 fine.

Desmond knew that tax was not the reason for her arrest – it was her Blackness. She was not informed of her rights during her arrest or her trial and was subsequently convicted. After two unsuccessful appeals, legal action on the case slowed to a halt. In 2010, Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon by the Government of Nova Scotia (Canada’s first), and today, the Bank of Canada named her as the new face of our $10 bill.

The fact that so many people have admitted to not knowing who Viola Desmond was says so much about Canada’s past and present. Thinking specifically about Black Canadian history, so much has been ignored, buried, brushed aside in favour of Canada’s European history, or supplemented by African-American history. The lack of knowledge about the history of Black people in this country is a contributing factor to our “othering” – when you aren’t taught that you have a solid foothold in the development of this country, it’s that much easier to feel like the Canadian identity (whatever that looks like) doesn’t belong to you. We didn’t all arrive here thanks to former PM Pierre Trudeau – Black people have existed and contributed to this land for generations, and our stories deserve to be told and learned about by all Canadians.

Another example of this erasure was made clear yesterday, when CBC News shared a story of backlash against an incident of blackface in Chatham, Ontario. A grocery store in Chatham held an event featuring Dutch holiday staples Sinterklaas and his sidekick Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), a character displayed in blackface. The store manager addressed the backlash with the following: “It isn’t intended to be racist, it isn’t intended to offend anybody,” he said. “If we offended anybody, we apologize, but it wasn’t intended to offend anyone.”

Any time a “but” is placed in an attempt at an apology, just know that the person doesn’t really feel apologetic. But I digress.

Knowing that this happened in Chatham, which was called the Black Mecca in the 1800s due to its place as a prosperous town for Black people in all industries, makes it all the more egregious. Black people contributed to the Chatham we see today, yet that history still plays second fiddle to Dutch tradition. That hierarchy is explicit when it’s gasp-worthy that blackface could be offensive, especially in a Canadian town with such important Black history. We all need to know better. That’s how you do better.

Knowing better to do better is crucial when it comes to the connections between Viola Desmond and Rosa Parks. Viola Desmond is not “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” yet this need to lean on African-American history to validate Black Canadian history is the only thing that helps some people to see us and our experiences here. Both women’s stories centre around racial discrimination and a sense of resistance, and that’s pretty much where similarities end. To equate the two is ahistorical and reductive to both women’s experiences and impact – but most people won’t readily know that. For one, Viola was arrested 9 years before Rosa. Additionally, Rosa was part of extensive activist work long before she decided to stay in her seat on that Alabama bus in 1955 – she’s credited as a meek, mild woman who innocently launched the American Civil Rights Movement with her actions, but she was an activist and part of organizations that strategically worked towards that moment in 1955. The book “At The Dark End Of The Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance” by Danielle McGuire explains this in depth. Comparatively, to my knowledge, Viola was not part of any activist networks in Nova Scotia prior to her arrest – though she supported and empowered the Black community through her entrepreneurism –  and didn’t have the full support of her community when she chose to appeal her conviction. These women’s stories are very different, and until we do the work to ensure that the fullness of their stories are shared, we’ll continue to see myopic linkages made.

The desire to equate Black Canadian history to African-American history is another sign of how we distance ourselves from Blackness in this country. It helps to perpetuate this idea of racism and bigotry being American ideals – if we continuously attach our history of these ills to our neighbours to the south, it helps Canada to maintain some semblance of decency, even when those same ills have been rotting this country from the inside out since forever. People will call Viola Desmond our “Rosa” because they don’t see enough validity behind her just being Viola – Black people, experiences, and histories in this country are not considered worthy without a connection to America, further diminishing our existence and sense of belonging right here. It’s lazy, it’s insulting, and it needs to stop.

Canada will be going all out for its 150th birthday celebrations in 2017. My wish (and where much of my efforts will be placed) will be for a real push for better and more thorough inclusion of Black history within our Canadian tapestry, and a broadening of what the Canadian experience and identity looks like within our full scope of Canadians. Viola’s history, like the history of so many other Black Canadians, deserves better – and our present and future deserve better as well.

SICK & TIRED: A Few Things I’m Tired Of

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I’m tired. This isn’t going to be a sunshiny post, and I may not have any effective words of wisdom at the end.

But bitch, I’m tired.

There are things that I used to accept as compliments – things people have said to me about my ability to carry burdens, persevere through obstacles, and deliver the goods. Those comments used to make me smile and feel seen, but I reject them now. I feel increasingly invisible the more I’m buried under them – so what is there to smile about?

I’m tired of feeling valuable to people simply because of what I do for them. I’m tired of my skills being “rewarded” with additional tasks siphoned from people who get paid much more than me, because I’m “so much better at it.” I’m tired of getting a kiss on the cheek and a sheepish “Thanks for taking care of that” after cleaning up someone else’s literal or figurative mess. I’m tired of saying “No problem,” thinking that they’ll realize I didn’t say “You’re welcome” and maybe realize that there is a problem.

I’m tired of putting in 100% for people who dig in their couch cushions and offer me a measly 50%. I’m tired of showing up on time and prepared to give my best to people who are late and raggedy. I’m tired of seeing that same raggedy, mediocre work get pushed to the forefront and heralded as greatness, knowing that if I ever dared to be raggedy or mediocre, there would be no second chances.

I’m tired of saying “I’m sorry” first. I’m tired of putting down an invitation that isn’t picked up. I’m tired of being too available for some and not available enough for others.

I’m tired of always feeling like I have to be smarter, faster, better, the best. I’m tired of feeling like my smart isn’t smart enough and my best isn’t good enough. I’m tired of wondering which step to take next, which door to knock on, which doorway is meant for me to build on my own.

I’m tired of being asked to educate people who don’t really want to learn. I’m tired of being expected to reason with the unreasonable. I’m tired of my mistakes being magnified and of not being allowed a modicum of grace.

I’m tired of wearing the “Strong” mask, the “Everything’s Fine” mask, the “Don’t Worry About It, I’ll Do It” mask. I’m tired of wondering when it’s safe for me to take them off. I’m tired of people acting like something is wrong with me when I do. Au contraire – that’s when everything starts to feel a bit more right.

I’m tired.

All I have left is a bit of energy to change the trajectories of what exhausts me. I’m going to get some rest. I’m going to remind people how to treat me. I’m going to live as authentically as I can. I’m going to dust myself off and try again. I’m going to go get what’s mine.

LIKE DEAD LEAVES: Doing The Work Of Purging & Pruning

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For the past couple of months, nothing has made me feel as good as purging things that I no longer need in my life. Little by little, I’ve been going through all my spaces – physical, mental, emotional – and clearing out the things that aren’t serving me anymore. I haven’t felt this light in a long time.

It started innocently enough, with me going through my closets and transitioning from summer to fall. Away went the wispy fabrics that reminded me of warm nights and sunny days, and out came the comfort clothing that enveloped me in hugs each time I put them on. I encouraged myself to undo the emotional ties to my clothing at the same time, and started my grand purge. Things had to go: worn out shirts, way outdated skirts, and pants that I kept around “just in case” when the case for their continued presence never made itself clear. Soon, drawers that were overflowing could shut properly again, things didn’t topple off the top shelf of my closet anymore, and laundry was no longer as overwhelming a task. After my clothes were addressed I blazed through my home, de-cluttering my night tables, bathroom cabinets, and office spaces, filling garbage bags with things I thought I needed, but truly didn’t.

It felt like I could breathe a bit easier. I liked the feeling, and wondered what else I could let go of.

I started attacking my financial debts with a gusto unseen in recent years. I’m tied to many things, and a lot of them are more suffocating than supportive. Debt was one of those constraints, and I wanted to end that relationship as soon as possible. Having a plan and being utterly serious about sticking to it made all the difference in the world, so seeing positive change each month let me know that some relief was on the way. (This is a wayyyyy simplified few sentences about something that could be its own blog post. But the sentiment stands.)

I decided to let go of some projects I was involved in – some that weren’t serving a purpose, and some that had just run their course. In this new season of the purge, I’ve gotten honest with myself about being busy vs. being productive. There’s a comfort in being busy – a comfort that makes it easy to hide fears and insecurities behind stuff. The Bee who’s everywhere and does everything is a great cover for the Bee who frets over failure and fears that nothing she does will ever matter. Being busy has only left me feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and frustrated, and I want to be happy, accomplished, and ever-evolving. Shedding some layers of busyness will be good for me, and will help me to uncover the real skill of balancing downtime and productivity.

Finally, I took a look at some key relationships and purged what I needed to from them. In some relationships, I purged my inability to ask for what I want. In others, I purged old grudges and gave elephants in rooms their long overdue exit. Other relationships had to come to an end completely, but the main area of purging was looking at relationships I wanted to keep and finding ways to make them better. There have been some tough conversations and some peering through fingertips as I hit “Send” on an email, but every move was a step towards more freedom, and I feel it now.

The thing with purging is you need to know when to stop. I’ve gone through multiple areas of my life and pruned the excess and the overdue, but now it’s time for the new cycle of life – the resting period before allowing new growth. I’ve never been a minimalist, but the freedom of letting things go has renewed my excitement at what’s to come. There is room for the good things now, and I welcome them. I’ll keep them around for as long as they’re good to me – and as I’ve learned about myself these past few months, I won’t be afraid to let them go when their time is up.

WORK LIFE: The Book I Want To Write About My Career

hustleAfter years of struggle, I’m finally starting to see a bright light career-wise. I’m on track to end 2016 in a much better place than where I started, and in a much better place than I’ve been in a long time. This isn’t just related to how much money I’m bringing home, but a sum of all of the other things that come with work and how I function. I could write a book about my work experiences, so here are a few chapter synopses I’d have to include:

Chapter 1 – “You Don’t Even Go Here”: Being A Young, Black Woman In Middle Management

In all of the managerial positions I’ve held, I’ve either been the only person of colour, or one of two. I’ve welcomed people into boardrooms where I was about to lead a meeting, and had them give me their coats to hang and coffee orders to take. I’ve gone to external meetings and been ignored until my White male colleagues arrived, or met with the “Oh – she’s Black!” look of shock when I meet people after only speaking via phone or email. I’ve had to redirect meetings when my hair became the topic of discussion. I’ve had my blog reported to senior management, who called me a racist for writing about my experiences as a Black Canadian woman. I’ve had colleagues tell me they don’t think I belong, and I’ve had aggressively insubordinate staff treat me in ways that they never did to any of their former (White) supervisors. I’ve seen and experienced a lot, and a big lesson for me has been around being finding my voice to call out problematic behaviour versus letting it slide.

Chapter 3 – “Work Twice As Hard To Get Half As Far”: Learning The Game When The Game Is Rigged

I’ve lived this motto since I was a child – being pushed to work harder than my counterparts because we were never given equal footing to start off on. As a Black woman, it’s also about being denied room to be mediocre or fail, and knowing that while your failures will be applied as an expected generalization befitting all Black people, your excellence will be dismissed as a lucky break. I recently wrote about the Glass Cliff theory and saw this all play out in my life recently:

I was a new supervisor at an agency that ran group homes for adults with developmental disabilities. I was assigned 2 homes, and was eventually told that I was given the most disorganized homes with the worst staff in the agency. I was determined to turn those homes around, but at every step I was met with opposition or insubordination from staff – refusals to follow through, silence when I’d ask for their feedback on decisions, blatantly lying to me in order to trip me up, rumour-spreading, the works. I constantly addressed issues and disciplined staff, and escalated to my managers as needed – but senior management never seemed to take my concerns seriously. After going to the ER one day because I was sure the stress had caused a heart attack, I resigned. The day I handed in my resignation, I overheard two directors talking about me in the office, and one said “I guess she’s just not the shining star I thought she was.” I was floored. After all I had gone through and all the effort I gave, I was seen as a failure for not continuing to take the abuse and do the work. I immediately called for an exit interview with senior management on my last day, and made sure I had the last word. I recently learned that one of my most problematic staff – one who my boss swore was going to face heavy discipline for her actions – was recently promoted to a supervisory position. Funny.

Chapter 7 – “Protect Your Heart, 3 Stacks”: Protecting Your Passions & Keeping Side Hustles Safe

I’ve always toyed with the idea of going the full-time freelance/entrepreneurship route, but so far, I’ve said “Not yet.” I’m not ashamed of appreciating the perceived security of getting a paycheque every 2 weeks (‘perceived’ because I know these companies ain’t loyal), I’m not ashamed to say that I’m not 100% ready to take the risk of making my passion projects my sole income earner, and I’m not ashamed to say that not everyone needs to be their own boss – entrepreneurship isn’t a necessity to personal development. I still consider the thought and know that if circumstances change in any way, I’d take the plunge. But what happens if I start to hate the very things that brought me solace? What happens if I don’t like the way that obligation changes the way I view the things I do simply because I enjoy doing them? I don’t think I’m ready to find out just yet.

Chapter 9: “Bitch, Just Be You:” Removing The Mask, Playing The Game, & Being Authentic

Navigating the collective of corporate life can make it tricky to be an individual. There are games to play and masks to wear – and both get more complex the further you are from whatever the “norm” is in your field. Code-switching, considering if I should bring those leftovers my Jamaican auntie cooked for lunch, being aware of how I may be viewed as the Angry Black Woman in times when I’m not angry at all – these and other examples are part of why it’s so difficult be myself at work. A gift that 2016 has given me has been the room to be a bit more Bee in my career – both at my day job and in my side hustles – and see the payoff. Part of embracing that authenticity meant switching careers from my previous health/social services field to the communications industry. It’s meant presenting my personal style in a way that truly reflects who I am. It’s meant speaking more of my truth in my writing, and it’s meant going for opportunities I would have passed up before, because I believe in myself more now than I ever have. I’ve gone from playing the game to learning the rules so that I can bend, break, and change them as I go – so while those navigation skills are vital for perseverance, I now see how I can be more me through the journey.

This career life ain’t been no crystal stair, but I continue to learn invaluable lessons and receive affirming messages every day. What career lessons have you learned? What defining moments have shaped your career? Share in the comments! Now, about this book deal…

QUEEN SUGAR: The Reality Unfolds, The Beauty Begins

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Picture this:

Tuesday night. Dinner was done, the kitchen was clean. Hubby was on “Get baby ready for bed” duty, and I had hopped in the shower and back out just in time. With 10 minutes to spare until 10pm, I was more than ready to finally watch the heavily promoted premiere of Queen Sugar (the Ava DuVernay-helmed series on OWN). After soaking up all the press over the past few months about the show, I couldn’t wait to drink it all in – but I quickly learned my thirst wasn’t going to be satisfied. OWN Canada, for some nonsensical reason, isn’t airing Queen Sugar. So while I watched my entire Twitter timeline blow up over the wonders of the show, I was left stewing (and cussing) on my couch with an old episode of Criminal Minds staring back at me. Canadian television programming fail.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. I finally tuned into the first two episodes of Queen Sugar, and I am hooked. Based on the book by Natalie Baszile of the same name, the show chronicles the lives of 3 very different siblings who inherit their father’s sugarcane farm while trying to manage the complexities of their own lives. Quite frankly, this show is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Our three main players are the Bordelon siblings – Nova, the eldest (played by the inimitable Rutina Wesley – I’ve loved her since True Blood), a journalist and spiritualist; Charley, the middle (played skillfully by Gwen-Lyen Gardner), the wife and manager of David West, a top-level NBA star and mother to son Micah; and Ralph Angel, the baby (played powerfully by Kofi Siriboe); 6 months fresh out of prison and a single dad to adorable son Blue, played by Ethan Hutchison. Blue’s mom Darla is a recovering drug addict played by possible vampire Bianca Lawson (like, how has she looked 17 forever?), and the Bordelon patriarch Ernest is played masterfully by Glynn Turman.

Here are some of my favourite notable aspects from the first two episodes:

The opening scene + overall cinematography

The show opens with one of the most sensual scenes I’ve ever watched – Nova arising from the bed she shares with her lover, Calvin (Greg Vaughan). Instead of the usual sexy scene of getting undressed, we watch Calvin help Nova put her clothes on – and I was sitting there like:

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This looked phenomenal, but seeing that Calvin is a white, married police detective means that there will undoubtedly be some rockiness in this love boat. The direction and cinematography in this scene give you an introduction to what the rest of the show looks like. The lighting, colours, shades, and languid pacing ensure that you see every bit of everything – the landscapes, the spaces that the characters inhabit, the emotion on their faces, and above all else, the beauty of Blackness. Black people are lit, shot, and framed in such a gorgeous way – Ava DuVernay spoke on this last year during an interview with Q-Tip:

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Skin tones of all kinds are luminous on the Queen Sugar screen, and I’m so thankful for that.

The expressions of masculinity

After Daddy Bordelon suffers a heart attack and ends up in the hospital, Ralph Angel reluctantly brings Blue to see his Pop-Pop – grandfather and grandson share an incredibly special bond. You see how Ralph Angel tries to shield his son from certain realities, how he’s both tender and tough with Blue, and how some of those same traits exist in the relationship between Ernest and Ralph Angel as well. We don’t know where Ralph Angel’s mother is or how long she’s been gone – but in one particular scene (that had me BAWLING), we see 3 generations of Bordelon men who are all just doing the best they can with what they have, showing a love and tenderness between Black men that has rarely been displayed in mainstream media.

In episode 2, Ralph Angel’s Aunt Violet (Tina Lifford) chides him for trying to protect Blue from everything: “Baby, coddlin’ him ain’t doin’ him no favours,” she says. “Ernest always regretted all the coddling he did with you, his only son up on a pedestal,” she continues. “You see how it turns out.”

“How’s that?” Asks Blue.

“Wrestling with the world. A world that ain’t got no pedestal for you.”

An interesting piece of the Ralph Angel/Blue relationship is Kenya – the Barbie doll that Blue carries with him almost everywhere. You see how it’s a comfort to the child and how it creates discomfort for the father, who in one moment obliges his son by helping to prop Kenya on the sink while he cuts Blue’s hair, then in the next takes it out of Blue’s backpack on the way to school, promising to keep her safe at home.

Figuring out who Charley is

Charley is an interesting conundrum of a character. Leaving Louisiana for the bright lights of Los Angeles, she obtained an MBA, married a superstar basketball player, and has been living a life of success and riches ever since. When her husband David gets caught up in a sex scandal that unfolds simultaneously with the death of her father, Charley returns to her hometown and the siblings she left behind. You see the external tension, especially between Nova and Charley, who embrace at the end of episode 1, but engage in combat during episode 2. You see the internal tension as the L.A. Charley and the Louisiana Charley battle for space in one body. You learn that Charley has a different mother than her other two siblings, adding even more context to the issues that arise. Charley is undoubtedly going to be on a journey of self-discovery through the season, and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

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via Indiewire

The nuances of Blackness

There’s Nova tearing into Charley for hiring servers for their father’s repast: “You ain’t been gone that long – how come you don’t remember how it’s done?” Nova yells. “We don’t honour our father by having strangers serve those grieving. We serve comfort food to those who need comfort and we do it with our own hands!”

There’s the dissonance between the Bordelons and the funeral director when Nova wants to sew a special pouch into the lining of their father’s casket: “We don’t allow that kind of thing, Miss Nova,” says the director. “We run a straight Christian business here.” The juxtaposition between Christianity and diasporic spirituality creates an important moment here.

There’s Ernest Bordelon’s masonic funeral service itself, where the family sits dressed in all white as the patriarch is laid to rest. This Vulture recap references Ernest’s membership in the Prince Hall Affiliated Free and Accepted Mason fraternity, named after Prince Hall, an 18th century Black abolitionist.

Some aspects are familiar to me through disaporic channels, and some are new – but the effort to intertwine varied realities of Black life is both comforting and refreshing.

With an incredible cast and diverse writing and directing teams (Ava DuVernay tapped a lineup of all-women directors for season 1), this show feels like a gift delivered to us from Natalie Baszile, Oprah, Ava DuVernay, and the entire cast and crew. I don’t know about y’all, but I plan to stay tuned and stay sweet – I am 100% here for Queen Sugar.

#MEDIAMAGIC: When Life Brings You Where You’re Meant To Be

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All photos in this post courtesy of Lawrence Kerr Photography

The synchronicity of life’s full-circle moments should never be taken lightly.

It’s in the power of those moments – when seemingly random pieces of your life story join together like interlocking puzzle pieces and suddenly illuminate a picture you didn’t realize was there – that you often uncover some key truths about yourself. These epiphanies either confirm a hypothesis that your subconscious was testing out, or reveal the true meaning behind something in your past. For me, both of these things happened on August 21st, when the pictures in this post were taken.

Earlier this month (on the 5th anniversary of my 1st blog post on ’83 To Infinity, no less), I got a call inviting me to participate in a photo shoot being arranged to showcase Black women in Canadian media. Inspired by an earlier impromptu photo of some of Canada’s dopest Black women in the industry, this upcoming shoot (by award-winning photographer Lawrence Kerr) was going to gather as many Black women in media as possible in one spot, and my presence was requested.

Have you ever felt like you belonged somewhere, but in the same breath thought “WTF? I belong here???” Imposter Syndrome set ALL the way in, but I still got myself together that fateful Sunday and headed to the shoot. Surrounded by women I’ve looked up to, women whose work I’ve admired, women who have become friends, and women who I met in person for the first time, it was an afternoon filled with warmth, sisterhood, upliftment, and real #blackgirlmagic.

It goes without saying how important it is to see a number of multi-hued Black women who are all doing work in various areas of journalism and media. For narratives to change and become more authentic, Black women need to be show hosts, journalists, producers, writers, creators, media entrepreneurs, and so much more. Unlike our U.S. sistren, we don’t have access to the same kinds of media outlets – mainstream or otherwise – that serve to celebrate, entertain, and inform. We’re forging our way in the Canadian industry, taking our rightful seats at tables and building tables of our own to do important work that we’re passionate about.

A number of amazing women were there in spirit only (would have loved to thank women like Traci Melchor, Rosey Edeh, and so many others – next time!) but I was so honoured to share space with the women who were able to be present.

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Do you see Arisa Cox, host of Big Brother Canada, in white in the centre of the 2nd row? She inspired my first ever solo event, Mirror Images – talking about diversity and representation from the perspectives of Black Canadian women in media. She wrote an incredible article that made me tweet “I wish someone would host an event with Arisa and other Black women talking about their experiences” – then I did it. Arisa – who lived in an entirely different province – made sure to be in attendance and provided mentorship for me and everyone who came.

Check the woman sitting 3rd from the left in the front row. TVO host Nam Kiwanuka is a woman I’ve admired for YEARS, and she was one of the first Black women I saw regularly on Canadian TV. I was so nervous inviting her to be on my Mirror Images panel, and literally did a happy dance when she accepted – and now, we’ve become friends who cheer for each other at every turn.

Reporter/Anchor Nneka Elliot (3rd from the right in the first row) used to hold events called The Media Huddle where I really started to get my feet wet in learning about the media industry. She’s since been a major supporter of me and the projects I work on, and is an inspiration to many.

Tracy Moore (beside Nam in the white) and Marci Ien (beside Nneka in the black) are media powerhouses who have both given me kind and encouraging words. Producers like Kathleen Newman-Bremang and Nicole Brewster-Mercury are behind the scenes, intentionally and determinedly crafting what we see on TV. Hodan Nayaleh and Patricia Bebia-Mawa have built platforms like Integration TV and AfroGlobal TV respectively, to create space for ethnocultural stories in media.

That woman sitting front row centre? That’s the inimitable Camille Dundas – TV producer, digital magazine editor, and media mentor extraordinaire, who pulled this whole thing together.

And do you see CTV reporter Andria Case in front in the fly yellow heels? A major piece of what led me to that photoshoot started with her. She interviewed me back when I modeled in Toronto Fashion Week, shortly after I started this blog. I used my married last name, Quammie, in the interview – and that was the catalyst to a strange coworker googling my name, finding my blog, and reporting me as a racist at work. I nearly stopped blogging after that, but didn’t. I never got to thank Andria at the shoot for unknowingly being part of one of the most important moments in my journey, but thank you.

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Lawrence Kerr Photography -4646

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When I left the shoot, I thought about the day I contemplated not blogging anymore, then thought about how far I’ve come since then. In that moment I realized I needed to stop being passive about my journey through blogging, writing, and media. As much as I’ve played it humble and looked at myself as someone who was merely paying their dues, I’ve been putting in work – and I’m ready to own that. I’m ready to put in even more hard work and continue to carve out my space in the media world, whatever that may look like. Being included among these incredible women reminded me not to take my journey for granted and not to take my skills lightly.

As I walked back to my car on that exceptionally sunny Sunday, I realized I was meant to be there that day and thought, “The future has never looked so bright.” Here’s to lifting each other as we climb, celebrating the ones who came before us, and looking out for the ones who are on their way. #CanadianMediaSisterhood is real.

BLACK + WOMAN: The Complications Of Courtesy, Femininity, & Taking Up Space

Aint I - STruth

Sometimes, their faces are nonchalant because they truly couldn’t care less. Sometimes they’re tinged red, signaling the irrational anger bubbling underneath the skin. Sometimes, the redness is from embarrassment – but it’s rare that I hear an apology escape their lips. All of these faces are the ones I see by the people who commit microaggressions against me every day, and I remember each one of them. I saw a couple of those faces today when the people around me reminded me that being a 6ft tall Black woman places me on the lowest rung of their femininity scales.

As the train lurched to my stop this morning, those of us prepping to exit shuffled closer to the double doors, waiting for them to slide open. The White man beside me smiled at the White women around us, then graciously allowed them to exit ahead of him. As I started to walk through the doors as well, he made a great effort to push ahead of me, knocking me off balance in the process. That was one of the red faces, seemingly angry that I assumed his kindness would be extended my way.

Walking through the train station to the doors that led to my office building, I saw another White man holding the door open chivalrously for the White and Asian women walking through. As he saw me coming, he made eye contact, slid through the door, and let it slam in my face. His was one of the nonchalant faces, completely unconcerned with the fact that he purposely chose not to help a woman who had her hands full. The older White woman beside me shook her head and opened the door for me, then chided the man for choosing to rush than to be polite. I thanked her for her help, but didn’t bother to tell her the issue wasn’t his time constraint – it was that he didn’t deem me, a Black woman who towered over him in her heels – worthy of the courtesy he offered to the other women in his midst.

The embarrassed red faces were the ones at the grocery store recently – once, a cashier, once the White woman ahead of me whose child was being rambunctious in the line – who took quick glances at me then referred to me as “Sir” and “him.” Height + dark skin = ‘man’ more often than not, which is why I’ve been described with masculine terms until the person realizes that I’m in fact a woman.

The creation of the construct of Blackness through slavery matched with colonialism, colourism, and pandering to the perceived fragility of White women (whether they’re actually fragile or not) have greatly impacted the perception of Black women and Black femininity. Slavery saw Black men and women working side-by-side in cotton and sugar cane fields, expected to do the same labour. Because slavery denied us our humanity on a base level, you definitely couldn’t expect concepts like masculinity and femininity to be recognized, except for the biological purposes of childbearing. Black women serving as wet nurses and domestics in White homes throughout history were occupations still rooted in a denial of humanity, plus an acceptance of Black womanhood and femininity solely for the benefits it provided White families – particularly White women. Colourism has affected these perceptions as well, where lighter-skinned Black women have often been regarded with more value than darker-skinned women, both inter- and intra-racially. We see how this plays out in media today – how often do we see romantic couples represented with a dark-skinned Black man and a light-skinned Black woman? How often do we see darker-skinned Black men play “comedic” and cartoonish tropes of Black women? Darkness has been matched with masculinity, and lightness with femininity – so for me, it’s no surprise that my brown tone becomes equated with being “him” or presumes me unworthy of chivalrous courtesy in predominantly White spaces.

The flip side is when I am the benefactor of courtesy. When I am the one holding the door or making space for others, that action is expected. Where the corporate-suited White men in my office building bound onto the elevator and stand, legs spread, in the middle of the space, they look at me with the silent expectation that I will make myself smaller to accommodate them. I notice that sometimes my height is seen as a challenge to their masculinity. Where I’ve always joked that shorter men are almost insufferable in their attempts to make up for lack of height in my presence, I’ve come to realize that White men who are my height equals can be worse. The process is usually the following:

  1. White man ends up standing beside me in a public space.
  2. He realizes we’re eye-to-eye.
  3. He looks down to see if I’m wearing heels or flats.
  4. Either way (but especially when I’m in flats), he’ll place his hands on his hips or shift until his legs are hip-width apart, in a challenge to take up even more space.
  5. I laugh internally. And sometimes out loud.

There’s really no final thought to wrap this up with a nice bow. I have no words of advice, no thoughts on educating those who let this deep-rooted consciousness colour their interactions with me on a daily basis. Nothing else to add except to bring these microaggressions to light in hopes that it may make someone more aware, or at least make me feel like I’m not crazy. Even while writing this piece I’ve thought “Am I being too sensitive? Were these situations as bad as they seem? Am I just blowing things out of proportion?” But that’s exactly what microaggressions do – they make us question and second guess ourselves, siphoning time and energy from the victim, keeping us silent when we really need to promptly check a motherfucker.

So, as I head back out into the world for lunch, let me fluff my hair, apply some more lipstick, stand tall, and take up space. It won’t stop the microaggressions from attempting to chip away at my armour, but it’ll help me honour my brand of womanhood, femininity, Blackness, and worth. I’ll always honour it, regardless of who thinks otherwise.

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU: Broadening Canada’s Media Landscape

Back in 2013, with some incredible Black Canadian women in media

Back in 2014, with some incredible Black Canadian women in media

It’s always entertaining to watch the reactions of someone who realizes something isn’t about them, when they’re used to everything being about them. Similarly, it’s hilarious to watch what happens when someone is forced to share, especially when it’s clear that sharing is the most unnatural thing to them.

Those two points being said: my popcorn has been popped and buttered for the scores of Ontarians upset that a slice of media has attempted to become more representative of the diversity in our particular province.

The Agenda is a current-affairs program on TVO, a provincially-funded television station. Its summer edition is being hosted by the incomparable Nam Kiwanuka, while regular host Steve Paikin is on hiatus. The Agenda is no stranger to controversies around diversity – this article notes that “The Agenda is self-admittedly too white: only 17 per cent of its guests last year were visible minorities (about 25 per cent of Ontarians identified as visible minorities in the 2011 census)”, and I was actually a guest on the show after a debacle over the lack of women panelists on the show, which aims to represent the demographics of Ontario.

Efforts have been made by the show to exercise more diversity across topic choices and panelist selections, and I’ve enjoyed much of what the show has offered so far in its summer session. I’ve seen more people from a variety of societal intersections featured on the show – discussing topics that are relevant, enlightening, and entertaining – than I remember seeing in the past, and I hope this continues even once the regular season picks up again in the fall.

While I’m enjoying the fresh faces and topics, it seems not everyone is so enthusiastic. A quick glance at comments on The Agenda’s social media accounts show that some feel any topic highlighting the lived experience of non-white people is a red flag that the show has become some far-left demon spawn, spewing propaganda aimed at making white people feel guilty for their privilege.

I just want to know: why do those people think everything is about them?

I mean, on one hand, I get it. Nothing makes the majority feel more victimized than realizing that they have to give up some of their space to the minority. A shifting landscape can be scary. Their territory is being encroached upon by people who they don’t relate to on some level, and the thought that their narrative is not the only one being shared – and not the only one that matters – is a threatening idea. In their eyes, something that they feel rightfully belongs to them (in this case, space in media) is being siphoned from them by people that don’t deserve it, and it’s a cause for panic.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to The Agenda or any particular media outlet – here in Canadian media, we continue to have a huge problem with the inability to make space for diverse faces and diverse narratives, and the efforts to remedy the problem seem to take an incredible amount of time. Because of this, when space is finally made for someone non-white (add to that being a woman, and/or disabled, and/or LGBTQ, etc.), it’s taken as a personal affront by those who are used to seeing their faces and their faces only. Cue panic. Cue paranoia. Cue “Why are we talking about this? It doesn’t matter!” Cue nasty comments online from people with fake names and dog/flag/egg avis – comments designed to put the minority back in their place and restore balance in their tiny, tiny worlds.

It’s a clear sign of an insecurity issue when someone feels their personhood is threatened by the presence of someone else, and I smell a stench of ignorance tinged with arrogance when people feel that a story doesn’t matter simply because it is not one they identify with. These are people who would seek to push those voices back into the margins, only to be called out when they deem necessary (usually when they’re looking for a “new” cultural idea to appropriate, or when we’re pretending that Canada is a multicultural utopia). What I would hope for the offended to understand is that while they are used to being status quo, the presence of “other” isn’t a reactionary one. A non-white person taking up space in media is not there simply to be an antagonist to whiteness. We are there to tell our truths, share our expertise, and make our money just like anyone else. Basically, stop thinking everything is about you.

I have admittedly had to work to undo the thought processes that made me overly concerned with what white people thought of me. As a Black woman, I’ve practiced the habit of running myself through various filters, hoping that whatever diluted product was left at the end was enough to get my idea across efficiently without being “too much” of anything.  The problem with that is, I filtered out myself in the act – so what’s really the point? Yes – I still aim to be professional, entertaining, intelligent, and whatever else is needed in the moment. However, worrying about what any one particular group thinks of me based on a paradigm that was created to make me inherently feel less than is not a good use of my energy. The space I take up in media as a Black woman, whether I’m talking about Blackness or anything else (another topic for another day: Canadian media, you can call on Black folks to discuss things other than Black issues), is valid and worthy and necessary.

That same validity, worth, and necessity is relevant to all of the diverse stories that can and should be told in our media. Until the Canadian industry catches up with what we all have to offer, I’ll continue to appreciate the entities that work to make room for us. Unfortunately for those who feel threatened by our presence: all I have to say is, get used to it. It really isn’t about you.  

NEW MOVES: How My Side Hustle Changed The Course Of My Career

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One of the strongest memories of my years of playing the violin is when my teacher defined the “sweet spot.” It was that place and moment when your bow rested right in between the fingerboard and bridge, when you applied the right amount of pressure, and when you drew the bow smoothly and evenly, getting the richest sound. It took me some time to learn how to find the sweet spot but eventually I got it, and I was able to make some beautiful music – a metaphor I’ve applied to other areas in life. As I get older, I’ve come to believe that what’s meant for us is truly for us. Through some of my most difficult disappointments, I’ve only gotten through by clutching onto the belief that the right opportunities would come along and I’d find my sweet spot.

I’ve also come to strongly believe that the things we call coincidences aren’t coincidences at all. It’s my hypothesis that if we’re paying attention, we’ll see that synchronicities are all around us – dots get connected, links get made, and things that didn’t make sense suddenly become crystal clear when the other piece of the puzzle drops into place minutes, months, or years later.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about sweet spots, opportunity, and synchronicity – especially as it relates to work and where I see my career going. A few years ago at one job, I was (allegedly) called a racist by higher-ups because someone found this very blog and thought it was problematic for me to discuss issues related to being a Black woman in Canada. I eventually started job hunting, hoping to land a position in writing or communications or media or something that felt more in tune with my passions and interests (there’s a post in me about the issues of being a Black woman and an empath in healthcare/social work management, but that’s for another day). I had no luck landing that kind of dream job, but did get offered a similar management position at another agency in the same healthcare/social work field. Something told me not to settle for the job I knew I could do and keep waiting for the one I wanted to do, but I wanted a change by any means necessary, so I took it. A month in, I realized this may not be the job for me. 2.5 months in, I started job hunting again. This time I told myself I wouldn’t settle – if I wanted my career to go in a new direction I had to steer the ship – so I only applied for the jobs that I truly wanted to do.

Now, I have none of the degrees or formal education required for the jobs I applied for, but went for them off da strenf of the career I’ve created for myself using this blog as my launching pad. I’m not at the point of being ready to go full-time freelance or full-time entrepreneur, but I know I have skills and gifts and passions that need to be utilized. So I jazzed up my resumes and cover letters with help from friends, crossed my fingers, toes, and hair strands with each application, and waited for the calls to roll in.

For a while, I heard nothing but crickets. Then, an email to schedule an interview appeared. Next, a call for a phone interview, and after that, a call for an in-person chat. Slowly but surely, people were calling me – ME! – to come in for interviews for jobs I had really only dreamed of having. Even better than the interview calls were the offers that came. Long story short: I took one of those offers. I negotiated for what I felt I was worth, and got it. I handed in my resignation just before I left for Yale (OMG I HAVE TO TELL Y’ALL ABOUT YALE), and overheard two executives discussing my impending departure, saying (and I quote): “I guess she’s just not the shining star we thought she was. It seems like she can’t cut it if she’s leaving.” That further solidified that I made the right decision to go.

Let’s just say that the exit interview I requested with those two executives was a defining moment in my career journey.

But back to the new gig!

It’s just been a week and a bit in, but I’m honestly so proud of myself that I was able to secure a great job with an incredible organization solely off of the work I’ve done in my side hustle. Sometimes your side hustle stays protected as your side hustle, and other times it leads you in brand new directions. My blogging, writing, social media work, media experience and more are what landed me this job, and those are the things I almost canceled out of my life when someone decided they wanted to undermine my career by using it all against me. But guess what, bih? I have a new career now, and I firmly believe that my future is the brightest it’s been in a LONG time. I’m excited to see where this new journey takes me, and I feel a renewed shot of electric creativity flowing through my veins. I’m ready to grow and learn and be better at everything I love to do, so that’s the mission.

Make room for your gifts, and your gifts will create space for you. A sweet spot, if you will.

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