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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.

LOVE LOST: Falling Out Of/Back In Love With My Hair

BeeAdShoppers

The love affair between my hair and I has hit a rough patch.

Nearly a decade after growing out my relaxer and joining #TeamNatural, I’ve regressed in my hair adoration and I’m almost back at that insecure, “not sure what I’m doing” stage I found myself in after my big chop. I’ve had some fabulous hair days since that muggy August afternoon when I emerged from the salon, 100% natural and free – days of cotton candy fluffiness, surprising length, and daring moments with colour that made me feel excited about experimenting with my hair. Learning about my hair’s versatility was so incredibly fun – dry sets, wet sets, stretching twists, blown out, or letting my coils spring free-form – discovering and indulging in it all amazed me. But somewhere along the journey, that excitement faded.

When I co-hosted my Curls, Coils, & Cocktails meetup at the end of February, I admitted this very fact. In the weeks since, I’ve really been thinking about why I feel so despondent about my hair, and I’ve uncovered two main reasons why I’m currently so blah about my crown.

Motherhood Maintenance

Little Magician is almost 2 now (where is time going???) and she literally does not stop moving until you can wrangle her flailing limbs and get her into bed. That being said, it’s become much easier for me to a) rock styles like box braids and Marley twists to get my hair out of the way and still look cute or b) becoming alarmingly OK with not maintaining my hair well, and just praying for mercy from my hair goddess whenever I get around to my next wash day. With either option, I acknowledge that I’m not engaging and falling in love with my own hair – I’m just doing what I need to do to get through the day and look presentable. It takes so much more planning now to be able to properly wash, detangle, set, and allow my hair to dry – and when I’m chasing after/feeding/putting to bed/entertaining a toddler, sometimes my hair transforms from a necessary responsibility to an indulgent luxury.

Skewed Self-Image

Back when I was pregnant, I went for a casting call at a modeling agency. I had recently bought a cute lil half wig that helped me to rock a quick and fly look as needed, and ended up wearing it to my audition. I didn’t book that gig, but they kept my photos on file and I’ve been booking quite a few gigs since, off da strenf of those pics.

Because of the half wig, every casting agent gets excited over my hair and ensures that my hair will be exactly the same as the photos they saw when I show up to set. Even though I always send in current photos at their request, my hair is never acceptable unless it’s coiled and blended into the shoulder-length half wig. I won’t lie – getting awed looks and overflowing compliments about my half-wigged hair in comparison to rejection or shrugs of “I like it better the other way” for my natural hair has gotten to me after a while. I’ve gotten self-conscious about my hair. I’ve gotten used to how my face looks enveloped by the billows of curly additions. I’ve simultaneously been proud to represent in mainstream media as a Black woman rocking natural-textured hair, and felt like a fraud for not being able to book gigs with my hair – the hair I’ve grown, not the hair I’ve bought.

I adore my natural hair and used to have so much fun with it. But now – due to convenience, time constraints, job demands, and narrow scopes of beauty ideals in media, I haven’t given myself the time to fall back in love with it. This past weekend when I had an extra moment to myself, I jumped in the shower with my drain protector, wide-tooth comb, and my favourite lotions and potions – and spent time caring for my hair in a way I hadn’t done as of late. I came out, massaged some coconut oil into my strands, then took my trusty Denman brush and shea butter and detangled then twisted my hair section by section. Today I took the twists down, feeling the softness and silkiness, and admiring the springiness of each coil. My hair felt healthy and beautiful and almost seemed to whisper “Don’t you remember why you loved me?” I do now, and my new goal is to reacquaint myself with her, set time to be with her, and reset my expectations of her and of me. I’m determined to rekindle our relationship, and I think we’re finally on the right track.

FORGIVE/FORGET: Living Through The Process Of Forgiveness

 

forgiveness

I needed a reminder that I was still a good person.

You see, last week I found myself months-deep in my email inbox, looking for a document for the ever-dreaded tax season. I typed some keywords into the search bar, hit enter, and watched the results populate. The first thing I saw, however, wasn’t the email I was looking for – it was one I never really wanted to see again, but there it was.

I should have deleted that email long ago. To be honest, I think I only kept it to refer to in moments where I wondered, “Did that REALLY happen? Did this person REALLY speak to me that way? Did this person REALLY blindside me like that and make me wonder if I was as horrible as they wrote?” When I needed the reminder that, yes, those things were all true, there sat that email to give me the proof I needed. It probably isn’t a healthy practice to revisit, even subconsciously, a moment that causes you great pain – but I think I was in such disbelief for so long that it was part of my process of acceptance, moving on, and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a tricky, tricky thing – and in this particular situation, the work of forgiveness made me angry. It’s one thing to be wronged by someone and have them come to you, arms wide and heart apologetic as they lay down the acknowledgement of what they’ve done to you. You, as the forgiver, still bear the weight of working through your emotions and granting forgiveness when and how you see fit, but you’re not the only person in the conversation. An entirely different level of effort is required when you have nothing from the other person but the pain they’ve left you with – no apologies, no contrition, no acknowledgement, no agreement to sit down and talk it out – but in order to save yourself, you still have to find forgiveness on your own. It’s exhausting. It’s unfair. It’s anger-inducing. That exhaustion and unfairness and anger wrapped up in the process of forgiveness can make the whole thing implode from the inside out – but as I’ve learned, the process is largely inevitable, so you’ve got to push through.

I’ve had to question how effective the act of forgetting is in relation to forgiveness. Forgetting feels good, and when you remember that you’ve forgotten, it can feel like a step towards being able to forgive. When you forget, and move on, and start living your life outside of whatever connections you had with that person – when you do those things, you start to fill your life with new experiences that can soften the blow of the hurt you felt before. But inevitably, you remember. Something reminds you of that person or that situation, and one of two things happen. Either you remember and it doesn’t hurt as much (or at all), and you’re able to smile at your growth and perhaps even look up to the sky and wish that person well, wherever they are. Or, an uncomfortable pressure builds up in your chest and tries to bubble out of your eyes, and you swallow it down, convincing yourself you didn’t feel it. In one situation, forgetting moves you towards forgiving. In the other, forgetting is a flimsy mask for the forgiveness process. I’ve been on both sides, but I know which one feels better.

When I came across that old email the other day, I felt enough of that pressure building to concern me. In the past, I’d been able to smile and nod to the sky, so hadn’t I reached forgiveness? Hadn’t I actually stated out loud in the past that I’ve forgiven this person? So why was I now feeling like I had taken a step back? What I’ve learned here is that forgiveness can be a straightforward process, or it can come in and out like the tide. Maybe I haven’t fully reached the destination yet, or perhaps it’ll be a cyclical thing where the biggest goal will be to make sure each low moment is higher than the last. Then eventually, maybe one day it’ll all even out.

In writing this post, I can say that my biggest win has been taking the lens of forgiveness from the external to the internal. What I mean by this is that I’ve moved from wondering why, wondering what I did to make this person act the way they did, wondering what was and is going through their head – I’ve stopped caring. I know I’ll never get those answers, and even if I did at this point, they’ve lost the impact they could have on my forgiveness process. I’ve moved that lens internally, where it should be. I’ve learned to focus on what I need to do to feel good, what I can do to be a better person in the future, what I can do to accept what was and move on to what will be in my life. Forgiveness is a process for me, not for anyone else. Once I realized that, the process started to flow more authentically without cliched expectations of how it should feel.

So, I’m still on the journey of this and other paths of forgiveness in my life. Being able to forgive – or more realistically, dedicate myself to the process of forgiveness – reminds me that I’m still a good person, and I’m getting better every day.

OH HELL YES: Making Space For Life To Take Shape

shape your world

For the past few weeks, I’ve been binge-watching Girlfriends, one of my favourite sitcoms. I’m currently in the middle of season 5 – Joan and William are (inexplicably) in a relationship, Lynn has connected with her birth parents, Toni is pregnant and ducking divorce papers from her estranged husband Todd, and Maya just got a huge endorsement from Rev. Al Sharpton for her girl-you-can-do-it book, Oh Hell Yes.

It’s Maya’s story that currently resonates with me – our relationship statuses aren’t the same, but our prioritization of our children, our desire to do the work we’re passionate about, and our desperate fear of settling and being stuck in something that makes us miserable ARE the same. Funnily enough, these same traits resonated in a real book I read recently – Shonda Rhimes’ Year Of Yes, which details Rhimes’ journey through a year where she said yes to everything that scared her. After reading her book at the end of 2015, I decided I was going to make 2016 my year to say yes – or, oh HELL yes – and I was going to put themes of priority, passion work, and not settling in the forefront of my mind to create the life I want.

Walking into 2016, I realized that the only way I’d be able to live the life I wanted would be to make room for it. The work I want to do, the experiences I want to have, the goals I want to achieve – none of them will come to fruition if there isn’t space for them to thrive. I took a big leap by leaving my job and taking on a new role that gives me more time for my family, my writing, and my other projects. I dropped projects that were taking up time and not giving me equal ROI. I was approached with some opportunities that in the past, I would have hemmed and hawed over before likely declining them out of fear, but this time I didn’t waste time – I said yes, jumped in, and blossomed because of them. (Note: there’s a message here about innately knowing the difference between declining something because you know in your heart of hearts it isn’t for you, and declining because you’re scared, even though you know you’re capable – or at least curious about your capability. Sometimes fear masks itself as humility, but we know in the pit of our stomachs that we’re lying to ourselves. Might write more about that later.)

I’m determined to see some real progress in a variety of arenas this year, and I quickly realized that a) I had to stop talking about it and BE about it and b) nothing was going to grow if I didn’t clear the space for them to do so. Change is extremely difficult for me, so stepping out of my comfort zone has been an uncomfortable process. However, I believe so earnestly in the promise of the things I’m working towards that sacrificing my comfort is a necessary move.

Last year, my goal was simply to get through the day. Balancing my first year of being a working mom took a lot out of me, but set me up for this year – where I’m back to having goals, benchmarks, and renewed ideas of what success looks like to me. I have big plans, and now I have the space to execute them. This year, I’m not just saying yes. I’m saying, oh, HELL yes.

What is one thing you can let go of to make room for what you want or need in life?

BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT: Moving Past 2015

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Exhale.

It’s after midnight on December 31st, officially making it the last day of the year – and all I can think to do is exhale.

I didn’t even realize that holding my breath had become a habit until recently. While working on my vision board for 2016 and reviewing what 2015 was for me, I caught myself holding my breath. A lot. It didn’t take much for me to hypothesize that that was my psychosomatic response both in anticipation of what’s to come, and in reaction to what had already come to pass. I flinch and hold my breath when I think about what 2015 was. I hold my breath and pray when I think about what I hope 2016 will be.

I had some wins in 2015, but if I’m being honest about this past year, it was simply about keeping my head above water. This year I juggled the most balls I’ve ever juggled, so it’s no surprise to me that I didn’t feel like I progressed as far as I would have wanted – I was too busy standing in one spot, trying to keep all the balls in the air. I grew and I learned a lot, but didn’t move forward in a way that signifies a level of success for me – so while this year wasn’t terrible (asking myself “But did you (or anyone you love) die though?” helps keep things in perspective), it wasn’t one of my best.

I hold my breath when I’m nervous. Or when I’m panicky and overwhelmed. Or when I’m happy and excited (and sometimes subconsciously expecting something bad to happen next). I held my breath when I walked back into work for my first day after mat leave, and when I was about to film a segment for a TV show, and when I awaited news to see if I earned a fellowship position (that I didn’t get). I held my breath when Little Magician took her first steps, and when I stood up for myself in ways I never imagined I would have. There were good moments and great moments – but when I looked back at my resolutions for 2015 and saw that very few of them came to pass, I realized that I failed to breathe life into my year.

Moving into 2016, I plan to hold my breath less and breathe more. I want to inspire and be inspired, and those very words aren’t possible without the intimation of breathing. I want to keep growing, but also progress in life – so those balls I’m juggling? I have to graduate from standing in one spot and watching myself toss and catch them, to learning how to keep them in the air while looking and moving forward.

Here’s to the year that was and the year that will be. And if nothing else, I’ll remember to breathe.

TRUTH SEEK: Black Girls, Natural Hair, & The Cost Of Believing Lies We’ve Been Told

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After wearing my hair naturally for years, writing about natural hair, and producing events aimed at the celebration of natural hair, I try to remember to approach conversations from various perspectives. For every woman who is comfortable rocking her Afro puff in the boardroom, there are 3 more Googling “natural hair transitioning” while twirling relaxed locks around their fingers. Natural-haired women sometimes say to me, “We’re over asking ‘Can you be sexy/professional with natural hair’! It’s time to move on!” While I hear that, I acknowledge that we aren’t all at the same place in this discussion. That disparity is never more apparent to me than when I hear a flagrantly ignorant comment or the report of some egregious occurrence where someone simply dared to wear their hair with its natural texture. One of those occurrences was recently brought to my attention.

A Facebook status made the rounds this weekend, where a woman in Toronto named Kaysie wrote about her niece. After recently having her hair done in a crochet braid style, her niece was chastised by her middle school principal who first gave her a hair tie and told her to “do something about her hair,” then kept her in the office, telling her that her hair was “too poofy,” “unprofessional,” and that “if she were working in a store, no one would buy anything from her.”

After a news story revealed that the principal was herself a Black woman, the reporter asked the women in the salon she reported out of “Does that make a difference?” On the surface, sure – but the root cause of the principal’s comments and the reason why she felt empowered in humiliating this young girl is more common than we think. Anti-Blackness and the reverence of European beauty ideals are themes that infiltrate the minds of many, regardless of race. It’s why we have people the world over bleaching their skin. It’s why we have fashion marketing campaigns choosing White models in order to “convey a positive image.” And it’s why we have Black women denigrating young Black girls who are proudly wearing their hair in natural styles.

Colonialism did a number on Black people and other people of colour across the globe, and its effects can still be felt throughout the diaspora today. When I decided to wear my hair naturally, some of my biggest detractors were older Black Caribbean and African women, who couldn’t fathom why I would choose to run more towards my Blackness than away from it. I am still working to help family members divest from the mental weight of carrying that kind of self-loathing with them, most motivated by comments I’ve already fielded about Little Magician’s hair. Though I’ve been natural for years and love to cloak myself in the bubble I’ve built with friends and acquaintances who love and accept natural hair like I do, I will never forget that there are people – many people – like this principal who feel otherwise.

The same anti-Blackness and European veneration I mentioned before are what leads people to incorrectly believe that natural hair is unprofessional, ugly, wild, or a distraction. It’s what enables discussion to swirl around the fact that hair is not part of this particular school’s dress code, making me believe that this case may create an unnecessary conversation. When a Black girl’s hair is up for debate, even the slightest attempt to find a way to regulate it (in this instance through school dress code, which often only reinforces Eurocentric standards) gives me serious pause. It’s what sets us – I’m speaking to Black girls and women specifically here – up for failure, constantly chasing an ideal that doesn’t belong to us because someone made us falsely believe it was the path to a better/easier life.

I pity the principal of Amesbury Middle School and the fact that she is so dedicated to this fallacy. However, the person I am most concerned about is the child that remains in the midst of this mess. We still have the reminder that there are people entrusted with taking care of our children and shaping their hearts, minds, and souls for the future, but we must remain vigilant and always be our children’s fiercest advocates. We still have a Black girl who needs to remember that she is magic, even if others can’t recognize her sparkle. We still have much work to do with those among us who believe the lies we’ve been told about ourselves, and we always need to remember to work internally to ensure we aren’t perpetuating those falsehoods consciously or unconsciously.

I don’t know what will come of future discussions and interactions between this young girl, her family, and the principal. What I do know is I hope this girl remains uplifted by her loved ones, remains confident (or regains her confidence) in her natural beauty, and continues to side-step the lies while walking in her truth. 

CHANGING SEASONS: The Art of Letting Things Go

protect passions

When I started writing this post, I searched “letting things go” on my blog to make sure I hadn’t used the title before.

It felt like something I’ve felt before – and if it’s something I’ve felt before, I’ve probably said it before. And if I’ve said it before, I’ve surely written it before, so my thoughts were that I’d be repeating a sentiment with this piece.

The good news? I hadn’t used those three words in a previous blog post title. The not-so-good news? I’ve definitely expressed this sentiment before: here, here, and here.

I had a bit of a breakdown recently, where I tearfully admitted that “Nothing feels fun anymore.” This blog has led to an incredible amount of awesome opportunities doing things that I’ve really enjoyed. Sure, there have been downsides to it too – chasing freelance publications for monies owed, uncomfortable clashes between online/offline life, battling my own insecurities and imposter syndrome symptoms – but even the crappy moments have become wonderful teachable moments that may not have felt great, but served important purpose. The major lesson I’m learning now is that I’ve hit a wall, and instead of trying to find my way under/over/through it, I need to just sit there for a while with my back against its firmness, and just…be.

At my annual physical, my doctor noted that some of my bloodwork results looked a bit off, and sent me back for a do-over. I’m awaiting those results now, but made the poor decision to find my way down a rabbit hole of WebMD and Mayo Clinic websites, getting more stressed and worried with every click. I’m sure that – as has always been the case – I’m fine, and the majority of my concerns are related to stress that I don’t manage well. In those posts I mentioned before, I’m sure I acknowledged my issues with control, stress, worry, taking on too much, not finding a good balance or taking a break when needed, but I clearly didn’t do a good job of remedying them. I feel like this is the moment where I need to really work on those things and find a way to a healthier and happier me, and I need to be serious about it this time.

I always start out excited about things. Sometimes I’m giddy and passionate about an idea I’ve come up with, or I’m honoured to be approached by someone else who wants to work with me. Sometimes I see a posting for an opportunity that I know I’d be perfect for. Other times I say yes to something because of what I hope it will lead to. The FOMO (fear of missing out) hit me not as a fear of missing out on social media, but a fear of missing out on some incredible opportunity. I’d say “yes” then find myself in the midst of emails and meetings and drafts and rehearsals and busyness with nothing but good intention, ready to grow as a multi-faceted person who’s aware that she’s cultivating a personal brand at the same time. Some of the things I was excited about recently have left me feeling anything but. Chasing entities for thousands of dollars owed, being asked to work for compensation below my worth, consistently showing up for others and noting that reciprocity isn’t in everyone’s vocabulary – these things have been draining me lately, but I’ve kept pressing on.  Other things I remain excited about, but I feel burned out to the point where I have nothing left to give them right now. I miss things like Sunday mornings before anyone else is awake – just me, a cup of tea, and my blog. I miss feeling like I’m not always behind or chasing an ever-lengthening to-do list. I miss taking the time to enjoy life and be inspired by it. The work is fun until it’s not – and it happens so rarely that when I feel it as strongly as I do now, I need to heed the message.

All of the things I do are supposed to compliment each other and give me outlets that other parts of my life don’t provide. When my outlets start feeling like burdens, it’s the most frustrating thing – where do you turn next? During a Twitter chat about making your side hustle a full-time entrepreneurial pursuit, I tweeted that it was crucial to protect your passions – just because your passion becomes your full-time gig, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever end up disillusioned by it like any other job. My passions need to be protected right now. My health needs to be protected right now. My desire to be and do and create needs to be protected right now. All of these things need to be tended to, cared for, nurtured back to a place of fruitfulness and rejuvenation, otherwise nothing that I am or do will ever be where I want and need it to be.

It’s a new season, and we always joke about the cold weather being our sign that it’s time to make like bears and hibernate from the social scene. Instead of thinking of it as hibernation, I’ll take my cue from the trees. There’s something beautiful about the way trees shift, change, and let go, taking time to be still before flourishing again. Maybe that’s what I need. Maybe that’s what more of us need. There’s much to be said about the doing of life, but none of us can afford to miss out on the being. This is the season to pick and choose; to be careful and intentional about what I do and how I do it. I’m sure that soon enough the balance, inspiration, passion, and fun will all return for me, and until then, I’ll just take my time.

HOT EVENT: Mirror Images: The Culture Of Digital Content Creation

MI2015 - flyer

My eyes were opened when I read this literacy study, showing that girls were drawn to digital media while boys preferred print. I was even more intrigued when I read further and learned that Black girls read the most out of any other ethnic group captured in the study, comprised of 32,000 students at 130 schools in the UK. I was a girl who loved to read and write. I’m now a grown woman who primarily utilizes digital media for communication. Children today are growing up in the digital age, and I can’t help but wonder what the future (both near and distant) will hold for this medium. With those thoughts in mind, my next Mirror Images event was born.

On Sunday, September 27th, I’ll be hosting my 2nd Mirror Images event, called Mirror Images: The Culture Of Digital Content Creation. After last year’s awesome inaugural event, I knew I’d be back with another topic to delve into – and I’m really excited about this one.

After reading stats like the aforementioned girls in digital media, and breaking news about the rising rates of entrepreneurship among women, I was attracted to the idea of talking with women who have their hands in one or both of those areas – women who are digital content creators, who have expanded into entrepreneurship, and who have done the research to understand how women – particularly women of colour – are utilizing digital media in unique ways. As a blogger and freelance writer, I constantly engage in conversations about digital media online, but with Mirror Images, we’re taking the discussion live and direct!

I’ll be moderating a lively talk with the group, while representing the blogging/freelance writing side of digital content creation. My incredible panelists include:

Emily Mills: A mom, wife, full-time media professional, and creator of How She Hustles, a network for women. With solely a social media presence – no website or money spent on advertising – Emily has turned her online network into one that thrives offline, consistently selling out her How She Hustles live events.

Nehal El-Hadi: A writer, researcher, media producer, and doctoral candidate in Planning at the University of Toronto, where she’s studying how women of colour engage online through social media.

Sajae Elder: A graduate of Humber College’s Journalism School, Sajae is a digital content producer with a passion for hip hop, film, and cultural identity. Currently, she’s a freelance writer, social media manager, and segment producer of the wildly popular podcast, Gyalcast.

Rochelle Brown: One of Canada’s most popular vloggers, Rochelle is the mastermind behind Crazylightskingirl on YouTube. After vlogging for just one year, Rochelle’s following has surpassed 110,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 64,000 followers on Instagram.

Dope lineup, right? I thought so. My sponsors SoulAfrodisiac and RFlavour are also helping to make this entire event pop.

If you’ve ever wondered about one or more of the following, raise your hand:

How do you start out in digital content creation, and how do you find your niche in what seems like an oversaturated area?

What’s the trick behind turning an online audience into a live one? 

How can digital content creation become an entrepreneurial income stream? 

What is the best way to capture – and keep – an audience or online following?

What are the top social media applications, and how can you use them to share content or build business?

In what ways are women – and women of colour – utilizing digital media uniquely?

To get the answers to these questions and more, take that raised hand and click here to buy your ticket for Mirror Images!

There will be mix and mingling time. There will be an interactive talk with my panelists, moderated by yours truly. There will be a Q&A session for you to delve deeper into some of the themes and topics that arise. Come to connect offline, and leave with ways to improve online!

Here are the details:

When: Sunday, September 27th at 2-6pm

Where: The United Steelworkers Hall – 25 Cecil Street (near College and Spadina – free parking at rear, and wheelchair accessible)

How much? $15 earlybird tickets available at http://mirrorimages.ticketleap.com/digital/ (but not for long! Prices rising soon!)

Questions? Want to be a sponsor? Media inquiries? Get in touch with me.

My 1st Mirror Images event was a great success, and I’m looking forward to the same on September 27th – one month to go! I hope to see you there, where we can connect, learn, and grow together!

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