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RACE IN CANADA: Where American Media Went Wrong With Justin Bieber

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Being a Canadian blogger/writer with a majority American readership, I sometimes struggle to balance topics that I’m genuinely passionate about with those that will resonate with the lovely people who read my words.

I feel at times that the voices and experiences of Black Canadians get lost in the roar of our cousins to the south. Working to uncover our own histories and cementing our own identities is hard enough – we’re either sucked into the cultural vortex (i.e., being called “African-American” by Whites, which they think is PC but we know is geographically incorrect), or our experiences are negated because we live in ‘Canada’ – a land whose name has apparently come to mean “blessed nirvana where social ills cease to exist.”

The latter was all too apparent this week, as Justin Bieber – or La Bieba, as I like to call him – was seen on two leaked tapes (the first, and the second) dating 5-6 years in the past, referencing “niggers” and singing about joining the KKK.

Rocsi Diaz (of Entertainment Tonight) said that La Bieba “didn’t know better because he’s Canadian,” and granted him a pass.

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Whoopi Goldberg (of The View) tweeted that “Canada didn’t have the same history” with the word as America, and granted him a pass.

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Don Lemon (of CNN) wrote about his soul-burning question - “Are we to blame?” (before editing the original title) – asking if African-Americans and AA culture was the cause of La Bieba’s ignorance, and gave him a pass.

If it wasn’t enraging enough that these media figures were finding ways to paint La Bieba as a poor victim of circumstance or an unaware patsy, they did it while simultaneously minimizing or ignoring what I feel is the true grievance – the prevalence of racism in Canada.

Allow me to enlighten you all in simple terms.

I am a Black woman.

I was born and raised, and still live in Canada.

I spent my first 23 years of life in a small town very close to the smaller town La Bieba is from.

And lastly – get ready to clutch your pearls – racism is alive in Canada. Don’t let our Olivia Pope-level (seasons 1 & 2, not 3) PR fool you.

Covert and overt racism exist here. From being hit with bananas thrown at me from passing cars as I walked to school, to having teachers keep me separate from classmates because their parents didn’t want us fraternizing, to being followed in stores like a thief or outright ignored due to my perceived lack of finances, to most recently when my physical space was violated and both myself and my unborn child were called niggers – I’d love the Rocsis and Whoopis of the world to recognize our reality.

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Visiting my father’s friends – migrant farm workers – who lived in the country surrounding my and Justin’s hometowns, I distinctly recall having to leave before sundown to avoid “trouble.” Ku Klux Klan activity was known and accepted around my town, and it was commonplace to hear young White children holler “Nigger!” from their front yards as Blacks passed by, to the delight and pride of their parents. I see La Bieba in the same light as these children from my past – absorbing learned behaviours and sustaining those lessons as they move through life. To the Don Lemons of the world, please understand that for many of these children, hip hop and African-American culture were not their introduction to racist terms. The red carpet to that entranceway was rolled out by families and communities who instilled in them the ideologies of racism, White privilege, and Black inferiority, long before a sing-along to Jigga My Nigga or connections with YMCMB gave them any level of permission.

Canada’s spectacular PR team laid out the most delicious of cookies and Kool-Aid, and people like Rocsi, Whoopi, and Don took the bait. Canada is not populated by unsuspecting yokels who sing Kumbaya with their multicultural neighbours. Canada is not a place lacking in its own ugly, painful history (and present, to be honest) of disastrous race relations. Canada is not an idyllic oasis that can solely blame the American influence for the soils and stains on its pristine image. Canada is a place where the intent and emotional effect of hurling racial slurs is the same as it is in America, and it is a place where there is no room for the excuse, “He didn’t know any better.”

To Rocsi, Whoopi, and Don: I hope this helps straighten things out.

Signed,

Your neighbour to the north

THE GAP: Where Are The Black Canadian Mommy Bloggers?

Photo via Huffington Post

Photo via Huffington Post

With Little Magician about to make his or her grand entrance in just a few weeks (where the hell did time go?), I’ve been spending more time online – getting info on Braxton Hicks contractions, finding prenatal yoga videos on YouTube, and sticking my toe into the unfamiliar waters of mommy blogging. Up until now, reading parenting blogs was done with an air of general interest and curiosity, but these days I find myself more drawn to the words and experiences of other moms in the digital sphere.

Sites like My Brown Baby, Mater Mea, Baby And Blog, and Black And Married With Kids have given me awesome insight to the complexities of modern African-American parenthood – but that’s part of my current conundrum. I’m not African-American.

Searching for parenting blogs by Black Canadians has been extremely difficult. On lists like Savvy Mom’s 75 Most Influential Canadian Mom Blogs, Yummy Mummy Club’s 24 Mom Blogs You Should Be Reading, and Reader’s Digest’s list of Canada’s Top 10 Mommy Bloggers, I could only readily identify 2 blogs by Black moms – Peg City Lovely and Globetrotting Mama. I haz a sad.

Visiting the aforementioned African-American blogs often makes me feel like I’m at a summer BBQ with the people who “get” me – those Black moms (and dads) who are navigating the ups and downs of raising Black children in today’s world. However, every once in a while, a post here or there will remind me that I don’t quite fit – like that distant cousin who brings the questionable potato salad to the festivities. Simply put, the African-American experience doesn’t always resonate with my African-Canadian one, and I yearn to balance that with digital offerings this side of the border. That’s proving to be quite difficult, though.

I attended a Canadian blogging conference a year and a half ago, and found that mommy bloggers rule the world up here. I met one Chinese-Canadian mommy blogger and one Sri Lankan-Canadian mommy blogger, but aside from them, the rest were White. Now, I know that that was just my finding at one random conference, but Google searches and requests for referrals from others have yielded very similar results.

Where are the Black Canadian mommy bloggers? Where are the mommy bloggers to discuss how provincial government cuts affect the statistics around Black children and education? Where are the mommy bloggers that have the scoop on cultural programs and events in the city? Where are the mommy bloggers who’ll write about the first time they introduced their babies to cornmeal porridge, yam and fried dumplin? I understand and acknowledge that there are a multitude of motherhood topics that transcend race, but damn – sometimes I want to read about the experiences of parents who more closely share my cultural identity.

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I was having a conversation about this with another mother of colour, and she stated that she’d love to start a mommy blog, but wanted it to be just that – a mommy blog, not a Black Canadian mommy blog. Concerns about alienating potential readers and brand partnerships were at the top of her list – “You’ve got to be careful not to make things too Black up here – I don’t know if people are ready for that,” she said. My response was, “What is ‘too Black’? And how will people ‘get ready’ for us if we don’t make our presence known?” Similarly to people who think that racism will go away when Black people stop talking about race, I feel that Canadians think we’ll truly embody our happy multicultural identity when we stop drawing so much overt attention to our multiculturalism. I could go down a rabbit hole on thoughts around diversity, representation, appealing to the mainstream, access to business partnerships and much more (both within and outside of the digital sphere), but I’ll hold off – for now. All I know is, if I can visit a Canadian mommy blog and be intrigued by a kids’ DIY featuring a Scottish family crest and tartan, why can’t someone visit another Canadian mommy blog and be intrigued by a recipe for a healthy kids’ snack using ackee and saltfish? As a Black Canadian woman, I’m inspired by things totally unrelated to my culture all the time. We do ourselves a disservice when we place a label of normalcy on one cultural offering, and assume that our offering is too different to be accepted – leading us to seek acceptance by assimilation. You (yes, you, reader!) may disagree with me, but I don’t think that should be the blueprint. And if I choose do go down that mommy blogger road, I don’t think it’ll be mine.

Ah, yes. If I choose to go down that mommy blogger road. While searching the web for that particular blog niche, a familiar voice popped up in the back of my head saying, “Be the thing you’re looking for.” Many of the goals I’ve accomplished and risks I’ve taken have all happened because I started out wondering when someone else was going to do them – and this mommy blogger thing might be the next task on that list. Now, I haven’t fully committed myself to the idea or conceptualized what it may look like, but I do know that the best things come to me when I identify a gap and fill it myself. As ’83 To Infinity is already my digital comfy couch, it’s a given that I’ll be posting about the journeys with my Little Magician from time to time – but how far do I want to take it? Until I figure that out, I’ll continue to dabble in the digital offerings on both sides of the border and beyond, and see what other mommies have to say. I’m sure I’ll add my own voice in my own way soon enough.

Who are your favourite mommy/parenting blogs? I’d love to check them out! 

COZY BLANKETS: The Curious Connection Between Baby Girls & Our Comfort With Misogyny

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So, I’m rounding the final curve of this pregnancy run, and the experience thus far has been extremely positive. It hasn’t been a complete walk in the park, but I think I’ve handled the changes much better than I ever expected I would. In about 9 weeks, I’ll finally be able to answer the question that so many people seem so fixated on:

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

Interestingly enough, quite a number of people have no qualms about following up with “I hope it’s a boy – girls are (insert negative attribute here).” If there’s one thing that pregnancy has opened my eyes to, it’s been the ways in which we “innocently” uphold misogyny in 2014.

I can’t help but feel that we set our girls up to fail before they even take their first breath. While many mothers playfully ascribe to the old wives’ tale that ‘girls steal your beauty,’ I often hear a bit too much bitter disdain in the voices of moms who believe the statement. On some level, no matter how minute – baby girls suddenly become the enemy. Catch me on a good day, and I’ll undoubtedly hear the commentary that I must be having a boy – that glow! that hair! – eliminating any threat that a baby girl would pose to my vanity.

Aside from the patriarchal messaging around boys being better protectors and having the power to maintain the family name, people seem quite comfortable with embracing misogyny – consciously or unconsciously.

“Girls are always spoiled – they’re too much trouble.”

“Girls these days are too fast.”

“Trust me – you don’t want no girl bringing home no babies in high school!”

Whatever the statement, we suddenly blame girls for qualities that we place upon them; circumstances that are far too often misconstrued by adult assumption; situations that require the equal participation of someone’s son, but places sole blame on someone’s daughter. Let some people tell it, my potential daughter will come into this world naturally primed to be a spoiled, promiscuous slut – but of course, no one means it that way, right?

Curiously, the majority of people I find making these kinds of comments are other women. As women, we somewhat curse ourselves when we curse our baby girls, don’t we? Perhaps we’ve been blamed, chided, knocked down a peg. Perhaps we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that this is just the way things are. Perhaps in some strange way, we feel we’re preparing our girls for a world that largely works against them by speaking these things over them. All this tells me is that patriarchy and misogyny have become such cozy blankets that we don’t realize when we’re suffocating under them.

From the comfort of our homes in the Western world, we often sip iced tea on our front porches and suck our teeth at the barbaric behavior of our neighbors over there. Girls aborted, abandoned, abducted, raped, and killed – and we wonder, how can people treat precious children that way? How can they not see their worth? While my experiences here in Toronto may not reflect the brutal realities that girls and women face in other parts of the world, I often wonder the same: when we speak negatively about our baby girls, when we burden them before they’re born, when we accept their position as second-class citizens and perpetuate the notion without question – how can we treat precious children that way? How can we not see their worth?

To the friends, elders, and complete strangers who have expressed some level of concern with the possibility of Little Magician being born female, know these two things. One: raising ANY child (especially a child of colour) today comes with challenges that we’ll have to weather, regardless of said child’s sex. Boys and girls have their unique lessons and obstacles, but as a first-time mom, I hardly look at either being easier than the other. Two: as a proud woman who was an awesome little girl, I won’t be complicit in negating my existence by cosigning your misogyny. Wake up, throw off those cozy blankets, and realize that upholding misogynistic and patriarchal ideals stifles both our girls and boys. Deconstruct, unlearn, and let’s help them to flourish, not fail.

TRAVELLING GAL: Journeying To Face Fear [+ Hot Event Giveaway]

Bee-Chimamanda quote
I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Over the last year and a bit, I’ve been doing a lot of travelling. Not necessarily the kind of travelling that finds me packing bags and booking flights and arriving to stretch my limbs on the soils of new lands, but the kind of travel Chimamanda spoke about. I’ve made a concerted effort to face a number of my fears, and I’m proud that say that that journey has afforded me the ability to return home and find myself – a new and improved version – there.

One of the biggest fears I’ve had to overcome has been my fear of public speaking, and within that, my fear of voicing my opinion. Though I went to a performing arts school in my childhood, I rarely felt comfortable with the spotlight on me. I preferred to express my art in quieter ways, so writing and visual art became my close confidants. As I’ve mentioned time and time again on this blog and in other spheres, I’ve always loved writing – but I think writing became a crutch for me to express myself when I felt my spoken words were lacking. When it came to vocalizing my opinion on a topic, I found that extremely difficult as well. I was afraid of sounding stupid, of having people disagree with me, or of having people simply not understand what I was trying to say. The frustrating thing was that I wanted to be a performer. I wanted to embrace the spotlight. I wanted to engage in debate and be confident in my stance – I just…couldn’t. These fears lasted well past childhood and have followed me into my adult life.

A couple of years ago, I decided to pack up my mental/emotional baggage and take a trip that would force me to confront my fears head on. That journey was called the “Just Do It Like Nike World Tour” and the premise was simple. To go from place to place, I’d have to get there by doing the things that scared the sh*t out of me. That was the only way. And so I did. Public speaking opportunities? I took ‘em. Chances to respond clearly when someone asked me my opinion on a topic? I embraced ‘em. I made myself promise not to shy away from anything that scared me, and listen – I have grown.

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This coming Saturday, I continue the JDILNWT as I co-host The R&B: Relationships & Bullsh*t Show Live at Trio Lounge with my homie Lincoln Anthony Blades. This is the 3rd installment of our conversation party about, well, relationships and bullsh*t, and it’s been a big part of my personal journey. Standing up in front of a room of hundreds of people, cohesively managing a crowd, hosting an event, and sharing my thoughts on everything from sexual taboos to monogamy and cheating? Bee of Days Past must be in a parallel universe, watching this unfold as she chews her lip out of stress – but 2014 Bee is doing it. This time, we’ll be discussing the question “Are People In Toronto Still Interested In Serious Relationships & Marriage, Or Do We All Just Want Casual Sex?!” and guess what – as I typed this very post, I got word from Lincoln that the show is SOLD OUT. If you’re one of the lucky folk who grabbed their ticket early, I can’t wait to see you out – and just know that I appreciate your role in this journey of mine.
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Never fear – I’m part of another amazing event coming up in Toronto on May 4th at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club, and you could win a ticket! Last year, I took a HUGE leap by co-hosting Stacy-Ann Buchanan’s fashion and art show called The Mystic Effect, and this year I’ll be back in the role of Social Media Correspondent! The Mystic Effect intertwines fashion with music, poetry, dance, and film, and this year will be incredible. If you aren’t able to attend, make sure you’re following me on Twitter and Instagram at @BeeSince83 and follow the hashtag #themysticeffect for all the show details! However – if you’re in Toronto and want to attend, I’ve got the hook-up:

 To win a ticket to The Mystic Effect on May 4th (doors open at 4pm, show starts at 5pm), simply tell me about one fear you’ve overcome. Comment below, tweet me, comment on my Facebook, or email me – any way you wish! I’ll pick one winner on Tuesday, April 29th!

Good luck to all entering the ticket giveaway, and good luck to any and everyone who is working on challenging their fears. May we all travel along that journey and come back home to find ourselves, stronger, better, and more fearless!

CATHARSIS: Caught Up In The Rapture Of Life’s Transitions

I'm trying to be her.

I’m trying to be her.

Truth moment: lately, I’ve been feeling totally, completely, and utterly off. I’m talking disjointed from reality, swirling around in the after-effects of the worst planetary retrograde ever, frustrated with nearly anything breathing or inanimate, and living under the unrelenting stare of grown-up decisions waiting to be made. I’ve been feeling like I’m pushing against a force that refuses to let up and let me be great – and I just really want to be great, dammit.

I’ve at least identified that force, which I guess is half the battle, right? Change. That’s the beast I’m up against, and it’s putting up a hell of a fight.

There’s the most apparent one, which is Little Magician’s rapidly advancing “Hey, world! Here I am!” date. At 26 weeks, I’ve shifted from counting up to milestones and find myself counting down to the biggest one yet. With less than 100 days to go, the realness of the situation is hitting me in a brand new way, and I feel fully unprepared. Are we moving? Have I registered for the shower yet? Am I up on the latest and greatest must-haves for the baby? Do I even know what I want to name this child? Every day, my to-do list multiplies.

I’m in the throes of the biggest transition period of my life, and while Little Magician is a catalyst to that, he or she isn’t fully to blame. I’ve been blessed to receive some incredible opportunities this year that have me viewing myself and my world in entirely new ways. Solidifying some excellent freelance writing partnerships; flexing my developing public speaking muscles with workshop facilitation, event hosting, and TV appearances; and being urged to embrace my entrepreneurial side by HomieLuva all have me looking at my reflection in the mirror, almost able to see my cells and molecules shifting and taking new shape under my skin. I’m becoming a new woman with new skills and new possibilities at my fingertips, and the biggest question that comes to mind is, “So, whatchu gon’ do with it all?”

One thing I’ve unfortunately learned NOT to do is talk to certain folks about my plans, fears, goals, and ideas. I was listening to Jay Electronica and Jay Z’s “We Made It” remix and heard a line from the show Eastbound & Down that made me pause:

Kinda makes me wonder why the hell so many people are tryna tell me to slow down. Seems like motherf*ckers should be shutting the hell up and enjoying the show.

Slowing down is something I’ve heard over and over – either in being told I should “slow down” now, or tinged with the salt of a snide chuckle when someone tells me I’ll be “forced” to “slow down” later.

Instead of slowing down, this transition period has me wanting to ramp up speed. There are many who don’t understand my excitement at melding my existences as mother/entrepreneur/woman, and instead try to discourage. Some of the discouragement comes from a place of genuine concern: “I just don’t want you to be disappointed if you can’t do all of the things you want to do,” they say. Others come from a place that’s easily perceived by me as bitterness: “Well, when I had MY child, I couldn’t do ANYTHING!” they say. 

Life transitions come with the possibility of disappointment and your high hopes crumbling and having to switch directions at a moments’ notice. Life transitions are also deeply personal and no two journeys are the same. I know this. I just wish more people would be cognizant of that fact before trying to save or stifle me.

Who knows what I’ll think or feel in the next 3 months/6 months/1 year – maybe I’ll realize that I was totally naive in my aspirations – but for now, I’m combating my fears of the unknown by holding on to my hopes, dreams, and goals. I can rest, but I can’t slow down. I can be realistic, but I can’t be pessimistic. I can get caught up in self-doubt, but I cannot afford to stay stuck there. Housing twice the life in one body has granted me my second wind in life, and has motivated me to live twice as fully going forward. So, slowing down? Not an option. I’m just getting started, so shut up and enjoy the show.

REMOVING THE BLINDERS: When You Realize Your Parents Are People

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Sometimes I marvel at how much I learn by keeping my mouth shut and just observing.

I thought I had my parents figured out by my teen years. I had both their personalities pegged; I could tell you what they’d each laugh at, how far I’d be able to push it with each one, what key words to use with whom, and what their respective consistencies and limitations were. It’s only recently that I’ve learned just how wrong I was – well, maybe not wrong, just premature. I now liken my parents to excavation sites – what you hit near the surface is usually only a glimpse at the treasures you’ll find if you just keep digging.

Lately, my new found observational skills have enabled me to soak up some new lessons from my mother, and they couldn’t come at a better time.

One day, my mother and I sat in a park in my hometown, and she opened up to me about parts of her life – both blissful and painful- that I had no clue about. This was when I first started to recognize the excavation site that was my mom – and when we walked away from our park bench, the woman standing beside me seemed so familiar and yet so different. I was just like her and nothing like her at the same time, and I knew that investigating the various parts of her would teach me so much about myself. I couldn’t have been more right. 

My mother is a true Virgo. Exact, critical, and sensitive, she’s hard and soft at the same time. When life gave her lemons, she persevered by using superhuman strength to pulverize those suckers into sweet lemonade. I’ve never thought I was as strong as her. It was easy to take her strength for granted until the tides turned and she was brought to tears by an offhand comment or tough love from someone close to her. I’ve never thought I was as sensitive as her. With Black women being constantly prided, upheld, and revered for their strength, we often forget about the underlying strength in vulnerability. We expect Black women to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and turn a setback into a setup for a comeback – and my mother is a master at this. However, her openness to be vulnerable and sensitive reminds me of the human essence of Black women. Sometimes this focus on Black women’s strength hurts us; the world believes we can shoulder more and more and more, rarely stopping to see if we’re OK or if we can manage – because, hey! We’re always OK! We can always manage! My mother’s ability to wear her emotions on her sleeve has taught me just as much about strength as her ability to endure life’s struggles. Her hard and soft parts make sense to me in a way they never did before. MC Lyte said it first, but my mother is the living, breathing icon:

Do you understand
The metaphoric phrase ‘Lyte as a rock?’
It’s explainin’ how heavy the young lady is

When it comes to being brave and taking risks, no one does it quite like my mom. Stepping out on her own with 3 kids to raise after leaving a marriage that wasn’t serving her? She did it. Daring to fall in love again and risking possible heartbreak? She’s done it. Choosing to challenge herself with a new job after 20+ years of comfort and familiarity? She’s doing it. My mom may not skydive or bungee jump, but quietly watching her take these life-altering risks and express sincere bravery at being OK no matter what makes me proud to be cut from a part of her cloth.

If my mother’s cloth is a quilt, one of the patches would read “Boss.” Much debate has ensued over the word “bossy” and what it means for young girls and women since Sheryl Sandberg launched her  new #BanBossy campaign – but as shy as I’ve been for the majority of my life (I can see y’all who know me now rolling your eyes!), being called “bossy” was never something I really had to contend with. In recent years, I’d like to believe that I’ve grown in my boss-ness, and that is definitely due to my mother. Her flavour of bossin’ up has never been related to power grabs and lording over others – instead, it’s rooted in knowing your shit, being assertive, and not allowing anyone else to walk over you. It took me a few years (read: a couple decades) to get comfortable with exercising these tenets, but now that I’ve started, I’m not prepared to stop. I think that part of her legacy is embedded in this – she never sounds more proud than when I’ve proven to a non-believer that I knew my shit, or when I’ve stood up for myself, or when I’ve stiff-armed an attempt by someone else to railroad me. The more she encourages, the more I know I can develop this boss muscle that I was given in birthright. I see now that the best way to honour her is to honour myself.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to see my parents in a new light. The blinders that block you from realizing that your parents are actually people serve to protect you when needed, but must be removed at some point. Little by little, those blinders have been lifted, and I welcome the light.

REFLECT: External Expressions of Internal Insecurities

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This past Saturday, I attended a wonderful event here in Toronto called A Celebration of Curls II hosted by Shakara Natural Tips. Approximately 200 beautiful women mixed and mingled in between talks from popular natural hair YouTuber Jeré Reid and celebrity natural hair stylist Felicia Leatherwood. It was a great afternoon – I got to (re)connect with fellow bloggers, laugh with friends, meet some ’83 To Infinity readers (more on that later), and take in some awesome information from the two guest speakers. While both women gave great tips on maintenance, styling, and hair health, I was particularly drawn to the below-the-surface discussions around the psychology of our hair. Whether on a personal or client level, both women spoke to the underlying issues around self-acceptance and recognizing/unlearning negative tropes of destructive behaviours in relation to our hair and hair choices.

An audience member asked Felicia to briefly speak on her “hair journey.” Currently sporting a hot short blonde cut, Felicia told us how her decision to cut her hair manifested through an internal review of what was happening in her life. The need to let go of a number of things became apparent, and letting go of her hair became part of that symbolism. She also recounted stories of clients who were “hair obsessed” – booking appointments on a weekly basis to try one style, then a completely different style, then yet another style. “Usually when that happens, there’s something else going on,” said Felicia. That made me think about my own hair psychology, and on a greater basis – how my own internal challenges manifest themselves in the external.

I live somewhat by the reminder to “look good, feel good, live good.” The women in my family have always reveled in their feminine charms, so I grew up with a mother, grandmother, and aunts (including one whose nickname is “Beauty”) who took pride in their appearances. Hell – even my father was (and still is) meticulous in his appearance, so the principle of being properly put together (how’s that for alliteration?) was ever-present. I played in my mom’s closet and dresser drawers often – trying on gowns and shoes, spritzing myself with perfumes, painting fingers and toes with red and pink and gold polishes. I don’t feel I had an unhealthy attachment to physical presentation, but I was always taught that it was important – then was shooed away to do homework or read a book.

As an adult I still maintain pride in my appearance, but I can admittedly see where the “look good” portion of my equation may at times be a crutch for failing on the “feeling” and “living” parts. When I first cut my hair and started rocking my natural kinks and curls, I felt self-conscious. My identity as the long, thick haired Black girl who didn’t rock weaves because “oh – your dad is mixed, right?” was gone. I couldn’t swing a swoop bang over that errant pimple on my forehead. I didn’t have much up top for my boo to stroke as I laid my head on his lap. I tried to wear an air of confidence in my decision, even as I debated if I made the right move. I soon realized that I was dedicated to this new self-expression, but while I knew I couldn’t do much with the close-cropped curls on my head, I became hyper-critical of everything else. My skin. My makeup. My body. My clothes. My insecurities didn’t lead me to become hair-obsessed, but I obsessed over the rest. I’m not sure when that dissipated and evened out – eventually it just did, and that storm of self-critique calmed.

Recently, HomieLuva half-jokingly called me a “snob.” I can’t remember if it was because I spent entirely too long getting ready for a night out, or if it was because I looked in my closet, sighed from the pits of my belly and proclaimed “None of this will do!” or if it was because his lowkey self just didn’t understand the necessity of my particular brand of self-maintenance. When he called me a snob, I glared at him and asked “Why? Because I want to look good? Is there something wrong with looking good? Listen – my mama taught me to never leave the house -” His laughter cut me off. “Calm down,” he said. “I’m joking, but you’re really just taking too damn long, and your first outfit looked good. Who are you trying to impress?” Who was I trying to impress? I didn’t have a clear answer – I just knew I wanted to make an impression.

Again – a trip back to my childhood. Growing up as the tallest and darkest being in any given room should not leave one feeling like they’re forgettable. However, while my physical presentation wasn’t the norm, it wasn’t the preference either – thus, I felt oddly invisible at times. Never had a high school boyfriend. Never got asked to dance at parties. Never more than a convenient token of multiculturalism and the resident “You look like (insert any Black girl or woman here)!” placeholder. These days, I feel my fears of being forgettable sometimes translate themselves into an overarching need to make a mark – and the first way anyone makes a mark when walking into a room is through outward appearances. I now find that when I’m feeling insignificant or incompetent or like I don’t amount to very much at all, I focus a lot more on my physical presentation. I don’t necessarily dress or primp any differently than I usually would, but when it’s me, myself, and I staring into the mirror, the difference in how I regard myself is palpable.

While I aim to reduce the frequency and duration of negative self-perception, I’m prepared to walk through life with some level of insecurity. A valuable tool is the ability to recognize those moments – including the surrounding triggers and reactions – and act accordingly. When Felicia said “Usually when that (obsession over the physical) happens, something else is going on,” it hit me like salt-tipped dart. It was refreshing to hear her and other women at the event be frank and honest about their confidence issues and coping strategies (healthy or otherwise) – yet another reminder that I was not alone.

I was lucky enough to meet some ’83 To Infinity readers, especially the lovely Cheryl! Sometimes it feels like I’m writing into an empty vortex, but she was quick to remind me that people are paying attention and enjoy my work. Thank you, Cheryl! If you enjoy my work – why not vote for me to win the Best Blogger award at this weekend’s Black Canadian Awards? Thanks in advance :-)

ASSIGNING BLACKNESS: Paul Mooney Said It Best

fordbeiber

mooney

I have a conundrum that I’m currently trying to work through. When did being dysfunctional become synonymous with being Black?

By now, many have heard of the latest incident involving one of Hollywood’s stars. Justin Bieber was arrested in Miami on Thursday morning and charged with DUI, drag racing, and resisting arrest, after admitting to police that he drank alcohol, smoked marijuana, and took prescription drugs before getting behind the wheel.

As I usually do in the morning, I fired up my Twitter app today and delved into my social media world. Being the current trend, I found out about La Beiba’s arrest there before I could even find my remote to turn on the news. Informational tweets, amusing tweets, concern-filled tweets, “If he were Black…” tweets – Beibermania took over my timeline in a variety of ways. What really got me going were the amount of tweets insinuating that La Beiba had finally crossed the threshold into his impending Blackness with this latest brush with the law. I had to stop for a moment. What?

Equating particular behaviours with Blackness isn’t new. Though Bill Clinton has no direct political relevance to me as a non-American, I still remember the confusion I felt about Black folk calling him “the first Black president” seemingly because he played the sax on Arsenio and cheated on Hillary. Navigating your Blackness in a country so near yet still so far from the U.S. is difficult enough – I couldn’t navigate this White man’s Blackness too, so I left it alone.

More recently, similar adoption papers have been signed and sent to my fellow Canadians La Beiba and Rob Ford. The former’s affinity for hanging out with Black celebs, his recent legal struggles, and his absorption of what he believes to be Black culture seem to have earned him some kind of honourary “Congrats! You’re Black!” medal. The latter’s drug habit and recent display of ‘diversity’ with drunken rants in Jamaican chat have earned him the same. I know some commentary is based in satire – but this week especially, I seem to be coming across more and more folk who are earnest in their bestowing of Blackness on actin’-up assed non-Blacks.

A Facebook status I wrote on Thursday was the inspiration for this post. As I wrote on my page (in part):

The behaviours that La Beiba and Rob Ford exhibit are common across all kinds of people, yet some Black folk seem quick to take sole ownership of these pathologies like it’s all we have to offer.

Unlike some of the interviewees featured this week on G 98.7FM (a local radio station), I don’t view Rob Ford as my first “Black” mayor. His struggles with drugs are not unique to Blacks, so him smoking crack didn’t make him any more “down” to me. Additionally, I don’t see him as my first “Jamaican” mayor either, even in jest. I value my Jamaican heritage entirely too much to grant citizenship to someone who spews out some careless “bumboclaats” and “rassclaats” in a drunken stupor.

How are we granting honourary Blackness to people who have the privilege to avoid the repercussions that actual Blacks would receive in their position? With both La Beiba and Ford, the convenience of having Black bodies nearby to take varying amounts of the fall isn’t at all lost on me. Remember when comedian Paul Mooney said “Everybody wants to be a nigga, but nobody wants to be a nigga” on Chappelle’s Show? Just call me Tag Team, because Whoomp! There it is.

There are so many layers to these issues and the ways we absorb and emit commentary on them. Media hypocrisy. Discussion around legal slaps on the wrist for many White celebs. Discrepancies in the American legal system as a whole. Thoughts on deportation processes and the who’s who of artists who get banned at the Canadian border. Society’s ability to blame Trayvon Martin for his own death because “he should have known better”, but to then turn around and shield La Bieba from controversy because “he’s just a kid.” I could go down the rabbit hole on any one of these points, but my head already hurts enough.

As with everything on this blog, I can only speak for what I’ve seen and heard, and can only represent my thoughts and feelings on the matter. I almost didn’t follow through with posting this, until I saw Ian Andre Espinet’s tweet and knew I wasn’t completely off the mark:

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As far as thoughts and feelings go, mine can be best summed up at this moment with another portion of my Facebook status:

La Beiba and Rob Ford ain’t no kin to me. My Blackness amounts to much more flyness than they could ever hope to adopt.

P.S. – check out Britni Danielle’s post on Clutch Magazine for another great perspective.

TO YOU: A Letter To My Child, The Littlest Magician

via rosiesandz.com

via rosiesandz.com

January 2, 2014

Dear ___________,

Properly addressing this letter is a bit difficult, because I still haven’t met you.

You’ve definitely made your presence known – but until I see your face, feel you take your first breath, and hear you release your first cry, I’ll have no idea what to call you. I’m sure you’ll understand. I imagine that our first meeting will be overwhelming and filled with emotions that I have yet to experience and attempt to define, so while I’m clear of mind, let me just say thank you.

Thank you for choosing me. I’ve always pictured you as a little spirit already in existence on another plane, floating through time and space looking for the perfect home to call your own. For the longest time, I felt like others of your kind wandered down and peered through nooks and crannies, assessing me before deciding that I wasn’t right. I started to wonder: what was I lacking? Finally, you chose me. You chose us. We’re so quick to discredit and criticize ourselves here – I see now that I wasn’t lacking, but that no other little spirits were right for me until you, at this time and in this form. Once I accepted that your kind comes to my kind in a multitude of ways, you showed up.  I’m honoured and blessed and I thank you.

Thank you for protecting me. In efforts to protect you, I’ve actually been able to create a forcefield around my entire self like never before. You were the catalyst that told me I had to change. I can’t stress the way I used to. I can’t fly off the handle the way I used to. I can’t worry the way I used to (still working on this one – you’ve given me new neuroses I never expected to have). Does this mean that the last few months have been nothing but smiles and sunshine? Not at all. However, your presence has forced me to add a layer of self-assessment when I’m about to fall into one of my old patterns. Because of you, I check myself before I wreck myself. I’m not perfect, but you’ve started a process of change within me that I wasn’t able to do on my own. Thank you.

Thank you for being my reason why. I’m sure you’ll learn as you grow, but people can be fickle. Friends come and go. They betray you. They hurt you the most when they’re hurting themselves. When these things happen to me, I’ll admit – I spend a lot of time (maybe too much) wondering why. Especially when there is no closure, it’s hard to decipher and even harder to move on. Before I found out about you, I was stuck in a tough place, asking myself those questions. Why did people leave my life the way they did? Why did some fade away like smoke in the wind? Why did others exit in an explosion of fury? I couldn’t figure it out – until you. The answer that gives me solace is that I needed to remove those who don’t mean well for me or my family; those who wouldn’t be a source of love and light; those who don’t have the energy or capacity to reciprocate true friendship; those who frankly don’t deserve to be in your presence. Before you’ve even looked me in the eye, you’ve answered questions and given me comfort that seemed eternally elusive. Thank you.

Thank you for the challenges you’ve given, and the challenges to come. So far, you’ve shown me that I possess a level of strength and tenacity that I didn’t realize I had. You’ve made me truly able to take things day-by-day, and I have new discussions with God each night. I feel a different kind of fear these days, but also a new kind of fearlessness. I wonder how my body will change, how my mind will react, how your pebble will ripple the waves of connection between your daddy and I. After being sick, having surgery, undergoing treatment, then getting sick again, I didn’t know if I could fight my way through to get to you – but here we are. Nothing has made me want to get my shit act (I’m working on cutting down my cussin’. Sorry!) together more than you, and I thank you for pushing me.

Now, I hope you don’t feel any sort of pressure when you read this. My gratitude to you doesn’t come with an extended list of expectations. You owe me nothing more in this life than to live it to the limit and love it a lot (I’ll be teaching you about Jay Z – don’t worry). You have done so much for me already, and I can’t wait to see what lessons you impart in the months and years to come. I hope you’ll love me as much as I love you; I hope you look back on memories of me with warmth; I hope you feel as blessed to have us as we do you. You remind me that I’m magic. I can’t wait to teach you to recognize the same in yourself.

I can’t wait to meet you – that’s when this insane amount love I have inside will start to make sense.

Mommy

PLEASURE PRINCIPLE: Female Dancehall Artists, Sexuality, & Satisfaction

via www.marcoonthebass.blogspot.ca/

via www.marcoonthebass.blogspot.ca/

Dancehall music.

Slack.

Explicit.

Sex-positive?

While both defenders and decriers of dancehall (a segment of reggae music) will likely agree with the first two descriptors, I’d like to make an argument in support of the third.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a home with Jamaican parents, including a dad who, back in his hey day, was the selector (DJ) of a sound system (DJ crew). Coming to Canada didn’t stop his flow, so I came up in the game thinking it was normal to have club speakers, turntables, mixers, microphones, and crates upon crates of records in our basement.

My mom liked the smooth sounds of artists like Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, and Luciano. My dad ventured between rootsman (Bob Marley and Peter Tosh) and gunman (Bounty Killa and Burro Banton). I grew to love them all. Mom would make noise if Dad started playing his “slackness” – but I loved listening to all those songs that I probably shouldn’t have been.

Sex is not a taboo topic in dancehall music. It surely isn’t today (hello, Vybz Kartel!), and it wasn’t when I was growing up. Male artists did not shy away from discussing their sexual prowess, what they will and won’t do, and the wonders of women’s anatomy, but they rarely spoke about women’s sexual satisfaction. Red Rat chided his bwoy Dwayne about the fact that “yuh caan have a girl and every night she complain” – but I found the male discussion of female sexual satisfaction separate from their own to be lacking. That’s OK though, because in the mode of sistas doin’ it for themselves, women like Tanya Stephens, Lady Saw, and Patra came through.

via www.mixupyaad.com

via www.mixupyaad.com

Lady Saw was just…raw. Nothing I recall about her image during my childhood was anything but. Her outfits, her dance moves, her song lyrics – she was the Queen of Slackness and held her court well. In her track “Hardcore/It’s Raining“, she held no punches about how she wanted pleasure from her partner, and discussing sexuality from a woman’s perspective became her trademark. On the business front, she made waves by fighting gender discrimination – while she would get banned from performing on certain stages, her male contemporaries (who were just as slack, if not moreso) routinely booked stages all over the island. Lady Saw fought for her right to perform and make money just as easily and successfully as men, and in doing so paved the way for other female artists.

via www.earthcultureroots.com

via www.earthcultureroots.com

One of those artists was Tanya Stephens. There was something about the way Tanya Stephens sang her records about sexuality and satisfaction. “Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet” and “Goggle” were open letters to so-called “bedroom bullies” whose boastful mouths did more work than their penises when it came to sexual finesse. Tanya let these dudes know that they a) weren’t going to chat big without delivering on their promises; b) were going to please her to her level of satisfaction; and c) were going to respect her own sexual power. Tanya wasn’t any man’s sexual prop – her songs turned that idea on its head and put men in that role.

via www.hotminutemag.co.uk

via www.hotminutemag.co.uk

For me, no one really brought feminine sexual energy in dancehall like Patra. In all fairness, I acknowledge that she probably stands out for two particular reasons. One being that she came out at a particularly vulnerable time in my life (that point where you’re an open sponge, soaking up all the different ways to carry yourself in this world), and two being that her introduction to an international audience meant more available visuals than other artists. Patra’s videos were like nothing I had seen – slick and sexy, with enough rawness to tantalize new audiences, but enough authentic winery to satisfy born and bred Yardies. I was mesmerized by Patra’s body-confidence – the catsuits, batty rider shorts, waist-length braids – nothing was dainty on her. Everything was bam/pow/in your face, and I soaked it all up. The way she commanded attention was fresh to me – instead of it coming across in a kind of pandering, please-accept-me way, it was more of a this-is-me-like-it-or-leave-it-but-I-bet-you-love-it way. I took Patra’s boldness, folded it up, and packed it away for a time when I’d be ready to navigate my own sexuality and self-expression.

YouTube Preview Image

One of my faves from Patra – come test mi, nuh!

Patra didn’t just tell you how she liked it, she showed you. Thanks to the videos I’d record on MuchMusic’s X-Tendamix (or BET’s Caribbean Rhythms when we were lucky enough to have it), I saw how she’d sing her lyrics and bite her lip, or stroke her body, or wine her hips. It was all part of a package for me – a package that represented a unique kind of feminine sexual power resting more on the woman’s terms, not merely seeking to please the male gaze.

Now, no genre is perfect. I acknowledge the fact that dancehall has staunchly planted itself in cis/heteronormativity, and there’s much more room and opportunity for discussion around these limitations – even with the above-named artists. Homophobia, paranoia, and irrational shunning of certain sexual practices run rampant in the genre, and that is no secret. [On a side note, take it from me. If you’re in a dance and any song about bunnin’ out bowcat (shunning oral sex) comes on, keep an eye on how many men fling their gunfinga in the air. I guarantee you that a good chunk are lying. Guar. An. Tee.]

Back to the main topic. For all its negativity, its “slackness,” its overt and sometimes crass lyrics, I was able to find a special sweet spot in dancehall, a genre that isn’t above reproach, but one that I dearly love. I’m grateful for the women I’ve named, who’ve shown me a new space in dancehall – an area for women to manage and for men to respect. Listening solely to many of their male counterparts, it’s easy to see why so many view women’s default role as that of passive partner for male sexual satisfaction, only allowed to tun up di ting as much as the man found suitable. Women like Lady Saw, Tanya Stephens, and Patra presented a different possibility – the possibility that women in dancehall could access their agency and not only control but call the shots when it comes to their pleasure. For that, I’m thankful.

Big up di gyal dem.

Bee’s Note: This post was published as part of Blogging While Brown & Rewind and Come Again’s 2014 June Blog Carnival celebrating National Caribbean-American Heritage Month.

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