Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where do Black Women Come First? Not at Essence

For most of its forty plus years, Essence has been the leading magazine for black women across the nation. Its readers appreciated their coverage on lifestyle, culture, beauty and news. With black women so greatly underrepresented in mass media- specifically the magazine industry-Essence served as an important platform for us to freely express our visions, ideas and concerns while highlighting issues that were most important to us. I grew up with Essence and was always comforted when I saw women who looked like me, boasting with success and holding positions of power. The magazine itself was reflective of just that- black, female empowerment.

Operative word= was

Last year, Essence magazine received plenty of uproar after hiring Ellianna Placas, a white woman as their new fashion director. The criticism varied. Some were weary of a white woman whose previous work with mainstream (i.e.- white-centric) publications- Us Weekly and O: The Oprah Magazine- would be too accustomed to the cultural norms of beauty (i.e.- euro-centrism). Others were more concerned with the mere fact that a white woman was awarded a prominent position of power at a magazine that was built of black female empowerment.

I agreed with the above concerns but negated the issue's importance. After all? Ellianna is just in charge of fashion and she is the lone white person in charge.

Correction= was

It was just announced today that Essence hired Michael Bullerdick, a white male, as their managing editor. I have scoured the internets trying to find out more information about him but was only able to find his Linkedin where it details his extensive career in print media. He was the managing editior at American Media, PawPrint Magazine and Celebrity Living. Needless to say that despite his qualifications, many are disappointed by the recent hire.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Throwback Tuesdays! Philly Soul Edition

Sis Le Chele finally let me have my way with Throwback Tuesday. I had been asking her since she had started if I could do one and had been giving her suggestions which she ignored. (Yes Le Chele I am throwing mad shade.) But she finally acquiesced, so here I am. This weeks Throwback Tuesdays takes a brief look into Philly Soul.

This is definitely my favorite genre, and yes Philly Soul gets a genre all by itself. It is not regulated just to current heavy weights like Jill Scott or Musiq Soulchild, but more importantly, Philly Soul was epitomized in the 1970s by huge groups and artists which created the Philly Sound.

This song is The Sound of Philadelphia by MFSB. And I'm sure you all know what used this and helped make it famous [1]. And if you don't, you should get smacked.

Some of the old school Philly Sound heavyweights have definitely showed the way for black and white soul and r&b artists. They have even given birth to some. One of the best known examples is Eddie Levert of the O'Jays, a key Philly Sound group, who gave birth to Gerald Levert- one of the most soulful r&b crooners of my parents generation. Damn shame both of Eddie Levert's sons passed before him.

The O'Jays are my favorite old school soul/r&b group. I've been sleeping on them for the longest, but once I reopened my mind, I was captivated. I could dance to them all night long.

Another Philly group, that goes down in infamy for having a member more popular than the groups namesake, is Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. It famously spawned the great that is Teddy Pendergrass.

I know Harold Melvin was extra salty that Teddy blew up and that all the ladies in the audience was coming to see him not the group (aka Harold Melvin). And Teddy, oh Teddy, his music will live on as certified baby-makers. That voice can sing to me all night long!

Even more importantly, Teddy Pendergrass spent the years after his dabilitating car-crash, promoting awareness about spinal cord injuries. If you haven't seen his Unsung, you need to. It's fantastic.

And now I have to take a moment out to thank wikipedia. My background searching regarding the Philadelphia Sound led my to find out this beautiful little gem that made my day. The Stylistics was also a part of the Philly Sound. They have had some of the best known ballads of all time and the falsetto of Russel Thompkins, Jr. still gives me chills.

Philly stays winning. New York may have rap/hip-hop. But Philly has soul/r&b on lock. Just saying. And our current soul superstars aren't nothing to sweat over either.

Jill Scott has been holding it down as one of the best soul artists of our generation and Musiq Soulchild quietly keeps belting out stellar songs I will love til the day I die. Both their love songs are some of the most beautiful I've heard. And her sexy time songs aren't anything to sneeze at either. And if you haven't seen Jill in concert, then you are missing out. Seriously. She's on tour now folks, get some tickets. It's worth it. And it doesn't hurt that I've been told I look like Jill Scott more times than I can count. It's a beautiful thing folks.

Philly has made some beautiful music. Our Philly Sound has created some of the greatest songs and musicians ever. They were conscience, spoke of love, and could make a girl or guy ready to make babies. I just gave you a small bite of the large pie that is Philly soul. Don't sleep on our artists folks, and definitely go re-listen to the old school joints if you haven't in a while.

[1] Soul Train...

AN: I'm quite partial to this topic, being a Philly native, and if you don't dig these songs- you are crazy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

And Now, Kinky Confusions


Last week, I shared with you some very disturbing remarks Oprah's stylist Andrew Walker made about kinky hair. He decided to clarify his statements with this letter featured on his website:

Recently, in an interview with Elle Magazine, I repeated my professional opinion about caring for Type 4 hair, often referred to as kinky hair. Here’s what I said in Elle:

"I always recommend embracing your natural texture. Kinky hair can have limited styling options; that’s the only hair type that I suggest altering with professional relaxing".

That statement is a very short version of what I also said in my book all those years ago, but almost immediately after the Elle article, the internet was abuzz with people questioning why I would recommend chemically relaxing a particular hair type Some even said my advice suggests that kinky hair is "bad" hair.

Let me first say that there is no such thing as "bad" hair, and I have long ago freed myself from being afraid to use the word "kinky" and also from being accused of not liking natural hair. We have become a multi-cultural society that embraces many different looks and styles when it comes to hair. It is my Mission to help you grow strong, healthy hair, and wear it in the style or styles that best suit your likes and particular hair type.

When it comes to curly and kinky hair (there is a difference), I leave the political correctness of "going straight" or staying natural to a woman’s personal preference. Once again, my advice is based on how to best achieve strong, healthy hair. So for those who would like to engage me in a debate about who has more racial pride and self esteem, based on hairstyle preference and use or non-use of chemical relaxers, know that I believe in personal freedom, and in the use of advanced technology when it yields positive results, which many of today’s (versus yesterday’s) chemical relaxers do deliver.

It is a fact that kinky hair (my Type 4 definition) is extremely fragile and breaks easily. Even when you are very careful, something as simple as combing can break this texture. It is very difficult to achieve a longer length when the hair breaks, even with simple combing. That being said, there is the style option of wearing braids, dreads, or twists, which allows the hair to grow longer because it is combed less often. Another style choice is to simply wear a shorter cut, which is very attractive on some women but just not right for others.

So when I say to embrace your natural texture, but consider relaxing kinky hair, am I contradicting myself? I don’t think so! You see, even relaxed hair can still be worn naturally. If you want a natural look, but find that your kinky hair is difficult to manage, breaks too easily, lacks shine and luster, and limits your preferred styling options, I say feel free to consider a mild chemical relaxer, sometimes called a texturizer, that eases your hair to a more manageable texture and allows you to Make Peace With Your Hair.

We’ve come a long way in the ability of chemical relaxers to gently relax the hair. In fact, I notice that my book is somewhat dated in that respect. When I wrote it, I was not a fan of no-lye relaxers. But now they are much improved, and I use them when I know it will help a client to maintain either a "natural" or a straight look — whichever she prefers — with more ease.

Mandatory for all hair types, and extra mandatory for curly, coarse, or kinky hair — Condition, Condition, Condition !

My Mission in the products I develop and in the professional advice I offer to Everyone of all hair types — Make Peace With Your Hair.

My Message for everyone who questions the integrity of my advice regarding coarse/kinky natural hair — All hair is GOOD hair. Healthy hair is BETTER hair. I will always offer you my BEST hair advice.

Make Peace,

Andre Walker

Relaxed hair can be worn naturally?!?!?!

I can't. I just, can't. This rambling nonsense reinforces what you said (believe). You honestly believe that kinky hair is weak, unmanageable and undesirable. According to you, it is only tolerable in braids, dreads or short cuts. Whateva.

Listen, Andre. You got got. The growing natural hair community is vibrant, beautiful and unlike you, well informed. Unfortunately, I can't get a lot of motion out of my gravity defying kinky hair. But if I could, i would:

The Fiore Scott Files: Back in Action

My friends will tell you that for the past year or so my libido has been on cruise control. As in, not a twitch, quiver, or jump. I could stare at a fine ass man at a bar and feel nothing. I'd appreciate his fineness but I never got the jump in my heartbeat or the coil in my body that told me I wanted to jump him. And this happened all the time, so it wasn't a fluke. It happens to the best of us I hope. Sometimes our bodies and minds just aren't feeling it.

But lately my libido has decided to do a 180 and put me back in the ring. It definitely started with my lusting after a cable guy who came to my house (that's a story for another blog post) and a gorgeous Italian guy who I fortunately found out was married before I made a complete fool out of myself. We flirted and danced and I realized that for the first time in forever (over a year), I really dug a guy. I was ready to pounce and was actually ready to make the first move. But God stepped in and luckily I found out from a mutual friend that he was married. I was crushed but I was happy in the fact that I had actually felt something for a guy after so long.

I'm telling you all of this because today I almost crashed my car.

Why you ask?

Because the finest man I've seen in my city was jogging down the block as I drove by. This man in all his fineness made me do a double take. The kind that when I turned back forward, I had to swerve to not hit a car. DAMN. DAMN. DAMN.

He was definitely one of those "God broke the mold when he made you" men. Tall, beautiful brown skin, muscles that had me fanning myself, a cute tribal tattoo on his upper left chest, and beautiful face. I clearly got a good look.

He had me ready to turn my car around and follow him down the street. But traffic wasn't having it and I had errands to run. But I still got to see some yumminess and I felt something. It was delicious.

Maybe I'll see him around. Maybe I won't. But he let me know that I was definitely back in action, no longer on cruise control, and finally steering the wheel.    

AN: No that's not the dude in the picture. I was just giving y'all some eye-candy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Renaissance in the Belly of Killer Whale

As New Yorkers witness the many ways by which their city evolves, we must question the impact the changes have on its inhabitants. More specifically, gentrifying neighborhoods undergo seemingly positive changes that make for a better quality of life. However with neighborhoods similar to Harlem, not everybody is, well, comfortable about the new directions their neighborhoods are going in. In her play Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale, Honorary Sister, Chyann Sapp beautifully captures the varying perspectives held by residents as the Harlem known to them becomes anew.

All participated in the writing of the script but the cast consists of the three multifaceted ladies, Jaylene Clark, Hollis Heath and Janelle Heatley. The opening scene begins with their characters, childhood friends Shayla, Toni and Bridget, reuniting on the stoop of a brownstone one of them grew up in. They all begin to reminiscence about their experiences in the old neighborhood ranging from what candies they used to enjoy and games they used to play. The three characters then begin to worry that their memories of more complex aspects of growing up in Harlem, particularly its cultural vibrancy will become a thing of the past. In Renaissance, the three infuse their background with spoken word, song and dance into traditional theater and create a visionary play that allows us to travel through the rich history of Harlem while exploring the socio-economic issues that make it vulnerable to the gentrification occurring today.

I saw this play about a month ago and vowed to Chyann that I would do my best to support her new project because it is really good play, simply speaking. Renaissance is thoughtful, intelligent, funny and polished. But I was more impressed by how fairly the ladies presented the issues at hand. All grew up in Harlem and with the exception of Janelle who lives in The Bronx, all still reside in there. They witness the larger number of fairly moneyed people now living amongst them, and the restaurants and boutiques that follow them. I get frustrated with debates about gentrification because there is a tendency to oversimplify the issues at hand. It is important for people to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables so the new supermarket down the street is a good thing. But if the prices are out of reach for working class people within the community, then it is no added benefit. Gentrification is more complex than poor people getting pushed out and trendy establishments and Renaissance perfectly displays that.

"We don't want to write an anti-gentrification play," Chyann said to me in an earlier phone conversation."From a personal standpoint, we all know we are benefiting from many of the changes taking place."

In each scene, a typical viewpoint is presented with an alternative one leaving the audience to sometimes challenge their own opinions about how neighborhoods similar to Harlem are changing. Jaylene, Hollis and Janelle's characters articulate their desires to preserve the culture that made Harlem one of the most famous neighborhoods in the world. This includes its history in fine arts, jazz, hip hop, cuisine and especially spoken word. All of the ladies have a background in spoken word and yearn for a modern day renaissance where the cultural beauty will be revitalized amidst an evolving Harlem. A Harlem where white and typically more affluent residents are emerging within a traditionally black and Latino Harlem, much like a belly of a killer whale, the metaphor that ignited the creation of the play itself.

It is refreshing to be moved in the theater. When you go see Renaissance in the Belly Whale, you will be moved, inspired and challenged. You will leave asking yourself questions. Is a gentrifying neighborhood's increased wealth shared amongst the original residents? Isn't more improved public health and security a good thing? Why did it have to take new people in to bring what are largely considered basic rights? Well, those were my personal questions. Go see the play and have your own.

To buy tickets or find out more information click here.

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