By Black Design

The fashion world has long been short on Black influence. Aside from the King of fashion Andre Leon Talley and its resident Queen, Naomi Campbell, the global fashion world has taken from urban and street style, made popular by young Black kids in Brooklyn, Harlem, Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, and other chocolate cities, but it’s designers, models, and influencers were really very… vanilla.

When Dapper Dan started remixing the the iconic prints made famous by Vuitton, Gucci, Fendi, MCM, and other high fashion brands into sportswear that was featured on the backs of rap stars in the 80s, he started something major, that wouldn’t be realized until years later. “Back then they didn’t want me…”

Remember… there is a thin line between genius and insanity…

In 2016 Kanye went H.A.M. on the Ellen Show about influence, mentoring, and fashion. He spoke about how in music all great artists had great mentors which helped grow the art. In fashion, he proclaimed, even low end brands didn’t seem open to doing features with people of color, thus shutting us out. But when you alienate a group from any art form, you rob that art form of the unique perspective, innovation, talent, and vision of an entire group of people. So Ye was right to find flaw with this premise… but his delivery…

Its always his delivery…

Anyway, at that time the sole head Black designer of any MAJOR fashion house was Oliver Rousteig for Balmain. At Kanye’s urge, the Kardashians started to wear his designs…EVERYWHERE, ALL of them. And while Rousteig had previously designed for Roberto Cavalli and been at Balmain for a few years, in 2016 he reached his highest heights. From the whole family showing up everywhere from Fashion Week to the Met Gala in Rousteig designs head to toe, Balmain went from bringing in $30 million in 2012 to over $150 million.

Kanye had a point to prove…

ENTER Virgil Abloh!

Kanye and Virgil are friends, since they were teens. In 2009 they both interned at Fendi. Virgil started what has become one of the biggest sports brands, Off-White, in 2013. His remakes of ten of Nike’s most famous shoes launched him into space, and in March of 2018 he was named creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton. STRATOSPHERE!!!

LV should just stand for Love Virgil because Virgil Abloh has done some iconic things with the label that has basically gone unchanged from the iconic canvas bag that has stood front and center at its brand… for years. In June of 2018 he showed his first runway show at Fashion Week in New York, and it was unlike ANYthing you have ever seen from the typical polished luxe Louis Vuitton is known for. His men’s collection was a collection of fabrics, colors, and sportswear meets professional style showcasing his very urban yet modern eye!

And at the end of the show, Virgil’s friend, the nigga we love to hate, Yeezy himself, embraced and cried with his friend. Cuz that’s what friends do and that’s how big King Kong sized their dream was…

And yesterday, after she has been the victim of such vitriol about her hair, clothes, body, strength, and motherhood, our newest icon outfitted our modern day legend, the Queen of the court, Serena Williams in a TUTU my G… after she was banned from wearing a compression one piece. (Cue … “dat ass, dat ass, dat ass, she bad!”)

Not only making clothes but making statements!!! We LV (Love Virgil)! And I still love Kanye. Why? Cuz Sometimes… to get shit done, your karate doesn’t work, but your crazy gets noticed, and heard! Sometimes, you gotta be okay with making noise, because that noise might turn into a difference. Sometimes your genius comes out as insanity… other times you just insane. And sometimes when you are passionate, you just go too fucking far! Ask my last boyfriend, I think I ended our last argument with … “I’m sorry for the realness!”

Oh and Dapper Dan has a full atelier in Harlem showcasing his custom Gucci designs… back in the day folks thought he was bold as hell, a thief and Gucci sued him. “Now [we] hot, they all on me…”

The Art of War

“He only like you cuz you are light skinned with long hair.”

….light, bright, and damn near white.

Are you mixed?

#teamlightskinned

The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice.

You are pretty for a brown skinned girl.

“Don’t stay in the sun too long, you don’t need to get darker”

———

Okay first, let’s get this out of the way.

This shit is DUMB and it is like feeding racists a power pill. We cannot continue to give power to systems rooted in black oppression. Period!

———-

Light skin privilege… as real as it might be, it is not the same as white privilege. In fact, it only only has power because we continue to subscribe to these whitewashed ideas of beauty, importance, and intellect, when we know better. We allow someone else’s supremacy to affect how we see ourselves and one another. It’s the art of war. A civil war results in chaos within and a sense of accomplishment and peace to the instigator.

1. According to Sun Tzu, “All warfare is based on deception.”

The tale goes that White women were so desirable, White men treated them like precious porcelain figurines and would dare not defile them. They kept them locked up in the big house to keep them away from the big Black wild brutes they had working their fields. Yet Black folks were jumping the broom and tending to White folks kids, cooking, cleaning, farming… attempting to have a life familiar to them outside of slavery. And sadly, Black women were tending by force to the White men’s sexual needs. The mixed race female progeny of such arrangement became objects of desire, because they were aesthetically similar to White women but still property to do with what they pleased. Yet the severe psychological and spiritual damage done to Black peoples as a result of slavery resulted in us carrying many of these damaging dynamics into freedom.

Lighter skin Blacks, post slavery, got better opportunities that enabled them to become more financially secure. Black men of all hues sought after light skinned Black women both as status symbols and to have kids who were lighter than brown paper bags. This was a direct byproduct of slavery. Colorism is a form of racism that not only permeates Black life outside, but also inside the culture. This notion that lighter skin gained Black people any REAL favor is untrue. True favor is never rooted in deception or the increased oppression of your people.

2. If the forces are united, separate them.

Black peoples come in EVERY shade from 58-7 (Light peachy nude) 323-1 (Mahogany) on the Pantone scale. We have every curl pattern and type of hair that can grow from ones head. We range from genius to developmentally challenged. We are CEOs and we are homeless. We live in mansions and minivans. Our DNA translates into an extremely diverse set of aesthetics and genetics. Our lives are as heterogenous as any other group of people. Sadly, history has told us that those of us who fall on the lighter spectrum are more attractive and favored. A very painful history.

But instead of coming to the true impetus if this deceit, we take to infighting. Some people on the lighter end of the spectrum embrace these toxic ideas that they are somehow better, and cause trauma and pain for our darker skin brethren by perpetrating these lies. Who didn’t hear the multitude of stupid things kids would say to each other based on their skin color…

“Well you ain’t really Black anyway…”

“You so dark you look like a burnt piece of toast.”

And where do you think they heard that from? Adults praising or elevating light skin and putting down brown skin. Labeling those with light skin and long and fine hair as attractive, smarter, nicer, and those with coarse hair and brown skin as less attractive, less intelligent, and therefore more angry. But never exploring the true roots of this mindset, and it’s roots in the very racism we despised. Colorism is but an internal form of racism. Aesthetics had become a weapon against us, to paint a whole new picture of inferiority that somehow we took on to fight each other. Divide and conquer. “Talking bout good or bad hair…”

3. The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy.

You see, while racism was initially used to subjugate Black peoples into a position of powerlessness, it morphed into a way to shut down all the systems of pride and forward progress Black people were making. Kathleen Cleaver was a light as they came, Angela Davis, Huey Newton… but these were people knee deep in the freedom struggle for all Black people. But in the divide and conquer spirit, racists began to find ways to break up the Black Power, Civil Rights, and other freedom movements strengthening the Black community. Only light skinned Black faces were seen in movies, ads, anything that painted a picture of beauty. Brown skinned women with proud afros could be in a malt liquor add, but in a skin care add, the model would be light and long haired. White companies used their advertising power and White entertainment vehicles used their widespread appeal to brainwash us. This was just a corporate house (light skinned slaves would be cooks, help care for the children, etc in the slave owners home) versus field (darker skinned slaves were to work outside in the field) negro ideology. By simply using the same tools they always had, white supremacists were able, without saying much, to get us to turn on one another.

4. Practice dissimulation and you will succeed.

Racism isn’t going away, in fact, the more we take our natural place as leaders professionally, socially, and culturally, the worse it will get. Colorism is a powerful tool used by racists to cause divide within the culture that leads to confusion amongst us about who really is creating the discord. When Princess Tiana was brown with dark hair in The Princess and the Frog, assumed by Disney to most likely draw a Black audience, but lightens up her skin and gives her loose sandy brown curls in a more mainstream cartoon film, it simply further acknowledges that things like hair texture and skin color do impact the how America sees people of color. We cannot just accept the apology and not acknowledge that this is about more than cultural sensitivity or a black face on the marketing team. This is an example of a very real assault on us. How many times will they lighten our skin, remove our curves, make a rule about the kind of sportswear we use, before we realize it’s not a mistake at all.

When your President has been Black, your top athletes in damn near every sport are Black, our movies are winning the Oscars, our companies are thriving, our art is being coveted by some of the biggest design houses in the world, our names are appearing at the top of Fortune 500 rosters, and we are educating and performing at unheard of numbers… we are a threat to the powers that be that don’t appreciate diversity and inclusion in the world’s upper levels. White supremacy cannot exist without minority subjugation. So their “Sorry” is not often real, and we can’t be fooled by it. We have shut down whole businesses with our buying power and social influence… we can similarly insist that we all be included and valued and represented, across the color spectrum. But first we have to identify the racism and call it out, which effectively handicaps colorism. ” see if I care… good and bad hair!”

Light skinned privilege is real. It is also rooted in some of the most vile and disgusting truths about the way Black people in America and in the world have been subjugated, marginalized, and mistreated. It is typically experienced most strongly by Black women, because hair and skin color and standards of beauty are just generally not things Black men are judged based upon. But Black men are not immune nor unaffected. They are usually the main targets to the brain washing, based on the images they are fed through media. The privilege is really not a privilege at all… nothing is that is so deeply rooted in oppression. It is a weapon of war used against us. Until we accept this, we will continue to blame and lessen each other’s reality.

Being light skinned and having my heritage, my blackness, my “downness” questioned was not cool, and for many of us it was painful and isolating. Having your accomplishments lessened based on things that you had no control over, when you worked hard for those successes is hard. Even harder when your own people start to question you. Being brown skinned and being made to feel unattractive, lesser than and less desirable aesthetically, socially, romantically, or professionally caused damage to many of us that we still struggle to heal from. Being made to believe that who you are is somehow lessened based on your complexion, something some people seem to revere and others seem to hate, is a confusing and a detrimental emotional and spiritual space. We all owe each other more tenderness and acceptance of our reality. One is not more important or more traumatic than the other.

This privilege may be something some of us have, but it is definitely something many of us of us want no part of. Yet we are here in this space as a result of slavery, rape, racism, colorism, oppression, and degradation. The oppressed don’t want favor by the oppressor because she’s more like the oppressor in some extrinsic way. That has NOTHING to do with the oppressed. Yet, that same individual cannot knowingly and willingly take that favor to better her chances. My seat at the table must be properly earned.

I repeat, the “favored” oppressed is STILL OPRESSED! And the favor… is not really favor at all.

So stop it!

#teamrootingforeverybodyblack

Love IS: Part II

What is modern day love?

Love is… dedicating space in your heart, time in your life, and an open invitation to your experiences to another person. It’s simple in word but yet so complicated an action. It’s everything, not just one thing… a feeling, an emotion, an act, an idea, an event. It’s the ultimate act of compassion, peace, trust, passion, and God… love is God. It’s being is easy to believe in, but having unconditional faith in love’s promise is hard. Easy, yet hard. Hard, yet soft. Soft, yet strong. Strong, yet fragile. Love is…

Gone are the days when most women focused on being a wife and didn’t have the professional and social sphere to contend with. When you add to that, machismo, patriarchy, misogyny, and ego, let alone the myriad of other issues that face men of color, it has become more difficult to have a successful partnership. Love is hard. Women have to balance their often delegator roles professionally to helper roles in the home, and men need a space to be vulnerable even where they provide and protect and learn to modify but not eradicate that provision and protection in a modern society.

For example:

Since high school… me and Eros go back like candy necklaces and Alexander the Grapes. A serial monogamist… that’s what they call it. Love relationships, one after another, going on for years at a time. Call me Aphrodite or Oshun, cuz I does this love thing. But what I needed as a broke college student or a fresh out of law school government worker, is not the same as what I need now as an educated, professional woman who CAN take care of an entire household and everyone in it… but surely doesn’t want that added responsibility, especially after dealing with MC Insecure and the Asshole Crew at work.

The relationship I desire is with an equally professional, Black (my romantic and social preference), man of God who is ready to take on a world that constantly rejects us. For us, I want to spin a cocoon where we are safe to be who we are, successes and struggles, that he fights for with his bare hands, and that we both choose to enter daily. Call me Aphrodite to his Adonis, Oshun to his Ogun, Ruth to his Boaz.

Let’s paint a modern day love story!

“…spread the corner of your garment over me” Ruth 3:9

The story of Ruth and Boaz is a love story, indeed, but it seems both a historical and modern tale. Ruth and Boaz or Yuri and Yasir or Bey and Jay or me and… well you get the point. Ruth was independent. She was left without a patriarchal family, to care for her mother-in-law, and took a job farming on the land of Boaz. Boaz protected and provided for her. She spun a cocoon for she and Boaz, and he fought for them with his bare hands.

Today, most women aren’t grabbing egg creams between shopping excursions for the new crock-pot with the timer and a dress for the annual cotillion ball at noon. She is scarfing down last nights leftovers in fifteen minutes before her third meeting this week in a room full of men, all White with one Black token, who talk over her and question her suggestions like she’s commenting on spring lip colors and not the budget for the project she manages that has already made the company $2 million. Her professional and social life 9-6pm is calmed mainly by her morning knock to Knuck if You Buck turned all the way up in the car ride in to work , to singing loudly to Love on Top on the way home in bumper to bumper traffic.

So when she walks into the cocoon, the space is hers, safe and warm and inviting and soft and easy. She can put on her lounge clothes, pop on some music, cook a meal or heat up last nights chili, and greet him when he enters. She makes the castle grand for him, and he gives her the tools and space and safe freedom to do so. He covers her in peace and safety and provision, so she can help him navigate the world outside the cocoon because she can shed hers. In the cocoon she becomes a butterfly.

Likewise, most men of color, aren’t manning the Boardrooms and if they are, it’s with the stereotypes you see constantly on television hanging like tree limbs bearing strange fruit over their heads. They are often forced into siding with the majority, but only a Black man with his own personal example of a Black woman’s character, intellect, competency, and strength can fully stand up for diversity and inclusion. They have to give up a little of who they are, to fit in, or so they are told. So we are all told. And coming home to be treated like a King is his only solace.

So when he enters the cocoon, he can be fragile and strong. Soft and hard. Hard and easy. He can be her love, the love of God. And he can strip away the vestiges of Jim Crow and Jamestown that he still wears on his lapel, and just be Shawn, leave Jay out in the car, in the space she has created and cultivated. Jay is a pawn, a tool. Shawn is a King, the leader. He too fully realizes who he is inside the cocoon, and emerges each day better then the last, nurtured back to full health, to tackle the frenzy of -isms thrown at him daily. Touchdown!

In a modern day love story, Boaz needs Ruth, her independence is sexy, her hustle is magnetic, her intelligence is fuel for his fire, but her softness and gentleness is where he lays his head. Similarly, Ruth needs Boaz, his peace is calming, his charm and wit are poetic, his resilience is like fresh air, but his strength and safety are wrapped around her like Aretha’s full length mink, protecting her from the elements.

Love is… “so simple, a feeling, it’s everything.” -Beyoncé

It Ain’t All Roses: Birthin Babies while Black

I’m officially Beyoncé…

Well ok not really but you gotta admit that pic is hilarious! But what I’m gonna talk about is no laughing matter, it’s serious and we have got to start casting more light on it…

” I was swollen from toxemia and had been on bed rest for over a month. My health and my babies’ health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section.” -Beyoncé in September 2018 Vogue

Maybe I am officially Beyoncé… because I gained 100… yes, I said that correctly, ok maybe 96, pounds during pregnancy. I was so swollen my feet looked like loaves of bread and I didn’t have cankles, I had thankles, just one big ass thigh! I was a chicken dinner! I too had toxemia, so bad that my liver failed and I went into hepatic shock and a coma. I was hospitalized for over a month, and didn’t officially hold my son, well that I can recall anyway, until he was more than a month old. This was over ten years before Serena and Beyoncé made their pregnancy scares public, and over ten years before these stories about Black Women and childbirth were talked about at large. I thought my case was unique… turns out, like many of the concerns of Black Women, it just wasn’t a big deal to the medical community yet.

But we can change that…

Pregnancy was great for me until I reached my 7th month. Up until then I was rocking my loose fit size 10 jeans, pulling them a bit under my growing belly. I had no stretch marks, and had gained only about 18 pounds. Life was good. I was high risk because of a pre-existing liver disease, but for months I showed no signs of toxemia or preeclampsia, high blood pressure brought on by pregnancy. And literally, overnight, that changed.

From roses to rancid…

From sugar to shit…

According to the CDC, while generally only 3.4 women suffer from toxemia during pregnancy, and 700 die from its complications yearly, Black Women are three times as likely to suffer from these childbirth related issues. Conversely, Asian and Hispanic women seem to have an ever lesser chance of developing toxemia than White women. (1) Yet, no one seems to know why. It’s been one big mystery why pregnant Black Women looked like the boy in the bubble, compared to those cute baby bumps. Perhaps it is linked to the lack of research on the subject!

In a 2004, the Journal of the American Heart Association published a study that showed that women with preeclampsia had decreased levels of folic acid and high levels of homocysteine, which is linked to heart disease, but these levels were lowest and highest in Black Women. (2) The study suggested that since high levels of homocysteine were related to low folic acid, B6, and B12, that these supplements could potentially lower the risk of preeclampsia amongst all women, particularly African-Americans. Who knew?

Another study by ProPublica, in 2016, entitled Lost Mothers spoke with Black Women intergenerationally about pregnancy complications to try to prevent maternal complications and death. Out of the many complications a woman can face, it was found Black Women suffer disproportionately from postpartum hemorrhage, fibroids, preeclampsia, uterine rupture, coronary artery dissection, and maternal heart failure. (3) All of these illnesses boast a much higher mortality rate than other complications. When searching for other studies on these pregnancy related illnesses in Black Women, there were few to find.

It is essential that Black Women share our stories, and that if no one else will, Black Physicians and medical researchers focus on these maternal health concerns in our community. Central Brooklyn Hospital, featured in the Pro Publica study has a new initiative to reduce maternal complications in women of color. Hopefully other hospitals and medical professionals will follow suit. It is imperative to the health of mothers and children that research into how to prevent and treat these issues are brought to light.

Just on a human level, it is important that babies grow up with their mothers, and research into their mother’s potential mortality from childbirth is necessary and worth every dime it costs. The powers that be can’t claim to be pro-life and not simultaneously be pro- maternal health, pro-mother, or pro-Black mother. The continuance of the systematic ignorance of people of color in medicine must be taken to task. If we can study the effects of viagra, surely we can study the complications of childbirth.

It shouldn’t take Beyoncé or Serena or any public figure to talk about something that affects 7% of Black mothers to make it important to the public at large. If we only consider things when a celebrity brings them to light, we are neglecting 99% of the population. Furthermore, we are failing these women by failing to consider their medical concerns … and failing Black children by neglecting their mothers.

So, let’s all be Beyoncé…

Note: Fellas be Jay-Z, but not while drinking Lemonade with Becky, and never be Eric Benet!

……

References

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171100/#__ffn_sectitle

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4764298/

3. https://www.propublica.org/series/lost-mothers/p2

This Woman’s Work: Part II

“Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.” -Eckhardt Tolle

Picture it, 2018, Detroit, three scenarios:

Two professional Black Women discussing a disturbing incident with a customer during lunch, the victim says, “…I didn’t want to make a big deal about it and be the Angry Black Woman.”

Similar environment, two sistas discussing career development, the older woman says to the younger woman, “Be careful with all those ideas and opinions or they’ll label you the “b” word.”

One Black female supervisor speaking to her Black female team member on talking to White male managers…”You can’t lead with your intelligence because that is intimidating.”

But …. I am Black, I am a woman, I am opinionated, intelligent, and sometimes I am angry… especially in the one place I spend most of my waking hours that gives me zero respect despite the fact that it thrives off my intellect… Work.

I am who I am… and I don’t need to be less than that to ever get what I have worked hard for… even if I’m Black, female, opinionated, and sometimes angry. I have just as much right to be my authentic brilliant, compassionate, but take no shit self as:

these sexist and racist White men get to use work to play out their gestapo porn fantasies, shouting out authoritarian demands like orders at a fast food joints while trying to feel on your ass;

these racist White women get to prance around without a care in the world, except the hands going up their skirts which they payback (to the wrong people) in the form of harassment and discrimination of people of color;

these turncoat Black people get to act like they have assumed some privilege by selling their souls to do the racist’s dirty work, but as Jay-Z said “still nigga”.

Whether we know it or not, our presence is vital in every space and place, especially professionally, as we are representative of the people who use and purchase the services and goods we are in the business of providing or selling… whatever our role. We are their mouthpiece. And despite what insecure co-workers, supervisors, and managers might believe… we are often the leaders others look to for guidance and expertise… or perhaps it is the reason they dislike us. If those people get to be all they can be… then surely my whole authentic self is welcomed… no?

According to a 2018 survey of 100 Professional Black Women, 59% report feeling like they have to be less of themselves to be accepted in the workplace. While 58% reported co-workers who are not Black females are treated better than they are. 71% reported being discriminated against in the workplace. 72% reported being talked down to by a man, and 56% reported having a power struggle with another Black Woman. (1) Similarly, a study by the Perception Institute in 2016, tested bias of Black Women and their hair. It showed that Black Women had more anxiety about their hair than their White counterparts and that the majority of people had negative towards Black women with natural styles, particularly white women (2).

The writing is on the wall, that who Black Women are is looked down upon by people that they see and interact with daily, even to our own. And while we are capable and creative and innovative enough to break the glass ceiling, we can do it with our Afros, braids, sass, and round asses despite anyone’s prejudice. But that prejudice is a weighty issue.

Black Women are judged based on negative stereotypes that have no roots in the truth… assumptions about our hair and grooming, marital status, parental abilities, health, bodies, and community. We must be dirty if our hair is natural, singularly raising kids if we are parents, have undisciplined children, be unhealthy because we are curvy, and from violent and dangerous neighborhoods. Our personal lives are not considered our private business, and we are subjected to questions and demands that would never be made on White men or women. When your worth and lives are considered of minimal value it’s common for others to treat you as less than the professional you are… and instead treat you like a child in need of correction or a servant to take their orders.

It’s not our professionalism that should be being questioned. I assure you, the sistas I know are not only professionally responsible, but they can take care of their kids, mates, homes, selves… then come into work and deal with levels of harassment, discrimination, and privilege unlike any other group.

But we don’t have to deal with it!

We have earned the right to be exactly who the fuck we are… curly and kinky hair, big personalities, opinions, big ass brains, and yep, sometimes anger… because we carry the weight of the world’s -isms on our backs. Both Black and woman, marginalized and disenfranchised. Not just misogyny but misogynoir. Living at the intersection of racism, classism, sexism, and often, colorism. Let’s not forget our LGBTQ sister’s dealing with homophobia and transphobia, and our disabled sisters being discriminated against because of their physical limitations. I see it everyday, a Black woman with MS is treated like she has a learning disorder because she walks with a limp, and the sista with the big butt is talked to like she’s an idiot. Our brains are in our heads just like all other humans. WTF! Whose the idiot in this scenario?!?

We have to embrace our Blackness, and disallow anyone from making us believe that we have to conform to standards outside of ourselves to fit in… we don’t have to fit in. We were born to stand out! In a world full of thigh gaps ours were made to touch. In a world full of flat hair, ours waves, curls, and coils towards the heavens. In a world full of hateful and narrow thinkers, we continue to be compassionate because were meant to make them uncomfortable. Only in discomfort do people change.

In the workplace, we have to continue to assert ourselves, have confidence in ourselves, promote ourselves, stand up for ourselves, and be ourselves! And when it’s a detrimental environment, remove ourselves. Our voices, creativity, opinions, intelligence are necessary. We matter just the way we are… now go out with your fro out!

Update: I’m currently embarking on a bigger project about the lives of Black Women in the Professional space. If you would not mind doing a short phone interview or filling out a brief questionnaire about your professional experiences, please contact me at info@karyndeshields.com. Thank you.

(1) The Balancing Act.www.karyndeshields.com

(2) The Good Hair project. The Perception Institute, 2016. http://www.perception.org/good hair/