The matriarchs of my family have always treated voting as a sacred ritual. Not a single election went by during my childhood that my mother did not bring me to the polls to watch her vote. Whether that meant waking up before the sun to drive to our nearest polling place so she could cast her vote before she dropped me off for school, or being among the last voters in line, exhausted after a long day’s work, quelling an inconsolable tween whose primary concern was whether we’d be going to Burger King after, my mother always upheld her civic duty to vote. And she always made sure that I, her only daughter, was present to watch.
See, to my mom, a child of the civil rights movement, born in the 1950s, voting was a privilege. It was the be-all and end-all. It was a right that had been legally and systematically withheld from Black people—Black women—for so long, she felt it would be nothing short of a slap in the face to her ancestors to voluntarily deny that privilege. My grandmother, born in the 1920s, felt the same. After all, her great-grandparents had been slaves, hardly able to visualize the prospect of freedom, let alone the ability to exercise the right to vote—a power that was historically reserved for white male property owners. It simply was not an option for my mother or grandmother to choose to forfeit their voting rights given the historical gravity and laborious terms surrounding the acquisition of universal suffrage.
Our family’s voting ritual culminated in 2008, when my grandmother, mother, and I went to the small church two blocks away from my grandmother’s house, which doubled as a polling station, to cast their votes for Barack Obama. The act was monumental at the baseline because two Black women were exercising their rights to vote, a radical act that the founders of the Constitution never intended. But that day was made infinitely more significant because two Black women were voting for a Black man, who would, of course, become the 44th President of the United States. (The day was significant for me because I got to go to Burger King after.)
The generations that preceded me rightly held voting to such a high standard because they directly had ties to a world where Black enfranchisement wasn’t the norm. My generation, on the other hand, is significantly more disillusioned. While we are keenly aware of our history and the struggle endured to acquire the universal right to vote, we also are able to see the cracks beneath the surface. The radical injustices associated with a system that proclaims itself as just. If my mother and grandmother’s generations saw the right to vote as the be-all and end-all, the almighty Oz, my generation’s unique gaze beholds Oz as just a man—and he’s white, self-interested, and a master puppeteer.
It’s no secret that the relationship between voting and Black America is a long, complicated one. From its inception and for almost the first 100 years of American history, Black people were denied the right to vote—simply because they were not white, not property owners, and not regarded legally as a full person. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, technically granted Black (men) the right to vote, however many southern states utilized a plethora of tactics to prevent them from actually being able to do so. Literacy tests, poll taxes, gerrymandering, and grandfather clauses were among the many strategies employed to promote Black disenfranchisement. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to rectify these unjust practices, as it was the first piece of legislation to formally prohibit racial discrimination in voting. But still, racist officials and lawmakers found loopholes within the system to prevent Black people from exercising their voting rights. The creation of voter ID laws, the illegitimate closing of polling places, and the reduction of early voting rights are all ways in which voter suppression still, to this day, plagues the Black community. So while the triumphs of acquiring Black enfranchisement were at the top of mind for my mother and grandmother’s generations, the somber realities of discriminatory disenfranchisement practices are jarring truths that mar my generation’s outlook on the subject of the vote.
I want to be very clear: I am a Black woman and I will be voting in November. And, at the risk of sounding like an episode of Schoolhouse Rock, you absolutely should too. Maybe it’s naïveté, or maybe my mother and grandmother’s voting had tremendous lasting power, but I am of the unwavering opinion that if you can vote, you must. And if you are Black, I mean this tenfold. No, not because our ancestors fought for this right (I do not believe in guilting people to vote), but because far too much is at stake to deny ourselves this right. In the words of Aubrey Stone, President of the Black Chamber of Commerce, “We cannot expect to win with every vote, but if we don’t vote, we can certainly expect to lose.”
I’ll admit, it is exhausting to vote in a political system where your community is not only underserved, but systemically under attack. Almost 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, the racial wealth gap suggests Black men still earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Almost 66 years after Brown v. Board of Education, racial inequality in our education system still persists as Black students graduate at drastically lower rates than white students, and are more likely to be expelled, less likely to be invited into gifted student programs, and more likely to be overlooked by teachers. According to the Bureau of Justice, 1 in every 4 Black men is likely to go to prison, whereas 1 in every 23 white men is projected to serve time in prison. Black women who give birth in hospitals that primarily serve Black communities are far more likely to have serious health complications than women who give birth in “white-serving” communities. And as we all were reminded this year after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, even though Black people account for less than 13% of the American population, they are still twice as likely to be shot and killed by the police. The system is downright abhorrent for Black Americans. But the answer isn’t for us to not vote. The answer isn’t to self-serve defeat because defeat is expected. I can’t recall any victorious historical movement that was achieved through the passive act of surrender.
The truth is, while suffrage isn’t the all-powerful Oz that my mother and grandmother once proclaimed it to be, voting is a tool that has considerable power and influence in drastically improving our daily living standards. In the upcoming November election, specifically, we’re voting in the hopes of increasing the federal minimum wage, ending the cash bail system, restoring the Voting Rights Act (which was compromised by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013), and increasing federal funding for public schools. For minorities, in particular, we’re voting to reinstate DACA, advance the enactment of the LGBTQIA Equality Act, rescind the Muslim-targeted travel ban, and decriminalize marijuana. Access to affordable healthcare, tuition free college, and investment in climate change programs are also all among the many political initiatives that will ultimately be decided by your vote.
And yes, I do specifically mean your vote. I’m cringing at the children’s television-level soapbox I’ve unintentionally found myself standing on, but your vote sincerely does matter. Every vote does. Overwhelming data shows just how many elections have been decided by a mere handful of voters. In 1991, a House seat in Virginia was determined by one single vote. In 2002, a GOP House primary in the state of Washington was decided by just one vote. George W. Bush infamously won the deciding state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election by roughly 500 votes. And, of course, in 2016, Donald Trump secured the presidency by winning just enough votes to secure the Electoral College. Roughly 43% of eligible voters did not turnout to the polls in 2016. And for that, we are paying dearly.
The presidential election next month is one of momentous importance because we are quite literally voting for our lives. And again, if you are Black, I mean this tenfold. A considerable amount of voter apathy comes from the erroneous and, quite frankly, dangerous idea that a Biden Presidency would be just as bad as a Trump Presidency. And while it is absolutely correct that Biden’s political record is not squeaky clean when it comes to his previous political platforms that affected the Black community (i.e. The 1994 Crime Bill and his former anti-busing stance), it is paramount to affirm that re-electing Trump for a second term (either actively by voting for him or passively by choosing not to vote) would be far more damning to Black America than electing Biden. Neither candidate provides the prospect for a perfect presidency, but one candidate refuses to denounce white supremacy, which freely and directly puts Black America under siege. If the leader of the free world cannot merely condemn the malignant threat and oldest form of racism that has plagued our nation, the floodgates of unbridled bigotry will be jolted open and a second-term presidency would terrorize our worlds in unfathomable ways. As Sonya Renee Taylor so poignantly directs, “vote like you are picking the enemy you want to fight.” Be clear that we would all be better off fighting the enemy whose political record is considerably tainted, than the enemy who wholly rejects the validity of our existence.
No, voting is not the ultimate answer to all of the injustices that plague the Black community. Only a complete and total societal reckoning can even begin to tackle that monumental feat. But voting is an essential step that can be utilized to affect necessary and transformative change. Your vote has tremendous power; you simply must use it forcefully and strategically. But we mustn’t stop our work after we’ve cast our votes at the polls. My mother and grandmother were correct that voting is paramount, but they were wrong about it being the be-all and end-all. We must vote in November, and continue our civic engagement in other proactive ways. We must vote in November, and continue to protest—since the protests that ensued after George Floyd’s death, Minneapolis, D.C., Chicago, and Denver have banned the use of chokeholds and many city governments have removed public sightings of Confederate monuments. We must vote in November, and hold our representatives accountable—in 2006 an immigration reform bill that would increase fines and prison sentences for undocumented immigrants was not enacted because of a successful citizen uprising in the Latinx community. We must vote in November, and continue to act. Voting is merely a single action item, on the thousand-page to-do list of “how to fix America.” But it’s a critical step, nonetheless.
Image: Element5 Digital / Unsplash
There can be no discussion of the year 2020 without the mention of the name George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who was brutally murdered at the hands of Derek Chauvin and three other police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota this past May. And while George Floyd did not ask to be martyred, his brutal and untimely death awakened the world, and was undoubtedly the inciting incident for what many are calling the civil rights movement of 2020. Although it’s tough to say definitively if the uprisings we’ve seen this year can be compared to the civil rights movement of the 1960s (as that movement tenaciously lasted for more than 10 years), it is fair to say that the Black Lives Matter movement is certainly moving in that direction. And if, in fact, we are headed down that historic route, it would absolutely be because of the bold, radical, unapologetic voices guiding us, leading us down the path to revolution.
It is no secret that black women and femmes have played a central role in the current Black Lives Matter movement—after all, it was a 17-year-old Black woman, Darnella Frazier, who bravely filmed George Floyd’s death, providing the world with the concrete video footage that made the misconduct surrounding his murder indisputable. But Black women and femmes have always had a unique perspective into structural injustice, probably because they have always been at the receiving end of most of it. Black women’s rights and interests routinely take a back seat to those of white women and cis black men. As such, you may have heard (whether directly from the source, Malcolm X, or indirectly from a pretty good source, Beyoncé) that “the most disrespected person in America is the black woman.” And perhaps it is because of this regular disrespect that Black women and femmes have sought to reclaim agency and use their voices to speak.
Over the past few months, Black women and femmes from all industries have been using their social media platforms to mobilize and educate the masses, creating a revolution for the digital age. They are leading the anti-racism conversation by saying what many people don’t have the courage to say; pushing the boundary and not accepting performative or shallow attempts at change; ensuring that the revolution will be televised (via Instagram), and that it will be inclusive and intersectional. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the Black women and femmes that I follow who regularly challenge me to learn and do better—I highly recommend you consider following them as well.
Sonya Renee Taylor, IG (@sonyareneetaylor)
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The viral video of Haley challenging her racist parents has gone viral for Folks inspired by her desire to stand up to her parents and advocate for Black people. However, Haley missed the mark and my hunch is most white folks do. STOP arguing with your white family about Black people. START talking about the sickness that is whiteness and how you and them have ingested it. White people talk about people of color so that they don’t have to deal with themselves and the culture and systems whiteness has created inside them. White people it is time to talk about WHITENESS and not about Black folks. #indefenseofblacklives #whitesupremacymustfall #whitestalkaboutwhiteness #healyourwhiteness #blacklivesmatter
If you are like me, you first encountered Sonya Renee Taylor back in June after a video of hers went viral. The video was in response to another viral video on Tik Tok, which featured a well-intentioned yet slightly misguided teen attempting to have “the anti-racism talk” with her family. While most of the internet was applauding Haley for having any semblance of a talk with her family at all, Sonya Renee Taylor’s response video challenged us all to think more critically about what exactly it was that Haley and her family were debating: “Haley was arguing with her parents about whether or not Black people were worthy of life. The fact that that is a conversation is the problem.” Taylor was able to shift the conversation from the localized issue of Black lives simply mattering (a conversation that really shouldn’t be a conversation at all) to the more comprehensive, structural issue: “the delusions of white supremacy.” And that, in a nutshell, is Sonya Renee Taylor’s enthrall—she has the wonderfully unique ability to shed light on matters that challenge and defy the obvious perspective. In addition to her keen insights concerning racism, blackness, and white supremacy, she also commits to spreading discourse surrounding gender, fatphobia, and radical self love. So if you are looking to learn, be challenged, and pick up some lessons on how to love yourself radically and without apology, you must dive into the work of Sonya Renee Taylor and follow her on Instagram.
Noname, Twitter (@noname)
if we believe black lives matter, we must also believe capitalism needs to be destroyed. as long as that system is in place and maintained by powerful elites, black people will die forever.
— 🌱 (@noname) July 26, 2020
Admittedly, it sort of feels weird telling you to follow Noname, because her whole thing is that we should divest from structural systems, celebrity culture being one of them. With that being said… you should follow Noname. Noname has been making music and uplifting POC interests and voices for years now, but she gained mainstream traction this past year. She’s been a dominant voice in the digital Black liberation conversation, regularly challenging her audience to read, learn, and think for themselves. What’s most compelling about Noname’s Twitter presence is she uses it as a means to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. You can find her calling out imperialism, the industrial prison complex, and the patriarchy; but, you can also find her calling herself out, owning past mistakes and gaps of knowledge she had before she learned better. As she poignantly points out, “growth is an embarrassing yet necessary part of the process.”
Perhaps Noname’s biggest digital moment occurred this past June, when rapper J. Cole thought it would be constructive to derail from the movement and drop a tremendously odd single, accusing Noname of using a “queen tone” and thinking “ better than” him and other rappers in her efforts to speak up against structural oppression on Twitter. Noname’s eloquent retort came in the form of a 1 minute and 10 second song, the thesis essentially being: “he really ’bout to write about me when the world is in smokes?” With concision and flair, Noname defended herself while effortlessly redirecting the conversation back to the serious issues at hand. Noname uses her Twitter presence in a similar way, calling out problematic mainstream pop culture while consistently shedding light on critical societal issues. So if you want to be a part of her “new vanguard,” follow Noname on Twitter and consider joining her book club.
Ericka Hart, IG (@ihartericka)
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“In our culture privacy is often confused with secrecy. Open, honest, truth-telling individuals value privacy. We all need spaces where we can be alone with thoughts and feelings – where we can experience healthy psychological autonomy and can choose to share when we want to. Keeping secrets is usually about power, about hiding and concealing information.” -bell hooks ⠀ I have been so weary with this new wave of positing that “call outs” are harmful. In my classrooms, I have always contested with this logic – when you make a suggestion that things shouldn’t be called out- who are you protecting? I don’t know about y’all, but I come from a world that loves a secret. bell hooks in All About Love talks about our desire to keep secrets can be linked to slavery- an institution built on a lie, human traffickers lied, enslaved people had to lie to stay safe, institutions lie about what really happened, white washed history lies. ⠀ It’s revolutionary for secrets to be told. To call a thing a thing, rather than bury it in activism or Broadway. I have been apart of many organizing spaces/non profits etc that claimed radical and love, but resisted transparency. These two things can’t exist at the same time. ⠀ We don’t have a call out culture, we have an abuse protection culture. And that is the essence of white supremacy. ⠀ Thank you @jewel_thegem and @thechubbygoddess for the realest most healing IG live I’ve ever watched. Please go follow them and PAY THEM.
I wish I could say that I’ve had the pleasure of following and engaging with Ericka Hart’s content long before this year, but alas, I, too, fell victim to bandwagon culture, and only discovered this dope account this past May. A self-proclaimed “racial/social/gender justice disruptor,” “sex educator,” and “breast cancer survivor,” Ericka Hart uses their social media platform to cover tons of ground on the journey to liberation and is, by far, one of the most engaging accounts I follow. Ericka Hart’s social media presence is unique in that their dialogue concerning social justice is dynamic—not only do they foster conversations that discuss plain truths about race and Blackness, but they also add unique depth to the discussion by examining matters of colorism and ableism. However, what specifically drew me to Ericka Hart’s account was their advocacy for the protection and uplifting of Black lives that exist beyond the scope of cis Black men. They were a dominant voice in May insisting that we not only demand justice for George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, but for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, Tony McDade, a Black trans man, and countless other Black women and trans folks that have been murdered at the hands of injustice. I, myself, am constantly challenged by Ericka Hart, as they constantly provide the reminder that the revolution cannot be complete or effective if it does not seek to liberate all Black lives. Ericka Hart’s Instagram presence is also a healthy one to follow because they also use it as a platform to celebrate Black joy and Black love—regularly posting content with their partner, Ebony. It’s a radical reminder that the Black story is not one of plight but one of joy and abundance. So do yourself a favor and follow Ericka Hart.
Ziwe, IG (@ziwef)
One of the most powerful adages that has come out of the last couple of months is “the revolution has many lanes.” And I think it’s safe to say that the lane of the revolution that’s “activism through humor” has been monopolized by writer and comedian, Ziwe Fumudoh. Hosting a weekly show on Instagram Live, Ziwe attracts crowds in the thousands as they eagerly watch as she talks with notable people—predominantly white people—about race in America and skillfully baits them into an incorrect, often cringeworthy answer. What’s most fascinating about Ziwe’s show is that her practice of “baiting” really isn’t baiting at all—she just asks questions and simply waits for answers. Without fail, and despite days of preparation and sometimes even tangible notecards, guests will always say the wrong thing—revealing that even the most well-prepared, well-intentioned white people have some kind of implicit bias that they need to reckon with. Previous guests have included infamous white women like Caroline Calloway, Alison Roman, and Alyssa Milano, but Ziwe has also interviewed people of other races, like Jeremy O. Harris, forcing him to discuss his use of Black women’s bodies on stage in his seminal work, Slave Play. At the end of every interview, Ziwe asks her guest what the audience has been wondering the whole time: why the hell did you agree to come on this show? And the guest’s answer is almost always the same: part of doing the work is being made to feel uncomfortable and humbling yourself in order to learn. And that’s the Ziwe influence—she’s created a public platform for those willing to be challenged and learn, while allowing her audience to heal through community and catharsis as they watch the process take place. If you’re not familiar with Ziwe, please join us in the year 2020 and give her a follow!
Rachel Cargle, IG (@rachel.cargle)
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A quick mid week sermon. • If your only goal is to “break the glass ceiling” consider who all those shards of glass will be falling on if you’re not bringing the most marginalized women with you. • Listen to me closely: if your feminism simply means “getting even” with white men it’s not ever going to be an intersectional, inclusive and justice based movement. • Drop a comment or emoji below and let me know you HEAR me. I need you to hear me. • #feminism #womanism #glassceiling #womensrights #womanhistory #womenshistorymonth #quarantine #dogsofinstagram #catsofinstagram #pnwonderland #howdarling #teachersofinstagram #boymom #taylorswift
If there is any account that I am 90% certain you’ve encountered over the past few months, it’s Rachel Cargle’s—and it should be Rachel Cargle’s, as she uses her platform predominantly as a means for education and activism. Upon scrolling through her IG feed, one of the first things of note is that her academic and mobilization efforts far precede this year’s events. Cargle has been guiding the conversation on race and womanhood in support of the revolution for years, even though many of us have only come around recently to receive her words. She regularly promotes the work of “unlearning” through learning, and curates monthly reading lists and lectures via her online platform The Great Unlearn (a patreon you should subscribe to!).
But what sets Rachel Cargle apart from other activists is that a central part of her work is providing tools and resources for her audience to ensure that learning doesn’t stop at required reading, but is further translated into action. For example, when much of the world was posting open letters to their schools, universities, and workplaces to expose them for unjust practices and racist ideals, Rachel Cargle took to her Instagram account to take it one step further: providing her audience with a template for how they, too, can hold the institutions in their lives accountable for structural injustice. In addition to these accountability templates, she also curated a 30-day Do the Work challenge and posted tangible ways to decolonize your bookshelf, continuing the idea that activism must be combined with action in order to really effect change and mobilize a revolution. So if you’re looking to become a student in the masterclass on effective activism, follow Rachel Cargle on Instagram.
A prevailing question on the minds and lips of many this past year has been: “How long will this movement last?” “Is this movement just a moment?” But it’s been three months since the murder of George Floyd, and the movement is still prospering. While the momentum has, naturally, oscillated, its heartbeat is still strong. Why? Because we have leaders: Black women and femmes, the new generation of activists—our new vanguard—who have committed themselves to the endurance of this movement. While it may be easy at times to be defeatist and feel overcome and overwhelmed by how far we have to go, optimism lies in the comfort that we are being led in this revolution by some of the brightest, most talented minds out there. And we can access all of them through the proximity of our smartphones. We simply have no choice but to stan these women and femmes (and send them some coin to pay them for their labor).
Images: Angelo Moleele / Unsplash; sonyareneetaylor, ihartericka, ziwef, Rachel.cargle / Instagram; Noname / Twitter
Before the social justice uprising that has taken place this year, could you name three Black-owned beauty brands off the top of your head? With little accessibility to brands that represent a range of darker skin tones and different hair textures, Black people are often left with limited options to achieve their desired looks. If we have learned anything this year, it is that representation matters. It should go without saying that Black consumers deserve to be acknowledged in the beauty industry. In honor of National Black Business month, we’re turning our attention to three Black women CEOs who have taken the step to catering to Black women’s needs and are making space for more melanin in the beauty industry.
Wilma Mae of DRK Beauty
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Perfectionism is exhausting! It can manifest itself in the way you view yourself, your work, or your ability to achieve your goals. There is far more joy found in embracing what you have and going for it anyway. Tap the link in bio to read @cherylchiew’s latest piece on unlearning perfectionism and how it taught her to see herself as good enough. We hope you are inspired to do the same. What are you letting go off as we move into a new month? Let us know below! #ThisIsDRKBeauty ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #Photo @laurenloncar ⠀⠀⠀ #Model @faithjaggernauth ⠀ #Makeup @deannamelluso ⠀⠀⠀ #Hair @mark.alan.hair ⠀⠀⠀⠀ #Stylist @tarzinichols⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #flawsandall #acceptance #innerbeauty #truebeauty #positivity #affirmations #perfectionism #strongwomen
“DRK Beauty is a digital community that supports and empowers women of color in all their diversity. Through curated content, programming, and community initiatives, DRK Beauty aims to truly empower those who identify as women of color and fix the flawed relationships between brands and women of color.
DRK Beauty Healing is one of our first community initiatives in response to COVID-19 and the BLM movement. When we first launched DRK Beauty Healing on May 15th of this year—before George Floyd’s murder—we had only conceived the idea two weeks earlier as a response to the impending mental health fallout from COVID-19. Having never worked in the therapeutic space, our first step was to speak to therapists. We had back-to-back Zoom calls five days a week for the first month. We also spoke to mental health associations such as Mental Health America to learn more about the space and researched other initiatives in our community. We effectively educated ourselves as quickly as we could.
What we discovered is that there are precious few clinicians of color in the U.S. (Black/African psychologists make up only 5% of the total in the U.S.) and the free initiatives that are out there required prospective clients to fill out online forms and share their data and then wait to be approved to receive the free therapy. This added yet another barrier to entry, not to speak of the cultural stigma of therapy in the Black community. In addition, when you are depressed, traumatized, and/or paralyzed with anxiety, you don’t have the mental bandwidth to fill out forms and wait for an answer. You need the help now! We felt that the need was urgent and we wanted to make the process as seamless as possible. Also, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t breach any privacy rules. So my developers built an online directory and within two weeks we launched with a few hundred hours of therapy donated by clinicians we had spoken to. We asked them to share with their clinicians as well. So they continued to donate hours and within a month of launch, we had 1,000 hours of free therapy to give away. We’ve now raised over 2,000 hours of free therapy and we are now one of the leading platforms for free therapy for women of color in America, covering 27 states with approximately 100 clinicians.”
Brittney Ogike of BeautyBeez
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@vickyunfiltered did not come to play with us!😍 She is rocking @sensationnel_hair Rule Breaker Lace Wig sold both in-store @beautybeezstore and online BEAUTYBEEZ.com 🥰 • • • • • • • • • #melaninmagic #kinkycurlyhair #4ahair #sensationnelhair #melaninpoppin #4chair #teamsensationnel #naturalhair #sensationnel #protectivestyles #bsshair #3chair #lacefrontwig #blackgirlmagic #naturalhairjourney #naturalhairdaily #naturalhaircommunity #rulebreaker #bighair #kinkycurly #blackhair #curlyhair #naturalista #melanin
“BEAUTYBEEZ was created to fill a gap in the retail industry. What many people outside of the African-American community do not realize is that ethnic hair care and beauty products are traditionally sold in small local retailers called beauty supply stores. Every Black woman has memories—both fond and unpleasant—of going to the local beauty supply store with our mothers and shopping for those nostalgic “Black girl hair” products. It was a space specifically for us! The larger retailers didn’t (and still don’t) carry these items. Due to various laws and regulations over the past several decades, ownership in ethnic beauty largely transferred to the Korean-American community. Traditionally, they own the stores, the products, the hair manufacturing, and the distribution. And, unfortunately, people of color are oftentimes discriminated against in all areas—most notably in the beauty supply stores. We are followed, harassed, and left to fend for ourselves.
BEAUTYBEEZ is a modern beauty retailer prioritizing beauty for women of color. I founded the brand after my own dissatisfaction shopping for beauty. As an entrepreneur creating success in a field where I’m the minority, I’ve had to be resilient, resourceful, and stand out. There were several challenges that came my way, and I faced them head on. I took the time to equip myself with the knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in an industry that capitalizes off of me. I used my experience as a consumer and infused it in all aspects of BEAUTYBEEZ—from the products and services we offer to the customer experience. My identity and experiences as a Black consumer have single-handedly been the most effective attribute I’ve brought to the business and enabled me to thrive in an industry that is dominated by people who do not look like me.
BEAUTYBEEZ provides an inclusive beauty experience where women of color can shop, explore, and play in a world full of beauty. The brand was created because nothing like it exists and we wanted to be a complete departure from the typical beauty supply. Our mission is to celebrate Black beauty in every way possible—a curated collection of hair care, skin care, and beauty products; selling inclusive beauty brands; promoting minority owned brands; hiring diversity in our team members; tailored services for our unique needs; and most importantly, the creation of a community reflective of our brand’s values and ideals. We’ve been able to successfully create this space because we possess a passion for and knowledge of our consumers and their needs—an approach many of our predecessors have neglected.”
Jamila Powell, Owner & Founder, Maggie Rose Salon
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“When I first entered the beauty industry, I didn’t really have a clear understanding of all of the nuances and disparity that existed. I am a salon owner and do not do hair. I was primarily interested in the salon being a second stream of income. I started the salon geared towards extension work, and then transitioned into curly textured hair. As the business grew, so did my desire to become more known in the industry and be recognized as a salon of curl experts. That is when I discovered that salons and stylists of color are put in a box and not given the opportunity to shine on an international platform. Even more surprising, most salons that are recognized for specializing in curls are not Black-owned.
I initially tried to reach out to many of the well-known industry publications, but the feedback was pretty much non-existent. Typically, a handful of stylists of color are chosen to be representatives in the hair world, but new talent is not sought-after. I decided with the access we have to the internet and social media, I would create a lane for myself. I have created a global following for Maggie Rose, along with an educational platform called Texture University, and am in the process of launching a hair system for curls called Naturally Drenched. It has been a journey, but I have realized it is better to create your own platform versus depending on others.”
Images: Cottonbro / Pexels; thisisdrkbeauty, beautybeezstore, maggierosesalon / Instagram
The last few months have been riddled with the word “uncertainty”—an email was not an email if it did not address the “uncertain times” that the coronavirus pandemic spewed upon us this past winter, right before giving you 40% off All Shoes and Tops. A targeted ad on Instagram wasn’t effectively targeted if it didn’t acknowledge the unease you must be experiencing during these “uncertain times,” and how 10% off a wine subscription jussssst might quell those concerns. But alas, coronavirus is no longer the headlining act in the treacherous music festival that is 2020.
Around the same time we were basking in our uncertainty as to when we’d be able to go on Hinge dates again, Breonna Taylor, a Black woman in Louisville, was in her own home, unarmed, suffering eight bullets from the police. Less than a month before that, Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was jogging in his own neighborhood in Georgia and was hunted and killed by two white men who thought he “looked suspicious.” And finally, as if guided by theatrics, Act III occurred on May 25, Memorial Day. The day George Floyd, a Black man, was kneeled on and subsequently killed by the police, while Amy Cooper was a few states east calling the cops on Christian Cooper, a Black man in New York, who did absolutely nothing but ask her to follow the rules. What ensued, as I’m sure you are currently living, has been weeks of (justified) civil unrest. People are waking up. People are paying attention. People are acting. And while much of the narrative surrounding these times still remains uncertain, there is one thing of which I can be absolutely sure: your Black friends are not okay.
I typically steer clear of generalizations, but this one I resolutely stand by. The Black people in your life are experiencing a pain that uniquely aches. The ache emanates in the form of grief, confusion, guilt, laughter, tears, anger, pride, power, defeat. The ache is physical, emotional, cerebral. The ache is for the present, the ache is for the past. The ache is silent, the ache is deafening. The ache is personal, the ache is collective. The ache is difficult to put into words, but I can assure you, the ache is there—it always is. But this time, these last few weeks, that ache is particularly onerous.
So this is me, your Black friend—one of them, at least—taking a break from the Real Housewives of Atlanta virtual reunion (which is actually very, very good) to urge you to please stop sending weird texts ending with a Black fist emoji to the Black person you met once at a coffee shop three years ago, and start supporting the Black people in your life in ways that are constructive.
Disclaimer: Some of the things on this list may hurt your feelings—I did not write this with your feelings in mind. Apologies in advance. But I urge you to consider that if the worst hurt you experience in this dialogue is your feelings, perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, you’re ultimately doing okay.
Check In On Your Black Friends Selflessly and With Intention
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I think it’s great that you want to check in on your Black friends right now—I really do. In fact, I think it would be irresponsible and, frankly, shortsighted to not reach out to someone you call a friend who is currently living in a world where the cultural dialogue rests on the question of whether or not their existence is valid. But when you check in on them, I ask that you do so selflessly and with intention.
First, let’s talk about a selfless check-in. I once had a friend send me a hand-written birthday card that spent exactly one line wishing me a happy birthday, and then two paragraphs telling me how enlightened she now was and how much she’d grown as a person in the four months we hadn’t spoken. It became immediately clear that this “birthday card” was entirely for her, not me (and why we hadn’t spoken for four months). This is not the time to self-flagellate, and tell your Black friends that you’re a bad, bad, sick, twisted white person who is not worthy of love or happiness. I mean, I don’t know you, maybe all those things are true, but this is not the time to put that weight on your Black friend. This is not the time for your guilt. This is not the time for you to apologize for that one racist thing you laughed at six years ago in their presence. Trust me, that time will come. But right now, the birthday card is for your Black friend, not you. The check-ins I’ve received that have felt the most genuine have been the ones that are the most concise: “I love you. I am here for you. I am thinking of you. I am fighting for you. I will do better.”
Now, let’s talk checking in with intention. Three years ago, my mom died. I had tons of well meaning friends send texts asking, “How are you doing?” And if I were honest with them, I would have said: “Lol well, my mom’s still dead, so not great!” It is not particularly effective to ask your Black friend how they are doing right now. I’m giving you the answer key for this one: not great! So, with that in mind, think about a more constructive, intentional way to check in on your friend’s well-being. “Have you eaten today? I’d be happy to make/send something your way. Know that I’m here if you ever want to talk, cry, scream, take a walk, drink some wine, dance, sit silently, whatever.”
Give Them an Emotional Six Feet of Distance
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All my work. All my life. I’ve always tried to figure out how I work with what I got. How I serve the community I’m from. How I serve the future to come. It ain’t in silence. It won’t happen with silence. So everything I do is a stretch towards freedom. For my daughter. For your sons. For all of our children. #artjustice #artsctivism #mentor #protest #poeticprotest #donate #blm #bailoutnyc
Once you check in on your Black friends, please, for the love of chilled white wine, leave them alone. I’m not asking you to be silent, I’m simply asking you to be quiet. Give them a moment—many moments—to process. To breathe. To be exonerated of the burden of having to reply to a text. Further (wrap those feelings up), your Black friends don’t want to talk to YOU right now. If your Black friends want to talk, they probably want to talk to their Black friends or their other friends of color who get it. Again, this isn’t me telling you not to reach out; but once you do, expect some quiet from your Black friends. And start to get comfortable with that quiet. If you’ve checked in effectively, they know where to find you if and when they’re ready.
Do Something for Them Without Them Having to Ask
I have always hated the solicitation: “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” Now, that is partly because I have been gifted with the horrific disease of recoiling at the thought of asking anyone for help (my two therapists and I are working through this). But also, and perhaps more aptly, I’ve always found that in times of extreme grief and mental turmoil, it takes a lot of emotional intelligence to know exactly what kind of help you need. I’ll return to my mother’s death a few years ago. A couple of days after my mom died, I remember coming home to find that my roommate had done all of my laundry for me. This was particularly moving because if she would have asked me “hey, how can I help you right now?” I would have never said: “Um, you can do my gross laundry that’s been sitting on my floor for six weeks!” Not only would I have never said that, the thought of “needing to do laundry” would have never crossed my mind. So, instead of asking your Black friends what you can do to help them right now, which puts the onus on them to have to find the emotional intelligence to try to figure it out, anticipate their basic needs and try to cater to them. Do their laundry, order them food, make them a sandwich, bring them a glass of water. You are smart and capable! If you really want to help your Black friends right now, you can think of some things to do for them without them having to ask.
Support Their Mental Health
As I’m sure you can imagine, your Black friends’ mental health is particularly vulnerable right now. Many of your friends are experiencing situational upsets to their mental stability that may have been triggered by the events of the last few weeks; others may have been battling preexisting mental health conditions that have only been further exacerbated by the current social climate. A friend of mine reached out to me a couple of days ago and asked if he could pay the copay for one of my virtual therapy sessions. This felt particularly constructive because not only was he recognizing that my mental state was fragile, he offered to do something tangible to contribute to my mental wellness. So if you’re looking to direct your efforts towards supporting your friends’ mental health, offer to help pay for a therapy session if they’re seeing a therapist; offer to pay for a month of Liberate, a meditation app created by BIPOC for BIPOC; music is therapy for so many people in the Black community, so offer to pay for a month of their music streaming service. A great way to constructively support your Black friends is to effectively support their mental health.
Speak Up So Your Black Friends Don’t Have To
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Last week, my place of work sent a mass email to all of its employees addressing the “current events” to state that their official stance was: “racism is unacceptable.” Pause for applause. (I hope you read that last sentence with the seething sarcasm in which it was written.) Upon receiving this email, my mind went to two places: 1) there is absolutely nothing of substance here—it is 2020, I sincerely hope I work for a company that “condemns racism” and 2) Great! Now I have to respond to this incredibly vapid statement because if I don’t, no one else will. What I’m asking is that you be that “no one else” for your Black friend, in this case, your Black colleague. As my newfound guiding light, Audre Lorde, said, “ the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes.” You have no idea how exhausting, depleting, and quite frankly, trite it is to routinely have to enlighten others on the whys. Why you can’t say the n-word, why you can’t touch my hair, why mixing me up with the only other Black girl in the room is inherently racist. At this point, you know the answers to those whys. So, if you received a bullsh*t email like I did this week, you respond so your Black colleagues don’t have to. If you see a post that says “All Lives Matter,” you engage, so your Black friends don’t have to. Give us a break—we’ve been fighting this fight for 400 years. We’re tired.
Support Black Livelihood
I want you to ask yourself a question: “How am I uplifting Black voices and Black lives in weeks when they are not violently slain in the streets?” If you can’t answer this question, or if your answer is “by listening to Kanye West,” I urge you to spend some time with this point, specifically. Supporting Black Lives Matter does not end with fighting the systemic violence against and murder of black bodies; it must also include uplifting and empowering us while we’re alive. An enormously constructive trend I’ve been seeing on social media is white professionals using their platforms and privilege to open the gates for Black creatives. Editors, writers, and casting directors are making themselves and their colleagues directly accessible to Black creatives who historically encounter enormous barriers of entry. If you hold the keys or know someone who holds the keys to the gates to your profession, share them with a Black person. Writing a screenplay? Can the main character be Black? Probably! Hiring? Can that executive be Black? YES. And to answer your grandfather’s next question: no, this is not a “handout”—this is merely leveling the playing field in a game Black people were never intended to play. Also remember that supporting Black livelihood means supporting Black businesses! Here’s a list of Black-owned companies you can support right now.
Understand That You Cannot Understand—But Like, Try!
I’ve been seeing this graphic make its way around the realm that is social media: it usually consists of a Black and white hand being held (lol), with the caption “I understand that I cannot understand.” And while these words are absolutely correct—there is no way that any non-Black person could ever understand the unsurmountable weight that comes with being a Black body in America—simply saying you “can’t understand” is reductive and effectively absolves you from the task of having to learn. This ideal, while well-meaning, is passive, and gleans no commitment to action. Which leads me to my last point…
Do The Work
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Absolutely nothing else on this list is of any importance if you are not committing yourself to doing the work. Your check-in texts, your Venmo gifts, your Black Lives Matter T-shirts are just futile gestures in an empty vacuum of performative allyship if you are not holding yourself accountable and doing the work. “The work,” “the work,” what do your Black friends mean when we keep talking about “the work?” “The work” is committing yourself to learning about the structural, deliberate, and systemic nature of racism that was thrust upon your friend as soon as they entered this world as a Black body. “The work” is learning that from an early age, your friend has had to learn how to navigate as a Black body in a white world as a means of, at least, fitting in, and at most, survival. “The work” is looking within; looking at your own actions, your own belief and value systems, and recognizing that, whether consciously or not, you have not only been complicit in, but have benefitted from and contributed to, a world that was designed to suppress Black lives. Luckily for you, there are mountains upon mountains of books, documentaries, theory, podcasts, accessible to you right now that unpack the 400 years of systemic racism in America, starting at day 1. Know that the work is arduous. The work has no finish line. The work will probably hurt your feelings. But the work is what is required of you if you want to constructively support your Black friends.
Images: Maverick Pictures / Shutterstock.com; rachel.cargle, mobrowne, wastefreemarie, officialmillennialblack / Instagram