Black Fashion in 1969: A Tribute to Mad Men

I’ve written about my genuine love and raw disappointment with Mad Men, time, time, and time again. I’ve sung its praises and hollered my disappointment in its whitening of the 60s, in addition to its tasteless underrepresentations of people of color. I’ve learned to expect a lack of genuine representation of people who look like me on Mad Men, just as a fatherless child learns to expect Daddy to never call. But instead of pouting about it, I’ve been preparing for tonight’s premier by doing what Matthew Weiner and Co. should have done.  I’ve been celebrating the history and visual righteousness of Black people in 1969 (the year that season 7 left us in last Spring), and I invite you to join me.

In 1969, Supermodel Naomi Sims demonstrated that Black is both beautiful and fierce by serving as Life Magazine's covergirl.

In 1969, Supermodel Naomi Sims demonstrated that Black is both beautiful and fierce by serving as Life Magazine’s covergirl.

In this same issue of Life Magazine, Black models of all hues were featured, demonstrating Black beauty and style.

In this same issue of Life Magazine, Black models  were featured, demonstrating Black beauty and style.

Miriam Makeba was effortlessly chic ’til the day she died.

Check out Aretha Franklin looking glamorous and chic as she prepares to go onstage in 1969.

Jimi Hendrix did what he wanted, how he wanted, when he wanted, and his approach to fashion was no different. Fashion was an extension of his music– colorful, layered, and eccentric.

Kathleen Cleaver was and continues to be intelligent, political, and fashionable.

#ThatHairTho I think this ad is supposed to be for Noxema, but all I see is the beautiful diversity of Black hairstyles. Black women’s hair has always been a part of our “outfit”/ our style. Our hair doesn’t make us, but even if we’re bald, it ads to our flyness.

As Mad Men ends an era,  I daydream of a rich story involving a P.O.C. , but, again, I’m going to be realistic by accepting the white limitations of Mad Men. For 45 minutes, I’ll allow myself to get swept away into their White fairyland where P.O.C’s stand in the backdrop of the privileged worlds of Madison Avenue, where Joan and Pete are trying to make a cool million, where Betty’s trying her hand at conservative feminism, where Roger’s trying to never grow up, and where Don’s searching for sanity in the midst of his own chaos. But when I step out of the Mad world of make believe, thanks to the likes of Nina Simone, I’ll remember what was really going on in 1969: Revolution.

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“Equal Rights for Women!” : Hey Patricia! Am I included in this?

This post is in conversation with, Why We Need to Talk About Diversity Differently by Bad Feminist author, Roxane Gay. Using the lack of Diversity in this year’s /every year’s Oscars as her entry point, Gay addresses why race, gender, sexuality, class, disability… any oppression should not be fought in isolation. She also responds to the political nature of multiple speeches during the awards, including one given by Particia Arquette after winning Best Actress for her work in Boyhood. Though I refused to watch The Oscars, for the same reasons why I didn’t last year, I was privy to the content of Arquette’s political speech almost immediately after it was shared. Everyone’s favorite, Meryl Streep, was most enthused, and social media was roaring with praise for Arquette’s speech– particularly when she said:

“It’s time to have wage equality once and for all. Equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Okaayyy, I thought. This is absolutely important. But, am I, as a woman of color, included? I know some of my friends, are thinking, Of course, you are!!!!!!!! But, no.really. Am I?

In my experience as a college feminist and a Master of Women and Gender Studies (yes, I went there), when some people discuss women’s rights, they’re not always discussing my rights as a woman of color. Race is one problem, while women’s rights is another. But this doesn’t work for me. When people look at me, when I experience, the world, I experience it as a Black woman — not one or the other. My blackness and my womanness, as well as my middle-classness and straightness, are always working together like one machine. Critical Race Theorists, Kimberle Crenshaw, calls this intersectionality. One’s multiple identities don’t get compartmentalized, but are always working for and against them simultaneously.  As Roxane Gay points out in her article:

“Women of color, for example, don’t go to work one day as women and the next day as people of color, leaving their gender at home in a cabinet. We carry all aspects of our identity with us at all times. When we talk about diversity and equality, we need to consider the whole of a person and how the whole of a person is affected by the inequalities of this world.”

When Arquette brought light to the important issues of wage equality and equal rights for women, was she doing this in solidarity with fellow Oscar winners, Common and John Legend, who’s speeches mentioned the many fights going on around the world, including the outrageous numbers of incarcerated Black men? Or, was she saying, “We’ve fought for your rights, but now it’s time for women?!”

After her acceptance speech, she did extrapolate on what she meant. She said, “The truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, there are huge issues that are at play that really do affect women. It’s time for all… the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for, to fight for us now.

One can interpret this in many ways, I guess, but what I hear/read is that white women have supported the efforts of gay people (there are women who are gay, no?) and people of color (ain’t I a woman?), and, now, it’s time to turn our attention to women (but, for reals, am I included?).

Maybe wage equality hasn’t currently been at the forefront of the fight for communities of color, because people of color are currently fighting for life. And maybe the LGBTQ community (which includes P.O.C’s) hasn’t put wage equality at the forefront, because many are also fighting for… well, life. Now, don’t get me wrong, my bank account and my student loans are screaming at the top of their lungs for wage equality (as well as respectful wages for educators), just as I’m fighting for the many rights and privileges my community still doesn’t have. The multiple rights I’m fighting for, for communities of color (i.e. fair education, safety, job opportunities, visibility justice etc…) just can’t be isolated, because they’re always working together. I can’t fight for women’s rights on Monday, the rights for people of color on Tuesday, and the rights for the LGBTQ community on the weekends. And quite frankly, they’re all one fight. I hope Patricia Arquette and other allies who are supporting our struggles can get down with that. Because, we know that when archaic oppressions like wage equality is settled (I can’t believe this still hasn’t been dealt with- where’s Hilary?), white women will be the first to benefit from it. #RealTalk #NoShade #HistorysaysSo #RememberAffirmativeAction?

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Kendrick Lamar LaysDown The Message with New Song: “The Blacker the Berry”

Usually, I let things ruminate before I post them. I sit with my opinions, maybe, I’ll read/listen to what others have to say, and then I write. But, I just listened to the new Kendrick Lamar song, “The Blacker the Berry,” and I need it to be documented on my page NOW.

You know, this blog was supposed to be about Hip Hop: A woman’s perspective on what’s going down in Hip Hop, was the original premise. But, for the past few years, Hip Hop has bored and disappointed me. It hasn’t reflected my perspective or my story, and in most cases, it has simply felt like its given up on itself. Yes, artists like Kendrick Lamar, Azalea Banks, some J Cole, and Common have piqued my interest, but I haven’t been getting what I need from Hip Hop the way I used to.

But, “The Blacker the Berry”….. (biting fist now)

Kendrick Lamar, I salute you. I mean, I’m not surprised that you would be the one to remind us what Hip Hop is supposed to be… but thank you. Thank you for releasing a song that is honest. That’s complicated. That’s ugly. That’s reflective of what’s going on now. “The Blacker the Berry,” captures so much of what I’ve been thinking as I read the news, as I see what’s going on in East Oakland. Thank you for having a message that’s layered and rooted in the hypocrisy of this country. Thank you for understanding your position as an artist, and making your airtime count. Whether people agree with you are not, they’ll listen to what you have to say, and maybe, we can begin begin to have some real dialogue.

Thank you, Kendrick, for being an artist.

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Langston Hughes’ Teachings: A Fifth Grader Breaks It Down


I wrote this a few months ago, but never posted it. Since it’s Langston Hughes’ birthday, as well as the first day of Black History Month, I thought it would be fitting to post it today. As always, when referencing students, names have been changed to protect their identities. For this narrative, I decided to use the names of Kendrick Lamar and Lupe Fiasco to replace the names of my students, because at one time, they were boys too–maybe collecting their thoughts is similar ways as my scholars.

In the beginning of the year, my scholars and I read a biography about Langston Hughes. We were reading about Hughes’ early life—how he almost grew up in Mexico City, but his mother moved back to the States. How he and his mother struggled to find stable jobs, despite having college educations. And of course, we learned about Hughes’ skill for writing poems in the voices of Black people he knew from the streets of St. Louis and Harlem.

Langston Hughes: American Poet by Alice Walker is a biography that I read to my scholars every year. It’s a great book that not only explores Hughes’ life, but it also captures the complicated relationships that exist within the Black community.

When we got to the point of the story where Hughes can’t find a job outside of being a busboy or bellhop, I paused and asked my students what was the problem, or conflict, of the story.

“There is no problem,” said Kendrick Lamar, who is one of my strongest students.

“Really? You don’t think there’s a problem?”

In addition to gathering information for their upcoming essay on Hughes, we were also working on how to write a succinct summary, by focusing on conflicts within a story. A common conflict we’ve read about is how racism has interfered with the work of leaders such as Cesar Chavez, Richard Wright, and Sonia Sotomayor. I was surprised that racism wasn’t an obvious problem to locate for Kendrick.

Using our class signal for disagreeing, other students, however, showed they had located a conflict in the story.

“Lupe Fiasco, why do you disagree?” I asked.

“There is a problem in the story. I think the problem is that Langston Hughes can’t find a job, because the white people won’t hire him for the good jobs, because he’s Black.”

Most scholars communicated they agreed with Lupe’s noticing.

“That’s not a problem,” Kendrick, who’s not really into the whole raising your hand system, shouted.


Sounds to me.

Like a prawww—lum.

“A prawww-lum?” I said. “There’s a difference? Tell me more.”

I knew what he was about to break down for us. I, like Langston Hughes, know that my people have a beautiful gift of playing with language, creating new words, as well as new ways for using words that transcend what’s been deemed “appropriate” for school. Kendrick broke down his wordplay like very simply. He said:

A problem is something simple that can be solved. But not being able to get a job, because you’re Black? Well, that’s a Prawww. Lum.

At this point, Kendrick could have dropped the MIC and spent the rest of the day enjoying recess, as far as I was concerned. Not only did he demonstrate one of Langston Hughes’ life-long projects—to honor the beauty and skill of Black people seducing the English language as we see fit—but he also summarized one of the biggest praww-lums that continues to plague communities of color.

As I prepare lessons to tackle fifth grade standards—the skills that I’m supposed to have taught my scholars by the end of the year—I wonder….

When will the beautiful ways that my students manipulate and engage with language be honored and showcased in a respectful way? When will my scholars’ sophisticated observations about the world be valued, and be a part of the ways they are formally assessed and evaluated? When will unemployment for Black men no longer be a praww-lum?

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Happy Birthday Langston Hughes

Langston Swag

Happy Birthday Langston!

My students and I will read some of your words tomorrow. They love you and can relate to you.They memorize you without me instructing them to do so.  Maybe, it’s because you affirm their voices and their beauty.

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

This is why I love you and your words, your legacy and your spirit.

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My New Year’s Resolution: Brought to You by Angela Davis

” I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept!” – Angela Davis

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A Year In Review: My Favorite Experiences of 2014

Happy New Year, indeed! It has been a year of learning… I think that would be the positive way to frame it. And despite the challenges, there have been a lot of good that has come out of 2014. I’m going to keep my last post of 2014 light and brief.

Here are a few of my favorite things of 2014.

Favorite Reading Experience….

Reading Vladimir Nabokov’s collection of short stories,”Terra Incognita” on the tube in London.

Favorite Movie Experience…

Too easy of a choice. Watching Selma at The Castro Theater, knowing that the film’s director, Ava Duverney, is in the same theater.

Favorite Album of 2014

A tie between Little Dragon’s Nabuma Rubberband and FKA Twigs, LP1. Both albums were introduced to me by friends and I was surprised by how much I loved each of them.

Favorite Concert Experience…

While last year was the year of reading, this year was the year of concerts. I went to many– including a Little Dragon and FKA Twigs concert– but I have to say that my favorite concert was seeing the New Zealand drum and bass group, Shapeshifter at The Jazz Cafe in London, England (Camden Town to be specific). There was so much positive energy, and everyone was dancing.

Favorite Experience(s)… I have three…

1.Spring Break in Chicago with my BFF. It was my first time there, and I was blown away with the architecture, the vintage shopping, and the people! Everyone I encountered was genuinely friendly. 2. Spending a month in London. It was my fourth trip there, and it confirmed that I’m in love with that city and am determined to make it my home. The art, the old and new history constantly playing with and against each other, the diversity, and, once again, the people. 3. Watching my students shift and develop their inquisitive minds. I’m fortunate to have served as their 4th grade teacher, and while they challenged me in the realest way, I couldn’t resist spending 5th grade with them. They have taught me so much and I’m proud to be working with them.

My Favorite Learning Experience…

photo (2)

Stay real to yourself. Remember your goals, your purpose, your defined realness, and ignore those who try to distract you. And when you feel down, remember your village; they’re ready to lift you.

3 Things Making Me Happy (In the Midst of My Anger): December

It’s been a while since I’ve shared what’s making me happy. This is partly due to having little time to write, because I’m responsible for the reading lives of 60 fifth graders. Additionally, each time I’ve tried to write about the things making me happy, I couldn’t help but think about what’s making me pissed off. This series was to distract me from the frustrations of racism, but the current attack on Black lives has brought up my defenses, making me feel like the most authentic emotion I can feel is anger.

But we know it’s not healthy to be angry all of the time. If we don’t release and deal with our anger, it will kill us. It’s important to release our anger… to express it in whatever ways we need to… and, then, we need to look for the happiness somewhere, so that we can move forward. We need to look for happiness in the big things… In the little things… In the simple things that have always been waiting to be appreciated. Here are three things that have been making me happy…

1. Time to Process. It’s Winter Break, and more than sleeping in and eating Bahamian Mac & Cheese, I’m happy for time to process. As a teacher, I get little time to do this. I’m told to implement new curriculum, to assess! assess! assess! students before they’re given time to process their learning, to alter teacher moves, and then, to immediately react to the devastation that is taking place in this country. MARCH! PROTEST! BE ANGRY! DON’T BE ANGRY! BE CAREFUL! (what does that even mean for people of color, anymore?) But, I…we are not given time to think… to plan…to consider objectives for reactions, because we’re just going, going, going…. All that to say, Winter Break, Spring Break, Summer Break, Weekend Break are treasured moments that I hold close to my heart, because they allow me thinking time…reflection time… time to process all that has happened and all that will be, so that I can try to act in meaningful, intentional ways in multiple aspects of my life.

2. Ava Duvernay’s Success. You may not know who she is now, but you’re about to. I posted a short film Duvernay did a few years ago with Miu Miu, and in a few days, many people will know her work, if not her name. Ava Duvernay’s film, Selma, is opening Christmas Day, and she has rightfully so been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director, making her the first Black woman to be up for this award. I’ve been following her career for a few years (she also wrote and directed I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere. Middle of Nowhere won the Directors Award in the 2012 Sundance Film Festival), and am grateful that her vision and talent is going to be noted on a large scale. I had the opportunity to see a private screening of Selma a few months ago, and it’s everything we need right now to remind us where we’ve been and what we need to move forward.

3. The Simple Things. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s been a year of challenges. Those days when the struggle got a little too real, I had to look out for the simple things to bring me joy. Simple things like dedicating the week before Winter break to wearing  festive outfits, and then posting them on Instagram…  Simple things like discovering new music on Spotify and dancing in my bedroom… Simple things like cradling my dog like a baby, because it comforts the both of us… And the most simple, but beautiful thing–laughing. I’m fortunate that between my students, my friends, my own awkwardness, and my husband, I’m promised many opportunities to laugh each day… These are the simple things that keep me going… that keep me happy.

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