How do you introduce yourself to a group of people virtually? For me, an introduction is always the most nerve wracking, intellectually stimulating, and awe-inspiring moment in my life. I mean, that one paragraph of written words is supposed to encapsulate everything important about the person I am! Or, at least, the person I think I am. This past year, especially, I like to think that I have gotten much better at my intros since I have been traveling around the world researching the import and export of Indian hair and the impacts it is having on identity, self-esteem, beauty, and cultural norms for the global Black community. Besides traveling around the world, I own and run my own catering company, Yellow Tomato, with my brother here in sunny Pasadena, California...
i was also born and raised here in the “City of Roses” and love the small town vibe, annual New Year’s Day Rose Parade, and the weather! After spending 4 years in upstate New York attending Hamilton College, I have come to the realization that I do not like the cold or snow! As I tell everyone who insists that snow is beautiful and that Christmas just isn’t Christmas without snow, if God wanted us to live in the snow and the cold, he would have made us with fur. Needless to say, the warmer the climate, the happier I am! Other than running my own business, I am training to run the LA Marathon and love reading, writing, listening to music, surfing the internet, and my dog Miso plus two cats, Venus and Serena.
Q: What are your dreams?
A: What are my dreams? Short term, wake up in the morning, run the entire LA marathon, find something beautiful to marvel at every day. Long term, expand Yellow Tomato to the size as (or bigger than) Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s combined, become a successful entrepreneur with multiple businesses all over the world. Travel the world by the age of 40. Go back to school and get my Master’s/ Ph.D. in cultural studies. But most of all, I want to be happy.
Q: How do you define physical beauty in a woman and a man?
A: Wow, how can I define physical beauty when beauty itself is so subjective and individual? I think I will lean on the dictionary definition since I would not know how to define it otherwise. Beauty is “a combination of qualities such as shape, color, or form that pleases the senses, especially the sight.” With this definition in mind, everyone, man and woman alike, is physically beautiful in their own way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Q: How do you define inner beauty?
A: I believe that is a combination of factors that makes a person pleasing to the intellect. I love to be mentally intrigued. When the inner and outer form please me, OMG! If you couldn’t tell by now, inner beauty is definitely more important to me. We change physically all the time. Weight gain, weight loss, illness, wrinkles… however, if you have a sense of humor, a je ne sais quoi, that lasts a lifetime.
Q: If you stood in front of the top ten most influential people of the world, what would you tell them?
A: Standing in front of the top 10 most influential people of the world, I would tell them to not forget the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Don’t forget the people that helped you get to where you are today. So many times we forget to thank and give back to the communities that have raised us, and supported us. We must all remember the people that helped us get where we are today, and to help others get to where we are now.
Q: If you stood in front of the entire African diaspora, women, men, elders and youngsters, and you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?
A: It’s just skin! We are all shades of brown, from deep chocolate to nearly white. Love yourself, your color, and own your beauty.
Q: What needs work in our community?
A: Something that definitely needs work in our community is the amount of self-hate and self-policing we do to one another. As a people, there is such discontent with the situation we are in, and how “the white man is the oppressor”. While I do agree that colonialism set us back both socially and economically, at the same time, we are in the 21st century. Instead of acting like crabs in a barrel and pulling each other down, we must work together to elevate ourselves. We don’t need to look for the approval of others to know what we ourselves half-heartedly believe. Instead of simply saying “Black is Beautiful,” we must fully believe it.
Q: What is exemplary in our community to others?
A: We are the birthplace of civilization, the original race! The richness of our cultures continues to affect and recreate how we connect and communicate with others. We are master linguists, and the hundreds of traditional languages spoken all over the continent, as well as the rich and colorful traditional clothing and food, only continue to distinguish our community from the rest. Our community is so industrious and creative, and our ability to take something mundane and turn it into something completely our own is incomparable. The different tones, waves, and intonations that our voices make here in the States have created its own culture. No matter where in the world you are, you can always see the signature Black woman hand-on-hip stance! The thing that I love the most, however, is our skin, and all the shades that we come in. What can I say? I simply love blackness, and all that it encompasses.
Q: What is the one dream that you will make happen, no matter what? Why and how?
A: One dream? Only one??? Well I guess I would have to settle on doing something that pretty much combines two dreams in one – travel the world by the time I am 40. I love traveling, and the more I do it, the more addicted to it I become! I feel truly happy and at peace with myself and the world around me whenever I am outside of my normal comfort zone and experiencing other cultures, communities, and ways of life. Being someplace else forces you outside of your comfort zone and makes you realize so much about yourself, the world, and life in general. Every time that I have the opportunity to leave the U.S., I am always humbled by the genuine kindness and happiness I see and experience at the hands of everyday people, and relearn how to marvel at the sheer beauty of this world. How I am going to do this? Keep buying plane tickets!
Q: Tell us about your definition of success and why you think that’s the best definition of success; who does it apply to, do you embody it? Who embodies it?
A: What is success? Well this is a tricky question. I think my definition of it may differ from the norm, but I would define it as the completion of a goal, no matter how small or large. Success depends completely on each individual person and the goals they have set for themselves. In my opinion, everyone is successful in their own way. For me, I do believe that I am successful. The goals I set out for myself, I complete, no matter how inconsequential they may seem. I definitely feel that success is a constant battle to maintain because it requires a constant reevaluation of the self and the goals that have been set out by the individual. Obtaining success is easy, but maintaining it is difficult.
Q: Who/what inspires you to be successful?
My mom and my brother both inspire me to push myself to be successful. My mom has always encouraged me to dream big and to never let myself get in the way of what I want to achieve.
Q: The book you would recommend to all Tamaji readers? Why?
A: One book that I would recommend to all Tamaji readers would be Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts Edited by Ayana Byrd and Akiba Solomon. I read this book while in the Dominican Republic, and it honestly changed my life! As a Black woman, this book allowed me to connect with other Black women whose experiences with how their bodies are experienced by others has affected (both positively and negatively) their sense of self. Reading this book it allowed me to realize that so many other people consume the Black female image and that although my body is mine, as soon as I walk down the street, it no longer belongs to me, but to society at large. If there is any book a Black woman should read to make sense of herself and her place in society, it is this book.
Q: If you left the world tonight, what would your footprint be?
A: If I left the world tonight, my footprint would be that I have changed someone’s life for the better, brought them true happiness, put a genuine smile on their face, and caused them to dream of greatness.
PS – Alexandria Dotson is a Bristol Fellow. She will give a talk about her fellowship on May 20th, 2013 at 5pm at the Altadena Community Center 730 E. Altadena Dr. Altadena CA, 91001. Tickets are $10.00 ($7.00 for students with proof of I.D.). You can call or email for purchase (626) 676-5105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
50 Shades of Black is proud to partner with Tamaji Magazine. The column features personal interviews with men and women from the African Diaspora whose voices reflect a unique perspective. This week’s feature is Alexandria Dotson from Pasadena, CA. Be sure to tune in next week!