Posts filed under personal stories

MTV "True Life": Kiara Representing Beautiful in Every Shade™

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MTV’s “True Life: I Have A Trans Parent”, follows two young people grappling with their parents’ transitions. Kiara, one of people featured on the show, ROCKED a BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™ shirt throughout a recent episode.

We appreciated the support and your embodiment of the message. 

Kara is 23-year-old women who lives with her husband and son in Georgia speaks openly about adjusting to but also her heart's desire to support and stand by her parent.  

When asked what advice she had for someone who’s having a hard time dealing with their parent’s transition, she said "Have patience and be openminded. It's important to remember that, in a way, you're going through a transition as well, and viewing your parent as a different gender doesn't happen over night."

At 0:46 and 2:01 of this short "True Life: I Have A Trans Parent" Sneak Peek, you can also find Kiara repping Beautiful in Every Shade™. 

To see an update about Kiara and her relationship with her father, view MTV's check-in interview with Kiara

Posted on January 28, 2016 and filed under family, Identity, LGBT, personal stories, press, sexuality.

I AM SHAUN KING. Question Him. Question Me.

I Am Shaun King. Question him. Question me. Question every light-skinned African American you see. I’m sure you might learn some enlightening HISTORY.

I Am Shaun King.

Wow! I can‘t believe this. For a few days I’ve been following all of the media craziness surrounding my good friend Shaun King. Shaun is an outspoken activist whose race has been recently questioned. Is he black? Is he white? Is he a race fraud? Did he lie to get a scholarship? Is he Rachel 2.0?

Ever since the Rachel Dolezal ordeal I cannot count how many times I, myself, have been jokingly asked:

1.     Can you show me your race card?

2.     Let me see your birth certificate?

3.     Who are your parents, really?

4.     Are you really black?

5.     I’ve always wondered about you…

Shaun and I went to Morehouse College together. We were members of the largest class to ever enter this historic HBCU. I still remember meeting Shaun for the first time. He shook my hand, looked into my eyes and said ‘hello brother’ with the quiet confidence and energy that one would expect from a world leader. Literally, from the instant I made his acquaintance I knew this man was destined for greatness. He was special and I knew it. Shaun and I shared something unique.  It was something I wrote about in my 50 Shades of Black (Volume I) story titled, “Red Bone with Blue Eyes.”  My story in 50 Shades of Black reignites the issues I had growing up as a light-skinned African American child. Some of these painful memories I had repressed for many years.

 

My daughter Addison is a spitting image of me as a child. She is called “beautiful” on a daily basis. Thirty years ago my look was called, “weird.”  Growing up in Pensacola, FL during the 80’s and 90’s I was the victim of constant verbal abuse and often provoked into fights. I had to prove my blackness to my own African American community. Yes, I was a pretty popular kid. That’s how most of my classmates probably remember me, but there was a part of my life, my horror, lurking in the shadows. I remember waiting for the bus after school and receiving a tip that I was about to get ambushed. For a while I started sneaking to get on the bus first so that I would not be subjected to hateful words or bullying.  A student once cornered me in the bathroom with a knife. Many of my friends (lets just call some of them acquaintances) would say to me that I thought I was better than them because I was lighter...that I thought I was more intelligent...that I was the teacher’s favorite because of my skin. I was called a reverse Oreo cookie just because of my appearance and because I had friends of all races.

 

The verbal abuse did not end with kids from school; there were adults that took part in this foolishness as well. “That can’t be your dad? What are you? Where did you come from? What’s wrong with your hair? I wish I had your fair skin color. You’re going to make some pretty babies one day.”  A lot of this pain led to my search for a racial identity. It has shaped the person I am today and the sensitivity I have as a photographer.

 

 Photo of Shaun King by Ross Oscar Knight

Photo of Shaun King by Ross Oscar Knight

In August 2008, I photographed Shaun. He needed portfolio images to use for his ministry, The Courageous Church, as well as other endeavors. We shared stories about Morehouse, our family, and our future. It was like we were two brothers plotting a world takeover. Since then, Shaun has supported all of my international trips and in 2010, he gave me the opportunity to visit Haiti. My images of Shaun and his projects have been used around the world in magazines/books and on television.

 

I know Shaun as an honest person who stops at nothing to help people (cue hopemob.com). You can’t hold him back from achievement. That only fuels his passion to make a greater difference in the world. He has constantly used his voice and influence for justice. He has risked his life to create positive change. He doesn’t just start conversations about race; he is the conversation about race. 


"He doesn't just start conversations about race; he is the conversation about race."


Ever since his involvement in the #blacklivesmatter movement, he has been under constant scrutiny. He is facing a character assassination in the media. His race and his intentions have been taken into question. I know him and I’m just not having that!!

Although he didn’t have to respond to the attacks, Shaun decided to explain his painfully private story:

Race, love, hate, and me: A distinctly American story

 

I Am Shaun King. Question him. Question me. Question every light-skinned African American you see. I’m sure you might learn some enlightening HISTORY.

---

50 Shades of Black examines the complex role Sexuality and Skin Tone play in the formation of Identity.

 

Ross Oscar Knight is a photo-culturalist,  Owner of Ross Oscar Knight Photography, and Co-Director of 50 Shades of Black

Posted on August 21, 2015 and filed under current events, Identity, personal stories, press, race, skin tone.

TAXI! -On Being a Black Woman Catching a Cab Ride In Cuba

 Photos and Text by The Travel Guru

Photos and Text by The Travel Guru

Click to Enlarge

hen I travel I am always surprised at how safe I feel. I have traveled all over the world by myself and for the most part, have always felt safe when walking down the street. I was recently in Havana, Cuba and from  American news outlets I’ve heard all of my life that Cuba is a place where I should have been scared. However, my black skin was well received and I was treated with dignity and respect by all I met.

Traveling to a country where your color isn’t a factor in how you are treated is an amazing feeling. When I was in Havana the blackness of my skin wasn’t an issue. From the moment I walked out of the airport until the moment I left I felt as ease. There was never a moment where I was reminded that my blackness was considered inferior. I am in no way saying Havana doesn’t have racial issues because they do. Many dark skinned Cubans have a much harder time than their light skinned brothers and sisters but as an American, my Black skin wasn’t a factor.

Sometimes when I travel I don’t realize how much my race is a factor in America until I leave and visit a country where I’m celebrated and appreciated. Being able to walk down the street and not feel judged is freeing in ways unimaginable. Getting most of my information from American news, Havana has been vilified. It has been portrayed as this evil third world place that no one should dare visit. However, my experience was the complete opposite. Seeing people all around me with the varied hues of blackness was refreshing. Hearing the first foreign language I learned being spoken daily put a smile on my face that hardly ever left. For me, my blackness in Havana was empowering. Even though the city is poor, the feeling of having my skin valued and not questioned made me feel rich in ways unimaginable.

One example of how my blackness wasn’t an issue and safety not a concern was when I was coming home from a night on the town. I was hanging out with some of my Black American friends and we got into a taxi, there were 5 of us. I was staying in a different part of town so one of my girlfriends said, “Roni, we will drop you off first so you don’t have to be alone.” Because I had felt so safe in Havana I didn’t think it was necessary but I wanted to appease my friends so I agreed. When I told the light skinned driver in Spanish that I wanted to be dropped off first he said that wasn’t the best way and he was going to drop them off first. I told him my friends were concerned with my safety and the look he gave me was one of incredulity. He merely waved his hand and said in Spanish, “What’s gonna happen?” When he took me to my apartment he waited until I got into my door before he drove off.  The thought of harming me or that harm could come to me didn’t even seem to be part of his psyche and the cab ride was easy which isn’t always the case as a Black woman trying to catch a cab in America.  Again, I am in no way saying Havana doesn’t have issues with skin color but from my perspective as an American visiting, I felt welcomed and free which is always liberating. 

-The Travel Guru

My name is Roni Faida (pronounced fie-e-da) I'm a former tour guide and a trilingual travel expert who is now traveling for fun and sharing my adventures and advice with you.

www.the-travel-guru.com

>> AND Join the Travel Guru here on 50 Shades of Black Blog for reflections on race, culture, adventures from around the world from the perspective of a black woman. 

Posted on July 27, 2015 and filed under personal stories, race, skin tone, travel.

Being 12: "What Are You?" | Kids Demonstrate Their Interactions with Race.

For many, race becomes a factor in their lives even at an early age. In this video, nine kids discuss their interactions with race. Are middle schoolers old enough to understand something many adults cannot come to a consensus on? Perhaps it's time to start listening more to our children.

These kids know what they are talking about. While children seem to be able to understand and conceptualize how race affects their lives in certain situations, it's perplexing, at least, as to why there is such a lack of consensus on race for adults. 

Originally found through Upworthy.com, Upworthy contributor Maz Ali goes on to articulate that as our media continues to report on racially charged events there is still dispute as to the racial significance of these cases. I invite you to check out the statistics there.

But he ends his article with a poignant statement: 

When a group of 12-year-olds this diverse can easily identify ways that racial and ethnic identity play out negatively in their lives, maybe the question shouldn't be, "Is race still a factor?"

Dorian Capers is a contributing blogger for 50 Shades of Black. Using Tumblr for Good; Venturing into the Facebook comment section so you won't have to. 

Posted on July 20, 2015 and filed under community, family, Identity, personal stories, race, Body Image, current events.

BLACK. SELF. LOVE. - Just Because I Love Me, Doesn't Mean I Hate You

 50 Shades of Black newest blogger Nina Brewton.  Photo by Chris Charles (Creative Silence)

50 Shades of Black newest blogger Nina Brewton.  Photo by Chris Charles (Creative Silence)

“Just because I love me,

doesn't mean I hate you.”

These are words that I’ve tried to express the majority of my 35 years of life. First, as a teenager coming of age in the small city of Wichita, KS, that state’s largest “metropolitan” area yet, behind the progressive curve in regards to…well, everything it seems.

 Early on I embraced my dark skin and hair

Early on I embraced my dark skin and hair

I’ve always adored my brown skin. Spending summer days soaking up every ray of sunshine I could trying to match my father’s rich, dark chocolate melanin. By the time I was fifteen, I finally began to love the other staple of my Blackness – my thick, nappy, Afro, outstretched, reaching for the sun. With this newfound boldness came a love for everything Black that many in my predominately Caucasian community weren’t quite prepared for. Including my own bi-racial mother who ethnically leaned more towards the white side of town.

My pro-Blackness intimidating to those who refused to understand why I insisted on reading Black, buying Black and dating Black: Embracing and uplifting Black.

Even now, all these years later as I voice my views on the state of race relations in America, having experienced racial profiling and harassment by white law enforcement officers, boutique employees and timid teachers myself, many don’t get it. And many more don’t care to. So many don’t understand that the concept of Black love does not equal Black supremacy or hatred for anyone who isn’t “one of us”. 

Learning these truths, I quickly got over the feeling of needing to make people understand my point of view and the experiences that created it. My heart broken and last nerve plucked trying to get others to just see the world the way I see it. Consider my way of thinking and to just have a little…empathy.


Truth is, when we love others, we'll find that we love ourselves more. It really is a continual cycle of everything that Love is. Embrace you and embrace the world. This is how lives are changed and how we make the greatest impact on the world we live in. -Nina Brewton


As I continue to grow and become more comfortable with who I am as an individual and who I am in this world and the various hamlets that I find myself a part of, I can say with every bit of confidence that, “I love you…I just love me more.”

As an individual, I’m committed to shining my Light on the world and truly loving others the way that I want to be loved. I am determined to teach others how to love me by loving me first.

What I know for sure: We shine brightest in our own house before illuminating the world around us. Love begins at home, with self. Home is where the flame is rekindled, giving us what we need to feel confident enough to approach the darkness of the world with every beam of light that is within us. As long as our hearts intention is towards loving others, we can love ourselves all we need.

Truth is, when we love others, we'll find that we love ourselves more. It really is a continual cycle of everything that Love is. Embrace you and embrace the world. This is how lives are changed and how we make the greatest impact on the world we live in.

---

Nina Brewton is the newest member of the 50 Shades of Black Blog.  Visit each week for her insights into womanhood, spirituality, black identity, and inspiration.

Visit her on her website baldheadqueen.com

Posted on June 3, 2015 and filed under blog, Identity, personal stories, race, skin tone.

Black Beauty: Miss Universe Japan Winner Faces Challenges

  Ariana Miyamoto by   KO SASAKI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

Ariana Miyamoto by KO SASAKI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

Excerpt from NYT article By MARTIN FACKLER

In school, she said, other children and even parents called her “kurombo,” the Japanese equivalent of the N-word. Classmates did not want to hold her hand for fear her color would rub off on them.

“I used to come home angry at my mother,” Ms. Miyamoto recalled. “I’d ask her, ‘Why did you make me so different?’ ”

She said everything changed at age 13 when she decided to reach out to her father, who invited her to his home in Jacksonville, Ark. She said she will never forget the moment she first saw her father and his relatives.

“They had the same skin and the same face as me,” she said. “For the first time, I felt normal.”

She said that in the United States, she came to speak of herself as black. But here in Japan, she still calls herself hafu. As Miss Universe Japan, she has played down her African-American roots, presenting herself instead as a representative of ethnically mixed Japanese from all backgrounds.

NEW YORK TIMES Complete Article

 


Video and text from Bloomberg

The importance of racial purity held by some Japanese is codified in a genre of writing called nihonjinron, or theories of Japaneseness. 

“If there hadn’t been this kind of criticism, there would be no point in me competing,” she said, with no trace of bitterness. “I don’t want to ignore it. I want to change those people’s attitudes.”

Posted on May 31, 2015 and filed under Identity, personal stories, race, religion and culture, skin tone.

FINDING MY QUEENDOM

  For twenty years of my life, I did not know who I was. For twenty years I was seeking the one who I wanted the most, myself. It was my sophomore year in college when I went on my spiritual journey and found who I truly am. I found the light within me. I lost people along the way, but it was for the best because in order for me to grow, I had to leave behind those who was not a good factor in my life. I was mocked, I was teased, I was talked about but I did not care because at the end of the day, I was happy. And your happiness is the most important thing ever in life. I do not seek the approval of society to be myself. I love that I'm different. I love that I stand out. I love the beautiful brown skin that I'm in. Along my journey I learned to love myself. I learned that we are Kings and Queens. I learned to always walk with my head held up high and let the Sun Goddess beam her rays on my beautiful crown. I learned to love and appreciate my brown skin. When I was younger I wanted to be white because I grew up in an area where it was very few black people. I wanted to have blonde hair and blue eyes. But when I found myself, I was like "what the heck was I thinking?" I love the kinks in my thick black hair. I love my brown eyes. I love my full lips. I love the rich history of my people. I love my melanin and I would not give that up for anything. I love my shade. My shade is beautiful. It's powerful beyond anything in this world. I love when I'm out and I see my fellow Kings and Queens and their melanin skin just glowing as I walk pass them. Don't hide who you are or where you came from. Embrace it because it makes you who you are. Love yourself, respect yourself, educate yourself. And always remember we come from royalty so you are naturally a King/Queen. Peace & Love to you all.     Kadijah Wright     ------    BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future    This is from our personal story series curated by the creator of   50 Shades of BLACK  , in partnership with   I Love Ancestry   featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.    We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing. Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.    >>  SHARE YOUR STORY  <<

For twenty years of my life, I did not know who I was. For twenty years I was seeking the one who I wanted the most, myself. It was my sophomore year in college when I went on my spiritual journey and found who I truly am. I found the light within me. I lost people along the way, but it was for the best because in order for me to grow, I had to leave behind those who was not a good factor in my life. I was mocked, I was teased, I was talked about but I did not care because at the end of the day, I was happy. And your happiness is the most important thing ever in life. I do not seek the approval of society to be myself. I love that I'm different. I love that I stand out. I love the beautiful brown skin that I'm in. Along my journey I learned to love myself. I learned that we are Kings and Queens. I learned to always walk with my head held up high and let the Sun Goddess beam her rays on my beautiful crown. I learned to love and appreciate my brown skin. When I was younger I wanted to be white because I grew up in an area where it was very few black people. I wanted to have blonde hair and blue eyes. But when I found myself, I was like "what the heck was I thinking?" I love the kinks in my thick black hair. I love my brown eyes. I love my full lips. I love the rich history of my people. I love my melanin and I would not give that up for anything. I love my shade. My shade is beautiful. It's powerful beyond anything in this world. I love when I'm out and I see my fellow Kings and Queens and their melanin skin just glowing as I walk pass them. Don't hide who you are or where you came from. Embrace it because it makes you who you are. Love yourself, respect yourself, educate yourself. And always remember we come from royalty so you are naturally a King/Queen. Peace & Love to you all.

Kadijah Wright

------

BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is from our personal story series curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, in partnership with I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing. Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

>>SHARE YOUR STORY<<

Posted on February 19, 2015 and filed under Identity, personal stories, race, skin tone.

Stop Telling Black Women to BE STRONG

Has anyone else noticed the high profile suicides of some notable black sisters this year. Positive sistas who seemed to have it all? For Brown Girls blogger Karyn Washington and Titi Branch of Ms.Jessie are both examples.The myth of the STRONG black woman is literally KILLING sista's.

Why do we sisters wear our strength and independence as a badge of honor? Is it because it hurts to acknowledge few answer the call for help? Why are we culturally esteemed and marveled at for our ability to absorb and tolerate negative situations and trying times? You wanna know a secret. I actually take offense when people worship my black girl strength because it means they NEVER have to acknowledge my need for help or correct ill treatment, or advocate for justice on my behalf. Real family and community both glean and offer strength to those they love. I ask for support and help when I need to. Do I get it? Rarely...(low key I can't even get those I'm in community with to like a facebook post or AMAZING PHOTOGRAHY and my sh*t is DOPE. I guess they are too busy watching me work and marveling at my resilience. lol) But I ask any way.

EVERYTHING in creation has inherent to its design both STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES. -Tanisha Pyron

I cuss and cry when I need to (I get it out.) I pray AND I get counseling when I need to (cause I ain't got all the answers Sway ) I tend to my heart and those who love and support me acknowledge the truth. That EVERYTHING in creation has inherent to its design both STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES. It is balance. We handle things we perceive to be strong differently. We apply pressure and heavier weight because we think it can take it. That pressure produces STRESS and TENSION and if we judge incorrectly that which we thought was strong collapses under pressure. We all know what STRESS and TENSION does to the body and mind. Sisters out here having heart attacks, strokes, break downs, or rendered NON functional, or becoming addicted to drugs simply because life handed them more then they could bear, a DISPROPORTIONATELY HEAVY LOAD and no one reached out to lend a hand. Support ya sisters. Gentleness and hugs work wonders. Black women need help too!!! Independent women need support too. Strength is balanced through weakness. 

Tanisha Lynn Pyron

Posted on January 23, 2015 and filed under art, current events, feminism, Identity, personal stories.

Amma Asante: Seeing Myself In Belle - Exclusive Interview (Part 2)

Belle Movie Director opens up about the connection of the film to her personal life, her bi-cultural identity, and why art is a power resource for inspiring positive social change in the world in exclusive interview with 50 Shades of Black Co-Director Ross Oscar Knight. www.50shadesofblack.com

Posted on January 5, 2015 and filed under art, education, film, history, Identity, personal stories, press, race.

Multicultural, Mixed, Bi-Racial: I Just Say Black and Proud

I am from a multi cultural background. My mother was black and white mixed and had very fair skin. My father was black and both of them were born in New York City as was I (Harlem). I have always dated black women and am married to one for 12 years. I had one white girlfriend in 10th grade and when her mother came home and found me and her daughter sitting on the couch she pulled her daughter into the bedroom for a private chat.This made me uncomfortable and I never had/presumed a white girlfriend since. I can relate very much to people such as President Obama, Lonette Mckee (in particular her Jungle Fever character).

I don't bother to call myself mixed or multi ethnic or bi racial I just say Black and am proud of it. I am more comfortable living in an all black neighborhood than I would be living in an all white one(comfort and safety issues). I do embrace soul music as well as rock and roll however, I also enjoy all ethnicities of food and want to see Europe as well as Africa. It has always been my opinion that people are way to preoccupied with skin color/class etc. The focus should be on furthering ones self in education staying health conscious and trying to grow spiritually. I am a stand up comedian for 20 years and an actor for seven and counting. I would love to own a brownstone in Harlem close to Convent Ave Baptist Church..love those houses and that neighborhood. I love children and traveling. I am 50 years old and want to spend the rest of my life staying goal oriented health conscious and never forgetting the thing that means so much to me.....Family.

-Adam Phillips

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BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is from our personal story series curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, in partnership with I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing. Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

>>SHARE YOUR STORY<<

Posted on December 27, 2014 and filed under family, Identity, personal stories, race.

I Am No One's Nigger

To say it’s been an emotional few weeks would be an understatement considering that two police officers just went unpunished by our justice system for the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. With all of this racial tension in the air and protests galore going strong in cities across the nation, it’s become a tense and difficult time in America to be black.

In the thick of all of this chaos, I’ve had many a conversation about race relations and politics, including one particularly salient conversation with my father about racialized trigger words for black people, specifically the word nigger. My father, who is now in his 60s, told me about some of the times in his life where white people have called him a nigger, whether to hurt him or prove they were somehow “down.” And he shared with me that he had to learn for himself that he couldn’t allow that word to trigger his rage because it wasn’t worth it to lose his freedom, his dignity or his life fighting the world over a word that did not define him. And he advised me to do the same to keep my sanity and my freedom.

Being an 80s baby, I’ve only ever been called a nigga by white guys who thought, in this so-called post-racial world, that it was okay now to say nigga because we were friends - emphasis on were. For me, I’d been lucky not to have been called that word in a hateful manner.

However, I got a rude awakening about how the racism of America can easily hit home last week when I had an unforgettable run-in with a racist man on the road.

While driving through Roswell in search of a Chase bank, I accidentally cut off a white man on the road behind me from making a turn before me. He immediately began honking his horn and when the oncoming traffic had cleared for me to make my turn, he sped past me, took the turn first, and shot a bird at me while mouthing fuck you. 

Sadly, it doesn't end there. After we both turned into the shopping complex, he drove to a stop sign 100 feet away from me, jumped out of his car and yelled "FUCK YOU!! FUCK YOU NIGGER!! FUCK YOU!!" at me at the top of his lungs. He yelled so loudly that I heard him clear as day with my windows rolled up. 

The entire time I looked him in his face and saw nothing but sheer hate and rage as he hurled "NIGGER" at me like it was a barbed whip and he wanted to see my blood spill and splash to the ground - The look in his eyes told me that he wanted me dead. He wanted me to not exist anymore, as if I was the thing in his life that was causing him so much pain.

Unfortunately for him, the turn was just a turn, nothing more. The moment was unimportant and his rage was unwarranted. I had nothing to do with his rage. He was angry before he even came across my little Civic. He was a fucked up individual long before the day we crossed paths....and in the words of Kermit the Frog, that wasn't none of my business.

I wanted nothing to do with any fight, any chaos or any life-threatening brawl over something so small and petty. So, instead of hopping out of my car and confronting the racist, I simply shrugged my shoulders and arms in front of his face and drove off to his destination.

if being a nigger is such an evil and vile thing, then it that moment I wasn't the one who was being a nigger. I was a black man looking for a bank who made a simple driving error in a place that I'd never driven to before. I wasn't looking for any trouble, nor was I going to entertain it. He on the other hand was an angry man looking for trouble who was willing to disturb the peace, harass and insult me all over the most minor of annoyances.

According to "The Boondocks," that kind of attitude is what leads to so-called "Nigga moments"

It wasn't my black ass that was acting like a angry, violent fool. Instead, it was a cowardly, racist older white man who was acting like a so-called "nigga/nigger" that day.

It's sad that in these modern times young black people still have to deal with the racism that our foremothers and forefathers fought so hard to erase, and it's even sadder that the world still sees people of darker skin as worthless niggers who deserve any kind of inhumane treatment just for breathing...or taking cutting them off on the road. 

It shouldn't be that way....and there shouldn't be any one who is thought of or called a nigger. There shouldn't be anyone who is treated as less than human. 

But that's not the world we live in right now. Thankfully, I didn't forget the lessons of my father and so many of my black ancestors taught me about how to deal with racists and their hate. I didn't forget that I am Nicholas Robinson, not some so-called nigger, not some word that has nothing to do with my character, my body or my spirit.

I am no one's nigger.

 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

www.nicholasharbor.com

www.facebook.com/NicholasHarborOfficial

www.twitter.com/Nicholas_Harbor

Posted on December 10, 2014 and filed under activism, race, skin tone, personal stories.

Her Blackness/Darkness is Her Beauty…and BEAUTY is Her Name (Part 2)

I identified as an American-Cuban African, and colorism has played an intricate role in the process of my sociocultural development. In a cultural context, colorism has a profound impact on standards of beauty. Unfortunately, that impact had influenced my family’s perception of beauty. Growing up, I was socialized to believe that people with fairer complexions, la clara or mulatta, would escape the harsh (if not entirely certain) criticisms that awaits darker complexions, la morena or negrita. I was socialized to pity darker complexions, but without much conversation about my own complexion, I took notice that I was the “morena.” Was I taught to pity the possible reality of harsh criticisms that await me? Games like “make believe” which easily taught me that I was the “morena,” and helped to socialize color. In the game’s own sorted and twisted blend, it demonstrated that I could deflect the negativisms and criticisms that should arise from colorism by seeing women of all shades attain a level of success. 

I was fortune to have younger siblings to play with. I was the oldest of my mother’s four children. Blanca and I are sixteen months apart. Growing up, we played childhood antics, like “make believe.” We pretended to be just about anyone in our “Harlem” world apartment. Our favorite “act” was pretending to be Salt –n – Peppa. My sister was Salt and I was Peppa. I don’t exactly remember how we pick the characters. All I remember was that I never really like being Peppa, but felt somewhat obligated in portraying her because she was darker and my sister was lighter. She was the dark skin rapper with a raunchy personality who was known to date even raunchier rappers. She was seemingly the least attractive person in the group, but just as successful. Nevertheless, someone had to play Peppa in order for our pretend world to work. Looking back on this “fond” childhood memory, I realized that not only did I despise that game, but that it shaped my perspective on color, and introduced an awkward self-awareness to my complexion. Games like this, although fashioned in the “spirit of fun,” fed into my lifelong struggle of identifying issues of color (colorism) within my family and community. My sister, whose name literally means white or pale in Spanish, was named after my grandmother. However, her name also represents the pale complexion she was born with. Something like life’s cruel joke on us both as a constant reminder of her fair complexion, and my misfortune of having a dark complexion.

As a community, we are taught that whites are racists. However, we exhibit prejudicial practices in color complexions. As I was considered la morenita or negrita, constantly reminded of my darker complexion, particularly from my family members, I use to think, What is it with people and color? I realized that my family had as many issues and criticisms about color as I received from my community. Over time, I learned to embrace every inch of my complexion. I even learned to appreciate the character I emulated as a child. It was a process, and it began with rejecting Eurocentric ideals of beauty and reclaiming/owning my body. I learned to embrace and love all of me. I learned to embrace the essence of my color.

General cultural beliefs were la clara or mulatta has noticeably refined attractive features: hair, eyes, an inherent or preferred sex appeal; whereas, la morena or negrita’s features are arguably more pronounced (nose and lips) and hypersexualized (ass, thighs, and hips). Within this very culture, religiosity is the dominant force that demonstrates the line of demarcation with color. It is the most significant example of colorism. Fairer complexion saints are revered as holy, beautiful, and altruistic; whereas, darker complexions are perceived as demonic, evil forces that can, if not careful, overtake the human soul. 

Images like Queens Tiye, Nefetari, Neith, and Pharaoh Hapshetsut, drastically altered my interpretation and perceptions of beauty when I learned of them as a graduate student. I wondered, How did I not know about these real life personalities who were successful? Why didn’t we “make believe” to be these figures? Regardless of what never happened, I was aware now. 

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BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is from our personal story series curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, in partnership with I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing. Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

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Posted on November 21, 2014 and filed under africa, Identity, personal stories, skin tone.

Instead of Praying the Gay Away, Can We Just Celebrate Being Gay?

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, all week long you've probably been seeing a million and one video responses to Andrew Caldwell, the young black man from last week's the Church of God In Christ (COGIC) convocation who announced on camera that he is "DELIVERT" from his homosexuality and that he will "love a womens." And while the video has understandably garnered a lot of hilarious laughs, jokes and video spoofs, including one hilarious R&B remix - Seriously, I can't even count how many times I've pressed repeat on that one - there is a deeper social matter to be discussed about the topic.

It's safe to say that most people have heard the phrase "pray the gay away," a phrase as old as time that promotes the idea that men and women of the gay and bisexual communities somehow chose to stray from the norm of heterosexuality and choose a deviant "other" sexuality.

And watching the original COGIC video with Caldwell, we see many in the congregation, including the pastor, praising Caldwell for "delivering" himself, sans the "t," from his sinful past of loving men. 

But seriously, in these modern times where we have countless personal accounts from the LGBT community, scientific support of diverse natural sexualities and growing public support for the LGBT community, why is it still hard to believe that homosexuality and bisexuality are natural yet so easy to believe that one can simply choose to be gay/bi and then the next day choose/pray it away. I's as though people see being gay or bi as if it's some easy tough greasy stain that's easy to catch but tough to get rid of without church shouts, some prayer, and maybe even exorcism.

More than a stain, it feels like homosexuality and bisexuality are treated as demonic.

So what does that do to person in the church when they're seen as the embodiment of hell's evil roaming the Earth? What kind of emotional demons are birthed inside of the person wanting to be accepted in their church and receive God's love but feel they are undeserving because they have a demon inside? What does it do to a community of people to feel that internal struggle inside to choose between loving themselves and living naturally or (attempting) to change themselves to be loved by others?

As the grandson of a pastor of my family's church, I was lucky enough not to be subjected to fire and brimstone sermons about the evils of homosexuality - or perhaps I missed it while I lay asleep on my mom's shoulder - but I remember the personal conversations held on those hallowed grounds in which homosexuality was mocked.

More than that, I remember the time when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old and I asked my mom about homosexuality and hell. I remember my mom had just picked me up from school and driven us to the store up the hill, and as we sat together in her car, unbuckling our seatbelts to leave, I stopped my mom and asked her "Why do people say that gay people are going to hell?" Even at that age, I knew I was one of those gay people and I wanted her to reassure me that she didn't think anyone like me would go to such a horrible place. Sadly, without batting an eye, my mother simply responded "because they are."

For me, that one single response changed the nature of our relationship for the next 20 years, leaving me with the mentality that my own mother was my enemy. And it also led me to believe that anyone who was religious in my life would be left with a choice to either choose to love me or their religion. And in my mind, I figured they would always choose their religion. 

Because of that, I grew a strong sense of disbelief and disinterest in Christianity, as well as a strong sense of self-hate because I thought I was unworthy of being loved by my own loved ones. I never tried to be straight, but for years I never felt proud or comfortable about the idea of telling people the truth of my sexuality because I "knew" that, to them, who I was was something less than hum and not at all lovable.

It took me two decades to reconcile those feelings and come to my own conclusion that love, for me, must be unconditional and all accepting. Otherwise, I just don't want it, whether it be from friends, family or a god. 

But I understand that that's not everybody's thought or life experience, and I can't preach that my way of working things out would work for everyone. But what I will say is that there are clearly countless numbers of gay and bisexual people in religious communities who feel that same sense of self-hate, hurt and anger that I felt. 

I can only imagine what kind of identity struggles and crises that Caldwell must have gone through over the years trying reconcile his belief in Christianity and its doctrines with his need to love himself. And, though I may not like it and, like most people I don't believe him, I understand why Caldwell would want to claim straight and stop feeling the ridicule, the shame, and the pain of not being accepted by his own community.

I understand the feeling of just wanting to be loved, even if it's all a lie.

But with all that THAT experience encompasses, I wonder why people still think it's okay to promote the idea of praying the gay away? Why do people think it's okay to ridicule someone for being gay? Who do people think it's okay to tell someone that who they truly and naturally are is a problem and a sin?

If at the end of the day all straight people want to do is be loved by those around them and their gods, why is it so wrong for gay and bisexual people to want the same thing? Why must WE change ourselves to be happy and prosperous?

Why should we endure so much struggle and pain just for being born, or created by a god?

Can we gay and bisexual people just BE who we are and be loved and celebrated in our truth? Because it takes a lot to be us and it sure as hell seems to me that loving yourself and others is the most powerful and godly thing you can do.

 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

www.nicholasharbor.com

www.facebook.com/NicholasHarborOfficial

www.twitter.com/Nicholas_Harbor

Posted on November 16, 2014 and filed under religion and culture, race, sexuality, personal stories, LGBT, Identity, Homophobia.

Her Blackness/Darkness is Her Beauty…and BEAUTY is Her Name (Part 1)

In October 2010, my second beautiful premature niece was born. As she matured, the conversation of “complexion” resurfaced, instantly drudging up images of my childhood experience on colorism. My sister began the discussion by pausing and leaning her head to the side as she noticed my niece’s ears and fingers. She turned to my mother and said, “Mami, she is going to be dark!” Suddenly overcome by disappointment, she sat quietly as my mother reexamined her features. I learned of the conversation when I visited for the first time since she was born. My mom blurted out, “She’s going to be dark.” I began staring at my niece to avoid indulging in the conversation, however, I couldn’t help thinking of my childhood. I wondered, why did my mom mention this? –why was my sister distressed over her daughter’s complexion? It baffled me! After the awkward silence settled in, I curiously asked, “why, what’s wrong with being dark?” My mother responded, “well, I just don’t want her to have the same complex you had when you were younger?!” I was never fully knew if my mother was aware of my color complex or if she knew how it emerged, until she said this. Was she even aware that my skin complex heightened because of those “make believe” games? The problem for me was that there was a fixated fear of criticisms associated with dark complexions. It was perceived as a stigma instead of a celebration. I quickly realized how detrimental my outlook was needed, and was elated for the opportunity to share my insights. 

The celebration of black skin is first taught through ancient Kemetic history. The Eurocentric narrative of beauty contradicts this history, and caused a detrimental rift in thinking. When introduced to this sacred history, my concept of beauty shifted. There was an immediate growth in awareness and appreciation for all shades of color. I began to piece myself into a history that celebrated blackness, and rejected the narrative that demonized it. My wholehearted conversion to this beautiful legacy enabled me to guide my family through an ancient concept of celebrating beauty in all shades of color, hopefully removing the stigma on colorism. Darkness is celebrated in all aspects of life. I began by explaining my perception of creation: the Creator kissed darkness to bring forth light. All life came through the cosmic uni, which is formed in darkness, and birthed through light. The most vivid demonstration of this is reenacted through childbirth. In the womb, the best force of life is created in darkness. In the labor process, this force of life meets light, but was already created perfect in darkness. In Kemetic history, mother NUT was the personality that continuously gives birth to light energy as she swallowed the sun (Ra) each night and gave birth to him by dawn the next day. She was the black force that oversaw humanity each night, and transferred her power of light through the daily birth to the sun. She represents the night sky: the midnight blackness dressed with millions of stars. Antiquated beliefs of blackness or darkness are perceived as symbols of power, prestige, and royalty. 

The conversation then shifted to dynastic periods with prominent dark skinned queens, kings, and pharaohs. After a long afternoon of conversations on color, I noticed a comfortable change in embracing the shades of color with questions that began with “Sooooo, how could we …? How should we…?” My final comment that night on this topic was that her blackness is her beauty. 

As we approach her 4th birthday, my niece recognizes herself as a princess, a queen in training. Her dainty personality appears to have no problems with identifying herself as a “brown” crayon. She is aware that the “brown” crayon is necessary to the bunch, and is keenly aware when it is missing. As she continues to mature, we know that her concept of color will change as well. My hope is that my family will have the confidence to teach her that her darkness is royalty, and that she will have the courage to immediately reject the negativisms that we are socialized to believe.

-Rayshana Black

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BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is from our personal story series curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, in partnership with I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing. Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

>>SHARE YOUR STORY<<

READ MORE STORIES

Posted on October 29, 2014 and filed under africa, art, family, Identity, personal stories, skin tone.

50 Shades of Black: Viola Davis Discusses Breaking Through as a Dark Skinned Leading Lady in New ABC Show

 Viola Davis, who stars in “How to Get Away With Murder,” which debuts on Sept. 25 on ABC.  GRAEME MITCHELL FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

Viola Davis, who stars in “How to Get Away With Murder,” which debuts on Sept. 25 on ABC.

GRAEME MITCHELL FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

In a recent New York Times article Viola Davis kept it all the way real as she discussed the liberation she feels in having a lead role as a sexy, smart, and complex character in Shonda Rhimes' newest TV show "How to Get Away With Murder".

“How to Get Away With Murder,” which includes Shonda Rhimes among its executive producers, will be shown on Thursday nights after Rhimes’s two hit series, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” a generous lead-in that the network hopes will result in an instant hit. But that will depend, in part, on whether viewers embrace Davis — “a woman of color, of a certain age and a certain hue,” as she says — in her new capacity. “I don’t see anyone on TV like me in a role like this. And you can’t even mention Halle Berry or Kerry Washington,” she told me, referring to two African-American stars with notably lighter skin.
— Amy Wallace, New York Times

Read this complete article to hear Davis discuss Hollywood's reasoning for not casting more black lead actors, the ability of Shonda Rhimes to weave multicultural dimensions into her shows without creating caricatures, and the impact of Taraji P. Henson, Denzel Washington, and how wearing her hair in an afro was like "stepping into myself" for the first time.

COMPLETE ARTICLE

Posted on September 23, 2014 and filed under Body Image, film, Identity, personal stories, race, skin tone.

A Weekend In The Life of Black Cosplayers at Dragon*Con

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend my Labor Day Weekend in Atlanta at every southern geek's favorite nerdtastic gathering, Dragon*Con, the biggest sci-fi and fantasy convention in the southeast region.

If you live in Atlanta or visited on Labor Day Weekend, then you've likely seen the thousands of geeks walking the streets of Downtown Atlanta in full cosplay gear at Dragon*Con, the Southeast's biggest sci-fi and fantasy convention.

However, most people still have no clue as to what cosplay is -- the practice of dressing up as a character from an anime, manga, movie, book, or video game -- or who or why people even do it.

Like many of those people, I had no clue about that aspect of the geek culture either. That is until I met my crew of black geek friends a couple of years ago, a crew which we've awesomely dubbed Sasuke Hate, and began going to sci-fi and anime conventions with them.

At first I thought that of cosplay as nothing more than some silly extreme fantasy play for geeks. But the more I attended conventions, the more I saw that there's an art and a strong craft to cosplay that requires people to push their imaginations, pick up a tool or a needle and thread, or even a makeup brush, and really put their all into transforming themselves into these fictional characters. 

After immersing myself in the culture, I can see that cosplay really is an underappreciated and misunderstood art form that could stand to use a lot more recognition from the mainstream world.

Not only was it awe inspiring to be surrounded by so many bleeks and blerds (black geeks and nerds) -- which I previously wrote about HERE -- but it was amazing to see that, this year, some of my Sasuke Hate crew decided to come up with a cosplay group, T.H.A.R. Cosplay, and create outfits as a unit for Dragon*Con. 

I personally wasn't able to cosplay this go 'round, although I did make sure to dress as fly as possible. But I was amazed watching my friends put in so much effort and creativity into making their outfits, which included characters like Aqualad, Red Hood, Green Lantern, Static Shock and Shishio Makoto, and go on to wow the crowds of convention goers and random Atlanta residents with their cosplay.

And although I may not be able to broadcast my entire cosplay evolution and experience to the whole world and show them how awesome it can be, luckily for me, I was able to get behind the camera, alongside some other members of our crew and take some amazing pics of our time at Dragon*Con.

So, without further ado, I'm happy to present to our 50 Shades of BLACK readers our photo journal of our Dragon*Con experience. Let's get geeky!

 

** All photos courtesy of Charles Gary, Nic Robinson, Jacolby Chatman, Mario Reid. Editing by Charles Gary. T.H.A.R. Cosplay

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

www.nicholasharbor.com

www.facebook.com/NicholasHarborOfficial

www.twitter.com/Nicholas_Harbor

 

Posted on September 16, 2014 and filed under art, Identity, personal stories, race, Bleeks and Blerds.

Misty Copeland Soars in NPR Interview: Broadening Beauty and Being Black in Ballet

  Art by Christopher Myers, courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group

Art by Christopher Myers, courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group

I was pumped up this morning listening to Misty Copeland on my way to work.  Her words were as graceful as her body on the stage.  Her conviction was as strong as her body.

Listen to the American Ballet Theatre dancer discuss with poise the challenges of being told she was not the right fit based on her body and color to being one of the preeminent dancers in the country...and her new book Firebird dedicated to her mentor Raven Wilkinson, the first African-American ballerina to tour the country. 

Posted on September 9, 2014 and filed under Body Image, Identity, personal stories, race.

Truth Tella - Cakes da Killa #beOUT (Afro Punk Prelude)

 Cakes Da Kill at Afro Punk 2013

Cakes Da Kill at Afro Punk 2013

Because Cakes Da Killa will be performing at AfroPunk Fest in Brooklyn this year, I thought I'd add these opinions of mine: Cakes da Killa is the best new rapper of any style. It’s the flow. If the Notorious B.I.G was an effeminate gay man, he would sound like this. There have been a handful of openly queer rappers over the course of the past decade, but none of them quite like this one.

Identity is important on this site, so I’ll identify as one of the oldest people that identify as a Millennial and I’m a Hip Hop kid, all grown up. I’ve been seeking the truth from the beginning, which is not the same as perceived authenticity. For those reasons I’m a 50cent over Ja Rule kind of guy, I’m a Kool Moe Dee over LL Cool J kind of guy, a Ice Cube over Common kind of guy, a Lil Kim over Foxy Brown kind of guy…the same kind of guy who will not comment on Nas vs Jay-Z. To those family feud points, Hip Hop has always been aggressive and brutally honest; as a result, it has always been offensive. Every transition has come with a new truth teller. Ignorant people will always find a reason to be offended; Reference Kevin Hart in 40 Year Old Virgin.  Q-Tip on his perfect J.Period tribute said it best, or at least as well as anyone in the genre could have:

“It was a rebellious music, y’nahmean? It was the ghetto folk that wasn’t supposed to really have a voice. We just had just came out of the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and all this and all that. Then here comes this music and it’s the perfect description; this music describes us perfectly because it’s not taught, we at this point had poor education. We didnt have access to a lot of instruments, it was a voiceless music. We had been theoretically robbed of our whole voice as a people. So here’s this symbolic art form called Hip Hop where the music aspect of Hip Hop – it embodies us taking from only what’s there, we can only take from what’s there – we had the records that’s what we used, that’s what Flash used, that’s what Herc used, thats what Bambatta used. We could only take from what’s there, we didn’t really have a voice ? So we had to use it to talk… that’s kind of it in a nutshell.” 

This relatively ignorant art form is all about being OUT. Rashard Bradshaw better known as Cakes Da Killa is the raw deal of what life is like for an early 20-something gay man today, and he is bring a bottom's perspective. Educate yourself on the langauge, as there have been too many in-depth articles on him to mention here. I only thought to mention him because of a video I stumbled upon from Too $hort showing how being out changes the minds of people. Kudos to Rashard for showing off on these two mix tapes…download: Hunger Pangs  (2014) The Eulogy (2013)

Different than the trivializing of black gay culture, which is not synonymous with that of LGBT culture in general Cakes Da Killa steps outside of the surface level lyrics of someone like Fly Young Red who states the obvious over standard Hip Hop loops with the acclaim of his 2014 track Throw That Boy Pussy. Yes Red,  the world is aware of the anal sex and your music might as well be a straight man's point of view on gay sexual interaction. I don't mean to suggest that he has no business creating the ground breaking music that he does, but there is more depth to Cakes. Similar to NWA, Rakim, Snoop Dog, Biggie, Lil Kim, and yes Drake he has provided a new series of authentic slang specific to his culture along with a new series of instrumental sounds derived from the gay ball scene to produce an entirely new yet rhythmically viable sound. Sometimes it takes a college sophomore who just raps because he can to lead the way....

@JFKII
writer, cultural critic, special contributor to 50 Shades of Black

Posted on August 16, 2014 and filed under LGBT, personal stories, music.

Pan African Film Festival Atlanta | Afro-Native Ancestry and Healing Touch Interview

 Photo by Carlton Mackey

Photo by Carlton Mackey

50 Shades of Black hosts the Opening Day screenings of the 2014 Pan African Film Festival in Atlanta, GA.  After a screening of "From Above", we sat down with Yvonne Rosegarden to discuss her African American and American Indian ancestry and how the film relates to her work of transforming lives through the healing power of positive touch.  

"From Above" is an award-winning Shakespearean love story between African American and American Indian main characters so in love with one another that they are entangled beyond life itself starring Danny Glover.

The High Five: The Day a Brother Invented the World's Most Famous Salute

high 5-history2.jpg

The High Five - The Day a Brother Invented the World's Most Famous Salute.

Have you ever reached your hand high in the air for an awesome High Five?  Ever wondered who was the "first" to do it?  Well, in this amazing documentary you'll learn a lot more than you ever thought you could in 10 minutes about the high 5, baseball history, and the first openly gay athlete in any major sport...and no he isn't Jason Collins.  

The High Five - The Legacy of Glenn Burke.

50 Shades of Black examines Sexuality and Skin Tone in the Formation of Identity.

Posted on July 28, 2014 and filed under blog, history, Identity, Homophobia, LGBT, personal stories, sexuality.