Posts filed under current events

Black Funk Icon Betty Davis is Finally Getting Her Life Story Told With New Biopic

Unless you're a fan of the deep, hardcore funk, you've likely never heard of a woman named Betty Mabry Davis. Which is a shame because Davis not only was the inspiration behind Miles Davis' 70s jazz-fusion sound, but she was a creative force in her own right and broke ground in music for women to be independent creatives, to be in charge of their sexuality, and to just be in charge of their badassery.

When I first heard of Betty, I was still an undergrad student at Georgia State University and I was rocking out in my parents' kitchen to Joi's "If I'm In Luck I Might Just Get Picked Up" from her amazing Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome album. At the time I thought the hard-rocking, saucy, guitar-fueled sex anthem came directly from the modern funk queen that is Joi herself. But my father, who was cooking up a saucy dish of his own, stopped me mid-song and informed me, to my surprise, that Joi was just the soul daughter of the original queen of funk. "Hey! She copied Betty Davis!" he said. I turned around to him and said "who is that?!" My dad repeated that name that sounded so old and foreign to me and after seeing the look of confusion still on my face, he proceeded to walk me to the hallway closet where he kept his immaculate collection of old records and pulled out Betty's eponymous debut album. 

Listening to her for the first time, I found myself bombarded with a furious feminine roar that I just wasn't used to. Less so of a singer, and more so a creative entity, Betty growled, roared, screeched and seductively sing-talked on the record over 70s funk rhythms and riffs that this late 80s baby just wasn't used to. Betty's voice went against everything I was taught by the media, the radio, and my years of being an R&B fan about what black women should sound like on wax. She seemed like a wild woman whose songs defied the constructs and dams of R&B and Soul and flooded themselves with Rock, Funk and the edgiest of the Blues.  In short, Betty was....different. And I didn't think I was ready for that kind of strange flavor in my ear.

As the days went on though, I found myself seeking out this strange sound from Betty more and more. It got to the point where I was pulling out that old record every day and playing in my parents' living room and my father watched on as he'd converted his youngest son into a fan of one of his musical favs. From that point on, I went on a ferocious search to find out everything I could about Betty and to hear every piece of music of hers that I could get my hands on. I was hooked and I wanted more and I wanted the world around me to know of her too.

What I ended up discovering was that Betty was a small town girl who grew up to become an it-girl and club host in NYC who parlayed her connections into a job as a songwriter in the music world, her first major credit being "Uptown (To Harlem)" for the Chambers Brothers. Betty also became a successful model, posing for the likes of Ebony and Cosmopolitan, and walking the runway for the likes of Halston. After giving up her strut on the runway, Betty befriended the likes of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, and she also ended up meeting and marrying Jazz icon Miles Davis. Betty's relationship with Miles was transformative for the icon, whose sound completely changed after meeting. However, the marriage was lasted only a year, thanks to Miles' violent temper, and Betty struck out on her own to follow her musical dreams. 

Betty went on to write and co-produce/produce, something unheard of for women back then, three albums in the early 70s: Betty Davis, They Say I'm Different, and Nasty Gal. Betty quickly became an underground hit and toured the world to packed venues. Her staged shows even gained comparisons to the top male rock stars of the 70s and it seemed like Betty was finally living the life she dreamt of. 

However, things all that glitters isn't gold and Betty's career had its own sufferings. For one, her provocative lyrics and empowered sexual image left her banned from some clubs and radio stations and she even received bomb threats from angry critics. Also, her albums weren't commercial successes and when she sent in a fourth album, Is it Love Or Desire, to her label at the time, they decided to shelve the project (it wouldn't see the light of day till 2009) and pushing for her to soften her image and relinquish control of her writing and production to paid writers and producers. 

After failed studio sessions, Betty quietly walked away from the industry and fans have heard little to nothing from her over the past 30 years. 

But now Betty is finally ready to talk and tell her story. And thanks to filmmakers Phil Cox and Damon Smith, Betty's story can finally be seen by the masses as they're currently working on the first-ever biopic on the reclusive singer-songwriter, Nasty Gal: The Many Lives of Funk Singer Betty Davis. Betty has even decided to share her story rights with the film's production company, Native Voice Films, and will appear on camera for the first time in decades as a part of the project.

“Although I’ve been silent for a long time,” said Davis in a press release for the film, “I feel it’s important to help shape my legacy while I’m alive by returning my story and music to people who will value it and learn from it. I am excited to be a part of this project and hope it finds the support it needs.”

The filmmakers also reveal that the film will use an interesting blend of fiction and nonfiction to tell Betty's story.

"Although substantially based on vital present-day testimonies from Betty's closest confidantes, we will tell this story using never-before-seen archive, interviews, and fact-based, cinematic reconstructions performed by a high-profile actress/music personality and scripted with Betty’s own words. Within the film there will be moments of a large-scale, professionally produced Betty Davis tribute concert in her hometown of Pittsburgh, performed by members of her ’70s bands, legendary contemporary artists, and many of the interviewees in the film. This benefit concert, whose proceeds will go to help Betty herself,  we hope will be the first time that Betty shows herself to the public again," reads the film's indiegogo page.

“We are honoured to be collaborating with Betty on her life story,” said directors Phil Cox and Damon Smith. “She is a larger-than-life global icon whose influence on music and fashion is indelible, from Prince to Erykah Badu, and her celebration onscreen is long overdue. We intend to make this film in the same unapologetically independent spirit in which Betty conducted her professional life, long before it was hip for a woman to be completely in charge.”

However, production on the film and concert aren't done yet and the filmmakers need help from fans to see the project all the way through. Nasty Gal is seeking to raise $65,000 on Indiegogo by November 10 to cover archive and music licensing and support principal photography for the feature-length film when it goes into production later this fall.

Please help this film to see the light of day and contribute to its indiegogo page. Also visit the film's Facebook page, which like the indiegogo page, features several photos, videos and factoids about Betty.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on October 25, 2015 and filed under current events, history, music.

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 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.

THE TALK: 10 Heartbreaking Instructions To Stay Alive if Confronted by Police

Dear son,

As your father, I feel there are some very important things that I must tell you right now.  Many of them may seem totally contradictory to things I’ve told you in the past but I need for you to listen carefully and do everything exactly as I tell you.  It breaks my heart to tell you this, but it seems apparent from recent events that these measures are what are required to ensure you stay alive if confronted by police.

If you are ever pulled over by police:

1)   Avoid Extended Direct Eye Contact

Yes. I know son. I always tell you to look each person you encounter directly into their eyes as a sign of mutual respect for yourself and as a way to acknowledge the other individual’s shared humanity, but this is a different encounter...and you are black. Because of the confidence you have in who you are, your extended direct eye contact will force an officer to immediately grapple with their own fears and insecurities.  They need to feel in control of the situation, and that they have an upper hand.  Eye contact for too long may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.

Direct eye contact may force an officer to immediately grapple with their own fears and insecurities

2)   Say Yes Sir - No Sir 

Yes. I know son.  Your mom and I don’t require it nor do your teachers.  But (pause, deep breath), I guess police officers think they need more formal signs of "respect" than even your father.  Never say “yeah,” and if the answer to one of their questions is “No” and you forget to say (or can’t make yourself say) “No Sir” DO NOT say “No” with any intonation or with any emphasis.  Saying “Yeah” or “No” may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.

Police Offices think they need more formal signs of respect than even your father.

3)   Don't Ask Why

Yes. I know son. I taught you to question everything.  I know that even when you are in trouble with me you are always allowed to ask questions because I feel you entitled to know why you are in trouble.  But (long pause, suppresses anger) you are not to expect the same level of respect by police you are shown at home.  Sandra Bland asked why she was asked to step out of the car and why she was being arrested 14 times and the officer's response was get out of the car or "I'll light you up". I don't want this to be you.  It seems that asking ‘Why’ may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.

You are not to expect the same level of respect by police you are shown at home.

4) Ask for Permission

If asked for license and registration, ask for permission to reach and get them.

Yes. I know son.  They just asked for it and asking them for permission to do what they just asked you for sounds crazy but because your license will inevitably be in your pocket and your registration will likely be in your glove compartment, you will need verbal affirmation.  Reaching to grab either one without this verbal affirmation may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.



5)   Open Door Using Outside Handle and Move Slowly

If you are ever asked to get out of the car, slowly show both of your hands and open the door using the OUTSIDE handle.  Looking down and reaching for the car door on the inside may be interpreted as reaching for something else.

Please make sure every move you make is slow from this point forward. 

*You are about to enter very dangerous territory. 

Once an officer sees your entire body, they will begin to IMMEDIATELY hone in on your physical attributes and no matter what your size is, your physical presence alone, as a black man, will somehow pose an immediate threat…and this is a bigger crime than anything you were stopped for.

Your physical presence alone as a black man will somehow pose an immediate threat.

6) Raise Both Hands Above Your Head

Yes. I know son. You have no idea why you were stopped or what you are being asked to step out of the car for but if you find yourself at this point it is of CRITICAL importance that you do exactly what I say.

7)   Bite Your Tongue

While you are being frisked do not move and do not say a word unless you are asked a question.  If you are inappropriately touched, or groped, or if your genitals are fondled, please Son, do not react in anger.  If you say, “What the hell are you doing?” or “Don’t touch me” like Eric Garner or move suddenly or kick or even snatch away from these violating gestures, your life is now certainly at risk because it is already evident by their actions that you are dealing with an individual who is now intentionally trying to provoke you (because up to this point, you have literally done everything right).

8)   Let Them Cuff You

If they attempt to put cuffs on you, let them.

Yes. I know son.  Your heart will be beating fast.  You will be afraid.  You have never been in this position before.  You will be angry.  You will be confused.  You will be embarrassed.  But PLEASE DO NOT LOSE FOCUS!  If you turn to your emotions now, anything that comes out of your mouth or any movement of your body will bee seen as a threat and WILL BE met with violence.  Please son, hear me!

9)   Remain Silent

You are being arrested and though you may feel as if you have been wronged and your rights violated, this may be the only right you have left.

10)   Know That I Love You

No matter what the situation is. No matter if you turned without a signal or not.  No matter what they said to you or what they did to you or how they made you feel or your sense of helplessness or how stupid you think I was for making you follow all these rules to only end up in jail.  No matter how much the “burden” of your blackness may make you want to wash it all off.  No matter how much confusion comes flooding your mind, know that I am proud of you.  Know that you are a man even if you don’t feel like one right now.  Know that your dignity is not something anyone else determines. 

Know that hate is rooted in fear and fear is rooted in ignorance and ignorance is rooted in being too arrogant to learn and arrogance is rooted in privilege and privilege is the direct result of a well crafted, calculated, systemic plan initiated many years ago to build a wealthy independent empire…and empires don’t work if everyone benefits equally.  Though privilege itself doesn’t make a person bad, it is a very difficult thing to let go of or to use constructively…particularly if there is no acknowledgement of its existence in the first place.

And since "Power" is the bastardization of Authority, it is the most abused privilege of all…with the harshest consequences.


But Love.

The love I have for you.

The love we have for each other

can overcome this situation, Son.

Don't do anything now to harm yourself.  

I am coming to bring you home.

And you have permission to be angry when you get there.

And you have permission to cry.

I am crying right now.

May our collective tears serve as baptism

And may we emerge from the water with clearer vision for what to do next

To restore justice
To dismantle this system and its “empire” ideology that put you through this to start with. 

Pick your head up.  Let’s work. 

I love you son. 

Carlton Mackey

Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at the Emory University Center for Ethics
Creator of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™ and its signature project 50 Shades of Black 

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 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.


A few weeks ago, I had been at my nephew's 8th grade graduation. The Valedictorian and Salutatorian were two black girls who, while not being sisters, resembled each other in the fact that they both had their hair washed and set similarly; the lenses of their glasses were both held in place by black frames; and they both were constantly being called, in tandem, to the stage for awards. Before either of them had a chance to sit down after being acknowledged for their exceptional performances in one subject, they were summoned back to the stage to be recognized in another. Victory laps were being ran in the auditorium. The audience, assembled of parents and grandparents , siblings, cousins, close friends, teachers, and security guards, were in rapturous applause. But after the third lap, something changed: Hands got heavy; palms got sore; and cheers were slowly being overshadowed by shade. In any subject their names hadn't been called, the applause roared then immediately whispered when they were called again. Silent hands and malicious mouths became acts of retribution on two girls whose only crime that day was being better: "They could've at least gave some of these awards to other kids;" "I didn't come to watch someone else's kid win." Those naive enough to believe that this could only occur in an auditorium full of white bodies severely underestimate the human condition's oldest and most beloved hobby: hating. This hobby is most intense in those who recognize that part of themselves on the stage at the expense of them realizing that part that isn't. Adults and children alike recognized probably for the first time what they should've been doing and hadn't. That envy dictated the atmosphere up until the ceremony ended. That envy is dictating the current atmosphere surrounding Serena. That envy is calling her womanhood into question. That envy is using the plumpness of her ass to shade the rigor of her accomplishments. That envy is accusing her of steroid usage. But most of all that envy is unwilling to admit, like that auditorium, that the only real crime Serena, or those two girls, committed is showing us that we could all be better. 

-Yahdon Israel

Yahdon Israel  is a 50 Shades of Black featured writer.  Read his exclusive essay THE TRANSATLANTIC.


Posted on July 11, 2015 and filed under Body Image, current events.

President Barack Obama Delivers Powerful Eulogy for Clementa Pinckney

 Beautiful and moving, please take a moment to watch if you have not seen or heard this in full.

Obama eulogizes pastor in Charleston shooting. Obama sings Amazing Grace at funeral of Charleston shooting victim Clementa Pinckney. Washington (CNN) President Barack Obama on Friday eulogized the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims in last week's church massacre, calling him a "man of God who lived by faith."

Slavery and Salvation...Fury and Forgiveness: Reflections on the Charleston 9

Original Photo by featured artist Chris Charles |  Creative Silence . Edited by Carlton Mackey

Original Photo by featured artist Chris Charles | Creative Silence. Edited by Carlton Mackey

“…This is proof. Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. Hate won’t win…” Alana Simmons, Granddaughter of Daniel Simmons, Charleston Shooting Victim

“I forgive you, my family forgives you…”

“Love is patient, love is kind…” Whether we’re believers of these words in the Bible or not, at some point or another, we have all heard the definition of what love is, and what it is not: “…it is not envious, boastful or puffed up…rude, selfish, it is not provoked, thinks no evil…endures all things.”

To the human psyche, in the name of all logic, the very being of all that love is sounds ludicrous. The idea that the loved ones of the Charleston 9, as they’ve been called, can find it within themselves to utter the words, “I forgive you…” to a man who so brutally took love from them is evidence that it does exist.

Many won’t understand, or even agree with these individual’s conscious decision to walk in love. But that is exactly what true love takes: Walking in the teachings of Jesus through every circumstance. As Black Americans, living a life established in the principles of Christianity is a difficult tow to haul. How can the descendants of enslaved Africans worship the God of the very men who enslaved them? How can we believe the words of their book? Or believe that the freedom found in Christ is even meant for us?

These are questions that only a relationship with your creator can answer. While slave owners may have intended to use the Word to keep our ancestors enslaved, throughout the generations, we have gained knowledge for ourselves beyond ritual, establishing individual relationships through Christ. This knowledge and understanding providing peace for our hearts and minds, power in all things and wisdom in our daily living.

Whether one considers themselves a Christian or not, the same principles can be applied and taught as we teach others to love by the way we love…and forgive. -Nina Brewton

Experiencing the love of God through our relationships with others is what will continually build our faith. Displaying that same love is what will help others comprehend our faith and reasoning. Our daily walk will show them how patience and kindness, and as in the case of the family members of the Charleston 9, forgiveness are possible in the face of unthinkable adversity.

Alana Simmons leaves a message on a board set up in front of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after a mass shooting at the church killed nine people, on June 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Joe Raedle

Alana Simmons leaves a message on a board set up in front of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after a mass shooting at the church killed nine people, on June 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Joe Raedle

Being Black or being Christian shouldn’t be exclusive. Our dedication to living as both doesn’t make sense and it’s not meant to for every person in every space to understand. Forgiveness is a thing that isn’t for those we’re forgiving. Forgiveness brings peace to the heart and minds of those who are strong enough and willing to continuously make a conscious decision to walk in it.

Alana Simmons and other loved ones of the Charleston 9 know that the ability to walk in love and being everything that love is takes a concerted effort every day of our lives. Whether one considers themselves a Christian or not, the same principles can be applied and taught as we teach others to love by the way we love…and forgive.


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

Visit her on her website

ALSO BY NINA: BLACK. SELF. LOVE. Just Because I Love Me Doesn't Mean I Hate You

Posted on June 24, 2015 and filed under current events, faith, family, race, religion and culture.

Tywanza Sanders: Youngest Life Lost in Charleston Shooting Will Now Smile Forever


**I utilized this photo from Wanza's Instagram page. The caption he had under this photo was: "Believe you can and you will. Believe in God and he will."

BLACK MEN SMILE is a new signature project of 50 Shades of Black "Celebrating the Way We See Ourselves".

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.

The Mike Brown Murder: Do Our Black Lives Really Matter In America?

Honestly, it came as no shock to me that police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted in the shooting death of Ferguson, Missouri teen Mike Brown.

From the violent reaction that Ferguson officials had towards protestors to the shady way they handled evidence in the case and even the way the media tried to vilify Mike and spare Darren's dignity, all signs pointed to the imminent result that Darren would walk away a free man

And how could be I surprised? History has shown me so many times that when any white person or person of fair skin kills a black person, the lighter person is usually some brave, heroic soul doing his or her job to defend their self against the evil dark black people

That's exactly how it played out when police officers in Staten Island thought it okay to choke Eric Garner to death back in July. That's exactly how it played out when police officers shot and murdered John Crawford for holding a toy gun in Walmart. And that's exactly how it played out when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin after claiming that the young boy looked suspicious as he walked home from a trip to the store.

Even if they aren't killing us, they're vilifying us with the same laws that they use to protect themselves when killing us. Marissa Alexander used a firearm to fend off her abusive husband, and though her act of defense should rightfully have fallen under the Stand Your Ground law that allowed Zimmerman to walk free after murdering Martin, Alexander has spent over 1,000 days in jail and recently had to take a plea deal in order to bring a swifter end to her legal ordeal.

And to add insult to injury, in each one of these situations the media said the same negative things about the victims: "Their hands weren't clean anyway," "They were no angel," "They were still criminals," "They brought it on themselves." Because in the eyes of the media, all black people deserve to be treated violently because we are inherently evil. We are niggers, you know.

So why should I be shocked that Wilson would go free for murdering Brown? Why should I be surprised that, once again, America has proven that our black lives have no value or worth?

Instead, what I feel is the same thing I've felt my entire life: disappoint, anger and terror.

Living in this country as a black person must be one of the most mind-blowing and insane forms of existence because unlike our fairer skinned brothers and sisters, we don't seem to have the luxury of just worrying about our own self-perception. No, we live a life of dualities, double standards and code switch that forces our sense of self to battle with white people's perception of us on a daily basis.

We can learn, grow, educate, laugh, love, excel at life, create amazing new things for the world and even change it with our minds and hearts, but as it stands right now in this society, all that we are can be diminished and extinguished by those in power simply because of our skin tone. And sometimes, too many times, we pay for that inequality with our lives.

So we live out our time believing the best of ourselves, all the while knowing that for all of the great things that we are we are seen and treated as less than human by White America.

And what could be more of mind fuck than that? Knowing or at least trying to believe that you are amazing and worthy of life and freedom, but also knowing that someone else has the power to take that away from you and will do it at their leisure just because of who you are.

Honestly, it's hard to feel optimistic and hopeful in these times, let alone offer some words of comfort. I don't know that what I have to say will be comfortable to anyone. Then again, perhaps it's best that it not be. This isn't a comfortable situation to be in and it's certainly not a comfortable state of existence for black people to live in.

What I can say though is that the voice in our head telling us that we are amazing and that we deserve better is right. We are worthy of this life and we are worthy of the freedoms of this world. And history has shown that we are one hell of a resilient community of people. So while we are alive, let us learn if we have to, fight if we have to, rage if we have to, and make peace if we have to. Let's do whatever we can to make this world better for and equal for all races and people.

And perhaps most importantly, let us love in the face of hate and terror.

P.S. Hearing this song has helped me deal over the last day. Perhaps it can help you all deal as well.


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on November 25, 2014 and filed under activism, race, skin tone, current events.

Jason Collins: Why The Retiring Legend Meant So Much To The Culture

2013 was one of the biggest years in sports history for LGBT athletes, and that was due in large part to Jason Collins, then a free agent after leaving the Washington Wizards, announced to the world in a Sports Illustrated feature that he's gay. Even more, Collins added that he hoped to continue his NBA career and sign to another team.

In that moment, Collins became a one of a kind history maker for LGBT sports. Never in the history of any of the four major sports leagues in the United States had any professional player come out while still an active player, much less tried to continue their sports career after coming out.

But in 2013, such a feat was no longer out of the realm of possibility. Just the year before, President Obama had come out in support marriage equality, bolstering a surprising slew of celebrities, like Jay Z and 50 Cent, to follow Obama's lead and push for the legalization of same-sex marriage. And by the time Collins came out, the Supreme Court had struck down Prop 8 and DOMA, helping to cement the idea that America's idea on homosexuality was changing for the positive.

And in the world of sports itself, Collins was just the latest in a slew of LGBT athletes that had come out of the closet. Before 2012, it was only on the rare occasion that we Americans saw any pro athletes come out as gay or bisexual. But in 2012, it seemed that gay athletes weren't only kicking down the closet door, they were opening the flood gates to freedom as athletes like former NFL star Wade Davis, Olympic gymnastics hopeful Josh Dixon, pro boxer Orlando Cruz, and fitness guru Shaun T all came out as gay.

And the momentum continued in 2013 as Collins led another barrage of coming out tales that included athletes like WNBA star Brittney Griner, British Olympic diver Tom Daley, and WWE star Darren Young. Equally noteworthy was the fact that most of the popular coming out stories were courtesy of athletes of color

And though many of Collins comrades were either finding or had already found success in their own fields, there was still a sense of uncertainty and fear when it came to idea of a man coming out as gay and still thriving in one of the four major sports. Initially, it seemed as though Collins was fallingn victim to the typical homophobic trappings that have plagued the sports world for years as NBA team after NBA team passed on signing the free agent, forcing him sit out the first half of the NBA season and seemingly proving, once again, that America just wasn't "ready" for gay male sports star.

But all of that changed on February 23 of this year, when Collins was offered a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets, a deal which was advocated by his former teammate, former Nets coach Jason Kidd. Collins eventually signed another 10-day contract before signing on for the rest of the season. And Collins even dedicated his achievement to the memory of Matthew Shepherd by wearing No. 98 on his jersey.

Finally, after years of long waits, discouraging battles, and harsh struggles, we had a black gay man representing the community and proving that not only could gay men play sports just as well as anyone else, but also that straight people, specifically their straight male teammates, could understand and embrace them as people and comrades.

For many of us, Collins was the fulfillment of a dream that was helped realized by all of the closeted gay athletes that came before him, wishing they could live their life freely and successfully. He was proof that, once again, the black queer community is brimming with the groundbreaking human beings who are ready to change the course of history, just like we have before with movements such as the Stonewall Riots. And Collins represented the hope that he was just the first of what will be an ever-growing line of openly gay and bisexual athletes who will not only disrupt the culture of homophobia, effimiphobia and transphobia in major sports, but also lead us to a truly even and equal playing field.

So, with the recent news that Collins is retiring from an amazing 13-year career in the NBA, we congratulate and salute Collins for helping to change the world for the better.

Watch and read his official Sports Illustrated statement on his retirement below. 

"It has been 18 exhilarating months since I came out in Sports Illustrated as the first openly gay man in one of the four major professional team sports. And it has been nine months since I signed with the Nets and became the first openly gay male athlete to appear in a game in one of those leagues. It feels wonderful to have been part of these milestones for sports and for gay rights, and to have been embraced by the public, the coaches, the players, the league and history.

On Wednesday at the Barclays Center, I plan to announce my retirement as an NBA player. The day will be especially meaningful for me because the Nets will be playing the Bucks, who are coached by Jason Kidd, my former teammate and my coach in Brooklyn. It was Jason who cheered my decision to come out by posting on Twitter: “Jason’s sexuality doesn’t change the fact that he is a great friend and was a great teammate.”

Considering all the speculation about problems I might face within the locker room, Jason’s support was significant. It had been argued that no team would want to take on a player who was likely to attract a media circus from the outset and whose sexuality would be a distraction. I’m happy to have helped put those canards to rest. The much-ballyhooed media blitz to cover me unscrambled so quickly that a flack jokingly nicknamed me Mr. Irrelevant.

Among the memories I will cherish most are the warm applause I received in Los Angeles when I took the court in my Nets debut, and the standing ovation I got at my first home game in Brooklyn. It shows how far we’ve come. The most poignant moment came at my third game, in Denver, where I met the family of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student beaten to death in a 1998 hate crime on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. For the past two years I have worn number 98 on my jersey to honor his memory. I was humbled to learn that number 98 jerseys became the top seller at Proceeds from sales, and from auctioned jerseys I wore in games, were donated to two gay-rights charities.

There are still no publicly gay players in the NFL, NHL or major league baseball. Believe me: They exist. Every pro sport has them. I know some of them personally. When we get to the point where a gay pro athlete is no longer forced to live in fear that he’ll be shunned by teammates or outed by tabloids, when we get to the point where he plays while his significant other waits in the family room, when we get to the point where he’s not compelled to hide his true self and is able to live an authentic life, then coming out won’t be such a big deal. But we’re not there yet.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on November 22, 2014 and filed under current events, LGBT, sexuality.

#TheMikeBrownMurder: Solidarity And Terror In Being A Nigga in America

When you're born black in America, there are some harsh truths about life that you just have no chance of escaping: One being that many people in the world will see you as less than human because of the color of your skin and the culture you come from; Secondly that, whether you like it or not, in somebody's eyes, perhaps your own as well, you're a nigga; And thirdly that, because of your skin tone, the police won't always look at you as a human being who they're hired to protect and serve. Instead, you'll often be looked at as a threat that needs to be harassed, controlled or eradicated.

And that script of life played out with deadly results on Saturday, Aug. 9, when 18-year-old Ferguson, Missouri teenager Mike Brown was gunned down by a police officer and left to die in the middle of the street for his entire neighborhood to see. 

If you talk with most black people and ask them how they feel about the Mike Brown murder, what you'll like hear is something along the lines of, "Mike Brown was murdered by the Ferguson, Missouri police because he was black and the police tried to cover it up because his life meant nothing to them."

No minced words. No prefacing. No beating around the bush; Just an uncurbed torrent of anger, frustration and sorrow encapsulated in one candid sentence of raw pain.

All around the nation black people are sharing in the pain and tragedy of this murder because, even though none of us want these harsh realities to be true, there's a shared understanding in the terror and sense of solidarity in being harassed, being terrorized and being, well, a nigga in the U.S.A.

For me, that point was driven home last week when I and my group of black gay male friends had a group chat on Facebook about Brown's murder. As we sifted through social media reports from the brave residents of Ferguson, we shared our pain and anger at the photos and videos of Brown's black body lying limp and bullet riddled as his blood turned the concrete streets into a river of crimson. And we continued to watch as resident posted photos of Ferguson's militarized police hurl tear gas, shoot rubber bullets and point their guns as protestors as they held their hands in the air, begging for peace and for justice.

In the end, it was my friend, Chase, who put our collective feeling into one succint and soul-draining statement.

"I'm tired....And I don't want to die like that."

As soon as those words appeared on my computer screen, my heart broke and scattered across my keys, for him, for me and for all of our friends. I know exactly how he feels, and why his heart is tired and weary. Every black person knows exactly how we feel because that terror is attached to both how we're treated by the police and the American government as well as how we're raised by our families.

For most black people, even in these so-called modern times, you learn that you'd better get used to being called a nigga, both as a blood-stained term of endearment from other black people, and as a word of unbridled hate from other races.

And as a so-called nigga, you're taught at an early age that, although it's okay to call the cops if your life is in danger or you've been robbed, don't expect them to show too much sympathy or concern for you, or even show up in a timely manner. Even more grave is that we're taught that any encounter with a cop, especially when you're pulled over or stopped on the streets, can result in the end of your life if you follow a strict set of behavior patterns.

1) Don't dress too black

2) Don't talk or act too black

3) Don't make any sudden movements and always announce whatever move you're going to make.

4) Always say sir, ma'am, or officer.

5) Never raise your voice to them.

6) Always be as cooperative as possible and don't challenge them unless absolutely necessary.

7) Don't fight back

8) Make them feel like you know you're the nigga in this situation, and that you're non-threatening, and that you know who's in power.

9) Stay alive

If you can do all of those things, then there's a strong enough chance that you might not be racially profiled or harassed because you're black, and you may even leave with your life. But the frightening loophole of those rules is that you're still a nigga and the laws that count, laws of the land set up by the majority, police a and the government, weren't all made for niggas and don't always apply to us. So even if you follow all these rules, you could stil end up dead just like Mike Brown, regardless of whether you're innocent, or compliant, or unarmed.

And although there are some black people who we think have transcended their skin tone and are exempt from the harsh realities being just another nigga, a startling tweet posted by Childish Gambino last week reminded me tha all black people know that fear that every black person lives with.

And that last tweet sums up so much of what we feel on a community-wide scale. At the end of the day, regardless of how much money we make, how we dress, how we talk, what we contribute to the world, or what gender we are, the reality is that we are all subconsciously and consciously fearing that "our turn" is next or that someone we love will be next.

We fear that day our father might have his turn, or our mother might have her turn, or our sister might have her turn, or our brother my have his turn, or a beloved family member might have their turn, or our nigga(s) might have their turn.

We're all waiting for that day when the police "turn" on us, just hoping that when it comes, we can just go home safely.

And it's not fair that we feel this way. It's not fair that our loved ones feel this way. It's not fair that we bear the psychological damage that comes from it, the nihilism, the broken hearts, the lost children, and the lost hope. It's not fair that police across the nation disprportionately attack us. And it's not okay that the media continuously portrays us thugs, delinquents and savages even when we're innocent.

It's not fair that when my friend tells me he doesn't want to die that way that I have to muster up every bit of hope and strength I can and tell him "cherish whatever reason you have to smile....honor the anger and the drive to change things....but smile too. Otherwise, you'll die another kind of death."

I tell all of my friends this because I literally have no other way to protect them. Until the government, the media and society at large decides to engage the black community in honest conversations about race and oppression, and alter their perspective about us in a positive way, all I can do is advise my friends to shift their perspective of the world just to function and survive in this reality.

I have to ask them to smile, even when they want to cry, even when they feel like dying, because that is part of the experience of being a nigga in America.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on August 19, 2014 and filed under activism, community, current events, race.

Eastern Europe's first black mayor opens up to 50 Shades of Black in Exclusive Interview

Eastern Europe's first black mayor opens up to Ross Oscar Knight about race, skin tone, gender equality, family and politics.

Eastern Europe's first black mayor opens up to Ross Oscar Knight about race, skin tone, gender equality, family and politics.

Today Ross Oscar Knight interviewed Mayor Peter Bossman of Piran, Slovenia. Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia, was the first country to gain its independence in 1991. Now part of the European Union, the country received ample media attention after Bossman was elected its first black mayor in 2010. The interview details the story of how Bossman fled Ghana in 1977 and eventually settled in Slovenia to become a doctor. Bossman and his wife are parents of two biracial daughters. During the discussion Bossman speaks of pride in his African heritage and how he has balanced his identity with Slovenian culture. 

More on this story from 50 Shades of Black.

The New Morlocks Part II: Jamaica Allows LGBT Youth Refuge In Its Sewer Systems

Original Image courtesy of BuzzFeed

Original Image courtesy of BuzzFeed

It was only a few shorts months ago back in December when reports initially hit the global scene detailing the tragic reality that many of New Kingston, Jamaica’s LGBT youth were living in the city’s sewer systems after being kicked out of their homes and discarded by their communities.

Making matters even more grim was the fact that the homeless youths were being routinely arrested and harassed by the police as well as angry homophobic mobs, who could attack them at any time.

Now, after months of raids and attacks, a Kingston court has ruled that youths can legally stay in the sewer systems.

Activist Yvonne McCalla-Sobers, who is chair of the planned LGBT shelter Dwayne’s House, gave an account to and explained that the last raid occurred, ironically, on March 5, Ash Wednesday, when New Kingston police entered the sewers and demanded that the youth leave. The youth, however, refused and some put up a struggle as they simply had nowhere else to go. Some of the youth were arrested for resisting eviction and some were even charged for using swear words, which is illegal in Jamaica.

Police had previously gone so far as to try and burn the youth out of the sewers and had even run them out of the abandoned buildings they were occupying when they weren't in the sewers. Police have now completely torn those abandoned buildings down to stop any chance of the youths coming back. Sadly, that's also helped to keep the youths in a permanent state of homelessness. 

When the youths appeared in court two days later, a judge fined them for their “calumnious language.” However the judge also advised the police that the sewers are a public space and therefore the youths have a right to reside there.

Dwayne’s House paid the small fines for the youths, and in what could only be described as an utterly bizarre and tragic victory, the youths have now returned to the sewers with the hope that they will be left alone by police.

As I wrote in my original article on this matter, this scenario frighteningly mirrors the plight of the fictional X-Universe group The Morlocks, a bizarre, unique and discarded group of mutants who lived in the sewers of Manhattan because they didn't fit in with either humans or human-looking mutants.

Like these youths in Jamaica, The Morlocks were constantly criticized and discriminated against when they walked into the light with the rest of the world and even when they stayed underground in the sewers, they were susceptible to attacks from anti-mutant groups. Sadly, in the X-Men comics, help came to late for the The Morlocks and their group was brutally massacred in their sewer home by, of all things, a group of mercenary mutants. 

It’s mind blowing that in the real world a group of young men and women are so oppressed and unwanted by their community that the main issue surrounding the governments response to them isn’t how they can be aided before even more disastser strikes or how to  change th mindsets of citizens to allow for a society that values human life over judgment and irrational hate, instead it's how and where the powers that be in New Kingston can dump these youths off and relieve themselves of responsibility in the matter. 

The shining light in the matter is the tenacity and resilience of these youths to stay alive as well as the efforts of a activists like those at Dwayne's House who are trying to create a safe space in Jamaica for these youths and advocate for their rights and their existence.

I just hope that life doesn't imitate art first and that these youths don't end up massacred and forgottten before real help arrives.

If you'd like information on how to donate to Dwayne's House you can check out their website here.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on March 18, 2014 and filed under activism, current events, Homophobia, LGBT.

Fahamu Pecou Mic Checks as Guest Editor of Hip Hop Edition Art Papers Magazine

Mic check, 1-2, 1-2 ...

Welcome to the Art x Hip-Hop issue of ART PAPERS.

As with my own work, this issue is dedicated to investigating hip-hop and contemporary art—not as isolated encounters, but rather where they intersect, how they complement and enhance each other, and, ultimately, how in conversation they act to transgress the status quo.
— Fahamu Pecou

...and with that 50 Shades of Black featured artist Fahamu Pecou blows the dust off his vinyl records as guest editor of Atlanta based Art Papers Magazine.  ART PAPERS, the independent critical voice covering contemporary art and culture in the world today, isn't particularly known for deeply engaging hip hop as an art form or particularly the hip hop community at large.  Pecou, a hip-hop aficionado of sorts known at 50 Shades of Black for his work challenging stereotypes of black masculinity is about to change all of that and add yet another feather (or rather fleur de lis) in his hat to anyone who questioned previously whether he was the shit.  

With contributions like those below ranging from reflections on Banksy to Basquiat...from Marcia Jones to Jay-Z, you know you're in for something real special.  Go get it.  >> ART PAPERS (Jan/Feb 2014): Art x Hip Hop | Edited by Fahamu Pecou

In the Jan/Feb 2014 issue:

The Devil Is a Liar: The Diasporic Trickster Tales of Jean-Michel Basquiat & Kendrick Lamar

Neither Queer nor There: 
Categories, Assemblages, and Transformations

Beyond the Abyss: Neo-Hip-Hop Cultural Expression

Interview with Charlie Ahearn

Picasso Baby: Hip-Hop and the Appropriation of Space

On the Production of Value:
Mohamed Bourouissa's All-In

Artist Projects: DJ Adrian Loving, Marcia Jones, Rob Pruitt and Bayeté Ross Smith

Reviews: Art Beat + Lyrics, Atlanta; Wangechi Mutu, Brooklyn; Loretta Fahrenholz, New York; Banksy, New York; Odd Future + Henry Darger

Posted on January 10, 2014 and filed under art, blog, current events, music, press.

Let Jesus Walk (Part 1)

symbols and meaning.jpg

Images of the first century Palestinian Jewish man named Jesus are more prevalent this time of year than any other.  Depictions rendered by artists (namely by or inspired by an artist named Warner Sallman) are resurrected and pervade our social consciousness.  Images grace the covers of popular magazines that otherwise would never have a religious figure on the cover.  They often have phrases under then like “The Real Jesus” (US News and World Report) or “Uncovering Jesus”.  They seek to offer readers some historical context for understanding the life and times of arguably the most influential person in human history.

Art is a powerful tool.  It can convey emotion, express complex ideas, offer hope, present mystery, and point to things beyond our present reality.

Among the most popular pieces of art (or sets of art) in the world are depictions of Jesus created in the 40’s by an artist named Warner Sallman.  Sallman was originally commissioned to create a more masculine image of Christ by Dr. E O Sellers (1924ish).  The set of images presented to the world up to that time (as thought by Sellers and members of the institute he was dean of) were too passive.  Jesus looked to him too effeminate, too gauntly, and too non-American.  [This was 1920’s America]. Sallman woke up the day of the deadline for the submission with an idea and sketched it in charcoal.  Sallman integrated other features that had become more and more popular every since the spread of Christianity in medieval Europe to distinguish Biblical characters worthy of veneration from depictions of the “negative” characters like King Herod and Judas who were depicted to have more “Jewish” features.  This tradition was inherited in order to perpetuate and solidify the message that it was the “Jews”…a group somehow distinct from “Christians” that crucified Christ.  [This was 1920’s America...the height of Anti-Semitism in America].

Sallman’s paintings captured the heart of America.  By the 1940’s his pieces began to spread like wild fire.  In 1940, based on his earlier sketches, he created what has become the most duplicated piece of art in the world, Sallman’s Head of Christ.  His pieces were something unlike other images at the time in that they reflected the deepest held views of America about what the person they would worship should look like.  [This was 1940’s America].  Sallman had captured an ideal.  For a decade, between 1940 and 1950 pieces that would become as American as apple pie (maybe more so) were created by the same artist who had mastered the formula for what America wanted in their Jesus.  To Sallman belongs not only the famous Head of Christ, but the ubiquitous painting of Jesus knocking at the door, and many others.

But 1940s America was a very significant time in American and global history.  The ideal figure that Sallman had created or based his images off of held a certain place in American and global society.  To that ideal was granted certain rights and privileges not afforded to others.  Sallman had created an exceptionally tall, strong looking, beautiful man who could be easily seen as strong enough to fight off attacks from a Japanese enemy, but gentle enough to open the door for a lady.  He was John Wayne and George Washington combined!  He was perfect! [This is 1940s America]

The nation, or those in power, were complicit with the state of things.  There was enough other mess going on.  Good Christian folks may not have “supported” the segregation of the day but they weren’t making too much fuss about it.  The Civil Rights Movement wasn’t at its peak.  That wouldn’t be for another 20 or so years.  The country had “enough on its plate”.  We were trying to emerge from the Great Depression and FDR was president.  Anti-Semitism was not as high as it was in the 20’s and 30’s but it was high.

To white Christians (non-Jews), to Sallman, and to the Jesus he had created (to be a perfected image of their ideals, hopes, and dreams) this was the time some historians call the Golden Age of America.

[OK…enough with the history]

During this season of Christmas, where we are bombarded with images, I created (manipulated) an image to provoke thought and to engage in discussion.  The work that I am committed to doing right now in my life as an artist is centered around exploring the role of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.  It is impossible for me in doing this work to not take seriously the function of the art that unlike any other time of the year is all around us, its history, and how it shapes all of our lives.

People aren’t born thinking they are ugly, or inferior, or not good enough, or too black or too white or not strong enough or too fat or too gay or too feminine or too masculine.  These things are constructed…slowly over time…with unbelievable precision.  Us, our institutions, our art, our lack of understanding of history, our fear, and our hesitancy to deconstruct these things keep us here.

I’m one of you.  I’m afraid of what I don’t know.  I afraid of being rejected.  I’m afraid of being judged. I hate the thought of being isolated and unliked.  I was afraid to post this image.  I was afraid of what you might say or think of me. I did it.

This is not an attempt to make people think that Jesus was black.  That doesn’t do anything for us.  I do, in this season of mass consumption: of food, of stuff, of images of a first century Jew from Palestine named Jesus to take a moment to think about what all of it means.  In this time of great discovery, of birth, of mystery, let’s be as imaginative and as hungry to meet Jesus as the Magi.

…to ask ourselves where it all comes from, to ask why is it presented this way, to not be complicit, to think anew about what a Jesus who would have fought against segregation, who would have refused to drink, swim, or be baptized in a segregated pool.  To think anew about a Jesus who may have been, on the flip side, not allowed to drink, swim, or be baptized with others.  To think anew about maybe emphasizing less the images of any figure that has been dictated to us of any particular race and try to discover the essence of the truth within the teachings.

…to fight against the structures: institutional, mental, personal, that separate us…to think boldly but with passion about how to do so…through thought provoking art, through conversations, through how we spend our resources, etc…to think about what we can do to not be a religion/group that performs our holiest of actions on the holiest of days in ways that don’t scream for _________________ only but instead all are welcome.




Carlton Mackey

Creator of 50 Shades of Black

white only swimming area.jpg
Posted on December 10, 2013 and filed under activism, art, current events, education, faith, history, Identity, race.

What does Nina's win mean for Indian women in America?


The second generation Indian-American woman.

We've all seen, met or interacted with her at some point in our lives.

She orders her Venti latte at a Brooklyn Starbucks with the same ease as she does butter chicken at the leading Indian restaurant in SoHo. She walks into a club in LA strutting an Hervé Léger dress and Jimmy Choo shoes with the same confidence as she does a Lehenga-Sari at her cousins wedding in Jersey. She switches with ease between her American accent at a Morgan Stanley presentation to her Indian accent during a conversation in Hindi with her grandma in Mumbai. She enjoys a weekend at Coachella just as much as jamming out to an AR Rahman tune. She enjoys watching an all American slapstick comedy just as much as she does a melodramatic Bollywood film.

You know who she is. She knows who she is.

She's confident in the color of her skin and wouldn't dare apply a skin lightening fairness cream like so many women do in India. But she knows that no matter how pretty she feels in her sun kissed dark brown skin, HER BEAUTY will never be seen as the ideal by the masses.

Not in the country she calls home and Not in the country her parents call home.

So what does Nina's win mean for Indian women in America? The format of the Miss America pageant isn't exactly the ideal way to measure a woman's worth, BUT it is after all a highly publicized proclamation of beauty. 

From national TV coverage and appearances on Kimmel and Conan to makeup aisle displays at Wal-Mart and Target, Nina is going to be everywhere! That and all the support received to counteract the hateful twitter aftermath gives me hope.

Hope that maybe eventually her beauty will also be seen
as AMERICAN beauty
as INDIAN beauty 
or just BEAUTY!

- Tanya Pereira
Creator of Not Fair, Still Lovely - an online platform aimed at changing the perception in the Indian community of color-prejudiced beauty standards defined by the billion dollar fairness cream industry.



Nina vs. past Miss World and Miss Universe pageant winners (Click to Enlarge)

Posted on September 27, 2013 and filed under current events, press, skin tone.

Desmond Tutu would take hell over an anti-gay heaven


Most known for his religious thought, reflections on race, and his pivotal role in the ending and transitioning from apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is now passionately using his voice to denounce religious practices that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. 

50 Shades of Black explores the intersection of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.  Referring to the UN's launch of its new anti-gay initiatives, Archbishop Tutu makes a statement that only he could make... connecting the two issues and his fervor for both together.

I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level. -Desmond Tutu

Read More on Huff Post Religion


Posted on July 28, 2013 and filed under activism, africa, current events, faith, sexuality.

Trayvon: Tragedy and a Travesty. Coming of age in Florida, I could have been Trayvon.

Since the issuing of the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman I haven’t said much publicly about the verdict. This is not because of not caring or being out of touch. I just didn’t know if there was anything I could say that would be profound, or add to the ongoing dialogue about the racial and social commentary of  both the situation and the verdict or do my disillusionment justice. I was not surprised that George Zimmerman was acquitted, I felt that he would be from the onset of the trial. Make no doubt about it I was disappointed and disgusted and that feeling has not abated even after a week. More than anything else it was a stark reminder after being away from the USA for almost an entire year after having spent last summer working in Jamaica and living in Denmark for ten months; regardless of the fact that I’m “educated” and some would consider me as an individual that is realizing the American Dream while climbing the proverbial social and economic ladders, in other words I could be considered  a model citizen, NONE of that matters especially if I happen to come across somebody who is prejudiced  towards black people, particularly in possession of animus towards black males.

This morning I woke up to a rather touching Facebook message from one of the Rotarians from my host club in Copenhagen who I struck up a friendship with.

Hi Terrol, I hope you are doing well in Florida. It is Saturday morning and within the next 5 days I will become a father since my girlfriend was due last Thursday. I read this article and wondered how you evaluated or would put this in context to the time you spent in Denmark? I noticed that your photos have changed a bit since you went back to FL compared to your time in Denmark/Europe. I mean that there is not a whole lot of photos of "non Afro Americans" on them. Is this just a coincidence or is the way of living rather divided? Sorry for the usual direct Danish manner - you know me, I hope you are doing well and that we will meet up again. If I should take my family to FL in the Autumn I will like to meet up but I will have to see if my daughter is a screaming little devil or a relax sleeping girl first. Take care I care
Jacey and I at 14/15

Jacey and I at 14/15

The article he is referring to is President Obama’s remarks on Trayvon Martin and race in America.  I spent my adolescence in Florida: 12-16 in cosmopolitan and diverse South Florida and 16-18 in rural Central Florida. Let me reiterate the president’s sentiments “Trayvon Martin could have been me…” No really. From 2002-2005 I was a fan of wearing durags, baggy clothing and big gaudy jewelry including a massive chain and pendant and Timberland shoes. My sartorial sensibilities reflected that of hip-hop culture of that period to my mother’s chagrin. I cannot tell you how many times my best friend Jacey and I were trailed in stores when we used to go to Sawgrass Mills Mall or other malls in Broward County every few weeks. When the story broke about Trayvon, Jacey and I had a conversation about how we would have responded if we were accosted in an antagonistic manner by anybody whether black, white, purple, yellow, orange etc. I think it’s safe to say that from 13-16 we would have responded in kind if accosted in a manner laced in aggression. What could have been the outcome? At that moment would they have known that at age 15 I was number one in my high school class of 500 plus students, would they have known that I had dreams of going to Duke University for my undergraduate studies and Yale for graduate study, would they have known that I had no disciplinary infractions in my academic life? The answer for that is a resounding NO. Based on my style of dress, my accent, the shade of my skin they would have assumed that I was “behaviorally challenged” and a fledgling criminal.

In the summer of 2007, the summer before I left for college I was working at two Arby’s in the Central Floridian town that I lived in, one from 7-3, and the other 4-11, Monday-Thursday. Needless to say my schedule was tight. Me being mindful of the time because of my unique circumstances and doing everything I needed to do before 3:00 rubbed one of the assistant managers the wrong way, he was a middle aged Caucasian man and in all honesty was prone to snapping volatilely. One day he got upset at me for what he perceived to be “insubordination” when I was told to do another thing by the general manager. He engaged me in a verbal altercation and told a 17 year old me to step outside with him. I shudder to think if I had lost my cool completely (I was pretty close, I haven’t been that angry since), or if our manager hadn’t been prescient enough to step in between the two of us after he lunged at me. Anything could have happened, it is quite possible based on where I live that he may have had a concealed weapon in his vehicle.

I started high school almost 10 years ago and because of how I dressed and the assumptions that three of my four Quantum Leap teachers made about me I was treated with disdain and even denied of an award in favor of a close friend who was also black but a lot less “urban” than I was at the time, he readily admits to this and it is something we laugh about to this day.  My lesson here was that how you are perceived matters. For much of the past six years I haven’t spent much time at home and even when I’m here I stay at home quite a bit. When Trayvon Martin was murdered one of the most poignant scenarios that played out in my mind, was me walking around in my neighborhood in my dark blue Yale hoodie or black Wake Forest hoodie (the most comfortable and flexible article of clothing known to man) and some overzealous armed member of our neighborhood watch accosting me because of a host of reasons: not recognizing me, my dreadlocks, me living in a predominantly white neighborhood, all this translates into me being a suspicious character. What would have been the outcome?

I first read Brent Staples’ Black Men and Public Spaces as a sixteen year old in my AP English Language course. In introducing the story my teacher said she chose it because -while in the shower, hahaha- I was the only black person in the class and she felt as if I could probably relate. I could and still can but it was because of how assumptions of black male criminality and how its ramifications dictate people's movements and comportment.  I have been followed in Macy’s which is my favorite store to shop for clothes countless of times (I still am), I recognize how tense people including fellow students were when I walked in close proximity to them in New Haven at night.  It is only now that the other part of the Black Men and Public Spaces' gist has taken on even more profound significance: “And I soon gathered that being perceived as dangerous is a hazard in itself. I only needed to turn a corner into a dicey situation, or crowd some frightened, armed person in a foyer somewhere, or make an errant move after being pulled over by a policeman. Where fear and weapons meet – and they often do in urban America – there is always the possibility of death.”

I find myself yearning for Copenhagen’s somewhat less racially charged atmosphere. I find myself reluctantly siding with my mother’s insistence that my brothers dress a certain way and wear certain hairstyles. The majority of time I’ve lived in America I’ve found myself in predominantly white academic situations, but I can only readily think of less than a handful of people in the USA I consider friends who are white. I have no problems interacting with American Caucasians in academic and professional settings, but for some reason there remains a barrier socially. Honestly, I’d like to think this isn’t a reflection of any prejudice on my part, because I’m a very open-minded person and get along with people from all walks of life. But the truth of the matter is that in much of America although systematic segregation has been dismantled, or we’d like to think so, self-segregation still exists. This self-segregation is grown out of an inherent fear of the other on the part of the majority of white Americans. For me if I’m guilty of self-segregation, it is more of a response, I don’t want to always be reminded of and defined by my race. I abide by the credo “if you are cool I’m cool”.

“National dialogue and conversations on race” are worn out tropes. I don’t think they get us anywhere. I think what we need as Americans is a commitment to reflection and action. The woman I’m currently interested in dating is a public interest lawyer in Florida and our recent conversations have been colored by the racial undercurrents of the Martin-Zimmerman encounter and the trial that ensued as well as the failures of the criminal justice system as it relates to blacks. I sincerely hope that bonding with a woman or anybody else for that matter by virtue of our mutual commiseration over an unfortunate and tragic incident that reeks with the stench of racial prejudice and injustice and the resulting disappointment in a criminal justice system that does little to mitigate the feeling of being second-class citizens in a country that we love will eventually be a distant memory and a thing of the past.  

Posted on July 20, 2013 and filed under current events, personal stories, race.

Acknowledging Realities Just Beneath the Surface

Just below the surface broods the reality of the function skin tone plays in the formation of identity.  

In times such as this we are given yet another chance to acknowledge that reality.

50 Shades of BLACK -committed to critically examining sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.

Posted on July 15, 2013 and filed under skin tone, current events.