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Do You Believe In Magic? The Story of a Little Black Princes

Photos by Carlton Mackey, Creator of 50 Shades of Black

Photos by Carlton Mackey, Creator of 50 Shades of Black

Several years ago, the mother of this little princess contacted me about capturing some images for her daughter's 4th birthday. She knew the party would be princess themed, and she knew that that she wanted the pictures that would be given as keepsakes to be special.

As the day approached we talked about ways to execute the shoot. At first, I proposed some areas near downtown Atlanta that might look "castle-like". At the last minute, I shifted my thoughts to trying to pull off an "enchanted forest" look.

Of course, the day of the shoot was colder than the rest of the week. We covered the princess in a big coat and took it off just as we began shooting. We literally shot for 15 minutes. I captured only 24 frames before we were headed back to the car. It was too cold. We finished the shoot in the studio and hoped that at least one of the images from the forest would work.

I don't think the princess was worried at all. She believes in magic.

Photography, Concept, and Digital Editing by Carlton Mackey

Interested in having your magic captured by me or a member of our creative team?  Email me at carltonmackey(at)50shadesofblack(dot)com

Posted on April 15, 2014 and filed under art, blog, personal stories.


In school, or even outside of school, I have always been gawked at just because I looked different. I have thick long hair down to my waist, tan/medium skin, and almond, deep set eyes. People would always ask me what my race was, and I would always say "Human" I asked my Mom when I was younger what I was, then she told me her story and then my Father's story.

Firstly my Father is full blood Italian. And both of his parents roots were in Southern Italy. My Mother's on the other hand is African and Blackfoot Native American. She told me about her parents, which in fact both had Blackfoot Grandparents.  This intrigued me even more. She also told me about how her Great Grandmother, how she used to speak in her native tongue, and how she was beautiful beyond belief.

When I look at my Mom, I really don't see black, other than her skin.  Everything else is all Native: her nose, her eyes, even her hair, stands out from other black women. My Mother, also told me how in school people, other black students, would make fun of her looks because she wasn't "black enough." I compared my own situation to I was always looked at and I was never enough of anything because I was multiracial.

I felt so alone until I branched out into the Native American community and to other multi-racial people who felt as I did and who weren't accepted like I was. Even my Italian family, disowned me because I connected more with my Mom's heritage then their own. To me you can be a million things, a million different bloodlines intermingled into one, but if you don't feel connected spiritually then you aren't part of the circle. I feel and have always felt close with my Native and Black side..and always will. But, that doesn't mean I disown my Italian side. I am three parts to one puzzle, and I fit together perfectly.

Now that I am twenty years old, I am still learning so much about my self and about my family's history. I learnt some words in my tribal language. Pretty soon I will jingle dance in the up and coming powwows, and I hope to one day act and model and speak for my people, my ancestors, and ALL the bloodlines that are in me.

No I am not just one part, I am a whole.

Read Full Press Release about New Partnership

Read Full Press Release about New Partnership

This is our 11th weekly personal story curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, Carlton Mackey, in partnership with I Love Ancestry (facebook) | called BRIDGING THE GAP featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

Each week we will feature one of YOUR stories about your ancestors, your heritage, and/or your coming to understand/celebrate your OWN identity.

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


50 Shades of Black Creator in Featured Podcast at Wonderroot

Floyd Hall in Recording Studio at WonderRoot in Atlanta, GA

Floyd Hall in Recording Studio at WonderRoot in Atlanta, GA

This morning I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with Floyd Hall, the Interactive Media Manager for Wonderroot for an interview.  Floyd curates the WonderRoot Podcasts series which offers listeners a vast array of conversations and insights into WonderRoot, artists and the Atlanta cultural community. Each podcast is recorded in the audio studio at WonderRoot Community Arts Center.

I can't wait to share to share more with you.  Expect podcast release early next week.

50 Shades of Black Creator Carlton Mackey and Floyd Hall at WonderRoot - Atlanta, GA

50 Shades of Black Creator Carlton Mackey and Floyd Hall at WonderRoot - Atlanta, GA

McDonalds leaves African ancestry out of bio for Lolo Jones

Like Lolo Jones or not, with as much as she is in the media and as much as she talks...about EVERYTHING in her personal life, by now there are just some things that we ALL know about her: that she is an evangelical Christian, that she had a rather tumultuous upbringing, that she is a virgin, and that she is of African descent.

At least I thought these things were universally accepted at this point.  But it looks like one of these is suddenly in question.

Don't ask me why I went to McDonalds, but I did.  When I got my drink, Ms. Jones was on the cup dawning her new role as a Sochi Olympic Bobsledder.  I turned the cup to read what they had to say and noticed something missing.

Photo by Carlton Mackey

Photo by Carlton Mackey

HUH?  Thinking that maybe what I thought all this time was wrong, I went to the net to look up other articles, sites, etc to get some clarity.  It was everywhere.  I decided to go to the source.  On the Official Website of Lolo Jones, there is a link to her official USA Track and Field profile.



I'm not trying to start a controversy, but I'm very curious why her African ancestry was left off of the cup.  Was this an accident, an oversight, the decision of McDonalds, at the request of Lolo?  Was it a "marketing" decision?  Does it matter?

I'm curious what you think.  Weigh in.  Let me know your thoughts.


Olympic Hurdler Lolo Jones: "Sex Kitten, Virgin for Sale," or Smart, Chaste, Successful Business Woman (2012)

Posted on March 3, 2014 and filed under blog, Identity, race.

Janelle Monae's Afrofuturism on Black History Month

Is humanoid equality the next civil rights fight?

Cindi Mayweather

And so she sings, we're all virgins to the joys of loving without fear....

Following her EP: metropolis Janelle Monae has used the analogy of synthetic intelligence to argue topics like civil and gender rights along with giving a new meaning to the ideal of LGBTQA ...perhaps the 'T' can stand for Transhuman or the 'A' for anything. In the five suite chronology of her 3 albums Monae has painted a picture of pop, rock, rap, jazz, blues, R&B, funk, and even folk to keep our attention while ranting about her own frustration with the kind of empowerment which is possible in the increasingly techno-connected world.

Modeled after the many interpretations of the storied Metropolis: a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences. Monae's consistent theme is a love between a human man and a robot women, but in this recent album has evolved into  stories about the her self confessed alter-ego cyborg Cindi Mayweather and her own identity as a seemingly lgbtR (R for Robot).

The album Electric Lady and Archandroid before that, bring to mind the issues surrounding love equality, which are socio-politically related to marriage equality. The age old dowry system of marriage is now a catalyst to normalize love across cultures and preferences, aside from its sustained bride price. Human's ability to create laws that better acknowledge independence of things of sentience will be increasingly tested as human-kind itself grows more diverse.

I'd argue that Gay is the new Asian because of all the unpacked diversity in the culture, but black seems to be the analogy that everyone is going with.

Michael Joseph Gross coined it The Last Great Civil Rights Struggle. Pundits are rightfully quick to make something finite in order to capitalize on it. Aside from marketing, it’s not true. There will always be more struggles, as minorities exist and define their niche forte. We are reverse engineering our way to pure individualism. Imagine 7,000,000,000 cultural labels and counting. LGBT issues are just the latest struggle, but the next or perhaps the one after that, will be Humanoid or even Robot issues. There is an ethnography to everything including the technology that compels and propels our daily lives. As we humans try and engineer our ways out of all labor we've started to create sentience. Just as Edgar Rice Burroughs writes in The Master Mind of Mars we have the potential to fall in love with a beautiful mind transferred to a horrible body. How will our ethical code change legally when Cindi Mayweather a humanoid lady falls in love with Anthony Greendown, a gentleman?

Originally posted on 10/3/2013 in H+ an extension of the World Transhumanist Association by author James Felton Keith


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

Posted on February 1, 2014 and filed under activism, art, blog, education, Homophobia, Identity, LGBT, music, sexuality.

Happy Black History Month: Minorities as a Heuristic


For everyone unfamiliar, a heuristic can be an experience-based technique for problem solving, learning, and discovery that give a solution which is not guaranteed to be optimal.


This past November 6, 2013 I attended an event at the City University of New York’s Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies for a roundtable discussion on Black Queer Diaspora. I thought it would be ultimate in minority topics, next to Asian Queer Diaspora. I have to admit that I was unsure what would actually be discusses at the event. The event was a critique of Jafari Allen's new book and mostly about the "connectivity" of the black queer diaspora to other cultural genres of the world.

In a special issue of GLQ, Jafari Allen beckoned us to see that “Black/queer/diaspora is an organic project of multivalent and multiscalar reclamation, revisioning, and futurity (yes, all at once).” This event brings together preeminent writers and thinkers at the forefront of engaging with this work. Issue editor Jafari Allen (Yale) and contributor Vanessa Agard-Jones (Columbia) present research from their new projects emerging from the conversations of the special issue. Robert Reid-Pharr (CUNY Graduate Center), and Rosamond S. King (Brooklyn College) will offer responses to this new work, informed by their own scholarship and research interests. Collectively, they will each present new research that considers and expands the methodological and conceptual inquiries grounding the issue.

After the presentation of Allen’s new book project Black/Queer/Diaspora and a Agard-Jones’s beyond fascinating paper What the Sands Remember (which could suggest radical political warfare on ethnic and sexual minorities via unethical bio & chemical policy. READ IT!) their critiques made the event much more compelling. Rosemond King’s poetry was beautifully easy yet provocative, although I’m not sure she’d agree with my choice of language. But the kicker was Dr Robert Reid-Pharr’s critique of Allen & Agard-Jone’s work. He said

Black Queer Diaspora should be presented as a heuristic

The way he used it, meant that it “can” go away. I immediately thought about my own work and how colleagues, peers, critiques, and I regularly explore the ends of things to push understanding beyond our understanding from the day-to-day lives we lead. Of course it's an effort to understand the exponential growth potential of our lives. I’ve never seen so many minorities clash. %0 Shades of Black regularly employes the clashing of many minorities as we individuals recognize so many sub-groups in our own minority.

If you are still reading, please indulge my logic of Reid-Pharr's comment briefly: Think of "minorities" as "problems" to potentially be "solved" with less-than optimal outcomes; or rather a diluted existence into some broader culture (majority). Anthropological history of culture systems and even physics system suggest that Reid-Pharr is on to something. A minority that is tolerated and accepted should eventually dilute into the norms of the broader culture.

Even further and most interesting to me as a socialized African American, although my genome sequence reads quite different, was question posed from the audience by a woman asking Jafari Allan if he agreed with Rober Reid-Pharr’s comment about heuristics. Allen agreed that “Queer” could go away, as he elaborated about his and the academy’s difficulty with the term. He continued to say that “Black” could never go away. After he laughed at the the statement he switched subjects.

To this point I haven’t dealt with Afro-futurism mainly because it is not an interest of mine, even after the request of editors at organizations like Humanity+ & IEET. Having stated that, the writings and comments around Afro-futurism concern me simply because I am classified as black. Phenomenologically I am inclined to reject Allen’s suggestion that “Black” could never dilute, especially while considering “Queer” to have the potential to do so. While we are still early in the commencement of our technological evolution it is possible to consider the potential of ethnic ranks pervading the humanoid population. Simply, human selection aside from that of natural selection is allowing each individual in the human-kind race to design themselves in the favor of their own ambitions. I’m compelled to think of the green-honed four-toed tri-breasted Spanish-speaking avatars designed in SecondLife and those in real life. If I extrapolate the cultural changes that I see in 2014, it seems that our population will be a large sea of minorities. From a socio-cultural standpoint, I think that Anthropologists can find and will continue to find remnants of tolerance leading to the acceptance from individuals living OUT... Those transparent lifestyles dilute the majority and minority normative: exposing everyone as an individual participating in a group.



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

Posted on January 31, 2014 and filed under art, blog, education, Identity, LGBT, sexuality.

Say Hello to Maya Leroux: 50 Shades of Black Welcomes New Blogger


Born May 7th 1982 in South East Washington DC, Maya has always had a knack for visual arts, music, writing and community organizing mainly centered around overall wellness of Lesbians and women of color. Since then she has served as a board member on two lesbian based non-profit organizations and is currently working on the publication of her first book. She also previously owned a small business geared to putting women back into the workforce as well as a small photography business that focused on giving visibility to lesbians and their family elements as she saw them as being lost, forgotten and wrongly perceived in society as a collective whole.

Although Maya is her birth name LeRoux is a name that she has taken upon herself to represent her and the person that she feels that she has involved into. LeRoux is a French originated name whose soul urge number 5 states that those with this name are “dynamic, intelligent, visionaries who are versatile and able to make constructive use of freedom while fighting not to be constricted and by rules and conventions” She ultimately hopes to inspire and uplift those who are in need of it and hopes to do that through the power of words and visual artistries. 

Tune in as she invites you to be a reader in every chapter of her life. Turn the page, bookmark and share with a friend. Words are meant to be shared and they never die even when the writer has moved on.

Bless. Maya LeRoux

Posted on January 15, 2014 and filed under blog, LGBT, personal stories.

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.

Fahamu Pecou Using Art to Shape Discourse - Feat in Emory University Publication


50 Shades of Black featured artist Fahamu Pecou was recently profiled in the Emory Wheel, the student run newspaper of Emory University.  An Emory University PhD student himself, Pecou offers reflections about his work, scholarship (excuse me...scholarshit), his journey to becoming a global artist.




Atlanta Music Video (by Fahamu Pecou) with Stic Man (DEAD PREZ) features black fathers and their sons

Posted on January 9, 2014 and filed under art, blog, Masculinity, personal stories, press.

Maramosa: Kenya, Mandela, Music - Premier of new film narrated by creator of 50 Shades of Black

Maramaso Premiere Flyer-sm.jpg

The Goat Farm Arts Center Presents:
A Foresee Films Production

Join the Movement, be a whistleblower for peace


When: December 10th 7pm - 10pm
Where: Rodriguez Room at the Goat Farm
Door: $5 

Local production company Foresee Films has produced a documentary about Kenyan politics, tribalism, and possibilities for a different future through the story of a young artist named Nelson Mandela. It premieres Tuesday, December 10th at the Rodriguez Room of the Goat Farm Arts Center at 7pm, $5 admission.

Producer: Ashley Beckett 
Director: Laura Asherman 
Director of Photography: Mike Morgan 

Narrated by: Carlton Mackey (Creator of 50 Shades of Black)

Maramaso is a concept developed by a musician / activist born and raised in the slums of Nairobi. The name is derived from the philosophy’s end goal, a “Man Raise Man Society” in which support for fellow man and youth empowerment are more important than personal gain in one's own life. This is how Mandela, the subject of our film, lives his life. The film illustrates his revolutionary philosophy of love through his life story and his daily struggle to survive in an environment that encourages self-promotion while inspiring the youth in his community to change the paradigm. We partner this micro level look at the concept with a macro level exploration of the political climate in Kenya leading up to the highly anticipated elections of March 2013. This film hopes to be witness to the birth of a movement from one young man's philosophy, that each of us has to do what we can to help those around us.
Falling whistles is a coalition dedicated to ending the conflict in Eastern Congo through advocacy and awareness. We at Foresee Films have partnered with Falling Whistles to use the premiere of our film as a platform for the launch of their new publication, The Free World Reader. It is a quarterly print publication that exposes hidden truths about which we as a global community are often misled. It examines the global system we live in, the structure of our societies, markets and hierarchies, and their byproducts of war, poverty, and inequality. It’s an exploration of the fuel that drives these unfortunate realities in an effort to open a dialog into alternative solutions.


Posted on December 5, 2013 and filed under activism, africa, art, blog, education, music, personal stories, travel.

Double Consciousness: Soul, Black Folks, Creative Silence

Chris Charles ( Creative Silence ), Self Portrait

Chris Charles (Creative Silence), Self Portrait

Double Consciousness

(Definition from the Duboisopedia) (Photo from the mind of Chris Charles)

Double Consciousness is a term coined by W. E. B. Du Bois to describe an individual whose identity is divided into several facets. As a theoretical tool, “double consciousness” reveals the psycho-social divisions in American society and allows for a full understanding of those divisions. Du Bois’ focus on the specificity of black experience allows for challenging injustice in national and world systems.

The term was first used in an Atlantic Monthly article titled “Strivings of the Negro People” in 1897. It was later republished with minor edits under the title “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois describes “double consciousness” as follows: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face” (2-3).


Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Dover Publications.


Chris Charles is the founder of Creative Silence
& a Featured Artist / Special Contributor to 50 Shades of Black

Meeting the Legendary Joyce Bryant (Part One)

Joyce Bryant on the 1955 Cover of Jet Magazine

Joyce Bryant on the 1955 Cover of Jet Magazine

It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to meet a legend.  Yesterday, I did.  It was a Sunday evening. My plane landed at LAX just hours before.  My singular mission for the day was meeting two women who, by no means other than a divinely orchestrated plan, had entered my life.

During the infancy of 50 Shades of Black, I was researching extensively about the lives of famous black men and women and the stories behind their rise to fame.  As much as wanting to know about them, I was interested in knowing how their skin tone played a role in how we perceived them.  I wondered what the relationship was between their historical context and perceptions of beauty that were commonly held.  How did they understand themselves in that context?  How was their talent, the magnetism of their personalities, their sex appeal, their physical appearance all wrapped up into a package that we would come to uphold as iconic.

The first photo that I saw of the woman some deemed as the Black Marilyn Monroe.

The first photo that I saw of the woman some deemed as the Black Marilyn Monroe.

 …and then I saw a photo of a woman whose image captivated me.  She was unlike any other.  Her radiant skin, her perfect teeth, her hour glass figure…and in photo after photo her signature hair all captivated me.  I wanted to know more.  Who was this woman who many had deemed The Black Marilyn Monroe.  I wrote a blog post about this breath-takingly beautiful woman who I previously had never heard of named Joyce Bryant.

Within days of making the post, I received an email from a woman thanking me for the post, for the work I was doing with 50 Shades of Black, and for my interest in her Aunt.  It was a stunning surprise. Could this be?  Did someone related to a woman who had graced to covers of vintage Jet Magazines just contact me?  Is Joyce Bryant still alive?  How is she?  What would be appropriate to ask?  What would I want to know?

50 Shades of Black Page 60 -  ORDER HERE

50 Shades of Black Page 60 - ORDER HERE

It wasn’t long before many of these questions would be answered.  In a series of email exchanges, phone calls, and what I cannot describe as anything other than spiritual dialogues, we built a relationship.  As we made the turn from our exclusively virtual platform to our first printed volume of 50 Shades of Black, Robyn graciously contributed a written reflection later titled The Black Marilyn Monroe to You, Aunt Joyce to Me.

It was an eye opening, heart felt, honest, and deeply personal reflection.  It spoke of success and fame, triumph and struggle, discovery and memory.  It reflected deep gratitude yet longing.  Yet, it was all undergirded by the utmost respect for a woman who, though incrementally being rediscovered, may still not be completely understood.

And then, there I was.  Standing outside of the house about to knock I began to feel the weight of the moment.  I didn’t know what exactly to expect and I felt humbled by that uncertainty.

Robyn’s smile and open arms were as big as I could have ever hoped for.  Her greeting was just the settling gesture I needed to balance my wariness.  When I walked in there was a familiar-ness about the environment:  the smell of freshly cooked food on a Sunday afternoon, the ambient sound of a television in the background, and the wagging of a puppy’s tail wavering between its enthusiasm to meet a new friend and (like me) the uncertainty of new introductions.

I greeted a lovely woman with a huge smile on her face who I later learned was Robyn’s mother and turned to lay eyes on the woman who I too had been affectionately referring to as Aunt Joyce.  When I reached out my hand to say hello, a handshake was not immediately returned.  I paused.  “She can’t see your hand,” someone murmured from the background.

I reached further to touch hers.  This moment was the beginning of our true ‘seeing’ of each other.  Not limited by physical sight, we encountered each other’s presence and it marked the beginning of an exchange that I will not soon forget.

Carlton Mackey
 -Creator of 50 Shades of Black


"She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world. And now, for the first time, a dark black woman had become a certified national sex symbol."-Donald Bogle

"She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world. And now, for the first time, a dark black woman had become a certified national sex symbol."-Donald Bogle

Posted on November 7, 2013 and filed under blog, family, history, music, personal stories.

50 Shades of Black Announces Team of Photographers for 3rd Open Photo Shoot at Decatur Book Festival

50shadesofblack at artdbf2.jpg


50 Shades of Black, the collaborative artistic and scholarly project exploring issues of race, sexuality, and identity, announces that it has been invited by the AJC Decatur Book Festival, the largest independent book festival in the country, to be part of the inaugural art|DBF, an arts and culture showcase within the Decatur Book Festival. art|DBF recognizes that a vibrant, creative, and economically thriving community can be achieved by elevating the value and visibility of the arts. 

The Atlanta community is encouraged to join 50 Shades of Black on Saturday August 31st and Sunday September 1st 2013 on the Decatur Square.  The Exhibition Pavilion: Decatur’s entire MARTA plaza — the heart of the city — will be transformed into an exhibition, installation, demonstration, conversation, and performance space.  Here, 50 Shades of Black will host its 3rd Open Photo Shoot.  Participants will enjoy a free photo shoot courtesy of a diverse group of 5 local photographers including celebrated photographer and Inaugural Open Photo Shoot host Ross Oscar Knight. Participants will receive link to download a free copy of their photo, as well as have the photo considered for possible inclusion in upcoming 50 Shades of Black projects.

50 Shades of Black founder, Carlton Mackey also announces the Inaugural Open Photo Shoot of Typical American Families, a timely new project created to celebrate and affirm the changing face of the contemporary american family.  

About 50 Shades of Black

50 Shades of Black affirms the beauty found in all human beings while being committed to exploring the complex relationship between race, skin tone, sexuality, and the formation of self-identity. Through collaborations with visual artists, scholars and the general public, this project hopes to offer a deeper understanding of and appreciation for what diversity means.  Mackey and other featured artists and writers of the coffee table book 50 Shades of Black: The Conversation will be on hand to sign copies.   

For More Information please visit

About Typical American Families

Typical American Families –a fresh new look at American families was created to celebrate and affirm the changing face of the contemporary American family. Its mission: To demystify and remove both the 'exoticism' and assumptions that are associated with being a (quote/unquote) 'non-traditional' american family.  Typical American Families is also as much about re-imagining some of our narrowly held, normative understandings of what a family can be and what one should look like. 

For More Information please visit

50 Shades of Black and Typical American Families were founded by Carlton Mackey, visual artist and Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at the Emory University Center for Ethics.


Carlton Mackey


What are we so happy about? (Team of Photographers for the 3rd Open Shoot of 50 Shades of Black at Decatur Book Festival)

What are we so happy about? (Team of Photographers for the 3rd Open Shoot of 50 Shades of Black at Decatur Book Festival)

Elaine Oyzon-Mast - 

Breonca Trofort - 

Munir Meghjani - Paradoxical Photography

Mechal Roe - 

Jeremiah Ojo - 

Ross Oscar Knight - 

Is It Time To Embrace A New Way Of Parenting In The Black Community?

Black Parenting Cover.jpg

When it comes to black parenting, there's a cultural belief that tough love is always the way to go when it comes to disciplining children and that fostering open dialogue between parent and child is somehow "soft" or "white folks' shit."

For most of us in the black community, we grew up at least sparingly hearing old church sayings like, "spare the rod and spoil the child," and we've all heard every comedian who has graced the stage of any “Comic View” episode, “Def Comedy Jam” episode, “Kings & Queens of Comedy” Special or Tyler Perry production joke about their fond memories of getting yelled at and beat by their parents as a child. We’ve also heard that black parents don't need to explain their thoughts, feelings or their actions to their children because “it's not a child's place to know such things.” Seriously, who hasn't heard explanations like, "because I said so gotdamnit!" or" it's none of your damn business!"?

So many of the traditional cornerstones of the black community support the idea of aggressive disciplining and a lack of open communication when it comes to parenting and throughout generations of black parents and children that thought has gone mostly unchallenged. For most of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond, it was all they ever knew of what it meant to be a parent and to take care of and show a child love. And it was also what they both consciously and unconsciously tried to pass on to us, the younger generation of black people.

Recently, I sat in on a conversation between my father and my older cousins and aunts, all of whom are 60 and up, and one of my cousins spoke of his relationship with his father and explained how his dad had provided him all of the material things that a working-class black man in the '50s and '60s could – which, to be fair, was a hard task considering the racial and socio-economic issues surrounding black people back then, all of which made it all the more difficult for black parents to keep their kids sheltered, fed and alive. But while my cousin's tangible needs were taken care of, his father didn't always succeed in catering to his son's emotional needs, such as saying simple things like "I love you" to his son.

When my cousin became an adult, he confronted his dad about that lack of an emotional connection and accused his father of never loving him. Shocked and appalled, his father argued that he never would've worked as hard to provide for him had he not loved him.

However, my cousin then explained to us that, in his older years, he eventually sided with his father's logic, and our other cousins all mentioned how that was a prime example of how today's kids are too soft and whiny. My own father even referenced a joke that his friend often makes about their generation having raised a bunch of weak "white kids" who are too soft to have made it in their day.

After silently listening in, I thought to myself, "Why was it so wrong for a young person to want to hear his or her parents be vocal about their love and their emotions? Why is it NOT a black thing for black parents to foster an open channel of communication and really listen to thoughts and feelings of their children?" I believe that my cousin's father loved him immensely and that he did a great job in providing the tangible essentials for him. That’s something to be applauded. But I believe it can also be true that my cousin genuinely felt a lack of an emotional connection with his father.

It’s always said that actions speak louder than words but for both adults and children language is a crucial aspect of life. When adults speak of their relationships with other adults, one of the key requirements of those relationships is communication and the need to hear their loved ones speak words of acceptance, understanding and love. Nobody wants to have their thoughts and feelings invalidated and no one wants to be brutally punished for simply opening their mouths to share how they really feel. So it stands to good reason that kids want and need the same kind of communication, respect and approbation that adults seek for themselves. They need parents to do more than just keep them alive, they need to hear that their life and their interests matter as well. It’s evident that language has the power to make a world of difference, but it seems that many black parents grew up without learning to communicate their feelings well...or they only learned to communicate their feelings only when they were angered or frustrated with other people, especially their kids.

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When it comes to disciplining children, I was never the biggest fan of the aggressive methods. Whoopings were a rare occurrence for me, but I saw how it would keep myself, my siblings and my cousins in line and a part of me always wanted to have the option of talking to my parents instead of having them yell at me or beat me breathless. However, I still figured that aggressive punishment was okay because it was almost all I everr saw and, in my family, it never seemed to cross the line from whoopings and beefed-up threats every once in a while to what I considered to be abuse.

But as I've gotten older and seen more examples of parenting, both in real life and in the media, I've come to realize that disciplining children is not something that all parents handle with love and care in their hearts and that many children end up suffering mental and physical abuse under what some would consider tough black love.

Recently, I came across a young black couple, both in their 30s, with two kids and after spending some time with them, I was hurt and shocked to hear some of the things that they would say to their children when they were upset with them. When the parents became frustrated, whether over behavior that would upset any parent, like lying or fighting, or small acts like bugging their parents for attention or an extra snack, they would regularly ignore their kids or curse and yell at them or hurl painful insults at them like "idiot," "dumbass," "ugly" or "fat ass."

Granted, I never witnessed any physical abuse, but the feeling I felt when I heard them fire off those belligerent words from their mouths shook me to my core. Suddenly, words that I've heard many black parents say, like “stop that crying before I really give you something to cry about" or "I put you in this world and I'll take yo ass out of it," took on a darker meaning than I'd ever known. They were no longer just jokes or phrases of tough love; they were words of mental and verbal abuse. And if I felt that disturbed and uncomfortable hearing it, I can only imagine how awful it felt for their children to be demeaned and berated with those kinds of hostile words.

As a child, I remember the sting I felt whenever my own parents would make the rare mistake of calling me out of my own name. As I recall, the first time it happened was when I was a small child and my father calmly scolded me about something that I did wrong. I thought all was well until I walked to the door of our den later that night and overheard him telling his friends about the incident and how stupid I was for doing it. After he said it, he looked up and found my face staring back at his and I remember feeling hurt, embarrassed and ashamed because my father thought so little of me. Evidently, that pain read on my face because my father immediately dropped what he was doing, came and scooped me up, and told me how smart I was and how he was always happy with me and proud of me.

Although it seemed small at the time, that moment has stuck with me since then, as did the times when my mother also claimed I was being stupid or unconsciously said something negative about my looks (joking about a kid's puberty pimples is NOT a good idea).

Recently, my father and I spoke with each other about the verbal and emotional abuse I saw those kids endure and he explained how it's important for parents to understand the power of their words because "kids internalize everything." According to him, if you recklessly talk down to your kids at home and call them names then, "you're killing 'em before they even get a chance to really live."

What my father and I both agreed upon is that parents ultimately pass on to their kids whatever they have inside. If it's love, concern and wisdom, then that's what a parent will give to their child through both actions and words. If, like most parents, it’s a balance of good and bad, then that is what will be passed on. But if all you know is aggression, chaos, shame and dysfunction, then that is what you will imprint onto them and their spirit and they will ultimately pass that on to their kids as well when they have some of their own. Whatever we give to our kids creates a cycle, a pattern of behavior that is passed on from generation to generation to generation.

But, as Keenan, Marlon and their famous Wayans siblings explained while chatting with Oprah Winfrey about parenting, none of us have to be bound to the trauma and teachings of our past, even those that have been passed down from our parents. In fact, we have the power to change ourselves and every generation coming behind us just by making a choice to change the way we see ourselves and communicate to our children.

I know that parenting is no easy task and that it’s something that does not come with a perfect instruction manual and I applaud all the parents who really tried to be the best they could be to love their kids in a healthy and functional manner. But as a young man who is seeing the patterns of parental dysfunction in both his own family and the families of others, I can’t help but to think that the old ways of parenting, which put little value on compassion, transparency and communication, left indelible scars on all of us that have marred the way we as black people communicate with ourselves, the people around us and, in this specific case, our kids.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of the idea of sticking to traditional stereotypes of hyper-aggressive, take-no-shit blackness when it comes to parenting – and really life in general – and open our minds and hearts to parenting with a healthier balance of compassion, communication and regulation.


It was exactly one week ago today that I arrived in Durham, NC for the 2nd Open Photo Shoot of 50 Shades of Black.  My anticipation was high and I was thrilled about the promise of building new relationships, furthering the mission of 50 Shades of Black, and physically meeting Chris Charles (50 Shades of Black featured artist and 2nd Open Shoot Host) for the first time.  Standing outside of 300 E. Main was his lovely partner and amazing artist Rachel Stewart and two burgeoning NC photographers.  One of them was Kimberly Joy.  The photos that she captured, the friendship that we formed, and this reflection below that she offers have all been a pleasant surprise.  I am ultimately grateful for her contribution, her growing talent, and for all that is to come from this inspiring young talent. -Carlton

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I would like to thank Carlton for asking me to blog about my experience at the 50 Shades of Black Event held in Durham, NC with featured Artist Chris Charles (my mentor). I normally express myself with photography instead of words but I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to share my experience.  I do not know when the last time I felt a room full of positive energy and love.  The genuineness at 300 East Main, where the event was held, was amazing.  I was in a room full of people whom I have never seen before and it felt like we were all kindred spirits.  Every conversation filled the room with laughter and every smile was welcoming.  I did not realize how much my soul desired the positive energy of my people until that day.  I strongly believed we needed each other’s beauty and as a result it became a blessed event.  My heart aches when we cannot get along as a community.  A piece of me die when one of our youth dies a senseless death or when we tear one another down with unpleasant words.  So my soul celebrated with joy, capturing behind the scene moments of everyone enjoying one another while waiting to have their photograph taken.   


I left the 50 Shades of Black Community photo-shoot inspired and motivated.  This experience made me think hard about my photography and if I am making a difference in my community.  So, as a result of my self- reflection, I decided to a photo series on black women entitled, “I Am B.E.A.U.T.Y”.  This series will explore how black women define beauty and if skin color affects whether a person is regarded as beautiful. I am very excited about this project and I cannot wait to share it with all of you.  Until then let us continue to uplift our community through our God given talents! Iron sharpens Iron.


Kimberly Joy



May I Touch YOUR Hair? Different Voices. Different Answers.

Top left:  

Facebook was set ablaze on July 25 after Frank Somerville, a white TV reporter in California posted a photo on his page of him combing his adopted black daughter’s hair with the caption:

So for those of you who think tv can be glamorous, this is how i spent my morning, learning how to take out my daughter’s braids. It takes a long time and a lot of patience!

Top Middle:  Mommy can I comb your hair too?

Top Right:

Middle Left:  

This photo Nas shared on his Instagram qualifies as cute and he included the caption “In the streets of NY… I ran into a kid with the same hair cut as me.”

Read more:

Middle Middle: 

The above photo, shot by The White House photographer Pete Souza, is over three years old, but still hangs in the West Wing today. In it, President Obama’s leaning forward to solve the curiosity of a then five-year-old Jacob Philadelphia.

Middle Right: 

Bottom Middle: Model Malliha Ahmad holds a sign inviting passersby to touch her hair.


What is YOUR Response?

Posted on June 28, 2013 and filed under blog, community, personal stories, race.

Taking Notice of the People Used as Samples to Sell Photo Frames

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Today was Father's Day and the family spent some of it shopping for a few things that we'll need for the book signing next Saturday June 22 at Churchill Grounds Jazz Cafe in Atlanta, GA.  One of the top priorities was a nice pen for autographing the books.  (That feels so good to say by the way).  One of the places that we stopped was Michael's -you know (personal opinion here) the cheesy arts and crafts store. 

While strolling through the aisles I came across the section for frames.  I immediately noticed something that stood out to me.  I was actually quite impressed by it.  It showed a level of intentionality and effort on someone in marketing's behalf that simply isn't exerted on a regular basis.  it seems simple and may go unnoticed by some but it certainly didn't by me.

So you know those typical 8.5x11 images that are printed on the cheap white paper that are inevitably thrown know those photos that they put in the frames to help you imagine yourself inside of them...those photos that they include instead of just typing "insert photo here" on a piece of paper...those photos that show beautiful families smiling and striking awkward poses or playing in the leaves...that are either LITERALLY the same family every time or a family that looks like them?  Well today I noticed something completely different.  All of the families looked different.


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I called Kari over and showed her and she was like, "Ummmmm OK" and kept it moving.  When we started unpacking our thoughts later, I commented on how noteworthy it all was to me.  She let me know that at first it wasn't particularly noteworthy to her because (and I love these types of conversations that we are able to have by the way), "As a white person growing up, you don't stop to notice what the people in the photos look like.  They always look like you and it never even registers to pay attention.  When the make up of the people is different, I still didn't really notice because they just look like people."  

My reply was that I've noticed Every Single Time a black family or a family of another ethnicity is used.  I guess it is because I'm so accustomed to NOT seeing myself when I go shopping for frames that when I see one it jumps out at me

...unless of course it is in the "ethnic expressions" section.  You gotta love that title, huh?

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As I looked further I knew for certain that there was a level of intentionality made on the part of the marketing team for "Studio Decor".  When I saw a frame with this photo, I thought I had drank too much Sangria at Red Lobster.

The next time I buy a quick plug and go frame, I think it might be a Studio Decor frame from Michaels.  If no one else noticed their tiny bit of effort, I sure did.


Posted on June 16, 2013 and filed under art, blog, family, personal stories, skin tone.

50 Shades of Black feat. in Music Video by Fahamu Pecou ft/ and Okorie Johnson


You may recall from my earlier post with a photo series about the filming of an Atlanta Hip Hop Music Video featuring Fathers and their sons.  Well...the music video is here!

What more could I ask for for Father's Day? So blessed to know these men, to be transformed by their witness, and to be invited with my son to take part in a revolutionary act. The more I meditate on it, the more it is making sense that Fahamu Pecou and Jamila Crawford are on the cover or our upcoming book...and that Okorie Johnson, the brother playing the cello is featured inside its pages. I salute you both, all the men featured in the video, Roni Nicole and Maurice Evans for bringing it to life and Kari Mackey for making me a father in the first place. WATCH!