Posts filed under Identity

Raven-Symoné & Race: Can Black People Afford To See Themselves As Colorless Americans?

Black Flag.jpg

When it comes to America, the issue of race is always ever present. But blackness and the experience of being black have been a topic at the forefront of our nation for the past several months thanks to high-profile police attacks, the much talked about New Black ideology and commentary about blackness from artists like Pharrell and Childish Gambino.

This weekend, Raven-Symone found herself at the center of that conversation when she appeared on OWN's "Where Are They Now?" and spoke with Oprah about her sexuality and her race. Though many fans likely were unsure of what the typically tight-lipped star would say about her identity, she shocked many black and LGBT people when she told Oprah that she doesn't want to be labeled as "African-American" or "Gay."

Raven: In that topic of dating and love, I knew when I was like 12. I was looking at everything. I don’t need language, I don’t need a categorizing statement for it. I don’t want to be labeled ‘gay.’ I want to be labeled a human who loves human.

I’m tired of being labelled. I’m an American! I’m not an African-American. I’m an American.

OprahOh Lord, girl! Don’t set this Twitter on fire. What did you just say? Stop, stop stop the tape right now!

Raven: I will say this: I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know how far back they go. I can’t go on…you know… I don’t know how far back and I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from. But I do know that my roots are in Louisiana. I’m an American. And that’s a colorless person — because we are all people. I have lots of things running through my veins.

OprahYou know you’re gonna get a lot of flack for saying you’re not African-American. You know that, right? So I want you to say what you really mean by that.

RavenI don’t label myself. What I mean by that is I’m an American. I have darker skin. I have a nice, interesting grade of hair. I connect with Caucasian, I connect with Asian, I connect with Black, I connect with Indian. I connect with each culture.

OprahYou are a melting pot in one body.

RavenAren’t we all? Isn’t that what America is supposed to be? That’s what it’s supposed to be. I personally feel that way.

Hearing Raven say that personally came as a shock to me and when I wound up discussing the video with a couple of my friends, I found myself in a pecular place, trying to both defend and define blackness while trying to find a connection with Raven's words.

On one hand, I can understand why Raven, as well as many other black and gay and bisexual people, would want to do away with labels.

Labels are difficult to live with when you're not a part of the favored majority and your particular labels come with negative connotations or bring about invasive and insensitive questions from those outside of your community.

Who wants to have to live with a label that's not respected by their peers? And I imagine that's quite difficult when you're rich, black and famous and most of your peers in entertainment are rich and white, and yet you, despite having climbed the financial ladder, are still subject to the same issues, harassment, and questions that every other black person is subject to. I imagine it's even harder when your peers don't even understand your struggles or culture as a black person.

However, simply choosing to cast those labels out of your personal life doesn't solve the root of the problem associated with those labels, which in this instance is racism and homophobia.

Too often people of darker skin tones are stereotyped and vilified in the eyes of the world, and they're oppressed, attacked and violated for it. Even worse, the racism in America has become so refined that it doesn't even have to be expressed through violence to exist. These days, racism lives mainly through the disparity of treatment and opportunites between darker skinned and lighter skinned people.

As it stands, blackness in America comes with the reality that we never come to the table with a blank slate. Our label, our slate, always comes with negative comments, thoughts and connotations. 

In all honesty, I wish that we as black people could just wipe our slate clean and be seen and treated as equals by the rest of the world. And though getting rid of the label of African-American may bring about changes when it comes to our own selves, it doesn't necessarily change the way the rest of the world, mainly white people, see us.

So what good does it do to throw away titles like African-American and Gay when the treatment of these two communities will still be the same?

What good does it do to promote the idea that America is colorless when the reality is that America is full of people of color with rich histories, lives and cultures that far too often are mocked, appropriated or made invisible?

And what good does it do to be a black public figure that is discarding the label of African-American when so many black people in the lower classes don't have the same social and economic privilege to do such an act. 

Perhaps I’m being too narrow minded and perhaps I’m just stuck to the old ways of thinking within the black community. 

But in my eyes, the harsh and inescapable truth is that It does no good for black people to throw away the title of African-American for the sake of being just a "colorless American" when the people who run America, which is white people, remind us every day that we are black. And that that blackness, as we've seen in the latest police attacks and cover ups, is something that is seen by too many white people as something less than human.


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on October 8, 2014 and filed under community, Identity, race, skin tone.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


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

Is There Such A Thing As "The New Black"?

Source: Mizzou News

Source: Mizzou News

For years now, I've been hearing the phrase Millenials or Black Millenials when it comes to the young generation of the black community and our way of navigating the modern world. But recently I've begun hearing less of the term Millenials and more of the phrase "The New Black." 

The first time I can actually recall hearing the phrase and having it sink in for thought is when Pharrell appeared on "Oprah's Prime" and explained his definition of what The New Black is, which he says he's at the forefront of and embodies.

"The New Black doesn't blame other races for our issues. The New Black dreams and realizes that it's not pigmentation: it's a mentality and it's either going to work for you or it's going to work against you. And you've got to pick the side you're going to be on," says Pharrell

"I recognize that there are issues. We get judged on our skin....I don't allow that to run my life. I don't live my life trying to be black. What I do is, I nurture my curiosity in music. I'm proud to be what I am. The New Black is a mentality. You don't do things because you're black. You do things because you're genuinely interested in something," he adds.

After hearing this, I remember trying to soak in the whole interview and not having time to fully process those statements.  But what I do remember vividly was how offended most of my friends were about his statement that The New Black doesn't blame other races for our issues, which seemed to completely overlook the effects of slavery and the state of oppression, poverty and violence that black people still live in - especially the ones who aren't rich and have a "Happy" image.

While I applaud the idea of instilling pride and creativity and self-love in my fellow black people, I also know that's only half the work. It's not about just changing the mentality of black people; it's also about changing the way the rest of the world sees, values and treats us. Because it's fair to say that many of the black men and women who have been victims of racism, inequality and (police) violence thought well of themselves, but that didn't stop them from being oppressed or extinguished by racist people.

It wasn't until I heard the phrase brought up again in a recent Hot 97 interview with Childish Gambino that I heard the phrase, or at least the concept, brought up in a way that seemed to resonate with me. While chatting with host Peter Rosenberg, Gambino talked about the racism he still endures despite his stardom and his so-called non-threatening appearance.

"Being young and black in America is schizophrenic. You have to kind of change who you are a little bit all the time to for people to even respect. Like, for people to even understand you. I have to hold myself a certain way and wear a certain thing to get a cab, and sometimes I may not even get a cab," Gambino explained, later adding that he's been threatened with violence by cops, even though he's famous.

“That’s the thing,” he said, speaking about white people being in places of power. “People feel like that’s an attack on something. It’s like ‘I get it. I understand. You guys are in charge. You don’t want to lose the power. I totally get it’…I’m not hating on that. I totally understand. I get it. I’m just saying there’s got to be a sense of balance. Same thing with cops. It’s like ‘I get it. You’re putting your lives in danger also. But what am I supposed to do when a cop who’s a bad person does something? Who am I supposed to tell? I would call you guys, but at the same time I know what’s gonna happen.’”

Despite the overwhelming racism, Gambino went on to say that Black people are the cultural tastemakers and that we need to understand our value in our capability to shift the world.

"We are cultural influences. That's what black kids are. They really change the culture of not just America, but the world," said Gambino. "The cultural stuff, someone can take ownership of it really easily. Like, "Or Nah?" somebody can trademark that really easily. All of our stuff comes from what we can do...and then it gets appropriated. That's kind of our job, we just have to quantify the worth of it."

However, Gambino went on to dismiss the idea of calling our young culture The New Black, explaining that naming it would just lead to appropriation.

"Like I would like to think I’m a leader of whatever movement is happening. People call it ‘new black.’ People call it whatever, but I don’t want to name it cause it’s bs to name it. As soon as it gets named that’s when you start marketing it. And it’s like ‘Ah, this is hipster.’ Cause hipster was cool until it became hipster...And then it became monetized. Same thing with Hip Hop. So, whatever this thing is. Whatever’s happening. Like whenever Jaden Smith tells me he’s like ‘I’m real excited for whatever’s happening.’ He can feel it. I can feel it.”

Later on, Gambino appeared on "The Breakfast Club" and talked about race again. While chatting with host Charlamagne Tha God, Gambino explained his controversial Twitter poem about Mike Brown's shooting, in which he lamented the violence and racism that all black people face, and said he wished he could be "big and white" to overcome such hardships

Although Charlamagne argued that black people focusing on inequality and seeing white people as being somehow above them was instills an inferiority complex in us all, Gambino responded that his words are not really about wanting to be white, but about wanting the freedom that for so long has only been given to those with white privilege.

“Because whiteness is blankness,” the rapper said. “It’s because they look at it as a blank slate. Like when you come in, you can be anything. When I walk in even if I have a bowtie, they might be like ‘Is he Muslim?’ They’re not going to do that with a white dude. White people are a blank slate. We are not. People bring stuff to it because there’s not a lot of us, so they only judge us on the seven or whatever they know. So, that’s what I’m trying to say. I want to be a blank slate. As a black person, I constantly have to know what a person is assuming about me. That’s what I’m saying.”

I can't necessarily claim to be part of The New Black. I'm not sure that such a phrase resonates with me or honors the black men and women who came before me. But what does resonate with me is Gambino's honesty about racial issues in America and his belief in himself and other black people that we do have the power to create art and change the world in the process. That we do have the freedom to be interested in whatever we want, whether it be considered black or white or alien or whatever. That mindet speaks to the geek in me, the writer in me, gayness of me, and the blackness of me. 

At the end of the day, whether you're a young or older black person, it's safe to say that all we've ever wanted is freedom to be both infinite within ourselves and have an infinite amount of possibilities and chances, like everybody else, in the real world. That idea goes beyond phrases and time; that simply speaks to being human. Hopefully, with each passing generation of black people, we make our way closer and closer to that goal of equality in freedom.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on September 13, 2014 and filed under community, Identity, race, skin tone.

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

Art by Christopher Myers, courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group

Art by Christopher Myers, courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group

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

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

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

Being Black and Finding a New Queerness at Dragon*Con

When people think of queerness, they usually think of the word in regards to sexuality and gender expression as opposed to its original definition of unusually different or odd. For me, that's what I did until I had a conversation with the 50 Shades of BLACK creator, Carlton Mackey, about this past weekend's Dragon*Con convention.

While being asked about the geek experience as a black gay man, he described the event as queer. I'd honestly never thought to describe a convention of geeks, freaks and gamers as queer. But if you think about Dragon*Con, really, there isn't much around that's as fundamentally queer as that.

For one weekend in Atlanta, Labor Day Weekend, over 100,000 people flood the city for NASCAR racing, football, Black Pride Weekend, and, of course, Dragon*Con, the biggest sci-fi gaming convention in the Southeast region.

It's quite a sight to see as the jocks, the gays, the trans, bisexuals, the drag queens, and the geeks all come out into the streets at once and paint the town a bright rainbow palette of diversity.

And that's just on the streets. Once you go inside the convention, you're immersed inside a world where being a regular human is just an option, and the simple act of cosplaying can transform you into any race, any gender, any species, or any object that you want to be.

But despite such diversity in creatures, styles, and looks, what many people outside of the geek culture still don't seem to see is the growing number of black people who are unabashed geeks and love comic books, cartoons, video games, manga, and anime.  

For many of us black geeks, we are a different version of queer. We are anomalies both in and outside of our race who embrace blackness, but also embrace being infinitely more; as much as our fantasy-loving, child-like imaginations can allow. 

And for me and my crew of bleeks (black geeks) and blerds (black nerds), a crew which we've given the awesome title Sasuke Hate, conventions like Dragon*Con are nothing short of an indulgence in that new queerness, that new anomalous existence. It's a place that, while not devoid of social issues surrounding race and queerness, bends them in ways that allows for a new way of seeing the world.

Walking the lobbies and bars of the Hilton, the Hyatt, the Marriott and the Westin, it felt amazing to see so many geeks out and about in the real world, drinking, dancing and posing for row after row of cameras in their cosplay creations. 

Though diversity is praised at these conventions, it'd be foolish to dismiss the fact that it's been a struggle to find diverse black representation in the world of comics, anime and gaming. Although characters like Storm, Blade, Black Panther, Miles Morales/Spider-Man, and Spawn have paved the way for black mainstream superheroes, we still have a ways to go when it comes to seeing these superheroes take center stage and lead films and TV shows. It's can be even harder to find well-rounded and respectable representations of black people overseas in Japan, where black anime characters are often played to stereotypes based around hip-hop and 70s Blaxploitation.

For that reason, and because it feels damn good to see ourselves as authentic and powerful, there's an extra sense of pride taken when we bleeks can cosplay as black characters and show that we can be superheroes, villains and all-around cool characters as well . And my friends definitely represented that idea to the fullest as they cosplayed as iconic black superheroes like Green Lantern, Aqualad and Static Shock and got praise from geeks of every color. 

But race isn't the only thing that's skewed and warped by these conventions. Ideas of gender are played with and twisted as well. When walking through crowds of cosplayers, it's absolutely normal to geeks of all races gender bending to their hearts desire. At Dragon*Con alone, my friends and I saw men as Wonder Woman and the Sailor Scouts, or women dressed as Deadpool and The Flash. Sometimes it was simply bold expressions of sexuality as women dressed in nothing but body paint and underwear, and men donned their own tiny undies and oiled themselves up to show off their bodies.

Truly, it was an anything goes kind of affair.

But no place is a paradise, and as with any convention, there were times when the racial issues of the regular world reared their ugly head.

For us, that moment came not while doing anything particularly geeky, but instead during Saturday night's hotel rave. Not to toot my own horn or the horn of my crew too much, but being the charismatic and fun-seeking people that we are, we happened to dominate an entire side of the dance floor and had nearly half the crowd circling us and trying to dance with us as we grooved, twerked, bounced, and rocked to good ol' hip-hop music. But after perhaps 15 minutes of that dance floor dominance, the DJ abruptly changed the music to softer pop and dance thusly killed our dance circle. Although the DJ could've simply wanted to change the mood and allow for every genre of music to shine, for us it seemed weird that any DJ would want to kill the vibe of a raucous party. For us, it came off as a small reminder that we can't be too black, too unabashed and too in control of the scene. 

As that instance shows, perhaps there are always limits to how queer an event can be and how high those usually on the bottom can soar, but as minorities, it's no unfamiliar script to us. 

As bleeks, though, there's still so much to be said still for the freedom that's enjoyed just taking ownership in expressing different versions of blackness, different versions of gender and sexuality, and different versions of self. 

For us, the new frontier of identity expression lies in the realm of fantasy. Because, as another character, we find ways to tap into parts of ourselves that we may never know or never express. More importantly, we find ways to be bigger than the way society sees us....embracing our blackness, embracing queerness, while at the same time being bigger than it all. 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on September 6, 2014 and filed under community, Identity, LGBT, race, skin tone.

WHAT IS GOOD HAIR? In Our Heads About Our Hair Post Film Discussion

50 Shades of Black post film discussion of the movie "In Our Heads About Our Hair" with founder of Loc Livin and African Pride Hair Care Brand Manager at Pan African Film Festival in Atlanta GA with Ross Oscar Knight

50 Shades of Black post film discussion of the movie "In Our Heads About Our Hair" with founder of Loc Livin and African Pride Hair Care Brand Manager at Pan African Film Festival in Atlanta GA with Ross Oscar Knight

"In Our Heads About Our Hair" examines issues Black women confront regarding hair and self-esteem. Despite a current natural-hair trend in some urban areas, many Black women say conforming to mainstream beauty standards makes it easier to find mates and corporate employment. The film encourages viewers to celebrate their natural beauty, but offers differing opinions (and wisdom) from women who have chosen otherwise, while delving into underlying historical and social factors. Women of all ages, opinions, and, of course, hairstyles get In Our Heads About Our Hair. Included are interviews with: Melba Tolliver, the nation's first Black network TV news anchor; Farah Jasmine Griffin, historian and Columbia University professor, environmental activist Majora Carter, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill (host of Our World with Black Enterprise), author and activist Asha Bandele, celebrity makeup artist Roxanna Floyd, TV personality Abiola Abrams and many others. The film also features informal discussions... Written by Maitefa Angaza.

50 Shades of Black hosts the Opening Day of the Film Festival with film introductions, post film discussions, and exclusive interviews with Danny Glover and Amma Asante, director of BELLE, the highest grossing independent film of the year.

50 Shades of Black is committed to using the power of art and personal stories to explore the complex relationship between skin tone and sexuality in the formation of self-identity. Through collaborations with visual artists, scholars, and the general public, this project hopes to offer a deeper & more nuanced understanding what diversity means. It is in the recognition of this diversity that 50 Shades of Black acknowledges the historical ways in which race and gender have been constructed and the role that and skin tone and sexuality play in shaping the way we engage the world, how we perceive beauty, and our own self-worth.


Jazz Is An Art Form that Mirrors the Complexity of Black Identity

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

Posted on August 17, 2014 and filed under community, film, Identity.

50 Shades of Black unites Brooklyn Artists for CONVO

50 Shades of Black and Pepper present: CONVO

Drinks | Music | Art | Conversation

Thursday August 21st 
@ Elberta Restaurant
5pm - 8pm
335 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11217

CONVO is the first of a series of social gatherings and conversations centered around the contemporary re-imagination of The Black Aesthetics in the formation of identity.

CONVO combines the elements of a social unwind event, mix it with a pop up gallery featuring work of artist emersed in a particular city, and infuse it with stimulating conversation. 

CONVO Brooklyn Theme is - The Transatlantic: Becoming Who You Are 

CONVO will couple the illustrations of Adrian Franks with the photography of Dexter Jones and the beautiful designs of Paola Mathe and place them in dialogue with an exclusive essay written by Yahdon Israel to be released at this event.

featured artist:

Adrian Franks
Yahdon Israel
Dex R. Jones
Paola Mathe

Posted on August 16, 2014 and filed under art, community, Identity, music.


"Black is Busting Out All Over" is what the title read and underneath it was a beautiful array of beautiful black people -some men, some women, some light, some dark, some with hair bone straight and others rocking afros.  To the far right of the group was a GORGEOUS sister with an afro so big you couldn't even see her ears.

This was 45 years ago and an article in Life Magazine began with these words:

When ad agencies and fashion houses began hiring black models a few years ago under pressure from the civil rights movement most of the models were not really all that black. Cautious businessmen sought out the most Caucasian looking black models they could find. Today they want blackness —Afro hair, discernably Negroid features, truly black skin.
— Vol. 67 No. 16 LIFE Magazine | October 17, 1969

It is here that we pause to celebrate an article like this being featured in LIFE Magazine AND as the creator of a project that is about celebrating blackness and its many manifestations (indeed its global presence, its multiple shades and hues), reading this with a particular type of sensitivity and caution.

I am more keenly aware than ever how statements like "not really all that black" play out in society writ large and the particular divisions it has caused in the black community in particular.  I am also keenly aware of the reality that this sentiment of 'authentic blackness' has caused an even more rigid polemic based on the TRUE historical glorifying of light skin (as evidenced by the writers reference to the preference of "Caucasian looking models by cautious businessmen").

Though the entire article doesn't necessarily carry on this tone, I'm struck by the stark dichotomy the introduction creates.  "Today they want blackness" and the litany of characteristics that the writer suggests connote black really stand out to me.  The phrases "afro hair" or "Negroid features" which I've actually never heard anyone black say, make me wonder about how the author would identify.

It also makes me wonder about Lupita in this whole scenario.  Again 45 years later, what are the wonderful wonderful wonderful implications of her face and presence on well...everything.  Also what does it mean to, as I would like to say, Leap Forward Back Down Memory Lane with an article like this?  Is her blackness being fetishized by voyeurs?

What are your thoughts?  What are the ways in which you celebrate and exercise caution with these types of approaches to "blackness"?  What are the realities this article presents?  What challenges does it present?  What are the difference between 45 years ago and now?  How would you write this article today?

Carlton Mackey
Creator of 50 Shades of Black

Posted on August 14, 2014 and filed under africa, art, Identity, race.

Jazz Is An Art Form that Mirrors the Complexity of Black Identity

Film producer, writer, and cellist Okorie Johnson reflects on the award winning independent film Titus & its themes of black identity, jazz music, the movie's cinematography/photography.  

Johnson was joined by Jazz WCLK personality RivaBlue for a post film conversation led by 50 Shades of Black creator Carlton Mackey on the 2014 Opening Day of the Pan African Film Festival.

Loosely based on the life and death of unsung jazz hero Clarence C Sharpe, ‘Titus’ is the story of an alto saxophonist whose prodigious gifts go largely unnoticed.  The film contains amazing artistic cinematic qualities and an original score by jazz giant Archie Schepp. Directed by Charlie Cattrall.

Posted on August 12, 2014 and filed under art, film, Identity, music.

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

Photo by Carlton Mackey

Photo by Carlton Mackey

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

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

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

high 5-history2.jpg

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

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

The High Five - The Legacy of Glenn Burke.

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

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

All Light Skinned People Look Alike

Sister at the Farmer's Market? Are we related?

On my weekly retreat to the farmer's market to collect fresh fruits and vegetables, I heard a woman whispering behind me. "Wow. He has pretty eyes. I bet those two are brother and sister." I turned around and saw this woman (Jocelyn) standing with some of her relatives. We smiled casually and then shared a defining moment that many light-skinned African Americans face. For some reason, if your eyes are blue and your hair is red/brown/blonde and you have African American features then we are all supposed to be related? Its like we are an anomaly or something. 

I'll admit, I had Jocelyn take off her glasses so that I could examine her face further. We share lots of the same features but we are not related. I found out that Jocelyn was young enough to be my daughter! 

So then we did a test. I selected two darker-skinned individuals at random with similar features and I said, "You must be related." They asked me why would I think that. I told them because their skin tone was similar and I noticed features that looked generational. The two people rolled their eyes and went separate ways. Jocelyn and I got a laugh out of that.

- Ross Oscar Knight
(Director of International Initiatives)

Posted on July 24, 2014 and filed under Identity, personal stories, race, skin tone.

World Vitiligo Day: From Michael Jackson to Winnie Harlow

Clip of Winnie Harlow from YouTube Video  - Vitiligo: A Skin Condition not a Life Changer

Clip of Winnie Harlow from YouTube Video  - Vitiligo: A Skin Condition not a Life Changer

June 25th was World Vitiligo Day.  It also happened to be the day the world reflected on the loss of the person with the most well known case of vitiligo -a skin condition also shared by roughly 100 million people.

For some, vitiligo can take an emotional toll...not exclusively because of the condition itself, but because of 'weird adults with malicious ignorance'.  In the recent CNN article titled World Vitiligo Day: Skin disease takes emotional toll, broadcaster Lee Thomas reflects:

"It's not really the ignorance," Thomas said about the lack of awareness surrounding vitiligo. "It's the malicious ignorance. Adults are weird."

He remembers playing a "visual tennis match" with a man in his office. The man would stare at Thomas, then as soon as Thomas looked at him, the man looked away. They volleyed back and forth until Thomas told him, "It's OK if you want to look."

He went through what he calls an "angry spotted-guy" period when he would give menacing looks to those who stared at him.

While visual tennis matches may have also plagued the early life of the young lady below, she has taken these matches all the way to center court.  ACE!

Check out the video below of 19-year-old Chantelle Brown-Young, who goes by the name Winnie Harlow.  This video was filmed when she was 17 years old.  Now, Ms. Brown will be competing in the next season of America's Next Top Model.

Thank you Winnie for bearing witness to the fact that we are BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.

Rebecca Knight by Creative Silence for BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.   Order Shirts HERE

Rebecca Knight by Creative Silence for BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.  Order Shirts HERE

Posted on July 1, 2014 and filed under Body Image, Identity, personal stories, skin tone.

Radmilla Cody: Dine' (Navajo) & Nahilii (African American) Woman

Bridging the Gap with Radmilla Cody of Navajo and African heritage, and her Grandma Dorothy, Navajo (RIP)

Bridging the Gap with Radmilla Cody of Navajo and African heritage, and her Grandma Dorothy, Navajo (RIP)

...To reaffirm the statement on the choosing of my identity, I come from two beautiful cultures which I have embraced, bridged, balanced, and identify with. I am proud to be who I am as a Dine’ (Navajo) and Nahilii (African American) woman.
Hozho’, , & blessings...
— Radmilla Cody

Inspiring Radmilla is the award winner of the Record of the Year for her song "Shi Keyah Songs for the People".

With an angelic voice of bluebirds singing, Radmilla Cody, traditional Navajo recording artist, Indie Award Winner and two-time Native American Award Nominee continues to maintain Navajo culture by recording music that the Diné elders can be proud of and that children sing with pride.

She is of the Tla'a'schi'i' (Red-Orche-on-Cheek) clan and is born for the African-Americans. Radmilla is the 46th Miss Navajo Nation from 1997-98. Born and raised in the beautiful and picturesque plateaus of the Navajo Nation, Radmilla Cody's childhood consisted of herding sheep on foot and horseback, carding and spinning wool, and searching late into the night with her grandmother for lost sheep and their lambs. 

The highlight of her sheep herding days was standing in the sheep corral singing at the top of her lungs with the sheep and goats as her audience. "All that mattered at that time was the moment of living a dream," says Radmilla about her early life, which today has become a reality for the young musician. A survivor of domestic violence, Radmilla uses her personal experiences to advocate strongly against the epidemic of violence. 

It is an issue she has become very passionate about. As a biracial person she attempts to communicate positive messages about her dual identity to biracial or multiracial children who still bear the brunt of prejudice. 

Radmilla Cody is of the Tlaaschii (Red Bottom People) born for Nahillii (African American) and has traveled internationally to Kenya, South America, Japan, Germany, Netherlands, Russia, and Italy. 

She has earned a BS in Public Relations from Northern Arizona University and is pursuing a MA in Sociology. She was the 46th Miss Navajo and is the subject of “Hearing Radmilla”, a documentary produced and directed by Angela Webb. 

Radmilla is a domestic violence advocate and founder of “Strong Spirit…Life is Beautiful not Abusive” campaign which addresses teen dating violence. Her previous recordings for Canyon Records include Seed of Life, Spirit of a Woman and Precious Friends.

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

This is the 15th of a weekly series called BRIDGING THE GAP curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of BLACK featuring stories of inspiring people and ancestors who contributed to the struggle for freedom.

50 Shades of Black will also be curating a weekly series of stories on I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world. We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing.

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

Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.



Posted on June 27, 2014 and filed under africa, family, Identity, personal stories, music, race, religion and culture, skin tone.

Jason Collins Tells Us How 'It Got Better'

As a part of the “It Got Better” video campaign, launched by Lexus in collaboration with the "It Gets Better" project, Jason Collins, the first openly gay baller to sign with an NBA team, recalls his journey from a life of struggle in the closet to a life of freedom after coming out last year in a Sports Illustrated feature.

And as expected, Collins heartfelt words paint an poweful portrait of a journey that not only left him standing in his own truth, but also wise enough to help others sturggling with their sexuality to live their truth as well. 

“In 2011 I started thinking about the rest of my life … thankfully I had a trainer and I saw online that he did an ‘It Gets Better’ video,” Collins says. “There were so many times that I heard parts of my story in his story. I sent him an e-mail and told him in the e-mail I was gay and that I needed someone to talk to about it. We sat on a bench and it was actually the first time I said the words out loud, ‘I’m gay.’”

“It felt so good to finally realize what it is to be myself. I didn’t have to, like, say I’m going on a fictional date with some girlfriend who doesn’t exist. I could take the mask off and see that everything was okay. I was still the same person, same mannerisms, same everything. I didn’t have to lie,” Collins added.

Check out his amazing "It Got Better" video below. 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on June 6, 2014 and filed under activism, LGBT, Identity.

RuPaul and The Problem With The Big 'Tranny' Debate

Living in this country, it’s already hard enough being a minority but it’s doubly problematic when your specific community is lumped together with other oppressed minority groups and you find these communities in conflict with each other. It’s a predicament that has plagued black people, brown people, women, people of various classes for many years. And now America is seeing it play out within the LGBTQIQA community (Seriously, that is too many groups lumped together) thanks to gay drag icon RuPaul’s ongoing battle with the transgender community over the use of terms like “tranny” and “she-male” in “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Just to give a recap, for several months now “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has come under fire from the transgender community for using words that were considered anti-trans slurs, like "tranny" and "she-male." The controversy grew so large that producers for the show apologized to the trans community and edited out a mini-challenge called “Female or She-male” from the season. They also pledged to stop using trans slurs as well.

Recently, RuPaul was asked how he feels about the controversy and he fired back at what he called a “fringe” group within the trans community who are simply looking to play victim and police others when it comes to language.

“Does the word ‘tranny’ bother me? No. I love the word ‘tranny,” RuPaul said.  “No, it is not the transsexual community. These are fringe people who are looking for story lines to strengthen their identity as victims. That is what we’re dealing with. It’s not the trans community, because most people who are trans have been through hell and high water and they know — they’ve looked behind the curtain at Oz and went, ‘Oh, this is all a fucking joke. But, some people haven’t … You know, if your idea of happiness has to do with someone else changing what they say, what they do, you are in for a fucking hard-ass road.”

“But don’t you dare tell me what I can do or say. It’s just words. Yeah, words do hurt … You know what? … You need to get stronger. You really do, because you know what, if you think, if you’re upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think,” he added.

Not so surprisingly, his words caused an uproar among the LGBT communities, and even some of his drag race alumni weighed in on the matter. Season 3 contestant and transgender superstar Carmen Carrera, who previously criticized the show for its use of trans slurs, slammed RuPaul for what she claimed was insensitivity to the trans community.

"This battle of respect is something very real to me," Carrera previously stated in a Facebook post. “I've watched my friends get called out in public for not being passable as female and hurt big time about it, I've watched my friends in the news that got murdered and never investigated, I've watched my friends believe all they can do in life for money is escort. I'm very passionate and believe that every time the LGBT community is featured in the media, people are learning about us. Now more than ever. My thing is, teach them the good of who we are that way it will cause a ripple effect and open the doors for respect and then ultimately lead to more people loving us."

However, Season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio fired back at Carrera and implied that the she should be silent and grateful that Ru gave her a platform to superstardom.

“There’s all this madness about shit we can say and shit we can’t say…it’s not that fucking serious. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t know who the fuck Carmen Carrera was if she didn’t fucking get on ‘Drag Race.’ Maybe she should stick what’s left of her dick and shove it in her mouth and shut the fuck up,” Del Rio said at a recent performance.

Ru was also supported by famous transgender activist Justin Bond, who argued in a Facebook post that “tranny” should be considered an empowered word of endearment in the LGBT community.

“In lieu of standing up to the haters who seek to diminish us and our accomplishments and standing UNITED IN PRIDE IN OUR DIVERSITY these thoughtless “word police” instead go on the attack and achieve easy victories by harassing, silencing and shaming members of their own community and the allies who are thoughtful and sensitive enough to the reasons and feelings behind their anger that they are willing to listen and -as usual, blame themselves and make the changes because it’s just EASIER to “evolve” back into silent, bullied shame. What they fail to recognize is that by banishing the use of the word TRANNY they will not be getting rid of the transphobia of those who use it in a negative way. What it does do is steal a joyous and hard-won identity from those of us who are and have been perfectly comfortable, if not delighted to BE TRANNIES, but the fact is WE ARE NOT GOING AWAY. In case you didn’t know it WE’RE TOUGH!”

And those three opinions exemplify the strong arguments that are being hurled across the board over the use of trans-focused words.

On one hand, it’s understandable why queens like RuPaul and Bianca feel such a strong ownership of the word “tranny.” Before the Western world even had an inkling of an understannding of what a trasngender person is, tranny was a word used to describe drag queens and anyone else dressed as the opposite sex. For some in the older generation, it became a word of pride, being used not only in conversation but also as a powerful descriptor when advertising for shows. 

But like the way many words change over time, the context and definition of tranny has changed as our society has opened its eyes and mind to the existence of transgender people. What was once just used as an umbrella term to describe anyone who used fashion to break gender norms has now been used, mainly in a comical or offensive way, to describe members of the transgender community. And although some in the LGBT world feel a sense of ambivalence or pride about the word and others like it, clearly there are those who are offended by it's use.

I'm not a transgender person and I've not done drag enough times to call myself anyones drag superstar (I was quite BEAT though), so I'll never fully understand what it feels like to be in their shoes or be called a tranny. But as a black gay man, I look at a word like tranny and the way it is dividing communities of people and it reminds me of the impact that words like "faggot" and "nigger/nigga" have had on my own respective communities. 

As minorities, or rather oppressed groups, we know that those words were born from hate and used to brainwash us into thinking we were less than human, less than worthy of life, love and knowledge. And for many of our ancestors, and, sadly, for many of our friends and family, those words were that last that many of us heard as we were brutally victimized in hate crimes and lynchings. 

Unlike most other offensive words in the English language, those two are drenched in the blood of millions. They're so scarlet stained that even though both the black and gay communities, more so the black community, have taken their respective words of hate and tried to turn them into terms of endearment, they still bring about feelings of pain, frustration and loss when said in the wrong way, or by someone of the wrong race, or to a little black or gay child who undoubtedly will have that word forced upon them, even by his or her own people.

I understand the reasoning behind wanting to reclaim a word of hate and I also understand the reasoning behind wanting to ban it as well. I even understand the reasoning behind wanting to take power away from all of those words and focus on the forces behind them. I think that everyone must choose to handle those words in the way that works best for their own spirit.

But what I have trouble understanding is how a person, especially a minority, can tell people of another minority group that they're weak for being angry about hearing a word used to sometimes degrade and dehumanize them. 

I believe that RuPaul has done a lot to improve the lives of the LGBT community especially when it comes to giving us representation in the mainstream world, and superstars like Carrera have many reasons to praise RuPaul for that. But just like I don't owe any other black person my silence about the word "nigger/nigga", or any other gay person about the word "faggot", and I especially don't owe anyone outside of those two communities my silence, no transgender person owes anyone their silence about the word tranny and how it makes them feel.

I think that, as minorities, we often forget that we don't all sit equally on the bottom of the social totem pole. There's a privilege to being a biological man or woman, especially a man, and being able to play in gender and revert back to your biologicial form at will when you take off the clothes, the fake dicks, the wigs and the makeup. It's easier to shrug off painful words when they don't have to apply to you at all times. But it's a hell of a lot harder when there is no drag, no mask, no act and you are simply transgender. There is no easy escape or solace then. You have to actively and willfully find strength and power in yourself everyday to rise above the hateful words and actions of others, all while trying not to succumb to the self-hate and esteem issues that such attacks will inevitably cause. And while that doesn't sound too different from the lives of every other minority group, like all of them, there are nuances to that struggle that can only be fully understood if you live it.

And I'm not the only one who shares that sentiment. Of all of the responses to the "Drag Race" controversy, I think the one we can all take to heart is that of Season 6 runner up Courtney Act, respectfully challenged Ru’s words in a Facebook post and explained that we should spend less time fighting each other and more time trying to love each other and end oppression.

“I’m a little surprised by @rupauls recent reaction to trans issues. I understand and apply in my own life the logic about not giving other people power over how I feel, but I am not 1 in 12 trans people in America who will be murdered. As Ghandi said “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members,” so why doesn’t everybody say “Love?”

If you’re gay, how do you feel about straight people in the media using the word f—-t? If you’re black, how do you feel about white people using the word N#@$^? At some point we agreed that those words are not acceptable, I can’t even type the “N-word,” so much as say it out loud. Why are we so flippant about tranny? I don’t agree with polarizing the argument either way, but I do think we need to overcome the ego, coming from both sides, and have some compassion and consultation so we can move forward. Let’s change the way we are looking at this argument, cause when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

What would be energy better spent right now is focusing on helping trans people improve their quality of life.  Here are some facts I'm sure we all can agree are not acceptable and that we need to come together and bring about positive change:

Transgender facts

1 in 12 transgender people in America is murdered. (This one fact alone is more than enough)

Although social acceptance for transgender people is growing, parents continue to abandon youth with gender-identity issues when their children need them most, advocates say.

49 per cent of transgender people attempt suicide.

Transgender youth account for 18 per cent of homeless people in cities such as Chicago, but researchers estimate fewer than 1 in 1,000 people is transgender.

Transgender youth whose parents pressure them to conform to their anatomical gender report higher levels of depression, illegal drug use, suicide attempts and unsafe sex than peers who receive little or no pressure from parents.

Sources: Guidelines for Transgender Care (2006), Gender Spectrum Education and Training, Families in TRANSition (2008).”


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Brian Kamanzi: My Story as a South African Indian Ugandan

My name is Brian, in 1990 I was born to a South African Indian mother and a Ugandan father in Mthatha, a small city located in the hilly region of what is still often referred to as the Transkei in the heart of the Eastern Cape.

During Apartheid the Transkei (or Republic of Transkei was a designated Bantustan for the Xhosa.

This is my home.

When I introduce myself as someone who grew up in Mthatha it is often accompanied with a great deal of surprise.. And more often than not I am prompted to prove my authenticity by answering a series of questions.. Because, I mean, why would I be from Mthatha right? *sigh*

Surprising as it may be the Transkei has been home for a fairly large, diverse and reasonably well integrated immigrant community for several decades. Many internationals in the area, including my father, were employed by what was then called the University of Transkei. It was there that the unlikely union of my parents began, in the midst of turbulent race relations across South Africa in what was a small town with entire neighbourhoods filled with academics from Kenya, Poland, Uganda, India and many more.. Sounds romantic doesn’t it?

In reality it was probably not as integrated and accepting as I imagined.. But for now please humour my romanticism’s…

It was in this environment that I began my early childhood life, in a suburb called Fort Gale. This suburb was largely owned by the University and many families of the staff lived in apartment complexes and homes across our neighbourhood. In my early years I was very fortunate to be surrounded by several members of my fathers side of the family from Kenya and Uganda. So much of my earliest memories are of thoughts and experiences I shared with them.. They were all older than me and I looked up to them immensely.

Most of my mothers side of the family lived in Durban and while we did not see each other often, I felt a strong connection to them whenever we saw one another. Regular visits from my grandmother often included every Indian dish she could fit into her luggage that would survive the 6 hour bus trip on our roads. I looked forward to those sweet meats and curries and strange deserts packed meticulously in her cases. I remember she always used to ask if we ate “hot” food, this confused me because my parents cooked curries regularly and I didn’t think anything by it.. So answered that same question – year after year. In the early years it did not occur to me in any sort of profound way that I was biracial.. Or that it was unusual, it simply just was. I liked fried green bananas from Uganda in the summer and I loved the jalebi in the spring time from Grandmother’s visits.. That was my experience of my heritage, through our conversations, through shared meals and through the stories of the old days in far away lands. I assumed this is how it was for everyone.. In some ways I was right.. But in painful ways I was very wrong.

As I grew older I started to become aware of this thing called”race”. It was something quite unfamiliar in my house, we didn’t speak about people this way. When it came to start navigating school this started to become an important thing. “What are you?”. In all honesty more often than not this question was answered for me in one way or another. “Well your dad is Ugandan so that makes you Ugandan”. “Doesn’t that make you coloured”. “You kind of look more Indian”. If I’m to completely honest, I was very uncomfortable about all this growing up. I hated these questions. I am ashamed to admit that at several moments, particularly in Primary school, I lied about my heritage in the hope that I would gain the elusive acceptance with my Indian classmates. I wanted to be like them. They had a special regard for their culture, they were always talking about some community event or something, I desperately wanted to be a part of it and feel like I belonged. But I could not. At the end of the day, I was not Indian enough.

By the time I had reached high school my extended family had all left the Transkei. There where not that many young Ugandans in my age group but we all knew each other and in most cases we were all friends. In all fairness we were not the most cultural lot, growing up spending most of our days watching British and American television and playing video games we did not share a collective cultural identity.. At least not one that I was aware of. I could not find what I was looking for there, I felt. So I kept trying, probably not in the most productive ways but trying nonetheless.

Family holidays *Ugh*
My parents are workaholics, during the year there is rarely a moment when they aren’t doing something productive. So when it came to the end of the year they were adamant that we go on holiday to explore the country and get away from it all. They love nature. I hated these trips. We always went to obscure but beautiful parts of the country, and while I was always grateful to be there I dreaded going outside. Walking around town with my entire family made me very self conscious about how other people where looking at us. I was and I still am ashamed about how I felt about this. I know I shouldn’t have cared but I couldn’t ignore how different we looked to the other families. We all looked so different from each other. I felt somehow embarrassed about what I am, very sensitive to how other people would treat us, increasingly bitter. I regret feeling like this on those trips, it was an amazing opportunity to see the country but no matter where we went I couldn’t bring myself to care about what the landscapes looked like or what the wildlife was up to…

I started to become aware that I had a chip on my shoulder, for some reason I felt defensive and in a sense bitter with the world. I had really begun defining myself in opposition to others. I started to think of myself as an other. This was not how I was raised. My mother would have been very upset if she ever knew I was looking at life like that.. So I kept it to myself.

I was lucky enough to gain entry into the University of Cape Town after high school. I was incredibly excited to head off to the big city. This was a chance to redefine myself. To be just Brian and not have every stare at me when I walk with my family through a mall or when my father fetches me from a local barber shop. I was finally free. Or so I thought. Within minutes of arriving into the residence where I spent my first two years I was faced with that painstaking moment where you need to decide where you’re going to sit in the cafeteria. As I looked out into the hall it may as well have been colour coded. At a glance, white students sat with white students, black students with black students.. And well you get the idea. Luckily I spotted a senior of mine from high school sitting in a fairly mixed table (although it was predominantly Indian) and I chose my seat. It took me a very long time before I developed the confidence to break the barriers that existed in my own mind and decide to sit at other tables. I really wish I had been braver sooner.

Even though it took me quite a while to break out of my comfort zone I was lucky enough to befriend many students from all walks of life quite early on, many of which had similar identity problems to me. I often reflect on many conversations with my dear late friend Steven who was of Taiwanese ancestry but had spent his whole life in South Africa. He had a wonderful spirit and an approach to life that really impacted my thinking. Steven was the among first of the many young people I would go on to meet here who were unashamedly themselves… And were okay with that

In my first year I met a group of students who were born and raised in Uganda. We quickly became very good friends, I was fascinated about them. I gorged myself on their stories and descriptions of home. I learnt the slang and was quickly starting to feel like I was part of a community where I belonged. There are many East African’s here and they formed quite a close knit group, they embraced me warmly and I appreciated it deeply. For the first time many people sounded excited to hear that I was biracial, apparently it was interesting. I started to speak proudly about my heritage… and then as though the universe had conspired to respond to my encounters my father had arranged for us to visit Uganda at the end of that year. This was it, I thought. This would be the moment where I could find out where I belonged… Were I would feel some kind of spiritual connection to my fatherland and magically everything would make sense once and for all…

As you’ve probably guessed my trip didn’t really work out that way. But that’s another story. I hope you found this interesting, let me know what you think and look out for Part 2!

Photo and story submitted by Brian Kamanzi
More of Brian's writings may be found on his website

This is our 15th weekly personal story in a series curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, in partnership with I Love Ancestry 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.


The Lioness Project: Unleashing Female Beauty

"It took me a long time to realize that being beautiful has nothing to with the size you are, the shade of your skin, the texture of your hair or the price tag on your garments. Beautiful is a frame of mind--it's how you identify yourself and not how others identify you. But before I came to that realization I struggled with things about myself that the world told me wasn't good enough. It caused insecurities and self hate that consumed me on the regular basis. At 32 years old--I've FINALLY accepted me. I'm a brown skinned, bald headed, DC native turned Southern Belle who smiles a lot and is always down for a good laugh, being in the company of beautiful people and good food. What's not beautiful about that?"

50 Shades of Black Blogger
Creator of P8prbutterfly and The Lioness Project

The Lioness Project is a  collection of beautiful and tastefully orchestrated nude photos of women of all shapes, sizes, colors and sexual orientation. 

The truth is that women are some of the most exotic creatures on the earth and we often forget that and it's easy to do. Between raising children, working everyday, being a lover, a friend and rescuing the world--we lose ourselves. Our creativity fades and our identity dwindles. We forget to love the love handles, enjoy our full lips and embrace the stretch marks. It's who we are and real women don't look like Beyonce or Kim--but we are just AS beautiful. So--this will surely be a friendly reminder to continue to embrace your authentic true self in everything that you do. 

I am also happy to have acquired support from Carlton Mackey and BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE on this project. 

More at:

These shirts provided for free to the first round of ladies participating in   #TheLionessProject

These shirts provided for free to the first round of ladies participating in #TheLionessProject

Posted on May 21, 2014 and filed under activism, Body Image, Identity, LGBT.