Posts filed under race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

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

Raven-Symoné Responds To Bullies Over Race and Sexuality Comments Backlash

Raven-Symoné's lovability dropped drastically in the eyes of many of her black fans over the past month after she told Oprah Winfrey in a "Where Are They Now" interview that she didn't want to be labeled as "African-American" or "Gay."

 "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," she said, later adding, I’m an American. And that’s a colorless person — because we are all people. I have lots of things running through my veins."

Since making the statements, Raven has received a barrage of criticism and hateful comments from angry fans, calling her everything from a race traitor to an Uncle Tom.

Earlier this month, Raven tried to clarify her statements, explaining that she never said she doesn't identify as black. However, the criticism furiously continued. Now, Raven has penned an open letter on her Facebook page addressing the ongoing backlash against her.

Although I don't agree with Raven's initial interview comments - you can read about my thoughts here - I do agree with her that the issue of race and blackness in these modern times is something that needs to be openly discussed and examined, and I think she has a right to voice her opinions freely.

We black people all might have similar skin tones and hair, but that doesn't mean we all see race in the same way, and we don't at all have to either. Clearly Raven's opinion differs from many in the black community but from gauging the many conversations online and in my own personal life, it's clear that she's not alone.

And it's also clear that the labels within the LGBT community don't fit or appeal to all people who are same gender loving, which is an issue that has been brought up throughout the years by many people who are SGL.

Identity is a major deal and though our conception of it is partially based on the outside world it is still something that should be appointed and claimed by oneself, not placed upon an individual by another group.

Instead of attacking, bullying and trying to silence Raven, it would be best if we as a people opened up an honest dialogue about diversity within our black and LGBT communities and try to see things from all different perspectives. Perhaps then we can truly find unity in our diversity as opposed to trying to force it through intimidation and silence.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on October 27, 2014 and filed under Identity, LGBT, skin tone, sexuality, race.

50 Shades of Black Invites You to Join Descendants of Enslaved Africans on Butler Island to Create Transforming Portrait Series

Mr. Henry Brooks, ex-slave. Parks Ferry Road, Greene County, Georgia | Photo by Jack Delano;

Mr. Carlton Mackey | Photo by Bryan Meltz

In one week the creator of 50 Shades of Black, Carlton Mackey, will host a transforming photographic encounter as part of the Third Annual Butler Island Plantation Homecoming, --the much anticipated celebration and reunion of the Gullah/Geechee communities of Butler Island.  

This conceptual portrait series titled "BRINGING THE GIFTS THAT THE ANCESTORS GAVE..." was inspired by the conclusion of the late Maya Angelou's poem.

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave. - Maya Angelou

Through a process that is as much about honoring the ancestors and spiritual transformation as it is about photography, Mackey will invite participants to spend some moments in quiet meditation while looking through the photographs of former enslaved Africans from various parts of Georgia.  Mackey was doing just this when the idea first "awakened in his spirit".

Mackey states that he saw a photo online that essentially instructed him exactly what to do.  He paired this image with one of himself and was overcome with emotion.

"I knew something powerful was about to take place because I was experiencing anxiety all morning.  I knew I needed to make a post about the fact that we had been invited to host an Open Shoot as part of the Homecoming, but I kept putting it off.  I was experiencing fear about the whole event.  This let me know that something of great magnitude was about to happen.  Virtually every endeavor that I'm about to embark upon of significance is shrouded in fear and doubt.  This is my sign that it must be something that I have to do.  I'm learning to push through it until I have the clarity of knowing what is possible is greater than the fear.  What I didn't know was that my entire plan for hosting a traditional Open Photo Shoot was about to be exchanged for a plan that literally came from "the voice" of an ancestor in a photograph." -carlton mackey

Title: "Grandma" Lawrence, ex-slave on the Mercer Reynolds place in Greene County, Georgia | Delano, Jack photographer | Date Created/Published: 1941 May.

Participants will choose a photo (or be chosen by one) to honor.  At various locations on Butler Island, Mackey will photograph participants in a similar fashion.  This pairing is meant to invoke the essence of the living participant being the embodiment of the "dream and hope of the slave".  The pool of photos will mostly be from the Library of Congress (U.S. Farm Security Administration) and have no restrictions upon use and images from the Emory University's Robert Langmuir African American Photograph Collection.  Mackey hopes to secure funds to create an exhibit of diptychs coupling the historic and the contemporary photos.

Free and Open to the Public

This photo shoot will be part of a much larger Butler Plantation Homecoming.  The Butler Plantation Homecoming pays tribute to those enslaved Africans that lived out their lives as the property of Pierce Mease Butler on Butler Island Plantation, and those that were sold in the nation's largest sale of slaves that took place in 1859.

Please join us as we celebrate the culture and heritage of the enslaved people originating from Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Angola, Whydah and Igboland areas of Africa.

***Breaking News*** The Butler Island Plantation Slave Cemetery has been discovered! The cemetery is potentially one of the oldest documented in the state. This year's celebration will include a commemoration ceremony in honor of approximately 919 enslaved people buried in the cemetery.

The festival features a presentation by Dr. Teresa Singleton - Archaeology Professor of Syracuse University and expert in Butler Island Plantation slave artifacts; Ancestor Cemetery Commemoration; "50 Shades of Black" Open Photo Shoot; "A Taste of Geechee" food and culture; guided tours; a parade of flags; performances; music; vendors; children's activities; family fun and much more.


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Don't dress too black

2) Don't talk or act too black

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

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

5) Never raise your voice to them.

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

7) Don't fight back

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

9) Stay alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


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


"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.

50 Shades of BLACK Stirs Up Magical Energy At The Pan-African Film Festival

Director of Till Infinity with Aishah Rashied Hyman of Spread Love and Carlton Mackey of 50 Shades of Black 

Director of Till Infinity with Aishah Rashied Hyman of Spread Love and Carlton Mackey of 50 Shades of Black 

The Pan-African film festival has been a staple in the Atlanta scene for nearly two decades now, drawing countless fans of independent black films each year to local theaters as a part of the larger National Black Arts Festival. But this year, for the first time in 15 years, PAFF ventured out on its own and started out its inaugural year as a standalone film festival with a bang, bringing in critically acclaimed films like the African and Native American love story "From Above," starring Danny Glover, as well as the hip-hop documentary "Til Infinity: The Souls of Mischief," about hip-hop group Souls of Mischief's landmark 1993 album 93 Till Infinity.

50 Shades of Black information table outside two main screens of Pan-African Film Festival at Plaza Theater

50 Shades of Black information table outside two main screens of Pan-African Film Festival at Plaza Theater

Of course, no film festival happens without community partners and this year PAFF welcomed 50 Shades of BLACK as a community partner and invited them to host the opening day of the festival. And the opening day was nothing short of remarkable as hundreds of Atlantans flooded the Plaza Theater in Midtown Atlanta to see what PAFF had to bring to town this year.

And what they had to bring was an amazing set of films for fans to enjoy. Charlie Cattrall's award-winning "Titus," about a troubled and displaced black Jazz player and his relationship with his estranged daughter, burrowed deep into the mind with it's moody, haunting and beautifully shot black-and-white scenes and stunning Jazz score, while Hemamset Angaza's documentary "In Our Heads About Our Hair" literally took viewers into the minds and scalps of others as it explored the notion of "good" versus "bad" hair in the African American community.

Yvonne Rosegarden of African American and American Indian ancestry sits down with 50 Shades of Black to discuss "From Above" starring Danny Glover.

Yvonne Rosegarden of African American and American Indian ancestry sits down with 50 Shades of Black to discuss "From Above" starring Danny Glover.

The festival also packed indie film heavy hitters, like "From Above," a Romeo & Juliet-syle love story starring Glover as an African American man named William retelling his sordid love story with a Native American woman, Venus, from the mythical lightning tribe. As 50 Shades of BLACK creator Carlton Mackey explained, seeing tales like "From Above" from director Norry Niven showcased a whole new range of stories about people of color.

"You might see all kinds of love stories, but it's rare in Hollywood that you see major motion picture of a love story between an African American and a Native American," said Mackey.

But it wasn't just the films that made the festival experience enriching. Undoubtedly, the heart of the film festival was the films themselves, but the life blood of the festival was certainly the fans and the Q&A discussions, hosted by Mackey and 50 Shades of BLACK co-director Ross Oscar Knight, that happened after each film.

Ross Oscar Knight post film discussion of "In our Heads About our Hair" with brand manager of African Pride Hair Care Camila Crews and "Loc Livin" founder Eleasha Sledge.

Ross Oscar Knight post film discussion of "In our Heads About our Hair" with brand manager of African Pride Hair Care Camila Crews and "Loc Livin" founder Eleasha Sledge.

And if the fans were the life blood of the festival, then certainly the veins and arteries were the theater hallways as filmgoers hustled through them, mixing and mingling with each other as they carried the messages and conversations from the films and the Q&As into their own circles.

Just standing and watching the crowds, you could see filmgoers breathing continued life from the films and their Q&As into these much-needed community conversations that covered everything from expressions of black art and music, interracial love, the black communities grossly overlooked roots with the Native American community, as well as our issues with our own hair roots and our struggle to embrace all hairstyles, whether it be natural or not. 

"I think the films provided a catalyst for specific conversations to be had. I think the table itself and our presence lended, on some level, a conversation around issues surrounding black identity. Whenever we left out of a particular screening, that generic conversation took a particular shape and people walking up and down the halls were able to witness conversations formed by the films.

Certainly though, a highlight of the festival was not only the conversations between the fans, but also the conversation between Glover and the audience who attended the screening of his second film of the day, the critically-acclaimed "Supremacy," which tells the real-life story of a cop-killing white supremacist and his unstable "girlfriend" as they take a black family hostage just hours after he kills a black cop after his prison release. The film also stars Lela Rochon, Derek Luke and Evan Ross.

While chatting with fans about the racially-charged drama and it's surprising themes of redemption and finding the humanity in even the most hateful of people, Glover discussed film festivals such as PAFF and the responsibility of black actors and filmmakers to tell stories that not only uplift our community, but spark transformative dialogue amongst all people.

Carlton Mackey in exclusive interview with festival founder and leading actor Danny Glover.

Carlton Mackey in exclusive interview with festival founder and leading actor Danny Glover.

"For us to talk about whatever we say about what black artists should do or should not not, I'm not into any kind of asessment in determining that. I know that the bottom line is how do we discover the kind of relationship, the transformative relationships that are necessary for us to survive as human beings? How does art play a role in that?" Glover asked. "Those are the kinds of things I think about in terms of art, whether it's black, whether it's green, whether it's yellow or whatever it is."

If art can be that transformative, then certainly PAFF has been a hotbed for change, or at least the place to take the seeds of transformation. 

50 Shades of Black Co-Directors Ross Oscar Knight and Carlton Mackey with Belle director Amma Asante.

50 Shades of Black Co-Directors Ross Oscar Knight and Carlton Mackey with Belle director Amma Asante.

And for those looking to get a taste of PAFF and those great community conversations, the festival is still ongoing and concludes on Sunday, August 10, with a special presentation of the highly-acclaimed British drama, Belle, which tells the real-life story of Dido Elizabeth Bele, the biracial daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, as well as a pre-screening reception with director Amma Asante and lead actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

And fans who can't make the film can still get their PAFF fix because 50 Shades of BLACK will be  posting exclusive interviews with Danny Glover and Amma Asante in the coming days.

For more information on the Pan-African Film Festival check out there official site

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Black Indian Ancestry and Healing Touch -  Post Film Interview

Jazz Is An Art Form that Mirrors the Complexity of Black Identity - Post Film Interview

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



50 Shades of Black Hosts Opening Day of Pan African Film Festival - Atlanta

It gives us great pleasure to announce that we will be hosting the Opening Day screenings of the Pan African Film Festival on August 7, 2014 at the Historic Plaza Theater in Atlanta, GA.

As hosts, 50 Shades of Black will introduce each of the day’s screenings, lead engaging Q&A discussions after each film, and will be present with other sponsors and actor Danny Glover at the red carpet screening of “Supremacy”.  Throughout the weekend, 50 Shades of Black will also be conducting exclusive interviews with some of the festival’s biggest stars.

Beginning with the very first film “From Above”, a Shakespearean tragic love story between African and Native American main characters,  to the final film of the day Elza, [a visually beautiful tale that confronts the issue of “colorism” in Guadeloupe (and in most colonized societies), where internal race prejudices often hinge on light skin versus dark skin; “bad” hair versus “good” hair] each of the Opening Day hosted films connect directly with the mission of 50 Shades of Black and highlight the work we are doing with some of our key partners across the country such as I Love Ancestry, National Congress of Black American Indians, Jazz WCLK, and Locs Revolution.

Screening 12:15pm - William Ward (Danny Glover) dives under the gloomy waters of his memory to recall the love story of his life with Venus, a girl belonging to the Lighting Clan, a peculiar Native American family living in Arkansas with a strange communion with electricity.

Thanks to the introduction from our partners at   I Love Ancestry  , Yvonne Rosegarden will be joining   50 Shades of BLACK   tomorrow for a post film conversation of "FROM ABOVE" at the   Pan African Film & Arts Festival   (Atlanta) [Screening at 12:1  5pm]  "I am really looking forward to viewing and participating on a panel to discuss this film that spotlights the seldom discussed relationships between Americans of Native and African descent---AND spreading a LOVE VIBRATION with 5-count hugs at the same time! See you there--please share!" -Yvonne Rosegarden

Thanks to the introduction from our partners at I Love Ancestry, Yvonne Rosegarden will be joining 50 Shades of BLACK tomorrow for a post film conversation of "FROM ABOVE" at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival (Atlanta) [Screening at 12:15pm]

"I am really looking forward to viewing and participating on a panel to discuss this film that spotlights the seldom discussed relationships between Americans of Native and African descent---AND spreading a LOVE VIBRATION with 5-count hugs at the same time! See you there--please share!" -Yvonne Rosegarden

It is PAFF’s goal to present and showcase the broad spectrum of Black creative works, particularly those that reinforce positive images and help destroy negative stereotypes. We believe film and art can lead to better understanding and foster communication between peoples of diverse cultures, races, and lifestyles, while at the same time serve as a vehicle to initiate dialogue on the important issues of our times.

Directly in line with the festival’s mission, 50 Shades of Black is the multimedia platform for exploring the complex relationship between race, skin tone, sexuality, and the role each play in the formation of identity. 50 Shades of Black, its creator Carlton Mackey, and its team has collaborated with visual artists, scholars, and the general public to also cultivate a deeper understanding of what diversity truly means with particular focus on the spectrum of manifestations of and understandings of "blackness".

Screening at 2:50pm - A documentary that examines with candor and humor Black women's issues regarding hair and self-esteem, and advocates for the acceptance of all hairstyle choices.  

Screening at 4:50pm - Titus is the story of a virtuoso African-American jazz musician whose damaged soul has brought him to the status of a nobody. Living in London, far from home, he’s wasting away, estranged from his one true love, his vintage alto sax. All hope looks lost until a visitor arrives, Jessica, the daughter he abandoned as a baby. Over the course of a day and night together, old demons are laid to rest and new ones are stirred, and for one last time the future is back in Titus’ hands. The poetic and soulful story of one man’s final shot at redemption – when all he’s ever known is hell.

Rivablue will be joining 50 Shades of Black tomorrow for post film conversation of Titus as she reflects on the film and the global influence of Jazz.  Rivablue can be heard on   mon-fri 7pm-10pm. 

Rivablue will be joining 50 Shades of Black tomorrow for post film conversation of Titus as she reflects on the film and the global influence of Jazz.  Rivablue can be heard on mon-fri 7pm-10pm. 

A young Parisian woman of Caribbean descent returns to her native island of Guadeloupe looking for the father she has never known. This visually beautiful tale confronts the issue of “colorism” in Guadeloupe (and in most colonized societies), where internal race prejudices often hinge on light skin versus dark skin; “bad” hair versus “good” hair. 

Screening 10:10pm


or at the Box Office Window - Plaza Theater 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave N // Atlanta, GA 30306 // 404.873.1939


50 Shades of Black is a signature project of the BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE ™ Campaign.


Posted on August 2, 2014 and filed under africa, art, film, press, race, religion and culture, sexuality, skin tone.

Seriously, Why Do We Fetishize Asian Women?

My geek friends and I regulary share gifs, photos and videos of things we find interesting on the web with each other on Facebook - because, well, geeking out at work is really the only way to go about getting a check. And being fans of Japanese anime and manga, it came as no surprise that one of my friends came across a video called "Why Guys Like Asian Girls" and shared it with the rest of the crew. 

In the video, actress and filmmaker Anna Akana vents candidly (with the most splendid potty mouth) about her disdain for "yellow fever" i.e. way men of other races, namely white men, exoticize and fetishize her just because she's Asian. 

Now, as a black gay man, I figure when most of my melenated brothers and sisters are talking about being reduced to fetishes and tokens, they mean that the perpetrator is, well, someone white. But that clearly isn't the case because a few of my geeky black guy friends just couldn't seem to understand why Anna had such a problem with so many men only liking her, and so many other Asian women, just because of the color of their skin.

And it's not just my friends who seem to have this sexual fantasy of Asian women. I've heard fantasies like this from men all of my life, and as Anna notes, never have any of those fantasies been based on anything other than the racialized idea of the woman as opposed to who she actually is as a person. 

And honestly, I don't see how any Asian woman, or any woman for that matter, would be flattered by the idea that a man only wants her because she talks with a baby voice, acts childlike and dresses as a school girl, perhaps barely speaks English, enjoys being dominated both in the bedroom (or while giving Handy J's in a spa) and in her life in general. Basically, she just has to be nothing more than a doll-like slave that's only good for sex, cooking and naughty massages.

Besides laughing my ass off at Anna's hilarious commentary, I also felt empathy for Anna's story because her complaint sounds exactly like the anger and frustration we black men feel when we're reduced to tokens and Mandingo sex warriors in the eyes of other races. Personally, I can't tell you how many times I've tried to talk to a guy of another race (White, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Asian, etc.) online and one of the first things they tell me is "I'm really into black guys" or "I bet you have a big dick" or "I bet you have a big black ass" or even something as extreme as "I want you to come ravish/dominate/rape me."

Or, sadly, if they don't like me or I turn them down, they call me a "nigger."

Basically, to them, I'm nothing more than a hyper-masculine, ghetto-booty-having, big-black-dick-swiinging sex beast ready to ravish any man in the bed, Or I have to be the sumissive black boy that they can tame in the bed just so they can feel proud and mighty about having conquered the big black beast.

Seriousy, does the idea of living out that fetish or the Asian fetish sound appealing to you? Well, it sure as hell isn't fun when people try to force it on you.

Unforunately, it's not just the mindsets of other races that people of color have to deal with when it comes to being fetishized. People of all races seem to do this to each other based on the ill-informerd, reductive, and, dare I say, fucked up stereotypes running rampant in the media about all of the different communities of people.  

Clearly, everybody across the globe has their own personal hangups when it comes to race and sex, being a citizen of the world makes that pretty impossible to avoid. But one way to diminish that ignorance and racism is to listen to the stories of other people and be aware of how our words and mindsets affect them as well. And to start, I suggest you watch Anna's video above because it's not only thought-provoking but it's also freaking hilarious and witty.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on July 30, 2014 and filed under race, sexuality, skin tone.

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.

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.

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.


Finding Myself in Belle: a review by a biracial woman in America

This film is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

This film is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

“I don’t know that I find myself anywhere.”

Thus responds Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in the movie Belle when asked if she finds herself in a book she is reading.

As a biracial woman, I could almost say the same today. I don’t see myself as the subject of many books or movies—which is why 50 Shades of Black is so refreshing, and why I was excited to see Belle in theaters last week.

It tells the true story of a girl born to an enslaved African woman and a white aristocrat in 18th century England. After her mother dies and her father sets out to sea, she is raised lovingly by her father’s uncle and aunt in high society.

The story situates itself around the infamous Zong case brought before Belle’s adoptive great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), chief justice in Britain’s supreme court. In the case, merchants sued an insurer for monetary compensation for the 143 slaves they purposefully drowned at sea.

Painting attributed to Hohann Zoffany of Dido Belle with her cousin  Elizabeth

Painting attributed to Hohann Zoffany of Dido Belle with her cousin Elizabeth

Belle learns of the Zong massacre through her love-interest, an aspiring lawyer named John Davinier (Sam Reid). She shares his convictions about the injustice in treating human beings as property. Together, they attempt to cut away at Lord Mansfield’s inclination to protect the institution of slavery (and his reputation).

This is a story about a woman whose unique position and background created opportunity for the moral advancement of a nation. She seized the opportunity with courage and grace. In that sense I connected strongly with the movie and Belle’s character. Being placed, by God or by chance, at the intersection between divided worlds creates a tremendous opportunity to reexamine unspoken and written rules that dictate the status quo, into which we do not neatly fit.

We are the enigmas that breathe humanity into the people whom hatred, ignorance and bitterness abstract. That is what is captured so well in this movie. Belle’s white family is forced to see black in full human form, with all her intelligence, beauty and virtue. They cannot deny her, as they have already loved her as their own child. What proceeds from this buildup of cognitive dissonance is Lord Manfield’s uplifting and cathartic speech on the immorality of the Zong massacre and the sense that Belle is truly an equal.

That being said, I left the movie wanting more depth and less melodrama.

In one scene Belle desperately rubs her skin, as if trying to remove the color. This was too brief a snapshot of the tumult she must have experienced in coming to terms with the complexity of her identity. Confronting people with the “problem” her existence poses to their beliefs is a scary place to be as a young woman. I expected more attention to the difficult process of developing that sense of self.

That process for me has involved surmounting innumerable seeds of self-doubt planted by subtle gestures and overt comments of “you don’t belong.” My attempts to claim a place in either the white or black communities constantly meet resistance even in the 21st century. It is a back-and-forth dance of asserting myself and retreating in rejection. My parents were open to discussing the issue, yet it is still difficult to navigate. I can only imagine it must’ve been much more difficult in Belle’s conservative upbringing.

It was also difficult to believe Belle was so incensed about equality, yet demonstrated little interest in her black heritage, or developing a connection with the few black people she had contact with. As she grows up, Belle—along with the audience, is sheltered from the harsh realities of the time. Only one other black character enters the screen and Belle’s interaction with her is limited.

Danielle is a writer and special contributor to 50 Shades of Black.  Her contribution, "Papa Am I Black?" was featured in  50 Shades of Black Vol 1

Danielle is a writer and special contributor to 50 Shades of Black.  Her contribution, "Papa Am I Black?" was featured in 50 Shades of Black Vol 1

I was disappointed in the predictable and safe delivery of an infinitely complex story. I understand it is too much to ask of a single work of art, and the first of its kind, to tell all aspects of the experience of living between color lines. There is but so much you can explore when taking on historical fiction. At least, it’s a start. I am hopeful more will come in varied forms, and that soon other Belle’s and I will find ourselves more often reflected in the world around us.

—Danielle B. Douez

Emory University Grad
 Psychology 2013,
Freelance Writer & 50 Shades of Black Contributor

Posted on May 22, 2014 and filed under art, blog, family, film, history, personal stories, race, skin tone.

Reflections of an Undercover Black Girl from San Francisco

My skin is tan. My hair is wavy. In Nina Simone’s “Four Women” I might be considered a Saffonia, though my father was neither rich nor white.

As a child living in a 1970’s San Francisco, I looked exactly like what I was: a nappy-headed mixed child. Born to a fair-skinned, Caucasian mother and a medium-toned Black/Italian/Cherokee father, I have been told I look Brazilian or Cape Verdean or just Plain Ol' Regular White Girl. As I aged, my skin naturally lightened and my hair relaxed of its own accord.

At the age of nine, I moved to the Midwest. I wasn’t exactly Black or White or what was easily recognized, and my racial backstory became a constant topic. As a nappy-headed mixed child in San Francisco, I never lied about my ethnicity; there was no need for it. But, living in the Midwest, even my maternal grandmother held issue with my color; she lied to protect herself against the judgment she believed would be passed by others and, I believe, her own loathing of her non-White grandchild. Following suit, I began to tell the same lie. I hated the curliness of my hair and spent hours each day straightening it, trying to look White. White is right…right? I don’t believe that now, but I believed it then.

Living with White family members, I internalized the bigotry around me. As I matured, I finally accepted who I was; I remembered who I was; I forgave myself for believing those fear-induced lies and again became…A Mixed Girl. I am very proud to be a Mixed Girl. I am more than Black. I am more than White. I am more than simply “Other”.

While there is more to my story, I will say that as an Undercover Black Girl, I have been privy to some of the most unbelievable racist views and statements. See, I don’t look the part, so I hear it all. And, even when some know, they still share bigoted parts of themselves, I believe, in an attempt to better understand the things they don’t. I will never know the racism my Black brothers and sisters experience, because I am rarely perceived for being what I am. But, I have seen much. And my truth is this: racial fear, racial prejudice, entitlement, “White is right”, self-imposed limitations, and denial of all these things are very real.

I am an Undercover Black Girl—a Mixed Girl—whose life experience has been mostly that of a White Girl. I am an American Girl, so add that to the equation, ‘cause most of my International friends don’t have this same issue with race, though they still deal with plenty of ‘isms. I have faith in the changes that can be made in this country, in the new conversations that can take place, but everyone has to be willing to get dirty…to get naked about their fears, their expectations and their suppositions. ‘Cause it’s the subtle, clothed, barely buried-beneath-the-surface stuff that really is the most telling.

~Stacy Jethroe

Photo submitted by Stacy Jethroe


This is our 14th 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.