with people around the world uniting for the black lives matter movement, this summer is the perfect time to celebrate one of the greatest musicians and revolutionaries of the 20th century. what happened, miss simone? was released on netflix friday and is an intimate view into the nina simone’s life. using previously unreleased footage, letters and interviews with close family and friends, the singer-songwriter’s words and life are just as relevant now as they were the day dr. martin luther king jr. was murdered.
the heavens opened and sent us professor tanisha c. ford, a scholar who studies fashion and feminism with a focus on women of color. as an assistant professor of women, gender and sexuality at university of massachusetts amherst, she knows her stuff.
in an interview with feministing, professor ford talked about the inspiration behind her forthcoming book, liberated threads: black women and the politics of adornment:
when i was a kid, [my mother] use to adorn me in african-printed garments and “black is beautiful” t-shirts. as a graduate student, i began researching the civil rights and black power era. i realized that the way that black women activists like my mother dressed mattered because their bodies were contested spaces. my interest in these stylish women sent me on a quest to understand how and why they adorned themselves in this way.
her book sounds like the politics & fashion manifesto with its investigation of “how black women in the united states, britain and south africa transformed the everyday act of getting dressed into a political strategy.” well, it looks like we have our first bookclub pick!
when i was 13 my mother heard dr. maya angelou speak and brought me home a copy of all god’s children need traveling shoes. it took me a year before i picked it up, but when i did, i couldn’t put it down. reading about a gifted black woman from a small southern town was the first time i’d seen my reflection in a book; i was moved beyond measure. her experiences with malcolm x and dr. king showed me the humanity of the historical figures we often deify, her time spent in africa showed me that despite space and time we remain connected to our roots and her career as a dancer and writer showed me that creativity has no boundaries. in short, i learned that if a woman who had been molested as a child and grew up in the jim crow south could reach her dreams, then so could i. after reading the book, i promised that i’d live my life just as unchained as dr. angelou.
at the news of her passing my heart is so heavy, not because i’m sad that maya angelou’s physical body has left this earth — her spirit surely remains — but because i hadn’t realized how much she means to me until this very moment. a mighty tree has fallen.
rest well dear maya. may the ancestors rejoice as you rise.
1. questlove’s piece entitled trayvon martin and i ain’t shit is a heartfelt and sobering look at what it’s like to be a black man in america. in the piece he describes an incident on the elevator of his swank new york building where a white woman refused to tell him what floor she lived on — questlove was politely offering to push the button for her, but soon realized that she was afraid to let a black man know where she lived. in his piece, he describes the burden of possessing a large-framed-male-black body when living in a country that has demonized your very existence.
2. ebony writer jamilah lemieux applauds questlove’s writing and tears to shreds a piece written by white feminist kim foster who claims questlove’s encounter in the elevator wasn’t about racism, but the white woman’s fear of being assaulted by a man (sans-race). thank goodness jamilah took this nonsense to task, schooling foster and other white feminists on intersectionality and the privilege that brings one to insert her victim-centered narrative into a discussion about racial profiling and the murder of an innocent child. white feminists often need to be told “this ain’t about you!” and then be forced to have several seats.
3. why didn’t i know about the amazingly talented writer zadie smith? after reading her interview for the london evening standard, i was moved by her progressive socio-political analysis and ridiculous beauty. she bad.
4. harry belafonte is an actor and civil rights icon who, during a time of overt hatred, used his celebrity status to shed light on civil rights abuses and support humanitarian causes. among many acts of resistance, he financed the freedom rides and helped to organize the march on washington. his story should be mandatory reading for every brown and black celebrity to learn how to give back and empower your community. evidently, jay z (he recently fired his hyphen) has not taken to heart belafonte’s lessons, and in response to the elder’s criticism that he and others were not doing enough for social justice causes, jay stated:
“I’m offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am. Just like Obama’s is. Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, the hope that he provides for a nation, and outside of America is enough.”
wow. and here i thought charity could be described as a commitment to ending inequality and a dedication to social responsibility. who knew that simply waking up in the morning, placing my feet on the ground, rocking tom ford and hopping in my new bugatti constitutes an exercise in making the world a better place? damn, somebody should have hipped mother theresa.
last month, i had the opportunity to start a new job and enter the next phase of my career. in the weeks leading up to my first day, i struggled to get past the “imposter syndrome,” an idea that once i started work everyone would know that i’m not as smart or capable as they previously perceived. i shed this insecurity, only to develop a new one. my hair.
honestly, it caught me by surprise. i was mining my closet for jazzy work attire and began to obsess about my hair. what will my co-workers think about my natural hair? will they accept my mohawk and penchant for pattern mixing and color blocking? will my black co-workers shy away as to not be associated with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks? i had painful visions of people giving me full body glances when i walked into the room and whispering about me behind my back. in a moment of panic-stricken desperation, i decided the inevitable must be done. i needed to straighten my hair.
thank goodness i said this aloud to a friend. you see, i spend lots of time
processing beating myself up, so it’s vital that i share my internal banter with an audience. after our conversation, i realized that i’d lost my mind. straighten my hair to gain preliminary acceptance from co-workers whom i’ve never met? change my attire because both my clothing AND my hairstyle can’t be expressions of my identity? tone down my “type” of blackness to make others more comfortable? all of that sounds absolutely absurd.
may 19th was malcom x’s birthday. many remember him as a revolutionary, minister, and father who was assasinated for his fight to secure human rights for the poor and oppressed.
here at politics and fashion, we also remember his style. glasses, suits, and accessories–brother malcolm made freedom fighting look good.
in dr. king’s last conversation with activist harry belafonte he told him, “i fear i am integrating my people into a burning house.” decades later the house is still burning–and we’re still integrating and assimilating. it’s time to become firemen.
let’s remember the rebellious and radical spirit of dr. king today and everyday.