My Latest for Elle: French Hair Products For Women of Color

Here’s my latest for Elle.com:

french hair products

Aside from eating foie gras and cheese with wild abandon, I had one particular mission on a recent trip to Paris, and that was to find hair products. Now, this isn’t a particularly ground-breaking mission in the beauty capital of the world, but I was looking for hair products for women of color. In all of my years of traveling and living in Paris, I’ve never seen an article extolling the “must have” beauty products to be had in the City of Lights that acknowledges women who don’t have straight or “normal” hair, let alone the complex hair types and needs of women of color. Because of Paris’s colonial past, it is an incredibly diverse city, widely recognized by women of color as the place to go to go find hair and beauty products. So why aren’t they represented when we talk about Paris and beauty products?

Taking into account my prior experience with a leave-in conditioner recommended by a “Must Buy” guide, which left me with an empty bottle and wallet to match after two uses, I was on a mission to find affordable products, too. Before my departure, I scoured the blogs, finding a shout out or two for the usual suspect—Kérastase—which is great, until you have to pay for it in dollars. Clearly on my own in this quest, there wasn’t a Monoprix, pharmacie, or out-of-the-way beauty shop uptown that I missed. I journaled and Excel’d beauty products and their end results with a focus that’s equally vain and admirable, with one central aim: wanting to be represented.

beauty products

The editorial oversight is strange, because Paris is a pure treasure trove of products for women with “problematic” hair. When I went natural in college, I struggled to find affordable products that addressed my curls, which were dry and voluminous but when straightened, went flat and desperately needed dry shampoo. It was when I studied in Paris that I discovered that yes, black girls can use dry shampoo, and I found real leave-in conditioners, not left-in conditioner. Part of the reason I didn’t think I needed things like clarifying shampoos (which I now swear by) was because those products never featured women like me.

check out the rest of the article on Elle.com and the review of the products by clicking the link!

Something New, Something Blue and Something Not For Many of Us: A Response to Tiffany’s Gay Ad

gay tiffany couple

This was written by Joe von Hutch in a response to last week’s post about Tiffany’s engagement advertisement targeted towards the gay community.

Before diving into my response, I first have to apologize to all of my friends, married and unmarried who may be offended at some of what I say. That’s not my desire, but I enjoy open dialogue on my page so here goes.

First, to quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (sampled on Beyonce’s “Flawless”): “Because I am female / I am expected to aspire to marriage / I am expected to make my life choices / Always keeping in mind that / Marriage is the most important / Now marriage can be a source of / Joy and love and mutual support / But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage / And we don’t teach boys the same?”

Throughout what will fairly accurately be described as an anti-marriage rant, please keep in mind that I agree with Ngozi Adichie that marriage *can* be fantastic; at least in its modern form practiced by partners who are more or less equal. But, historically, marriage was state-sanctioned slavery and I think it is a mistake that LGBT activists have applied most of their intellectual and economic weight to this one cause (and usually at the exclusion of all others e.g. employment discrimination, HIV/Aids research, youth homelessness, etc.). But, here we are, and esp. when I think of my friends who have or will be married, the fact that they cannot do so in only 14 states is a tremendous accomplishment and a true testament to the hard work of all the men and women who fought and fight tirelessly for us to get here.

Now please take it back. Seriously, I don’t want it. And while I am happy for my friends who choose monogamy and monogrammed towels, I neither want the pressure to aspire to the same nor disapproval from both within and without my community when I choose to remain a deviant. Because what we forget is that the movement used to be about radical change and accepting people for who they are and how they choose to live. And I know society can only be changed in discrete ways, but images of (a seemingly happy and loving couple, mazel tov) white, well-to-do men being used to hawk bits of rock mined by Africans under, at best, questionable and, at worst, slave-like conditions just to further global capitalism, exclusion, patriarchy and white privilege is simply not my idea of true activism. Pandering, yes. Smart business, yes. But there is nothing radical or inspiring about this, at least not to me. I’m sure others will disagree, as they should.

And I think I’m also particularly rankled by this because I know people who are currently facing housing issues for being “dirty, disgusting faggots”. And people who do not feel comfortable being out at work for fear of what certain partners might think. And a lot of it is because the media (and we as activists) are selling an image of an antiseptic and non-offensive gay man or woman that rarely matches the reality of me and my friends on the pansexual, polyamorous and BDSM margins. And, domestically, while this image might do some good in convincing the few remaining dinosaurs that “I guess gay people are people too”, it will do nothing for the young queers living on the streets or the trans men and women, whose families slot them back into another sex at their deaths. And, internationally, I would love to see more being done to improve the lives of the people who actually dig these things out of the ground than the lives of those who can afford them.

Tiffany Wants The Gays To Put a Tiffany Ring On It

gay tiffany couple

Tiffany & Co. just released a same-sex ad, quietly – or not so quietly – supporting the fight for marriage equality. Recognized in all but 14 States, same-sex marriage has become one of the cause of the “cosmopolitan and learned” set and given the high net worth of many urban dwelling, childless, educated gay couples, to not embrace this high-earning demographic is not smart or good business. It also helps that their couple is a real and all model-y.

“Nowadays, the road to marriage is no longer linear, and true love can happen more than once with love stories coming in a variety of forms,” a Tiffany spokesman said in an official statement to Elle. But given the conversation about the other side of LGBT rights – the epidemic of transgender violence in the States – I would have liked to have seen a couple of color, given that so much violence right now against the community is targeted towards many LGBT of color that are not White and are not solvent.

You can read more of this trend at Elle.

h/t Time

In Hollywood, Green is the New Black. And Brown. And Yellow. And Red.

for the love of green.

Here at The Maroon Colony, we’re all about the 15%, the 37% and especially the 25%.  And given that we’re creating a show centered around a mixed-race family, we care how those 15%, 36% and 25% demographics are represented in television. Hollywood seems a little behind the times though.

A new study by the UCLA Bunche Center for African-American Studies found that shows that had “at least a third of their casts who were of color had the highest ratings.” Perhaps this explains Scandal’s Gladiator-stans, especially amongst the Black Twitterati.

Though Hollywood and its content are primarily bottom line driven, Hollywood is notoriously bad at having the adequate stats and data to make informed decisions.  As such, Netflix and Twitter, who make healthy use of said information are about to (allegedly) eat Hollywood’s (specifically the studios and Nielsen) lunch, dinner and aperitif, but that’s another blog post. Ratings are a measure of households with a television watching a show. The more households that watch a show, the higher the ratings and the more money a show can presumably make from advertising dollars. It’s a fairly simple categorical proposition:

Ratings = Green

Green = Black. Brown. Yellow. Red. White. Any all combinations of these.

mix ’em all up, you get green.

This study researched the shows and ratings of broadcast and cable shows for the 2011- 12 television season. For the 2010 – 2011, Nielsen Media Research, the monopoly company that tracks and measures ratings, determined that there were 115.9 million American households with a television. Thus, a rating is a percentage of those households. But because ratings are not percentages, they are not flat numbers and do change when actual viewership is being measured, which is determined by age demographics and the number of people in the age group. Ratings are on a 0.0 – 10.0 scale, with “0” being the equivalent of it never having been made and 10 being Godfather-like perfection.  Here’s a good break down here. For this article, we won’t get into shares, but those are important to know as well. You can learn more about them here.

Cable showed a strong corollary between having a diverse writing staff and cast on a show and high ratings.  Though allowing that almost 70% of cable programming for the 2011-12 season was reality television, the study does not articulate if the numbers for these highly rated shows were for scripted or non-scripted cable shows. This could is problematic, but I’ll get to that later. According to the study, shows that had a percentage range of casts members of color that encompasses the nation’s population of color of 36.6% enjoyed higher ratings than shows with cast that were 10% or less of color. (Mad Men anyone?) The figures for the writing staffs and cast for broadcast were unavailable.

The writer’s room matters as well.  For cable, shows that had between 11% to 20% and 41% to 50% of their writing staff of color enjoyed higher ratings than those that did not.  The shows that had less than 10% of their writing staff of color or over 50% suffered the worst ratings. In broadcast, shows with the least diverse writing staffs (less than 10% of color) did not have the lowest ratings for 2011-2012 television season, but those broadcast shows with the highest ratings (Scandal perhaps?) had writing staffs that were significantly more diverse (21% to 30% of color) than most broadcast shows.

In short, by not being more inclusive behind and in-front of the camera, television networks are leaving money on the table – and a lot of it. They’re also missing a huge part of their coveted demographic – 18 to 35 as people of color make up 39% of that age group. By refusing to create shows that reflect a large and growing part of America and their key demographics, they’re missing out on  future television viewers; people of color now make up roughly 50% of the under-five population.

And that’s not saying that people of color and women can’t enjoy shows that don’t speak directly to their experience or represent them. I personally am a huge fan of shows like Mad Men and Downton Abbey, which have little to no people of color on their shows. But, I am much more engaged viewer – and more importantly, sharer – of shows like Parenthood, Scandal, even American Horror Story. Speaking of American Horror Story, with an almost exclusively female cast and nearly 20% of its cast of color, the show’s third season is boasting its best season ever and is on pace to be the highest-rated season of any show in FX’s history. This season, Coven, might be about magic, but its success is not. The numbers and the research prove it: when you include all of the colors in your show, you get the green – and big time.

The Ultimate Hack: Kanye West and the Politics of Code Switching

Twitter, Facebook and blogs across America have been after Kanye’s life after his appearance on Kris Jenner’s almost mother- in-law’s show. Not just this article, but a few have dedicated considerable HTML to figuring out just what exactly is up with ‘Ye’s voice. But let’s be honest: what everyone is really trying to say is that in comparison to how he used to sound:

Earlier Kanye

And how he sounds now, Kanye sounds nasally, softer and more tense – in other words, he sounds White.

To be clear: the term is offense and baseless, but yet, we continue to use it, or rather, the ideology of the term when we as a culture question the validity of a man’s inflection points. Everyone is speaking in code about Kanye speaking in code, yet no one has just come out and said it in those terms.  While no intelligent person would actually use that phrase, much less accuse someone of that for all of the loaded and deserved criticism that would come their way for it, people are saying it. They’re saying it by asking, “why is Kanye talking like that?”

But what is like that? Well, it surely isn’t this:

And it’s not this:

And despite paying courtly homage to kiss the pinky ring of the Kardashian padrona, it’s clearly not this either:

What isn’t clear – to the uninitiated – is what Kanye is doing on a more subliminal level. The posture, the effects, the tone – Kanye is playing down his (Black) masculinity in hopes of playing up his (universal) relatability.

It’s an ironic switch for a man whose latest album has been considered by some to be a love letter to mysigony. And this isn’t a case of “dumbing down my audience to double my dollars.” Most of the people in Jenner’s actual and intended audience are not and won’t ever be checking for a Kanye record. Kanye, an eager, if not masterful self promoter knows this. He’s not trying to get them to buy his records; he’s trying to show them – the people who will never listen to the complexities of his story in his lyrics, but will brand him by his Black masculinity and jackassness – that he can be not just human, but normal – their kind of normal. The kind of mundane normal that fills Facebook timelines for people who don’t genuinely have concerns about privacy beyond an obsession with Big Government. Sharing photos of his baby, publicly proclaiming his love of the mother of his child, wearing chambray; Kanye is doing his best to relate to this life. Meanwhile, these fascinated White women – in the studio and in the larger audience -make his way of life and subsequent disconnect possible; it is mostly their suburban children whom their parents’ increasingly-harder-to-come-by middle class wages to simultaneously mimic and fund Kanye’s larger-than-life – that of a Black man who supercedes race and yet, can’t escape it. These White women know it, Kanye knows it – and he knows that these women and their aforementioned children can’t relate or understand at all the last part of the previous sentence.

Hence, the code. Hence the necessity of the code. Hence the prevelance and urgency of code. It is a shorthand for all that can’t be said completely and safely in an unfamiliar setting;  the most and least Kanye can do is try to not get attacked by mimicking the kind of normalcy that they can relate to.  By sitting uncomfortably on Kris Jenner’s couch and with the tonal pitch of the college student he once was, Kanye reminds whoever is watching that he is after all, a college drop out and the son of a professor. He reminds us that he spent part of his childhood in China. He reminds us he gave a talk at Harvard (which could be a whole other conversation about Kanye’s code switching). He reminds us that he came onto the scene wearing Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren Oxfords. I’m let y’all finish, but Kanye was the first to chop it up with Daft Punk. Had things been different, ‘Ye just might’ve been a yuppie.

So in the same thousands-of-years old traditions of oral history, folklore and songs, invisible ink, graffiti and other means that marginalized and silenced people have used to communicate when they refused to go quietly into the night, Kanye continues to reinvent, circumvent, endure and hell, get something out of it. Or at least try to.

And the people who pick up on this instinctively understand this complex cakewalk of code, for he is doing what most people of color do when caught in a room of white walls and a White public: he is trying to make his audience feel safe. Kanye is saying what his Black body can not; that he understands that in this moment, at this time, the ultimate performance is not even the seemingly effortless way his voice floats up class distinctive registers, but how well he recognizes – or even better,  extinguishes – White fear and White suspicion.  This is the underlying and fundamentally, most important philosophy of code switching, which informs and guides all other actions and postures of code switching.