Twisted Sisters – EBONY June 2017 Issue

Hey all,

For the June issue of EBONY, I interviewed lifestyle blogger Ashlei C. Turner about why naturalistas love twists as an alternative to box braids and locs as summer gets underway. We broke down the differences between Marley, Senegalese, Havana and Mali twists. Oh, and I see you Solange! Page 43. On newsstands now!

twists

Flawed and Fearless: How a Severe Burn Survivor Wears Her Scars Like Diamonds

alyssa mcdonald.jpg

Alyssa McDonald (Photo Courtesy of Alyssa McDonald)

Alyssa McDonald shares her journey to self-love after childhood accident left her severely scarred

Alyssa McDonald was two years old when she accidentally knocked over a pot of scorching hot melted butter directly onto her face and part of her shoulder. An entire childhood and adolescence spent in and out of hospitals suddenly became normal for the Cincinnati, Ohio resident.

The incident happened in McDonald’s maternal grandmother’s kitchen on Memorial Day in 1993, and it caused her to suffer severe burns all over her face and lose her left eye. “My uncle was the one who found me,” McDonald reveals. “He took a paper towel to wipe the butter off my face and when he did, he said my skin was melting off onto other parts of my face and into the sink.”

McDonald was rushed to the hospital, where she went into a two-week coma. She said her body swelled up 10 times its size and she was blind for a short period of time. Doctors went so far as to tell her parents to start preparing funeral arrangements because they didn’t think she would live.

Read more of my latest piece for Ebony [here].

The History of Baby Hairs

Chilli

The Queen of Baby Hairs, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas. Courtesy of Getty Images

Stop the co-opt. In this EBONY.com series exploring Black hair origins, we trace the styling of baby hairs to Black and Hispanic communities

Nearly every Black and Latina woman knows the drill when it comes to styling her baby hairs.

Pulling out a jar of gel or pomade and using a tooth brush to slick down those baby hairs before leaving the house for a night out is equivalent to icing on a cake.

Just so we’re clear: Baby hairs are those small, fine-textured hairs that sit along the hairline. They are most commonly found among women of color with textured hair.

Celebrities such as Zendaya, Yara Shahidi, Rihanna and FKA Twigs started embracing theirs in recent years, but Chilli from TLC is often hailed the unofficial baby hairs queen.

However, the styling of baby hairs as we know it seems to have started in the 1970s. LaToya Jackson’s baby hairs were on fleek for much of the decade. And in 1973, Sylvia Robinson, founder and CEO of Sugar Hill Records, can be seen rocking baby hairs on her “Pillow Talk” album cover. Furthermore, Pat Davis and Fawn Quinones slayed their baby hairs as they boogied down on Soul Train.

Thought baby hairs were reserved for the ladies only? No ma’am. If Chilli was the queen of baby hairs, then Ginuwine was the unofficial king.

To quote Salt ‘n Pepa, standing in front of a mirror for long periods of time trying to perfect that swirl was considered “very necessary”.

“Growing up in the eighties and nineties, wearing the latest hair trend, while sporting baby hairs was synonymous with the ‘Fly Girl’ phenomenon,” explains publicist Colleen Gwen Armstrong, who runs the popular Instaglam News account. “Times may have changed, but the ‘Fly Girl’ phenomenon continues as baby hairs continue to represent a symbol of beauty within the Black community.”

Read more of my latest piece for Ebony [here].

The History of the Afro

afro2_caro-603x377

[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this EBONY.com series exploring Black hair origins, we trace the Afro to the 1960s Black Power movement.  

A little over a year ago, Beyoncé declared to the world: “I like my baby hair with baby hair and Afros.”

As far as hairstyles go, it doesn’t get much blacker than the Afro.

“Nappy,” “woolly” and “unruly” are only some of the unflattering adjectives that have been used to describe Black hair during and post slavery.

In the 1960s, Black folks finally said, “To hell with that!” After decades of subjecting ourselves to European beauty standards, we decided to take back our hair. This newfound self-acceptance was widely known as the Black Is Beautiful movement, which sprang from the Black Power movement.

With political activists such as Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton and Jesse Jackson proudly rocking Afros while fighting oppression, the hairstyle quickly emerged as a symbol for Black beauty, liberation and pride.

“Black activists were agitated with White supremacy and Jim Crow laws, and they wanted to show an outward sign of their frustration toward Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent philosophy,” explains Chad Dion Lassiter, president of the Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc. at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice. “The Afro was Black beauty personified without White validation, and it did not care about critics. For many Black men, it was about cool pose and hyper-masculinity in the face of police brutality and constant oppression.”

That’s why Allure’s tutorial in its August 2015 issue titled, “You (Yes, You) Can Have an Afro, Even If You Have Straight Hair” was particularly irksome and insulting on many levels. Strike one? The model featured was White actress Marissa Neitling.

It certainly didn’t help that the hairstyle shown was more of a twist out than an Afro and the publication failed to explore the Afro’s origins.

Allure issued a response to BuzzFeed amid the controversy: “The Afro has a rich cultural and aesthetic history. In this story, we show women using different hairstyles as an individual expressions [sic] of style. Using beauty and hair as a form of self-expression is a mirror of what’s happening in our country today. The creativity is limitless—and pretty wonderful.”

If Allure’s editors had pointed out some of the Afro’s “rich cultural and aesthetic history” with its readers, then maybe we wouldn’t still be here talking about the tutorial two years later. Just sayin’.

What’s interesting about the Afro is its cultural trajectory. In the early 1970s, the ’fro was perceived as a major political statement that would’ve never appeared in the pages of a mainstream publication, especially as a hair tutorial. It didn’t take long for the hairstyle to become associated with Black ass-kicking thanks to the rise of Blaxploitation films, including ShaftFoxy Brown and Coffy. It was seen as less militant as The Jackson 5, Sly & the Family Stone, Billy Preston and other acts appeared on television shows, such as Soul Train to promote their music, while showing off their bountiful Afros as they worked the stage.

Read more of my latest piece for Ebony [here].

This Mobile Museum Keeps Black History Month Going All Year Long

blackhistory_museum-566x377

Khalid el-Hakim poses with artifacts from the Black History 101 Mobile Museum.

Khalid el-Hakim makes sure learning about Black History doesn’t just happen in February

Khalid el-Hakim started frequenting antique shops, garage sales and flea markets and collecting rare artifacts pertaining to Black history in the early 1990s.

Among his prized possessions: a document signed by Malcom X, slave shackles, and an old drinking fountain sign that differentiates between “White” and “Colored.”

What inspired the collection?

“Dr. David Pilgrim at Ferris State University had a very powerful and engaging way of teaching his diverse group of students about the history of racism in America,” el-Hakim recalls. “He would bring in Jim Crow-era artifacts and use those objects to provide context to different themes and concepts discussed in his lectures.”

For the Detroit native, seeing those “real” historical examples of America’s ugly past brought history to life, and more importantly, it sparked some much-needed conversations regarding race among his peers.

After returning from the historic 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C., el-Hakim became inspired to take his private collection of then 500 artifacts on the road. He started displaying the items around Detroit at various community meetings. His goal? Bring folks up to speed on the history that’s often omitted from textbooks.

Read more of my latest piece for Ebony [here].

Dreams really do come true!

img_4389

Jurnee Smollettt-Bell slays EBONY’s March cover.

After years of grinding (and plenty of daydreaming), I can finally say that I landed my very first byline in EBONY Magazine and I must say there’s nothing like seeing your name and words in a magazine as legendary as EBONY.

ebony-march-3

On page 43, I dive into the rich yet unknown history of headwraps and why we wear them today. I still remember the summer of 2012 when all I did was study the magazine from front to back, dreaming of the day when I would see my words grace its pages. Shout out to Marielle Bobo, who asked me to take on this piece after noticing some of my online work with the “Detangling Our Roots” series.

ebony-march-2

The March issue with the gorgeous Jurnee Smollett-Bell slaying the cover is on newsstands now (and yep, that’s me there on the Contributors page). PS I’ve already got pieces slated for EBONY‘s April/May and June issues, so stay tuned!

The History of Cornrows

Regina King

[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this EBONY.com series exploring Black hair origins, we trace this intricate form of braiding to Ancient Africa

“Boxer braids,” “KKW braids,” and “Birthday braids” are the cutesy terms used to describe cornrows whenever they’re worn by Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner as opposed to simply calling them cornrows or plaits.

Braids are nothing new, but it depends on what mainstream media outlet you ask. Last April, Cosmopolitan posted a tutorial titled, “Double Cuff Mohawk Braid,” but the hairstyle being showcased was clearly cornrows. To make matters worse, Cosmo promoted the video using the subhead, “You’ve NEVER seen a braid like this before.”

Come again?

Sure, we’ll pretend that Alicia Keys didn’t stun in beautifully adorned cornrows during her first couple of years in the spotlight. We’ll also pretend that Beyoncé never rocked cornrows during her Destiny’s Child days. And we’ll act like Cicely Tyson didn’t show off her cornrows in a national TV appearance years before White actress Bo Derek mainstreamed them in the 1979 film 10.

In 2014, Marie Claire tweeted that Kendall Jenner had taken braids to a “new epic level.” Months later, the LA Times credited Cara Delevingne, Rita Ora and Kristen Stewart for cornrows “moving away from urban, hip-hop to chic and edgy.” So, in other words, cornrows are only chic and edgy when the person wearing them is White?

For many, even the moniker “French/Dutch braids” is seen as yet another attempt to strip cornrows and other braided styles of their African roots. In all fairness, plenty of White celebrities outside the Kardashian-Jenner clan have worn cornrows, including Fergie, Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani, David Beckham and Jared Leto.

Within the Black community, cornrows tend to be worn more so for convenience, as well as a protective style when transitioning from relaxed to natural hair or growing the hair out until the desired length is achieved. They can also serve as a foundation for sew-ins, but cornrows had another purpose back when our ancestors were rocking them.

Read more of my latest piece for Ebony.com [here].

The History of the Fade

fade

[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this EBONY.com series exploring Black hair origins, we trace the fade haircut and other innovative barbering styles to the military, as well as Black barbershops

If there was ever a haircut that exemplified coolness, it has to be none other than the fade.

The hairstyle originated in the U.S. military around the ‘40s and ‘50s. Since the military is known for having strict grooming standards, it’s no surprise to learn that the fade haircut was and still is popular among military men, as the harsh lines and angles signaled you meant business.

Naturally, new times usher in new trends. Over the decades, Black folks experimented with different hairstyles, whether it was the afro or the infamous Jheri curl. By the time the mid-80s rolled around, a reworked, edgier version of the fade was emerging thanks to Black barbers. It would soon become a standard in hip-hop culture during its golden era.

We’re talking about the hi-top fade a.k.a. the flattop. Before Cameo, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B & Rakim and others made it their signature look, Grace Jones rocked one on her 1980 Warm Leatherette album cover. Because Queen Nefertiti’s crown closely resembles the hi-top, many believe it derived from Ancient Egypt.

“Hip-hop impacted the way we dressed and how we wore our hair especially,” says Greg Cooper Spencer a.k.a. GregTheBarber, a New York-based master barber and hairstylist with 20-plus years of experience. “Before this period, we relied heavily on Black leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali who sported afros, to influence how we engaged in society in addition to our look.”

“Just as hip-hop emerged, so did the artists who made sure their hair and wardrobe stood out, along with their music,” Spencer continues.

Helping to push the flattop into further notoriety was the popularity of rappers, including Kid ‘n Play and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, along with the box-office success of Do The Right Thing and Lean On Me. Though most common among men, a few women took the hi-top out for a spin, including Queen Latifah as seen in her “Ladies First” video.

Trends come and go with the hi-top fading out in the early ‘90s. With the exception of Black celebrities, including Nas, Kanye West, Usher, will. i. am., and Kendrick Lamar, modernizing it in the 2010s, the hi-top has gradually evolved back into a more tapered look much like how it started.

Read more of my latest piece for Ebony.com [here].

The History of Bantu Knots

Rihanna

[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this EBONY.com series exploring Black hair origins, we trace Bantu knots to the Zulu tribes of Southern Africa

If there was ever a contest for the family who has crossed the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation one too many times, the Kardashian-Jenner clan would likely finish in first place.

The cultural appropriation of Black hair, features, music, fashion, etc. has become so common that most of us are no longer fazed when the latest white celebrity misses the memo and suddenly finds themselves at the center of scrutiny.

Khloe Kardashian was schooled by Black Twitter a few months ago when she shared a photo of herself wearing Bantu knots with a caption that read: “Bantu babe.” After getting dragged online, Khloe deleted the photo, uploaded a slightly different one, and re-captioned it with, “I like this one better.” But, needless to say, the Internet never forgets. More recently, Black Twitter was reminded how much they disliked Khloe’s Bantu knots when they appeared in a recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Need another example of cultural appropriation gone wrong?

Back in January, Valentino was criticized when predominately white models were spotted wearing Bantu knots in the designer’s pre-fall 2016 lookbook. Marc Jacobs is still trying to live down spring of 2015 when he sent his models down the runway wearing Bantu knots. To make the situation worse, the folks at Mane Addicts apparently had never heard of Bantu knots because they published (and later deleted) a tutorial titled, “How-To: Twisted Mini Buns Inspired by Marc Jacobs SS15 Show.”

The popular beauty blog attributed the hairstyle to Jacobs’ SS15 show hairstylist, Guido Palau—who also styled the models’ hair for Valentino’s pre-fall 2016 lookbook. They took it one step further when they referred to Bantu knots as “twisted mini buns.” This was problematic because the name of the hairstyle is Bantu knots, and they’ve been worn by Black women for centuries. In other words, they’re nothing new, but by now we all get how columbusing works.

“Cultural appropriation by definition means norms that are valued by one culture being absorbed and claimed by the dominant culture,” says Banke Awopetu-McCullough, professor of developmental reading and writing at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from the University of Virginia.

“In regards to hair, cultural appropriation is particularly offensive because Black women have to fight for our natural beauty to be featured and valued,” Awopetu-McCullough continues. “When white women rock our styles without at least giving credit, it’s another example of the ways Black women are marginalized.”

Bantu knots made a comeback in recent years with celebrities such as Mel B. a.k.a. Scary Spice, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Rihanna, Blac Chyna, and Teyana Taylor stunning the masses. These women and plenty of others slayed Bantu knots, helping to bring them to the forefront. However, the hairstyle can be traced as far back to at least 1898.

Read more of my latest piece for EBONY.com [here]. 

NEW COVER ALERT: Marcus Scribner Covers SESI MAGAZINE’S Winter ISSUE!

Sesi Winter Cover.jpg

Have ya heard? Marcus Scribner from Blackish is Sesi magazine’s winter cover star. Thrilled to have not one but two stories in this issue! This time around, I penned an in-depth feature on breaking the circle of period stigma and I compiled a really, ahem, interesting holiday gift guide with present picks that’ll help you score major props with everyone on your list. Shipping starts mid-December, but you can set aside your copy today at sesimag.com/subscribe.