My thoughts on UO

The University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon video is all over CNN and my timeline on Facebook and Twitter. I have never seen a university react so quickly to anything. Universities are bureaucratic mines where ideas rarely lead to action with any sort of speed. However, I question whether they acted too quickly.

The fraternity members were absolutely wrong and should be ashamed for their words and actions, but hate speech is protected under the first amendment. The psychological damage of hearing the n-word is very real, but does completely suspending the fraternity set a bad precedent for universities being able to suspend students who say something they don’t agree with? There are deep-rooted institutional injustices that students of color face at predominantly white institutions everyday, and many of them chant in protest. Are they now subject to suspension if the administration does not agree? The fraternity has been suspended from campus for at least four years and fraternity members have been kicked off of the football team. This is serious.

I appreciate the message of an intolerance of bigotry that the University of Oklahoma president and Sigma Alpha Epsilon are trying to send by acting in this way, but I’m not sure these actions will yield the results they want. The 2014 movie Dear White People put incidents just like this one on the silver screen to show us who we are and how we react in the face of difference. It also showed us that the change in campus culture has to be within the student body, not the administration. This is not the first time that SAE chanted the n-word on the bus, and they are not the only Greek organization doing it. However, silencing the racists by taking away their frat house does not solve the problem. And condemning teenagers who want to be everything except different does not solve anything either. To what extent do you create a safer campus environment for some students, while silencing another group?

This is a many layered complex issue, and I certainly don’t have the answer to solve the problem. I just returned from Selma, Alabama where I participated in the activities commemorating the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and incidents like this are just another reminder that we have so much work to do. But, I believe we can all start with love. Love is patient and kind. You can never lose anything from showing love.


I’m a black ARTS journalist. I’m not a myth.

“I’m tired of jockeying for position in a profession that never hesitates to finger “racists” in public, but can’t see the very real racism in its own newsrooms.”

As I was scrolling through my Facbook news feed I noticed one of my friends posted a link to an article whose headline pierced me like the tusks of an ox: I’m A Black Journalist. I’m Quitting Because I’m Tired of Newsroom Racism,” written by Rebecca Carroll.

The photo that ran with the article is a promotional image from Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom. There are no black people at the fictional ACN network either. And all the women on staff are irrational workaholics who can’t maintain a healthy relationship with anyone and speak in falsetto all the time…but I digress…

I went to J-School twice–undergrad and grad–and have been a freelance journalist for three years. My beat is the arts, I write in print and online, and in my three post grad school years in the field I have not met a single other black print journalist. All of my editors have been middle aged white men and women. I personally know of one other black woman arts journalist and her name is Valerie Boyd, and she was my magazine writing professor in college.

What I have encountered over the past three years is A LOT of middle-aged white men who claim that they are too liberal to have any ethnic blind spots as it relates to reviewing and criticizing art. I have also encountered people who are surprised, and dare I say intimidated, by the fact that I can write in the first place. I graduated from two of the best journalism schools in the country, and when white people find out they look at me as if I am a Siren or cyclops or unicorn or big foot. I am none of the above.

As a matter of fact when I went to a theater conference last summer, the director of a black theater company in Texas said to me “Whoa! You’re the only one!” He might be right.

Currently I freelance for various arts publications and sites when I can, and work full-time at a magazine. However, I am not on the editorial staff, and there is only one person of color on the editorial staff. Why am I not on the editorial staff you may ask? Well, you try finding a full-time writing or editing job at a magazine and let me know how that goes. But, I do have a foot in the door and the ear of the publisher, and that’s a start.

This is why it disheartens me that Rebecca Carroll is leaving the newsroom. There is no Lean In with a “How to deal with racism and sexism at the same time” addendum for black women, but Sheryl Sandberg’s principles still apply: Every woman who throws in the towel makes it harder for the next one to get in the door. Ms. Carroll has paid her dues in this industry, so she will continue to be able to work, but what about the people just getting started?

I am by no means blaming her. After doing something for so long, you deserve not to have to deal with bullshit. Suffering for the art is cute and idealistic when you’re 20 and infuriating by the time you’re 40. I just wish things were different.

Read her article here:

My thoughts on the film “Dark Girls”

For the record, I’ve seen this documentary and attended a luncheon with one of the filmmakers– D. Channsin Berry–who directed/produced the film with Bill Duke. They’re planning to make a follow-up film called The Yellow Brick Road about light-skinned black women. The film was on OWN last night and the social media world was all a-buzz. I didn’t re-watch the film last night, but below are the thoughts I had after immediately watching the film back in February. Some time has passed. I feel the same:

  • Black people, people of color period, don’t tell their children that they are beautiful enough. My parents always praised me and invested in making sure I had high self esteem, but even they didn’t say it enough, and I have good parents. Imagine the little girls with bad ones.
  • Black men…I’m just ready to flat line on this one. Black men are so brainwashed about women and beauty and the only truth that came out of that whole section of the film is that no one knows how to fix black men’s perceptions of beauty
  • White men are not the answer to black women’s singleness issue. An article came out just a couple of weeks ago that they don’t want us either. No lie. It was on the Root.
  • Another truth that came out of that documentary is that it starts from within. We as black women cannot depend on the media or men or white people to lift us up. It’ll never happen if we do.
  • We also need to get out of this black is beautiful concept being a trend and turn it into a recognized truth amongst ourselves. We had it in the 60s and 70s, then the early 90s. Now we have the “natural hair movement.” As black people we are movement-ed out. It’s time to just be black and proud.
  • I think one of the most honest and poignant parts of the film was the lighter skinned mother saying that she could never fully understand her daughter’s plight. That is so real. It is so easy when you’re lighter not to see it, not out of being intentionally ignorant, but literally not seeing it.
  • I hate that men made this film.
  • This movie really isn’t that great, but the subject matter is provocative, but that’s just the critic in me talking
  • Everyone who ever #TeamLightSkin or #TeamDarkSkin or starts a sentence with “Dark skin girls always…” or “Light skin girls be like…” is a part of the problem. Get your oppression and foolishness off Twitter
  • I can not tell you how many times in my life I’ve been told that ‘I’m cool for a light skinned girl because most light skinned girls are stuck up’…as if that was supposed to be a compliment
  • We need to vow never to tell another child ever again to stay out of the sun or they’ll get dark…black people are fat and dying. They need to go out in the sun and run.
  • It’s hard to talk about colorism without talking about hair. My beautician in ATL always says, “There is no such thing as good hair or bad hair, it’s all just hair and it can all be styled and managed easily with the right products and education.”
  • Where is the anti-skin bleaching campaign? Where is the petition to the FDA? Where is the battle cry?
  •  I am so over this light skinned vs dark skinned debate. It is so tired, and it’s a shame that it’s still relevant. I mean Spike Lee had a whole musical number about this in School Daze in the 80s, and it was a tired subject then. We are all black, we are all beautiful, and we are all unique. We need to say these words to ourselves each day. It takes 28 days to form a habit. We need to form this one.
  • We as a people more than anything need to stop questioning each other’s blackness. Everyone has a different relationship with their race and that is theirs to have. Just because someone is darker or wears their hair a certain way or speaks a certain way does not make them any less or any more black. This type of internal strife only imposes limits on us, and we don’t need any more limits. Black people hit the limit quota a long time ago.

Is entrepreneurship the only way to make it as a journalist?

With the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, news-on-demand, breaking news on social media, bloggers, and the free market of ideas and news that the Internet has provided, it is safe to say that traditional print journalism will never be as it was before. The days of graduating from college, getting a job at a paper, and working your way up to being a hotshot editor are gone. Writing has always been a hustle, but with fewer publications with full-time staff writers, jobs are scarce, and the ones that exist are not often vacant.

This may be why many journalism schools have taken to teaching entrepreneurship, in addition to writing and reporting. PBS recently did a special called “Journalism Schools Become Incubators for Media Startups, Entrepreneurs.” After newspapers across the country started doing massive layoffs and buyouts, non-profit journalism, through organizations like Pro Publica and the Poynter Institute tried to pick up the slack. They became the place for investigative journalism, international journalism, and in-depth criticism to flourish, but they can only do so much.

Now, with further shrinking staffs and more publications going totally digital, j-schools are encouraging the next generation of news people to create their own platforms in order to be able to write about the things that matter to them. I have a BA in Magazine Journalism from The University of Georgia and a MA in Arts Journalism from Syracuse University, and I have never worked full time at a publication. I write as a freelancer for various arts publications, because I like writing about the arts, but I also know that full-time positions for arts critics, feature writers, and reviewers are becoming extinct.  In fact, while I was in grad school a couple of women in my program started an arts reviewing website in order to practice their crafts.

I’m not one to stop change, but I wonder, is entrepreneurship the only way to make it as a journalist now? Is journalism becoming a career for the privileged and tech savvy? And if it is, is digitization of the media isolating a certain population of readers?

Praising the best, or highlighting the achievement gap?

Newsweek’s list of the 2000 best high schools in America was released this week. As I was browsing through the list I started looking at my home state of Georgia to see if I recognized any of the schools on the list. I went to high school in Gwinnett County, which has long been one of the best, if not the best, school system in the state. Of the 16 high schools in the county, half made the list.

According to the Census, the median household income in Gwinnett County is $63,079. That’s $14,000 more than the median income in the state. Upon further perusal of Georgia’s section of the list, I realized every single high school on that list is in an upper middle class or upper class area of metro Atlanta. The students whose parents make the most money are getting the best education, are scoring higher on the SAT, and are going to college.

Now, this is nothing new. Numerous studies have proven that poverty leads to poor performance in the classroom.  However, now that we have this information, I see this as a call to action to reach out to the “least of these.” We talk about education reform all of the time in this country, and yet we don’t do anything differently and effectively. I personally think where we go wrong every time is looking for a blanket solution for something that needs to be addressed on an individual basis.

I could talk about this until I’m blue in the face, but instead I’ll conclude with this quote from music journalist Johanna Keller, “This country was built on the right to a great public education for all, no matter what level of society—I fear that we are losing what has made this country great.”

*I should note that my high school did not make the list this year.

Response to “The Weight Those Heels Carry”

Today’s New York Times ran an article by Felicia R. Lee about Kerry Washington’s role as Olivia Pope in the ABC television series Scandal. Through much of the article Lee wrote about how Washington’s portrayal of Pope impacts the often vile (or absent) image of black women in the media. She noted that Washington is only the second black woman to lead a hit network television series (Diahann Carroll in Julia came before her).

When it comes to images of minorities in Hollywood, in this case black women, I always say “Absence has just as much influence as presence, perhaps more.” What I mean by this is, the images we don’t see affect us just as much as the ones we do. Now, I will go on the record as saying I’m a fan of Scandal (I’m in front of the TV at 10pm every Thursday) and Kerry Washington (love it when she’s on Real Time with Bill Mahr!).

However to call her character a triumph and somehow different from other images of black women is…not inaccurate…but perhaps a reach…Take this quote from the article from a professor at Drexel University (for example):

“We’re putting a lot of our hopes on Kerry’s shoulders,” said Yaba Blay, an assistant professor of Africana Studies at Drexel University, who live-tweets about the show with a group of female academics. “The conversations about her go beyond the role, to the idea of representing us well as middle-class and upper middle-class, educated women,” mostly because of the scarcity of such images of black women.

“We are the same women the media has said are not attractive, are not marriageable,” she added.

But she’s not marriageable. She fits the bill of upper middle class, educated, successful, strong SINGLE BLACK FEMALE. She was the President’s mistress, not his wife, and the only other two men who have tried to step to her on the show both had ulterior motives. So is she throwing wine glasses at another woman’s head, or in line receiving welfare benefits, or taking care of someone else’s children? No. But is she all that different? I’m not so sure. She seems to be just another example of women not being able to have it all (have we met anyone in Olivia Pope’s family?).

Though, maybe the triumph is that I don’t care. I’m going to watch this disastrous affair and political melee play out until Shonda Rhimes is fresh out of ideas. What I did like about the article is the concluding quote from Ms. Washington. It’s very clear that she is passionate about her craft, and anyone who has performed on stage and had this moment will totally get it:

“Ms. Washington insisted, laughing, that she has not plotted out her career. She seems happy just to be an actor, fulfilling an old dream. At Spence, she recalled, after finishing Ophelia’s mad scene during a student production of “Hamlet,” catching a glimpse of her no-nonsense mother weeping in the audience.

“I thought ‘Wow,’ ” Ms. Washington said. “This woman who held me in her womb for nine months — and knows exactly who I am — for a moment something about this world allowed her to suspend her disbelief and believe I was some other person in some other time.

“I thought, ‘this is powerful.’ ””

Read the full article.