Staying Home in Los Angeles: We See Things As We Are

Six words have been popping up in all of my conversations lately: We see things as we are. In sessions with clients to catching up with my best friend, this phrase is an inevitable truth that has been my North Star as of the late. Los Angeles is staying at home in response to COVID-19, causing mass unemployment, immense fear, and a larger debilitating anxiety casting a shadow over the city. However, the truth is, this shadow existed for many residents prior to this pandemic. The city of Los Angeles has a population of at least 52,765 people experiencing homelessness. A lack of sanitation, bathrooms, and general respect for those without homes has dimmed what is known as the city of stars. The cost of living thrives as a threat to those who keep the city running – grocery store workers, janitors, security guards, parking attendants, and even those with fancy degrees protecting the public like nurses and social workers. Amidst all those roles are folks who may be living without documentation of their citizenship. Despite this reality we’ve collectively coexisted within, we see things as we are. We see things from our perspective. We overlook what isn’t in our immediate peripherals.

Thus, social distancing has proven to be an interesting moment. It is a moment of leveling. Most of us are out of work. The majority of those who aren’t are still underpaid, under appreciated, and have never had their health more at risk. We’re all in here, together. We’re all responsible for one another, together. We’re a collective grappling with notions of freedom, security, and mortality. We’re here. And, according to Mayor Garcetti, we probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I’m solution-oriented in my life. I survive through a balance of simple indulgences and service to others. While I will continue to show up to be of service in all ways I am able to, the structures I operate within are just as faulty. Liberation is an ongoing journey, one that ebbs and flows with the trials and tribulations present from generation to generation. I realize that the structures in which I show up to be of service may very well crumble just as everyone else’s. A bittersweet reminder of the innovation life requires from us with a minute’s notice.

So, speaking of innovation and a solution-oriented perspective: What can we do? We can stay home, if that is our current purpose. We can innovate digital ways of supporting one another. We can commit to memory this fragment in time and vow to volunteer for crisis hotlines, an essential activity that can be done from the safety of your home after completing required trainings. Or, we can show up to work, conversely, if that is our given charge. But, big picture aside, we can do what the bare minimum has always been and will always be: We can be a good neighbor to those we live amongst, housed and unhoused. We can be a good ancestor to family members, elderly and young.

Riddled with anxiety and not sure where to start? Pick up the phone, call someone you love, and ask them what you can do for them today. This is your medicine. Take a dose as many times as you need.

Interrogating Interest Convergence: Jay-Z, the NFL, and the Lives of Black Folk

Jay-Z is America’s favorite Black capitalist. He rests as the pentacle of a favorable Black American dream: a Hustler (note the capital H) to a millionaire, Beyonce’s husband, a reformed cheater, an advocate for the black community. If you just heard a record scratch in your head when reading the phrase an advocate for the black community, then you’re likely not alone.

Jay announced on August 13th that he was teaming up with the NFL for a social justice initiative. Vague in the announcement, we were left with a video of Jay-Z at a press conference on a room full of white men, presumably NFL affiliates, asking everyone if they knew what the cause of Colin Kapernick’s protests were. Every person answered, “Police brutality.” Then, Jay-Z said it was time to take on an actionable item (this is all my paraphrasing, peep the direct receipts here).

Never mind that Colin Kapernick was not involved in this actionable agenda Jay was vaguely speaking of – that in of itself is complex, considering Colin did receive a settlement from the NFL. However, as many of us waited sans baited breath and instead many a side-eye for Jay to drop what was supposed to be the most fire social justice initiative the NFL has ever signed onto, there was a doubtful energy looming amongst the subsequent headlines.

Apart of the complexity of this matter rests in the identity politics at play. Jay-Z loves money. He speaks on this love frequently and has been known to use his wealth for the advancement of the Black people. So, why team up with the NFL to create the Inspire Change initiative? All Inspire Change offers to do is sell merchandise with proceeds benefitting organizations that inspire change. Yet, one of these organizations – Chicago’s Crushers Club – appears to be even more problematic than this whole situation. From stating All Lives Matter to cutting off a young man’s dreadlocks and saying this was a sign of his change and forward progression, this isn’t exactly the first Chicago-based organization I would think should be pocketing money.

On the flip side, wonderful black artists who regularly engage in meaningful work like Meek Mill, Vic Mensa, and Rapsody have signed on to either perform at the free Inspire Change concert and/or mentor youth. To provide a quick recap: Jay-Z partners with racist organization who blackballed Colin Kapernick from having a job to promote social justice in an initiative that sells clothing and donates subsequent proceeds to organizations doing “meaningful” work like cutting off a young black man’s dreads in the name of personal advancement but is also partnering up with wonderful Black artists who are consistently engaging in transformative. What gives?

This is something called interest convergence. Interest convergence is a Critical Race Theory term used to better understand the deep-rooted strategies of structural oppression. In short, interest convergence is when a dominant party (dominant meaning they hold more social power) provides the target party (target meaning they are oppressed and are systemically targeted by the dominant party) with resources, support, or some form of measurable power for the betterment of the dominant party’s image. In interest convergence situations, the dominant party is always benefitting more than the target party, however the target party is also reaping some benefits.

To apply this to Jay-Z, the NFL, and the associated parties, think of the NFL as the dominant party or the oppressor. They hold a large amount of social power through their organization and the supporters of their organization. Jay-Z and, well, Black people, are the target party. Black folk hold a large amount of social power as well – don’t get me wrong – but politically speaking, it is disproportionately less than the NFL’s. Jay-Z is a Black person directly benefitting financially from this partnership, along with affiliated artists who are likely being compensated for their performances, and the message of social impact is being broadcasted. Sounds pretty good, right? Wrong. The Crusher’s Club mess stands as one of the cracks that often appears when interest convergence is at play. Crusher’s Club clearly as an agenda of their own, one that is palatable to the conservative, heterosexual, white male agenda of the NFL. This actionable agenda feels like another charity-driven ploy to line the pockets of the NFL – similar to their Breast Cancer Awareness Initiative where only 8% of the proceeds went towards breast cancer research.

Some may say any awareness and money benefitting Black-focused social justice initiatives can be seen as a positive. But, read the fine print and maintain a skeptical mind. All that glitters isn’t gold, the black man is getting paid but best believe he is still sleeping in the master’s house.

To learn more about Critical Race Theory, consider purchasing a copy of Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Through purchasing the book via the linked website, you are supporting a Black-owned business!

We Hid Escape Routes in Our Roots: Honoring the History of Hair Braiding in the Black Community

I keep having dreams where I am a few years older than I am now with long box braids grazing my waist. In these dreams, I am always in a blazer and trousers, either giving a lecture in a classroom or tending to a public speaking engagement, grazing shoulders with key decision-makers in our country. Without fail, I have these long braids. I grew curious if this is a vision of how I will claim space as a Black woman, scholar, and activist as society’s perception of my youth wanes.

Solange gave us a song for it, articles have been written about it, Coachella season has come synonymous with appropriation season. Black hair holds a sort of tension, one where many will demand to touch, tease, assault the follicles. If the hair isn’t being touched without permission, then it is often free reign and cultural appropriation – meaning, the co-opting of black hair styles with no respect nor knowledge of the history of the hair styles – is prevalent.

I found myself intrigued. Why did I see visions of myself wearing braids when I dreamt of situations where I would be claiming space and stepping into a power dynamic weighted in my favor? I believe in no stone being unturned and rebuke the notion of coincidence. Braids seemed to creep into my dreams when I was standing in my full purpose, and thus my inquiry turned to an investigation. In this investigation, I began to research how braids were used in ancient African communities and during slavery, tracing the deep lineage to the present day.

Black hair, whether brushed out in a natural fro, braided tightly to the scalp, or shaped into rope-like locs, is a symbol of dignity. It was common in ancient African countries for hair politics to be status signifiers – for example, a person who belonged to a particular tribe or held a status of some sort would have a specific braid design that would symbolize this differentiation. However, when Africans were enslaved, they often had their heads shaved by their masters to appear more “sanitary.” This was a gross erasing of culture, where Africans were forced to discover modes of hair care and using hair as a signifier under inhumane circumstances. Reclaiming autonomy while appeasing the master’s deviant demands meant braiding the hair close to the scalp, tucking away curls with the goal of keeping them and crafting hair styles that would last through a week of laboring. Thus, during slavery, headwraps and cornrows were common ways of caring for black hair, giving the term protective styles true meaning. The below documentary produced by Elle is a fantastic primer on the history of braids and provides even more the reason to not appropriate, should you be deliberating if braids are something you should pursue even if it is outside of your own cultural practices.

In looking at how braids were used as a means of survival in the black community, I found the below video, originally posted on Essence by way of @knowyourcaribbean on Instagram, that showed the practice of braiding rice into hair. The post explains that African woman did this while undertaking the Middle Passage journey, a treacherous facet of slavery that millions didn’t even survive. In caring for their own, mothers would also braid rice or seeds into braids before suspected separation due to slave auctions.

Slaves would also braid escape routes into their hair. The source for this data falls back on an Afro-Colombian woman named Ziomara Asprilla Garcia who shares about the ancestral practice of escape routes being braided into hairstyles in her home country of Columbia. As mentioned earlier, Asprilla Garcia also spoke on how hairstyles were a mode of communication within communities, with matriarchal figures having a different style of braids, a symbol that slipped under slave owner’s noses while communicating to the community of enslaved people.

This information illuminates the power of oral history and how Black folk held traditions and transferred information to the greater community. Braids communicating slave routes and holding essential nourishment like rice and seeds – these are pieces of information that still have yet to be widely documented outside of the Black community. It is not heavily indoctrinated into academia, and when I posted about this on Instagram, I was actually met with doubt and chastised for not having “reputable sources.” This harkens to the gatekeeping of information that thrives within our society. A practice that had to be whispered for safety grew into a practice for convenience and communication that today lives as an intersection of style, power, honor, and self-care. I share this information as an invitation to imagine the vast realm of things not tethered into dominant society’s formal modes of gathering information, how the foundation of hushed networks illustrating paths to freedom lead to the survival of black folk. None of what I share in this post is likely to be news to black folk – however it may be news to those outside of the community.

Yes, I had a dream, but it was simply a reminder from my ancestors: Power lies in the even the smallest of details. Claim your roots.

All images sourced via Tumblr.

Currently Reading: The Warmth of Other Suns

If you quiet your mind long enough, you can hear the hums of black families migrating from South to North, crowns beaming with pride and chests brimming with hope. Isabel Wilkerson’s magnum opus The Warmth of Other Suns serves as an encyclopedia of Black legacy during The Great Migration. Over 1000 interviews were conducted to create numerous vignettes rich with hardship and illuminated with resilience. Shush, read, let the words fall like sweet nectar as you are wrapped in the warmth of triumphant voices.

I’m a firm believer that true education lies in listening to one another. This title invites readers to step into the intimate worlds of black families who believed in claiming a life worth living, encountering grave danger and the perils of systemic racism along the way. There are accounts within this book that remind me of my father and others that align more closely with my aunt. Some sound like quotes that could have come straight from my cousins. Though my family’s story does not involve migration – in fact, we are born and bred Missourians (nevermind that I grew up in the California sunshine), the root themes of legacy, strength, and an unwavering sense of bravery is flush on each page.

Have you read this title before? Drop a note and share what your greatest take away from this work was.

Keep the coins in our community! Please consider supporting Black-owned business and note that this title is available for purchase at Mahogany Books

Nipsey Hussle: A Retrospective

When I thought about creating the Retrospective portion of this website, I thought about my personal mission of uplifting narratives of resilience in the Black community. The idea of a Black person having a space – whether it is the bottom floor of the Los Angeles MOCA a la Kerry James Marshall or a simple dedication on a digital platform like this – acknowledges the inherent regality that thrives in our community. I wanted to craft a regular, ongoing space that builds on the concept that Black people are worthy of celebration and their lives should be continually praised. A retrospective suggests that a person created work so notable, it is worth digesting with a wide lens and a ravenous mind. These posts may not encapuslate the full spectrum of everything a person has done, but they will always encourage readers to meditate on the influence created, even if for just a moment.

There is one man that immediately came to mind when I thought of whom I would want a reader to spend time meditating on. He broke Los Angeles’ heart when he left this earth. My husband and I streamed his albums nonstop in the months following his death, a practice we still slip into weekly with the goal of putting money back in his family’s pocket. Ermias Joseph Asghedom. Nipsey Hussle.

There was never someone quite like him in the game. Intelligence, spirituality, a growth mindset, someone who never shunned the block where he came from. He was open about his experiences within gang culture and denounced gun violence. His entrepreneurial endeavors positioned community, dignity, and self-preservation at their core. He was a proud parent and built a beautiful blended family with girlfriend Lauren London.

He was a God to the youth of South Los Angeles and when he left earthside, the city’s heart cracked and the roots of Hip Hop splintered. This post is as much a tribute as it is a celebration. Listen to his music, hear his voice through your speakers. Watch his interview and consider how you can carry on the legacy he left. View his photos and take a moment to pray for his wellness, wherever he may be now. His essence lives on – Los Angeles, Hip Hop, and the world at large will never be the same.

May the marathon continue.