Open Letter to my Single Sista

My Dear Beautiful, Single Sista,

I wanted to write you this letter today because you've been on my mind lately. I've been thinking about you because I, too, am single. So I know what its like to walk a step, a mile, and beyond in your shoes. There are so many messages of discouragement out there for us but today I wanted to send you a message of encouragement.

I'm not going to repeat any of the cliches that people generally deliver to you - you've heard them all. And if we're around the same age then I know, by this point in your life, that you're tired of hearing them all. I also know you've had enough of the well-meaning but misplaced intentions of coworkers, friends and family who don't understand how you feel. They've been paired up for years and don't know what its like to date in the information age. They can't relate to the disappointment and frustration of online dating, of being courted via email and text message, or of attending parties and events in order to 'put yourself out there'. I know that that gets old, and sometimes you feel like there's no longer a point.

I know what it feels like to be lonely. Girlfriend I know that sometimes you just want to stay at home, watch tv on the weekends, and not have to worry about constantly putting your best face forward to the world. And part of this letter is to let you know that someone feels your pain. Because when you look around, sometimes you don't see that. When the sweet old lady at church tells you to keep praying, to hold on and wait for the Lord, yet her man is there, I know what that feels like. When your girlfriend who always has a man - you know the one - tells you to stop sweating it and do you, girl I know what that feels like. And when you think about your dreams of companionship and children, yet don't see how in the world its going to become reality, you should know that I feel that too.

This letter isn't about faith. I'm not going to suggest you pray, work out, go out, asked to be set up, or post any online profiles. This letter is strictly about you.

Now remember I said I totally know where you're coming from, sista. So from this mutual place of singlehood, my encouragement for you today is for you to live the best life you can. Use this time to really love YOU. Not to prepare for a man, not to lose weight for a man, not to get your credit straight for a man - but do whatever you do simply for you.

I think the problem that we face is that we look outside ourselves too much. Instead of focusing on how we feel, on the now that is in front of us, we dwell on past relationship mistakes and hopes for the future. Sometimes we think about the present - but only to notice that the person we are hoping for has not yet arrived. And repeatedly doing that to ourselves is making us miserable.

So sista, I advocate for you to stay home and not force yourself to go out, if you're not feeling it that night. But really treat yourself to a night in. Paint your toes, take a bubble bath with your favorite product, watch your favorite movie (my fave is the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice) or a movie you've been dying to see (and maybe don't want to admit to anyone else that you Really enjoy you. Be the best lover you can to yourself. Ok ok ok... I said I'd stay away from the cliches, but that one is really helpful for us, if we truly understand what it means. If we get so wrapped up in being good to ourselves, thats less time to dwell on being lonely.

And when you do go out, don't focus so much on going places to meet men. Lets start going to those places we've been dying to go to, like a new club or restaurant that we've been eyeing. Lets not wait until someone takes us, lets start taking ourselves. And everything doesn't have to be a girlfriend outing either. Sometimes two single gals together will drive each other up the wall. Like I said, do what you want for that evening. Don't always feel like you have to have a friend or a crew with you. Take yourself to dinner, a movie, a play, or even a club (with safety in mind). Because whether you meet the guy of your dreams or not, it'll be a shame to look back on this time when you're older and wish you wouldn't have wasted it. All we really have is now, so lets start living in it.

I hope this helps sista. Take care and treat yourself better than anyone else can.


Missing or Murdered Sisters

There's an interview over on Black and Missing of Stephanie Jones, founder of M.O.M.S. One passage particularly stuck out in my mind:

10. Why do you think it took the media so long to talk about this? Do you think race or social class plays a role?

I feel that race and social class play a part in this but more social class than race. I say this because if one white person goes missing you hear about it everywhere. There was a murder about a year ago [around the same time of the NC serial killer murders] to two [white] Christian women who participated extensively in their communities. One was shot, and the other killed. The police blocked all the streets off, had press conferences and they quickly caught the guy. I don't have a problem with that and they should have done that, but at the same time when they found the second [serial killer victim’s] body in the same area and both women fitted the same profile why didn't they have a press conference? Why didn't they block those streets off? When the parents first reported the girls missing, the police did not get a search crew, and no police officers walked the streets with the missing girls photos asking if any one seen them. I know this situation is different because it’s a lot of people involved, but the officials could have done more to help the situation. I just want all people to get the same treatment as anyone else. It shouldn’t matter your color, income or where you from.

Last summer, I remember being a little surprised to see missing black women being featured on CNN. We've been saying for a while now that missing black women don't get the same media coverage or attention placed on their return. Kudos to Stephanie Jones for spearheading efforts to make sure our sistas make it back home.

Dare to dream, my sistas

So I'm sitting here eating butter pecan ice cream, beating myself up for all the indulging I've done over the last week, and trying to motivate myself to jump back on the fitness and healthy eating wagon next week. I was brainstorming ideas for a new post... but my mind keeps wandering to Paris.

You see, my ultimate dream is to be my own boss, travel the world and write fantasy novels. If there's one place in the world that I'd live, it'd be Paris. My only time in that city was 4 days during a study abroad trip in 2005. But I've been in love with it ever since.

I'm hard to see, but that's me in the red tank top.I could've made the move happen by now. But me being young and naive, I let the criticism of others overshadow my dream. "You're too old," some said. "How will you earn money? When will you come back?" Others asked me. Having to have all the answers now became very daunting the more and more I talked about my dream. Then there were those 'friends' and acquaintances who poked holes in the answers that I did have, or who were quick to remind me that I was likely to get kidnapped and sold into modern-day slavery by human traffickers. You know, since its so safe in the States and all.

But the love of close family and friends helped me to cultivate that dream again, and join my desire to live in Paris with my desire to be my own boss. And voila, the genesis of those two ideas led me to start Black Girl Tees. The mission of my online store is to help other sistas believe in themselves, see themselves as beautiful and to feel good about what they wore.

The hardest part of starting on the road to a dream is sometimes taking the first step. But after you've taken a few steps, left your starting point behind, what do you do then? I'm kinda at that point.

My affirmation for today is that I vow to take things to the next level, to keep reaching for my dream, and to tune out the voices of the naysayers. What's really ironic to me is that I've received more help, support and words of encouragement for my business and my dream of living in Paris from people who are not black, than from black people! This is not the first time I've experienced this but I'm still shocked and disappointed with every occurrence.

So my sistas, what are your dreams? What do you aspire to? What is that thing that keeps you awake at night with excitement, fear and anxious anticipation? I'd love to hear your stories and encourage you to keep striving. Leave me a comment and let's continue to dream and reach together.

Finally -- a story that doesn't just reiterate 'black women looking for their Barack'

Marriage eludes high-achieving black women
Many remain single and childless, according to new research

Michelle Obama appears to have it all, but marriage and family eludes many highly educated black women.

By Brian Alexander contributor

Michelle Obama may have become an archetypal African-American female success story — law career, strong marriage, happy children — but the reality is often very different for other highly educated black women.

They face a series of challenges in navigating education, career, marriage and child-bearing, dilemmas that often leave them single and childless even when they’d prefer marriage and family, according to a research study recently presented at the American Sociological Society’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

Yale researchers Natalie Nitsche and Hannah Brueckner argued that “marriage chances for highly educated black women have declined over time relative to white women.” Women of both races with postgraduate educations “face particularly hard choices between career and motherhood,” they said, “but especially in the absence of a reliable partner.”

And there’s the rub. As noted in a recent Sexploration column, contrary to old media reports, most educated, professional women who want to marry can and do marry. But the picture is less bright for high-achieving black women because “marriage markets” for them have deteriorated to the point that many remain unmarried, the researchers found. Since these women also feel pressured not to become single mothers, they often go childless as well, the researchers found.

In the study, Nitsche and Brueckner used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey of 50,000 households dating back to the 1970s to tease out data points on race, gender, education, marriage and fertility.

Among black women with postgraduate educations born between 1956 and 1960, the median age at which they gave birth for the first time was 34 years old. This was about the same as it was for white women in the same demographic. But once white women reached their 30s, many more of them did give birth, often more than once. Many black women did not. The rate of childlessness among this group of black women rose from 30 percent for those born between 1950 and 1955, to 45 percent for those born between 1956 and 1960.

The rate of childlessness does moderate somewhat in highly educated black women born between 1961 and 1970. In this group, 38 percent have remained childless.

Beyond the personal interests of individual women, the trend is significant because “in terms of American society, this is one additional obstacle” to the broadening of the black middle class, Brueckner said. Fewer highly educated black people having children means that they cannot pass on those advantages and knowledge.”

This defeats the goal of affirmative action, argue some demographers. The idea behind assuring that blacks had access to higher education and graduate school was that after a generation or so, African-Americans would reach a kind of achievement parity after generations of suffering educational and career restriction. But if black women, who comprise 71 percent of black graduate students, according to the census data, do not have children, the rate of achievement reaches a kind of familial dead end.

Another Yale sociologist, Averil Clarke, who has written a soon-to-be-published book called “Love Inequality: Black Women, College Degrees, and the Family We Can’t Have,” sees the impact of this demographic trend in a slightly different, and more romantic, light. It’s not about passing on economic and educational advantages, though these concerns are valid, she said. It’s about love.

“I think this inequality can be construed around outcomes in love,” she said. “We are very caught up right now in [the controversy] over gay marriage. Well, what are we arguing about? Whether people can have these kinds of emotionally satisfying experiences and if not, if that is unequal.” She also believes that these demographic facts, and the reasons for them, constrain the sexuality of some African-American women. She has found that many more are celibate than are white women with similar education levels. “So for me it matters because love matters.”

Declining marriage chances
One big reason why these women remained childless is, as one might expect, that they go unmarried, experts say. Among highly educated women of both races, about 22 percent between the ages of 20 and 45 were single in the 1970s. But then that number diverged. It has remained the same for white women, but now 38 percent of black women have never been married.

“Their marriage chances have declined,” Brueckner explained. “This may sound trivial but one reason is that they outnumber men in this education group.” The disparity in education is important because Americans have a strong tendency to marry those with equal levels of education, a trend that has only grown stronger since World War II. “So since there are fewer men with the same education,” Brueckner continued, “you either have to find another group you can marry or you are out of luck. You have nowhere to go.”

Highly educated black men tend to “outmarry” (marry outside race, religion or ethnicity) at a higher rate than black women, researchers say. Think of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates or Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Both married white women.

Black women are either much more reluctant to marry outside their race, or do not have the opportunity to do so. The answer is both, Clarke said.

In interviews with a large number of black women, she found that community pressures on black women to marry black men can be more intense than the reverse.

“A greater negative reaction falls on them,” Clarke said. “Some women in my sample told stories of African-American men on college campuses getting upset if they dated outside the race. There seems to be a sense of some policing of women’s sexuality. I think women are more controlled by these community and family pressures around who they should date. Men have greater freedom.”

But it may also be true that even highly educated black women who are willing and able to pursue a relationship with a man of another race won’t have the opportunity. A sociological line of inquiry called “exchange theory” suggests that in the piggy bank of goods each of us brings to a possible relationship — money, smarts, sense of humor, looks, family background, education, gender — African heritage is devalued compared with European or Asian heritage. African-American females, even with lots of education, do not fetch as much “value” in the marriage market.

That may be a cold way to look at love, romance, and sex, but studies dating back to the 1980s support it.

Of course if highly educated black women felt free to have children outside of marriage, they could still have a family. When some white women make that choice it is often seen as a kind of liberal empowerment.

But according to Clarke, black women are concerned about looking "ghetto." Public interpretation of our actions matter for everyone, but especially for black women, Clarke explained. “When it comes to the issue of black women and should or should they not make a choice to have a child alone, these women are very much aware that the decision to do it makes people question their class status. We associate single unwed child bearing with poor African-American women.”

Not all women who remain unmarried and childless are unhappy about it. But for a set of sometimes complex social reasons, some high-achieving black women find themselves disappointed. “That this is something being denied to people is important in and of itself,” Clarke said.

Focus on Self vs. Activism

It is no secret that I want the 'strong black woman' image to die a swift and permanent death. My feeling is that black women had to be strong in the face of our changing communities in the 80s. After Reaganomics, drug epidemics, HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths, black-on-black crime, raising fatherless children, and the general burden of racism, we've evolved into women who are frequently separated from notions of femininity. (Just writing that sentence made me tired...whew!)

I want this image to die so we can fully step into our femininity. There's nothing wrong with being strong, but we are not allowed to be tired. Even bodybuilders have to take a break from their training programs and let their muscles recover. Black women are not allowed that same luxury. What did Atlas do after the world was no longer on his shoulders? What can we do, as black women, to give ourselves a breather from the worries that plague us day-in and day-out?

That topic is for another day and another post. In my mind, the strong black woman has now manifested two other phases of black womanhood: those who tirelessly and selflessly work to uplift the black community and those who blissfully ignore the struggle.

I remember pondering this question in college at FAMU. There were the race-conscious natural sistahs who immersed themselves in politics, activism and positive upliftment of the black community. When I think of the strong black woman, this is generally the image that comes to mind. The flip side of that coin are the 'glamour girls', the model-type chicks who pranced around those highest of seven hills in 3+ inch heels, fresh wraps and the latest fashion statements. As a young woman, I struggled to define where I fit into that continuum. I think I'm somewhere in the middle: I love shoes (but won't break the bank for them); I've been natural before and understand the politics of how black women wear their hair in the workplace, community, church etc. But it was when I stepped from behind an image, and stopped trying to fit into a mold, that I found you could be both at the same time.

Here are two examples:

Ms. Activist - Blaqueindigo
Her About Me: I am about revolution, cultivation, grow and change in our community locally and globally. "i dont want no peace. I need equal right and justice."-Peter Tosh

Ms. Glamour Girl - Lovher989
Her About Me: wasn't filled out, and she's only done a few videos. But her video is a great example of the mindset I'm discussing.

These two women are not allowed to be the same person. Blaqueindigo would be discounted as an activist, if she made videos discussing clothes, fashion and makeup; presumably, its ok for her to do loc vids because locing is seen as a form of freedom from the oppression of chemicals. But why couldn't she be an activist and wear her hear how she chose? If she is working to uplift black women and the black family, why can't she do both things at the same time?

And that is the root of the problem I have with the Strong Black Woman image - the strong black woman is not allowed to look inward and indulge in her own interests, because everything is about taking care of others. For alot of us, we practice our makeup, read celebrity news and scour the internet for great shoe bargains as our respite from having to carry so much. But as soon as you go from every day black woman to Activist, you aren't supposed to care about those trivial things anymore. Why? Who made that rule? Methinks it was a man...

Anyway, these two images frequently enter my mind. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the ways that women can do both, or even if you think I've missed the mark on what these images mean.

"She's pretty for a dark-skinned girl" by Tameka Raymond

I am a dark-skinned African American woman with features that reflect my ancestry. Debates regarding Light vs. Dark and other biases have plagued our race for years and continues to impact millions of Black women. The deeply rooted intra-racial contempt that lies beneath this inane "compliment" is the reason I've chosen to spark dialogue surrounding the topic of self-hatred in our culture. It saturates every aspect of our lives, dominating the perspectives of our generation as a whole. We culturally are so influential, at times inadvertently, that we affect all with the words we utter and the images we portray. It lends to the theory of systemic racism. I'm authoring this piece because I'm miffed by this reality and would like to share my views on these subjects.

It is a fact that many African-Americans are often mixed with an array of other ethnicities (as am I), which allows for the spectrum of our features to be as distinctive and special as we are diverse. Why is it felt that the more diluted our traditionally African features become the more aesthetically acceptable we are considered? It was said in the 1960s and the sentiment seems to be forgotten, "Black is Beautiful." Wow, nearly 50 years later and is that now only meant for a specific shade? Nonetheless, I believe the beauty of our people and splendor of every individual is reflected in our varying features and hues.

Often dark-skinned women are considered mean, domineering and standoffish and it was these very labels that followed Michelle Obama during the campaign for her husband's presidency and which she has had to work tirelessly to combat. I was appalled when I heard a Black woman refer to Michelle Obama as unattractive. The conversation turned into why President Obama picked her as his mate. No one in the witch-hunt made reference to the possibility that Michelle Obama was smart, funny, caring, a good person, highly accomplished or brilliant. Nor did they mention that she previously was President Obama's supervisor. If she were fair skinned, petite with long straight or wavy hair, would the same opinions be linked to her? I seriously doubt it. It is believed that for the dark skinned, dreams are less obtainable.

(con't over at the Huffington Post)

I still don't really understand why Tameka Raymond receives the hate she does on the internet. We dig into black men who date light-bright-damnnearwhite women, or interracially, saying that they should choose women that look like the men's mothers. Well, Tameka looks like Usher's mama... In any event, this is a side of her you won't see on the gossip blogs, next to stories of her lipo surgeries. I find it an interesting, albeit familiar, read.

RIP to Naomi Sims

Naomi Sims, 61, Pioneering Cover Girl, Is Dead

Published: August 3, 2009

Naomi Sims, whose appearance as the first black model on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in November 1968 was a consummate moment of the Black is Beautiful movement, and who went on to design successful collections of wigs and cosmetics for black women under her name, died Saturday in Newark. She was 61, her family said, and lived in Newark.

She died of cancer, said her son, Bob Findlay.

Ms. Sims is sometimes referred to as the first black supermodel.

“Naomi was the first,” the designer Halston told The New York Times in 1974. “She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers.”

Ms. Sims often said childhood insecurities and a painful upbringing — living in foster homes, towering over her classmates and living in a largely poor white neighborhood in Pittsburgh — had inspired her to strive to become “somebody really important” at a time when cultural perceptions of black Americans were being challenged by the civil rights movement and a renewed stress on racial pride.

When Ms. Sims arrived in New York on a scholarship to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1966, there was very little interest in fashion for black models and only a handful who had been successful, like Dorothea Towles Church, who starred in the couture shows in 1950s Paris, and Donyale Luna, who was named Vogue’s model of the year in 1966.

In need of money, Ms. Sims, with her heart-shaped face and long limbs, was encouraged by classmates and counselors to give it a try. But every agency she approached turned her down, some telling her that her skin was too dark.

Undeterred, Ms. Sims decided to approach photographers herself. Gosta Peterson, a photographer for The Times, agreed to photograph her for the cover of its August 1967 fashion supplement, then called Fashions of The Times.

The agencies were still not interested, so Ms. Sims, showing a dash of enterprise that would later define her career, told Wilhelmina Cooper, a former model who was starting her own agency, that she would send out copies of the magazine to advertising agencies with Ms. Cooper’s number attached. Ms. Cooper could have a commission if anyone called back.

Within a year, Ms. Sims was earning $1,000 a week and had been hired for a national television campaign for AT&T, which showed her and two other models — one white and one Asian — wearing fashions by Bill Blass.

“It helped me more than anything else because it showed my face,” Ms. Sims told Ladies’ Home Journal the following year, when she appeared on its cover, the first time a black model was featured so prominently in a mainstream women’s publication. “After it was aired, people wanted to find out about me and use me.”

Ms. Sims was suddenly in high demand, modeling for top designers like Halston, Teal Traina, Fernando Sánchez and Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, and standing at the vanguard of a fashion movement for black models that would give rise to runway stars of the 1970s, including Pat Cleveland, Alva Chinn and Beverly Johnson.

Two images of Ms. Sims — one from the 1967 Times fashion magazine cover and the other from a 1969 issue of Life — are in the current Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “The Model as Muse.” In a catalog, the curators Harold Koda and Kohle Yohannan wrote, “The beautifully contoured symmetry of Sims’s face and the lithe suppleness of her body presented on the once-exclusionary pages of high-fashion journals were evidence of the wider societal movement of Black Pride and the full expression of ‘Black is Beautiful.’ ”

But Ms. Sims, in interviews, often said she held the industry in low regard because of the way male executives treated her and, more generally, she said, “because people have the idea that models are stupid.”

After five years, she gave up modeling and started a wig-making business with styles designed for black women. It eventually expanded into a multimillion-dollar beauty empire and at least five books on modeling and beauty.

“There is nothing sadder than an old, broke model, and there are many models who have nothing at the end of their career,” Ms. Sims told The Times in 1969.

Naomi Ruth Sims was born on March 30, 1948, in Oxford, Miss., the third of three daughters of John and Elizabeth Sims. Her father was a porter. Her parents divorced shortly after she was born, and all she knew of her father, she told Ladies’ Home Journal, was “that my mother told me he was an absolute bum.”

The family moved to Pittsburgh, where her mother became ill and Ms. Sims was placed in foster care. She remained close with her sisters, and followed the next oldest, Betty, to New York after graduating from Westinghouse High School.

Her 1973 marriage to Michael Findlay, the Manhattan art dealer, ended in divorce in 1991. Besides their son, Bob, who lives in Seattle, she is survived by Betty Sims, who lives in Manhattan, and a granddaughter. Doris Sims, her oldest sister, died in 2008.

In addition to pursuing studies at F.I.T., Ms. Sims took night courses in psychology at New York University but gave them up when her modeling career took off and she became a celebrity, running in a glamorous crowd that included Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol.

She retained, however, the sense of propriety that her foster parents had instilled in her. In 1972, the producers of the movie “Cleopatra Jones” sought to cast Ms. Sims in the title role, but she turned it down because, she said, she was offended by its racist portrayal of black people. (The role went to the model Tamara Dobson.)

In 1973, Ms. Sims decided to start her own business. As a model, she often did her own hair and makeup, since many studio assistants were unfamiliar with working with darker skin. And she noticed that most commercially available wigs were designed for Caucasian hair, so she began experimenting with her own designs, baking synthetic hairs in her oven at home to create the right texture to look like straightened black hair. Within five years, her designs, produced by the Metropa Company, had annual sales of $5 million.

She also began writing books, including “All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman,” “How to Be a Top Model” and “All About Success for the Black Woman,” as well as an advice column for teenage girls in Right On! magazine.

In the 1980s, she expanded the Naomi Sims Collection to include a prestige fragrance, beauty salons and cosmetics, but by the end of the decade she had become less involved with its daily operations. Many images of Ms. Sims from that period are still used to promote the products that bear her name.

Ms. Sims often attributed her success to using her race as an advantage.

“It’s ‘in’ to use me,” she said early on, “and maybe some people do it when they don’t really like me. But even if they are prejudiced, they have to be tactful if they want a good picture.”