I got the chance to read and discuss three chapters of a book for one of my Civic Engagement classes. The book is called “When Everything Changed” by Gail Collins (2009) narrates the stories of different and several women throughout the last five decades.
The book is divided into three parts. The chapters I have discussed with my group (chapter 10, 11, and 12) are part of Part III: Following Through, which highlights the most recent events that empowered women in many aspects of their lives, from political choices to cultural shifts that were able to make a major change in society. Chapter 12 was my favorite section of the assignment because it is set in the 1980s, in a decade were black women started receiving more and more space on national television. I shared my views and the most relevant notes I took with my classmates, mentioning also the influence that these sociological changes had in the fashion industry – with an increasing number of women dressing like men, with a boxy, baggy, masculine wardrobe (do fedoras, shoulder pads, and Yves Saint Laurent come across your mind?) However, as my professor noted either in fashion and journalism, light skinned women had an easier pass at the beginning. It has always been like this.
The discussions that my classmates and I had with our professor made me think about how women are treated and the differences that are solidly present yet timidly voiced among us creatives of color. This pushed me to reflect on the state of the minorities represented in the creative scenes among the world.
Being skinny isn’t anymore the one and only elitist privilege one has got to embody. When you enter a room, people in the fashion industry will judge you for the confidence you carry on your shoulders. Yet, there are still some privileges that are present unfortunately, that I’ve seen and experienced myself. Colorism is one of them. Being seen with a lighter amount of melanin in your skin can open you more roles. What needs to be fixed is the colorism among all black creatives, who are constantly challenged with their white counterparts.
How diverse Black people are
A lot of documents in the USA need to be filled and completed with a racial identification and for the longest time I’ve felt torn apart in what box to tick – White, Hispanic, Black? Who am I? How do I introduce myself to the world? This has affected my presence in the fashion industry. I needed to be educated and making sure to not appropriating of any culture that wasn’t mine. Usually I would be casted as “black woman” or I would receive a comment like “exotic“, but what those terms mean?
Brown vs Black: The aren’t written rules in defining who’s got the right to call themselves brown or black. As a light skinned person, I prefer to describe my complexion as brown, as the result of two races, white and black. I feel like I have experienced episodes that African American woman live, but not all of them. I recognize some of the privileges I grew up with, and I do this by also referring myself with a correct terminology. Most of the times I fit under the “black” umbrella, but I personally must know what is best to identify with.
Latino vs Hispanic: This one took me two solid years to understand the difference and to fully embrace my descriptive term. I am latina, but not hispanic. I have learned to correct myself and others, providing educated responses. Living in Queens for two consecutive summers was a collection of life lessons. I was mistaken many times for Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Spanish became naturally my fourth language, both for survival needs and convenience. In addition to that, I find myself often in a position of doubt, where people get me only when I say I’m Afro-Latina. This explains my accent, clearly neither American or Hispanic, but Italian. In the creative scene, especially in New York, there are many diverse groups of people. In four years, I’ve learned to perform an elevator pitch that would explain my origins in just a couple of seconds, without appropriating any culture or being disrespectful to anyone.
European vs African vs Asian: People of color (POC) are present in every part of the world. There are black Europeans and black Asians as well. Most of them are second or third generation born, and their families are from an African country. However, it is important, especially for North Americans, to know that not all black people experience the same stories. Not everyone knows the same historical facts, music, or foods. Being black isn’t a provincial reality, but a global one, very much spread out.
Being aware of the history and the current state of our surroundings is a demanding and time consuming process we must implement in our journey as creatives (models, performers, artists, musicians, etc.). There are some ways we can help both the community we’re part of and the one we’re most close by.
- Consume news written by the black community in media – publications like Essence and Ebony, are on the culprit, but there are so many other businesses that you can offer your time to, like Ethel’s club, the ccnyc, WellReadBlackGirl, and Noname’s book club;
- Read stories related to their narratives – for example those written by Nikole Hannah- Jones and Elaine Welteroth;
- write and engage in conversations with different kinds of media members from other parts of the nation and the world- there are so many web-seminars and Instagram lives you can tune in for free. The last one I got the chance to attend was with Nandi and the girls at influencingincolor.
I hope this post opened your eyes or at least made you think revaluate some aspects that our modern society has inside.
the curly flower