Thursday, December 26, 2013

Beyonce and Michelle Alexander: N.I.C.E. Picks for 2013, Naturally!

So, it is the Christmas/holiday season. Let me begin by saying Happy Holidays to all N.I.C.E. readers. During this season emotions are usually running high and people are excited so in the midst of all that, Beyonce dropped an album, without fanfare in terms of marketing, and shut Itunes down, literally, in the process.  So I took the time to listen to portions of her new album, because some were arguing that it is a feminist manifesto.   After listening to portions of it with my daughter, I became so intrigued that I purchased the album and watched every video, during a series of my workouts.  My analysis is below, but before heading there, another piece that is seriously worthy of consideration was also released by Bill Moyers with Michelle Alexander: http://billmoyers.com/segment/michelle-alexander-locked-out-of-the-american-dream/

If you are willing to listen to and watch Beyonce's new release, surely a moment to listen to Michelle Alexander is equally warranted. I noticed something about these two women.  Both are on fire in terms of their work, both are committed and both are passionate.  I don't think anyone can argue that.  I also have to give Michelle Alexander praise for her natural hair because there seems to be a correlation between wearing it as such and consciousness.  Her work is about caring, knowledge of the issue she is addressing, which is mass incarceration in the United States with an emphasis on Black people due to the disparity between incarceration of Blacks and Whites, for the same crimes, and doing something about it now.  She is indeed an absolute powerhouse and her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, is enlightening: http://newjimcrow.com.  So if you haven't read this book, you are simply walking around without significantly important information.  I taught a full semester class about this topic, using her book as the text, so the analysis was full and complete.  She is indeed the N.I.C.E. political and activist pick for 2013.

As for the analysis of Beyonce, there is a great deal to consider.  First, the album Beyonce is verbally and visually (the videos), sexually provocative in terms of many of the pieces.  This, for some, is very problematic because many of her fans are young, some very young, and exposure to some of what Beyonce is speaking of and presenting is definitely not for young ears or eyes.  Personally, I don't want to see or hear about Beyonce's or anyone's intimate sex life because I think it's personal.  Perhaps what happens in your bedroom or car or wherever else you want to be with your man, should stay in that venue, between you and him.  But, as I have been told, not everyone feels that way.  Some people want to know and see as much as possible, so she shared, big time, with those who want to hear and know and see.   This is the case with Haunted, Drunk in Love, Blow, No Angel, Yonce, Partition, Jealous, Rocket and somewhat in XO.  So essentially, what can be gathered from these pieces is that Beyonce's work exhibits a sexual being, exhibiting the classic Jezebel archetype (info about this archetype is here: http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/jezebel.htm), which is an unfortunate categorical stereotype of Black women.  This is not a negative critique of the work per se, but a mere indication of the archetype she has chosen to present consciously or unconsciously.

It seems, however, that Beyonce's new album has to be considered as a body of work, not as individual pieces because it  provides insight into the range of a black woman, namely Beyonce, rather than one way of looking at her.  Yes, she is provocative and sexual and objectifies herself in this album, but she has more to say than that.  Pretty Hurts is her first piece in the album and it seems to explain how she ended up as a blonde, objectified Black woman who started out as a little Black girl with her natural locks flowing and ended up, at this point, as the complicated  being that she is now.  In terms of her physical appearance, this can be somewhat confusing for individuals observing her work.  First and foremost, she is an artist so there is a great deal of room for complexity in her work that some will perhaps embrace while others are offended.  That's what art should do.  It should allow you to interpret it as you will with only the artist knowing the truth about it that you struggle to understand in viewing the work.  Flawless, speaks volumes as she tries to explain that confusion exists in this society about what girls and women should aspire to.  Some say Beyonce, the album, is a Feminist manifesto. I disagree, with that but Womanist (discussed below) perhaps would be a better description. She states "we flawless" in the rough, harsh, intense environment in which she also  states repeatedly "I woke up like this."   This is definitely a statement to reckon with.  It exudes strength and power in its simplicity and in essence a sense of power that black women often feel but often have no venue to express it without being referred to as angry or "b's."  I found it interesting that she stated "bow down b's" and appears agitated, hard and tattered in this piece while clearly indicating "we flawless."  In Superpower, she takes a revolutionary posture.  She is covered, then uncovered, camouflaged and speaking of love in a very connected, intense way, which is above and beyond any sexual provocation.  Clearly, intense hugging, glancing and the holding of hands with a man is all that is needed to express love as she walks through burning, raging chaos.  Facing the harshest of circumstances, she speaks of that bond that cannot be broken.  It is communal, it is strong, it is fierce, it is looking into each others eyes, holding hands and knowing, "we got this" together.  That, in a sense is powerful, beyond the frivolity or intensity (depending on how you look at it)  that she exhibited in the sexually provocative pieces. Heaven and Blue are purely about motherhood.  The loss of the one who left is exhibited in Heaven and the gain of another is demonstrated in Blue, a tribute to her living, breathing baby.  If only every mother had the opportunity to express the love for her first born, and all their subsequent children, in this way, the world would be a greater place. Every child could benefit from a public testament of her mother's love for her/him although the private sentiments generally serve us well.  Blue is the lucky one for the creation of this piece, even if no one else gets it.

The N.I.C.E. pick of the album,  is Grown Woman.  Why?  Because she takes us back to the natural and evolving Beyonce...when she was a little girl.  We see her at various points and that the energy that we see in her now, was in her as a child, naturally.  Her hair tells it all, as a little girl.  In terms of her hair, it was naturally untamed and free.  The braids, she wears as a teenager in which we see African styled Beyonce, indicate the style at the time but also that she was willing to embrace it.  In I'm A Grown Woman" she tells the world with, African interpretive dance movements that hark back to the continent without a doubt, that "I'm a grown woman, I can do whatever I want."   She then sits next to her mother and then with the babies at the end, looking regal.  There is something about being grown woman that can do whatever we want, in a patriarchal society.  It's complicated and in this piece, to simplify it, she just left men out completely.  She has already let men know in many of the prior pieces that I want you, I need you, I aim to please you and more, but at the end of the day she ends with "I'm a grown woman, and I can do whatever I want."   It is this final piece that leads to the perspective that in its totality, the artistic compilation by Beyonce is a Womanist venture either consciously or unconsciously. Her choice of a feminist, to speak in her work, is therefore relevant as feminism is a component of womanism. As coined by Alice Walker, another amazing Black woman,  the definition, in part, of a womanist is:

From womanish.  (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.)  A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman.  Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown up doings.  Acting grown up.  Being grown up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.”  Responsible.  In charge. Serious.

2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength.  Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.  Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.  Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.”  Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

3. Loves music.  Loves dance.  Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness.  Loves struggle. Loves the Folk.  Loves herself. Regardless. 

4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Beyonce and Michelle Alexander, you are the N.I.C.E. Picks for 2013, Naturally!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Natural Hair Braiding A Crime: Say It Isn't So!

When I was a young woman, I was trying to figure out how to wear my hair naturally.  I had made a firm decision that I would never put a perm in my hair again, as my mother required out of concern that not to do so would be a hindrance to me, professionally.  I was sick of the burning and the chemicals and the entire notion of looking at myself in the mirror, knowing that I had altered my hair, with products made by individuals who were profiting from telling me through advertisements and the images on their product packaging that my hair wasn't beautiful the way it grew out of my scalp.  I was not accepting of the fact that as I was becoming more educated, I was being told that if I didn't relax my hair, I wouldn't get a job.  It always seemed odd to me because I don't like being told to relax or calm down because it is a sign that the person saying it to me is believing that I am agitated and riled up.  If I am agitated and riled up, it is because I need to be and therefore, your telling me to relax most likely is not welcomed.  So telling me to relax my hair is also a problem, when it is beautifully calm and natural in a wonderful state of curliness or rightfully agitated standing out relentlessly fierce, as it grows out of my scalp.  Therefore, calling these products relaxers is a definite concern.  So the definition of relax is: to make or become less tense or anxious.   Natural hair is definitely not tense or anxious so it does not need a relaxer.  Who came up with that name anyway for hair product?  The other term is a perm, which is short for permanent and is a term used to describe breaking and reforming the bonds of the hair through the use of chemicals.  So without further ado, there is nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, that is natural or permanent about the so-called perm.  If it is permanent, then why does one have to go and pay someone money for a touch up or a new perm, very often?

So, that brings me to the notion of trying to take what is natural and demeaning it and also criminalizing it.  To go down this road,  let's get to braiding and my initial story started above.  I wanted to learn how to take care of my hair naturally so I traveled from Queens to Harlem to a braiding shop.  In this shop were women from the continent of Africa, namely Senegal, but also other countries in West Africa, braiding hair.  It was fascinating!  When they braided my hair, there were two women on my head.  I immediately recognized that I was looking at a skill that was not unfamiliar to me.  My mother used to braid my hair when I was very little and before I was old enough for a perm (there were no Kiddie perms then).  She also used to cornrow it, which was braids very close to the scalp, in rows.  I used to love those braids so much.  So here I was seeing it again but they were adding hair to my existing hair.  Some argue that this is not natural enough because you are adding hair. But unlike straight weave, the skill of braiding is an African technique that goes back historically to the continent with validity as a natural style because of its  intricacy, relevance and meaning.  Check out links one and two below to understand the African history of cornrows and braids in general. Of course these are just glimpses but a little time researching will lead you to the same conclusions.

1. http://csdt.rpi.edu/african/cornrow_curves/culture/african.origins.htm

The  history of African braiding dates back to the continent of Africa, before colonization and before the enslavement of Black people in the U.S. at which time Black people were taught to hate their hair and it was referred to in derogatory terms and deemed unprofessional by the mainstream.  So N.I.C.E. embraces African styled braids based on a historic precedence of African history, culture and beauty.   Now again, back to my story.  I came home and told my mother that I wanted to braid hair.  She told me to go and get one of my dolls that she had in storage and try it. She got packaged hair for me and I tried braiding my dolls hair.  It came to me pretty easily. I then asked her how come I was able to do  this so easily and she said to me, "it's in your hands baby."  I knew then, that this woman of few words in explaining things, was telling me that it was part of my lineage, my history and that it came naturally to me.  I picked up braiding for awhile and did my own hair and that of others before and during my pursuit of higher education all the way to my doctorate. I have been wearing my hair natural for a substantial part of my adult life, ultimately deciding on locks having had them now for 22 years and counting. I have worn  braids or locks in entry level positions,  as a President and CEO, Vice President, Consultant and Professor...in short, my natural hair has never been a problem for me professionally. 

Now, there is a Black women in Texas whose name is Isis Brantley, who was arrested for braiding hair.  The story is here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/isis-brantley/hairbraiding-license_b_4086368.html and also here on NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=243476281.  As shocking as this may seem, she was arrested for Braiding hair and teaching others to do so and will now file a federal lawsuit to fight this situation. Her school is entitled the Institute of Ancestral Braiding. Isis, fight hard for your right to braid and to freely teach others to do so.  You represent an understanding of a great African tradition and that you have a skill that represents a possibility for entrepreneur based income for Black women. For many Black women, this skill comes naturally with the need for very little or perhaps no training at all at or maybe mere guidance. It is wonderful that you are there to assist Black women who want to pursue this.   I now say to you Isis, what my mother once said to me "It's In your hands, baby!" and to me that was her way of knowing, deep within and my way of knowing that if she were alive today she would understand that Natural Is Cool Enough and that of course, is N.I.C.E.!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Black Hair Perming/Relaxing Products Sales on the Decline: A Sign of Natural Hair Progress!

The American economy continues to suffer, as evidenced by the fact that one of America's major cities, Detroit, has gone bankrupt and is short in terms of pension money and planning to cut pensions from people who earned them and the third largest city in America, Chicago, is also experiencing pension deficits and other financial problems.  Although these are only two examples of financial woes, there are many others including high unemployment, particularly in the Black community, increasing numbers of people needing food stamps (also known as SNAP) to eat, low wages, steadily increasing percentages of children in poverty and homelessness all around us.  Hence, it makes sense that folks are counting every dime and deciding what is necessary and what is not in terms of purchases. All of this leads to a very interesting point,  which is that less money is being spent on hair relaxing/perming products by Black women.  Does this mean that more Black women are going natural in terms of their hair styles?  Honestly, it is hard to say because besides perm as an option for not wearing one's hair naturally, Black women are also wearing weave.  Unfortunately, there is no data, at least that I could find, as to whether the wearing of weave has declined, which is quite expensive.  As for relaxers/  perms and Black women,  there is an interesting story on this issue from which you will find quotes below (source: http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/beauty-and-personal-care/hairstyle-trends-hair-relaxer-sales-decline)

The first quote from the article  states:

But new research from Mintel reveals that natural may be the new normal in Black haircare, as relaxers account for just 21% of Black haircare sales and the sector has declined 26% since 2008 and 15% since 2011 when sales reached $179 million—the only category not to see growth.
Mintel’s research estimates the relaxer segment will reach $152 million this year, down from $206 million in 2008. Furthermore, in the past 12 months, nearly three-fourths (70%) of Black women say they currently wear or have worn their hair natural (no relaxer or perm), more than half (53%) have worn braids, and four out of 10 (41%) have worn locks.
The article goes on to attribute this decline to Natural hairstyles per the following quote: 
The natural hair trend is driving an increase in sales of styling products such as styling moisturizers, setting lotions, curl creams, pomades, etc., but the increase has caused the relaxer segment to decline in sales,” says Tonya Roberts, multicultural analyst at Mintel. “A look at expenditures from 2008-2013 shows steady growth in the Black haircare category for all categories except relaxers/perms.”
So the question that arises is whether or not we can truly attribute this decline in sales to more women wearing their hair naturally.  It seems logical as it may be due to enthusiasm and recognition of the beauty of wearing one's hair naturally as it grows out of one's scalp.  As mentioned above, it may also be attributed to economics.  There is no doubt that Black women who wear their hair naturally tend to buy lost of products as they figure out what to do with their hair in terms of style, but once Black women get in touch with the feel of their natural hair again, start coming up with beautiful natural hair styles and getting compliments galore, the need to try all different types of products and spend massive amounts of money doing so, begins to slow down.  Black women get into the groove of their natural hair, figure out what works and many begin to make their own products from natural oils, etc. that are in their home or cheap to buy. 

In a nutshell, moving towards one's natural hair is the best way to go economically as cutting down on wasteful spending on products that are bad for your hair because they are comprised of harsh chemicals and that change the essence of who you are, is definitely not progress.  So the conclusion of N.I.C.E. is that if there is a decline in the purchase of perming/relaxing products by Black women, no matter the reason behind it, definitely that is Natural Hair Progress!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Is Natural Hair Big Business?: Black Enterprise Magazine says Yes!

In the midst of financial crises and the reality that the racial wealth gap continues, one area of business that is thriving is Natural Hair Care for Black women.  Recently while watching the Melissa Harris-Perry Show I noted that her guests had natural styles, including afros and braids galore.  Every black woman on her show had their hair styled naturally including the host. In most commercials that I have seen recently, when a Black woman was in it, her hair was natural.  The same is the case for billboards, magazines and internet ads, moreso than in the past. So what is happening?   According to Black Enterprise magazine there is an increasing popularity of natural hairstyles amongst Black women.  Consequently, there is a boom in the development of natural hair product businesses, which is enabling Black woman to cash in.  Some of the players in the natural hair care market are Hair Rules (www.hairrules.com), which is sold in Target,  Jane Carter Solutions (www.janecartersolution.com) also sold in Target and Whole Foods, Shea Moisture (www.sheamoisture.com) sold in CVS, Bed Bath and Beyond and Target, Talia Waajid's Natural Hair Products (www.naturalhair.org) and Urban Therapy Twisted Sista (twistedsista.com), as examples.

Also, there are many blogs about natural hair, including N.I.C.E, books, You Tube videos and more.  Black women are beginning to realize that the hair that grows out of their scalp is naturally beautifully and does not need to be covered up with someone else's hair, literally.   Yes, one may buy hair and hence say it is theirs but the reality is that it is not!  Wearing hair from Indian (or other) women's heads that is glued on via a lace front weave or sewn in is an option that many women choose.  Some say it is a fashion statement and others say it is a protective style. Some argue that braiding in hair is also not natural but there is some debate on that since that particular practice was historically and still is very common in Africa, so it has historical precedence.  No matter the reason, the good news is that natural hair styles are back and opportunities are arising for Black people to benefit financially from their hair rather than others who are making money through selling Black women on the belief that there natural hair is not beautiful.  Do note that businesses from outside of the Black community are beginning to recognize that natural hair has big business potential  and are developing products, selecting models, developing ads, hiring television personalities etc. who are rocking natural hairstyles. Therefore, N.I.C.E. is recognizing, along with Black Enterprise Magazine, that Natural Hair is Big Business!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

For Art Basel Miami 2013, Natural IS Cool Enough was Part of the PULSE!


Today, with some hesitation, as I was very interested in experiencing a lazy Sunday, I headed out with my husband to experience the new museum in Miami entitled the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and then the Contemporary Art Fair, PULSE, both part of Art Basel Miami 2013.  They were wonderful!  I had no expectations for either as I am a New Yorker and have been exposed to such a substantial level of art that often times, I am let down only to have had my expectations met, besides New York City, in Paris and some museums in China.  But, I must say that PAMM holds its own. The exhibits at PAMM were interesting, entertaining and compelling.

PULSE Miami was equally enjoyable.  This event was curated beautifully with wonderful pieces and truly exhibited that Natural Is Cool Enough based on a number of the pieces, which are below. I enjoyed these exhibits and so many others immensely knowing that within the midst of all of the fantastic pieces shown, there were artists who recognize the beauty of natural hair and that is indeed N.I.C.E.!

Although Art Basel ended today and PULSE will be heading to other cities, PAMM is in Miami to stay.  You may want to check it out if you're in or visit Miami.  I will be keeping a close eye on it to determine if pieces will be displayed in the future exemplifying that Natural Is Cool Enough.
That would be N.I.C.E.!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Jay-Z, Beyonce, Natural Is Cool Enough and Vegan: What is the Connection?

In my last post, prior to the piece that I wrote about Nelson Mandela, I promised to share the experience that I had when I decided to go vegan for a week with my husband.  It all started when we watched a film about the vegan lifestyle and why some make this choice.  I'm not going to get into that detail but suffice it to say that we considered all of the various reasons and decided that as homage to animals that have sacrificed their lives for us to eat them, we would, for one week, not eat any meat, eggs, fish, etc.  This decision was made by me and my husband so I headed to Whole Foods and purchased only vegetables, fruits and food designated for vegans.  I'm kind of a cheese-a-holic so what I really struggled with was not going to the gourmet cheese section to grab some gouda, lambchopper, or manchego, which are all my favorites. Instead, I focused on grapes, avocados, kale, veggie burgers, tofu and other foods, which fall into the vegan genre.

Surprisingly, yesterday, in the morning, I saw a short piece on television indicating that Jay Z and Beyonce are going on a vegan diet for 22 days (http://entertainment.time.com/2013/12/04/beyonce-and-jay-z-going-vegan/).  I think this is fantastic as I must say that being vegan was not as difficult as I thought it would be.  It was definitely easy to acquire vegan foods and everything was absolutely delicious.  I didn't miss anything terribly that I would normally eat but I did feel, at times, that I was placing a limitation on myself.  For example, if I wanted a piece of fish or meat, as a vegan, I would have to deny myself something I desired.  I do this all of the time because there are certain foods that I want but just will not eat because I have decided that my body deserves better.  I eat, in my home, absolutely organic. I am very conscious about every piece of food that I buy and I am aware of what is good for my body and what is not.  It is not about weight or meeting some kind of social norm but the idea that I love my body and appreciate it and under no circumstances do I want to do harm to it.  This love for my body guides my food choices. I never put anything in my car but what it needs to run optimally, so why would I do otherwise with my body? So I try to refrain from less than optimal food as much as possible in my life, which is most of the time, but I definitely have my moments otherwise.

As I went through the experience of being a vegan, albeit briefly, I also became more in tune with how I am caring for my natural hair.  I took a good hard look, again, at the products that I use and I felt and continue to feel proud about my choices.  Shea butter, henna, 100% natural oils and natural shampoos and conditioners are what I use, for the most part.  I realized that during the time that I was experiencing being a vegan I had a heightened awareness of my body.  I purchased a wonderful salt scrub with a natural oil base and used that for the entire vegan week.  I used this scrub on my face as well as several times a week and on alternate days I used either black soap from Africa or lemon juice for my face. I continued to drink a cup of hot lemon water, as I always do, every morning, before putting a morsel of food into my mouth.  All of these things led to my truly feeling good on the inside and the outside during our vegan week.  I even used flouride-free all natural toothpaste, which started well before our vegan adventure. All of these items will continue to be a part of my life, indefinitely.

So,  the bottom line is that I enjoyed being a vegan for a week.  It was refreshing and cleansing and created a greater sense of awareness regarding eating healthy and being natural inside and out. My locs received special attention during that week and that was definitely a bonus.   After the week, we decided not to remain as vegans but we definitely eat less meat and poultry. We eat a lot of green leafy vegetables, fish and tons of fruit and I went back to cheese, but minimally. We developed a greater appreciation and respect for the vegan lifestyle and of course, I keep it totally natural in terms of the products used on my hair and the rest of my body, for the most part. What the vegan experience taught me is that,  I think,  sometimes we have to stop, reflect and try something new.  I also felt that it was definitely cool to seriously take note of and reflect on the experience of animals that we consume.  I asked a lot more questions at Whole Foods about the rating system they use for the meat they sell in terms of how animals are cared for before they are prepared for consumption and when I do choose to eat meat or eggs, particularly when I buy it for my home, I pay attention to this because I believe it matters. At some point, I may become a vegan although I am not ready yet.  What I am ready for is an openness to the possibility and to learn more before and if I make this big leap.

Ultimately,  what we learned at the end of our vegan for a week adventure is that when it comes to food, your hair, your body, your teeth etc. there is no doubt that Natural Is Cool Enough, which is N.I.C.E.! So Jay-Z, Beyonce, Natural Is Cool Enough and Vegan equals, for a brief period in time, a connection around the notion that Natural Is Cool Enough.  I hope they too will share their experience.

Below are photos of some of our delicious food choices during that week, which we continue to love!
Quinoa:  Delicious!!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A N.I.C.E. Tribute to Nelson Mandela: 1918-2013

Madiba, Nelson Mandela:  A True Champion For Freedom!

Nelson Mandela was a great man.  Clearly, this is a statement that can be made without a shred of hesitation. He languished in prison for 27 years, where he suffered for the reason of wanting equality for African people in South Africa during the time of apartheid. He was an anti-apartheid warrior and will always be remembered as such. The strength and courage that he exhibited provides one with a sense of marvel. He lived during a time in which such courage in the face of hatred and animosity was not commonplace. We know who he is because he stood out among men.  He did not stand out  because of his grandiose stature, as he was a very tall African man, but because of his  leadership. He exhibited leadership in ways that we no longer see even though grave injustices continue.  He also did so, ultimately, in peace and won the Nobel Peace Prize, which he surely deserved, and many other prestigious awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He is of the Xosa Clan and is often referred to by his clan name which is Madiba. Others refer to him as Tata which means "the Father" referring to him as the "father of the nation." He was born in 1918 in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and ultimately became a Lawyer.  What many do not know is that he was also a boxer.  Maybe this helped to define him as a fighter although "the good fight" that he handled with grace and style was not with his hands but with his mind.  He spoke vehemently of the need for  political independence as a necessary goal for African people in South Africa, but his fight transcended that location and touched the hearts and minds of people all over the world.  I visited South Africa many years ago, with my family, and during that time we visited the Mandela House in Soweto, which is a historical site. We also visited Robben Island and stood in front of the cell where he was imprisoned and then we passed by his home in Johannesburg where he resided during present times.  It was an honor to travel throughout South Africa, always knowing that this is where Nelson Mandela along with Winnie and many others, fought for the freedom of African people .  I am so grateful that I  had that experience with my family.  The recall of it all now feels wonderful because we understood then who he was and we understand it now. I also recall being in Harlem when Mandela came there after he was released from prison.  It was in 1990.  It was amazing.  The streets of Harlem were filled with excitement.  It was a fantastic day of celebration and another moment where I can say, I am so grateful that I was in the right place at the right time with my family.

So in closing, it is my perspective that his legacy is that of a man who struggled for freedom, not just for himself but for his people.  He became the first Black President of South Africa which was an incredible feat.  He was loved and respected and now what we have left is the legacy of a great African Ancestor.  Let's remember him fondly as the African man, the human being that he was.  Let's remember his struggle but also his colorful shirts, the way he danced, the way he smiled, the way he fought and the way he showed us what an African leader looks like when he is at his worst and at his best and what an African leader IS in our lifetime.  N.I.C.E. salutes Nelson Mandela on this day knowing that he is going home.  December 5, 2013 will always be a day that we remember with sadness but also with pride.
Mandela's Home in Johannesburg

With my family at Mandela House in Soweto

Mandela's Cell on Robben Island

On Robben Island with my husband

A picture on Robben Island

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Natural Is Cool Enough for All of My Fashion Choices!

Recently, I conducted two experiments. The first was not to shop for clothing for one year, which I wrote about on this blog previously http://naturaliscoolenough.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-one-year-clothing-shopping-hiatus.html. The second was to be Vegan for a week, after watching a film about how animals are treated in America before slaughter for human consumption. While doing both, I learned a great deal about myself.   My shopping hiatus  began in November of 2012, as a result of my dismay with a store where I did most of my shopping.  On a visit to this store, the customer service was awful and I decided not to shop there again and then extended that to shopping in general for one year.  When I decided to finally shop, in November of 2013, I actually felt odd in the Mall.  I had decided that I would only shop in department stores where I felt the clothing was particularly of good quality, namely at Macy's and Nordstrom and other small, high end shops. I also decided to shop only with cash so as not to incur any interest as a result of my spree and to ensure that there would be an end to the process, based on the amount of money I bought with me for this two-day  venture.  I also made a very detailed list as over the year, I gave away a great deal of my clothes including shoes, boots, dresses, blouses, pants, etc.  Anything that had been in my closet for the past two years and I had not wore it during that time, out the door it went to Goodwill and other organizations where I felt people would appreciate receiving the items with hopes that they will enjoy them.

So, I put my locks up in a high ponytail, put on a loose fitting easy to put on and take off in the fitting rooms dress and I was good to go.  Surprisingly, when I entered the first department store, I didn't know where to begin.  I kind of lost touch with the shopping feel and had enjoyed limiting my purchases to natural hair products (very minimal), household items such as new linen and other things that I had ignored in the past for awhile and the big bonus, which was saving.  I also ventured more, during my shopping hiatus, into hats, scarves and glasses and other items that I allowed myself to enjoy as accessories were not part of my shopping break.  So, my goal this time during my shopping spree was quality and optimal customer service.  I found just that at the first department store. I bought blouses and skirts, underwear, pants, etc.  It took me hours to get going and I was a little annoyed when I realized that everyone seemed to be working on commission and had all kinds of tricks up their sleeves.  For example, the following were  frequent inquiries: "do you want me to hold your items for you while you shop" or  "shall I start a dressing room for you."  I literally had to tell these individual NO so they could get off my back and let me shop freely because I realized that when I said YES, they were attached to me like glue and when I went to the register the question was "was someone helping you while you shopped."  Uggh!  Don't feign genuine concern when it is all about the commission.  Just say "ok, I'm getting commission for your shopping so I will help you but it is not about you at all, but me."  On second thought, I guess that would not have worked.  So anyway, since I did not want to be part of the counting of every item that I bought for retail marketers to add me to the statistics of  determining the degree of holiday shopping that people participated in, I got all of my wardrobe shopping done in early November, in two days. Subsequently, I have also budgeted the exact amount of cash that I will spend for my holiday gift recipients and will take the same approach...cash only...no interest made from me during the holiday season, quality only and the customer service better be good or I'm out.  Please check out some of the samples of my new digs below along with my natural hairstyles for each and look forward to my next blog post about being a vegan for a week. That was indeed a trip!  For all of my fashion choices, Natural Is Cool Enough!

Natural Hair is Never a Distraction: A N.I.C.E. Reaction in Support of A Young Sister!

Once again, I feel compelled to write an article about another young Black woman who has been shunned because of her beautiful, natural hair.  The first instinct, when reading something like this, is to ignore it because this kind of thinking about one's hair, as it grows out of ones's scalp is so blatantly ignorant that it doesn't warrant discussion (see article per link below).  But then, why let something like this happen without addressing it, so here I go.  The hair of the young lady in the article is clearly beautiful and a clear indication that for her, Natural Is Cool Enough!  N.I.C.E. affirms her strength and self-esteem while taking a clear position that wearing one's hair naturally is beautiful.  It is not a distraction.  Conforming to the hairstyle choice of the dominant group in society does not make you less of a distraction or professional or anything of the sort.  What it does, namely conforming to the hairstyle choices of the dominant group, is implied in the first word of the latter sentence and that is a mere subjugation of yourself to meet the criteria of what others deem is "most appropriate" or less distracting to them, based on some kind of bizarre societal perspective.  For some, altering the texture of one's hair, from it's natural curl to straight through chemical or other means, is simply about style or trying to be professional but the questions are whose style and who determines what is professional? Who makes those decisions?  This alteration is most definitely a personal choice but when a child is told that she must conform by cutting her natural hair or leaving school, based on the fact that she is wearing her hair as it grows out of her scalp, that is a problem.  Does everyone who has hair of a certain length have to leave?  What is the length and how is that determination made and by whom?  Clearly, if someone's hair is distracting others because it is in its natural state, then those individuals do not have their attention span situation together, which is a personal problem.

So, N.I.C.E. salutes this young lady, 100%, for having the self-empowerment strength and encouragement to wear her hair in a beautiful, natural style.  It makes me proud to see her do so and I hope this is the case for others.  Your natural hair is not a distraction but what it is meant to be...a beautiful, wonderful aspect of your being, that some others have not been able to come to terms with, because of their own shortcomings.  Ignore them, keep your head up high and keep your natural hair flowing as you so choose.  If someone doesn't like your natural hair, simply and powerfully tell them to avert their eyes...essentially, don't look at it, and definitely don't touch it!  Rock on little sister with your fabulous natural hair! Natural Is Cool Enough, in any setting! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Is There a Natural Hair Revolution Going On?

Have you noticed that in television advertisements and in other forms of media, when you see a Black woman or little girl, generally she is wearing a natural style including locks, free flowing afro/curly, braids, twists, etc.? This leads me to ask the question, "is there a national hair revolution going on?" So, to truly explore this question, I, along with one of my students, have developed a quick survey to find out your thoughts about this.  This survey is quick with just 10 questions.  Here is the link for the survey.

(If you are a University of Miami  student/graduate/affiliate, please do not complete this survey as we are reaching out to you from other venues with the same survey. Thank you)

I look forward to letting you know the results.  N.I.C.E. wants to know what you think!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Fabulously N.I.C.E. Hair Meeting at the University of Miami!

On November 5, Natural Is Cool Enough had another exciting meeting at the University of Miami.  The purpose of the meeting was for sisters with Natural Hair to get together and share their hair stories while breaking bread and learning from each other.  We discussed our hair journeys from childhood to adulthood and the many transitions that we went through as we struggled and came to grips with the beauty of our natural hair.

I have had my locks for 22 years now so I am firmly and staunchly a naturalista, considering no other possibility.  Weave, perming or any kind of chemical processing is no longer a part of my reality and for me personally, it seems farfetched.  But this is not the case for everyone.  There was spirited dialogue about the definition of natural hair (some expressed that it is only your hair as it grows out of your scalp without any chemical processing, while others stated that braids and twists, using extensions, should be included) as well as discussion about whether there is a natural hair revolution going on in the United States.  We discussed how many advertisements for everything from clothes, to food, to banking etc. are depicting African American women wearing their hair naturally, as it grows from their scalp, braids and twists. From my vantage point, this is an indication that it is becoming clear to society that Natural Is Cool Enough, which is N.I.C.E.!

In an upcoming post, I will be be sharing a N.I.C.E Project that will take place during Black History Month and will be asking you to take a quick 10 Question Survey!  I hope you will participate.  In the meantime, here are some photos from our N.I.C.E. meeting and the beautiful ladies that participated.  Sisters, you exemplify N.I.C.E. fabulously!

Also, special recognition goes out to the young lady below as she only worn her hair naturally (her hair texture as it grows from her scalp) since birth and she is now in college. That is truly N.I.C.E.!  We are hoping she will share her hair story with us soon.

Monday, November 11, 2013

N.I.C.E. Reviews 12 Years A Slave: A Naturally Authentic Film

The film 12 Years A Slave is a stunning, authentic, riveting film that reverberates with authenticity. As this blog is about natural hair, let me begin there.  There is no pretense, no processing and no faking in terms of the natural hair...kinky, real, naturally beautiful...the glory of the African heritage of every Black individual in the film shines through and that is N.I.C.E.  Even when Solomon and his family are free, you don't get a sense of loss of connectivity to one's natural state but a sense of conformity, within the context of what freedom meant, in terms of style at that time.  However, as important as hair is to the discourse of this blog, I must move on to focus on the greater and more significant implications of this film.
There is so much to this film that I am not sure where to begin, but suffice it to say that it is a difficult but powerful piece that enables you to become a part of a tragically, horrific experience with great empathy, compassion, love and understanding for the Black people in it.  As you watch Solomon lose his freedom and then suffer and watch the tragic experiences of the other slaves, you feel his pain.  The cinematography is superb and visually appealing which becomes all to real when the visual clarity draws you into imagery you don't want to see.  These images include the lashing of skin emerging in sores and blood, lynching, rape, and other vile scenes, that are shown with such candor that they are  difficult to watch. Even the beautiful cotton and sugar cane plants are presented in their splendor, only for you to feel animosity towards their beauty.  I also felt deeply saddened as I watched the mother whose children were sold, away from her lament day after day for them. There was no comfort for her.  It was impossible to suppress her despair and as a mother, I believe that is exactly the way it would have been, in terms of the grief expressed  by the young mother. 

Additionally, the hanging scene with Solomon, which is beyond what anyone would want to observe in a film but it is a must to make clear the depth of cruelty that he experienced.  My eyes focused on his feet barely touching the ground with just enough force to keep him from dying from the noose around his neck.  This was a scene that was almost too much to handle as the folks in the background just went on as if it was not happening.  There was such acclimation to atrocities, on behalf of the slaves, that the individuals were not phased by what was happening right in front of them.  How could this be?  This is what you wonder as you are watching him near death literally struggling for every breath.  How is it possible that no one will help him?  Even the quenching of his thirst with water by the young woman seems less than worthy of acknowledgement. It was not enough, by any stretch of the word, for one to label her action as compassion as she left him hanging there, seemingly fearful of her own self-preservation. But, what I appreciated most about the film, was being able to think with Solomon, as he contemplated his freedom, with a long stare, once he knows that a letter is going to be written and delivered to his friends, to secure his freedom.  My mind was racing, as I am sure his was, about what it will be like for him to be free again.  It renewed my belief in the importance of silence for contemplation and thinking. Also, as Patsy, the beautiful young woman whose suffering was beyond belief was beaten relentlessly by Solomon, I felt for him being forced to do so, and for her whose flesh bore the brunt of the anguish.  The animosity toward the slave master at that moment for me, was beyond where I like to go in regard to disdain for another human being. 

Nevertheless, I've already said to much as I don't want to ruin the film for others who want to go and see it, but it is not a film that you can watch and then walk away with a mere comment that the film was great or intriguing, etc.  You have to talk, think or write about it, in some way acknowledging and determining how it impacted you.  As a person of African descent, knowing that my ancestors more than likely experienced such atrocities as slaves, I think it is important to share with others that this film is worthy of seeing.  My advice is that if you are squeamish about violations of individuals most personal and private rights, suffering and anguish then this film is not for you. If you are subject to intense emotions around painful subject matter or generally want to avoid the reality of what took place on the soil of this nation in regard to Black people during slavery (including the understanding that such awful realities took place well beyond slavery and not just in the south, with failure of full acknowledgement of the horrific depth of the situation), then perhaps this movie is not for you.  But, if you want to face the reality of slavery in full force, with intensity, while embracing and recognizing the truth of it all, and can handle the feelings that will arise in you consequently, then go and get your ticket, sit there and take it all in.  You will not laugh, not even for a moment, but you may feel sad, perhaps cry and feel intense emotion. You may also feel deep love and compassion for Solomon, Patsy, the wailing mother and the other slaves and a sense of gratitude towards the young man who agreed to write and distribute the letter, which leads to Solomon's freedom.  Seeing this film is the least that we can all do in recognizing a harsh reality carefully and beautifully shared with us through an intriguing film that speaks truth and that ends in resounding love. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Custom, Naturally Styled Hair, Dolls: Truly N.I.C.E. Again!

     Some time ago, I wrote an article about Black dolls with Natural Hairstyles. You can check that story out here:  Black Dolls with Natural Hairstyles: Truly N.I.C.E.
Well, apparently, although I missed her show, and was updated by a Melissa Harris-Perry viewer, she showcased more amazingly natural dolls.  The name of the company featured is Natural Girls and Women United! Check them out at this website:  http://www.naturalgirlsunited.com/natural-hair-dolls.html   Now this is truly another indication that Natural Is Cool Enough and that's N.I.C.E.!




Sunday, September 22, 2013

My One Year Clothing Shopping Hiatus Is Proving to Me That Natural Is Still Cool Enough!

Last year, I went to a store, where I frequently shop for clothing, and did not receive what I consider to be positive and excellent customer service.  I contacted the customer service number of this retail entity, explained to them what happened and they apologized and offered me a very nominal amount in the form of a gift card to return to their store.  I asked them if they seriously thought offering me the opportunity to shop in their store again, with a gift card, was the solution and what would they do to ensure that I or no other customer in the store would experience such poor service?  They had no answer.  So I decided, and informed them of such, in writing, that as a regular customer, I would not shop at any of their stores, or their affiliates for one year.  As I purchased most of my clothes from that store and its affiliates, I took my idea one step further and decided not to by clothing, at all, for one year.  I notified the company and reminded them that I had a history of buying most of my clothes from them, so they had lost, a loyal customer, at least temporarily.  They said that they truly hoped I would return.

So, this is how it went.  I set ground rules and decided that the first would be not to buy any clothing at all, with the exception of hats and scarves, of which I argue are not clothing anyway, but accessories, but my daughter begs to differ. Hats and scarves could never be purchased from the above store or its affiliates during the one year, but anywhere else, both in and out of the country.  The other exception was to be able to buy one t-shirt for each of the athletic teams that I support, for one game of the year for each, for example a championship t-shirt, if needed or a t-shirt to wear to a game in which they are playing against their most significant rival.  Other than that, no dresses, no pants, no shoes, no pajamas, etc. for one year, beginning in the month of November of 2012.  I determined that this would also give me the opportunity to clean out my closets, give away a great deal of unwanted clothing that I no longer preferred but that were in good condition, and others who need them and may enjoy them would benefit.  I also decided that I could focus more on other important aspects of purchases such as linens and other items that may be needed in my home and  of course determining what products if any are great for my natural hair.

Well, it turns out that this has been one of the best efforts that I have made in a long time. First of all, and obviously, I saved a great deal of money.  Secondly, I really took a good long look at every piece of clothing that I have, over the past year, and made decisions about what I liked and disliked.  I gave away, bags and bags of clothing to donation spots of my choice and felt great each time I did so. I am once again, in the middle of this process and I am still giving things away, only keeping those items that I love or that I found especially cherished over this one year.  I also really was able to determine, which of my clothing were really made on a quality basis rather than an appearance of looking good.  I also considered, which of my clothing items really held up in terms of durability after repeated washing in terms of maintaining color and not falling apart, which remained appealing to me over the year and which suited me best in terms of my notion of fashion and comfort no matter where I traveled.  I kept this clothing shopping rule in tact, no matter where I traveled, including 6 weeks in China.  I felt so liberated in that I was not persuaded by anyone's fashion ideas except what I found in my closet, suitcases and dresser drawers and after a short while, when I went out, the notion of clothing shopping never entered my mind.  I noticed that because I walk across campus often as an academic, durability and comfort of my shoes really matter so I decided to reconsider my shoe choices in the future although comfort and style combined always were a priority for me, compromising only with boots.  Sometimes, I will experience a bit of discomfort for a wonderful pair of good looking boots, but I think I am over that too. 

So in the end, this has been a fantastic endeavor.  I am in the last leg of my clothing hiatus. I didn't spend a great deal of money or venture out into buying too many other unnecessary items such as hair product either because I stayed true to my belief that Natural Is Cool Enough.  I bought extra shea butter at a few farmer's markets and street vendors in both Miami and NYC and some loc gel and I decided to just condition, twist and let my locs hang out freely or up in a pony tail most of the time.  There was the occasional henna purchase to keep my hair nice and extra conditioned.  I mention this  because I thought that since I was not buying clothing, I would get excessive in another area of shopping, particularly on products for my hair,  since I blog about natural hair, etc.  But I am proud to say, that did not happen.  I was true to my belief about minimizing excessive product purchase so as not to contribute unnecessarily to the billion dollar plus hair product industry of which few reap financial benefit although the products are being marketed to them, for their hair, mostly towards making it appear unnatural.

So, instead of buying clothing and excessive hair products, I focused on new linens for my linen closet and making my bed extra comfortable for restful sleep at night.   I focused on increased thread count for my sheets, which really makes a difference in terms of comfort, and the quality of cotton and I also purchased  down and memory foam pillows and a lovely down comforter.  I  had my car repainted, since I love it anyway, instead of buying a new one, and getting into a ridiculous car payment since my car is  completely paid off and continued to do one of my favorite things that I love to do most with my husband and children, travel the world, without being caught up in purchasing clothes, no matter where I was  in the world.

I learned a great deal in this entire process.  The first is that I respect myself enough, not to shop in  a store, or any of its affiliates, when I do not receive optimal customer service.  It matters where I spend my money.  I learned that it feels so much better to give than to receive and that I will never throw away clothes (or any other items for that matter)  that I don't want but will always give them away (as I have always done and have taught my children to do the same) because there are so many people in need and that I must help and be conscious about doing so.  I learned that when I am not spending money to buy new clothes that I do not need,  I learn to value and appreciate what I already have.  I reminded myself of something that I already knew, which is not spending money on one thing, doesn't mean that you have to run out and spend money on other things, except what you need, and that this kind of frugal mentality translates into the search for quality in things, not quantity.

I also learned something else that I already knew, which is that Natural Is Cool Enough, always, in terms of my hair.  Even with extra resources on hand, there was no need to run out and buy more product excessively, but to use the same process that I use in caring for my hair in every aspect of my life, which is don't be hooked on what others are marketing to you as what is best for your hair, or any other aspect of your life, but focus on what I DEEM is best for me and in the process save and find more useful ways to use my money, in terms of purchases.  The upgrade on linen quality may have represented a bit of frivolous spending, but my bed is now much more comfortable and I have plenty of linen to give away to others who may be in need.

The Last Sorting Through of Clothing for Donation...Shoes Next!
So, today and during the rest of September and  the month of October, I will gradually go through every piece of clothing that I own, once more, and every pair of shoes and determine which are quality, which held up and which of those items I want to keep.  Anything that I do not want, both quality and that is in good to excellent condition, will be given away to chosen donation centers.  Since I am now in need of certain items that just didn't hold up, I will go out and buy, in November, 2013, just what I need with my preference as the primary selection criteria, focused on quality,  and of course based on the customer service that I receive in the store.  I still haven't decided if I will go back to the store that lead me on this journey in the first place, or its affiliates, but we shall see.  I have set a budget, in cash, so that there will be no interest attached to any purchase that I make and I will replenish without concern that I am buying now and paying later, avoiding any consumer debt associated with this venture.

I will also continue the notion of knowing that no matter what I put on my body, in terms of attire, or product in my hair, there is very little to buy, except what I need, and that as always, Natural Is Always Cool Enough and of course, that is N.I.C.E.!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Modernity Abounds: China Cultural Moments!

As promised, here is another brief post about China.  Although my last post about my trip to China emphasized natural hair and how it is viewed there, this one will simply share photographs, which provide glimpses of the overall experience. I don't believe that it is possible to capture such a vast and comprehensive culture with photographs, of which I have so many. The magnitude of the country is beyond the camera lens. It is important to note that since I've been back, I have heard some comments about China that I just did not find to be true. What I found is a different, interesting and unique culture where the food is outrageously delicious, the people are modest, gracious and kind, the cities are extremely modern and contemporary and the mixture of old and new architecture, art and culture is compelling and intriguing.  So, rather than words alone, below are pictures in this deviation from my discussion of natural hair.  Enjoy the photos and my next post will bring us back to natural hair elaborating on the emphasis of this blog which is N.I.C.E.!

One of many modern malls in Shanghai

Delicious Buns!

The Bund Area in Shanghai

The Bund Area in Shanghai

A Pagoda in the City of Shanghai

A Panda napping at the Shanghai zoo

A Chinese family that wanted a photo with me...a request that happened often

A lotus flower...one of many beautiful flowers

Hong Kong at Night

One of many delicious meals

One of many innovative carts

Another innovative cart...

Another example of delicious food...

One of many beautiful fruit stands...

The great wall on a rainy day

Another innovative cart...

Shanghai at Night...

Bamboo Steamers

The Pudong Area...

Tiffany's Ad...
An Awesome Louis Vuitton store next to Cartier and other designer stores...

The Bund area at night...

Terracotta Warriors in the city of Xian

Beautiful garden in Xian
Model of Shanghai
Bullet Train
Birds Nest from the Olympic Village in Beijing
Beautiful Performance at Summer Palace in Beijing
Chinese Opera in Beijing