On #NappilyEverAfter and embracing #NaturalHair: A Review-ish & Personal Reflection

My hometown’s public school system committed to having 3rd and 4th-grade students learn how to swim. I’m an ‘80s baby and the ‘90s raised me, so “protective styling” options and swimwear accessories during the school year were very limited. I’ve never chemically treated my hair, so water and I had a unique relationship. So unique that I never let the shower water directly touch my face. I cupped the water with my hands and washed my face to avoid the fate of possible first- and second- degree burns induced by my mom using the hot comb.

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So, when swimming lessons came in 3rd grade, I was unprepared for a few reasons. I reported to the pool with a stocking cap and shower cap and thankfully, one of the Black teachers intervened, as she knew the tragedy that was about to happen. She then braided my hair in the pool locker room. I am grateful to her.

Growing up with natural hair has come with its shares of pride and struggle, so when I saw that “Nappily Ever After” (NEP) was premiering this past Friday, I had to see what it was all about. Because, you know – representation matters. And I’m also a fan of Sanaa Lathan. I enjoyed watching the movie so I wanted to share some quick thoughts with you all. If you have not seen the movie, stop here because *spoilers ahead*.

NEP tells the story of Violet Jones, a thirty-something who has a built a reputable marketing career advertising mainstream beauty standards. Violet has been dating Clint for two years and presumes that he will be proposing to her at her birthday party. To Violet’s dismay, her elegant engagement ring is presented as a cute Chihuahua, named Lola. When Violet confronts Clint, he shares that their two years has felt like “two years of first dates” and expresses that he doesn’t know much about her, nevermind marrying her. If Clint honestly felt that way, I’d like to know how he felt confident getting her such a large commitment, like a dog, for a birthday gift, but I digress.

I appreciated that that NEP scratched the surface of the complexity of beauty being tied to hair through the lens of a brown-skinned Black woman — and one with at least 4A hair at that. Society has conditioned us to believe that natural hair is beautiful if it is long, perfectly curly when wet, and styled effortlessly. And we typically see these women presented in the media, leaving a host of other beautiful queens out of the picture. Natural hair is also kinky and coily, can betray you with shrinkage when wet, and take multiple attempts to achieve a perfect style. This shouldn’t make these types of hair desirable or publicly represented. We are overdue for more women that show the full and beautiful spectrum of natural tresses on the big screen.

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Prior to Violet shaving her hair off, she believed that hair held her attractiveness. And thankfully, she learned that her confidence made her attractiveness despite whatever style she chose to wear on her head. Violet and her mom have forged a strong relationship over hair care. Violet depended on her mother to press her hair and in turn, her mother imposed her rigid standards of beauty, which Violet later projects onto Zoe. Violet followed “all of the rules,” but was disappointed that this formula didn’t equal a marriage proposal. I found it freeing that when Violet shaved her head, she also cut her mother’s expectations. I was happy that she was able to meet Will, a Black man who validated her appearance and was able to make natural hair products that benefitted her. I appreciated the exploration of a heterosexual Black man with an “unusual” profession, such as a hairdresser. I hope that this creates more conversations about gender roles in the Black community. Often, we talk about Black women assuming the roles of “a man,” but there is little analysis of Black men assuming the roles of “a woman.” There seems to be many assumptions about Will’s class and sexuality. But, we also see a single-parent business owner who wants to make a woman happy. However, I’m still processing that sensual head massage in the park…

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I liked that the film shed light on people making career changes later on in life. Richard Jones, played by Ernie Hudson, took a chance on a dream of and pursued being a male model. I found it hilarious that he was featured in a boxer brief advertisement which generated a lot of attention. Although Richard wasn’t initially supported by his wife, we’re reminded it’s never too late to go after you want. After all, you’ll never know until you try and someone may very well be impressed by your “junk.” ; ) *bah duhn tisk*

I like the diversity in the Black male characters presented in the movie, even though I didn’t agree with some of the perspectives presented. George Wallace played a small role as a rideshare driver and meets Violet after her bloody honey fiasco with the guy she meets in the club. Violet shares that Clint hurt her feelings and Wallace essentially shared with her that she shouldn’t have an issue if she wasn’t cheated on or (physically) abused. This scene irked me but showed an existing perspective. Women are seen as sacrificial beings. Society and sometimes family will tell us we have to get a man, “keep a man,” and raise our family while our dreams, mental health, and happiness be damned. We are supposed to always put our full selves out for everyone else and be satisfied with the empty glass left behind. A woman’s role on this earth is not merely to exist and be perfect while doing so. I appreciated that Clint was able to boomerang back to Violet with a ring, only for her to realize that it was a ring from a man she didn’t want.

I believe sometimes our shoes begin to hurt to help us realize that we’re walking in the wrong direction.

Overall, I enjoyed watching the movie. I found joy in its opening and closing with a pool scene. There is a lot of contention around Black people and swimming in general, beginning with slavery, stifled with segregation, and topped with Black swimming parties not actually being “swimming” parties. I liked that it didn’t end with a marriage proposal disrupting the idea that “Happily Ever After” has to begin with a wedding. It does start, however, when you realize you are living your life and controlling your temple on your terms and yours alone. I believe that there is more to Violet’s story before or if she chooses to walk down the aisle. I wish it was the first of a miniseries because I’d like to see her journey explored further.

I also wish her mama would have celebrated Juneteenth over the 4th of July, but that’s just me.

-Tia M. Howard


What are your thoughts on Nappily Ever After? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think!

#DigitalSisterhood: A Dialogue with #BlackWomenPhDs

As ½ of a digital duo that centers Black women and Black women’s work, I appreciate other Black women doing work in digital and real life spaces. With that, #CiteASista will be exploring #DigitalSisterhood with other Black women who make space for or who center Black women in digital spaces.

I came to know about #BlackWomenPhDs via their self-titled instagram page. I was a fan on my first viewing of their page. I had just finished up my PhD at the University of Georgia, and as someone whose dissertation focused on sense of belonging for Black women in doctoral programs at a historically white institution, their project was right up my alley. I loved seeing all the sista-scholars’ stories and images as they made their way through school or celebrated the work they’re doing post degree completion.

Dominiqua Griffin (left) and Latoya Haynes-Thoby (right) made time in their busy schedules to talk with me about what they do with Black Women PhDs and indulged all my curiosities about how they understand their project as it relates to Black Feminism/Womanism. The following interview is a snapshot of a longer hour long conversation between teams #CiteASista and #BlackWomenPhDs. We hope you enjoy. 

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CAS: I LOVE what you all do with and through #BlackWomenPhDs. Like, love it! Y’all have talked about how you all came up with the project in another interview, but I want to know how you all see your work with BWPhDs as Black Feminists/Womanists?

DG: We really work to center the stories of Black Women Scholars. Often times we are the only ones with a seat at the proverbial table in our given work spaces. By centering our stories and celebrating ourselves we are able to continue down this road. This space will hopefully allow future scholars to feel like they can successfully obtain the degree and navigate their field with the support and foundation of other women. The intersectionality of being Black and Woman can still fall victim to misogyny by Black Men and other non-People of Color. We then have to turn inward or reach out to other women to navigate those spaces and that’s a separate conversation but one that needs space as well. On our page, we don’t have to fight to freely exist: we just can. Essentially, we need more digital spaces to do so, to seek our highest selves and feel appreciated.      

CAS: I ask the question about Black Feminism and Womanism because, for me, one of the beauties of BF/W is the ethic that goes with the ideologies. It’s not just who we can cite, but how we develop practices around what we believe or know. The work you all do to celebrate, center, and affirm Black women scholars is a beautiful ethic I hope we can all get behind (even more than we currently do).

The responses and comments to the daily posts are one of my favorite parts of the BWPhD IG experience. The sisterhood in the comments is life giving. I’ve seen people in the comments cheering on the day’s featured sista-doc, offering up resources to help another sista-doc make it through her program, and sharing their inspiration for returning to school for a doctorate or completing the process they’re in. How has the feedback in the comments section on any or all platforms helped to (re)shape the work you all do with BWPhDs?

DG: We truly wanted to foster a community, and one that is informal and inviting. One that allows us to collaborate and feel comfortable reaching out to scholars and one that puts a face to the work. It’s funny that folks still ask if they’ll get to virtually “meet” us when we’ve been open and honest about who was behind the account from day one. Women wanted to know that we were a valid page and I remember sharing my full name and Linked In page. Seeing the degrees and a brief outline of the road these women took, from the most seasoned to the youngest scholars, just makes the PhD that much more tangible. Women have shared that they found inspiration on the page, which helped them finish their program, and mothers sharing their stories about the challenges they face, or the women that are working on their confidence in terms of presenting their work, all of these stories create the experience of Black Women with PhDs. Valid stories. Unique. Necessary narratives that need to be celebrated.

LHT: We always appreciate the daily celebration of each woman that we feature.  From sorors to sisters in shared fields, or women in different places on the journey, the cheering always motivates us.  When we receive feedback from Black women about the ways in which the support that they receive as a result of their feature, we aim to celebrate harder. Initially, we had ideas about how we wanted to be sure to center and celebrate the accomplishments of Black women along the journey toward or after the PhD, but as a result of the feedback that we received, the process by which we work to maintain this space seems to be organic. Hearing back from K-12 educators, community members, and families who describe the ways in which they have shared the features, and the impact that this has on Black girls who may have never imagined pursuing a terminal degree, encourages us to keep cheering.

CAS: “Organic” is a great descriptor of the space y’all create with BWPhDs. Nothing about it, to me, feels or comes across as pretentious or unattainable. I appreciate that about the space. I remember the love I received during my feature. I had just finished my degree and was starting my year as a visiting faculty member. My UGA sista-docs showed up on the post and other people sent congratulations. It was awesome. With that, what aspects of your own journeys have been influenced by your work with BWPhDs?

DG:  Black Women PhDs has impacted the level at which I want to infiltrate change. Across the university settings, there are a lot of first generation students of color that don’t even know we exist, nor their options post-graduation. My work in training school counselors is so crucial in making sure they understand the need for representation in their schools and partnerships they create for students and families. Even for themselves, navigating their path as counselors and being able to provide culturally responsive services, and acknowledging beauty in our differences and strengths within themselves. It’s always inspiring to see other Bronx Girls and women from NYC that have their terminal degrees. Seeing them, and Sorors, or folks that share one of my alma maters really warms my heart. It’ the same feeling when I see other educators and counselors. Seeing parts of my identity reflected in so many other women is truly a beautiful feeling. I don’t typically see that many faces, particularly Women of Color and especially Black Women getting the recognition they deserve. I wanted to make sure college students and even younger students were exposed to the options they have with earning a PhD. Growing up I only heard about medical doctors and lawyers but not the nuances of terminal degrees. We needed a light for the women that courageously contribute to their fields and add depth to research, and really center our narratives.

LHT: Similarly, Black Women PhDs has served as a reminder of the many ways that Black Women arrive at their PhDs or EdDs. The stories of women completing their degrees while parenting, while holding down full time jobs, after tremendous loss, or out of communities that society tells us won’t produce what we see every day on Black Women PhDs. I personally recall the day that we featured a Black Woman that I had been a fan of since childhood.  She was literally a neighbor down the street, and as the years had gone by, and we moved away, I had no idea that she had already completed the journey that I am now on. It was so exciting to see her continuing to inspire!

My writing and research examining trauma and resilience in the lives of Black Women is buoyed as we share the stories of Black Women who persisted in spite of, all the while laying the roadmap for others to follow.

  CAS: Brittany and I, and so many others, appreciate the work that you all do through the BWPhD platform. It is our hope that folks who might not know about your work might check it out and support it and the Black women PhDs in their network. Now, we wouldn’t be #CiteASista if we didn’t ask you to cite a sista (or two) who shape your life and work (professionally, personally, academically, etc.).

LHT: Immediately, I am extremely grateful for the work of bell hooks, June Jordan, Gloria Naylor, Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker.  These women taught me to dare to dream of something bigger than my experiences might have predicted. In the classrooms, in my daily life, and in my writing, I am encouraged by their courageousness.  These are the women that I find myself needing to continue to dive deeper into as I work to fulfill my role in the universe, and as continue to cheer for my fellow sisters along the way.

DG: Personally, Dr. Julia Bryan, my advisor. I know she advocated for me in spaces that I was not even aware of and she’s a true gem in school counseling. As it relates to my understanding of self and my work in a broader sense, definitely Dr. Gloria Ladsing Billings. Latoya already mentioned the greats!! I’d like to echo bell hooks and Audre Lorde. Self care as a Black Woman is critical, especially in navigating political and personal spaces, and as we know, often the two are intertwined.

CAS: Where would we be without the sista-scholars who pave(d) the way for us. I’d be remiss not to cite sista Ananda Leeke (@anandaleeke) whose book, Digital Sisterhood: A Memoir of Fierce Living Online, follows her experiences online beginning in the 1980’s.

Y’all are so dope. Thank you all for your time, honesty, and transparency. Truly, talking with you both and learning more about yours work  has been a pleasure. I continue to be excited about the work that you all do, the centering of Black women in your work, and your commitment to creating space for Black women to cheer each other on as we press our way toward our goals. To learn more about their work, follow them on IG @BlackWomenPhDs, Black Women PhDs on Facebook, and @BlackWomenPhDs on Twitter.

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Thanks for joining Team #CiteASista for the first of our #DigitalSisterhood posts. Be sure to join us the next #CiteASista chat with our digital sista-scholars at #BlackWomenPhDs. Be sure to follow @CiteASista on Twitter and IG for more content.

 

Serena is ALL of Us: #BlackWomenAtWork Edition

We’ve ALL been there. Unjustly taxed, silenced, and punished for speaking up. We’ve endured the frustrations, anger, and even rage that is all too common for #BlackWomenAtWork. We know what it feels like to be repeatedly tormented in a public place and to FINALLY release those frustrations…only to be told that we “aren’t a team player” or we “are making too much of things” or, my favorite of all, that we “aren’t looking at the other side”.

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Serena Williams, the GREATEST athlete of all time, is ALL of us. The BLACK WOMAN who won titles WHILE carrying her beautiful baby girl. The little Black girl from Compton who was taught to pursue her dreams, relentlessly. The same Black woman who shows up and gives her all, regardless of how people perceive her greatness. The very defitinition of, #JustDoIt.

#BlackWomenAtWork understand the risks involved when we say, “enough is enough”. We are raised from infancy to self-monitor, so that we don’t offend or threaten white folks in those spaces. Serena represents every one of our Aunties and Grannies who has ever given us these survival tips: “Go to work, get your check, and go home. That’s where you can really be yourself. These white people are NOT your friends”…

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Serena is every Black woman who has had ENOUGH of the double standard in the workplace and decides to call someone out on it. She’s every Black woman who gets TIRED of having to explain her natural hair to her bosses. She’s every Black woman who puts on a smile and a CUTE outfit, despite being policed for her attire being “too Black”. She’s every Black woman who has ever been ridiculed and mocked for expressing any emotion other than (white-approved) anger.

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She’s every Black woman who has been positioned as an “attacker” for speaking up for herself and challenging the systems that attack HER. She’s every Black woman that’s verbally questioned the equity, practices, and policies within the workplace, only to be made to feel that she isn’t displaying proper gratitude for simply being there in the first place. She’s every Black woman that’s been accused of cheating or having an unfair advanage, simply because she was better than everybody else. She’s every Black woman that’s been ostracized for being too Black, too strong, too outspoken, too committed to justice, and TOO TIRED of being mistreated. #BlackWomenAtWorkIMG_0678

Serena represents every Black woman who has ever wanted to demand an apology from a man who wronged her, but could not do it for so many different reasons. She’s every Black woman who has wanted to breakdown and cry in the boardroom, but feared the repercussions of being that vulnerable and that human in an unsafe space. #BlackWomenAtWork

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She’s every Black woman who has had to put her own frustrations aside to ensure that the Black women coming behind her don’t have to fight the same battles. Serena is every Black woman who has comforted another sista, in public and in private, after the world has beat them up for being…themselves. She’s every Black woman who has stood beside another Black woman and said, “I’m with you, sis. We can fight against this, together”, in spite of her own pain. #SerenaAndSankofa

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While she didn’t ask for this weight or representation, Serena is ALL of us. Serena is a CHAMPION and she deserves better. We all deserve better. Serena reminds us that we can demand better, every day. We love you, Queen! #SerenaWins

 

 

*Image rights belong to respective owners.