Monday, April 7, 2014

Lupita Nyong'o on Beauty at the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon

"I wrote down this speech that I had no time to practice so this will be the practicing session. Thank you Alfre, for such an amazing, amazing introduction and celebration of my work. And thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of such an extraordinary community. I am surrounded by people who have inspired me, women in particular whose presence on screen made me feel a little more seen and heard and understood. That it is ESSENCE that holds this event celebrating our professional gains of the year is significant, a beauty magazine that recognizes the beauty that we not just possess but also produce. I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty. Black beauty. Dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: "Dear Lupita," it reads, "I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me." My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me. I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother's every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened. And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, "You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you." And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be. And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What does sustain us... what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away. And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty."

A month later and I am still in awe of Lupita's speech. See, much of it could have been written by me. Unfortunately, I too grew up detesting my skin color and wishing it was a lighter shade. I recall saving my junior high school allowance money to purchase Ambi skin lightening products. I remember thinking I want to be Black but just not so dark, a lighter shade of brown would be much more suitable. Thankfully, my love for fashion over took my desire for lighter skin and I stopped buying skin lightening creams to save for 54.11s (reebok hightop sneakers) instead (shoutout to my New Yorkers!). Hearing Lupita speak brought me back to my fourteen year old, insecure and unhappy self. Thank you Lupita for being so frank about your own insecurities, for explaining so clearly how it feels to "unpretty" and most importantly for telling the world how important it is for women who like us to see women who like us. It is obvious Lancome listened.

Monday, October 25, 2010

18 degrees Celsius is only 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit!!

MY OFFICE BUILIDNG IS FREEZING. You could store meat in this place it is that cold. I checked the various air conditioners and saw that they are all set to 18 degrees Celsius. I grew up using Fahrenheit to measure temperature so I quickly went to my computer to convert it and saw that 18 degrees is 64.4 degrees fahrenheit. People, that is cold!!! I consider that to be jacket weather. Why is the air conditioning set to a level that requires a coat? I keep my office air conditioner on 26 degrees Celsius and am frequently told that my old feels too warm and in comparison to the rest of this Arctic office building my office does feel like a tropical oasis but I need the warmth. I really don’t get this. And this isn’t limited to my office either. I experience this in other offices within Accra, especially banks. Aren’t we hot weather people? This is Ghana, right? I am the one that grew up in the cold but yet seem to be the only one running away from the air conditioning. The funny thing is I’ve seen Ghanaians practically wearing parkas during rainy season and the temperature is probably about 22-25 degrees Celsius but everyone seems to celebrate the intense air conditioning.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unsung Heroes

I need to give praise, a shoutout, much respect and a heartfelt thanks to the people who decide to get up every day and direct traffic at some of the most congested, traffic light/stop sign needing intersections and tunnels in Accra. If you’ve driven around Accra, you’ve seen these people. Usually they are some young men, who stand all day in the often very intense heat with nothing more than a stick w/a bandana tied to it, or a tree branch in their hands directing traffic. It is my understanding that they are not paid by the government and are not trained to do the work they do. Instead they are just private citizens who get up and do this. So far Ghana is the only country I’ve been in where you can get up, pick up a tree branch and become a traffic conductor but it happens. I know they don’t do it just to be kind, they do beg for money as they are directing traffic but they are doing a service and I gladly donate to their cause. They provide a much needed service. I still am not the most aggressive driver and know that without them I would be stuck waiting at places like the East Legon tunnel, or the bridge to the Abbatoir Road for hours hoping someone would pity me and allow me to pass. Without them those areas would be absolute chaos. Everyone would be trying to force their way through and the already high accident rate would increase. So this post is dedicated to those branch wielding traffic conductors all over Accra. Me dase paaaa!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Run up on me at the light, you could lose your life

That is one of my favorite Jigga lines. It comes from Excuse Me Miss Again (remix). And I was reminded of it last night . . . .

I got lost yesterday. Totally and completely lost. And if you’ve been reading my posts you will know that the vast majority of roads in Ghana don’t have street signs, so whenever I attempted to ask for directions I would hear something like “Go straight, straight, straight, and when you come to a big restaurant go right.” That sounds fine but I think I was so freaked out because I was so completely lost, and it was dark that I wasn’t even paying attention to the landmarks given. It was awful. After I had gone straight for about 2 miles without seeing a restaurant I decided to pull over and ask yet another pedestrian for directions. I saw a young man walking wearing headphones so I lightly tapped my horn to get his attention. I rolled down my window and asked, “Excuse me, how do I get to Tema Beach Road?” He said “Oh, it’s this way” and started to open my car door.

YES, that’s right. Homeboy tried to open my car door. WTF! I said, "NO! THERE IS NO NEED TO ENTER" and peeled off so fast I may have driven over a few of his toes. My heart was racing! I was thinking “Oh my God, dude is about to murder me and throw me into the bushes!” Actually, I know that Ghanaians are super friendly and considerate about giving directions. We all know how difficult it is to get around here given that many places are not well lit and there isn’t a proper address system, HOWEVER, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, try to enter my car to give me directions. Things like that will get you shot in NYC. Hell, I don’t carry a weapon but thought, “Do I need to reverse and hit him so he doesn’t take me out first?” (just joking!) Poor boy, it is very likely he was just trying to offer assistance but I wasn’t taking any chances. Believe that the next person I asked for directions was a woman. And I made sure she was a small woman at that.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In New York, Concrete jungle where dreams are made of

Ahhh! It's good to be in NY!!! For the most part I enjoy my life in Accra but NYC will always be my first love. It was where I was born and raised so how can I feel any differently? I've never been away from the city for more than four months at a time until now. I've been gone for about eight months!!! I missed it so badly I was even looking forward to seeing the graffiti. I have about 48 hours here. I plan on eating tons of Thai and Mexican food, helping out the economy by shopping like a mad woman and of course spending time with family and friends. We will see how much gets accomplished.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I’m going to stereotype and say that Ghanaian women love fake hair. As a matter of fact I am pretty sure that starting a church or selling weaves are two of the easiest and fastest ways to get rich in Ghana. I admit that not ALL Ghanaian women wear fake hair but many, in fact the vast majority, prefer wearing some sort of hair attachment to their own hair. And I think I am the newest convert. I was never a weave wearer when in the US. At most I would wear my hair in tiny braids that ended in loose curls. I would often do that when I wanted to take a break from chemical straighteners. At one point I wore my hair in braids for about two years (not the same braids, I removed and redid them about every 8-10 weeks). I did so because I wanted to grow all the chemicals out of my hair and wear my hair in its natural state. I succeed in growing the chemical out and cut off all the chemically relaxed hair but wore my hair naturally for only about three months before going back to chemical relaxers. Sadly, I didn’t feel that I looked my best with natural hair.

I’ve continued relaxing my hair since I’ve been in Ghana and have worn braids to take a break but recently felt the desire to try something different. So I got a weave. Not a video vixen weave, by that I mean long flowing hair, but a weave nonetheless. My weave was a short bob with bangs, or as said in the UK, a “fringe.” I LOVED the weave. Loved it! In fact I have since removed it and am seriously contemplating getting another one. Having it in my hair made my morning routine so much easier. I barely spent any time styling my hair, I pretty much just brushed the weave into shape and went about my day. I didn’t worry about humidity, sweat or rain. When the hair got wet, it dried and fell right back into place.

I used to think that women who constantly wore weaves were being fake. I also thought of it as unprofessional. When I thought of weaves images of Lil Kim and Foxy Brown came to mind and who the hell wants to look like them? Additionally, I’ve read articles and essays debating whether the wearing of weaves by Black women indicated acceptance and adoption of the European beauty ideal (Fair skin, slim bodies and long flowing hair). Writers have even likened the wearing of weaves by Black women to skin bleaching. I don’t completely follow that line of thinking but have thought that women who constantly wore weaves had some sort of insecurity issue. And now look at me! I wore a weave for a month and am thinking of other possible weave styles. I loved the ease and versatility of it. So now I am thinking that maybe I was thinking about the hair issue too deeply. What’s wrong with wearing weaves and constantly changing one’s hair length, texture or style? Why can’t a Black woman’s hair be like her attire and change daily? Does it really matter if the hair is fake or not?

pictured above is a signboard on Spintex Road (a very busy street in Accra) advertising hair weaves.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Steve Madden + Gucci = Stucci

I have a pair of flats by Steve Madden that I have worn to the ground. I wore them to commute to and from work. Ghana streets are not very pedestrian friendly. Many don’t have sidewalks therefore, if you are walking you are either walking along the side of the road in red dirt or loose gravel. The soles of the shoes were pretty thin to begin with so after months of commuting via trotro, during rainy season, the soles were basically non-existent. In fact the soles had become so thin that water would seep into the shoe through the soles. I took the shoes to a local shoemaker/shoe repairer and asked him to re-sole the bottom. I also dropped off two other pairs of pumps to have their heel taps replaced. I showed him the Steve Madden flats and explained that I wanted a rubber sole slightly thicker than the original sole. He said sure.

I was shocked when I went to retrieve the shoes. I looked at the bottom of the Steve Madden flats and saw that he did replace the sole with a thicker rubber sole. But they weren’t the average rubber sole, the new rubber sole had interlocking Gs all over it. That’s right, interlocking Gs as if they were a pair of Gucci shoes!

Why is there so much counterfeit stuff in Accra? I realize that the goods are mostly China made products but why do we have such an appetite for it? I've seen so many Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci purses since I've been here and know that 99 percent of it is fake. Is it that people don't realize they are purchasing knockoff goods or is that they want those brands and settle for the counterfeit ones because they can't afford the original?

In the meantime I can't wait for the next rainy day. I will be sure to wear my Stuccis and leave G footprints all over Accra!