Did the NYTimes just call Michelle Obama an uppity negro?

Let’s just get this straight. According to Cathy Horyn and the NY Times:

many people, disappointed that [Michelle Obama’s] clothes get more attention than her values and leadership, hope that a second term will give Mrs. Obama more latitude to speak out on issues that are more controversial, like educational reform and work-life balance.

But it’s a funny thing: four years ago she denied conservatives the chance to vilify her as “an angry black woman” by taking immense pleasure in traditional first lady pursuits, like fashion, entertaining and gardening.

Issue one: if you’re into ‘traditional first lady pursuits’ [read: white first lady pursuits, because there’s never been a black first lady prior to Michelle Obama] like ‘fashion, entertaining and gardening’, you remove any fodder for critics to accuse you of being ‘an angry black woman’. Ok.

One designer, who doesn’t dress Mrs. Obama, observed, with some accuracy, “Her clothes are too tight.”

Issue two: Too tight? Too sexy? Too revealing? Too body conscious? Would ‘mom jeans’ and sweaters be more ‘appropriate’?

Even more astonishing is that Mrs. Obama’s spending on clothes has attracted little scrutiny. Clearly that’s because she is seen as helping the American economy. Still, she has spent tens of thousands of dollars on clothes and accessories. She was criticized for wearing $500-plus Lanvin sneakers at a food bank, in 2009. But at a time when economic inequality is a serious issue, you wonder why the first lady’s fashion spending hasn’t caused more fuss.

Issue three: Michelle Obama, high powered attorney, should be criticized for spending her own hard-earned money on clothes that have played no small part in making her palatable to ferocious critics. Got it.

One clue was Mrs. Obama’s decision, in late 2008, to accept an invitation to pose for the cover of Vogue. As Ms. Kantor wrote, her advisers were divided, with some concerned that Mrs. Obama, a woman of substance, would be seen as a fashionista. She argued, “There are young black women across this country, and I want them to see a black woman on the cover of Vogue.” In the end, there was little criticism of the Vogue cover.

Issue four: Oh, see what you did there. Dare not criticise her for appearing on Vogue and wanting to inspire young black girls, because then those social justice types might call you the r-word.Clutches pearls

Still, he hasn’t changed his view that Mrs. Obama can be a powerful voice on issues like equal opportunity and work-life balance, given her own background. “The engines of the American dream and meritocracy have slowed down dramatically over the past 20 years,” he said. “She is a person who has lived through that, came from the South Side of Chicago, went to Princeton and Harvard. It ought to be something she’s addressing. And the more she dresses in glamorous clothes, the more it looks like she’s cut off from her roots.”

Issue five: Oh, wait a minute here. Dressing in glamorous clothes cuts Michelle Obama off from her (poor, black) roots. SHE’S THE FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. SHE IS THE POSTER CHILD FOR MERITOCRACY AND THE AMERICAN DREAM. AND YOU THINK BECAUSE SHE CAN NOW AFFORD TO WEAR FANCY FROCKS SHE’S FORGOTTEN WHERE SHE CAME FROM? WHAT WOULD YOU PREFER? WALMART SNEAKERS AND FOOD STAMPS? GTFOH WITH YOUR “UPPITY NEGRO” NONSENSE.

No Pity Party here

I literally started this a while ago and just didn’t know how to end it. So I just left it. Then every so often, I’d return to it to add (and remove) another sentence. But with everything I tried, I just couldn’t finish it. Where would I leave off, on such a sensitive topic? So finally I decided to buckle down and hammer this one out through my own mind’s eye. Forget the rest, or I’d never get it done.

It doesn’t bother me that I’m single – it really doesn’t. What does bother me is that there are some who are bothered by my singleness. What bothers me even more than that is how bothered some seem to be by my not being bothered by it. Up to speed? Now imagine if I let that get to me what a staggered life I’d live.

As a single 30-something in the busy city of Toronto, it is very easy to feel the pressure of “getting up there” and not having settled down yet. There was a time when quite frankly that very thought had really terrified me.  What am I going to do, I would ask myself, if I get up there and I’m still single? But once I started to follow the path my life had laid out for me, I am more concerned about taking in the sights along the way. I’m doing so much that it makes up for the other parts.

Don’t get me wrong, singleness will always harbour some fear and doubt. But the fact is that times have changed. Independence is a commodity that we all strive towards. So who says you have to be “settled” by a certain age? So what if you don’t? I’d like to read the chapter in this proverbial Handbook of Life that states that you have a deadline to settle down.

As we evolve, we see that tables are turning; women are taking control of their lives in ways that would render our grandmothers speechless. And how many of us can say our grandmothers didn’t voice their malcontent? Many women are the sole or predominant breadwinner; we’re going back to school, taking on 2nd even 3rd jobs, travelling the world and learning different languages. But you know what the best part is? We’re speaking up and acting out.

The statistic of single 30-something women has increased because we are so focused that we don’t slow down to notice that certain areas of our lives remain unfulfilled. We see success on the horizon and would stop at nothing to get there. If there is an obstacle, it is viewed only as a slight delay as we iron out the kinks and handle it accordingly before we continue. Tunnel vision – that’s what it’s called.

So while you’re sitting there looking at your happily coupled-up friends and reflecting on your life asking yourself “why am I still single?” maybe you should ask:  “why can’t I still be single?” Or perhaps the question you need to ask yourself: “am I ready for a relationship?” Many of us think we are, or feel we need to and may even end up making the wrong choices. But being single means moving at your own pace, changing your direction when you feel like it and taking longer than you need to on things. It really is the ultimate selfishness. And I think with all the hard work I put in, I have earned the right to be selfish. And to add a cliché: if something isn’t meant to happen, nothing in your power will make it happen.

I’m happy with the way my life is going even with the unattended area, or void if I may. I’m content with knowing what I want and having the luxury of taking my time. Yes, I’m “picky” but I’m really tired of hearing that, because quite frankly I deserve to be. I have always taken my time on things, so I’m not going to start rushing now. And I really do believe that if it’s meant to happen then it will. Some things just don’t follow a timeline or are limited to a deadline. So I might as well keep doing what I have to do to enjoy my life; by myself, for myself. This for no other reason than I’m allowed to be selfish.

Being Sweet

The co-owner of the building in which my office is located, introduced me to a stranger as ‘One of John’s (my boss) girls’. He felt awkward saying it too, I could tell. But he wasn’t quite up for calling me ‘architect’ to my face it would seem. ‘An intern architect working at John’s company’, would have been the proper introduction. But instead he went with the introduction that gave me the least bit of credit possible. What’s worse is that I didn’t correct him. I laughed it off and walked away. Why didn’t I say something? I wish I did but I don’t really know what I would say even now.

This is just a little something to serve as an example of the quandary I find myself in as I learn how to be a professional. On site, the men are mostly very sweet to me. They treat me with a certain amount of deference – but it has more to do with me being a woman than a professional. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I can blame them either. I don’t need deference but I look at John. People listen to him. He has that air about him of trustworthiness and authority. That’s what you need to project as an Architect so that your contractors, clients and consultants listen.

I think about what I project. I think about the social habits people develop to fit in. For example, I’m nice and kind of funny/weird. People like me because I’m nice and remember me because I’m kind of eccentric. Being nice has gotten a bad rap over the years. But it’s true. I’m not very loud or pushy or even particularly opinionated. I can be all of those things of course, but they aren’t my prevailing spirit. What does that mean though as I exist in the workplace? Does it doom me to being ‘one of the girls’? Or can I be respected without being brash? I’ve felt this disconnect for a long time, between who I need to be to succeed and who I am. I’m an artist – entirely self indulgent but reflective and passionate. I’m a human great dane. Anyone who knows the breed knows they’re big showy goof balls. That’s me. Sure I understand that at the office, you can’t be the big dope you might be after hours. That’s fine. What confuses me are the social habits, especially the way in which I communicate with the opposite sex. I’m daddy’s little girl. That’s kind of my default if I were to pick a female stereotype. But in truth, can daddy’s little girl really grow up to be an Architect?

I reflect on the way that people perceive me and the dysfunctional things that people consider assets in our way too jaded world. I refuse to become dysfunctional in order to fit a dysfunctional system. Refuse. I refuse to be someone I’m not, so that I can play out a social game that I resent. So my quandary is how. How to be two things at once – the goof ball that I am as well as the professional I am becoming.

I don’t want to be ‘One of the girls’. As everything, I suppose it will evolve through trial and error, until I have a learned response for days like today, when someone tries to put a label on me.

 

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Charmaine Joseph

This week’s Colourful Woman feature showcases Charmaine Joseph.  Charmaine is an Atlanta-based Marketing & Sales Coordinator for corporate apparel agency, The Gingerich Group.  She is also the co-owner of a socially conscious t-shirt line: Global Warming. Charmaine partnered with Social Media maven, Lauren Shirreffs, and together they created t-shirts that touch on different issues from stereotyping, bullying, racism, body image, etc.

Our concept was to create “walking billboards,” these shirts are text based with pointed messages that are meant to educate, enlighten or provoke dialogue at a glance.

Recently, Global Warming started an initiative called “Global Change.” For this project they team up with different schools and have classes create designs on varied topics and then choose a winning design and have proceeds from the t-shirt sales go towards their charity of choice.

It’s very refreshing to go into classrooms and hear students talk about their visions for their designs and hear the passion that comes from their own life experiences, whether it be racism, bullying, body image etc.

The Global Change initiative’s winning design for Anti-Bullying. On sale at http://www.global-warming.ca from November 1st.
designer: Martin Kondrat / The Academy of Design.


What makes you a “colourful woman”?
I have to take this very literally when you say “colourful woman”!  I actually think it may just be appropriate to insert a photo from my wedding here, the photo really says it all.  I may just be the most colourful person I know (laughs).  I actually gave my bridesmaids little Kate Spade coin purses that said “Live Colourfully”…it’s definitely my life theme.


Who or what are some of your colourful inspirations?
I’m not sure if it is part of my Caribbean roots, but of course it’s a possibility having family from Barbados and growing up seeing the vibrant costumes for carnival, and that rich aspect of our heritage.  Then there are the tropical flowers, the sea etc. Being nurtured in such a vivacious environment has a great impact.


What message would you like to share with our readers today?
Be the best version of you. Don’t get caught up in someone else’s definition of success, beauty, love, or happiness. As Lauryn Hill once said, “God made us all different, on purpose.” I think our differences make us beautiful so just learn to love your shortcomings, your imperfections, your struggle, because they all add to the masterpiece. A painter mixes colours before they touch the canvas, nothing and nobody is perfect.

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Michelle Bobb-Parris

Michelle Bobb-Parris by Garance Doré

Michelle Bobb-Parris by Garance Doré

“Girl. Have camera. Will shoot” warns Canadian lawyer turned street-style fashion photographer Michelle Bobb-Parris. Over the past two years, Michelle has worked with the greatest fashion influencers, from NYLON magazine to Italian luxury retailer Luisa Via Roma and become a feature of London Fashion Week. This week, she’s celebrating her photographic partnership with Michael Kors for  the opening of his new London store.

‘What makes you a colourful woman?’

Usually, when one is described as ‘colourful’ it can be a euphemism for so many things, but I’d like to think of myself as colourful because of what a friend described as my polymath left-brain/right-brain skill set. It has a lot to do with the well-rounded upbringing my parents gave me, full of academic encouragement, creative pursuits, and sports, which have shaped my career path (so far!). I have always found it difficult to define myself as only one thing.

Being a colourful woman, do you think you fit in differently in the street style blogger community?

I’d have to answer that with both a yes and a no. Yes, because I don’t know of other street style photographers with my experiential background, but no because the street style photographer community is a fairly diverse one. It’s a veritable cultural, racial, and career rainbow outside of the shows.

There’s been a lot of noise recently around Independent Fashion Bloggers arguing there were few colourful women in blogging because their content doesn’t measure up. What’s your take on it?
I tend to not put too much stock in comments that come from a misinformed or inflammatory place. When you are not looking for something, you won’t notice it’s missing from your circle, so it’s understandable that both the author and founder of IFB aren’t aware of high quality of blogs that come from outside of their myopic point of view.

‘Who are some of your colourful inspirations?’

My parents. They have taken on challenges in life and have instilled in me (and still do) so many life lessons and values that have sustained and guided me to where I am today.
‘What message would you like to share with our readers today?’
One of my favourite quotes: “The man at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there.” Work hard and success will follow.
What are your upcoming projects you’d like to share with our readers?

One that I can now share is that I just finished shooting a project for Michael Kors (under the hash tag #MKLOVESLONDON) to coincide with the opening of his store in Covent Garden, London, so look out for more about it this week.

You can follow Michelle on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook

The Ominous Hijab Part II

I ventured into this topic a few months ago here, when I visited my boyfriend’s homeland of Turkey, for 2 months.  In that time, my boyfriend became my fiance, hosts became family and, well, the entire trip was pleasantly hijacked.

In the weeks that ensued however, I did manage to do what I set out to do: spend time in Turkey’s capital, drive along the coastal towns, and reaching as far south as the city of Izmir, and ending of my whirlwind tour in Istanbul.  What I found pertaining to the hijab was little short of disappointing.

I still haven’t been able to engage with much of the pro-hijab audience, only with my peers who seem adamant that it not only comes from an archaic mindset, but that it is very much anti-Turkish.  This harmless piece of cloth seems a strong point of contention not only from a feminist perspective, but from a political one as well.  And since being an outsider, I could only go on the sometimes biased opinions of my guides, I had to maintain a polite distance from adopting these beliefs.

However even in my own observations, it was hard to deny that within the intellectual and middle to upper class world, the hijab was truly found few and far between.  Through my exploration of the countryside, stopping in villages to get gas, food etc., I did notice that something as seemingly harmless as knee-length shorts and sleeveless tank tops did gather me stares.  I am not sure if they were simple suspicion or judgement, but when they came from women covered head to toe in 40 degree celsius weather, I couldn’t help feeling guilty of something.

At one point, visiting the market and bazaars of Izmir, a city strongly loyal to the old rule under Ataturk, there was a strong air of modernism and progression.  Muslims were very proud to be Turkish, and were very clear to highlight that the two were not the same.

My personal views on the hijab still have not been swayed, only moreso affirmed, so I am not left with much to say, but I took some photos while I was in the Izmir bazaar.  It shows two clothing stores, side by side.  One is selling current demure clothing for the muslim woman who chooses to cover herself, and the other sells beautiful and vibrant traditional Turkish dress hailing from yesteryear.

I think they describe the state of flux that the hijab has created in Turkey, far better than I ever could.

Modern vs. Traditional attire

Contrasting storefronts in an Izmir bazaar

10 years

This weekend marks my 10 year anniversary of moving to Canada.

10 years ago I thought I was moving to Canada to go to school. It was so clear to me then that I’d go home to Trinidad at every work term and that upon graduation I’d head straight back there to marry my high school sweetheart and stay close with my friends and family. At the time I was fiercely nationalistic and would never have believed that I’d stay in Canada.

10 years is a long time it turns out, even though it flew by. I sit now in the living room of my apartment in Kitchener. Mauri (my bf) is asleep in the bedroom beside me. I bid farewell to the high school sweetheart a long time ago. I like my job and I have a good life now in Canada. It took a very long time to become something like a home. But after 10 years, many tears and heartbreaks later, I have a circle of friends here who have become my family.

A City with Two Faces (my masters thesis) I suppose was my saudade. My heart remains an immigrant heart. Forever longing and forever unsure. Nothing holds me where I am the way that living at ‘home’ would hold me. But then here I have a kind of liberty I couldn’t have at home. A life that is relatively free of fear. So like all of the other immigrants, I wander through this new landscape that’s become my new home. Perhaps it’s my inner buddhist or perhaps it’s because I have absolutely no idea what comes next, but I am finally okay with living in the now.

 

‘I felt like I either didn’t know the rules, or I was breaking them’

In this episode of The Broad Experience, Ashley Milne-Tyte interviews one of the Colourful Collective about her experience of being a brown-skinned woman at a very white, male-dominated company. Ashley also talks to a white man who’s been through – and actually enjoyed – diversity training, and discuss how it changed his attitude to the workplace.

Power and culture

I had an interesting conversation with my cousin who lives in the Bahamas. As I stood there in admiration while she talked about her business and its possible expansion, she went on to reveal that unless her husband is present she has a hard time showing authority to her female employees. Why? Because they just don’t seem to take her seriously as a female boss.  So basically she worked hard on her education then worked even harder to establish herself; yet these women who should respect her accomplishments and ultimately her decision to hire them… don’t take her seriously… simply because she’s a woman. And they would respond in the expected manner to her husband… because he’s a man.

Really? Excuse me but the last I checked it was 2012. Feminists everywhere would develop ulcers if they read this.

It’s interesting to know that in a culture so rich, women are oppressing each other. But this brings to mind the question: how many continue to have this mentality in this day and age? Sadly enough – I think it is more alive than we realize, perhaps just not as blatant as it is in the Bahamas. Now of course as we normally know it, most women are automatically respected because after all they’re the boss. And on the other side of this, research has repeatedly shown that women leaders aren’t taken as seriously and even earn less than men in the same positions. And for some reason they seem to think we’re just not as smart or savvy. So add to that being a woman of colour and we all know what happens. So with the repeated obstacles, it would be nice to have agreeable staff – especially staff who should understand the difficulties.

It is disheartening to think that if I hire women – supposed “sistas” – and give them the chance to work hard and even earn promotions that they can not value my decision enough to respect my wishes. But this isn’t because I’m a horrible boss, but because they’d rather a man tells them what to do.

I cringe every time I type that.

So even in 2012 the slow climb to overcome the various forms of oppression continues. But this particular stereotype is reinforced as quickly as it is knocked down. Talk about regression.

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Masia One

This is the eleventh post in our “Colourful Woman Wednesday” series, which features stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via TumblrTwitter or Facebook

Masia One

Masia One is a remarkable performing artist. She’s the first female nominated for a Much Music Video Award (Rap) and winner of the Chinese Canadian National Council Pioneer Award. Her music has edge and passion and her style is undeniable. In an interview with the Coloured Collective’s Lisa Rajkumar-Maharaj, Masia has this to say:

How would you describe your musical style? What are your musical inspirations?
My music is based in Hiphop and has dancehall, reggae, and pop influences.  It is also very influenced by my nomadic lifestyle.  The message is with the intention of making people feel brave and positive to balance out the amount of degradation in mainstream sound today.
 
To say you are multi talented is an understatement. Other than singing, what other types of work do you do? 
I’m currently the Creative Director of a NYC based high end men’s outerwear line M71 that will be launching at Magic in Las Vegas this Fall. My company The MERDEKA Group is a branding boutique where we take events, artists or products and create the brand identity through graphic design, manufactured merchandise and events.  We’ve worked with Redbull, Adidas, Mobile Jam Fest (Youth Creativity Festival) and facilitate opportunities to bring the grass roots community and corporate interests together.  Finally, I really like painting and I hope to get a gig one day illustrating a children’s story book.
 
Tell us a bit about your upbringing and how you fit into and perceive the urban music scene.
I was born in Singapore and grew up in Vancouver, BC.  When I found a bootleg Public Enemy tape in Singapore at the age of 8, I knew I had discovered something unlike anything I had heard before. When I put out my first album Mississauga in 2003, I’m don’t think I fit into the perceived urban music scene at all – because of the way I look I was told to either be a spoken word poet or car model. Today Hiphop & Urban music is undeniably international and I’m hoping to bring my experience in music & culture back to SE Asia, the place of my birth.
 
Any performances, albums or anything you’d like to share with our readers? Where can we buy your album?
I have 2 upcoming releases for 2012.  The first is BOOTLEG CULTURE, produced by Grammy winning producer Che Vicious (Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 50 Cent, Kanye).  Guest appearances include The RZA, Isis of Thunderheist and Talib Kweli.  The second is a record done live at Tuff Gong (Bob Marley’s studios) in Kingston Jamaica together with an incredible band Dubtonic Kru.  My music can be purchased on iTunes or on my website www.masiaone.com (store opening at the end of the month).
The first single Warriors Tongue can be viewed here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_b8QMVJVQjs
 

Masia One Album cover

Finally, since the theme of our blog is Colourful women, that is, women who create a unique space for themselves in the world – powerful women of varying racial and cultural backgrounds, what would you say makes you a Colourful woman? 
Every woman is a colourful woman, but what is exposed in the media is an extremely skewed monochrome vision.  Only 24% of news subjects are women.  In a vast mainstream of Hiphop music, there is a spotlight on only 1 female – who incidentally glamourizes being a Barbie.  At the ground level, casting couches are happening every day in order for women to break through in this industry.  I guess what makes me able to show that I am a colourful woman is that I have been able to be independent and self sufficient in the business from reading my contracts to booking shows, where there’s usually a male “gatekeeper” for every female act.  My business MERDEKA is the Malay word for “independence & freedom” and this is certainly something I champion for all women.