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

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Paola Jean

This week marks the return of 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

I had the genuine pleasure of sitting down with singer & songwriter Paola Jean as she shared her story with us, including some of the key experiences that drive her passion in music.  Born and bred in Bern, Switzerland, this Brooklyn-based multilingual singer & songwriter infuses the diversity of her world into the melody and lyrics of her music, accompanied by beats from some of LA’s and NY’s most promising producers.

VM: So from Switzerland, to LA, to Brooklyn.  Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how this journey has been unfolding so far?

PJ: I grew up in Switzerland, and I also have a home base in Los Angeles.  My move from Switzerland to New York though, was definitely focussed towards pursuing my artistry.  I’m in Brooklyn right now and I feel like as an artist, I can be anything I want to be in New York.  There are no limits to how creative or how edgy I can be, and I draw a great amount of inspiration from my environment here.  The last decade has been a very diverse mesh of work, my relationship, and my music.  I’ve made a conscious decision at present, to really focus on my music and devote real attention to my art and the lyrics.  My whole drive behind making music is that I want to leave a legacy when I’m gone.  The lyrics you write today, yes they’re here now but it’s not just about today. What you put out there into the world is going to be a huge representation of who you are and the story that you want to tell, and it will be out there for a long time.

VM: Tell us a bit about your musical style and any of your inspirations.

PJ: Because of my upbringing, I draw from a lot of different fields of inspiration when I am defining my own musical style.  With a Haitian mother and a Swiss father, I grew up listening to a lot of music from the caribbean, zouk, a lot of soul music, as well as traditional swiss music, and folk music.  I like the ability to be a bit of a chameleon with my music, and I think it’s always better when it comes from your own experiences.  For example, a project I am working on right now is my new record Love/Infinity.  It pulls from a lot of personal experiences, as well as those of people around me.  As in the title, it deals with love, but also the other aspects of love.  Love and anger, for one, are part of the same thing if you look at it.  The first single, “Relativity”, talks about separation and divorce – which is a whole other spectrum of being in love.  I’m working on the follow up to that with a song called “Top of the World” where it talks about the metamorphosis of a woman who is no longer going to settle for someone who isn’t worth the sacrifice of taking to the top of the world.  Another song, “You Gotta Be Here” talks about the longing for someone that you miss, yet you’re with that person.  I took inspiration for that premise from the wars plaguing us globally, where men and women are separated because one half has to fulfill some type of duty.  I wanted to acknowledge the sacrifice a lot of men and women have to make.  I took that message, but it’s spun in a reggae style, just to take it out of the box a bit.

VM: How do you relate your upbringing into your music now?

PJ: I grew up in a place called Munsingen, just outside of Bern – Switzerland’s capital – in a predominantly white community.  But I have to be honest, if I think about when I first realized what colour I was, that reckoning hit me when I moved to the US, not when I was living in Switzerland.  In the US it’s almost like these defined cliques and you have to make a choice – a statement – and decide what side you will join.  Often I got the question, “Well do you feel like you are black, or do you see yourself as white?”.  I see myself as All.  In picking a side, you are denying one half of yourself.  How can you do that?  It took time to fully come into my own and work on it, but I think I have a good blend of the two cultures inside my heart.  One of the biggest joys I find in music is the freedom.  You don’t have to fit into a clique.  There are no boundaries to where you can go with music, or what story you want to share.

VM: It seems the diversity in your family helped you nurture a very positive voice and outlook.

PJ: My parents were very, very supportive, especially of my music.  My mom said I was singing before I was walking.  But I think the first time it resonated for me, was when I was eleven and sang with my school choir.  That’s when I knew in my core that this was something I wanted to do.  I expanded into singing and dancing contests.  My father in particular always supported me.  He always wore a suit, so he looked like my manager, always sitting in the back providing steady support.  There were times when he pushed me to enter a competition, and I would say, “I don’t want to conform to anything! I’m a rebel, I don’t want to be commercial…” But he would just reassure me and say, “Hey why not, you never know.  Just check it out.”  Those opportunities would lead to another, and another, and eventually allowed me to perform shows in Germany and Russia, and I really had a chance to expand.  I definitely felt supported by my parents.  But they also told me to get a degree.  They said that you never know what life will bring you, and you want to have all possible options available to you.  They said, “We don’t care what you do, just get a degree.”  And well, I could never commit myself wholly to something I didn’t love, so I became a nurse.

VM: That’s some really solid advice.  But what pulled you to Nursing?

PJ: Nursing draws me in because it’s about the miracle of human beings.  I have a huge respect for our body, for nature, for anything we can’t really 100% explain.  I have a huge fascination with the frailty of the human body, and also its strength in what it’s able to accomplish.  I also really love engaging with all types of people.  I can get bored in a routine quite quickly; Nursing is the perfect job because you meet a lot of different people every day, each with their unique stories.  And every nurse who reads this is going to laugh, but I always say that I’m a nurse, I’m a psychiatrist, I’m a counsellor, I’m a spiritual guide, I’m a nanny, a butler, a maid, everything that you can imagine and more.  In this one role, you really have to pull from so many other roles.

The broad bridge between Nursing and music has been gapped by my ability to really explore and know myself.  My dad has been a huge driving force.  I always had an extremely curious outlook and my parents nurtured that.  They were very careful not to shut it off.  My dad taught me that things are never the way they seem, that you have to really look closely and pay attention to every story and look for yourself.  I think our society, globally, can be amazing.  But we still have a lot of issues and hangups, like skin colour.  And one thing we learn in Nursing is that the skin won’t help you when it boils down to what matters.  It won’t help cure you.  Internally when we are cut open, we all look the same.

VM: Maybe that can be the next song.

PJ: Yes! We are all Red.

VM: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to sit and talk with us.  Where can our readers find more information on your albums and work?

PJ: The first album is available on iTunes.  You can also buy the hard copy over at CDBaby.  The 2nd full length album Love/Infinity will be coming out soon.  The first single off of that is “Relativity” and that’s also available on iTunes.  We worked with a lot of great producers including James Poyser of the Roots, Kev Brown, Fantasic Machine and Mobius Collective, among others.

VM: In the spirit of our weekly feature, how would you define yourself as a colourful woman?

PJ: I am a colourful woman, because I love colours in the true essence!  You will see me every day in some crazy new colour combination.  I think it represents not only the caribbean flavour and a part of my heritage, but also it represents that aspect of my personality.  I try to hold onto the vibrance of my heritage and hope it shines through my personality.  I take that with me every day, everywhere.  And if it’s grey and black out there, I blast it with my joy.

Take a look at the video for Paola’s single Relativity here, and keep in touch with her through the links after the jump:

Follow Paola Jean on:

Facebook
Twitter
Youtube

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.

A cultural exchange gone wrong

On an extremely hot and humid Friday night outside a bar near La Esplanada in Alicante, Spain the N-word appeared in a conversation. It was at the end of the night, after a few drinks, a few bar changes, with two British tourists on their first vacation on the Mediterranean Coast. Bob (not his real name) was very happy to speak English, given that his Spanish was non-existent. Maybe that ease of finally speaking his native language, gave him a sense of comfort to really express himself.

He first started by referring to himself as a “Guido”, apparently  he thought of himself as the British version of “The Situation” from the Jersey Shore. And wasn’t bothered at all that the term is offensive to Italian-Americans, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here thinking he hasn’t read much history about Italians in the United States.

As the night progressed, he shared his love for music, women, traveling, “his pride in being a really good dancer for a white guy” and his obsession with American culture, and I guess his “coolness” by saying:

I’ve been to Miami many times, where some of my best friends are black and they called me their N-word….And they tell me I can call them that, because to them I’m their N-word.

When he said it, I was surprised and would have felt offended and repulsed by his ignorance if he had called me that. And that got me thinking, are words ever just words? My best friends are Latina women, and I don’t see anybody jumping for joy to be called a ”wetback”  or a “spick”. I don’t remember my white friends ever wanting to be referred to as “red-necks” nor “white trash”.

Where does cultural awareness begin and cultural insensitivity end? Can we really be clueless about other cultures in a world where access to information is instant?

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.