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That Loud Yellow Leotard –––––––– Fall, 2018


Copyright Š 2018 Micaela Harp All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Printed in the United States of America First Printing, 2018 Otis College of Art and Design 9045 Lincoln Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90045


This book is dedicated to the following two people: My father, Darwyn Harp, who once told me that being called an “oreo” was not a compliment and I shouldn’t take it as such, and who allows me navigate my world as I see fit. My fifth-grade homeroom teacher, Ms. Jan Rauscher, who was, at the time, seemingly harder on me than the rest of my classmates but is probably the reason why I’m not majoring in buisness at a state college.

Dedication –––––––– That Loud Yellow Leotard

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Front Matter

Dedication and Introduction

The Worst Thing About Making Greens...

Lanna, Veronica, and Bridgette

Some Thoughts About Having Two Dads

Wisely and Darwyn

Most of the Time, Mix-Ins are Extra

My Fears About Loving vs. Virginia

Mine Whether I Bought It Or Grew It

"Wig!" – Katy Perry

Watching Insecure Should Not Give You a Blaccent

And Stop Saying Nigga if You're Not Black

It’s Qwhite Alt-right to be With Her

Don't Forget! Black Pride is White Hatred!

Back Matter

Extra Thoughts and Colophon

Table of Contents –––––––– That Loud Yellow Leotard

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1-12

13-24

25-42

43-52

54-68

69-80

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To Whomever Comes Across This: There are times, as recently as last week, when I wish I had chosen to go to an HBCU. Howard has a very good graphic design program, so I’ve heard. Even FAMU. But I didn’t go to an HBCU, I didn’t even apply to a single one. I’m in Los Angeles, not even at USC, at an art school. So this anthology of essays is here. Because I have no one to talk to. I have friends, yes, but in the words of my grandma – “you don’t have any little Black friends?”. I do, Gran-Gran, but most of them have graduated or aren’t in my major or my year, and we have other pressing things on our minds besides Black cultural issues at 8 o’clock in the morning, and I’m not in the business of discussing Black issues in a class where I’m one of two. This book is, in all honesty, partially flushed out ruminations about myself and my surroundings because I live in a weird limbo of in-betweens that are somewhat... Starting in junior high and up until December of my senior year of high school, I firmly believed I wanted to be a geneticist, a legal, Introduction –––––––– That Loud Yellow Leotard

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researched version of Henrietta Lacks, so to speak. I was going to reverse medical stigmas against minorities and single-handedly stop organ harvesting! So in high school I enrolled in an Advanced Placement Biology class. In that class I learned the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell a human’s personality could be divided into two: into acquired or inherited traits and my last semester of college is devoted to acknowledging key people in my family that I collected both traits from and figuring out how to visually infer the traits I acquired after two decades of learning. A sort of exposition into my final semester of college, these first two chapters, The Worst Thing About Making Greens... and Some Thoughts About Having Two Dads are where you get to meet a few people in my family and gain insight into my relationship with them. The following three chapters: Most of the Time, Mix-Ins are Extra, Mine Whether I Bought It Or Grew It, and Watching Insecure Should Not Give You a Blaccent deal with things my family didn’t exactly equip me to deal with, things I think my parents might've assumed, based on my disposition as a child, or the fact that I spent most of my developing years in suburbia that I was prepared for but actually wasn't, things I see them teaching my siblings but that I’ve had to journey Introduction –––––––– That Loud Yellow Leotard


through on my own. And the final chapter, It’s Qwhite Alt-right to be With Her deals with current events, no real relation to my family, just a “last thoughts” of sort, a reminder that oftentimes in my practice I feel the need to make usually comfortable people comfortable. I have many favorite quotes by James Baldwin, but one of the very first quotes I ever read and my still-favorite is: “You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone. This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important”. My life's purpose is designing things for an audience that is struggling with "wearing the mask" and also acknowledging the people that have helped me get tired of being what history says I must be. Please enjoy these six stories, confessions, and rants – they come from a place of love and confusion and nostalgia which are, in my opinion, the three best things in life. xx,

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“‘Sassy, you have a great deal of potential. You have beautiful long arms and legs, but you flail about with no control. You must learn to use your feet better — and timing, timing. We have a lot of work to do when you come to Washington this summer. But please! Please leave that loud yellow leotard at home. All you need do to be noticed is walk into a room. Dismissed.’ He walked out.” Dancing in the Wings, Debbie Allen, 2000


Untitled, Harlem, New York 1967 photograph by Gordon Parks


That Loud Yellow Leotard Henderson, Laretta. “‘Ebony Jr!’ And ‘Soul Food’: The Construction of Middle-Class African American Identity through the Use of Traditional Southern Foodways.” MELUS, vol. 32, no. 4, Winter 2007, pp. 81–97.

Allen, Julie Ober, Derek M. Griffith, and Henry C. Gaines. “‘She Looks out for the Meals, Period’: African American Men’s Perceptions of How Their Wives Influence Their Eating Behavior and Dietary Health.” Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association 32.4 (2013): 447–455.PMC. Web.

The Worst Thing About Making Greens... The worst thing about my momma making greens is having to wash out the pot afterwards. It’s oily and gross and kind of smells (and I refuse to wear gloves) and just takes a long time to clean. I complain about that, but I don’t live with my momma anymore; I live on my own, and that means I have to both cook and clean, and anyone who knows me knows I can clean an entire house top to bottom before I can put water on to boil. My momma is the queen-adjacent of cooking, followed closely by my aunt, Veronica. It depends on the day and the meal being prepared... so on second thought, they’re tied even. Cooking was something my momma attempted to impart to me, but couldn’t, because my destiny was already being developed by the lingering smell of Clorox on my grandmother’s warm, brown bread hands that helped raise me.

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Untitled, St Louis, Missouri 1950 photograph by Gordon Parks


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Lanna Jean, my grandmother, the queen of cooking and the king of cleaning, learned how to clean from being the daughter of a housecleaner. I learned how to clean from being my grandmother’s favorite grandchild and thus, always being privy to her secrets. Cleaning, or at least an incessant need to always do house chores, skipped over my mother somewhat entirely – not a drag, you can contact Bridgette herself and ask her the last time she willingly did laundry (answer: probably 2008). Strong is an adjective I have always associated with women in my family. I've never once felt in my life like the women in my family let men or anyone in general "own' them – all of us are very much our own person and even in marriage, spouses are people who you do life with, but they're not your life. Every place my grandmother, aunt, and momma walk, they belong; they walk into rooms like they're supposed to be there, and I do my very best to emulate that in every way possible because simply living as a woman in the advertising world is hard enough and I don't have time to be hoodwinked or bamboozled simply because I was made to feel inferior.

The Curtis women consider cleaning a sharp weapon, but cooking was the deadliest of weapons – everyone had to clean, but you had to have qualifications to cook. Not because it was “women’s work” (a term used by incapable women, a term that outed those who didn’t have a steady hold on their households, who were softened by years of lounging around), but because, well, if you didn’t know how to cook, you didn’t have any business being in the kitchen. The women in my family stake their lives on their ability to cook “proper meals” and also on their ability to take the empty air from the refrigerator and spin it into leftovers for weeks. That’s just who they are. Laretta Hendersen, associate professor at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, explains it best in her critique on the publication The Worst Thing About Making Greens...

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Mr and Mrs Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 photograph by Gordon Parks


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Ebony Jr! using the words of Margaret Mead: “Foodways and identity intersect”, also going on to say food “fostered self-definition and pride. And while Hendersen’s writings don’t specifically talk about the relationship between a Black woman and her kitchen, a study printed in the Health Psychology, the official scientific journal of the Society for Health Psychology (Division 38 of the American Psychological Association) determined that, despite many traditional beliefs, “AmericanAmerican men [...] could cook, but they reported the men do not cook often [...] When men cooked, [they] prepared breakfast, rather than dinner [...] Men also focused on meat and typically did not describe preparing a “complete meal” including side dishes”. Or, in the words of Hendersen, “boys were shown in kitchens cooking, men were only shown cooking barbecue outside the home.” Putting Hendersen’s critique of Ebony Jr! next to the Health Psychology’s findings seems almost as sacrilegious as adding anything other than extra cheese and extra milk to a family macaroni and cheese recipe – Hendersen’s writing are warm and filled with tinges of humor, clearly meant to be written for a Black audience, or at least Black-adjacent audience. The American Psychological Association writing is, as one would assume, very dry and clearly for a more academic audience, devoid The Worst Thing About Making Greens...

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The Kitchen Table Series photograph by Carrie Mae Weems


The Kitchen Table Series photograph by Carrie Mae Weems


Untitled, Fort Scott, Kansas, 1950 photograph by Gordon Parks


of nuances and any sense of explanation – it’s just facts. However, for both, despite the fact that both were published almost ten years ago, both are still very relevant today (although I don’t know if the American Psychological Association was quite ready for the rise of Black women living for themselves and teaching their sons not to be lifeless bums). As I get older, I’m realizing more and more that the destiny I thought I had in cleaning is also blossoming into my mother and aunt’s legacy of cooking, albeit with a little more work put in on my part. And despite my using the Health Psychology’s male-centered data to prove the existence of a woman’s double-edged sword, I’m learning that I love wielding these genetic weapons out of love. Reading things like Ebony Jr! let me know I’m on the right track... I haven’t fallen completely useless, despite my love of UberEats and waffle mixes. When I go home, whether that be my parents or my grandparents, I’m allowed in the kitchen (I, for whatever reason, have always been allowed near the kitchen, despite my megre contributions). My grandmother has great stock in my potential; I’ve surpassed all her lessons in cleaning, so much so that sometimes she feels useless. I think she’s just waiting for something innate in me to kick in, something I don’t know that I am quite yet. The Worst Thing About Making Greens...


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I learned how to make my mother’s greens this year. I made them perfectly, because the last time she made them for Thanksgiving I, unbeknownst to her, recorded her. So in the safety of my own apartment, 400 miles away, I played back the video, made the greens, and then was overcome with such guilt and loneliness about making them that I only took one bite before I threw them into the trash.

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Untitled, Detroit, Michigan, 1950 photograph by Gordon Parks


Young, Alison Harvison. “This Child Does Have 2 (or More) Fathers . . . : Step-Parents and Support Obligations.” McGill Law Journal, vol. 45, no. 1, Feb. 2000, pp. 107–131.

Some Thoughts About Having Two Dads My momma is on her first marriage and my dad’s not dead. Is it a rule that you have to call your mother’s husband your step-dad? Because a “step-father” is a man who is married to one’s mother after the divorce of one’s parents or the death of one’s father… either way, he’s not my dad, but is my dad. According to the 2000 McGill Law Journal, “[...] the reality of many blended families is the fact that while the law does provide for ending and re-creating family units (as through divorce, remarriage and adoption), each new unit legally “annihilates” the pre-existing unit”. Which is true. I found the document that stated the termination? Giving-over? Time’s up? of my birth father’s child support payments in a box in a closet. I should note that this was because my mother got married and the man she married

2, pages 13-10


Unknown photograph by Endia Beal


graciously stepped in as my full-custody father, thus no need for child support. I don’t think there was a time I didn’t know of the existence of my birth father – even on meeting my edited-legal father, I let him know that I already had a dad, he was irrelevant. Luckily he didn’t listen to my two-year-old statement at the time, not that a grown man in his thirties would give much consideration to the obvious facts. And I’ve always been comfortable with the knowledge that I had two fathers, but sometimes I wonder if the child support payments would’ve kept me in better contact with my biological father… Whenever I get to thinking about my biological father, I always wind up meddling in family trees and child support documents, and this is time is no exception. Written by Alison Harvison Young, judge of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Canada (and appointed August 31, 2018), this journal entry, while focusing mainly on step-parents and their obligations for support has a lot to say about maintaining nuclear families and dealing with levels in parenting. It’s a Canadian legal document, written as a compare and contrast of the Canadian and American legal system when dealing with parents; it’s completely covered in legal jargon and clearly meant for a reviewing, judiciary audience – not as a Some Thoughts About Having Two Dads


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therapy article for a young, Black American adult with semi-resolved “daddy issues” (not to be taken in the negative, hyper-sexualized manner it usually is, but literally). But it speaks on having two (or more) fathers, and how that’s a difficult place to navigate, so that means it’s therapy enough for me . I used to attempt to turn to Ancestry.com to find out information about my dad (instead of just texting him), and I recently turned that way again, before I really sat down to ask myself what good that would do. I know I’ll want to research again, but for now, that itch is actually being scratched by reading this article. Despite being written in 2000, and the chances of these laws being changed are about 100 out of 100, Harvison-Young voices many less “stereotypical” issues about a “three” parent household which calms the less “fatherless” child in me – I had a dad, and a have a dad, so I’m very much better off than the average, no shade. Reading about myself from a legal standpoint doesn’t make me appreciate either of my fathers more, but it does make me appreciate my mother a bit more – the fact that she was willing to put up with all this nonsense? Couldn’t be me. My momma was also not married to my birth father, which maybe have had made it easier? But either way, props to Bridgette. And all the other readings I had selected were really

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Untitled, 1968-72 photograph by Bill Owens


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into driving home how disadvantaged young children are without their fathers – which is true, but that’s not really the topic at hand. The McGill Law Journal is honestly the last document I thought I’d find myself actively appreciating, not because I don’t appreciate law, but because I can rarely read law jargon. The advantage of the law is that it’s unbiased (mhm), and Harvison-Young writes a very unbiased (in terms of mother vs father) “terms of agreement” for stepparents, half-parents, whatever prefix you prefer to use, and chooses to be very child focused, when choosing to focus on a subject at all. Which is why I chose it (plus the above reasons of the “two dads” and the need for legal structure in my genealogical search). It’s interesting that now in my life I’m concerned about my “other” family – not interesting biologically, just interesting as a developmental stage; I thought I was over parents in general. But thinking about it along the more simple lines of “I am a girl who has little contact with her biological father”, according to many novels I read, it’s the perfect time for me to start this journey. When my birth father calls me on the phone, he speaks about my momma a lot, how they met and anecdotes about her that I didn’t know, that help me understand her a little Some Thoughts About Having Two Dads

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Little Richard, Harlem, KNew York, 1967 photograph by Gordon Parks


Unknown photograph by Isaiah Rice


That Loud Yellow Leotard

A lot of my practice deals with the feeling of being outcast or catered specifically for a group of people that don't get designed for, and that, in part, is because when my momma first got married I felt very left out due to the fact that my last name was different – I already didn't look like my siblings, and having a different name only made my sticking out "worse". Now my name has been changed, but the issue I struggle with now is feeling like two halves of something instead of one whole something. That's why I'm choosing to illuminate my maternal grandparents' last name, because that's the only name that I've ever felt truly represented me.

better as someone my age. It’s hard to imagine Bridgette Shanee Curtis Harp, FNP, as making “mistakes” that led her to be a single mother. I appreciate it, it’s nice of him, because she never speaks about it, and I’m afraid to ask because she has a different life now. That and I always got the feeling she wanted me to acclimate without him. Even my “step” father is now more at ease about talking about my birth father – the existence of him, the two never spent great lengths of time together (I don’t think), it’s like my attempts at selfdiscovery loosened them up, like they were worried that I didn’t want to speak about him. Funny, because here I am, worried that they don’t want to speak about him. Even despite my birth father going off and remarrying and having other children before my momma got the chance to, I don’t feel abandoned by him. I think people expect me to – he has a whole life without me, kids that look exactly like him that get to be on his Christmas card every year. But he’s always done a good job about making me feel like I’m his daughter, even if subconsciously I just view him as like… an uncle or something. That, and I technically do have a father. I’m just glad he stopped having to pay child support so I can bill him my invoice now. Some Thoughts About Having Two Dads

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Hide and Seek photograph by Gerald Cryus


Kifer, Jordan V. “Como Ser Afro-Latino/a?” Como Ser Afro-Latino/a?, University of Michigan, 2012, deepblue. lib.umich.edu/bitstream/ handle/2027.42/98922/jvkifer. pdf%3Bsequence=1.

Most of the Time, Mix-Ins are Extra Being in an interracial relationship is hard. To clarify, being part of the relationship isn’t hard at all – it’s easy enough to just be myself. And it’s not like I’m hated – my partner’s family loves me, they think I’m literally the best thing since sliced bread and sometimes I feel more welcomed there than I do in my own house. But dating and being aware of the fact that there’s a pretty solid chance they’ll be my family means I fall down the rabbit hole and have to come to terms with the fact that my kids will be a blend of two different cultures? And that’s… it’s… I’m struggling. Just learn Spanish, y’know? That’ll fix everything, says the optimist in me. The realist in me reminds myself that I opted out of Spanish in high-school because the idiot

3, pages 25-42


The Wedding Reception photograph by Gerald Cryus


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in me jumped out and convinced myself that there was no way I’d ever need Spanish, even though I lived in the Southwest and was most likely going [plane emoji] the People’s Republic of California as soon as I walked across the graduation stage. So it’s partially my fault that I feel as out of place as I do, but I’m human and I’d rather not put the blame on myself. A long-suffering sigh forced the keyword “Afrolatinx” to spill from my fingers, the umbrella under which my little seed(s) will be tiptoe-ing (or stomping around) under. I opted to just go ahead and jump in the pool from the end, instead of walking down the steps, which manifested itself best in a thesis by Jordan Kifer. I chose this writing based on two reasons: that was 1.) easy to read, despite the academic language and the obvious in-depth research and citations a thesis paper required (footnotes also added a little extra to the reading, although not all of them I found a personal use for). And 2.) was so emotionally therapeutic that even though it was written to explain to non-Afro-Latinx the struggles of being AfroLatinx, I felt like it was mending a lot of hurt in my own Black mixed with Black identity. Knowing the struggles that I faced in finding my own identity, even though I am seemingly a whole, birthed by two seeming wholes Most of the Time, Mix-Ins are Extra

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Unknown photograph by Jamel Shabazz


Kathys photograph by Gerald Cyrus


That Loud Yellow Leotard

(not math, but biology) pushed me towards Kifer’s writing, especially knowing the possible struggles my future child(ren) could be facing might be worse than my own, and while I know what it’s like to be in-between the binary world, I have no idea what it’s like to try and straddle two world-shaping identities that I technically do belong in. It’s hard looking at my own… shortcomings, I guess I could say, in the face as I fastforward through my life a little bit. If I stop hiding behind theoreticals, it’s not so much that I’m afraid of having a biracial child, it’s knowing that in my own personal life I have felt less-than because circumstances completely beyond my control alienated me from people like myself, leading me to journey through Blackness by myself and at a time in my life where, ideally, I should have already had that foundation laid. Kifer took great care that both the “Afro” and the “Latinx” portions of the writing were well-balanced, and researched, despite the true focus being on children of two Afrolatinx parents – which is sensible. She even starts out her writing with a snippet of history on how Afrolatinx came to be: “A brief background of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in the Americas — South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and North America — is Most of the Time, Mix-Ins are Extra

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Rally's End, Washington, D.D., 1963 photograph by Gordon Parks


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important in understanding the scale of the African Diaspora in Latin America. While exact figures vary, most estimates state that of the approximately 12 million Africans brought from Africa, between 9.6 and 10.8 million arrived in the Americas. Of those 9.6 to 10.8 million Africans brought to the Americas, roughly 500,000 were brought to the United States with the remaining 90-95 percent brought to the Caribbean and South America” (Kifer, 10). Kifer’s analysis is exactly what’s expected of someone who studied International Studies, specifically Latinx studies and spent a good deal of time teaching and researching in the Bronx, in Michigan, and abroad in Argentina, which has a very large Afro-Latinx population. Unlike a lot of writings that didn’t make the cut, Jordan made sure to never hold one identity over the other – any bias came from the speakers describing personal experiences. Which gave me both a sense of hope and a feeling of trepidation. Because, if I’m being even more honest… very selfishly, I’m fearful that the richness of my culture that I worked so hard to excavate for myself will once again be back-burnered, diluted. My parents are Black and they did a wonderful job of raising me as a “good American citizen”, but inside my nuclear family I never felt… encapsulated in Black culture, not like how my grandparents raised Most of the Time, Mix-Ins are Extra

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my mother, not how they tried to remotely raise me, not how I do now, now that my choices are my own. There was always a sense of…quiet assimilation, something that I was never quite comfortable in, but could never pinpoint until I moved out. In the essay, there’s an interview with an AfroLatina woman named Paula who summed up my feelings pretty well: “I mean I feel like I didn’t know about who I was until I came to college [...] So when you have a situation where people of color are not aware of who they are, don’t know how they belong and are being told, you’re being treated the same but really when you go anywhere you’re not [...] And it’s really sad the idea that if you want to be a part of this country that means that you need to assimilate, [...] that you need to lose you”. I used to have these feelings, living in a kind of a limbo between what my white high school expected of me and what I knew I was. And while confusion isn’t genetic, it’s transferable and I’m glad that even amidst my worries I managed to sort that out. But there’s still a lot I haven’t figured out. Like my last name, like how I want my children to relate to their grandparents. Like whether or not I need to take an actual DNA test to feel like I have roots. And how do you quell the feeling of loss in diaspora from your Original Homeland (that Most of the Time, Mix-Ins are Extra


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you don’t even know!)? How do you tame an internal war between the expectations of how you should act where you were born (which comes naturally) and the expectations of how you should act where you were raised (which feels “correct”) while also trying to ignore that irrational green monster rising up, the one reminds you with every future family in-law dinner, every night slept over, that the other half of you that is going to help make and love and raise your child has a “complete” network of culture “more” well-rooted and preserved than yours? And not to be dramatic, but I feel as if the burden of preservation all falls on my shoulders, which aren’t very broad to begin with. And that’s something I never really prepared myself for, not because I specifically wanted to marry someone of my own ethnic background, but because I never even let the word ‘family’ enter into my brain until my life was interrupted by this individual (which is a fine life plot for a Hallmark movie, but is borderline crippling for me, someone who spent their life feeling like an outsider in their own skin, and who knows I’ll be passing down that same skin to my offspring). Despite the moments of negative biographical narratives and the fact that Kifer’s writing was published in 2012, I finished the last

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Screen Door photograph by Gerald Cyrus


Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama 1956 photograph by Gordon Parks


That Loud Yellow Leotard

sentence with hope, knowing many kids chose to double fist both cultures simultaneously, instead of just operating on the binary. It deeply worries me though, knowing that even though my world is informed by Beyoncé’s internet, the much of world around me worships a different deity; their prayers and incense tickle the nose of past European imperialists, who reached down and give their offspring seemingly unbridled omnipotence, a force so strong that it catapults them to hatred of others, even leading others to hatred, so that they can be liked. As quoted in an interview in Kifer’s writing: “...even within the Latino/a culture, there is this hiding of the darker ones, the hiding of the ones that have curlier hair or wider noses or bigger lips, you know… [...] just because I happen to be the darkest one in my family… and to see how I was treated, because I was the darkest one, and my sister being lighter how she was treated, I was always aware that I was the darker one.” One of the things I always wondered about as a kid was what my parents would pass down to me. My younger sister destroyed the wicker trunk I was supposed to have, so now, in the words of the Great Whitney Houston: I (don't think I) have nothing. Which is why I want to make something for my family, something I think is beautiful that can represent us.

My family isn’t rich, there’s nothing monetary to pass down to my children. We have no Oprah Winfrey in our family, no Madam CJ Walker. My mother’s Masters degree makes her the most educated member of the Curtis family. So all my children will Most of the Time, Mix-Ins are Extra

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Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 photograph by Gordon Parks


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inherit are my naturally unruly eyebrows, a predisposition to sugar, and being Black. And to think that my Blackness that I love so dearly could be that one drop, that one misstep that turns both white America and Latin America away from my offspring, forcing them to turn wholly to Blackness, which might then turn on them, since they only know dominoes and not Spades…? I don’t know if I’d ever be ready to help pick up the pieces of that.

Most of the Time, Mix-Ins are Extra

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Unknown photograph by Adama Jalloh


Early, David E. “Do Men Really Fall For Those Weaves? Yes. Wear That Weave Girl. You’ve Earned It.” Ebony, vol. 63, no. 7, May 2008, p. 103.

Mine, Whether I Bought It or Grew It In my closet, there is carry-on sized suitcase. It’s green, with a paisleyesque pattern (my momma calls it “Mary Poppins”) and a semi-broken wheel from when I dropped it on a bus at the airport. It’s beaten up pretty bad, but still cute, and no, I’m never going to get rid of it. Open that suitcase and you’ll be met with a museum of wigs. I never knew how baffling wig wearing was to non-Black people until I started wearing them myself. To most, wearing a wig means there’s no hair on your head so you have to sport an insanely faux-looking, shiny bob number because you probably have c*nc*r or alopecia, and to that we must offer sneaky sympathetic glances to you, and jab our children in the arm so they won’t stare. To Black people, wearing a wig means literally nothing, unless you are a cuckolded, single Black

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Etine Uton Eku, 1971 photograph by J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere


Unknown photograph by Adama Jalloh


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man or a bitter, James Brown bumped-edgeshaving woman and preach that wearing a wig as a Black woman means you’re bald-headed and have a lust to be like the white master.

Being a Black designer and making "non-Black" designs is always something I've been keen on doing. Sometimes I feel bogged down by the politics of civil rights, the politics of my survival and I have to go to a place where I can feel some kind of freedom. Ironically enough, this year was the first year that, even though the political climate was ripe with dissent, I felt at peace.

To those people, David E. Early writes in a 2008 Ebony magazine article: “Whenever anyone – especially comically coiffed clowns – starts lip-flapping about Black women and their braids, their weaves, wigs, extensions, locs, tracks or tape, or about whatever gymnastics they go through regarding their hair, I say shut up, and understand this: Our Queens have richly earned the right to do whatever they want in their eternal march of loveliness.” (Don’t forget that 2008 was the Year of the Obamas, a time when the First family was Black and also the first Black family. People were starting to notice Black women, notice what Black people were doing, wearing, talking like, and wondering why they didn’t get celebratory hugs from the president the same way Black people were). Early makes a marvelous point in his thesis quote, which is why I chose to talk about this article. He’s not a hair expert, a cultural anthropologist, or a Black woman, he’s a writer, writing to a Black audience about, well, themselves, and just tells the facts. That Black women can wear wigs if they want to wear a goddamn wig. Titled: “Do Men Really Fall Mine, Whether I Bought It or Grew It

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Cerebral photograph by Shani Crowe


Unknown photograph by Adama Jalloh


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For Those Weaves? Yes. Wear That Weave Girl. You’ve Earned It.” and Early writes to the non-Black women masses that it’s time to get off our backs. But unlike most articles about Black hair, David doesn’t spell out a litany list of aggressions committed against Black hair and reasons why we should be allowed to do what we want, he simply celebrates the ingenuity that comes from Black woman when it comes to their hair, whether wig, weave, braids, or a natural day. He recognizes both the effort and effortless it takes to come up with new styles, new trends, and to (sorry, white fashion police) always be in the front when it comes to fashion. Black women, Black culture, it’s the blueprint for nearly everything that hits the runway, the screen, or the radio. Even in 2008, and even in a magazine with a primarily Black audience, I’m sure David Early’s words were seen as a shock to some people. For some, there always has to be a political reason why Black people to anything, like just because the world sees us a political beings, we have to subscribe to that notion. And I get tired of people trying to make wig-wearing political. Sometimes it is, but sometimes I just want 20 inches of neon green hair with bangs on Wednesday but slick it back in a ponytail on Thursday. On days when I’m up to it, I can make any wig you pluck out of my suitcase look like an actual mass of follicles Mine, Whether I Bought It or Grew It

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Agaracha, 1974 photograph by J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere


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that grow out of my head. It’s a skill I was born with, passed down and honed by Youtube tutorials and wig-swaps with friends. And everytime I do that, everytime I swap blonde for blue, blue for black, I get a little bit of a new personality. I feel more of a vixen in my blonde wig, more of an innocent kid in my 32 inches of wet and wavy Remy curls, and I feel like the baddest of the baddest anytime the Naomi eases itself onto my scalp – 40 inches of bone straight, glistening Malaysian hair. David E. Early most likely has seen the process his wife and daughter have gone through to anything with their hair. He’s opened the cabinet to jar and jars of curl milk, leave-in conditioners, heat protectants, and pine tar, and he wouldn’t dare tell any woman that they can’t own what they put work into. As my step-father once told me, “You bought the hair, so technically, it’s yours”.

Mine, Whether I Bought It or Grew It

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Keithcharles Spacebar photograph by Unknown


Hobbs, Pamela. “In Their Own Voices: Codeswitching And Code Choice In The Print And Online Versions Of An African-American Women’s Magazine.” Women & Language, vol. 27, no. 1, Spring 2004, pp. 1–12.

Watching Insecure Should Not Give You a Blaccent Y’all. It’s the ground black pepper of words – use it just enough and it’ll seem like you know how to cook... but use too much and everyone will know you’re a fraud. For as long as I can remember, I had to carefully tiptoe between how I spoke at home and how I spoke in public; I worked hard to stop saying y’all in majority white settings because I got made fun of in elementary school for it, for sounding “like that”. “Like that” wasn’t cool back then, but it is now – now non-black people love talking “like that”. It supposably signals you’re down to earth, in-touch, accessible. So y’all. Tell me why I’m still throwing on my “white” lady voice for interviews. Pamela Hobbs throws this cultural acceptance phenomenon (I use

5, pages 55-66


Unknown photograph by Jamel Shabazz


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that word somewhat facetiously) under the general umbrella of “code-switching” (look it up!) and states: “Western societies have traditionally drawn clear distinctions between spoken and written language: Written language is valorized and is associated with advanced education and access to authority, while spoken language is viewed as primal and limited, fit for only basic social and communicative functions”. One would expect a reference to some linguistic journal for this topic, however Hobbs’ Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from UCLA seems like the next best, possibly less boring choice. To add an exception to Hobbs’ quote, I would say that as a community, Black people tend to write to each other exactly how we talk. There’s no point in doing otherwise – if you do, it usually is seen as in-genuine. Which oftentimes “isolates” other groups of people to our Black benefit. Otherwise, whoo chillay, it’d be a rough world. I try to avoid citing reading about a certain group of people if they aren’t being written by a member of that particular group, but Hobbs writes her paper in a respectful manner, almost apologizing for the things she has to write about? Like she knows Black women are going to be reading this paper with their white friends looking over their shoulder and Watching Insecure Should Not Give You a Blaccent

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AsLaid As It's Tied photograph by LauraAlston


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constantly apologizing for any “on fleek” they might’ve uttered during the peak of Vine. I usually gripe about this “Y’all Phenomenon” in silence or very loudly in my journal, up until recently, when people started griping very loudly on-line. Recently (I use the word recently how people use “a week ago”), Twitter became abuzz with something the mainstream started calling “stan Twitter language”, which is basically less-seasoned AAVE borrowed from discos and nightclubs, places where white cultural consumers managed to ‘Carl Van Vechten’ themselves and then brought back home to pick apart in hopes they’d be “in” (Van Vechten was a white man who sought to find out everything there was to know about Black culture during the Harlem Renaissance and ended up putting his foot in his mouth by writing a book called Nigger Heaven at the peak of his career). And while I have no huge problem with people borrowing phrases from Black culture (I can’t be mad about it, I use “pero like” too much), what bothers me the most is, like I stated before, the fact that I still have to use my white voice for interviews, not even that I have to “speak correctly”, that I have to adopt a certain tone. White people who love ignoring facts pretend like Black people don’t know what “standard English” is when we talk Watching Insecure Should Not Give You a Blaccent

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NYC photograph by Eli Reed


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about our white voices, but it’s just tone – white people have that… naturally professional tone, because white people invented the rubric for professionalism. And that’s what I have to mimic if I’m trying to secure the proverbial bag, get my coin, if you will. While Hobbs isn’t here to share in my gripes about such as thing, she is here to talk about the move between *sighs* “StAn TwItTER” and “talking regular” (in print, not in real life). The sad reality is that even though I complain about having to use my white voice, I know in most places it’s going to get me places further than my regular speaking voice would, although that is changing, but not quite rapidly enough. She says, “A speaker’s choice of style may be dictated by considerations of its effectiveness in communicating with a particular audience (the adaptive dimension of style), because of its ability to evoke an emotional response (the affective dimension of style), or because it enhances the speaker’s image and thus her credibility (the ethical dimension of style)”. I don’t think we’re far enough removed from history for me to not question the deeper meaning behind when someone says, “Oh you speak so well!” or “You’re so articulate!” But when I pretend I’m a Caucasian woman, I think maybe it’s just because people are used Watching Insecure Should Not Give You a Blaccent

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Tupac Shakur photograph by Eli Reed


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to millennials talking in text talk… which, I just... if you’ve hung out with millennials for a cool minute, you’d know we don’t really speak like that – it’s mostly just publications assuming that we speak a certain way because the last time anyone bothered to look up from ruining the economy and check on us, we were noodling around on MySpace and becoming low-level hackers on Tumblr. Actually, I know we’re not far enough removed because I still cringe inside whenever I hear someone who’s not Black adopt that… mmm, como se dice… “urban” accent when they’re talking to me, or whenever I enter an Uber, the music always changes from classical to radio pop, and I hear the same “aahaha I was such a bad kid in high school” from white men, like Black culture is entirely summed up in being “bad”. You might have been a bad kid, Jordan, who frequents South Central like, damn near every weekend, just to roll up, but me and the rest of the Black kids I knew were just too full of life and laughter for our teacher. Pamela explains this in professional terms by stating: “[...] Codeswitching typically occurs only between bilingual or bidialectal peers, and not between strangers or interlocutors of differing socioeconomic statuses (Ibid: 119). In addition, the interaction must be one in which the speakers wish to enact the dual Watching Insecure Should Not Give You a Blaccent

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AsLaid As It's Tied photograph by Laura Alston


membership that codeswitching indexes [...] Conversely, marked codeswitching is uniformly used to negotiate a change in the expected social distance between participants by either increasing it or decreasing it”. Which is something that elicits an eye-roll from most Black people. We know you’re trying to seem “approachable” and “fun” by “talking Black”, but it’s not necessary. Just talk how you normally talk and keep it pushing. Luckily Hobbs in her 2004 paper doesn’t try to deny that such an occurrence of non-Black people adopting Black vernacular exists, or to pacify it, she just states what happens, and how it happens… and also gives a very analytical dissection of AAVE. It being written in 2004 means that it’s both very ahead and very behind. For 2004, this subject wasn’t often talked about. However 2004 meant presocial media, which, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, completely changed how people talk to each other. But I think the fact that it was written in the recent past is a good reminder of how far we’ve come and how stagnant we’ve stayed. All that to say, I’m just wondering when the fad will end. It’s historically seasonal, like Halloween stores, the Black image can be. And while yes, I love all this representation we’re getting and the fact that more non-Black Watching Insecure Should Not Give You a Blaccent


That Loud Yellow Leotard

people are learning about our history… I’m selfishly yearning for the interest cycle to end, when we’ll just be left alone, when I can talk how I talk at home without someone thinking I’m trying to be Tiffany Haddish, then fearing I’m going to have to hear that same phrase repeated over and over again by someone who’s not Black because they think it’ll have the same comedic effect it did when I said it. Damn near a minstrel show, my life can be sometimes.

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Columbus, Indiana, 1972 photograph by Unknown (AP)


Blee, Kathleen M. “Women in the 1920s' Ku Klux Klan Movement.” Feminist Studies, 1991, pp. 57–77.

It’s Qwhite Alt-right to be With Her Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about the fact that the men of the Klu Klux Klan had wives? Like you’re really going to sit here and tell me not nary a Klu Klux Klan member came home after a long day of committing crimes of domestic terrorism on unassuming Black and non-white men, women, and children to a supportive, thin-lipped celebratory blow job from the missus? Someone said that “behind every successful man is a hard-working woman” or something along those lines, and a lot of times when dealing with problematic or just, horrific, issues, we tend to do a reverse-Freud and blame women instead of pointing at grown men and holding them accountable. And I’m about to do that, kind of. “Of the sixty-two nonleadership Indiana Klanswomen [...], twelve were widows or unmarried women and [...] made their own decisions

6, pages 69-80


The Ku Klux Klan on parade down Pennsylvania Avenue photograph by Unknown


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to participate in the Klan. Furthermore [...] it was [their] wives who sometimes convinced men to join the Klan” (Blee, 61). In no way am I excusing these men from their wrongdoing, but I’m obsessed with pointing the women out, I do it every chance I get, because as a society, we’re so patient and loving and forgiving when it comes to excluding white women from any type of negative historical records, and after the goings-on of 2016, it’s time to bring the Wizard (ahaha) out from his, or, rather, her chamber. I’m sure there are a few handfuls of women whose husbands chose sleeping alone on the parlor couch instead of with their wives, in order to fulfill their destiny to the kause cause, but let’s be honest – as big as men pretend to be, not many get to do things without the support of their woman… and luckily Kathleen M. Blee, PhD and writer of the 1991 Feminist Studies magazine article Women in the 1920’s Klu Klux Klan Movement and I both don’t care about those women. They’re not interesting. Over the course of my life I’ve read a lot of heinous tales about the women of the Klu Klux Klan (WKKK) and their various nefarious needlepoints, but unlike a lot of those readings, Blee’s writings focused on the arrival of the Klan-ettes (I’m sorry, I know we’re not supposed to kitten-ize racism, but It’s Qwhite Alt-right to be With Her

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Mamie Till Mobley, 1995 photograph by Beth A. Keiser


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I say feminist to mean whitebrand feminism, the type of feminism that lauds Susan B. Anthony as a “Nasty Woman” and gets to celebrate their voting anniversary in 1920. When I mean actual feminism, I will use the term “womanism”, as coined by Alice Walker’s 1979 short story, Coming Apart. 1.

being racist is just so… out of style now, that when safely locked in my own room, I like to pretend it has less of an effect than it does), based off the feminist1. suffragette calendar, which provides very interesting, if not absurd, cause and effects that caused the women of the KKK to put aside their passive roles as nurturers and take on more active roles of oppos[ing] immigration, racial equality, Jewish-owned businesses, parochial schools, and “moral decay”. Choosing to dissect Kathleen M. Blee’s historical take on the rise of these “enfranchised women” instead glossing over the issue with the usual “well, they were racists, and being racist is wrong” opener and closer White America usually give when explaining the Klan means that I, as a Black woman, get to be a little more comfortable in my research, knowing that I most likely won’t have to self-censor violence and also will hopefully reveal the absolute ignorance behind the “white woman victim” tale America loves to tell everyone. I realize that it’s haughty of me to take on this role, assuming that tens, hundreds, millions will flock to my writings in search of the truth and my words will ring true like a bell, but I’ll accept that role and hope for the best. One thing that bothered me most about Blee’s writing was her continual use of a It’s Qwhite Alt-right to be With Her

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Integration protest, William Franz Elementary School, Louisiana, 1960 photograph by Unknown


KKK Rally in Marquette Park photograph by Mark Reinstein


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noun without a descriptor, women. She states in her opening sentence, “In 1920, women won the right to vote, culminating a seventy-two year struggle for greater access to the political sphere”. Which is qwhite wonderful. She also surmises that “[...] most women worked for, or were influenced by, the fight for women’s suffrage because of its emphasis on political equity”. Hmm. I like Kathleen – can I call her Kathleen? – as a writer. I think her writing voice is very important in a world full of simplification and she was (and I’m sure still is) very welleducated on a very uncomfortable topic, so much so that even nearly 30 years removed from the publishing date of this article, it still rings 100% true and is still just as important to read and take to heart, even though slavery and racism are archaic, vintage, attitudes from a long time ago. However, Blee writes from a feminist perspective, which means the “women” mentioned in this article without an identifier are white women. She acknowledges it briefly, but doesn't correct it as she goes on. Which doesn’t remove the importance of the article, or negate the fact that Kathleen M. Blee is writing on the right side of history. All it means is that she’s writing a very passive piece, one that chooses to remove actual human woman from the center of the picture to avoid a certain group of women (including It’s Qwhite Alt-right to be With Her

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Elizabeth Eckford, Little Rock Nine photograph by Unknown


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herself) from feeling blamed, which is nice, but also provides a very 2D perspective. Blee even writes that: “Women who interpreted the struggle for women’s votes through the prism of racial, ethnic, and class privilege thus experienced an apparently easy transition from women’s suffrage to the plethora of white supremacist, nativist, and racist political movements of the early twentieth century”... and, well, Black, Mexican, and Native women live that prism everyday and I’d be willing to bet my life on the fact that 1% of women of color are WKK members. There’s no room for self-reflection for these women readers, nothing to poke and prod at their own potential WKK that could be within themselves, it’s just a narrative. You’re either a WKK member or you’re not. It allows for selfrighteousness, for moments of “well I have a [minority] neighbor, so that can’t be me!”. And that’s the dangerous part of choosing feminism over womanism, when you choose to be part of and cater to a group that is secondin-line for influence, cultural acceptance, and literally everything else, just look at women’s suffrage, the election results of 2016, and the Lana del Rey / Azealia Banks beef.

It’s Qwhite Alt-right to be With Her

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Thank You for Reading This: My first attempts at writing were shot down in the first grade when I, inspired by a slave book I recieved for my birthday, wrote and illustrated an allegorical Antebellum version of Bambi where Bambi's momma was chased by the bad men and ended up as gator bait in an Alabama swamp. That story didn't fly in Mrs. Wilsons' class and I, despite my protests of my story's necessity because of its realism (I was a Big Girl, and if I was reading about Adult Topics in my sixth grade books, I was going to write about them!), had to re-write and reillustrate my story, which I did very lazily. From then on, during back-to-school, I'd trick my momma into buying me more loose-leaf paper than I actually needed so I could write tomboy-meets-twink romances about highschoolers who could date, drive, swipe a debit card, and leave the house without permission at the age of 15. When middle school actually arrived I was finally allowed to check out the blue dot books at my school library and with new language and writing styles sitting overdue in my backpack, I began writing personal Gratitude –––––––– That Loud Yellow Leotard

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narratives and watching biographical documentaries, aiming to start the process of my autobiography in the 8th grade. Pointless compare and contrast high school essays kept me from expanding my autobiography so from then on until I turned 20 I turned to poetry and short snippets, paragraphs without sort of resolution. That Loud Yellow Leotard was my first full attempt at writing about myself and many of the ideas from this anthology of sorts derived from those little snippets of thought. Putting this together felt good; I'm in a place where I'm old enough to answer (or be content with a non-answer) a lot of the questions I had when I was trying to express myself at age 6 through 12. I'm also old enough to not have to listen to authority when it comes to what I should and should not write, especially when it comes to real life. What are we going to do about it now, Renée Wilson?

Gratitude –––––––– That Loud Yellow Leotard

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The text of That Loud Yellow Leotard is set in Lyon Text, a typeface designed by Kai Bernau and based on the type design of Robert Granjon. This book was designed by Caela Harp. Printed on paper distributed by Kelly Paper. Authors: Caela Harp Catalog design: Caela Harp Copy editor(s): Tucker Neel, Dani Grossman, Sean Kim, Shelby Johnson, Michael Salatino, Chase Shewbridge Printer: Labratory Press at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California, USA Special thanks to "Como ser Afro-Latino/a" writer, Jordan Kifer for her correspondence. Colophon –––––––– That Loud Yellow Leotard

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That Loud Yellow Leotard  

A book of personal narratives.

That Loud Yellow Leotard  

A book of personal narratives.

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