A few months ago my friend Jeanelle said the most moving thing to me. We were wrapping up a mentoring program at IHG and she fully changed the conversation to share her story with the circle. You see, she had just started wearing her hair natural. She took a good 10 minutes to explain the baggage she carries as a black woman when it comes to hair. Previous companies at which she worked had specific rules: no braids, no dreds, no afros in their fullest glories. I couldn’t believe it!
Jeanelle went on to say how freeing it was to wear her hair natural but how hard it was to feel like she wouldn’t be judged. “Did you ask your manager?” a colleague asked when she paused for a moment. “I didn’t. I just decided to do it one day. Mindy gave me the confidence to know that I could bring my most authentic self to work just by being Mindy.” In my mind’s eye my jaw dropped to the floor as speechlessness overcame me. The connection that Jeanelle seamlessly made that enabled her to take the risk of coming out of the ‘natural hair’ closet — is best compliment for which a visual activist could ask.
Lately the divisiveness I’ve seen in this world causes me such worry — sometimes even to the point of numbness. There seems an intrinsic discomfort and distrust when a foreign element graces the stage. Xenophobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, ageism (against the young — ‘Oh, you’ll grow out of it’ — and the old — ‘That’s just dad’). You name it. There is an -ism or -phobia to showcase a reason to be closed off to differences. No one is innocent.
At the Woman’s March for Social Justice in Atlanta I was taken by a beautiful woman who beamed while carrying a sign “Same Struggle, Different Differences.” We glanced at one another and shared a moment without speaking. It’s not just a hashtag. We ARE stronger together — when we appreciate that the our differences unite us.
In April I had the honor of serving on a panel hosted by ADMAG titled Beyond the Binary with a feisty millennial bisexual woman, Mad Dworschak. As the panel began, I joked that she was probably born the year I graduated college and that bisexuals were just ‘greedy.’ It was all in jest. All in fun. Was it? In a Trump-Amurika the micro-aggressions of yesterday feel so much more personal.
Mad shared some powerful anecdotes about the erasure of bisexuals and millennials as a part of the real conversation. “Lady Gaga is credited as an ally in the LGBQTIA movement when she is with a man. My partner doesn’t define my sexual orientation. If I am dating a man that doesn’t make me heterosexual. By the very nature of me being in it, that relationship is queer.” I walked away from that panel remembering that just carrying the moniker of ‘progressive’ doesn’t make me impervious from mistakes, assumptions, and unconscious biases. I become a part of the problem when I don’t take the time to listen, become educated, and speak up for myself and for those who weren’t invited to the table in the first place.
I recently was listening to a song by Garth Brooks called “The Change.” His lyrics struck a chord.
This heart still believes, that love and mercy still exist
While all the hatreds rage, and so many say
That love is all but pointless, in madness such as this
It’s like trying to stop a fire, with the moisture from a kiss
And I hear them saying, you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do, it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world, that I am changing
I do this so this world will know, that it will not change me
As much as Garth’s lyrics resonate with me, my tireless optimism believes that we each possess the power to change the world. Whoever you are there is someone in the world who looks to you as an example. It could be your kids, strangers, colleagues, family, friends. In a time when minorities are no longer suffering just from micro-aggression but also from institutionalized attacks I will always stand up for what’s right. Even if the moisture of a kiss cannot douse the inferno around us I do believe that love wins when we all stand together for what is right.
Jeanelle’s comments, even though positive, made me more aware that because of my visibility I carry a certain responsibility. My fashion transgressions are intentional. My visual activism holds a tireless optimism intended to engage in dialogue and connections with people to drive visibility, awareness and social change. I try to live life with joy, positivity, openness, and above all with love. My authenticity translated to her in that manner that made her feel safer and stronger to be herself. You tell me that isn’t changing the world!