#VisaBae, Image Gang, and Why I might delete YouTube

Does anyone else remember when every young black girl wanted to be a model? I blame Tyra Banks, because those were the days when America’s Next Top Model was still popping. Can you believe that show is still on air? What are they on now? Cycle 427? I digress…

In those days we all, no matter if we were apple shaped or five foot nothing, thought we could make money by posing for the camera. It seems this desire for easy money is stronger than ever, but now the game has changed. Now the goal is no longer to just be an Insta Model, but to achieve the grand status of a social media “Influencer”, which I guess is a combination of being an Insta Model and a YouTuber, with enough clout to make your followers part with their money.

But perhaps now the pond has become too small. Not everybody can become a millionaire through social media; just ask Visa Bae aka Rutendo Tichiwangani. I hadn’t heard of her until I watched this Channel 5 news clip a couple of weeks ago, and I was somewhat surprised to discover that she has upwards of 70k followers on Instagram. Often pictured adorned with expensive looking weaves and designer hand bags draped across her arms, it came as a surprise to many that Rutendo was seeking donations to cover the cost of her application for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

There are already enough opinion pieces out there as to whether or not Rutendo should have planned ahead, borrowed from friends, or sold expensive bags to raise the money for her application, so I won’t be going into all of that. Besides, she reached her Go Fund Me target and then some, so the lesson there may well be; in life, as long as you know how to dress well and apply makeup you’ll do just fine. What really troubled me though, was the fact that Rutendo left school/college with the ambition of being a social media influencer. Since when has being an Insta Baby Girl become an ambition? Since when???

Now, I don’t have an Instagram account, for many reasons, including some that will be discussed below, but I do enjoy watching YouTube and have done so for many years. Amongst the beauty and lifestyle vloggers, there appears to be only a very small number of young Black and British YouTubers who have managed to make YouTube a full time job, and are living comfortably from its profits. What can sometimes be forgotten is that when these YouTubers were just starting out they had day jobs, and did YouTube on the side as a creative outlet, a hobby almost, before their popularity and platform grew to a lucrative size. These days however, people are not interested in working a 9 to 5 to make a living. They want the job title of “Influencer” before they’ve even reached a position of influence. They want YouTube to pay them, before they’ve paid their dues and sponsorship based off of a few hundred “views”.

Rutendo’s case also highlights the circularity that comes with this materialistic pursuit. Herself and others “stunt for the Gram” in expensive clothes they can’t afford, hoping to attract collaborations from luxury brands that will eventually help them move from just posing, to actually owning these labels. Meanwhile, hapless followers witness this portrayal of bougie living, feel insecure about not having designer items, and put themselves into debt in order to “keep up”. It’s one of the reasons why I hate Instagram, and why I’m slowly falling out of love with YouTube too.

Both platforms have been so overtaken by big brands it seems that now the only function they serve is to encourage users to spend, spend, spend. Why else has the term “Influencer” been created? What is it that YouTubers want to influence you to do? Part with your coins, that’s what. It’s gotten so bad, that I’m now seeing many lesser known YouTubers posting videos all about how they make money from YouTube, how much they charge brands, and how to maximise revenue. Call me old fashioned, but it’s just so distasteful. Just come out and tell us, why don’t you, that you’re just doing YouTube for the money!

I wonder whether or not some of these young black Influencers have paused to think what all this consumerism is doing for the black community? We seem to consume all day, but what are we producing? I say it’s time to forget about our “image” on social media and make sure we’re building, saving and investing in our futures.

“Dear White People” IS Racist. Here’s why.

We live in time of perpetual outrage. From the perspective of the Conservative Right, the anger is often articulated in Daily Mail headlines with capitalised words to emphasise just how OUTRAGEOUS ‘it’ is (whatever ‘it’ is). For Liberal Lefties, taking to the streets waving placards and chanting, is how their indignation is expressed. It is not surprising then, that the announcement of the new Netflix series “Dear White People” was going to enrage some people.

Based on the film of the same name that came out in 2014, the release of the trailer for the show sparked the type of outrage that causes people to take to twitter and start furiously hash-tagging, and threatening a boycott. On this occasion, it seems it is the Conservative White America that has been especially offended, or “triggered”, to adopt an internet phrase. According to the Daily Mail article reporting that the Youtube video of the trailer attracted one million dislikes in one day, the outrage is justified. Having perused the comments section of this article (my go-to when I want to understand the way in which racist people think), it seems nobody really knows what the show is about, but it must be racist against whites because, “you couldn’t get away with a show called ‘Dear BLACK people’ could you?!?”

I find all of this very amusing. Firstly, because when the film version came out in 2014, I do not recall this amount of anger being expressed. In fact, to me, the film trailer seemed very enticing at the time. It seemed a straightforward plot – a black(ish) looking girl using her radio station slot to directly address the micro-aggressions that many black people encounter when interacting with white people on a daily basis. In fact if I recall correctly, the film was made as a response to a real life incident that occurred at an Ivy League university when white students attended a Halloween party dressed in black face as a costume. As I understand it, this type of thing has been reported numerous times across America. I was intrigued then, that it seemed a mainstream film had been made to address this type of ignorant behaviour, and challenge the stereotypes of black people that are so often propagated by the media. When I eventually watched the film, I discovered I was very wrong. Dear White People was ironically slightly racist… to black people. In what can be best described as an own goal, the casting and writing of the film has many stereotypes that are negative as far as black people are concerned. Here are just a few:

Stereotype 1: Only a light skinned/mixed race woman can play a leading role.

The storyline in Dear White People has a convenient “twist” that allows for casting a mixed race woman as the leading role, as is it later revealed that she is actually not “fully black” as she has a white father, despite being so “militant”.

Stereotype 2: Black people, and especially black people who are concerned about racial injustice, are always angry.

In the film, there is an angry black mob, none of whom have any speaking lines, and only serve the purpose to appear every now and then, looking furious and staring black raging daggers at people.

Stereotype 3: Even in a so-called “black film”, a white character must always be the hero.

The Light-Skinned Leading Lady (I cannot remember any of the characters names, and I cannot be bothered to look them up), has a secret White Boyfriend, who sticks by her even though she treats him like dirt, and is ashamed on him. Both she, and all the other characters in the film seem to have deep flaws. Supporting Dark-Skinned Female character is very unlikeable, as is the Leading Black Male character. The Black Gay character is written as complete wimp. The only character that comes out shining and smelling of roses, is the secret White Boyfriend, who in the end, Light-Skinned Leading Lady chooses over her other love interest,  Brutish Black Man.

dear-white-people-2

If the Netflix mini-series is going to be just like the film, then I agree; it is racist. However, to suggest it is racist towards white people is a bit ridiculous. To address the suggestion that it would not be ok to have a TV show called “Dear Black People”; such a title suggests that the show would be written from a mainly white perspective addressing certain behaviours of black people that make white people feel oppressed. The problem with that is, virtually every show on TV already is written from a white perspective, and given that in the US and UK, black people are a minority, it is difficult to see how white people in these countries could feel so oppressed by their behaviour.

I will not be watching the Netflix series because I thought the film was pretty rubbish, but I have no feelings of fury about it. My suggestion to Spitting Mad Conservative White America, is to stop the internet whinging and threats of boycotts, and do the common sense thing whenever something you do not like is on TV or online: simply, do not watch.

Black Hair (Part 2): It’s None of Your Business!

I do not mean to cause offence by the title of this post; it is aimed at narrow minded people who judge black women not on the content of their character, but on something as superficial as how they choose to style their hair.

 

With this post I fall in danger of contradicting part 1, in which I sought to argue that it does matter how black women style their hair, in the sense that those who choose to wear it naturally, (knowingly or unknowingly) send a message to the world that there is nothing wrong the kinky textured hair of people of African descent. However I do think that it is also true that how a woman chooses to style her hair is her own personal choice, and as such should not be open for criticism and debate by others.

 

Let me explain what I mean. One day I was sitting on a train when I observed a very disturbing and bizarre scene. A black male starting speaking loudly to a young black female sitting across the aisle.

 

“Excuse me, is that your real hair?”

“No” she replied quietly, head down.

“I didn’t think so. You shouldn’t be wearing weave. It looks fake”.

 

I felt embarrassed for the young woman. Her hair was obviously a weave, and by the looks of it not “human hair”. Maybe she was not in a position to afford a better quality weave. Maybe she just wanted to cover her natural/relaxed hair with a weave as a protective style. Whatever her reasons for having a, not so great, weave, what right did that man have to question her? Whatever the state of her hair, in what way did it affect him?

 

Sadly he’s not alone in his condemnation of black women who do not wear their hair natural. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to stumble across certain Youtube channels of (black) men, dedicated to spewing venom at black women, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. In fairness, it’s not just black men, and it’s not just men. Women too can be very judgmental about what they perceive to be a bad weave or bad hair day. Remember how much stick Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglass during the

How could simple tied back hair cause such a fuss?

How could simple tied back hair cause such a fuss?

2012 Olympics? She was not criticised for her performance – and rightly so as she won two gold medals – but what was her crime? Not having freshly relaxed hair!

 

I accept that criticism of women’s looks is not limited to one race. The picking apart of women’s bodies in national magazines is indiscriminate. But when it comes to hair, there does not seem to be such a fierce debate around what it means if Caucasian hair is straightened or left curly, or if extensions are added in. If you listen to those venomous self-hating Youtube cowards (cowards because it’s easy to be foul mouthed and derogatory behind your computer screen), then a black women who straightens her hair, or gets a weave, does so because she wishes she were white. Of course it can’t be because she feels like a change, or likes the way it looks, or wants a protective style. Even if she does wish to be white, surely it’s only a small minority of people who would actually conclude that a woman wishes she were a different race because of her hairstyle? Or should I suppose that when Cheryl Cole wears cornrows she is expressing her inner desire to be black?

Not sure if this was before or after her alleged racial assault on a toilet attendant

Not sure if this was before or after her alleged racial assault on a toilet attendant

For the record, black hair is versatile. It’s probably the most versatile hair type that exists. Many different styles can be achieved with it. So when black women choose to explore the different styles, why not just leave them be? It’s not hurting you. And in my experience, most people of other races do not quite understand black hair, and so do not even realise that. For example, box braids involve fake hair! How many times have I taken out braids and then been asked by classmates/colleagues “have you cut your hair?” Before I would roll my eyes, and think “how ignorant”, but now I find it liberating. Knowing that my colleagues are not scrutinizing my latest hairstyle and scanning the back of my head for visible tracks, puts me at ease. If only all black women could feel that way all of the time.

Black Hair (Part 1): It’s Political

Sheryl Underwood was not a name I was familiar with until a few days ago. I did not even know that she was black when I first read about the comments she made on American National TV, basically saying that Afro hair is disgusting, and nobody wants it. I initially thought “that’s an ignorant thing for a white woman to say”. I was not overly shocked. I assumed that being a white woman, Sheryl was not accustomed to Afro hair, and by calling it “nappy”, she was expressing in her own way her perception of how it was very different to her own straight hair (so I wrongly thought).

Then I was surfing YouTube and came across a video that had the footage of Ms Underwood making the remarks on the show “The Talk”. To my absolute horror, I discovered that Sheryl Underwood is a black woman. My jaw literally hit the floor!  How could a black woman make such remarks about her own type of hair?

She has since issued an apology which is good to hear (though I do not accept that she was misconstrued, seeing as she clearly makes a distinction between “curly nappy beads” and “beautiful long silky hair” of white people) but I’m not so concerned about her apologising. I don’t say that because I’m outraged at her, and feel that an apology won’t suffice. Rather, I’m saddened for her. I’m saddened that this 49 year old woman, who would no doubt have memories of an America only just forced to abandon a society of segregation, has through her life’s experiences and understanding of what is acceptable, come to the conclusion that Afro hair is undesirable.

It’s a very sad thing that Sheryl should feel that way, but I can just imagine why. Would America accept the First Lady if she were to leave her Afro hair as it is? How readily available are images in the media of black women with afro hair? I suspect that all her life, Sheryl has been taught that Afro hair is unacceptable, and she has come to believe it. In a shameful way, there is no satisfactory answer to the question she posed “who would want to save Afro hair?” or simply put: “who wants  Afro hair?”

Michell Obama

The fashion houses don’t appear to want it. That’s why you have a supermodel like Naomi Campbell (one of the rare success stories amongst black models) with no hairline left, because she has been forced to wear styles that hide her Afro hair, for decades. A friend of mine who models, was once axed from a job because the stylists on the shoot could not work with her “Afro hair”.

naomi campbell bald

Hollywood and TV producers do not seem to want it. When a black actress does appear in a film, you can just bet she’ll be wearing a wig or a weave. And it’s not always because that is how the actress would wear her hair anyway. I’ve read interviews of some black actresses who would prefer to wear their hair natural, but have to put in a weave in order to get the part.

The printed and televised media don’t want Afro hair either. Even on the front cover of black hair magazines, you’re more likely than not to see the model wearing a European weave or wig. Black newscasters who air on various news stations (with the exception of Al Jazeera), all have their Afro hair tucked away, or chemically processed away, out of sight.

It’s not fair to direct anger at Sheryl alone. We should question the society we live in that seems to dictate that Afro hair should not be seen. I am very encouraged though, that more and more often now, I see black women daring to bare their natural hair. I know that women wear their hair natural for all kinds of reasons, and many are not seeking to make a political statement by doing so. However I can’t help but feel that with every woman that starts to go to work, especially in the corporate field, with natural hairstyles, it takes down another brick in the wall that stands in the face of black women being free to be who they are, without fear of judgment.

10 Things You Ought To Know Before You Decide To Go Natural

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I was born with natural hair. That ought to be my response when someone asks me “how long have you been natural for?” Perhaps “going natural” isn’t the right phraseology when it comes to describing the move of ever increasing … Continue reading