Until I ‘found myself’ and truly embraced my oddness toward the end of highschool, I spent an inordinate amount of energy trying to fit in with the Black kids. It was an exercise that permeated every corner of my life. What accent I should don, who I should like, what music I should listen to, how I should dance, how smart I should be … All of it came into question every day. According to the Black pops, there was only one way of Blackness- and invariably, I was doing it wrong.
This was especially true when it came to fashion. The Blacks™ in my middle and high school were all very concerned with dress. This is not to say that they were especially well put-together, but that they were very brand conscious and impeccably color-coordinated. If there was a speck of pink in your shirt, you had to put pink shoelaces in your sneakers, wear a pink belt, a pink bandana, pink bows in your hair, carry a pink book bag, and Diddy Bop to P!nk’s ‘There You Go.’ I remember the look of horror on my face when my tenth grade Spanish teacher suggested that I wear a red shirt of mine she loved with a black and white print skirt she’d just noticed. “But it doesn’t match! What will people think??” I would soon learn.
Last weekend, a friend of mine checked out my outfit, and told me I reminded her of Claudia Kishi (of The Baby-Sitters Club fame.) I squeed. I was wearing a yellow shift dress, Red cardigan, Blue leather flats with a gold toe, Blue fabric bow on the side of my head, Blue and Gold upcycled vintage bracelet.
If you’re not familiar with Claudia here’s an apt description:
Claudia likes bright colours, fun patterns, and funky touches to outfits, like earrings with feathers. She hates traditional clothes and never wears them. Claudia never wore the same outfit twice.
|Claudia Kishi was the most badass, I don’t care what people think — I do what I want girl in the world!|
Obviously, I’ve grown into my own style- and yes, it can be a bit out there. My peers balked at first, because it wasn’t easy to take in. I’ve found that to be a general and unfortunate theme in my generation’s digestion of popular media and art.
Narrow views of what Blackness is leads to a sometimes stalled consumption of challenging art and media.
The defensive “I don’t get it, so I’ll call it dumb or wrong,” mentality also helps to stall out growth.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for people like Kanye West who challenge and elevate their mediums of choice. Reactions to Ye’s “Yeezus” have ranged from “I listened to this once, and this isn’t hip-hop, because I’ve never heard anything like it,” to “Kanye thinks he’s the Messiah!” They all reek of an absence of true analysis.
I have no time for panderers like Tyler Perry who meet their audiences at or below where they are… So-called artists who cater to the lowest common denominator. Who underestimate and undermine our intelligence. Who create the ultimate lean-back experience, whereas Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Lady Gaga, Janelle Monáe, etc want you to lean in. Tyler Perry wants me to match my shoes to my belt to my shirt to my nails to my eyeshadow to my hat. Kanye and Co. want you to find comfort in ambiguity, find meaning in discordance, and take a critical eye to all aspects of life. It’s not enough to say “Kanye says ‘I’m A God.’ That must mean he think’s he’s God,” and then dismiss him as a blasphemous member of the Illuminati. It’s an oversimplification and a disservice to us as a people.
We’re at a critical point of growth. We are innovators. We are creatives. We are game changers. For God’s sake- we are jazz!
How do we change this trend? Stop stripping our schools of arts education and the humanities. Teach our kids how to learn. Stop teaching to tests, and start valuing creative, challenging thought.
It turns out, you don’t have to have a Fendi belt to go with your Fendi shoes and Fendi purse if you don’t want to. Music, fashion, ideas — they don’t have to be easy to be consumable. And just because you “don’t get it” the first time, doesn’t mean it deserves to be hated or dismissed. Embrace Claudia. Lean in. Be critical. Be mindful. Be lifted.