What exactly is Blackness? What does it mean to be Black? Is Blackness a matter of biology or consciousness? Who determines who is Black and who is not? Who's Black, who's not, and who cares? This discussion with Michaela angela Davis and Dr. Yaba Blay focused on shifting the lens on race - seeking to challenge narrow perceptions of Blackness as both an identity and lived reality.
Michaela Angela Davis cares about culture, style and equality. She is an image activist, a writer, conversationalist, editorial director, feminist, fashionista, community servant, and CNN contributor.
The NAACP of New York distinguished her with the Phenomenal Woman Award at their centennial celebration. The city of New York proclaimed her a “Trailblazer” and the Feminist Press honored her for her “empowerment” of women. These, among many other accolades, are a response to her relentless multiplatform efforts to expand the narrow narratives about beauty, image and power in media.
Davis has advanced the images of people of color at nearly every major media outlet targeting the African American market. She came to her cause through her first editorial position at Essence magazine under the mentorship of Susan L. Taylor in 1991. She was the Essence fashion editor, and the magazine’s first and last executive fashion, beauty, and culture editor. She was the first fashion director at Vibe and the editor in chief of Honey. She was a creative consultant for the rebrand of BET, a top 20 cable TV station and the largest black media company in the world. She is currently BET’s editorial brand manager.
Davis has penned everything from beauty blurbs to public service announcement scripts. Her power, however, lies in her essays. Her writings are included in breakthrough anthologies like Everything But The Burden: What White People are Taking From Black Culture and Black Cool. Her work has appeared in many international publications and can be found on CNN.com, Jezebel.com, Ebony.com and HuffingtonPost.com.
Her activism began in 2005 when she co-created with Essence the Take Back The Music Campaign, a national conversation about misogyny and misrepresentation of women of color in mainstream hip-hop music videos. She has appeared on MSNBC, Fox, MTV, VH1, BBC, NBC, and ABC, among others. Davis is most passionate, however, when she is appearing live, having “creative and critical community conversations.” She has led conversations for student audiences on campuses around the country, including Howard University, Yale University, Spelman College, Middlebury College, New York University, and Dillard University, as well as in cultural institutions, community centers, and intimate salons.
She is the creator of MADFREE: Liberating Conversations About Image Beauty and Power, a multi-platform conversation project with revolutionary women. She is frequently seen with Anderson Cooper on CNN where she is a regular contributor.
While Davis’ work is grounded in the politics of image, beauty, culture, race, and gender, her roots are in theater and fashion. She was a National Arts Scholar from Duke Ellington High School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. and trained at the Stella Adler Acting Conservatory through the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, and The New School (For Social Research). She apprenticed under the exclusive fashion stylist for legendary photographer Richard Avedon, and became a bit of a legend herself as one of the few black women stylists in the 1990s. Her list of celebrity styling clients is long and includes Diana Ross, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, and Prince. She was a frequent style critic on FUSE TV’s Full Frontal Fashion.
Dr. Yaba Blay is a professor, producer, and publisher. As a researcher and ethnographer, she uses personal and social narratives to disrupt fundamental assumptions about cultures and identities. As a cultural worker and producer, she uses images to inform consciousness, incite dialogue, and inspire others into action and transformation.
While her broader research interests are related to Africana cultural aesthetics and aesthetic practices, and global Black popular culture, Dr. Blay’s specific research interests lie within global Black identities and the politics of embodiment, with particular attention given to hair and skin color politics. Her 2007 dissertation, Yellow Fever: Skin Bleaching and the Politics of Skin Color in Ghana, relies upon African-centered and African feminist methodologies to investigate the social practice of skin bleaching in Ghana; and her ethnographic case study of skin color and identity in New Orleans entitled “Pretty Color and Good Hair” is featured as a chapter in the anthology Blackberries and Redbones: Critical Articulations of Black Hair/Body Politics in Africana Communities.
One of today’s leading voices on colorism and global skin color politics, Dr. Yaba Blay is the author of (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race and artistic director of the (1)ne Drop project. In (1)ne Drop, she explores the interconnected nuances of skin color politics and Black racial identity, and challenges narrow perceptions of Blackness as both an identity and lived reality. In 2012, she served as a Consulting Producer for CNN Black in America – “Who is Black in America?” – a television documentary inspired by the scope of her (1)ne Drop project. In addition to her production work for CNN, Dr. Blay is producing a transmedia film project focused on the global practice of skin bleaching (with director Terence Nance).
Dr. Blay received her BA in Psychology (Cum Laude) from Salisbury State University, M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology from the University of New Orleans, and M.A. and Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple University with a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies. She is currently co-Director and Assistant Teaching Professor of Africana Studies at Drexel University. Dr. Blay is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of BLACKprint Press.
Featuring the perspectives of 60 contributors representing 25 different countries and countries of origin, and combining candid narratives with simple, yet striking, portraiture, this book provides living testimony to the diversity of Blackness. Featured on CNN Newsroom and the inspiration behind CNN's Black in America 5 - "Who is Black in America?" - (1)ne Drop continues to spark much-needed dialogue about the intricacies and nuances of racial identity, and the influence of skin color politics on questions of who is Black and who is not. (1)ne Drop takes the very literal position that in order for us to see Blackness differently, we have to see Blackness differently.
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