Tag Archives: black

Should we put Woke to sleep?

The past tense of awake is woke, obviously. “I woke up,” is what someone could utter any given morning. The word has also been adopted as a slang word with a meaning that is ever expanding, but generally entails being in the know when it comes to social and political enlightenment. A word with such subjectivity allows people to feel a sense of “wokeness” when it comes to just about anything.

Has anyone ever told you to #staywoke? The term has existed for a while, and now got a brand-new make over with its existence on social media. Its social media presence is what caused many to refine or narrow down its meaning.

Many people have various interpretations of the word.

San Francisco State University biology student, Rosa Gutierrez, thinks “…it is when someone is enlightened, or trying to learn about something that is going on around them, and not ignoring the issues that are going on around them.”

American-Indian studies major, Shawnee Sample, believes that, “It’s about seeing different perspectives and different sides to everything, just being able to recognize what’s going down whether it’s political, educational, etc.”

“I think it means being aware of situations and problems that people aren’t aware of,” shares computer science major, David Harvey. “I feel like it’s being overused for now, but with time it will be used less.”

The great thing about social media is that it can get information to circulate on a broader scale. People all over the world can get a laugh from the same memes at the same time! And while that is amazing it’s important to realize that not just memes are being rapidly spread, so are these trends of activism.

We live in a time where big social movements involving hashtags can catapult through the likes of social media. Take #BlackLivesMatter for example, the entirety of that movement started on social media and without social media it would not have spread as widely as it did.

With that being said, even though a social movement as such holds much more value than a trend, it is treated the same when it comes to having a shelf life, which brings me to the topic of being or staying “Woke.”

Even though it has taken off on social media, the term has been around for decades in the Black community. Although not the most reputable source, The Urban Dictionary satirically describes it as “a state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains by reading The Huffington Post.”

A lot of people think that because they were there first they get to delegate what the meaning is and how others should be regarded within that term,” says Ghila Andemeskel, former executive coordinator for the Black Student Union. “In general it does open doors for discussion.”

At the peak of its existence in the world of social media, “woke” seemed to bring a lot of awareness to issues. It also became something that people were striving to be a part of because it was highly looked down upon to be considered not “woke.”

With that popularity arose various problems. On one hand people were beginning to just start calling themselves “woke,” unjustly throwing around the word like Northern Californians throw around the word “hella.” On the other hand, people began to develop this unwarranted sense of intellectual superiority, and additionally it led to a lot of talk of issues, but no action.

“Media is a tool that can be used positively and negatively,” explains Hanna Wodaje, an Africana studies Alumna who currently works at the Black Unity Center. “The word can be like a double-edged sword obviously if it’s used inefficiently.”

The overuse and misuse of the word by people wanting fit in led to a lot of folks misconstruing the meaning. While it is great to care for these issues and give them more attention, the only thing this superiority does is create a divide between people, as opposed to spreading awareness which was the goal from the beginning, which in my opinion is the cause of this dwindling trend.

Often people think that a simple double tap on someone’s “woke” post or a simple retweet is enough and that is as far as their wokeness goes.

“Social media things like hashtags have been an amazing way for people of color and marginalized groups to reclaim their spaces and their platforms,” Wodaje points out.

Even singer and Bay Area native, Kehlani, sported the word as a tattoo in giant letters gracing the back of her hand, which she had covered up at the beginning of this year.

“When I got the ‘Woke’ tattoo at twenty-years-old I thought I was the smartest cookie in the jar,” shared the now twenty-two-year-old in an Instagram post. “I was so ready to declare my intelligence to the world.”

Someone who is truly about that life, lives it everyday. It shows in the company they keep, in them standing up for themselves and others, and it shows in their active activism—not including “Twitter activism”, which is not necessarily bad, but it is not enough to make an actual impact in the community and the lives of others.
We should stop looking at it like it is a finite state of being. There is no end to learning, growing, and becoming better versions of ourselves.

It is wonderful to spread awareness about social issues, the feeling that comes from doing such feels amazing, but anger or bashing should not stem from a difference in thoughts of opinions regarding various topics. I couldn’t decide whether something like this needed a different title like ‘socially conscious’ or maybe we should eradicate titles all together and let our actions speak louder than or words.

Let’s put the focus we have on the term to sleep and wake up our potential to be the catalyst for positive change in our communities. At the end of the day, that is what it is all about.

Sia Amma: A One Woman Show

The streets were a perfect balance of calm and chaotic, the air was cold, and the sound of a new apartment complex being built echoed throughout the shaded street. Sia Amma’s hair salon, Best Hair Braiding Salon, is in the middle of it all.

Amma was a feminist to say the least; in every sense of the word and in every facet of her passions.

“You are questioned for everything as a Black woman for everything we’re fighting to survive, fighting to claim ourselves,” Amma explains.  “I’ve learned a lot, women of color are born feminist, the stigma on those feminine issues has always been there but it is much more difficult for women of color.”

 

White feminism and Black feminism are two different realities that can be explained by intersectionality, but on the other hand Women Gender Studies professor Brooke Lober states, “Not all women are born feminists, feminism is a set of theories and politics –not a condition of birth.”

To say that she does it all would be an understatement. Amma acts, is a playwright, writes books, and is a comedian, just to name a few of her passions. But braiding hair has always been a constant in her life, and her main source of income.

In response to what kind of comedy she does, she says a lot of her jokes are racially based. “People always say things like ‘go back to Africa!’ I am like, ‘Do you know how much the tickets cost?!’” she shares as an example of one of her popular jokes.

“I just try to balance with trying to make a living and trying to survive,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone.

Outsiders cannot walk into the shop with ease, a protective gate served as a barrier in front of the door. It is a quaint salon with three chairs and two washing stations. The wall directly to the right had a plethora of rows full of braiding hair packs hanging on the wall, ranging from straight hair to kinky hair, and black and brown colors to green and blue. The brown walls gave it a warm feel that one gets from being in a living room at home.

She talks over the score of a PBS podcast playing the background. Her hands move vigorously as she and an associate micro braid a client, occasionally speaking in her native tongue to her braiding counterpart to comment on the podcast, which happened to be discussing the topic of gun control in America. She would take a little pause when resting her hands or to shake her head with disapproval.

A hairstyle of micro-braids can have a person in the salon for hours, nothing that Black women are not used to already, so two hands are definitely necessary. Amma does all sorts of braiding styles at her Tenderloin salon and has been for decades while in and out of school.

Amma left her home on the coast of Liberia during the civil war that took place in the 1990s and came straight to San Francisco with her family.

According to Peace Building Data, the civil war in Liberia, which was from 1989-2003, left hundreds of thousands of people dead, included an ethnic divide, elites who abused power, a corrupt political system, and economic disparity. All of that violence caused many to flee to the States.

In San Francisco she eventually went to community college before transferring from City College of San Francisco to San Francisco State University in 2008. At the university she double majored in communications and drama. But her true passion lay with performing.

No relationships are stirring for Amma at the moment. “I think I’m much more married to my performances, nothing makes me happier than making people laugh or performing, I think that my biggest fear is losing myself,” she elaborates.

She even has a space for a theater around the corner from the salon, literally. She has had the space since 2003, but she put that theater dream on hold as the area was getting heckled by people who had intent to gentrify. “I braided all day then I would go over there and perform,” she recounts the past.

 

She still has it, but instead uses it as a storage space for the products that she sells at her salon.

“With gentrification comes a lot of stalking and harassment,” Amma continues. “I was getting stalked and followed so I shut it down for my safety.”

She explains how San Francisco was very different when she first came here. “I remember there was more black people and more black neighborhoods,” Amma explains.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000, Black people made up 7.5 percent of San Francisco’s population, by 2016 that number went down to 6.5 percent.  

“The first African braiding shop in the Bay Area was in the Fillmore!” Amma exclaims excitedly. That is where she met Satta, her fellow braider and colleague at the salon.

“I known her for over 20 years, we met at the first braiding salon in the Bay Area ever called African Safari, everyone that came from Africa worked there. I worked at this shop with her for 5 years,” says Satta.

In her most recent one woman show—titled Uncle Sam’s Children in Africa—she tells of her life in Liberia and what brought her to America, accompanied by a crash course on Liberian history.

She has a voice made for performing, the same booming voice that emerges in between laughs at the hair salon, it finally gets to take the main stage. She paints pictures with her hand gestures, giving the audience a virtual tour of her village in Liberia.

“It was really inspiring, with lots of drama, history, and a beautiful song,” commented a spectator Elizabeth Loyola.

Amma has a book that she says is finished, but she just cannot seem to put down the pen, she explains while continuing to laugh. When she gets to the topic of her love for performing that her eyes light up, and the volume of her voice grows with excitement. With her laugh booming throughout the small salon, she gets into some of the topics that she covers in her book, which is a feminist bible, so to speak, and based entirely on interviews and conversations that she has had with various women.

“One of the things that I learned from those interviews is the tremendous amounts of silence about these kind of topics, these interviews would happen after I performed or just people would tell me things while I did their hair.”

She touches on first dates, to women discovering sexuality, the difference between infatuation and love, vaginas and more.

“I will finish, then I’ll be like ‘okay maybe just one more, how about a first date? Or teenage pregnancy?’”

Her goal is to increase the dialogue for all of these topics that women feel the need to be silent about, through interviews with various women. “For a lot of us the separation between us and our parents comes from discovering ourselves and our sexuality,” she explains.

Her salon, and many like it, become a sanctuary for women, a safe space where your hair in its natural form is not judged and such a comfort then becomes a catalyst for open conversation and if you are lucky… a little gossip.

“It’s getting way too expensive, I wanna go far away from here,” she says, her voice trailing off into silence.

One reason she wants to go back to Liberia eventually is because she finds it harder to be Black here. “I never questioned my Blackness it was just there, but then you come here and everywhere you go, you have to prove yourself,” she admits.

She hopes to go back to teach children or to be an ambassador for women’s health.

Black is the New Black

According to a well known saying, “______ is the new black.” Black is the standard of fashion. Clothing trends come and go, but recently pressure is being put on the fashion industry to let more go then just last season’s wardrobe go.

The lack of diversity in the fashion world goes far beyond the runway. Without cultural representation in major studios there are a great number of problems looming.

For too long designers have not had someone push back on styles and looks that disrespect various cultures. The fight for plus size models, for example, is a story within itself.

Fashion Design Student, Chrystlan Morehead – Tucker at SF State in the design room located in Burk Hall on March 8, 2018. (Kyler Knox/Golden Gate Express).

Skin, body type, sexuality, and culture are all being put into a senior fashion line produced by Chrysalyn Morehead-Tucker. Chrysalyn is a 24-year-old fashion student at San Francisco State University. It was her plan to study fashion at SF State.

“If I was gonna progress in the idea of bringing communities that aren’t represented in the fashion industry to the forefront, it would make more sense to come to a school that has those same views,” she shared.

Chrysalyn’s goal in the fashion industry is to change “the norm.” She explained that giving credit where it is due is the first priority on her list.

“Understanding some of the things that black culture has brought to the fashion industry but has not been given credit. I would love to say that this is something a black person did, this came from the black community,” Chrysalyn shared.

Changing how fashion is interpreted is an important aspect for designers like Chrysalyn, who use their talents to create a dialogue that shifts thinking. She explains that “being a fashion student at SF State kind of opened my eyes to more of what the fashion industry needs rather than what the fashion industry is asking for. I think the program here definitely emphasizes more on being able to change the industry for what it is.”

Chrysalyn is working on various projects that reflect her goals of including communities often overlooked by the fashion industry, such as her senior line that focuses on Afrofuturism. Chrysalyn describes Afrofuturism as “the idea of having black bodies in a futuristic setting and futuristic places.”

Inspired by Star Trek at a young age, Chrysalyn explains, “I’ve always been fascinated with the art form of Afrofuturism… ”

Chrysalyn’s idea is to concoct a combination of sustainability, futuristic settings, and Afrocentricity. She walks through the process and explains that she is “taking traditional African garments like Dashiki and repurposing them for my fashion show.”

She explains why sustainability is an important portion of her work by adding, “consumers are understanding that we need to be more mindful and conscious of what not only our clothes are made out of but what we do with our clothing once we feel like they reached the end of their cycle.”

Chrysalyn explained that sustainability was a process in Africa that was almost second nature to textile producers.

“There’s so much spiritual connection between African weaving, and African dying, and African printing, that means more than just aesthetics. There’s spiritual connections to it and I want to do it justice by showing the prints and the colors that makes Africa stand out from everyone else,” she expresses.

The fashion show put on at the end of year by fashion students is no small project because it pushes students to take everything they have learned and incorporate it into three to six pieces to display in front of their immediate community.

Dr. Dorie, the instructor and an alumna of the program, gave insight on what designers face for the fashion show.

Dr. Dorie explained, “We’re really trying to prepare them to go into the fashion industry and have a strong design aesthetic, so they leave understanding the elements of design and how to execute them,” Dr. Dorie explained

She jokingly added, “[The designers] won’t sleep all semester.”

She gave the timeline of the tireless semester and narrowed it down.

“If you think about a look for one model, that’s about three garments for one model it’s a lot of work.”

Even though the sleepless nights and the ever-changing fashion world, Chrysalyn sets her sights on creating a space in fashion for all people who do not feel like fashion is for them.