Digesting Fashion Week: The Politics of Getting Dressed Up

Wrapping up earlier this Friday, New York Fashion week brought in models, editors, and debutantes alike to catwalk the city’s official and non-official stages. The real trends to watch, of course, are what aesthetics (i.e., the fashion industry’s principles) will be proffered for the upcoming seasons. Nowhere am I more curious than where these aesthetic choices concern ethnic diversity. Readers of this blog are no strangers to the idea that the high fashion industry’s choice in models has an effect on beauty culture: that is, what is deemed presently beautiful influences and is influenced by designer presentations at fashion week(s). This beauty culture, in it’s valuation of social capital, has actual behavioral and experienced outcomes in day to day life. Despite how removed high fashion may seem, these images appear in magazines as pronouncements on the season’s sartorial, cosmetic, and hairstyling expectations. Being included or left out in contemporary trend reports has real consequences for women around the world.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-7-38-52-pm(Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images North America)

While designers have shown increased aptitude and sensitivity towards diversity — the industry has shifted from overwhelming majority “conventional beauty,” (see white, Eurasian) towards greater inclusion where race, religion, gender, ability, and even experience of trauma are concerned — there is still a glaringly erroneous rate of misinterpretation about what constitutes authentic inclusion.

Personally, my approach is somewhat reducto ad colonialism —  a question of luxury capitalism in a post colonial world. I imagine the purpose of inclusion in fashion shows is for the world of luxury design (see also, excess) to acknowledge that high fashion is borne from, and supported by, the dividends of  colonization and slavery profits — that in France, Britain, Italy, the United States where these immensely well financed fashion parades occur, there has been some sort of dialogue towards assimilation that goes, “If you would only wear our clothes, accept our fashions and respectability…,” you could be French/British/Italian(not as much)/American.

Therefore, when these presentations are cast so as to suggest that black people, people of color, and other “non conventional beauties” have no business wearing these clothes, it serves to insult quite viscerally: exclusion from the beauty party is very hurtful and in a post colonial context, the exclusion serves as a societal betrayal.

The redoubling of this insult is the fashion world’s tendency to take the physical stylings of this exclusion from beauty norming (ongoing present tense here, because history has shown us norms regularly shift to facilitate society’s needs for women to fill this mold or the other) and present them recycled and somehow undiscovered. For example, locs, cornrows, braids, and natural curls have been excluded from respectability and beauty norms. But when these styles are rendered culturally acceptable  via their presence on a white person they are not just respectable, but artistic, cutting edge and hip.

Examples of this unfortunate ignorance last week included Kylie Jenner wearing a du-rag at the Jonathan Simkhi show, and Marc Jacobs’s featuring models with multi-colored locs. Although the locs were almost too cartoonish to take seriously, his stinging, uninformed response to criticisms of appropriation lacked no such ambivalence:

“All who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any particular style or manner — funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race — I see people.”

There’s no need for excessive judgement here. People do the best they know how with the information that is available to them. Jacobs is outraged because he doesn’t understand how privilege, respectability and aesthetics work together, and maybe he fears that not having access to the use of other cultures aesthetic expressions would hurt his work and ultimately his livelihood.

Alongside other misinformed attempts progress, there is the lest mentioned and deeply frightening trend that resembles a half hearted attempt at reaching for a falling item while simultaneously realizing such savior is not truly desired. Inclusion has been overly simplified to mean skin color when the fact is that political phenotype has never been this simple. Rather, authentic inclusion would have to look at  bone structure, ethnicity, nationality, body type,hair type, and many other subtle factors. Plainly: though absolutely stunning, I do not feel included at the sight of light skinned black women, Dominican women, and East African women, the women who the fashion industry has charged with diversifying the runways.  I want to know that the black every woman of America, those who have been raped of so much beauty throughout this nation’s, will finally have the chance at being the beauty included, incorporated into widened norms, or even,the beauty ideal.

So when Kanye West tweeted an open casting call for “multiracial women only,” I’ll be the first to admit, I bristled, having jumped to colorist conclusions.  West’s call seems to have lacked specificity, but Mr. West defended himself,“How do you word the idea that you want all variations of black? How do you word that exactly?” Maybe African-descended? I can understand the desire to be especially savvy and linguistically obtuse in his circumstance.

What became apparent, was that West had a beautiful Pan-African rainbow in mind. There were women of wide Pantone range, all seeming to have had at least 12.5% African ancestry, by indication of the aforementioned ethnic indicators.

Screen Shot 2016-09-17 at 8.02.30 PM.png(photo: GQ)

Tim Gunn may have been right about it the collection looking like stretch undergarments, but personally, I like the style of stretch undergarments. It’s practical, permissive, sporty, and muted.

Walking for the finale was fairly brown singer, Teyana Taylor, who has had massive popularity since the release of West’s music video for “Fade” (wherein she dances around an old school gym, reminiscent of a slightly more urbane Flashdance). Tweets and time told, the Yeezy season 4 show, was a respectful nod to African descended women of all shades, and a fairly permissive range of shapes, if not all sizes.


Then, there was Collina Strada’s presentation, which handled the use of difference so deftly, as to show no fear, only celebration, in not just the suggestion of African ethnicity, but the saturation of African ethnicity. Designer Hillary Taymour’s decision to cast only black models seems to exemplify what I imagine would be a “post” racial ideal. She preferred deeper tones of brown, and coarse hair.  Blackness wasn’t explicitly part of the text, but it is hard to miss that the brown skin glazed iridescent, brought out the best in the clothes’ color palette and earthy glamour cum futuristic vibe. Black people are beautiful, it just seemed so evident, a simple, but wholly accepted premise of the show. Gender difference, while not erased in the styling is lessened. Men wear ruffles, draped fabrics, and the occasional dress, while women were dressed in boxy separates.

So it can be done, and not only by black designers, but also by well meaning tasteful white designers who have disabused themselves of antiquated notions of inclusion. There’s much to be desired, but alas, there were diversity standouts that challenged shallow notions of inclusivity at this year’s New York Fashion Week.

Digesting Fashion Week: The Politics of Getting Dressed Up

Mandy Media: More James, DWB, Dapper Dan

James Baldwin Month x Pop Literary Criticism


One of the things I value James Baldwin for is his literary and film criticism, so I’m excited to be reading so much great criticism about Baldwin, the application of his messages and ideas to contemporary issues (or, expressions of longstanding issues), and comparisons with today’s writers.  I crave more popular black literary criticism (obv!). Two fantastic articles:

I’ve been slightly annoyed at the Ta-Nehisi Coates comparisons — I definitely anticipated that they would come a couple of years ago when Coates began to appear with more frequency and to more acclaim. I really like Vinson Cunningham’s figuring of Coates as “the rapper.”In the past, I’ve also felt that Coates’ writing seems to have a little bit more male ego to me. I know ego is a really loaded word, and I mean it as a mindset, more than any sort of aggressive thing, but I have had trouble relating to the sensibility of his writing, the particular angling in how points are made, although I do agree with a lot of his message. Baldwin, to me, speaks from the sensibility, yes of the church, as Cunningham says, but in my understanding, more so to love and loving potentiality. Not to paint him as a hippie: I think for Baldwin the premise for loving potentiality was an almost invasive, wrenching truthiness.

Also, let’s just go ahead and make this James Baldwin month on this blog, and to that end, here is a great article by JoAnn Wypijewski on why he is still relevant today.

And speaking of the power of great pop cultural literary criticism, this Holy Trinity comparison by Sesali B. is so good, I feel that I understand the appeal of, and kind of like all of those artists more now! (Except for Nicki, because my love for her was already enormous).

Zeba Blay is Awesome: 

Zeba Blay is one of my favorite young writers now and I really enjoyed her take on the absurd Allure magazine article about how white women can style their hair in to “Afros.” (Ugh.)

She also hosts a great podcast called Two Brown Girls, with Fariha Roisin.

Alex Landau’s Traffic Stop @ Storycorps/ The Power of Digital Narratives

I really enjoy the animation series from Storycorps. Animation lends its levity to serious and heartfelt narratives. It is appealing, it is digestible, it is a reasonable communicatory tool. Animation is just one tool among many that can be utilized by minorities to express complicated and difficult ideas. I think this also gets at why I like Blay and Roisin’s podcast so much, because the format is very much a private space shared by the new method of digital, internet interaction. What other unique digital narrative and communications work is being made in this framework of privileging otherwise under heard perspectives? (Seriously. I’ll love you forever if you share a good link in the comments below.)

Dapper Dan, and Appropriating Assimilation?

I read a great interview with Dapper Dan , the legendary Harlem clothier, who printed designer logos all over track suits, and stitched together leather and fur pieces, that became a signature look in the 80’s and 90’s. He’s got a fascinating story. I also can’t help but think about how he assimilated black styles, by grafting (illegally) white luxury branding. It’s interesting to think about how luxury brands work in a place like Harlem, in a context where the authenticity of said brands is not necessarily of the highest import, and storefronts still have mannequins draped in Harlemified luxury logo wear, and that it carries some remixed social capital of that original logo.

I think the Dapper Dan look returned in the early 2000’s when there was a  throwback early 90’s hip-hop look that was and still is trending. But in time for the vintage redux, it was authentic wares that became popularized. Now luxury brands openly and willingly identify with hip-hop. By then, fashion found a way to attract urban markets who already showed willingness to sport their brands. Think about the return of the MCM luxury brand’s renewed popularity, and tell me you can’t attribute that to the renaissance of the Dapper Dan influence.

Now, labels like  Moschino and Calvin Klein, seem eager to push a hyper branded look. Certainly a nod to the 90’s, but could it be perhaps a 90’s hip-hop logo driven era that Dapper is in part responsible for?


Whatever way you slice it, this man is an Uptown Legend, for sure.

Mandy Media: More James, DWB, Dapper Dan

Mandy Media: Happy Birthday Jimmy, R.I.P. Cecil, #TeamAmandla, and Some Funny Bits

Happy Birthday, Jimmy!

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 10.55.13 PMFirst and foremost, I would like to wish a happy birthday to the ever present soul of Mr. James Arthur Baldwin, more affectionately known as Jimmy. I consult James Baldwin’s essay collection more frequently than I consult The Bible. His work is timely, scary so. One of my favorite essays to revisit is “A Talk to Teachers.” I would definitely recommend buying this collection of essays for anybody who wants to know more about James Baldwin and gain access to his brilliant mind. It is he who inspires me each and every day to be less programmatic, and more fierce, fiery and fearless about pursuing justice through the written word. I love you Jimmy, Happy Birthday King, I don’t know where I would be without you!!!

(Shout Out, Ms. Muniz, my bold and badass high school English teacher, in a seriously old fashioned school, who taught and still teaches a class on Baldwin every year!)

Here is a video of Baldwin theorizing on black and white identities and other racial issues:

R.I.P. Cecil

When I first heard about the death of Cecil the Lion, I was saddened but not angered. For one, I am just too deeply preoccupied with what I will call #BlackLivesMatter concerns. But frankly, I couldn’t help but make connections: white privileges (a wealthy dentist on an international hunting trip), the slippery slope thereof. The undervaluing of African customs, rules, laws, and yes, lives. What does it mean to slay  black (animalistic) beasts or fearsome African creatures? Where do people get off spending  leisure and professional time killing things?  And of course, I have concerns about “game hunting” and the idea of traveling abroad, to a place where you have zero claim and zero investment to destroy foreign fauna, for pleasure. It seems violent, exploitative, and atrocious.

In my perspective, the connections said more about the killers than the killed. More connections lay perhaps in examinations of whiteness, rather than comparing the lives of lions to humans. Because we know that black lives matter more than lion lives, right? Jimmy Kimmel, are you there?


James Hamblin agrees, Black Lives Matter, but duh. It’s so definite a hierarchy it’s almost unworthy of discussion. He argues that at the very top of the outrage pyramid is outrage at “end of all life due to uninhabitable planet.” I largely enjoyed Hamblin’s dismantling of an almost knee jerk critical news circuit. However, I am inclined to look once more at how white privilege is based in this belief and practice that everything is for whites taking, hunting, commoditizing, districting, regulating. This includes the earth AND all its flora and fauna. I sometimes have a frustration when black lives and environment lives advocates don’t see that despite uncommon experiences, they have a common foe. They have a common mission: for nature and our natural selves to thrive and educate one another, love one another, value and preserve one another — inclusively, without fear for the lack of abundance. It’s that fear of lack of abundance that has caused us to push the environment to the brink — and in the process we’ve made ourselves sick and unhealthy, and living in rapidly changing physical landscapes. For example, we’re destroying our natural habitat and depleting our natural resources so we can over farm, so we can overfeed cattle, so we can overeat meat, so we can be overweight. That’s just one instance of American (white) greed and how in the long run it benefits so few.

Regardless of race, white privilege, and whiteness limits us all. White privilege and greed are historically and presently connected. It makes life easier for white people, but it is a certain indoctrination, and therefore, in at least some measures, by way of social expectations for behavior, career, lifepath, friends, lovers etc., a limitation. Let’s focus on the work so that we can make stronger alliances here, folks.  Of course, #BlackLivesMatter.

I wish I could hear what Jimmy (Baldwin) would have to say about climate change…It’s days like these that I miss him the most. 

Although she is not currently being hailed as a James Baldwin second coming (read, shade), I think Roxane Gay’s piece in The New York Times about the comparison between Cecil and contemporary race affairs is a sensitive, comforting meditation.


Thanks to Bitch Magazine for giving some “Unequivocal” love to Amandla Stenberg this week! I love this little heroine. When I was a teenager I did some ballsy shit because I was frustrated with race stuff I saw around me, and let me tell you, dealing with the need to be liked as a teenager, and seeing how racial structures and racism interact with that very need is a goddamned doozy. And this girl is doing it in the spotlight, with a difficult to dismantle Hollywood racial hierarchy to combat, too boot?! Amandla is my spirit animal.

Funny Bits

I just have to say, that I am so grateful this week to be posting two pieces from Roxane Gay, and to have a model of fear free writing womanhood that is so vast in her perspective and intelligence that she is able to write both of these completely different essays. I just found this essay she wrote a month ago: “I Wanted To Hug Every Part of Him With My Mouth: A Magic Mike XXL Recap.” I was cracking up the whole read while also completely buying the bit about feminism and the explicitly female gaze, and rooting on the politically uplifting horndoggedness. No doubt, I swoon for an interracial relationship with hunky dude, a la Shawn and Angela, and I come to find out that one is featured in Magic Mike XXL?! I guess I should go see that…

Lastly, Key and Peele had me dying of laughter, and dreaming of a world this week. Thanks for making this possible, albeit in an alternative reality. Just making comedy like this opens peoples minds to what could be.

Mandy Media: Happy Birthday Jimmy, R.I.P. Cecil, #TeamAmandla, and Some Funny Bits

Sandra Bland: What we all must accept, and some on what allies might do

Suicide leaves a community with a lot of questions. I’m not certain that Sandra Bland’s death was a suicide, but I’m also in staunch acceptance of the reality that black women do suffer from mental illness, and do commit suicide. The idea that black females lack the potential frailty, such that they would commit this ultimate act of pain, especially considering their history in this nation, is offensive.


Part of my acceptance process is that I would like to get comfortable with the probability that we will never know the complete truth of the suspected suicide, homicide or cover up. I’m not putting total faith in the FBI or coroner, because it feels undue. I’ve seen too many political dramas to trust my imagination. I’d like to believe it was foul play, but just as soon chide myself for relying on such a simplistic narrative — that direct actions and direct deceptions, rather than subtle structures, contribute to the deadliness of racism.

So while I have questions, I don’t pursue them. I’m attempting to make peace with the impossible cruelty of a racist system and the symptoms thereof. And frankly, I don’t know that having answers to my questions necessarily serves that end.

In much of the writing immediately following Bland’s death, I observed how the grieving process throws up questions like a defense against mortality itself. If we can continue to pursue answers, we stand a fighting chance at reviving something. Relief from our anguish seems to be within our realm of control. I’m concerned that we unwittingly protract the denial phase of our healing.

To that end, I am curious about the heroism theme in writing about Sandra Bland. Like this coverage of her funeral by Tessa Stuart: “We Are Celebrating a Hero.”  I believe that Bland demonstrated a great deal of heroism both when speaking out on her media outlets, and during that gruesome traffic stop, but I’m concerned at how the idea of her heroism is represented as incompatible with the plausibility of her suicide. (And to be fair, this is not necessarily the media’s fault.)

I’d like to see a more balanced discussion that complicates that heroism and cowardliness/suicide are fixed in a dichotomy, especially where it pertains to post colonial bodies. There has been an argument, that if Sandra Bland was as bright, successful, upwardly mobile, and intelligent as everyone says, and as we can see in her Sandy Speaks videos, that it’s impossible that she could have killed herself. This coverage at The Root tells of a chilling foreshadowing of Bland’s death, but couldn’t some of Bland’s acknowledgments be held as backdrop for, or at least in concert with,  suicide rather than evidence of its unlikeliness?  I’d like to see us apply what seems to be a truism in therapy circles: smart, perceptive, critical people are more likely to be depressed.

Yes, Sandra Bland was acutely aware and intelligent, and yes, motivated, but let us not underestimate the crushing nature of American racism. You can hear a twinge of hopelessness in her discussion of power structures and racism. Bland was a hero; Bland was a victim.

When we downplay Bland’s claims that she struggled with depression, despite the fact that she said as much, we reinforce a belief system that black women have a supernatural strength: a belief that seems historically based, and is flattering to black women, but leaves them under protected against social, psychological and judicial challenges. While Bland’s mother and family might downplay depression and we should honor their belief right now, we should also go sensitively into balancing that with other probabilities.

One of the reckonings we stand to gain from this tragedy is the psychological toll that black women pay to exist in contemporary America. Never before have images moved at the rate that they do now: images, news, and messages that constitute a veritable onslaught of reminders that, while it would not be here if it were not for us, this nation is not for us.

Suicide or homicide, the discussions about conspiracy and foul play, I suspect are a bit of a coping mechanism to shroud that maddening truth. Because what we truly doubt, what we truly underestimate, what we cannot make ourselves feel, is the true despair, the hopelessness, the prolonged sorrow of what happens to our black female bodies and minds in America. I can understand that. I’m exhausted as well.

ray(nise) cange writes about our under complicated discussions of the suicide challenge on Black Girl Dangerous. 

The more we make Sandra Bland’s death an exceptionality, some bizarre mystery, some suspicious cover up, the less we need to acknowledge that there is a space for grieving black female bodies that we must open up. It will not be the same space we held vigil for Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and countless others. We are not sure we can afford the spiritual real estate tax of another space for grief, but we must make space and time to be ripped open by a unique suite of intersectional antagonisms: black women are under protected and over persecuted, by law enforcement, by culture at large — some know it, all suffer from it, and too many are swallowed by it, occasionally to fatal ends.

Sandra Bland’s story may illustrate something else important to our #BlackLivesMatter movement, if her legacy is unable to measure up to our essential, under complicated, version of a hero as someone who does not commit suicide. She may have been a lesson, a charge, an instructive experience, (some are saying martyr). She was certainly an example of contrasts. Perhaps she is an example that sometimes professional success stands not as a bulwark but in painfully ironic relief to a system of ultimately demeaning racial inequality. She was an example of talent, insight, sensitivity, and yes, mental illness.

We are strong, but we are also weak, because we are human. We shouldn’t have to overstate our strengths in contrast to the premises we so often find ourselves giving credence to. We contain multitudes. We contain immense strength, but we can no longer ignore that we contain immense sorrow and that racism is a soul sore that is being constantly irritated these days.


Nor should our allies: it is essential to begin to consider and become empathetic to the toll of race based stress. It is a low level frequency that permeates so much that goes unsaid about Sandra Bland’s case. From all available evidence, it seems that Bland was a woman who would be able to defy the stringent social outcomes racism predetermines. But she didn’t. Racism swallowed her. It swallows people who we don’t expect. Allies should consider there is something to lose, that the grief might strike them personally.

After the tragedy at Emanuel AME Church, a white ally, to be honest, someone I don’t know so well but share a very close mutual friend with and like a lot, reached out to me. She promised she would bring her children up to fight against racism, to keep them conscious and socially just where issues of race are concerned. She made clear her disgust, but didn’t prioritize her feelings. She did prioritize her actions as a mother, an ally and friend. It brought about a strange lightness and feeling of simple gratitude to me. In that moment, unlike so many awkward moments of reckoning with allies, I felt that racism mattered personally to her, because I mattered personally to her (and our friend), and she saw that it operated and was empathetic. It wasn’t extraordinary. But it was tremendously peaceful, because it felt personal.

Sandra Bland: What we all must accept, and some on what allies might do

Mandy Media: On Fairness

This week, I’m reading about issues that have to do with fairness. This website might by called “Issues that Have to Do with Fairness.” Oh well, I couldn’t quite find a better catch all than that. What the title lacks in originality, hopefully the chosen content will illuminate: How can we discuss Mass Incarceration, Kylie Jenner, and White Liberal Allies in one framework?

Obama: “Mass Incarceration Makes Our Country Worse and We Need to Do Something About It”                                                                                                                                                             Few things make me genuinely hopeful. Obama’s remarks about Criminal Justice in the U.S. to the NAACP this week are cause for hope:

A few of my favorite moments:

*** The first minute of this speech. Obama’s charisma is so incredible. It is real but also explicitly meant to charm. Throughout the speech he manages to maintain appropriate levity and humor, which is so difficult to do.

***(5:30) Obama talks about the legacy of structural inequalities compounding over time and the subtlety of structural racism.

***(8:55) Obama talks about the statistics that can no longer be ignored and the difference between non violent and violent offenders

***(13:30) Obama draws a link between overspending on incarceration and the opportunity costs in education

***(23:00) Obama discusses early prevention in school communities

The whole speech is incredible. I became a little less invested in note taking, because I was riveted and bleary eyed for the last 20 minutes of the speech. Please watch if you consider yourself at all concerned with the future.

When You Reap the Corn…                                                                                                 Amandla Stenberg calls out a cornrow coiffed Kylie Jenner “when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism.” Is she right? Is it fair that she’s been portrayed as “attacking” Jenner? Jamilah Lamieux provided some nice culture on the light and heavy elements of the Stenberg/Jenner feud.

Here’s Amandla’s video, “Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrows,” to give you a little idea of where she’s coming from.

This whole thing reeks of teenage drama, but even within that framework of privileged teenagers, race still operates. I’m interested here because we say that race doesn’t exist in spaces like Hollywood, social media, or amongst wealthy people.  Hoping it’s apparent: I’m #TeamAmandla.

John Metta’s “I, Racist”                                                                                                                     Much like the incredibly brave Amandla Stenberg’s post, John Metta’s talk to an all white congregation challenged supposed white allies to be honest about their privilege in discussions about race (explicit or otherwise). Is it fair that white people privilege their intentions and their feelings over the lived experience of systematic anti-blackness in America?

Mandy Media: On Fairness

Mandy Thinks. Mandy Feels. A Hesitant Comeback…And a MAJOR THANK YOU.

If you really knew me, you’d know this: my greatest talent spurs my greatest fear. I’m not unlike others in that regard; my circumstances, of course, are my own. I’ve practiced (out of seeming necessity) speaking critically, frankly, and honestly. I’m deeply fulfilled by this practice and told I’m good at it, but the consequences are mixed.  Many times that I’ve spoken truth, I’ve been harshly punished. That’s why I get so gun shy. That’s why I blog for 6 months and hibernate for the other half of the year. Some would say that I could get better about being sensitive when I’m keeping it real. Hey, we’re all imperfect people.

4-up on 8-23-14 at 11.45 PM

On the other hand, in my life I’ve experienced an outstanding amount of encouragement and support for expressing what I feel; many times because it’s something that someone else has felt and not been able to put in words. I don’t mean to overstate my role in the lives of others, it’s just that I’ve heard this among the most incredibly meaningful of compliments. I can’t say why I’ve clung to language, or language has clung to me, or why we’ve found one another and negotiated such a beneficial relationship. I can’t say it’s good necessarily to have words for so many things. For one, it makes it extremely confounding and frustrating when I cannot find the words to express a feeling. I’m lost in that linguistic/sensual echolocation I depend on to make structural sense of my intense emotional and sensual data. Additionally,  power of definition quickly becomes reliance, and things that may be better sensed and experienced, become categorized and sorted in my lexicon.

And yet, that moment wherein I can successfully shot put  magnificent terms across the canyon of individual experience such that they induce seemingly physical relief, may very well be worth my own paranoia.  It’s a tremendous honor to be able to do that for people. It can also feel like a tremendous responsibility. Above all, it does what my personal history could not. It makes me a part of a peer group, it extends my small nuclear family. Words are potential brother and sisters and lovers and cousins. Those relationships, even when the newfound significant other is too shy to profess their attachment publicly, are enriching.

The tax of this work that I aspire to share (distilled observations of my experiences and perspectives as some strange post-colonial, culturally dissimilar, highly sensitive, ENFP, as I charm and/or wreak havoc among the structures within which I reside) is significant. There’s a serious maintenance that has to be performed, exhaustive self care and parenting, continual review, and spiritual reflection. I am everyday learning how to do this more efficiently, and with less downtime.

I’m thankful for the patience of any one who reads my work when it comes out, and I apologize for my absence when I feel too vulnerable to share. I appreciate your continued vocalization of support when you feel it, even in the form of a “like” or a “share.” I am so thankful when we’re able to connect. I have so much gratitude for the encouragement of those who are open with me about their work and creative practice. I have so much love for those for whom I’ve been able to speak on behalf of.

For now, I will say that much and that I am every day looking to take better myself so we can change this world together.

Mandy Thinks. Mandy Feels. A Hesitant Comeback…And a MAJOR THANK YOU.

Mercy for “the Catfisher:” Why We Should Rethink the Ethics of MTV’s Series, ‘Catfish’

In advance of the Season 3 premiere of MTV’s hit reality show, “Catfish,” I’m inclined to make a preemptive appeal for mercy, on the sake of  “the catfisher.” If you’ve never seen the program, “Catfish” stars Nev Schulman, who stars in a documentary that goes by the same title. In “Catfish” the movie, he pursues an internet romance, only to be disappointed when his sexy crush Megan, turns out to be Angela, an introverted, middle-aged mom. On the show, Nev and his co-host, Max Joseph, help other young people connect to their online mates in person.

The show begins with a hopeless paramour describing their relationship and asking to be set up with their lover, face to face. Max and Nev ask how long they’ve been chatting, the intensity of the affair, and whether they speak via messages, or telephone. Invariably, this person has never video chatted with their lover, nor otherwise proven, beyond a doubt, that the person whose photos they’ve seen is in fact whom they’ve been speaking with, hence their need to call in Max and Nev’s expert verification tactics. In all but few cases, the person who they’ve been speaking to doesn’t match the person they’ve envisioned. Max and Nev dote on the victimized lover, and decry the catfisher for the amorality of their deception.

Isn’t there any empathy to be felt towards the catfisher? After all, the world is a hard place to find love: especially when you’re black, gay, transgender, overweight, or otherwise fail to fit in to the narrow gender and aesthetic conventions that Americans believe make one worthy of love.

Suppose you are any, all, or a combination of those aforementioned demographics and live in a rural town, away from the urban centers where you’re more likely to encounter those who share your minority experiences. What are your chances of finding a soul mate?

In Season 1 of Catfish, Nev and Max confront several marginalized individuals about their duplicity, without sufficiently honoring the challenges that these young people face searching for love. Seven of the eleven Catfishers, that season, were overweight. Four of the Catfishers are sexual minorities. That excludes one woman who carried on a 2-year sexual and romantic texting relationship posing as a male, who claimed she did it to get revenge for the catfish victim having been interested in her boyfriend.

Season 2 rebounded only slightly in taking multiple perspectives in to account. The show added an online feature entitled “The Other Side,” but overall, Catfish still failed to face what demographics made plain. During the second season, Nev and Max reprimanded seven overweight people, two gender minorities, and one racial minority in the fifteen episode run. This excludes one woman who was having an online relationship with her best friend. It also excludes one woman who had a romantic and sexual online relationship with another woman, but then claimed it was just for financial gain and companionship. In these scenarios, the hosts seemed utterly underprepared to deal with the complicated identity issues at play.

Is it any wonder that the catfisher is so frequently black, LGBTQ, overweight, or otherwise politically, socially “other” and from a small town? Regional and cultural beliefs about race, gender, and sexuality influence individuals’ perceptions of the physical attractiveness and relationship worthiness of others. The catfisher asks a reasonable question of their lover and puts it to the test: would you love me if I were thinner, blonder, lighter, whiter, conventionally prettier, straighter, more athletic, more masculine, or more feminine?  Who among us has not asked those questions?

For young people who struggle with the romantic implications of their outsider status, the Internet presents a shining opportunity to deconstruct the impact of that status. It’s a world where thoughts, feelings, and expression are unhindered by the perpetual prejudice that accompanies one’s apparent race, gender, or body type.  On the Internet, you’re as attractive as you might be if only your physicality measured up to your wit and charisma. Love becomes possible for people who have been socially excluded for their entire (romantic) life. Imagine the self-esteem that comes with knowing that there is something inherently loveable about your soul! Or that someone can fall in love just based on the beauty of your voice! Little to lose and much to gain, it would seem for the catfisher.

Un thwarted by undue negative prejudice, a loving relationship grows, and the catfisher agrees that it’s time to put their lovability to test, in real life.  They’ve spent hours talking and relationship building. Will their admirer feel the same way when they reveal they’re less conventionally ideal than they pretended? I can recount one instance of a non-judgmental outcome, Kya and Alyx, Season 1, Episode 6, and that episode remains one of the more admirable and touching examples of human capacity for love that I’ve seen on television. For most, despite moments that felt like real connection and love, they come to find their relationship is premised on the privileges of being conventionally attractive.

The catfisher offered their psyche as a sociological testing ground; the experiment being whether humans should be evaluated based on the content of their character, or something else. Instead of being thanked or at least respected, they’re shamed by Nev and Max, who encourage them to just be honest, as if finding love and acceptance were so easy for everyone.

The handsome, white, male, city dwelling hosts of “Catfish,” do not experience the systematic loneliness that these young people feel.  They offer a pro status quo, non-transformative solution. The hosts don’t push participants or viewers to rethink their own desires to be deluded. They don’t suggest that the victim reexamine what became so human, comforting and attractive about someone whom they’re not supposed to love. They stop at embarrassing the catfisher who happens to have a raw deal to begin with.

Is someone who lies about appearance guiltier than someone who lies about money or upbringing? Who is allowed to keep a secret, who should be exposed, and who gave the hosts license to decide? There are times when they are so single mindedly in pursuit of their own notion of honesty, that they are outing people who use the internet for an opportunity to express a part of themselves they feel they cannot in the open. In several instances, people who carried on relationships that they could justify so long as they were private are goaded into coming out, as though their deception makes them no longer worthy of a dignified, chosen, coming out.  The hosts’ ignorance in these occurrences is especially excruciating.

The series’ angle, a continuation of Nev’s personal betrayal, is the blind pursuit of truth and victim’s justice. The trouble is that the show fails to account for structural discrimination experienced by the catfisher. It focuses on one instance of betrayal, rather than the lifelong loneliness of being politically disenfranchised, and the social and romantic repercussions, thereof. The right to love and be loved is not granted irrespective of color, gender, or creed and can become totalizing in its absence. I’m sympathetic to those whose lovers have betrayed and humiliated them, but far more sympathetic to those who feel they have to hide parts of themselves to be loved.

Mercy for “the Catfisher:” Why We Should Rethink the Ethics of MTV’s Series, ‘Catfish’