Category: Life Lessons

Reporting While Russell

Here’s an essay I wrote for my Public Affairs Reporting class that I felt was worth sharing.

From a very young age I knew that I wanted to work in fashion. I spent hours as a young girl sketching dresses and exploring my seamstress grandmother’s file cabinets full of patterns. At that age, I thought the only way to work in fashion was to be a designer, so that’s what I wanted to be. As I got older, though, I discovered an equally strong love for writing. At first I wasn’t sure had I’d converge my passions, but as a freshman in high school I was introduced to the idea of fashion journalism by my English teacher. 

As I grew older I learned of oppression based on race, gender, sexual orientation and wealth. Exploring the hardships that marginalized people like myself have faced in the past and the systems that continue to work against them led me to discover another passion: activism. Again, I wasn’t sure how I’d combine all my interests. However, as I’ve learned at Howard University, the journalist’s role is to serve the people. Because of this, I believe honestly reporting on the flaws of the industry is one of my responsibilities as a fashion journalist. In order to do that kind of work on an impactful scale, though, I decided that I needed to be a fashion editor with the influence to create content as well as lead others to create content that with marginalized people in mind.

My other responsibility as a fashion journalist is just as much to the individuals who religiously patronize the industry as it is to the businesses that make up the industry. Among those who view clothes only for their day to day utility and are uninterested in fashion, the industry is often thought to be simply vain and superficial, but I aim to produce work that can change that. My love for fashion compels me to address it from a historical and political perspective in addition to the cultural perspective to highlight its significance. 

All of this culminated to create what now stands as my ultimate goal. I aspire to become a fashion editor who by emphasizing fashion as a cultural, historical and political topic can simultaneously combat cultural insensitivity in the industry and elevate the public perception of the industry beyond just vanity. The work that I hope to do will positively affect the way people of color’s cultures are used and represented in fashion and media as well as highlight fashion as a serious historical discipline. 

I believe this gives me a unique perspective as a journalist because although I am certainly not the first journalist to report on fashion with such goals, I believe there is a serious need for those voices to be amplified and although I would still be happy if it was done before I was able to, I want to be the one to amplify them, which is why I aim to be an editor rather than a reporter. 

I am very aware, though that the reality is that the work I want to do will be difficult. Even if I wanted to be a general assignment reporter I’d have to work past the barriers that come along with being a Black woman journalist. It is simply a reality that being respected in any workplace as a marginalized individual can be a challenge. Then, there’s the added fact that I want to write about the issues that affect me. The problem here is I know I’ll be labeled as an “angry Black woman.” During a panel on campus, I asked Gillian B. White of The Atlantic how she dealt with this and she told me by relying on the facts. She said as long as she knew her reporting was based on facts the irrationality implied by the angry Black woman trope was invalidated. This sentiment has been echoed in Public Affairs Reporting, giving me the confidence to believe I’ll be able to produce despite the inevitable adversity. 

On the other side of the coin, I’m also aware that my choosing to report on race issues probably reinforces the false expectation that all Black journalists want to report on race. I feel slightly guilty about this, but I hate the fact that I have to. One of my least favorite things about being a minority is being thought of as a spokesperson for my entire race. Obviously, all Black people aren’t going to agree with me on everything and just because I want to write about race doesn’t mean all Black reporters do but people some people are either still obtuse enough to believe that or choose to pretend to be.


Be the zeitgeist.

Letters (Number One)

The second half of 2018 was hard. I mean really hard. I went through a lot mentally and emotionally that I haven’t discussed with anyone yet and I don’t know when I’ll be ready to. What I will say, though is that this rough patch left me uninspired and unmotivated, which is why BTZ has been on hiatus and for that, I apologize.

However, today is a special day because today marks three years since I first hit publish on this site. Crazy right? So I scoured all of my favorite publications and social media pages to find the appropriate subject for today’s post, but I came up empty-handed. As usual, there’s currently plenty happening in the fashion world that I could’ve picked from (Moschino’s codename for Black customers, the influencer craze, how ridiculously hard it is to find an internship, etc.), but none of that felt right.

Instead, I’ve decided to introduce a new series, Letters. Like a letter from an editor in a newspaper or magazine, Letters is a chance for me to just talk to you. There will be no soapbox speeches on the morality, or lack thereof, of the industry or trend critiques/analysis in this series, but just updates and words from one friend to another.

As far as updates go, I’m excited to share with you guys that I’ll be beginning Teen Vogue and Parsons’ Fashion Industry Essentials online program soon. For those who have never heard of the program, it’s a year-long certificate program made up of five courses which teach different aspects of the fashion industry. This is something I really just stumbled upon and didn’t even know about a month ago, but I’m so excited to begin the journey because up until this point, my fashion education has been informal.

Being accepted into this program has relit a spark in me that I hadn’t realized (or maybe fully accepted) had gone out. Working in a creative capacity, whether that be as writer, designer or anything else is draining. Your work is always personal, which is a blessing at some times and a curse at others. The blessing is the passion and general enjoyment in the work. The curse is the inevitable comparisons and lack of inspiration that make you question not only your work, but yourself. That’s part of what I dealt with last year and in all honesty, it kicked my ass.

What I’ve learned, though is that work is just that– work. No matter how passionate I am, it can’t be my life because that will always lead to unhappiness and the yearning to do more. I chose to share this because hopefully it can help someone else, and if not, at least it felt good it get it out.


Be the zeitgeist,


Why Are Black Women Cutting Their Hair?

My hair journey has been a long one. Like most every other little Black girl, I grew up with poofy braids and twists done by my mother. On the rare occasion that I did wear my hair straight or in his naturally curly state, I would always receive comments reminding me that I had “good hair,” a term that I now know is problematic but used to swell me with pride as a child. In any case, I can now see the ways in which that shaped my hair journey.

At about twelve I convinced my mother to let me get my first relaxer so that I could wear my hair straight, just as I had seen most of the Black women in my life wear theirs. However, my hair quickly became damaged, so I grudgingly went natural, but I maintained a blowout most of the time. Eventually, though, I grew to love my afro and it became a major part of my self-identity. I gave up blowouts because I thought this was a good thing until I realized that I found all of my beauty in my hair. This, and damage caused by my mismanagement when I first began caring for my own hair prompted me to cut it all off.

This was something I never thought I would do because my hair had always been so important to me, but even though I admittedly hated it at first, I grew to love my lack of hair. While this remains true, I eventually grew bored and decided to start wearing wigs. My wigs give me an opportunity to try anything which is something I love, but now I never know how to answer people ask what I’m “doing” with my hair. The truth is, I’m not sure what’s next.

So, I’ve decided that the best way to determine whether I should keep my hair short and continue to alternate between my practically bald head and wigs or grow my hair back is to explore why I and other Black women cut their hair in the first place.

Despite the numerous protests of my father, this trend has garnered much popularity. Young Black women across the country, but especially at Historically Black Colleges, have decided to trade in their bonnets for du-rags. This is an interesting phenomenon when you consider how important hair is to the perception of femininity.

Grace Jones, an obvious style icon, was one of the early pioneers of Black women wearing their hair in masculine cuts as it fit her persona, which was not at all traditionally feminine.

During an appearance on Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee, Jones said that cutting her hair was a “sacred thing.” She went on, “It’s something that one really never does, and so when you do it, it’s so–I feel like a nun.”

While not everyone is crafting an image like Jones, many other Black women also note cutting their hair as a significant experience or life change.

Rebecca Johnson, a friend of mine and a proud baldie, says “I cut my hair because at the time I was getting rid of things that I felt weighed me down. My hair took up too much space in my mind and in my life, so I got rid of it.”

However, the decision isn’t that serious for everyone. Olivia Miles, another friend of mine and proud balide, says “I cut my hair initially because when I was 16 I shaved off a portion of my hair on the right side of my head and when I got to Howard I wanted to cut it all off so it could grow back evenly, but I ended up falling in love with the bald look.”

My personal conclusion is that everyone cuts their hair for different reasons and it was a bit naive of me to think I could condense everyone’s experience into one. Where does that leave me as far as what’s next for my hair? I’m still not sure, but what I do know is that cutting my hair has taught me much more about myself than I ever expected and because of that my emotional connection to my hair has evolved immensely.

Be the zeitgeist.


In Defense of J. Cole Fans

As you probably know by now, J. Cole dropped an album entitled “KOD” on April 20, 2018, and if you know me then you know that there are few things that I get more excited about than a J. Cole album. My love for Cole began when I was in the seventh grade and now I’m in college, so it goes without saying that my feelings for the Fayetteville rapper are pretty serious.

As I listened to “KOD” for the first time last Friday “lost in a cloud of marijuana, a young Carolina nigga,” just as Cole described himself, I found myself thinking about how his music had grown with me. The parallels in subject matter and mindset between my life and whatever music he released at the time have been consistent for such a long and significant time in my life. From 12 to 20, a period in life where you really mold who you’re going to be, I was able to evolve alongside my favorite rapper.

Feeling that kind of connection to your favorite artist is honestly an amazing feeling that I’ve heard few others say they’ve experienced. However, even when you don’t consider the personal connection, I’d argue that it’s still understandable why Cole fans are so serious about his work.

Even many who aren’t fans of his regularly admit that the man is talented. His way of manipulating the English language to write stories you can’t help but relate to, even if you’ve never been through something similar personally, is something worth applauding. The emphasis he places on the lyrics, as well as production, create an entire experience that other artists simply aren’t creating.

This is why in my younger years I genuinely believed that anyone who didn’t enjoy listening to Cole simply wasn’t intelligent enough to do so. Obviously, I and other fans have matured to understand that taste in music and intelligence don’t necessarily coincide, which is why many of us retired the borderline religious tweets, but let’s stop pretending that the logic behind proclamations with that sentiment is absolutely absurd.

At this point, even most Cole fans say such things jokingly anyway because we’re able to acknowledge that we sounded somewhat silly. However, if you don’t get the joke, maybe we were right and you really are simply too dense to get it. In any case, any musician who can grow with me as a person, consistently employ an artistic use of words and genuinely stand for the people the way that J. Cole does deserves respect. If we as fans didn’t get a little passionate in discussions from time to time we’d honestly be being disrespectful.


Be the zeitgeist.


I pride myself in my long coffin shaped nails. My colorful claws are a pretty constant conversation starter, and while I must admit that I enjoy the attention, that’s not why I started wearing them. When I first decided to wear long nails, it wasn’t because I relished the thought of white women calling me “fierce,” or my mother asking me when I planned on cutting them, or middle-aged Black women regularly grabbing my hands to get a better look. When I first started wearing long nails it was simply because I thought they were pretty.

However, they’ve surprisingly opened my eyes to a lot. While acrylic nails are nothing more than colorful extensions to my fingertips, they’ve garnered me even more creepy male gaze, an odd and somewhat uncomfortable kind of admiration from girls that I do not know and countless pieces of unsolicited advice from older women. All of which I’ve found to be rooted in stereotypes.

When people look at my nails they equate me to caricatures such as Joi from “Friday,” which is odd because I act nothing like the purposely over the top character. I know that in most cases the connection is accidental, but it’s still strange. Something as simple as my nails has labeled me as “obnoxious,” “ghetto” and most favorably “fierce.” And yes, those are actual comments I’ve received/heard.

Of course, those aren’t everyone’s reactions. When I’m on campus at Howard, I’m just another girl with long nails. It’s when I venture outside that I’m not quite sure to expect. They’re either “really pretty” or “a bit much” depending on the setting in which I find myself. This unexpected social aspect of having long nails has made me think a lot.

One person who crosses my mind often as I contemplate if my nails are even worth all the hassle is a teacher from my elementary school named Ms. Miller. She had nails even longer than the ones I wear today, and she talked with her hands a lot, so it was hard to miss them. I sometimes heard other teachers and even students whisper about Ms. Miller’s nails, and I’m sure she did too, but she always wore them with such confidence. As a little girl I didn’t think much of this, but now it means the world to me.

I know Ms. Miller probably received Joi comparisons of her own, and if she still has longs nails, she probably still does. However, I’ve found both Joi and Ms. Miller to be sources of inspiration. In both Joi’s over the top finger pointing and Ms. Miller’s quiet, unbothered demeanor was a sense of confidence that I can’t help but admire.

Because of them, I flaunt my long nails even harder after every disapproving comment. Just like cutting my hair or choosing to wear makeup every day, having long nails has taught me to be unapologetic. I never asked for anyone’s approval or opinion on these matters, and I never will.


Be the zeitgeist.