In 2019 while earning my MA in Fashion Journalism online at the Academy Of Art UniversityI was enrolled in Danielle Wallis’s Fashion Styling class. After enduring weeks of preliminary lessons where we learned how to style for a client, photograph accessories, and analyze magazine editorial layouts, we finally reached the final project.
Since one of my goals, as an African American fashion/feature writer is to incorporate my culture into my writing, I wanted to choose a final project concept that reflected that. Compiling various ideas from five influences, representing art, literature, music, dance, and fashion I came up with a cohesive story that I called African Americano.
In homage to my paternal grandmother, who was half Italian and half African American, I cautiously presented it to Professor Wallis. Once I further explained, in my bubble map and mood board, that I was also going to represent the 1960s and 1970s, and my muse was going to be Tish Rivers from James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk she became excited as well.
Two of her requirements that almost halted the project before it began, however, was that I look for clothes and accessories within my zip code and the outfits had to be realistic. So anything with an African American flair had to be thoroughly incorporated and make sartorial sense. In the film, based on the book, Tish Rivers worked in a department store, but in my fashion story I widened her scope and gave her a wardrobe that would be just as appropriate if worn at school, in an office, or a bank.
Within my zip code, 90008, the shops I chose were within the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and the surrounding areas. What I couldn’t find there I found in my closets. Edited down to five outfits, which I also modeled and photographed, the African American touches-a multicolored cloth bag from Malik Books, two African necklaces from the Pan African Film and Arts Festival, a Notorious BIG t-shirt from Ross Dress For Less and a black and white Black Panther tote from the Soul of a Nation exhibit at the Broad Museum-embued my styling with a uniquely ethnic flavor.
Now as I look back at African Americano, and put it into context with the other projects I completed at the Academy Of Art University before receiving my degree last December, I have to say it was definitely the one that made me proudest to be an African American.
If we look at all of the hooplas about Meghan Markle’s messy bun it might look like it’s just another fluff piece about hairstyles. When we examine closer, however, we discover it’s really about race and “royal protocol”.
Would the same fuss be made over Kate Middleton’s pearl-studded chignon? No, because it represents years of appropriate looks worn by ballerinas and bespectacled librarians instead of the bed head allure of Bridget Bardot.
Specifically laid-back, with a California swag, the fact that she dares to pair with the soignee, but timeless coats, skirts, dresses and bare legs in pumps adds to its youthful rebelliousness.
Ultimately the question is should she be judged for “expressing herself” or applauded for starting a trend? Only time and a societal shift towards tolerance will tell. Until then we can all enjoy watching a young woman striving to hang onto her individuality in a world striving just as hard to make her conform.
Medium.com Analytics for Are African-American Women An Endangered Species?After publishing my article, Are African-American Women An Endangered Species? on http://www.medium.com I posted the announcement that I’d written it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler and LinkedIn. I also tagged it with Black Lives Matter as suggested by the Medium site. I think if I had added more tags, to the piece, such as African-American women, domestic violence, education, and racism, I would’ve garnered more readership.
When I analyzed my stats, on medium.com, from March 16 to April 14, 2018, it said that I had 27 views, 17 reads, a 63% ratio and 1 fan. The views mean my “story had been read 27 times in 30 days.” I have over 50 Facebook friends, 65 followers on Twitter, 1 follower on Tumbler, and 88 followers on LinkedIn. I believe that’s where some of my readerships came from. If I were more proficient withtheSnapchat and Google Analytics app I feel I would’ve gained even more readership online.
If I examined the reason I obtained the readers I did, I’d say it has to do with the compatibility with news trending stories about harassment, racism, violence against women. To make the piece stronger visually, I could’ve used the Photoshop Express app to add a few accompanying photos from my Camera app. Statistical graphs and a sidebar of resources for readers would’ve also made it stronger and user-friendly, thereby ensuring more readership overall.
Is there still hope for the female “hopes and dreams of the slaves”?
Naomi Wadler: Activist for our Times
“I am here to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” said Naomi Wadler.
Someone once told me the lowest person, in our society is an African-American woman, because her looks are constantly being insulted and her magnificence isn’t recognized in popular media as consistently as Caucasians, Hispanics, and Asians. If I used myself as an example as an African-American woman and talked about the areas in my life where others have tried to hurt me culturally, psychologically, emotionally and creatively, I’d agree and give in to this assessment. But when I square my shoulders and remember how I’ve used my profound inner strength to overcome these obstacles I’d say it’s a misconception that needs to finally be addressed and rectified by one of our own.
Naomi Wadler, “an 11-year-old fifth-grade activist who organized an elementary school walkout on March 14, 2018, in an homage to shooting victim Courtlin Arrington” might be the one to do it. Through her “March For Our Lives Speech,” she not only started a dialogue, about this issue but opened a societal Pandora’s box with her actions.
“I am here to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” she said.
Along with the incidents Wadler speaks about, Christine Pelisek, author of The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women Of South Central, eloquently writes about the 10 “women of color” killed by serial killer Lonnie D. Franklin Jr. with the same compassion. “These women, societies most vulnerable, were the collateral damage, easy pickings for a serial killer,” she writes in the book’s Prologue Winter’s List.
Gun violence isn’t the only mortal threat to African-American women, they are also being killed in epidemic proportions for trying to protect themselves from disrespectful males. Rachell Davis, writer of 11 Black Women Who Were Killed For Saying No, (www.essence.com), claims these ladies were murdered because they “refused the advances, requests or orders of men.” By standing up to violence, specifically against African-American women, Essence magazine also hopes print and internet awareness will help halt the problem.
Leo Politi Elementary School Garden (LAUSD)
All Students Should Be Safe At School
Another dilemma, of equal importance, Wadler pointed out is every student’s right to be safe within their school. For young African-American females that’s becoming harder, with the decrease of diversity, the increase of racism from Hispanic and other non-Black students, and the re-segregation of urban schools plagued with crime, poverty, and violence within and without the classroom.
The options for a life, in the future, away from such a dangerous and toxic climate becomes nonexistent, as they become trapped by insufficient educational and professional job skills, drugs, pregnancy, and other inner-city obstacles. Unfortunately, they become the prey to the predators in their environment.
So what’s the solution? Constant vigilance by leaders in the African-American community to start, and more voices like Wadler’s, among our younger generation. If this is achieved, maybe the next speech she gives won’t be about also honoring other shooting victims, Hadiya Pendleton and Taiyana Thompson, but about promoting the achievements of girls like them instead.
Jacqueline Moore with Friends and Family (c. the 1960s)
Jacqueline Ella Moore is a woman who’s seen a lot of history. At 79, she’s lived through the assassination of John F. Kennedy, racial segregation, Watergate, and 911. Relaxing back into a brown easy chair in her living room, clad in a roomy black tee and matching pants, she tells me, “I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on December 19, 1938. Part of the time I spent with my father’s mother, Grandma Watson, in Luther, Oklahoma, and part of the time I spent with my mother’s mother, Grandma Poole in Fairfield, Alabama, while growing up. She had all of her children’s children then,” she said.
Essie Poole’s Hat (c. the 1950s)
Oklahoma: My Hometown
Sometimes known as the Sooner State, Oklahoma received statehood, as the 46th state, on November 16, 1903. Cosmopolitan with a small town feel, Moore’s parents Bernyce and Bennie Watson left their hometown, Luther, Oklahoma for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma when they got married in June 1938. “They lived in an apartment,” she said. “My mother was a homemaker and my father made about $14 a week working in a furniture store as a janitor.”
Vintage Bead Necklaces (c. the 1960s)
Dissatisfied with their claustrophobic, structured life in Oklahoma, her parents decided to move to California in 1940. Nicknamed the Golden State it has always drawn outsiders because of its tolerance towards various lifestyles and ethnicities. “It was nice to finally live in a place where everyone didn’t know everyone else’s business,” Bernyce Watson said once.
When the Watson’s came to L.A., in 1940, they were part of a boom that caused California’s population to quadruple through 1990. From 1946 to 1948 they joined the group of “working-class African-Americans” who moved to Watts, California. “My mother’s sister, Essie and her husband Floyd, were really the first of our family to come out here,” Moore said. “They were living in Pueblo Projects when I came out, at six, with my cousin Andrea on the train.”
Downtown Los Angeles, photo by Daisy Naranjo
The Changing City
Many things have changed the energy of the city-immigration, crime and socio-economic issues-but the phenomenon that affected Moore the most then was geographical racism. “At that time, if you were Black, they assumed you were poor so that meant we lived in Jordan Downs Projects,” she said. Somewhat vague about direct experiences with prejudice, she insists children aren’t aware of that type of thing, and when she was growing up she just recalls they only went where they were welcome. “I was looking at a television program, the other day about Clifton’s Cafeteria, and I realized when I saw a lot of African-Americans in the picture, that that was one of the few places we were allowed to go.”
Moving Out of Watts, California
In 1948, even though Moore moved to a house on Chesapeake Avenue with her parents, she still came back to Watts to visit her Grandma and Grandpa Poole. “I actually stayed with them until the school year was out, on 108th Street, in a duplex that belonged to my Uncle Graff,” she said. Her grandfather was very loquacious and loved befriending people in the neighborhood. One of his favorites was Sabato (Simon) Rodia (1879-1965) “an Italian immigrant, construction worker and tile mason” who created The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia out of discarded bottles and other recyclables he found.
“We always laughed at him, and thought he was crazy because he walked around with a little red wagon full of junk,” she said.
The move to Chesapeake resulted in a large cultural shift, from the predominately African-American and Hispanic environment of Watts to a mixture of ethnicities, especially the Japanese on the Westside. Again Moore insists she didn’t notice any bias while attending Virginia Road Elementary School then. Unfortunately, at Mount Vernon Junior High, when a White teacher refused to let her enter her class in a borrowed coat because it was dirty, she couldn’t deny it existed. Instead of meekly walking back out, she acted in a manner characteristic of her familial background, and responded, “You don’t buy my clothes or pay for my cleaning.”
With the phenomenal box office success of Black Panther awareness of African-American style, and how it influences the fashion industry, has been in the news lately. Writer Fawnia Soo Hoo, in The Costume, Hair, and Makeup in Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ Are A Celebration of Black Culture and Heritage (The Costume, Hair, and Makeup In Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ Are A Celebration of Black Culture and Heritage, www.fashionista.com) wrote, “The costume, hair, and makeup were designed to create new, never-before-seen, and sure-to-be-iconic looks and personas…” Going back to the late 1940s and 1950s, when Moore was in elementary through high school, the popular styles for young girls were full skirts, shirtwaist dresses, and waist-length button-down cardigan sweaters. To reflect the middle-class lifestyle they’d attained, thanks to her husband’s self-employment with Busy Bee Maintenance, a rug cleaning business and junk enterprise in Watts, Bernyce Watson dressed Moore presentably and well.
Jacqueline Moore’s Beaded Cardigan Sweater (c. The 1950s)
Fashion Just Wasn’t Her Thing
“I never cared that much about clothing,” she said. “Still my mother dressed me like a paper doll, because she was competing with her sisters, and showing them how well off she was.” Always stylish, and matchy-matchy, she remembers for school she usually wore dresses, pleated and gathered skirts and jumpers. “I really wanted to wear straight skirts but I was too skinny then,” she said. Within walking distance, from Dorsey High School, of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall she claims she primarily shopped at two department stores, the May Co. and The Broadway.
Despite a conscientiously chic mother, who usually wore slacks and coordinating tops, Moore’s passion for dressing up waned after she retired as an Administrative Assistant for Hughes Aircraft Company. She attributes it to weight gain and less money for clothes upon retirement. Other factors could also be the increasing casualness of today’s mainstream styles and a lack of guidance for older customers from retail establishments.
From the perspective of Black Panther it appears the movie proves African-Americans have come a long way, but when I asked Moore if she thought the culture was in a better or worse place, she said, “We’re worse off, because kids today take it for granted everything our generation achieved for them like desegregation and the vote. They don’t seem to be interested, in the history of Dr. King and our other Black leaders either, which is in contrast to the sixties and seventies when we were aware of and care about everything.”
For African-Americans the ground-breaking movie Black Panther is more than just another cinematic event, it’s a statement and about time too.
Up until the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s Blacks were only portrayed in stereotypical roles and rarely seen as heroes, successes or well-adjusted citizens. Despite its popularity, however, it’s questionable whether today’s young African-Americans will appreciate its historical significance.
After seeing the film Roman J. Israel, Esq. with my mother, Jacqueline Moore, one line stayed with me after a young man laughed at Israel. “We’re standing on their shoulders,” his co-worker corrected him. The first time I heard that quote I became emotional because I realized without the struggle my parents and grandparents went through I wouldn’t be here, enjoying basic human freedom.
Sartorially African-Americans have proven their acumen over and over, now with Black Panther, another chapter will unfold. Since my mother lived through segregation and was my first style role model I decided to interview her about being African-American, the past and the film.
Jacqueline Moore and Victoria Moore ( c. 1970s)
Interview with Jacqueline Moore
VM: Where are you from originally and where did you grow up?
JM: I’m originally from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and I grew up in Los Angeles, California.
VM: What was life like for you, as an African-American, then?
JM: Even though I never saw any direct racism, I do remember we couldn’t buy new cars and houses. We had to buy used. As far as living conditions are concerned, when we lived in Watts, it was mostly Blacks and Latinos, then we moved to the Westside where it was more racially mixed.
VM: How do you think Black Panther will change the fashion scene?
JM: It may turn into a fad, with everyone wearing daishikis, which will cause it to die quickly or it may be more long-lasting. I don’t really know. It does remind me of the 1960s after Dr. Zhivago came out and there were Russian style coats everywhere.
VM: What kind of impact do you think Black Panther will have on today’s African-American youth?
JM: I don’t think it’ll have any impact because kids today aren’t too in tune with what’s going on.