Dr. Yaba Blay is a scholar-activist, public speaker, and cultural consultant whose scholarship, work, and practice centers on the lived experiences of Black women and girls, with a particular focus on identity/body politics and beauty practices.
Season 2 of Many Lumens is brought to you by Open Society Foundations.
Produced by BlackStar Projects, in partnership with RowHome Productions.
Host and Executive Producer: Maori Karmael Holmes
Producer: Imani Leonard
Associate Producers: Irit Reinheimer and Farrah Rahaman
Managing Producer: Alex Lewis
Executive Editor: John Myers
Music supervisor: David ‘DJ Lil Dave’ Adams, BlackStar’s music and cinema fellow supported by the Pop Culture Collaborative
- Theme song composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by David ‘DJ Lil Dave’ Adams.
- Closing song composed by David ‘DJ Lil Dave’ Adams.
Yaba on Instagram
One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race (written by Yaba Blay, second edition, Beacon Press, 2021)
Insecure (created by Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore, 2016-2021, HBO)
Beauty Tip: Dismantle White Supremacy (written by Yaba Blay, forthcoming from One World) Books)
Share the Mic (with Abby Wambach)
The Color Purple (book written by Alice Walker, 1982, movie directed by Steven Spielberg, 1985)
Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line, a shipping company, was part of a larger effort for self-determination and economic independence. The Black Star Line also transported African Americans emigrants to Africa.
Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972)
[00:00:00] Maori Karmael Holmes : As part of their enduring commitment to justice, equity and expression, the Open Society Foundations are proud to sponsor Many Lumens.
You’re listening to Many Lumens where we talk about and find meaning in the intersections of art, social change and popular culture. I’m your host, Maori Karmael Holmes.
[00:00:30]For our first episode of the second season, I had the pleasure of being joined by Dr. Yaba Blay. Yaba is many things, a producer consultant professor, and one of my favorites, a self-described maroon academic, and I am honored to say a close friend. You’ve probably seen her on social media from her Pretty Period campaign to Locs of Love.
Yaba is the creator of the Professional Black Girl Series, a project whose focus is to tear down what it means to be professional and remind Black girls and women that who they are is enough. Her award-winning book One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race battles with ideas of Blackness and what it means to be a Black person throughout the diaspora at the center of her work is an unwavering understanding that what she’s creating is for and about Black people with a particular focus on Black women in our conversation, we grappled with the isolation and rigidity that some experience in the academy and how Yaba managed to step away.
We talk about how we discuss beauty and the pressures Black women face to conform. We get into what it means to create for Black people, protecting those spaces and finding one’s way through time and geography. And for myself, I found out more about a close friend. We started a conversation on a playful note, getting into Yaba proficiency on Instagram live, despite being a digital immigrant.
[00:01:50] Maori Karmael Holmes : You had a planned a live with Tarana Burke, and once you were going to play love songs for Super Bowl Sunday/Valentine’s Eve, could you talk a little bit about how you ended up like Teddy Riley?
[00:02:09] Yaba Blay: Well, what had happened was…well, you know, Tarana and I being the Black girlfriends that we are like a lot of times we get together and it’ll be something either comes on the radio or in someone’s playlist. And it’s like, oh my God, do you remember this song? And we start reminiscing on nineties R&B and being teenagers in love and writing lyrics and notes, the boyfriend. So I had this idea, um, because it’s interesting, I think in the context of the pandemic and quarantine or not so quarantine, things have shifted. So Valentine’s day and a lot of holidays people, the way people celebrate, I think has shifted and we’re spending so much more time online. Like Instagram is like a community for real, for real. Right? So I wanted to do something to be my normal ornery self. You know, I tend to speak out against the white man’s holidays. And so, you know, since everybody was feeling some type of way, you know, about Valentine’s day, which is really about this little white baby flying around and shooting people in the hearts and calling it love, but, you know, whatever, we will do that. So we were going to get on live and do one of our live mixtape sessions, R&B mixtape. You know, we go one for one, you play a song. I play a song, one up each other. Tarana wasn’t feeling well. So she wasn’t able to join me, but other folks joined me live. And unbeknownst to me, their parameters, I guess, with music, right, you can only play but so much. And so Instagram kept kicking me off for playing the entire songs, but you kind of have to do, right? We were on for maybe two hours or so, but that was like four sessions.
[00:03:46] Maori Karmael Holmes : That’s so fascinating given. Because of D-nice and then Questlove and, you know, folks deejaying and they weren’t getting kicked off.
[00:03:52] Yaba Blay: No. So I think there is an inside job. Some folks like their pages that I follow music pages that can play full songs and videos. And then if I go to repost it I’ll get the copyright message. So I think some folks have quote, unquote permission maybe to do so, but I didn’t. So yeah.
[00:04:17] Maori Karmael Holmes : Well we appreciate your work and I, thank you, Minister Meme Dylan. I want to start talking about your work. I would love for you to sort of think about your work centering on the lived experiences of Black people, specifically Black girls and women. And that is a lot to say, right? So I’m imagining if you met someone at a party say was an auntie and you wanted to explain what you did, how would you describe your work?
[00:04:37] Yaba Blay: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. Um, I feel like I’ve been going through a midlife crisis for the last couple of years. I called myself a runaway academic.So I’m no longer, no longer––
[00:04:54] Maori Karmael Holmes : Why is everything centered with a plantation? A runaway academic!
[00:04:55] Yaba Blay: I’m going to run away or a maroon, which one? Um, you like maroon academic or academic maroon?
[00:05:03] Maori Karmael Holmes : I like maroon academic. I feel like, have maroon come first. Maroon also implies a kind of agency.
[00:05:09] Yaba Blay:No doubt, you know, all right, I’m changing my Instagram bio we’re done.
So I’m a maroon academic. Um, I left the academy in 2019, moved back to Philly and just had this moment where I was like, you know what? I’m gonna focus on me. I’m gonna be creative. I’ma hustle. I’ma figure out what it is I’m doing. And I remember specifically, I got an inquiry for consulting by email and it took me two hours to respond to a simple, “can you talk to us on this day” email? Because my signature at the time said, producer, professor, Professional Black girl. And I remember calling Tarana and being like, am I still a professor if I’m not employed by a university? I went through all these changes. I feel like I’m still going through these changes because, you know, I think sometimes when we have jobs––direct deposit, we have title. It’s still hard for me to say, I don’t know. I’m an author, I’m a writer. I’m a thinker. I’ma creative. I’m a producer. I think I’m still a professor, but then I’ll say I’m an educator. Scholar activist is what’s in my bio, consultant, I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother. AndI always lead with Black, you know, capital B.
So what do I do? I feel like I love Black people for a living, right?
[00:06:29] Maori Karmael Holmes :Yeah. I like that. That’s the elevator pitch.
[00:06:31] Yaba Blay: That’s it?
[00:06:31] Maori Karmael Holmes :I love Black people for a living
[00:06:32] Yaba Blay: I love Black people for a living. I was having a conversation earlier with a sister. I’m thinking ahead about what I’m going to be writing about in my book. And, um, one of the things I’m going to be focusing on is Dominican hair straightening, and we’re talking, you know, and one thing that I said I want to be intentional about is not shading Dominicans, because I feel like Dominicans get a bad rap for anti-Blackness. And the whole point of the book is like this, understanding that once we understand white supremacy, a lot of things will start to make sense, right. So it’s not to necessarily let folks off the hook, but it is. There’s a reason, you know, why we do the things we do. And I think Dominican’s would get a bad rap, you know, for not quote unquote wanting to be Black.
But like when you think about––
[00:07:18] Maori Karmael Holmes : who wants to be Black in a white supremacy world?
[00:07:19] Yaba Blay: I mean, that’s a fair question, right? But specifically for Dominicans, given that history and the thing about it, right, in fairness, when we talk about here, we are in Black history month, right? We talk about Black history. We keep spieling the same names over and over and over again. There’s so much Black history, especially global Black history that we don’t know. We don’t know enough about the DR [Dominican Republic]. That island! Haiti on one side, Dominican Republic on the other side. Haiti will always be punished for the revolution, always. And folks who location i.e. Black will always be punished for having the audacity to kill white folks and say, “Get off.”
If you can be killed for looking––
[00:08:00] Maori Karmael Holmes : ––in recent history
[00:08:03] Yaba Blay: ––in recent history, if you can literally be killed for having brown skin and kinky hair, and there are options for you not to have brown skin––Sammy Sosa, and kinky hair insert any Dominican hair salon, then aren’t you going to take the option? And my thing is like, we get mattered at individuals and we do at institutions, right? Why aren’t we mad at the fact that the option exists instead of the fact that people take the option? You know? So, or that––
[00:08:31] Maori Karmael Holmes: ––people feel like they have to take the option, right? Because the thing about hair and, you know, y’all, can’t see me, but I straightened my hair today
[00:08:39] Yaba Blay:––it’s cute.
[00:08:40] Maori Karmael Holmes : it straightens, it’s not hard. You know what I mean? For some people. And so you should be able to do whatever you want in theory, in theory, but all those decisions have consequences.
[00:08:49] Yaba Blay: And at the same time, Again, like, so on the one hand I don’t want to shame Dominican’s, right? And I, and I brought that up to say one thing that Laura said, it was like, if I love Black people that no Black people are disposable.
[00:09:01] Maori Karmael Holmes :Right.
[00:09:01] Yaba Blay: Right. So, yes, I love Black people. I don’t like everybody, but I love us. Right.
[00:09:07] Maori Karmael Holmes : You’re getting into some of the things that I want to get into, but one of the things that I’ve loved about, you know, your work is that this idea of the aesthetics of Black-Girlness, you know, Capitol, B and G. You know, you take them seriously. Right? And so talking about Mary’s [J Blige] Black-girl-blonde, or thinking about bamboo hoops or thinking about beads and little girl’s hair, these are the things that Black femmes do to adorn themselves and celebrate themselves. And so I would just be curious, like, what are some of your favorite ways that Black women and Black femmes you know, show out?
[00:09:41] Yaba Blay: All of it.
I love all of it. Like I’m the auntie in the grocery store aisle. I tell every little Black girl,”I love your hair.” “Your hair is so cute. Can you do my hair like that?” Not just because they need the affirmation because I need it. I mean, it, you know, in Philly, Philly has a very specific, I don’t see it anywhere else, they’re particular barrettes that are shaped like flowers. You know what I’m talking about? They’ll put the whole pack, the whole pack on the baby’s hair and the baby swings. And my daughter has absolutely become a Philly Jawn and therefore my granddaughters are Philly Jawns and, and so what I also love is walking through the streets of Philly and seeing those barrettes on the ground. Right. Um, you know, with Professional Black girl, there’s a hashtag I created, undisputed champions of the world when it comes to hair right now, seeing, you know, young sisters, the lace front, the wig game! Magical. Like I saw a braided wig, Maori, I’m going to show you, I’m gonna send you down the rabbit hole–braids! Full lace braids. Like I can look like I have individual braids tomorrow. Right. Um, I went to the barber today and we were laughing, cause it was like one thing that I also came to learn in working on the Professional Black girl Project was how much effort men put in. Right.? And so in the first season of Professional Black Girl, I had a special episode with a brother who identifies as a waver and like, talking to him and then being in the barber, just sitting in the barbershop today and watching all the things they pulled out. I’m like, y’all got equipment, all got products. Like it is a thing! And so like watching wavers, they got 180 waves, 360 waves 520––they wash their hair with the wave cap on, they got special brushes, like–fascinating. So as much as folks try to act like women, Black women, especially spend too much time focused on this.It’s a whole ‘nother world with brothers as well. All of that to say, um, I just love the way that no matter what’s happening, like we’re going to show up and show out.
[00:11:49] Maori Karmael Holmes : I think about our friend, Alisa talked about Baltimore being this like site of unmolested Blackness. Um, my mother and I would think about this growing up and think about the little girls you’re talking about with the corn barrettes and how I’m sure, if we did enough digging, we would find some indigenous people on the continent with that exact same hairstyle and the exact same adornment. Like when you start looking at classes of Black folks, right? Whereas working class people are a little more in touch with that unmolested Blackness, and then those of us who are striving or, you know, our grandparents were respectable are so far away from that––
[00:12:25] Yaba Blay: ––or trying to be
[00:12:27] Maori Karmael Holmes : –– trying to be. I think, I always think that’s really fascinating to think about. I was watching a talk with [Gerima] Haile with my students at Penn yesterday, and he talks about a genomic memory, you know? And so how that shows up aesthetically.
[00:12:37] Yaba Blay: Yeah. Thank you for saying that. Cause ain’t nothing new, the ways in which we are adorning ourselves. I think it’s a way for us to stay in tune with who we’ve always been. We can look at the parting, you know, even in, in our heads when we do braids and, and people say that historical braiding back in the day where routes––
[00:12:58] Maori Karmael Holmes :––they were and seeds and
[00:13:00] Yaba Blay: seeds, bringing the seeds from across. So all of those, that kind of stuff gets me excited as well. Because as you say, what’d you say genomic memory. Yeah, that’s real. That’s real.
[00:13:10] Maori Karmael Holmes : I did want to talk about the ways in which we’re so quick to blame individuals and not think about the institutions or kind of systemic structures. And so one of the people that I want to talk a little bit about who you, I think beautifully, are always defending, Lil’ Kim. Or we think about, you know, K. Michelle, or, you know, just some of these people who have altered their physical appearance. We are quick to say they’ve altered it because they hate themselves. But I think they’ve altered it because they think it’s going to make them more money. Right. Like, and so there’s like a clear capital relationship and I’m just sort of curious, you know, what your perspective is on that? I think the thing we always say is, oh, I feel so sorry for her.
[00:13:50] Yaba Blay: Yeah. It makes my skin itch. It’s nothing to feel sorry for. Cause it’s also like you are somehow distancing yourself from her as if you would never. Right. And your quote, unquote choices just might look a little different. Right. And so I don’t remember exactly what you said, but you said there’s a fine line between empowered choices and survival ones.I would say there’s even a trajectory. Right. So maybe it’s not a cut, a line, as much as like there’s so many things in between.
[00:14:23] Maori Karmael Holmes: A spectrum.
[00:14:25] Yaba Blay: Yes. Spectrum. I have always found myself defending Lil’ Kim and may because, you know, I loved her. She meant so much to our generation, what she represents and how she repped for us in a moment that felt liberatory and that’s been a topic of much debate. Right? What is liberation in that regard? But it felt liberatory in ‘95. And then we watched her appearance shift and change over time. And folks are like, oh my God, I can’t believe, have you seen? Why are we surprised? Right? We know some of her business as much as she’s told it. But aside from her personal business, just to be a Black woman in the quote unquote industry, what is expected of artists, right? What they are supposed to look like, what represents beauty. And as you say, what might make you money with Kim folks are like, oh my God, why doesn’t she just love herself? And we talk as if loving oneself is easy to do in this world, specifically for Black women and girls, nothing around us is set up for us to love ourselves. The thing that really makes my skin itch is when, men, especially sit somewhere and say, you just need to love yourself, sis. Our images, our ideas, our ideals of beauty, aren’t affirming to Black women and a lot of ways, even in, especially in Black spaces, right? So we’re mad at Kim for bleaching her skin. Why is the bleaching option? And though all of us may not take that option, She did, right? Again, why are we madder at these individual folks for taking the option? Something they see as an option? I have been watching. K. Michelle’s new show. It’s fascinating. It’s fascinating. And I can’t say that I blame these women. And so when I was talking about men, like, you know, I love Malcolm as many of us do. And by Malcolm, I mean, Malcolm X, I always think of that speech ‘Who taught you to hate yourselves?” and as much as I’m like, yeah, you right, who taught us? There’s also this undertone, that’s a little judgy, right? Who taught you to hate yourself? And so now once we know who taught us, we supposed to just magically stop. Right? It reminds me of my own journey with natural hair, especially me being natural. It’s a political posturing more than it’s about, oh my God, I love my hair. Like, listen, I don’t stand in the mirror and run my fingers through my hair and feel love, that shit is work. And there’s not a whole lot of products to support this particular, like y’all talked about 4 C I’m a 16 Z.
[00:17:01] Maori Karmael Holmes : First of all, I don’t know what any of the typing means––That is though, Like, I am way too old for that.
[00:17:04] Yaba Blay: You know, and then the natural hair movement is all about being curly. And so you’re going to tell me all the things to do to make my kinky hair look curly. So there’s even a hierarchy within the natural hair movement. Right? And so the thing I love about life is that we get to grow, you know, that mean, from Insecure with Kelly and she’s like, “You know what? That is growth.” Like we get to grow. I was sister Yaba with the head wrap and the locks and the Afro and all these things.
Take me back to 98. You know, when I first got to temple 2002, you know and being very judgmental of sisters who wore weaves and have relaxers right now in this moment, as long as that shit is fly sis, do what you do!
[00:17:45] Maori Karmael Holmes : To your point, none of these decisions are removed from white supremacy.
[00:17:47] Yaba Blay: No, and we can not make assumptions about who people are politically based upon how they wear their hair.
[00:17:59] Maori Karmael Holmes : Everybody with gold teeth ain’t for the fall and everybody with dreads ain’t for the cause.
[00:18:03] Yaba Blay: And that’s very real, you know? And so I think part of the work is digging up under all that and to, to move away from just looking at surface, we can all put on a head wrap and some kente, what I mean?
[00:18:18] Maori Karmael Holmes : Yeah. I mean, that’s really fascinating to me and not to tell you what to write about, but I would be really curious, you know, when we look at Black liberation movements before the sixties, it wasn’t about appearance, right? So we weren’t concerned about Coretta’s [Scott King] hair and Betty’s [Shabazz] hair, you know, Ida’s [B. Wells] hair or any of these women. And I think this is also, you know, historical romanticism, but I think there’s a way in which there was a little more unity because it wasn’t identity based, you know? And so it was like, I see you, brother, sister, we’re gonna keep this moving.And then as we move into the sixties and seventies––
[00:18:56] Yaba Blay:––Black is beautiful.
[00:18:59] Maori Karmael Holmes : ––Black is beautiful. Not by Black people, right? This is corporate America.This is advertising. This is mad men, right? Like, this is that era where everybody’s being marketed to, but we learn how to market Blackness. And so then we decided we have to be Black in these certain ways. And I feel like that’s what we’ve been contending with for 50 years. I really don’t think there’s been enough. Talk about that. And the other piece of it is, it’s always on women’s backs because all brothers do is change your shirt.
[00:19:24] Maori Karmael Holmes: So given that I’ve given you your fourth book, thank you. Can we talk a little bit about your second book, beauty to dismantle white supremacy? Why, why this title, why this book, you know, what is it about?
[00:19:39] Yaba Blay: Why? It’s so overdue for me? Um, this is the work I’ve always done work around body politics, specifically around colorism. Um, and that’s based on my experience being Black as I am first generation American born Ghanaian. Born and raised in New Orleans of all places. And honestly, my editor, Elizabeth Mendez Berry, when she first got the VP position at One World Books, she hit me up like, yo, there’s a list of people that I want to work with. What’s your next book? I’m like, oh no, I’m not writing, not writing anything. I’m a producer. And honestly I’ve been avoiding writing because again, I’ve had this stress and strained relationship with the academy, you know, and then feeling like my work wasn’t valued. You know, my work wasn’t seen as rigorous enough because I was dealing with beauty and because I was dealing with Black women and girls, especially. So I’m like, well, if I’m running away, I’m running away and I’m going to do work on Instagram, on social media and YouTube and, and teach in a different type of classroom. And Liz really pulled me back in, like, you can actually do whatever you want. And so I credit her with giving me permission to think about this work again.
[00:20:59] Maori Karmael Holmes : Which is funny to me because you have a lot of Instagram made scholars who have no problem. So, I would hope you feel comfortable.
[00:21:09] Yaba Blay: I don’t still, and I think it’s because they love us a little bit more just to say we deserve a little bit more care and attention than that, you know? So I think I’ve always been thinking like, I can’t put out bullshit. I can’t, you know, just hurry up and throw some stuff out cause people are throwing money at it, but I know that we deserve better. Especially Black women and girls in the context of talking about beauty, especially. So yeah, I think, know that what’s going to make this process of writing this book challenging, is me letting go of all of that weight of the academy. In the academy, we talking to each other. We trying to sound smart. We using words, we don’t even use, you know, we’re writing in journals and nobody else is reading. You know? Now I get to talk to us and literally talk to us. So that’s going to be a little bit of a challenge, but all that to say the book Beauty Tip: Dismantle White Supremacy is about the politics of beauty, especially Black beauty, looking at beauty through the lens of white supremacy and pushing us to be a little bit more critical about what beauty is and what beauty means for Black bodies.
[00:22:23] Maori Karmael Holmes : I’m curious, you mentioned One Drop, your first book, which. I was happy to work on.
[00:22:28] Yaba Blay: Yes. Maori designed the book for all of you who have the book on your coffee table. You should know that Maori designed the book. Thank you. Maori.
[00:22:40] Maori Karmael Holmes :Where is Leo in my chart? I don’t know.
[00:22:43]Yaba Blay: Oh, it’s in there. It’s on fire, in there somewhere.
[00:22:43] Maori Karmael Holmes : You self-published one drop. And then, um, and that was in 2013 and then it was reprinted in 2021 and sold out the first run of the second printing in one day. So props to you! Has writing the second book been any easier?
[00:23:02] Yaba Blay: No, it’s harder now. It feels like pressure. Like this is the thing about a Sagittarius for those of you who care to know on your calendars, 12/12, that’s me. I’m a Sagittarius Sagittarius like Sagittarius in seven planets Sagittarius.
[00:23:18] Maori Karmael Holmes : I that’s still phenomenal to me that anyone has that many planets in anything,
[00:23:21] Yaba Blay: All Sagittarius, except for my rising, which is Gemini. Here we are. One Drop became One Drop and the way that it did, because I couldn’t sell the book, the first one, the first, the first printing. So I wrote a book proposal, cause everybody was like, oh, you know, you’re working with CNN. This is dope. Of course they’ll want a book. Nope. Couldn’t get a book deal for who I am. If you tell me I cannot do something, I’m going to do it twice and take pictures, literally. And so one drop was ego driven. Trust me, I’m getting this book done and it’s going to be dope. And you’re going to see, and you should feel ashamed. And the thing about living an ego-driven life is that you are, you are working to prove people wrong and people aren’t thinking about you no more sis, at all. And so I got One Drop out and I literally made my myself sick doing so, Though I had people to, to prove wrong, so to speak. I wasn’t answering to anybody. I didn’t even have an editor. It was all me. I didn’t have an editor until before we went to print this time around. I’m like, people want me to turn in drafts and things. People want to tell me what they think. It’s a little intimidating, a little bit of pressure, but I’m looking forward to the process because it’s going to make me a better writer. I keep telling myself that, trying to put ego aside, humble myself, be open, be vulnerable. I’ve never worked with an editor. So the idea that somebody is going to give me input along the way, it’s just like, who y’all are you gonna have to hold your hand, sis.
[00:24:57] Maori Karmael Holmes : I want to shift and talk about your upbringing a little bit, especially because your work is rooted in your experiences. Can you talk a little bit about what growing up in New Orleans was like? And particularly if you remember the things you were dreaming of being as a little girl.
[00:25:14] Yaba Blay: Orleans is a magical place. If you asked me to reflect on growing up in New Orleans, I knew I was different, you know, cause I wasn’t Black in the African-American sense. I wasn’t New Orleanian in the kind of generational sense. You know, we ate different things. We listened to different music. I was very aware that I was different and perhaps my appreciation for New Orleans didn’t come until that.
[00:25:42] Maori Karmael Holmes : I think that’s really common. As someone who moved around a lot, it’s seeing backwards that makes you appreciate a place and what it does for you. I can, I can understand and empathize with being upset about moving. I wish we had never left Los Angeles in a similar way, but then I also think about all the things that have happened or because of those moves. Right? And because of the understanding you gain from being the new kid again and again, you know, you move to Delaware, for your father’s work––
[00:26:14] Yaba Blay: ––Of all places. Well, that’s the other thing in fairness, I grew up on HBCU campuses. So I grew up on Xavier’s campus and then moved to Del state when it was time for high school. And so again, I’ve always been surrounded by particular Blackness, a particular appreciation for Black culture and Black community. So I’m thankful for that.
[00:26:35] Maori Karmael Holmes : So in that move, did you find yourself redefining Yaba in this new place? And what was that like?
[00:26:43] Yaba Blay: Resentful, rebellious. Cause again, I don’t know if anybody’s been to Delaware, compared to New Orleans. It’s the first time I saw snow, 14-years old. First time I experienced winter, I was mad as hell. And then it’s gray and the people aren’t particularly interesting, no shade.
[00:27:10] Maori Karmael Holmes : Shout out to Joe Biden.
[00:27:13] Yaba Blay: I was, yeah, I felt some type of way. And so I very much pushed back. I went from being a very serious, smart, studious, young person to being a good time girl when I got to Delaware, you know, and just resisting all that, I think, my parents wanted from me, ’cause. I was just mad about being in this dry place. You know, you took me from my friends at high school, come on, brah. Like it was the worst. And so I was so focused on being popular and so focused on having boyfriends. And although I didn’t care about it, smart was easy. I didn’t care about that. My dad, I don’t think he knows this, but report cards used to come the dot–– remember, the dot matrix printers? I used to sit there with a pencil and change my grades. I don’t know. You know, I was changing zeroes to eights, you know.
[00:28:12] Maori Karmael Holmes : I feel like kids are never as smart as they think they are.
[00:28:14] Yaba Blay: I know it probably looked raggedy as hell, but my grades were trash. And so then, oh, I remember, came time of course you’re supposed to apply to college. Right? So you asked me about like what I wanted to be, Truth be told, I didn’t want to be anything. I didn’t want to be my dad. I didn’t want to be my mom. The only pressure was I had to go to college. And so then it was a question to study what? like, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I like to sing. I like to dance, you know, I like to be a Black girl. So anyway, it comes time to apply for college, I apply, I wanted to go to Spelman. I got into Spelman. My daddy said, I couldn’t go. I got into Spelman. I got into Howard. Where else did I apply? Those are the two places.
[00:29:00]Maori Karmael Holmes : Why couldn’t you go to Spelman?
[00:29:02] Yaba Blay: He wasn’t going to pay for it and my grades were trash, so I didn’t get any money. And so he’s like, you’re not serious enough for me to pay for it. So it was, you know, it’s like what all parents do, right? Start here and if you do good grades, then you can go. And it’s like, oh, okay. So I went and applied to Del State. He got me in. So I started at downstate. And my senior year of high school, I started dating the the hot boy in town. He had locks. You know, Das EFX? His locks were like Das EFX. And for those of you who may not know west Africans are not––well, they are now, is a little bit more acceptable, but locks? You out your rabbit-ass mind. And so I’m like, okay, I can’t go away. I got to stay here in Delaware longer, but he became my boyfriend. He became my rasta husband. He became my baby daddy. And so I got pregnant sophomore year. And here we are.
[00:30:06] Maori Karmael Holmes : Here we are, six degrees later. You are a daddy’s girl.
[00:30:10] Yaba Blay: I am.
[00:30:13] Maori Karmael Holmes :which is, you know, something that I have no idea what that means. Whereas my father, I have no idea. So I’m, I’m curious what your relationship with him is like now as an adult, also as a fellow PhD, as a parent, how has that changed? You know, sort of what does Yaba and 80 year old Kofi [Blay] like?
[00:30:34] Yaba Blay: That’s my boy. He hasn’t always been my boy, outwardly so. You know, cause again, there’s a lot of resentment as a parent and a grandparent. Now I understand him so much more than I appreciate him so much more because, and it’s funny, like some of the questions you’re asking me, people make some, they assume that because I had a, you know, a Ghanaian father that there were these kinds of rules and my dad was just like, do what you want. He’s a sociologist. I remember what happened? Did I get suspended? I think I got suspended for fighting in school and his response was something like you’re beginning to display criminally defiant, but something he said and I’m like word, but he was unmoved. He wasn’t yelling, fussing. And at the time it felt like he didn’t care. What I know now is that my father literally wanted me to find my own way somehow I would learn. And so for him, what I know to be true is the full circle moment. When I was getting hooded above the applause, above everything else. You heard Kofi Blay sobbing.
[00:31:36] Maori Karmael Holmes : You’re saying that makes me think that that’s why your father came to America. He wanted you to have freedom that he probably did not have. Right? I don’t know, but I imagine that’s how he got to have a PhD and teach here was because that was like prescripted at some point. My mother talks a bit about this, a lot that we parent the way we want it to be parented. And so my mother gave me a lot of freedom as well because she wanted that.
Should I ever become a parent? I know I am not going to be like that because I thought I was neglected. Right? Benign neglect.
[00:32:11] Yaba Blay: You are so cute. Where’s Kim? Get Kim on. I mean, you say that, but you don’t know until, you know, because there are a lot of ways that I said I wouldn’t parent and I’m my father all over again. But the thing, the difference is for those of you who are considering having children, I think I parented my daughter the same way and she needed something else. She didn’t need the freedom. You know.
[00:32:29] Maori Karmael Holmes :My brother didn’t either.
[00:32:32] Yaba Blay: Right? So that’s something to consider. It’s not about us. It’s about them, which means different children need different things even in the same family. But yeah, freedom is big for my dad still. And I see myself so much in him. It’s scary. Like the idea that the minute you tell me not to do something, I’m about to do it 16 times. That’s my dad!. It’s an interesting thing to watch him. He’s 82. He moved back to Ghana and retired in Ghana. He’s bored out of his mind. So, you know, I’ll talk to him. He’s like, yeah, I’m doing these word puzzles. It helps with cognitive sharpness. Negro, you’re bored. But I think he’s, I know he’s proud of me. I do wonder how he thinks about himself in terms of the decisions and choices that he’s made with his life, now that he’s 82. I plan to talk to him about that while he’s still sharp, you know, like how he feels about the decisions that he made and would he do anything differently? Any advice that he has for me, but his advice always comes back to like––Do you!.
[00:33:38] Maori Karmael Holmes : One more question. I just sort of want to ask you about your upbringing. I’ve been thinking about a lot of my, gen X, African, and south Asian friends who are first-generation and how different they think about themselves than the millennial and gen Z first-generation, African and south Asian students and interns of mine and things like that. There’s so much more representation of immigrant folks and non-African-American non European-American people on TV, right? Insecure two African leads––
[00:34:10] Yaba Blay: You wouldn’t know it.
[00:34:13] Maori Karmael Holmes : You wouldn’t know it. But you know, it’s just interesting thinking about them and then there’s so many other people, right? Just broadly, not only from the states, but from, you know, Europe and things like that. So I want to think about how much more representation there is for first-generation African people in American popular culture in a way that was not there when you were. And I am curious if that presence would have shifted what you wanted for your future?
[00:34:42] Yaba Blay: Well, I’m not sure. I don’t know that anything I wanted to do was connected to my identity in that way. I wonder what it may have done for my self-reflection, you know? But again, I know that it’s so skewed because in New Orleans, I didn’t know. And not to say that no one existed, I didn’t know anyone as dark as me in New Orleans. And so I assigned my darkness to my Africanness. Maybe my self-reflection may have been different? Maybe I would have had a different relationship even to my appearance? Like if there was any negative association I had with my appearance, I assigned it to being African. So maybe? You know, I love all of what we see now, you know?
[00:35:26] Maori Karmael Holmes : Yeah. I mean, I was thinking about that question. Sort of thinking about you, but also I know for some of the things that I recognize that I want for myself, I didn’t have access to them to even form the thoughts. Right? Like, I always think if I were 10 years younger, not even 20, but 10 years younger, I think I would’ve felt more comfortable pursuing an artistic practice because when I was growing up, I thought art meant you had to be proficient as a painter or as an illustrator and I didn’t really understand conceptual art. Like, I look at Martine Syms, who’s a Taurus and is 10 years younger than me, right? And all of the things that she’s done, a record label or magazine or this and that, that’s all her artistic practice. And you know, that I have like a new idea every day and make many of them happen, but have felt really badly that I couldn’t choose one lane. And I just think if I had had an example of what a practice looks like if there was a Virgil Abloh or Kanye or whatever, sort of playing around with their medium. I think I would’ve had a different thought for myself or even the early parts of me that wanted it to be a filmmaker. I could not identify a Black woman director or woman director to go, that’s a possibility.
So you’ve mentioned earlier that we met when we were in grad school. And I remember that you were very clear about having this license plate, this at Dr. Blay, you were ready. I think it was a BMW that you wanted, you know, you have two masters, you have a PhD, stellar dissertation that you wrote in like what three months or one month––
[00:37:06] Yaba Blay: ––six months
[00:37:08] Maori Karmael Holmes : Six months, whatever. A very short time. Short, short time.
[00:37:09] Yaba Blay:600 pages, yes.
[00:37:10] Maori Karmael Holmes :You’ve had academic appointments, you know, Lehigh, Drexel, North Carolina. And then you left. I think earlier you were saying you left for yourself, but I’m really curious what gave me the courage to break away from this path that you had so heavily invested in?
[00:37:26] Yaba Blay: I got diagnosed with stress induced epilepsy. It was stressing me out. The stress wasn’t just about the academy, it was about my relationship to the academy. And it seemed like I was on a wheel. So in my case, again, I wrote this dissertation because I had something to prove. Completely unhealthy to write that much in that short amount of time. I couldn’t also be looking for a job. So I graduated without a job. For folks who are doctoral students, trying to get a tenure track position, it’s a whole process that most folks do while they’re still in school. Right? I graduated with no jobs. So in order to be employed, I took an administrative job at Lehigh. And again, it’s a cult. Sorry. It is what it is. It’s a cult. That first step determined the rest of the way. It was no way I was going to get a tenure track position after that. And that’s the only carrot they ever dangled in front of us. As grad students, you got to get a tenure track position. You got to get a tenure track position. So I go from Lehigh to Lafayette, another teaching position, to Drexel, another teaching position and then magically, I get this endowed chair position at North Carolina central, not, not tenure track, right?
[00:38:49] Maori Karmael Holmes : So endowed but not a tenure track? Interesting.
[00:38:51] Yaba Blay: We talk about tenure. Like it’s this magical safeguard and it’s not like they can drop you whenever they want, but it’s supposed to feel like security, right.? And it’s security that I didn’t have. So at North Carolina, it was interesting because my colleagues were on tenure track. Now, when you’re on a tenure track position, teaching, research, service. Those are the things that you are quote unquote, graded on. HBCU, you’re teaching four classes a semester. You’re still expected to do your research, right? You’re still expected to provide service to the institution and your community. I come in, new kid on the block, my endowed chair position, two classes a semester, and it came with a budget––research funds. I was doing Professional Black Girl on my research funds. I was doing what I wanted to do. So my colleagues who are probably like, my elders in a lot of ways, some not all of them, but I’m thinking of my elders specifically. They probably looking at me like, this girl, done came in here, she’s making twice as much money as we are. And she’s playing on Instagram all day. They felt some type of way. Now I made some great connections there, but the energy was real in terms of how folks were looking at me. And I get it. I would have been side-eyeing me too. I didn’t even have the option to stay because I had a Black woman Dean at the time, look at me and tell me that she didn’t know what she was getting for the money. And I just had this moment where I was like, you know what? I’m not doing this shit anymore. I’m not about to look for another position to keep doing this over and over and over again. It doesn’t even make me happy. I love teaching. I miss teaching every single day, but like I said, I just have a new classroom now. I love teaching. It’s not worth it for me again. No shade to y’all. We need y’all in the academy. Please stay. I am not asking you to come with. Some of y’all need to come, but not all, y’all some stay. Our babies deserve to be taught by brilliant Black minds. I enjoy, even though it’s stressful again, I’m not trying to make the hustle seem more beautiful than it is cause it’s work. You know, this, you know, there are times when I’m like, damn I need benefits. I’d like direct deposit, you know? But I can’t see myself going back to the academy in that way. So, you know, once I was diagnosed, the idea that I could have a neurological condition based upon stress. But if you had asked me, if you would call me like, Hey, how you doing?I wouldn’t have said I’m stressed out. It was my body. Because again, when I talk about unhealthy practices, the idea that I could write for 14 hours and then try to go to sleep, but can’t because my mind won’t shut off. So then I just get up and keep writing. When are you going to rest, girl? Or the idea that my calendar just looked insane, but the epilepsy absolutely scared me and my unhappiness was just, it was tangible. And at the time I said I was taking a break and I had a very beautiful conversation with a woman named Kerry Ann Rockmore, who is now retired. And I think we’re the same age. She was able to retire doing her own independent consulting work and, similar kind of trajectory. She didn’t have a tenure track situation. She had to figure it out for herself. And she’s like, yo, I’ve made so much more money outside of the academy than what the academy gives us. So again, it’s the cult of it. All right? Me wanting to have my license plate say, Dr. Blay, me being able to tell people to refer to me as doctor. Do you know how much professors may make? I know you do, but that’s a question for your audience. If y’all think professor, whatever that title sounds like to you means paid. It does not. My salary was definitely one quarter of my student loan debt.
[00:43:05] Maori Karmael Holmes : Definitely not at an HBCU.
[00:43:07] Yaba Blay: Absolutely not in an HBCU. Right? And so for her, just in that very focused conversation, she was like, yo, you can make more money outside of the academy. You can focus on the things you want to do. Like, I know your work as someone who wants to actually impact lived experiences. So she’s like if you stay in the academy and you keep publishing in these journals and you keep presenting at these conferences, where are the people who you––whose lives you want to impact? So it was like a coming to Black Jesus moment for me. And I’m like, yo. So, what would it look like to take this and make this work in these conversations more accessible? Because that’s the thing that’s so interesting. When I think about teaching, I think about much of what, especially at the HBCU, they were conversations that I was having with my students, that, I know, they weren’t going to be able to have anywhere else. Who’s going to push you to think about things, in this way? And I’m not speaking from an egotistical space, but just to say most of us, and I lived day to day, regular folks, right? What are we talking about on a day to day? So having the opportunity to be pushed, to think critically, we can do that on social media. We can do that on podcast. We can do that in all of our creative productions. Right? And we deserve that, you know? And so all of the elitism of the academy, it just seemed to be antithetical to who I said I was. Yeah, but that doesn’t mean, you know, elite institutions y’all can still hit me up.
[00:44:34] Maori Karmael Holmes : YabaBlay.com! So I’m going to switch to talking a little bit about your work in social media. And so despite being a digital immigrant, you have made a name for yourself utilizing, you know, all the platforms, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, to amplify the awesomeness of Black women and girls. You start it with Tumblr and the campaign #PrettyPeriod, which focused on the beauty of dark skinned Black girls that was followed by #LocsofLove, #ProfessionalBlackGirl, and last year heartwarming #ToMaryWithLove. There’s perhaps my favorite activity. Judgment Free Zone, which I have to say has kept me sane in the ongoing Pannetone [Pandemic]. How did you start, Judgment Free Zone? Where does that come from? What made you start to just deal memes in this way?
[00:45:24] Yaba Blay: I am a meme dealer, hustler. Someone said I’m a joy producer, so I’m rolling with that. What’s so interesting. And again, shout out to Temple [University] for what it’s worth being trained in Black Studies Women’s and Gender Studies, given permission to center myself. Right? I think in a lot of other traditional spaces, we’re supposed to be objective, right? You’re supposed to somehow separate yourself from your work in order to be accurate. And that’s just so not true. You know, me, I love to laugh. I’m silly in that way. I literally would save, Instagram has a save function. So I would save stuff. That’s funny with the idea that I would share it in DMs with folks so we could laugh together or share it later in person. What I recognize is that online, again, I didn’t know who my audience thought I was, cause I was Dr. Blay. And so Judgment Free Zone was my way of saying I’m about to share some silly shit. This is a judgment free zone. Right? Do not get these things twisted and then folks were responding like, yo, this is hilarious! And so it really kicked up with the pandemonium because we were literally glued to our screens. And so I started creating what felt like episodes that I would string the memes and the videos together, you know, based upon a theme for the evening. And so it started for myself, but then two and I’ve saved them. I call them love notes in my phone, but to have folks reach out and say, yo, this is like I needed this today. You know? Or like this is like keeping me sane. Take that lightly. So I’m like, well, shit, I needed to.
[00:46:58] Maori Karmael Holmes : It’s really a gift and there’s oftentimes where I need to go to bed, but then I noticed you posted and I just run through them. It is so joyful. And it’s like, you have people cackling, Rashida and I talk about it a lot, that it is, you have found your ministry. I mean you have several, but this is definitely a very strong––
[00:47:17] Yaba Blay: The thing that makes me sad though cause the folks who are listening will probably go to my public page and you won’t see Judgment Free Zone there because I don’t do it there anymore. That Judgment Free Zone now happens in a private space and I wish it could be shared with more people, but now it’s like I have to protect it because I have to protect myself. What had happened was when my following grew, then folks started reporting stuff. The thing about it is. What was reported, it’s so culturally insensitive, what had happened was I posted this video and before I would post Judgment Free Zone in my stories, I would always post something on my page to alert folks, go to my stories, right? This video was of––it was three Black men one sitting in the front seat, two fighting for their lives in the backseat. The one in the front seat is looking at the camera, like fixing his hair posturing. I’m cute. And it was about the level of unbothered nearness. Now those of us who know what we’re seeing, we know that the two in the backseat are probably two brothers or cousins who just cuss each other out they’re fighting. So he’s like he’s waiting for them to finish so they can move on with life. Insert new follower, white woman. Are you condoning violence? Reports the post instant. The post is instantly taken. I’m watching this in real time. The post is taken down and my page is shadow banned. And though Instagram will never admit to shadow banning. It is a thing which means folks who follow me, who used to see me would literally say, I cannot find you. You’re not in my timeline. I have to physically search for you to see your content, which is not how Instagram works. And so I felt, what’s the word? Exposed to folks in a way that I hadn’t thought about before, like I’m doing this work for us. Y’all get it. Y’all know what I’m posting. Y’all know what this is about. And then somebody who doesn’t can come in their quest for anti-racists––
[00:49:16] Maori Karmael Holmes : ––Karen, your page,
[00:49:18] Yaba Blay: Karen, my page! Because you want to be an ally and somebody told you it’s time to follow all the Black folks, but then you come follow the Black folks and you bring your whiteness to the space. So now you want to police the very folks you claim to want to learn from?
[00:49:32] Maori Karmael Holmes : What’s angering about that. And I’m sorry to interrupt. Is that your page gets immediately taken down and shadow banned, but how many times have we seen the ads with your face on them that some hacker and you know, some other country has produced and we can’t get them to take them down or Joe Rogan or, I mean, we could keep going with the kind of offensive content that we can not get taken down after like days of hundreds of people saying, take this down. And this one woman––
[00:49:56] Yaba Blay: I watched it in real time.
[00:50:00] Maori Karmael Holmes : I was there. I believe you.
[00:50:02] Yaba Blay:Five minutes. It was down. And again, it’s unfortunate because my followers pre this moment, because the moment was, I was a part of Share the Mic and I ended up literally going from like 20,000 followers to like 80,000 followers in like a week.So I’m going to presume that most of those are white. My followers, my folks who’ve always been there for our Black ass, good time, or now, or are now not able to access this thing that we have, because I’m not willing to share that with the broader public, but I have a private space now for us to be able to experience that and I can’t even say it’s like people I trust, but I feel like I have a better hold of that community than a page with, you know, a hundred thousand followers.
[00:50:47] Maori Karmael Holmes : Yeah. You know, it leads me to also thinking about, as much as IG and Tik Tok bring us joy, Siri is coming for us. Right? We’ve seen the films, Shalini Kantayya had that film last year and she made another one this year, a Tik Tik Boom, or Tik Tok Boom. We know the algorithm and all of this is not designed for wellness. Right. But at the same time, it is bringing so much and it couldn’t be more sort of classic duality, right? It’s like this communal space, particularly in a pandemic. And then, it’s also, it is designed to addict us and is making us depressed and feel isolated. Where is the balance and how are you finding it? Tell us, please.
[00:51:28] Yaba Blay: I wish I knew. I wish I knew. I mean, there are times where I literally have to say to myself, not today, log off. And there’s a part of me that feels pulled like, no, you gotta, you can just, you just want to check real quick or, you know, you want to check your DMs. And, there’ve been days where I didn’t even have to be as deliberate. I just didn’t want to. Then there are days where I have to be deliberate, like not today. And then there are days where I just do it and feel bad still. It is hard because again, Instagram feels like it’s a life. It literally feels like, you know, we walked into the lunch room. I mean, there’ve been times where I promise you, my eyes have not been open 30 seconds and I get my phone and I go to Instagram first. So I, I’m not the person to talk to about balance and it, and to be quite fair, I want us to give ourselves some grace and some, you know, some elbow room. Like we also got to stop beating ourselves up for doing the thing, because this is where we are right now.
[00:52:25] Maori Karmael Holmes : Okay. Well, you don’t have the answers.
[00:52:28] Yaba Blay: I don’t have the answers, Mai––my fault.
[00:52:32] Maori Karmael Holmes : One of the other things that I admire about you in addition to your rough and brutal honesty. I really admire your fierce loyalty to your friends, which I know the Sagittarius is our loyal. And you, Madam with seven planets and Sagittarius really do show up for people. Something that I’m trying to model from you is when someone is going through something, how you need me to show up? When you ask that and you mean it, it is really, really powerful. And I’m curious if moving around inspired you to hold on tightly to people, or is it because you’re an only child or…
[00:53:05] Yaba Blay: It might be the only child thing? I’m a funny act in Sagittarius. I don’t even like people. I know. So when I like you, that means something to me. I’m like, well, I can’t let you go. You’re my people. It’s so interesting cause my friends always thanked me for that. And I don’t think about it, but that notion of like, who do you need me to be? I think I do that because that’s what I want. There’s sometimes, or I just want to cry or I just want to talk shit. I don’t want you to swoop in and tell me what to do.
[00:53:35] Maori Karmael Holmes : Usually not. I mean, anybody.
[00:53:38] Yaba Blay: Yeah. Yeah. And so I think that whoever you need me to be, let me be that person in this moment. Right? Let me not tell you what to do or assume that these are the things that you need. If you say, I just want to sit on the phone and laugh. I’m about to crack jokes. If you say you want to talk shit, let’s talk all the shit. If you want to plot somebody–– nevermind. Who you named me to be, what you need, in this moment. And sometimes folks, and I’ve been that person. If you asked me, you know, what do you need right now? I don’t know. So we could sit on the phone or you need me to come over, like what you need? And so I think, again, it reminds me perhaps of how my father parented or how I tried to be. But then recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all.
[00:54:22] Maori Karmael Holmes : You and some of your other besties share passion for the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I wanted to ask you. When did you first read the book or see the film and which one came first?
[00:54:34] Yaba Blay: I saw the film first, my best friend, Ari. Her mother, Auntie Jan took us to see the film when it came out, which means I was eight and she was nine. I was ‘84, right? ‘83 or ‘84. I don’t know how soon after, but I know we went to the theater to see it. And so right now in this moment, I’m like, Aunt Jan, what were you thinking? Taken us to see it.
[00:54:55] Maori Karmael Holmes : She was thinking she wanted to see it.
[00:54:58] Yaba Blay: Right? And we had to go. Right? But I remember seeing the film and not necessarily understanding everything I saw, but by that time I was already a survivor. And so I connected with Celie, you know, in ways I didn’t understand. I was eight. It was the first time I cried and maybe that’s why I, and Jan took me. Honestly, as I’m thinking about it now, because of course when it happened, I told Ari, I made Ari––I was like, do not tell anybody. And Ari went and told her mother and her mother called me, like, you’re going to tell me what happened. But yeah, I didn’t read the book until I was grown. I think I was in college and I remember reading the book and being like, they left this out the movie, they left this out, then wanting a whole new experience and then watching the movie again. And so it’s a dance that I do probably almost every year, read the book, watch the movie, watch the movie, read the book and see something else every single time.
[00:55:54] Maori Karmael Holmes : We’ve come to the end. And so I just have a couple of fun questions. And one of them is, I’m curious if your practice of Ifá shows up in your storytelling or in any wellness practices, like, is there a relationship between African spirituality and mental health for, you?
[00:56:13] Yaba Blay: No. And my practice is Lucumí, which is a diaspora, a reflection of Ifá, right? If anything, I think part of my draw to the practice was the honoring of the ancestors. And so if anything, I think it is fluid in that way. Like the work that I do, I want to connect the dots. You know, I always want to make sure that while we are experiencing the moment that we also recognize that these are moments, that our ancestors also experienced that there’s not so much disconnect between us and them. I’m the type of person I don’t really like seeing digitized, like, you know, how they have like, uh, old photos and somebody will color them. Like, I don’t really like seeing them, but I do like somehow seeing them in color makes them more real, but then I want them to go back to what it was, you know, but I spent so much time, like one, literally wondering like what it was like, what it could have been like you read people’s stories, you see their images and then for us to be here now, like part of our practices honoring our ancestors. I never want to act like I’m saying anything new. And if I’m able to name that name, I will, history is so very important to all of this. We, our history, like this moment right now that we’re creating is history. Somebody’s child will be talking about us when we’re not here. You know? So in that way, spiritually, of course, we want to think about the energy that we’re leaving. And for me, I’m thinking about who y’all gonna know me to be when I’m an ancestor for better or for worse, you know? So I also spent a lot of time wanting to also just be very human so that folks can connect to my flaws. You know, nobody’s perfect. So even as we talk about my spiritual practice, I’m probably a wayward priest, you know? I don’t do all the things I ought to be doing, should be doing, but I’m here. The world society puts enough pressure on us to be as close to perfect, which is not possible. And I hear us, so many of us talking in this moment, I do it. I beat myself up for not being more quote, unquote productive.
[00:5824] Maori Karmael Holmes : And that’s white supremacy too. Right?
[00:58:26] Yaba Blay: Absolutely. It’s capitalism, but it’s also, we have very it’s like, where are our models for success coming from? Like, what would it mean to be successful? So when you were talking about yourself, right? You know, I call myself the queen of bright ideas, but you’re obviously the empress of bright ideas. Like one minute you want to do this, one minute that you want to do that. You might do 6 out of 10. And do them well. And I know you personally to know that you don’t give yourself credit for the six things you did well. You think about the four things you didn’t do, but you’re not alone in that. I’m the same way. So many of us are the same way. And so I hear us talk, we don’t give ourselves enough credit. We absolutely don’t give ourselves any grace, but it’s because we live in a world that has defined success in such a narrow way that we weren’t ever supposed to fit into any way. Right? So what w how can we give ourselves credit? And so for me, and I learned this in teaching, right? That when I would just be honest and vulnerable, my students saw me as a human being and knew that it was okay. Like to tell them, yo, I had a whole baby in college. And here I am, you know, and they’re like, really? Yes, it happens. It actually happens. So that all the things that folks might be telling you are your failures. They’re just lessons, keep going. So yeah, I think we owe it to ourselves to just honor our humanity as we are right now, which means we’re not perfect. Nor are we supposed to be.
[00:59:55] Maori Karmael Holmes : What’s that phrase? Something like where the wounds are is where the light––
[00:59:58] Yaba Blay: That’s where the light enters. Yeah, absolutely. Asè
[01:00:07] Maori Karmael Holmes : Asè. My last question, cause I know you want to get this out, is that, speaking of bright ideas, 11 years ago, I had a bright idea to do this thing that is now called BlackStar and somebody gave me the name. That’s somebody is you, and I would just be curious for you to talk a little bit about what Black Star, what those words mean to you?
[01:00:29] Yaba Blay: You know, this has gone a girl all day. I have memories. My father and mother had friends who were sailors on the Black Star Line, would dock in New Orleans. They would take me with them on that ship for them to party. I remember seeing all of them drunk, all of them, dancing the Highlife and having a good time being the only child there in grown people’s business. But I very specifically, seeing the biggest Ghanian flag I’d ever seen in my life waving on that ship. And then growing up and learning about the Black Star Line and learning about Kwame Nkrumah work. Kwame Nkrumah. I wouldn’t say he’s a north star, but he’s definitely somebody I will honor forever because he too loved us. All of us. And he’s the reason why so many of us are even able to think about diaspora, conceptually, you know, we use the language of pan African, but you know, same people, same folks, you know, what would it mean if we had some sort of national identity that extended beyond borders? And so for me, this notion of a black star. It was powerful. So when you said you wanted to do this black film stuff, what else are you going to name it? BlackStar. And that same way. I think the work that BlackStar has done, you know, and I know that you’re open to all the people, but I’ma claim the Black part of it. Give thanks, Maori is equal opportunity, she loves all the people of color, but I’m just going to come back and highlight the Black part. Right? That’s what I love about BlackStar. You know, not only we call it the international family reunion when we were able to gather together, but all of us, how much we look forward to it, how much we learn. My godmother texted me yesterday and was like, take a break from writing tomorrow. I want you to watch a film called The Burial of Kojo. I’m like, lady, I saw that at Blackstar! That’s my homeboy, that’s Blitz [Bazawule]. But the fact that even so many of our elders come every year, they are looking forward to BlackStar because they’re also learning. Blackstar is a thing, Maori. Again, like you can dream of all the other bright ideas that you want to. I hope and pray that you give yourself enough credit for BlackStar. Cause you did good, sis. And so a it’s a big fucking deal. Just so you know.
[01:02:58] Maori Karmael Holmes :You’re supposed to be crying. Not me.
[01:03:00] Yaba Blay: No, no, no, no. It’s a thing. It’s a thing. And we need it and we deserve it. We deserve it.
[01:03:08] Maori Karmael Holmes : I will leave it at that. I want to be like, let’s talk about, thank you so much, Yaba for joining us being our first episode of this new season,
[01:03:20] Yaba Blay: Because I’m number one! You heard me!?
[01:03:25] Maori Karmael Holmes : No, this has been really lovely. You think you know, somebody. You know it’s so lovely to find out new things and to have an opportunity to share things that you know with everybody else. And thank you.
[01:03:40] Yaba Blay:Thank you. Asé.
To explore more of Yaba’s work. Visit her website YabaBlay.com. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @YabaBlay and check out her Professional Black Girl series on her YouTube page.
This season of Many Lumens is brought to you by Open Society Foundations. It is produced by BlackStar Projects in partnership with RowHome productions. The host and executive producer of Many Lumens is me, Maori Karmael Holmes. Our producer is Imani Leonard, associate producers are Irit Reinheimer [01:04:20] and Farrah Rahaman. Managing producer is Alex Lewis. Executive editor is John Myers. Our music supervisor is David lil’dave Adams, BlackStar’s music and cinema fellows supported by the Pop Culture Collaborative. Our theme song was composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by David lil’dave Adams.
Sending you light and see you next time!