Dr. Yaba Blay Talks Colorism, NCCU, and Being a Professional Black Girl
Photo Credit: Allison Mathews Photography
Originally from Ghana West Africa a first generation born and raised in New Orleans, Dr. Yaba Blay is a nationally known published author, professor, producer, and speaker. Her undergraduate and graduate degrees are a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology (Cum Laude) from Salisbury State University and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology from the University of New Orleans. Her book "Yellow Fever: Skin Bleaching and the Politics of Skin Color in Ghana" made international acclaim and was her dissertation for her Ph.D in African American Studies, MA in African American Studies, and a Graduate Certificate in Women's Studies from Temple University. I'm very excited that she is now the North Carolina Central University Dan Blue Endowed Chair of the Political Science Department. #EaglePride.
So Here's How It All Went Down......
What is your personal definition of Blackness?
I really don't try to define "Blackness" you know it when you see it. Those who know it they feel it. It's definitely a culture and I think for me it's the cultural part of it that's the identity. I think a lot of people engage race and race is real as far as how it defines our lived experiences particularly in a racialized world. For me it's not the race or color of people's skin that connects me to them but more so the connection to reality, to the universe, how we move through the world, the things that feed us, and the things that give us air to breathe.
What has your experience been like teaching at an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) and how has it been for your research?
I'm new to the HBCU teaching experience. However, I was raised on an HBCU campus. My father is a retired professor from Xavier University in New Orleans. He went to Delaware State and I started my education at Delaware State so I'm familiar with the HBCU family experience but this is my first time teaching at an HBCU. I've taught at PWIs (Predominately White Institutions) in the past. So I really haven't had time to engage students about issues around colorism or work directly. The thing about HBCUs is they are focused on teaching and I'm blessed to have an endowed position that allows me the opportunity to teach and contribute to the pedagogy of the space but then I can still focus on my research. I've given a couple of lectures on campus about colorism and I've taught a class in which we have engage colorism so its a conversation that will probably happen during my tenure here. I enjoy going to campus and being surrounded by a majority of folks who are my people. It really does something different for and to me. Its interesting because I grew up on HBCU campuses but I haven't been a huge advocate for the HBCU experience just more so go where you want to go. Now I just tell my students this is a utopic situation for you, its temporary, but you deserve to have it. So I'm definitely #TeamHBCU.
When it comes to mass media how do you feel the perceptions of African-American women are portrayed? Are we moving forward as women of color?
The thing I like to remind people, teach people, or express is that when it comes to colorism we did not do this to ourselves. Often times we have these conversations where we are trying to figure out how and why do we do this so we find ourselves looking for answers. The answers proceed us because this stems from White supremacy historically and its generational where its been handed down to us so we play into it with ourselves. I think we have to identify the appropriate culprit and the reason why its not moving the way we would like is its not much different than racism. The same reasons for many Black people and "people of color" I don't know folks who really understand the institution of White supremacy and racism who actually believe we will get rid of it or eradicate it because its at the foundation of this country. Well not just this country but society because White supremacy is a global institution and we don't sit to talk about how to get rid of racism because that would require revolution. Not to say that revolution is not possible but it's harder to do "A, B, and C" we are going to get rid of racism. Colorism and racism are intricately intertwined and related to the extent that if you understand we are not getting rid of racism anytime soon then you understand we are not getting rid of colorism anytime soon. On the other hand colorism is racism internalized and racism feeds off of colorism so its not just what we do or how we see ourselves but also how others see us. So which Black folks are they most comfortable with? Which Black folks do they criminalize in a particular way? Research shows that even for Black women who have been arrested or gone through court or criminalized in some way their prison terms and jail sentences are marketablely different based on the color of their skin. If you and I are arrested for the same crime I am more likely to get a longer sentence even with the same crime and circumstances. However, based upon my dark skin and black body is received by the judge or jury I am more apt to be criminalized. The media is kind of reflecting these taking of advantage of truths in society about Black women and what it means to be a dark-skinned Black woman or a light-skinned Black woman. The mainstream media is an institution and it has an agenda like any other institution.
What was your muse behind #ProfessionalBlackGirl ?
I tend to be my own muse in a lot of ways. Not me but more so my experiences and how they reflect so many other sisters that I encounter. You started off asking me about blackness and you know it when you see. Those who know it feel it. As for me my blackness is something I am able to feel when I'm connected with other people in some very simple ways. So "Professional Black Girl" recognizes women that I have connected with easily or have shared experiences with a variety of our black girl blackness. That Black womanhood and girlness is a culture of its own particularly when it comes to hair or how we are doing it ourselves. Its very unapologetic, very in your face, and very proud. So long before there was #BlackGirlMagic there were many of us very proud to be Black girls. So "Professional Black Girl" is really a celebration of that. I love Black girls especially when people share pictures, videos, or memes of little Black girls I love it. Its almost like I want to freeze them in the space of joy before the world gets to them. They remind me of a very simple time of my life full of joy. Some people feel oh she's too young for this or that's ratchet but I'm like no that's #ProfessionalBlackGirl she's just showing up and showing out.
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So what's next for Dr. Yaba Blay?
The first half of the school year I wasn't out as much but now I want to be on the scene a little more to explore the city. Hopefully, a "Professional Black Girl" book and I have another series I was working on as well.
Dr. Yaba Blay's insight on race relations and social ethics is truly inspiring. She's been an inspiration to me via social media with her #ProfessionalBlackGirl series but meeting her in person has been an amazing highlight to my blogging career. It's nothing like being in the presence of another fellow woman how knows her worth who empowers women to love themselves. Yes, I was captivated by her #BlackGirlMagic but the beauty of her story is she is an example that we have always been magical before the hashtag. Check out her series "Professional Black Girl" on YouTube.com!
Until Next Time Ladies & Gentleman This Is The Lux Blog- Kimberly