VSB

On Tuesday, I was at Google's New York City office for a panel titled "Breaking Through The Noise: Making Our Voices Visible, Scalable And Impactful." For roughly 90 minutes, David Wilson (founder of The Grio), Tiffany Warren (Senior VP, Chief Diversity Officer at Omnicom Group/Founder & President, ADCOLOR®), Lilly Workneh (Black Voices Editor at Huffington Post) and I spoke to the audience about our respective challenges and successes, and our thoughts about the state and direction of Black media. We each (obviously) had different backgrounds and stories, and even disagreed with certain subtopics, but we were all fully committed to and in possession of a grade of unapologetic Blackness that informs, inspires, centers, and directs the work we do.

(PC: Ayofemi Kirby: Instagram)

Afterwards, I got the opportunity to finally meet Alex, Shamira, Natalie, and Brandon in person and hang out. We toured Google's LEGOLand wing (Yes. The New York Google office has an approximately 2000 square foot LEGOLand.), had an exceptionally Black moment in a hotel elevator involving a nice White couple who assumed I was a doorman, and ate burgers and nachos. It was a beautifully Black-ass night.

During the panel, one theme repeated throughout the night is the reality that unapologetic Blackness isn't easy. Perhaps its a bit more trendy now than it has been, historically. But we exist in a place where much of what we've been taught and most of what we encounter aims to prevent us from feeling that way, and getting to a place where you're both unscared to be your Black-ass self and embracing of that Black-ass self can be an arduous journey. A journey towards freedom and rapture, but a painful journey nonetheless.

So, how exactly does someone get there? I don't have a textbook to pull from to provide a universal answer, but I do know what has seemed to work for me.

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1. Give Blackness a positive association

This is the first and most important part. In order to be unapologetically Black, you have to be proud of and unembarrassed by Blackness. And this doesn't just mean embracing yourself. It means removing negative connotations possessed with entities associated with Blackness. You can not be unapologetically Black if you still assume that if something happens to be "Black" — whether its a public university or a publication or a person — its inherently less than. Perhaps you never gave Blackness the benefit of the doubt before. Well, now you need to start.

2. Surround yourself with people connected to and in favor of unapologetic Blackness

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Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have parents who instilled this in me pretty early. But I recognize that many of us just haven't been around enough Black people who believe unapologetic Blackness is a thing to be desired. And, if you're attempting to get there yourself, it's vital to seek out people who are either already there or down to make the journey with you. Basically, remove all people named Taye and Stacey and Clarence from your crew.

Alex, Natalie, Shamira, and our LEGOLand tourguide in a pavilion inside the Google offices (PC: Alex Hardy Instagram)

3. Give negative infinity fucks about what White people think

Now, this doesn't mean you stop caring about what the White people you personally know and like/love think. Nor does it mean to release all basic human kindness and dignity. If you see a White person about to get hit by a truck, don't say "Man, fuck what that White dude who doesn't know he's about to get hit by a truck thinks." Say, "Hey man who happens to be White, there's a truck coming and it might hit you if you don't move."

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Instead, stop crafting your thoughts and actions around what White People (collectively) might think if you thought or acted a certain way. Step outside of the White Gaze, and stay there.

4. Embrace Blackness…even Blackness that happens to be unlike your Blackness

Your Blackness can not truly be unapologetic if it cherry-picks; deciding to withhold love from other unapologetically Black people.

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From "I'm In Love With Black People Who Love Being Black People. And Love Black People." Because everything said below could also be applied to the unapologetically Black journey.

Your love for Black people doesn’t mean shit if it doesn’t include Black women. Or Black men. Or Black homosexuals. Or Black atheists. Or Black Christians. Or Black…you get my point. If your love subjugates and discriminates, it’s not love. It’s vanity.

Naturally, you can not love every single Black person. But while you can — and probably should — put conditions on that love based on what that particular Black person happens to do if it directly damages other people (sexual assault, murder, putting kale in the potato salad, etc) you cannot put conditions on that love based on who that particular Black person was born to be. And still claim to love us.

Of course, there are Black people who believe that making Blackness inclusive is inherently anti-Black because it “weakens” us. Whatever and whoever doesn’t fit their ideal of what makes a stronger Black community — whether its feminism or atheism or being Christian or being queer — are cancers that need to be eradicated. But what they don’t get is that this journey includes all of us. If it doesn’t, there’s no journey. No community. No love. No point.

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VSB fam from right to left, Shamira Ibrahim, Natalie Degraffinried, Brandon Harrison, Alex Hardy, and I. Also pictured is Gina Cherelus of Reuters and a guy whose name I just can not remember right now.