Dr. Yaba Blay, a leading voice on beauty politics and the creator of Professional Black Girl, has been in the game for a minute, loving on black women and girls from the top of their heads to the bottom of their feet.
A sister's sister, Blay has tackled everything from colorism—with her (1)ne Drop project—to affirming melanin as black and beautiful as the universe with Pretty Period. She also unpacks the global practice of skin bleaching and takes followers into the professional art of shopping for wigs and brown gel in the beauty-supply store nearest you. And she does it all while holding down a full-time job as the Dan T. Blue Endowed Chair in Political Science at North Carolina Central University.
Now Blay has brought us an ode to the Tashas and Keishas, Shakinas and Dedes—the black women and girls who "don't just shine, they illuminate the whole show," even when no one says their names.
“The terminology that is often used to describe and define black girls—such as ‘bad,’ ‘grown,’ ‘fast,’ ‘ghetto’ and ‘ratchet’—are nonaffirming and are words that are intended to kill the joy and magic within all black girls,” says Blay. “We are professional code-switchers, hair flippers, hip shakers and go-getters. We hold Ph.D.s and listen to trap music; we twerk and we work. We hold it down while lifting each other up, and we don’t have to justify or explain our reason for being. This is us.”
"We do not subscribe to what 'respectability' gatekeepers call black-girl stereotypes," Blay continues. "We are Professional Black Girl prototypes."
The first full episode of Professional Black Girl, featuring Blay, aired Sept. 9; an episode airing each Friday, on YouTube.com/YabaBlayTV and Yabablay.com until Dec. 23, 2016. According to Blay's website, "Each episode features a candid discussion with personalities such as Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Rapsody; Joan Morgan, author of the Hip-Hop feminist classic When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost; and 13-year-old world traveler Nahimana Machen."
Watch the first episode of Professional Black Girl below:
Blay and I spent a few minutes discussing the premiere of Professional Black Girl and black-girl everything—from the limitations of magic to deep conditioners in the dollar pack and why, sometimes, you just have to tell people who don't get this legacy of black-woman business, "Nah."
The Root: So, Professional Black Girl. This is the the blackest, beautifulest thing I've seen in a long time. You did this, sis.
Yaba Blay: Yay! I’m so glad. That is why I use the language "around the way" and "quintessential." This is our culture. And people try to tame it, try to tell us to “act right.” And sometimes we just have to be like, “Nah.”
TR: Yes, ma'am! We love #BlackGirlMagic, but this is something more tangible, right? Something a little more je ne sais black?
YB: Ha! This is definitely something that I just don't want folks to think is the average celebration of black women, because it's not. I see this in the context of #BlackGirlMagic, but I think we can be elitist in our celebration of "magic."
*Passes collection plate so Dr. Blay will keep preaching.*
YB: We celebrate what is generally understood as excellence, and unfortunately, in a society full of “isms,” that leaves a whole lot of excellent sisters out.
TR: But not all black girls and women got "around the way" in them, so …
YB: Hmmm, true. Because everybody ain't an around-the-way girl.
TR: Everybody ain't been "standing at the bus stop sucking on a lollipop." It’s a fact.
YB: When I began this journey, I was clear that I wanted to celebrate a certain type of black woman. So maybe it’s not the around-the-way girl who lives in each of us, but just the around-the-way girl, period. This is a celebration of black-girl culture from the back porch to the beauty-supply store.
TR: Hell, I'm going to the beauty-supply store today to get a $1.99 pack of Olive Oil conditioner!
YB: Yeesssssssssssssss! Come through Olive Oil conditioner in the pack! What?!
TR: You know the one.
YB: I sure do! Remember when you were trying to be fancy and got a vial of hot oil treatment?
TR: What?! Hair was about to be shiny—oil just dripping all on your forehead.
YB: Girl!!! Yessss, I love us!
TR: My wrap was laid back in the day; you hear me? L-A-I-D.
"Girl, who did your hair?"
"What?! Turn around."
That's a rite of passage.
YB: Oh, honey, yes! I do it, just because, on a regular basis. I want us to get that affirmation, and those are the moments that I want to tap into—quintessential black-girl moments, professional black-girl moments. Our own love language. First lady Michelle Obama is #BlackGirlMagic, but how she do ain't how I do. And that's fine. It's not all of us, but it is for all of us who love all us.
Editor’s note: Episode of Professional Black Girl will air on YouTube.com/YabaBlayTV and yabablay.com. Limited edition Professional Black Girl merchandise, created in partnership with Philadelphia Printworks, is available now at Philadelphiaprintworks.com. And make sure you follow #ProfessionalBlackGirl to celebrate the everyday excellence of black women and girls.