by Chioma Ikpe · 21 Nov 2019 · 7 min read
As the media's outreach has expanded over the years with the rise of technology and social media platforms, representation has become a more prominent and debated issue among the public. Media outlets and platforms that primarily use images to engage with their audience, have an enormous responsibility in shaping how people perceive reality, as well as their roles within it.
When Forbes Magazine released its list of America's 100 Most Innovative leaders in September, it included only one female without even a photo. The resulting firestorm mostly centered around a lack of gender equality. A cursory look at the list also showed a lack of racial diversity.
Growing up, every image depicted around me gave the message that most dark girls were ugly. So, when people would say, "You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl," I took it as a compliment.
Working with thought leaders on shaping their speaking platform is an incredible privilege. And one of my speakers, Elizabeth Molina, is a model on a mission. Known as "your beauty mentor" in the influencer space, she is redefining the modern superhero in all of us, by asking the "why" around beauty. She speaks about how beauty needs to go beyond the superficial, in the world, in ourselves and ultimately for our children.
I've had a lot of time to think and process my perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement and the world finally waking up to the injustice that has caused many Black lives to be lost within the shadows of white supremacy. I'm still not sure who really cares about Black lives, but I've decided that doesn't matter any more. What's happening is a beautiful thing, though there's been a lot of pain and suffering to our community, the world can no longer pretend that they don't see what's going on. Our plight is gaining international attention. It's no longer just our problem.
When I was growing up, there was a local furniture store that my family and I would go to. We would walk in, and one of two things would happen. First, we would be ignored and not acknowledged or helped. White families came in after us and were immediately greeted with big wide smiles. They were offered sparkling water and ushered to see the latest living room set. Or second, we would still not be greeted and would be followed around at a distance, as my younger brother and I sat on couches and explored furniture sets. I distinctly remember a white associate with a fierce brown ponytail wrinkling her nose at us, asking us to keep our hands off the couches. Meanwhile, little white children jumped on a myriad of mattresses, squealing loudly and proudly in the other section.
The "All Black Everything Summit" was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic. When stay-at-home orders first went into effect, I started to do an Instagram Live series called "Conversations with Global Pros" on my personal account as a way to stay motivated and engage with my community. As a full-time professional makeup artist used to being out and about, it was clear I would be stuck at home for the foreseeable future, and my work had come to a halt. The series started to take off and was doing very well. More importantly, I was having fun and the DMs I was receiving made it obvious my followers were enjoying the content, too.
I don't know what my race is. I mean, I know I don't identify as one race. And to feel forced to choose is a specific cruelty that I would like to uproot. My skin is brown, so I knew the road of least resistance would be to identify as Black. Any hints at suggesting otherwise would accost me as one who is trying to deny my "race." I was born in the beautiful land of Guyana, known as "the land of six peoples." I grew up there until age 12, and I think it is for this reason that I never saw myself as any one thing. Indeed, it was even strange to me to have to identify my race in America, as I found it such an odd and useless construct —useless that is, other than for racism.
There's never been a better time to stop and think about how we can do better and be better as a people, as a society, and as collective members of this beautiful planet we inhabit together. Why? Because the need for social and environmental sustainability has never been more urgent, including members in the beauty community.
Like most people, I am often asked, "What do you do for a living?" As a therapist of color, I think about what it is like to walk into my office. The walls are covered with my photography and beautiful illustrations from former patients of anxiety, depression, and recovery. "Thank You" cards are strung up, and the bulletin-board shows messages of allyship. On closer inspection, you might notice a carefully curated bookcase with titles on trauma, body image, and culture. Everything in the office is done consciously and intentionally; my space is not only a reflection of me but an invitation to others: an invitation offering my office as a safe space to do the work necessary for recovery.