The two questions seemingly on everyone’s mind these days: What do I think of Beyonce’s new CD? And what has happened since my appearance on Katie? I think Bey’s new album is a game-changer. How it was released, the quirky frenzied haunting music and its inextricable connection to video and image, the look and feel of sensuality, sexuality and pleasure through a young Black married woman’s eyes… yep, game changing!
And well, about me, life since Katie has been revelatory. Let me cut to the chase: No, I didn’t get a job. Yet. I know this is what everyone wants to know. I know this because when I walk down the street folks stop me and ask, “So did Katie get you a job?” Weekend before last I went to First Saturdays at Brooklyn Museum and had at least half a dozen people bum rush me about my experience on Katie Couric’s talk show. I felt like I should’ve had a booth or something cause I certainly started to feel like I was giving the Gautier exhibition a run for its curious patrons. And just yesterday, I went to a holiday party and a woman turns to me and says, “You know what I want to know, right?” I hesitate and mumble, “If Katie got me a job?” Without pause, I lie to you not, half the women in the room hollaback “YES” (ok it was maybe 7 people there, but still)! It can be exhausting and sometimes I flat out don’t want to go into it, but then I feel so overwhelmed by the sincerity and genuine concern of both friends and strangers alike who watched me on Katie try to hustle and flow for a job and who, at the end of five days, saw me standing as the only one to leave the set without a gig. Prospects and a basket full of make-up? Yes, I got that. Health benefits and a salary? No. People seem genuinely disappointed. Sometimes I feel like blurting out, imagine then how I feel, but I don’t think they can.
Being on a talk show is exciting. Being on a talk show for five days straight is a thrill of a lifetime. Before my stint on Katie, I had only been on TV once– Fox’s Good Day New York to talk about the Million Man March. I was right out of college, wide-eyed and in support of my brothers, which made me, astonishingly, unconventional at the time. If I didn’t get bit during my two-month high school internship on The Cosby Show, I surely got bit then. I loved sitting on the couch, talking politics, sharing my views with a panel and the world. There’s something in those moments that are always (re)defining for me. I love to use film, TV, music and art as a lens in which to talk feminism, race, class and sex so I guess it’s no surprise how amped I become when the camera turns on me to express those views. Reflexive and conduit– makes my love for media and my “secret” passion to be on TV one of reciprocity in a kind of abstract way.
The thing about my appearance on Katie is I didn’t even audition or write-in to be on the show. An agent, who has a mutual friend, referred me to the show and well, the rest is history. I went on Katie thinking and expecting one thing and when the final taping was finished, to be honest, I left with something I needed even more than a gig. In the crush of desperation to make a career for myself and, recently, to just get a job, I had forgotten my original passion. Without even realizing it, I needed to excise some fears I had around my aspirations and I needed to stop hiding that bite I had gotten so long ago when working with Mr. Cosby. I guess there are but so many times you can get blown off and laughed at before you stop telling people that your ambition is to be a cross between Ann Curry, Oprah and Ananda Lewis. I guess along the way I stopped telling myself too and so I allowed myself to forget that passion in order to save myself from ridicule because yes, I can be whatever I want to be, except a talk show correspondent. Getting that random call from the ABC producers, out of the blue, was the Universe’s way of refreshing my memory and resuscitating that dream. Not only did my time on the Katie show remind me of one of my first career ambitions, but it also tested my confidence, strengthened my resolve and taught me so many personal and professional lessons.
The first lesson I learned is that when being interviewed whether on-camera or for a job– we must be focused and intentional with our words. As a writer I’m all too clear on the power of words, but yet in my first interview with the producers of Katie, I had let my guard down and forgot to keep focused on who I am and why I am here. And by “here” I’m not just talking about that specific moment when I was sitting on the set next to Katie under gels, but “here” as in blessed to have breath and radiance of spirit here. Instead I focused on why they had me there. They asked me questions that would tell a story they had in mind, but that wasn’t quite my story and my story is my gift. When I saw a pre-edit of my interview I was devastated. I had said those words, but that’s not the story I wanted to weave. Some of it was surely taken out of context and after expressing my concerns, I was so grateful that the producers immediately changed it to reflect my persona more authentically. After sharing this initial hiccup with my friends, Dickey and Alvin, they both reminded me that this may be Katie’s show, but this moment is mine and to ask myself why God had placed me there. After that game-changing advise, I was rolling like the nickname many of you have for me, “Lil’ Oprah.”
To be quite candid, I think the glare of TV is challenging and I mean this from a physical and spiritual perspective. When someone, Star Jones no less (!!!), is asking you in front of potentially millions, what are your best qualities, and the Spanx that you’re wearing (and please know everyone on TV is wearing Spanx) is cutting off the circulation around your lower ribcage, you have to know without doubt and hesitation who you are and love your answers even if they weren’t as good as you had hoped them to be. I don’t know how it works for Kim and Khloe Kardashian, but the only retakes we had were action shots. Whatever we said usually became Holy Grail and, for the most part, we had to live with it. This particular experience around being intentional and living, indulging even, in my own image, words and experience, is one that I now take with me everywhere. I’m not saying I’m rolling like Yeezus now, but my interviews are much stronger and even my general steez is more invigorated just because I’m locked squarely into being clear on how I want to be seen and telling my story my way.
You know that lyric “God bless the child that’s got her own?” Well, the third lesson I learned is that there are no truer words! Did you see the makeover episode? That experience was so different for me than it was for the other two women that it took me back to 7th grade when at 12 years old I had to negotiate with my Blackness being made to feel so burdensome. I remember because, before my Katie makeover, it was the last time I felt that kind of heaviness in my spirit. Seventh grade, my first year at Hunter, a predominantly white middle/high school in NYC and we had swimming class. So many of my classmates were great swimmers, I had had lessons before so I wasn’t awful but I wasn’t great. And to play water polo you kind of have to be great even for a freshman. So that pressure was real, but it was after class in the locker room every week dealing with my hair, that even under a swim cap would somehow get wet, that my difference became a large pill I had to learn to crush-up and sprinkle on everything around me. My classmates would just whip out a blow dryer and 5 minutes later they were easy, breezy, beautiful. I had to dig deep into my huge pot of self-confidence to maintain my composure and not feel ugly or less than because my bangs would not just bounce back into a cute curl after class.
So I found myself digging back in that same old pot last month while getting my makeover. And I mention this not to diss anyone or any establishment, but to emphasize something that I’ve known for quite awhile. When it comes to beauty, fashion, TV and mainstream America, Black women are usually afterthoughts. I see it in advertising. I just saw it in a fashion segment last week on dealing with winter hat hair and all of the models had long flowing blond or brunette tresses. I see it in fashion mags every week and even when I go to buy a nude shade of nail polish or lipstick and it’s a pinky pale nude. That’s not my nude. So even when awarded with a fabulous makeover I went in thinking it may not be as fabulous for me. When no one came over to show me his or her vision for my hair makeover I was cool. I had just had it cut and colored anyway. And when the makeup artist only had three shades of brown for someone either with Mariah Carey’s or Whoopi Goldberg’s or Halle Berry’s complexion I being Gabrielle Union’s golden brown pulled out my makeup bag and handed it to the make-up artist. I tell you there is no better feeling knowing you were prepared to have your own back. It sounds silly, but I was so grateful that I was in a place that I loved me so much that nothing could’ve rocked my boat that day. Oh, they came close, but in the end I was solid. I always say having, promoting and celebrating positive, beautiful, empowering images of women who look like me matter. This was proof positive why. My nerves were frayed, but I just told myself over and over again that I couldn’t be made over cause I was already fly. Boom!
So this is where my Katie story ends although it has not ended. Pray for me. I have some things in the works. And hopefully, almost certainly, this will not be the last time you see me on your flatscreens. Thank you so much for watching. I was propelled so high by your tweets, Facebook posts, texts, emails and calls. Please know that I shine because you shine and because I want us to shine.