Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dear Kanye

November 22, 2016


Dear Kanye,

This year I walked in your fashion show for the first time and meeting you was as one of the most memorable experiences of my life. We didn’t talk much. Actually, we didn't talk at all because I was too nervous to speak up (you know how that shit goes). But if I could have said anything in that moment, it would have been thank you. Thank you for all that you've shown  me as an artist and as a human being. I was 11 years old when I first heard The College Dropout. My dad use to play it in the car on repeat. So many of the experiences you had with your mom growing up reminded me of the time I had with my dad. Growing up, my family didn't have much. My dad, a recovering addict and single parent of 3, worked countless hours to make enough money to support my two younger brothers and I. I became very responsible at a young age, caring for my brothers and looking after the house while my dad worked. I saw the strain it put on my dad and it made me angry. I began asking myself questions like, why do we have to worry about making the last bit of food stamps stretch until the end of the month and why do we have to worry about how long the water or electricity would be shut off until the bill could get paid? I was stressed at home and bullied at school for reasons like my Adidas actually being from Payless, and having 4 stripes instead of 3. In 7th grade, toward the beginning of the economic crash, my childhood home was foreclosed on by the bank and taken away from us. I watched my dads spirit crushed under the weight of the American dream. 

In 2012, 8 years after the release of The College Dropout, I dropped out of college to pursue my dream of becoming a full time fashion model. I packed up my stuff and moved across the United States to New York City. But when I got here I was rejected by every modeling agency over and over again. However, I was determined to get signed. To be honest, I “shoulda been signed twice”. There were so many people who told me no. But I made it— you made it. We are now in a position to share our stories with the rest of the world. Not many people make it out of the situations we made it out of and build a platform large enough to influence a nation. Don’t lose sight of how essential you are. Don’t forget that you were chosen to be in this position. 

The College Dropout was pivotal in my understanding of the underlying functions in our society that kept my dad struggling to support our family. All Falls Down was a revolutionary track. Not only were you the fist black man I had ever heard publicly admit to being self conscious, which had to be especially hard considering your status as an up and coming rapper, but you shed light on the way our capitalistic and imperialistic nation feeds off insecurity, particularly within the black community. “They made us hate ourselves and love they wealth.” You opened my eyes to the phycology behind black consumerism. So many of us are so incomplete and so insecure and its society that has intentionally made us this way. Rather than rediscovering the identities that were taken away from us when we were brought to this country, our own insecurity been used as device to keep us buying things we don't need. Jesus Walks was yet another revolutionary track. You brought political and social issues to the forefront of hip hop though your examination mass incarceration, racism and poverty. I love your music because its always carried a message; Gods message. I know how much you love and believe in God and thats all I hear when I listen to your music. Its our God given purpose to lead our people out of darkness, that is why he gave us the ability to create. So we can function on this earth as a part of him. This is our truth.

When I saw you on stage at the Harper's Bazaar party during fashion week, I was at the side of the stage, singing every lyric to every song while everyone else in the room had their phones out, waiting to put your on their Snapchat to impress their followers. They couldn't begin fathom what it meant to me to see a performance by someone who had such a deeply profound impact on my life. To know that you're constantly surrounded by that is disheartening. It breaks my heart to see you going through whatever you're dealing with right now. You’re not just a hero to me, you're a super-hero and you’ve saved so many lives.

I have been meaning to write you this letter for some time now, but when I heard that you were hospitalized this morning, I knew it was the right time. Remember how strong you were when you rapped on Through The Wire. That car accident was suppose to be fatal, but you lived. God brought you through it so you could tell your story to the world and inspire little black boys and black girls. You are “a heaven sent instrument”. Its hurtful and harmful when you say things like you'd vote for Trump if you voted at all. Thats not the Kanye whose mom sat at a lunch counter and was arrested at 6-years-old. Thats not the Kanye who said “Niggas can’t make it to the ballots to choose leadership, but we can make it to Jacob’s and to the dealership.” So many people look up to you including myself. Kanye, you are the genius you say you are. You are as talented as you say you are. We believe in you so much.  We are not judging you. We are praying for you. You are so unconditionally loved, so appreciated and so necessary. We need you to remember who you are. We need you to come home. 


Love Always,

Ebonee Davis



Saturday, July 9, 2016

Time For Change: An Open Letter to the Fashion Industry Concerning Police Brutality



HOW IS THE FASHION INDUSTRY CONNECTED TO POLICE BRUTALITY?

Earlier this week, I received an email from my agent. The contents: A photo of me from the Calvin Klein Fall ‘16 campaign and a message that simply read, “Really proud of you.” As I studied the photo, my heart swelled with pride. I reveled at the image of myself - nostrils wide and angled toward the camera, lips full, hair defying gravity in all of its natural glory. I could not help but to think back on how I had thought less of these features in the recent past, and why. I thought about how hard I tried to assimilate into the fashion industry, straightening my hair and constantly wearing weaves and extensions. I heard once, that the industry only wants a black girl if she looks like she’d been “plucked from a remote village in Africa”, or looks like a white model dipped in chocolate. Those unforgotten words were the code I lived by from the start of my career in 2011, until last year when I made the decision to wear my natural hair.

On the same day I received the email, Twitter informed me that Alton Sterling, a black man, had been shot and killed by the police. I searched #AltonSterling and scrolled through a stream of tweets filled with grief, sorrow, anger and bewilderment until I regrettably found the footage of his murder. Heartbreak instantly consumed me and I was made ill after watching Sterling executed on camera. “Not again,” I thought to myself. In an instant, a man’s entire existence had once again been reduced to a hashtag. Less than 24 hours later, I checked my news feed again, only to find that yet another black man had been killed by the police.

It dawned on me that the problems facing the fashion industry and the problem of police brutality are two branches of the same tree. Varying in severity, no doubt! But nonetheless stemming from the same root, systemic racism. Embedded deeply within American soil and fertilized by American policies, bearing the fruits of inequity.

WHAT DOES SYSTEMIC RACISM LOOK LIKE?

It is no coincidence that the selection of beauty products for people of color has historically been much smaller. Why are products for “black” hair are in a section of their own, “the ethnic isle,” isolated from other similar products? Why do models of color only make up 24.75 percent of models seen on the runway? Including Asian, Indian, Latina, Middle Eastern and Black. These are consequences of systemic racism, not unlike the shooting deaths of black men by police.
  
Every year, particularly during fashion week, there is an outcry felt throughout the industry. From the lack of makeup artists trained to do makeup for all shades of skin, to the mismatching of foundation, to the scorching of hair and general lack of knowledge in handling all hair textures. Models sit in silence for fear of being labelled “a diva” while they are inflicted with pain. Let’s not forget the disproportionately low number of models of color walking in the shows, blacks making up less than 10 percent. It is all too familiar and yet it continues to be a problem. Are models of color unworthy of the same treatment as their peers? Are they undeserving of knowledgeable aestheticians who will not rip out their hairlines, nor paint their faces grey?

Similarly and with even greater frequency, we’ve experienced an uproar of outcry in regard to the shooting deaths of black men carried out by police officers. What’s the correlation? Inequity. Why are black men more likely to end up dead after a police encounter than any other racial group? Why are black men incarcerated at a rate of 6 times the rate of white men for the same crimes? Systemic racism began with slavery and has woven itself into the fabric of our culture. Manifesting through police brutality, poverty, lack of education, black incarceration and to a milder degree, advertising, beauty and fashion.

WHAT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS PEOPLE IN FASHION?

It is paramount for us to recognize that we have as much influence and power as the news, the newspapers, and all other forms of media. As artists, we are the embodiment of free speech. We set the tone for society through the stories we tell with our art. Fashion makes people’s minds up about what is beautiful and acceptable. We cannot revel in black culture with disregard for the struggles facing the black community.

We must ban together to neutralize the phobias surrounding black culture. Stop vilifying people of color and produce positive, accurate and inclusive imagery rather than perpetuating trite stereotypes. Rebuild your repertoire of makeup and hair techniques. Use your personal platform to speak out against injustice and show your support rather than standing by in silence. Love black people as much as you love black music and black culture. Until then, inequity and injustice will continue. Thus, society will continue to buy into the false notion that people of color are less than - a concept already deeply embedded in our country’s collective psyche and reinforced again and again through depictions in media. The time for change is now.


Ebonee Davis



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