emerald shaw

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These are self portraits. And that’s important because I believe that images are a glimpse at the magic that happens when the mind, body, and spirit connect. The camera is only an extension of the eye, and this is how I see myself.

A few months ago I heard Kathleen Cleaver, a former Black Panther, speak at a local museum and as she spewed her feelings about “Formation”, calling it pornography, I recall feeling a disappointment so strong it nearly felt like grief. I felt similarly reading bell hooks’ criticisms of Beyoncé. I felt that ultimately they were expressing their disdain for me, women like me, and my/our own brand of feminism and autonomous expression. I don’t fit into any one box. Sometimes I am poised and polite. Sometimes I’m a bitch. Sometimes I am homely. Sometimes I’m scantily clad. Regardless, I am always wanting more for us. More respect, more love, more space and freedom. My attire does not negate that.

Kathleen Cleaver called Beyoncé’s lens, and ultimately my own, mindless. She called it disgusting. And the dank thickness of her tone has fixed itself in my memory. Wedged itself in my psyche. And I find myself, ever since, feeling apprehensive about being visible in my own skin.

These are self portraits. And that’s important because shame and internalized misogynoir are real. Respectability politics are real. And while I am a woman who can be agreeable to a fault, I’ve never had a talent for conforming.

This is not pornography. These are self portraits.

And that’s important.

That’s imperative.

Emerald Shaw
June 2016

Is the concept of being free something we have the capacity to understand? Freedom is risky. It’s also terrifying. Freedom, as we pseudo-fathom it, is total control of all personal cause and effect. It isn’t just doing what you want, but it’s having no weapon formed against you as you carry on. Freedom is knowing that you, yourself, are a weapon against the unfree. Free people are threatening. Their boundless spirits and limitless capabilities bring empires to their knees. Captivity is so secure that it makes freedom unscrupulous. Freedom is foreign. I think we all want it, though. I think we all want to think for ourselves and light our own way. Is control all there is to it? Control has gravity but I think there may be more. Real freedom, maybe, is only acquired when you can reach beyond what you’ve learned to see it as. Freedom could be a myth too, though. It could be an ideal set in place to force us to think we’re unworthy. Maybe we’re hamsters on a wheel just running after something that isn’t there. I imagine there was a time where people weren’t “free”, they just lived. Maybe. I want to just live. Maybe. I should sleep. Maybe freedom is being able to rest.

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“I’ve heard people say "hate is a strong word,” but I’m learning that ‘hate’ is actually lukewarm at best. It’s a blanket term for the real feelings one might be afraid to face and deliver to the source. Hatred is for cowards and those unwilling to unpack painful experiences. Hatred is for those still clinging to the protection of a person they love, fearing the torment they’ll endure being made fully accountable. “I hate you,” is easy, dismissive, and infantile.

It is the mild sauce I’ve used to condense and flatten the spiciness of being disappointed in you. I’ve used hate to make your betrayal more palatable. I wanted to say I don’t trust you and that I don’t like how much who you are differs from who I believed you to be. I wanted to say you’re a liar, that you are spineless and weak, that you are narrow under the guise of being free and informed. I wanted to say that you’re a dumb ass nigga who makes dumb ass decisions. In lieu of telling you I believe you hold onto me out of obligation and not out of love’s necessity, I told you I hate you. Because even still, I have put you first.

I put you first.“

An excerpt of something I wrote, recorded, and am still filming. "Hate”.

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Since becoming aware of O Magazine’s comments on flat bellies and crop tops I’ve been thinking a lot about how women’s clothing is policed and how much turmoil that causes within the many different subgroups of the feminine identity experience. I’m going to talk about that more in the future, but piggybacking on that, I want to say this: That statement ripped open an old wound for me as I’m sure it did for many others. I don’t have a flat stomach. In fact, this is the smallest my stomach has ever been. I remember being young and feeling like I didn’t deserve to explore the physical aspects of my womanhood because it was co-occuring with morbid obesity. It’s statements like these, published for all eyes, that make girls and women succumb to the allure of unworthiness. It’s statements like these that make wet pillows at night and starving stomachs during the day. It was statements like these that made me stop believing in myself time and time again. Body equality is important to me and I don’t ever want to stop challenging those old and harmful ways of thinking. I want to help shape a world where a woman doesn’t have to defend her right to be in a crop top or in her underwear if she so chooses. I’m sending good vibes to everyone who has been negatively impacted by the media’s harsh regulations on your freedom of style and I hope you never stop wearing whatever the f*ck you want. Sorry for any typos. Typing this on the fly.

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😞 @ my boss’s head photo bombing lol

Anyway, I had my debut as a publicist this weekend in New York and exceeded my own expectations. Received accolades left and right. Our show was great and I managed to navigate through the stress of leadership well. I’m excited about this year. I’m excited about getting even better. It’s Monday, right?
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If I share something in a way that you think is harmful, please know that my inbox, message thingy, email, etc are always open. Reading text written by someone you don’t know can come across a myriad of ways. Reach out for clarity before you throw inaccurate shade in your hash tags.

On Seeing Kathleen Cleaver, the disconnect between young and old in the Black community, and fishnet stockings

I’m going to talk about this more eloquently later (maybe), but I want to discuss my feelings post hearing Kathleen Cleaver (best known for her involvement with the Black Panther Party) speak before my thoughts cool down too much. I’ll start by saying that I spent the remainder of the evening feeling a combination of disappointment and discouragement, and thinking a lot about how the disconnect between generations in the Black community coupled with internalized misogyny help fuel our plight. 


After a pre-screening of The Black Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution (which was amazing), there was a q&a session with Ms. Cleaver. The obvious question, “How did you feel about the Super Bowl performance,” was asked and I was all ears. 


***I know what you’re thinking. “I knew this was going to have something to do with Beyoncé.” I can literally feel your eyes rolling, but hear me out.***
Ms. Cleaver responded to the question beginning to say she was offended, but cutting herself off to say she felt the performance was pornography. She went on to describe it as repulsive and mentioned something about shooting music videos being mindless. I recall her saying something to the effect of “we never wore fishnets. We weren’t shaking our booties.” There was a resounding “mhm” from many of the elders in the room. The descend from pride to disappointment was so fast and so hard for me that I could feel tears forming in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t the fact that Beyoncé had failed to impress Kathleen. I’m too old to be the brand of fan who feels everyone should agree with every breath Bey takes. I don’t find anything wrong with her generally not feeling it. It was the way that she described it, however, and her unwillingness to unpack and assess the impact it had made. It was the way she reduced everything Beyoncé has done in the community (helping to fund #BlackLivesMatter, posting bail for protesters during the Ferguson protests, building housing for persons experiencing homelessness, donating funds to the water crisis in Flint, and etc) down to fishnet stockings by absolving herself of acknowledging it. It was the internalized misogynoir, I feel, involved in ignoring what had been done but referring to the package it came in as pornography (which is honestly one of the biggest reaches I’ve heard this year so far).


While economics and capitalism continue to be one of our biggest pitfalls and sources of oppression, when are we going to take a serious look at the recurring disconnect between young and old and recognize it as something that consistently holds us back? I feel like what Ms. Cleaver did with her commentary and what many of the elders in our families and community do is smother us in the same assimilative respectability politics they raged against at this age. We’re discouraged from feeling empowered by anything not dressed a certain way or not being carried out the way they would have. I shared a meme not to long ago that compared Beyoncé’s costumes to those of Diana Ross, Tina Turner, and Chaka Khan, which is extremely significant as Yvette Stevens herself was a member of the Black Panther Party. The youth of our community, across decades, is often shoved aside with this sort of double standard, our ideas and modes of expression being lumped together as mindless and repulsive. For a moment I felt completely invalidated. For a moment I felt like my own genre of Black power and Black feminism was disgraceful.


Ms. Cleaver, I am eternally grateful for your past, present, and future contributions to civil rights and to Black empowerment, and I am honored to have even been in the same building. But as I have come to understand it, leading + shaming don’t create change, and change has a limitless wardrobe.


Power to the people. All power to the people.