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5 Lessons We Can Learn From 'Pose' About Being Fabulous AF

Culture & Entertainment

It was just last week that I was riding the train in a red and black striped bodysuit and high waisted jeans. Drake's "In my Feelings" was blasting in my earbuds.


There I was with a huge curly lacefront that I had anxiously waited to be delivered so that I could throw it on my head and instantly feel fabulous, despite the fact that the city was just coming off a week-long heat wave.

As I told my Instagram followers, "I'm gonna be hot as hell anyway. Might as well look like Tracee Ellis Ross while doing so."

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Only in that moment, the impeccably dressed Black Girls Rock host wasn't my muse. In that moment, the only person that came to mind was Angel Evangelista, one of the leading characters of the show Pose played by Indya Moore. In that moment, Angel made me feel like the most fabulous person on the Market Frankford line, if not the entire city. You couldn't tell me I wasn't on the way to an exclusive bar in NYC to close a million-dollar book deal over Old Fashioneds, and not to my 9-5 at a non-profit.

If you're a fan of the groundbreaking show Pose on FX, you'll know it's about more than sexual orientation or gender identity. It's about family, friends, as well as finding and defining yourself and living life on your own terms. In addition to learning about 80's ballroom culture, and witnessing some fierce fashion in plenty of extravagant ball scenes, the cast of Pose are all grasping the reins of their lives in their own way.

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They do so by being fearless and owning their femininity in a way the truly expresses how differently we all present our authentic selves, whether we're rocking huge gold bamboo earrings or big curly hair, don't care.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the cast includes the "largest number of transgender actors in series regular roles for a scripted series." The characters are all larger than life, but not in a To Wong Fu kind of way that makes you want to crack jokes. Their characters represent themselves in a way where you hope you can join them for karaoke and finally become one of the cool kids. You realize when the ball competitions are over, they go home and cry over the guy that never called and have to figure out which bills they can afford to pay late just like the rest of us.

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Whether you're anxiously awaiting to binge from the very beginning, or you're hesitant to watch because you assume the show is all about drag queens or the devastation of HIV in the 80's, let me reassure that there is a lesson in the show for us all no matter how we identify or who we love.

Here are lessons we can learn from Pose about living your absolute best life in ways Lil' Duval couldn't begin to imagine:

1. A Closed Mouth Doesn’t Get Fed, No Matter How Fierce It Is

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Whether Blanca (played by MJ Rodriguez) is marching into The New School For Dance demanding an audition for her son Damon, or challenging her rivals to a competition that many might not think her tribe has a chance winning, she's a bold example that nothing in life that's worth having will be handed to you. If you know Blanca, you know she rarely asks permission, but what I love about her character is that she's proof of what can happen when you face challenges head on, even if you don't feel the most prepared or confident.

She shows us that you'll fail, you'll be embarrassed, people will laugh at you, and make fun of you, but as long as you have your family and friends to come home to, you won't fall the hell apart. In fact, those are the very people who will give you the courage to get back out there, adjust your damn wig, and try again.

2. There's Always An Opportunity To Be Fabulous

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Of all the characters, I believe Angel Evangelista and Elektra Extravagance display this lesson the best. In my favorite episode "Giving Is Receiving," Angel literally looks like she should be sitting on top of someone's Douglas Fir with tinsel draped across her French Vanilla calves. Homegirl is rocking a baby pink boa, a white trench coat, thigh-high white patent leather boots, and hot pink stiletto nails. In a world of Ugg Boots and PINK sweatpants, my girl Angel could easily have her ass on stage at Rockefeller Center giving Mariah Carey a run for her money, and she's only about to trim a damn tree in that scene.

None of the characters are inherently wealthy, but they turn what they have into opulence and show us that "fabulous" is about more than perfectly placed eyelashes or a contour from the MUA Gods.

Fabulous is all about how you feel.

More importantly, they encourage us to make the most of out every moment, whether you're sleeping on a park bench, or you're already halfway to accomplishing your dreams. If you want to use all five of your Urban Decay Naked Palettes to sit in the house and play Jenga, just make sure you take the time to perfect that liquid liner. You never need a reason to feel or look fabulous AF.

3. How Others Value You Doesn’t Determine Your Worth

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People that identify as LGBTQ are no strangers to the disrespect and intolerance that can come as a result of them just trying to live their lives from those that aren't familiar with their community.

We all throw shade from time to time, and during our worst days, we attempt to destroy our worst enemies lives one Instagram comment at a time. What matters most is that we eventually return to our authentic selves and give out the love and respect that we may not always receive. Over the season, we've witnessed Blanca's biological family basically disown her. The mean girls of the ball world have picked apart everything from her fashion choices to feminine hygiene. Throughout it all, she focuses her fight on building a better life for her children.

While so many mistakenly assume that people who identify LGBTQ are trying to find themselves, so many of these characters are already quite familiar with who they are. Even when they aren't being applauded or stacking trophies and titles, they still bring the best parts of themselves to life everyday. But don't get it twisted: If you catch them at the right moment, you WILL get your feelings hurt.

4. It’s Better To Choose Yourself Over A Man, Than Lose Yourself Under One

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The first season of this show drops so many gems on love. We witness Angel fall in love with a man whose world is filled with briefcases, suburban single homes, and soccer moms. Elektra finds herself choosing between loving what she sees in the mirror and being in love. In the end, all of the women end up choosing themselves and show us that people can truly love us and support us financially, emotionally, and mentally, but real happiness will always remain a solo effort.

We all have a tendency to bring our baggage, flaws, and insecurities into a new relationship, but anyone who is asking you to abandon what makes you feel complete and whole outside of their company, isn't someone whose company you should keep for long.

5. The Family That Slays Together, Stays Together

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More than gender-reassignment surgery or same sex relationships, at the heart of Pose is a story about family. The show's theme emphasizes the idea that family is about more than shared DNA or last names.

It's about people who don't give up on each other. It's about the people who show up (and show out) and fight for us even when they are dealing with their own battles. There are times when my four-year-old is trying to stick a Q-tip in the dog's nose and I question if I even still want to be her mother, and here we have a character like Blanca who is trying to rescue Papi from street life, picking up the pieces of Angel's broken heart and at the damn dance school almost more than her son helping him stay on pointe...literally and figuratively.

The most fabulous thing about Pose are the bonds that are formed and endured..and of course, Blanca's statement leather jackets that are giving me all kinds of 80's Salt and Pepa life.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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