We all know the feeling. You plop down in a stylist's seat excitedly waiting for your slay to begin, only to be met with a look of panic when they actually lay eyes on your hair. As a woman with thick and coarse 4C textured hair, I know that gaze well. Sadly, so do most Black women, and it's been an ongoing problem in the entertainment world for decades.
During a recent episode of Red Table Talk available on Facebook Watch, Willow Smith shared her experience of having to style her own hair at a major fashion event. She says:
"All of the white models were getting their hair done and they all had somebody. The person that was supposed to come do my hair, came, looked at it, and tried to do something to it; tried to touch it. I can tell they were extremely (pauses) perturbed. I could tell that they were just like, I don't know what I'm doing. That anxiety of looking at them in the mirror not knowing what to do with my head, made me feel like, I'm going to just take the reins. So, I basically did my own hair for a really high fashion shoot. That should never be happening."
Although her story is unfortunate, it's not surprising at all. However, it does make you think, with Black creatives making such an impact in Hollywood and the entertainment space, why are we still not being catered to in the same way? I mean just imagine being a Black hairstylist or make-up artist that gets booked for a high profile event and being unable to style white women's hair or face. Chile, we'd be fired so quick! There is a desire to increase diversity and representation in media, but what goes on behind the scenes suggests that that mobility is surface.
As a model, Willow has been afforded many opportunties to work with major brands like Chanel and Mugler, but is it really a seat at the table if she and women like her aren't afforded the tools and resources to bring their best selves to these spaces? Black women being met with stylists who don't know how to work with their hair is nothing new. If white stylist can't learn to work with our hair, so much so we have to do our own hair on these sets, maybe the bigger conversation is how important it is to make sure representation and diversity isn't just represented on screens, but behind the scenes as hairstylists and makeup artists on set too. Also, when we get opportunities, it is important to share them!
Speaking of sharing, here is a list of amazing Black women who have also spoken up about the discrimination of having to do their own hair on sets in Hollywood.
With the exception of her show Insecure, writer and actress Natasha Rothwell noted having to spend her last in the early stages of her career to ensure her hair was on point, a burden her white counterparts never had to bear. She said, "They can wake up, roll out of bed and don't have to worry about what's in their bag."
"It's a real disservice to actors of color who are effectively doing someone else's job and not getting paid for it. There's nothing [more] dehumanizing than sitting in a hair and makeup chair and watching your co-stars go through the works and leave, and you're still there because someone's moving very slowly because they're very scared. It's [you] feeling like a problem to be solved."
Taraji P. Henson
"If you know how to do it, great. If you don't, pass it to somebody who does. It has nothing to do with pride or ego," Henson told The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm not saying you have to be black to know how to do [that] hair, but you got to know what the hell you're doing. When an actress of color requests a hairstylist, listen to them. They're not being difficult."
In 2019, the model vocalized her experiences at Paris Fashion Week and not being able to find a stylist who knew how to do her hair. She wrote in her Instagram caption:
"I arrived backstage where they planned to do cornrows, but not one person on the team knew how to do them without admitting so. After one lady attempted and pulled my edges relentlessly, I stood up to find a model who could possibly do it. After asking two models and then the lead/only nail stylist, she was then taken away from her job to do my hair.
"This is not OK. This will never be OK. This needs to change. No matter how small your team is, make sure you have one person that is competent at doing afro texture hair care OR just hire a black hairstylist! Black hairstylists are required to know how to do everyone's hair, why does the same not apply to others?"
Like many other actresses included in this list, Tia Mowry-Hardrict also recalls being tearful on set. She told NBC News:
"It's mind-blowing to me that we still have to —- meaning Black actresses —- have to fight to have Black hairdressers on set for us. There was one time in particular I was doing this movie and, my God, I was the lead. And after this person did my hair, I cried. I was like 'I cannot, like, I cannot go out there looking like this.' I just don't understand why you have to fight to get someone to understand the importance of that."
While Halle Berry looks like she was made to rock her signature pixie cut, the style was actually a product of her environment as an up-and-coming actress who had trouble finding stylists who knew how to do Black hair on set. She revealed:
"That's why I had short hair. [Maintaining] it was easy. I think as people of color, especially in the business, we haven't always had people that know how to manage our hair. Those days are different now, that's when I started."
Queen Latifah, who notably did her own hair during her time starring in the hit sitcom Living Single, but expressed that change needs to be a focus:
"It's not because their heart wasn't in the right place — they just didn't have the skill set to do Black hair. As African-Americans, we have all different shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and you got to be able to work with that. We are always in a position to be able to work with what White people do. That's just how it's been, but it has to be reversed. It has to be some respect over here and figuring out what to do with our hair. So we just really need to add more people to the industry."
Gabrielle Union is never one to mince words when it comes to speaking her truth. In a 2017 Glamour essay, she wrote about her experience when getting started as an actress:
"I was like a guinea pig on set, and I didn't yet have enough power to request a stylist who I actually wanted to touch my hair. It got to the point that I would pay to have my hair done before I got to work and pray they didn't screw it up."
"I realized very quickly that there were many people in hair and makeup trailers who were totally unqualified to do my hair. Hairstylists used Aqua Net–like hairspray with crazy amounts of alcohol, which caused chunks of my hair to literally come off on a styling tool."
Gabourey Sidibe shared in at tweet in 2019:
"If they don't have the budget to hire a Black hairstylist for me, or won't, I just get the director to agree that my character should have box braids or Senegalese twist."
In the Freeform series, The Bold Type, actress Aisha Dee plays the biracial, bisexual, bold Kat. However, she made it known before the series' end that all was not as progressive as it seemed behind the scenes on set. She shared on Instagram:
"It took three seasons to get someone in the hair department who knew how to work with textured hair. This was impactful on so many levels, and I'm grateful for the women who show me how to embrace and love my hair in a way I never had before. I want to make sure that no one else ever has to walk onto a set and feel as though their hair is a burden. It is not."
The Flash star Candice Patton revealed during a SXSW panel in 2019 that she, too, has encountered when she said she needed "someone who can do Black hair.":
"At work, I don't want to be labeled a diva because I have to say to production, 'I need someone who can do Black hair. I need someone who knows and understands how to do Black makeup.' It is not the same. We do not share the same kind of skin. We do not need the same kind of makeup. And not everyone knows how to paint me in a way that makes me feel comfortable on camera, and me asking for that is not me being difficult. It's me being a diverse talent on this network asking for something that's different. And if you hire me, you hire me with the intent of knowing that I have different requirements and different needs—and that's just what it is. I think there's a lot of education that still needs to happen."
Actress Jurnee Smollett was able to advocate for her desire to have a Black stylist on set of Birds of Prey by talking to her co-star Margot Robbie about wanting one. She stated:
"In pre-production, when we were creating a look for the hair, for me it was very important to bring a woman of color on in the hair department to create the look for Black Canary. My hair, my texture, the kind of blonde we were going for…and I called her up and I said, 'Honestly, Margot, it's different. I need Nikki Nelms and this is why I need her.'"
Featured image by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 Presented by Amazon Prime Video
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Kirby Carroll grew up in VA but now calls Atlanta, GA home. She has a passion for creating content and helping brands grow through storytelling and public relations. When not immersed in work, you can find her sipping a mimosa at brunch or bingeing a new TV drama on Netflix. Keep up with her on social media at @askKirbyCarroll.
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
Jayne Allen Says 'Black Girls Must Have It All' Is A Love Letter To Black Women
From its lush cover featuring a dark-skinned Black woman with natural hair, down to its title, when readers pick up a copy of Black Girls Must Have It All, it's unapologetic in who the intended audience is. Author Jayne Allen has delivered a series, starting with Black Girls Must Die Exhausted, that is written for Black women, about Black women, by a Black woman.
Over the course of three books, Allen navigates the complexities of race and relationships in corporate America, the realities of Black maternal health, and the dynamics of love and partnerships, and she wraps it in a story built around sisterhood and family.
In this latest release, readers, along with the main protagonist, Tabitha Walker, are forced to reexamine what it means to “have it all” and question the life society has ingrained in us as acceptable.
xoNecole spoke to author Jayne Allen about Black Girls Must Have it All, her trilogy that has sparked debates, side-eyes, and “Girl….no he didn’t” moments and has inspired conversations and laughs for book clubs and readers across the world.
Courtesy of Jayne Allen
xoNecole: Let’s start at the beginning. Walk us through how Tabitha and her story 'Black Girls Must Die Exhausted' was formed.
Jayne Allen: I wrote this book by necessity. I came up with the idea around 2016, and that was a very vitriolic environment for Black and brown people, and combining that with being a Black woman, I just felt this weight.
It made me take a look at my life and what I was carrying with no sweat. This is a story about the day-to-day of navigating these layers of challenges and still being the incredible Black women that I've seen around me and that I try to be. We need to understand her daily journey, the struggles, and the triumphs, and we need to celebrate that. So I thought, if nobody's telling this story and nobody sees our worth in this way, then I'm going to do it. I'm going to celebrate Black women.
xoN: In bookstores we still don’t see a major selection of books that center Black women. Walk us through your journey and what you experienced as a writer in getting this story told.
JA: The feedback I got was: "This character is not relatable. We don't like her, but we love her grandmother, who is white." It was very interesting to feel the weight of race-based bias. Agents wanted to try and hide the characters with a different title. I said, "No, I’m [not] going to apologize for having a Black protagonist. This book is not going to hide Blackness or cater to acceptability with a different cover."
I was intentional, from day one, that I wanted this to be a celebration of Black women. I wanted readers, even non-Black readers, to come to this book and come to it as a book about a Black woman, with the knowledge and understanding that this is a story about a human being. Yes, you can relate to this person, and she has something to teach that's valuable, she has something to say that's valuable, and she is valuable.
"Agents wanted to try and hide the characters with a different title. I said, 'No, I’m [not] going to apologize for having a Black protagonist. This book is not going to hide Blackness or cater to acceptability with a different cover.' I was intentional, from day one, that I wanted this to be a celebration of Black women."
xoN: How do you think readers are going to react to this final book, 'Black Girls Must Have It All' and the closing of Tabitha’s story?
JA: I hope they have this moment of just being happy for their girl. That's how I felt when I wrote the last words of the book. Maybe it’s not a conventional happy ending in the way that we're conditioned to believe they're supposed to be. But, I think it's a very happy ending that’s hopeful and progressive. I wanted to give that feeling where you know your girl is gonna be alright. But she still has a long way to go.
xoN: Tabitha’s journey to motherhood started off in a very poignant and unexpected moment. Let’s discuss her journey on the other side of the delivery room.
JA: We don't talk about actual motherhood very often, and I wanted to examine the different experiences we face. We just talk about the various issues of Black maternal health and statistics but in, Black Girls Must Have It All, I wanted to see what that journey looked like for a Black woman because it looks different than what we see in something like Bridget Jones’s Baby.
There's been a societal vilification of Black single motherhood and the cultural perspective on traditional relationships to contend with. It was important to see Tabby navigate those things on top of the already stressful experience of being a new mother.
xoN: Readers are now three books in with Tabitha and her crew… what else can they expect in this latest book?
JA: The big thing in the third book is this theme of motherhood, but it's not just motherhood in the traditional sense. It's about nurturing and it's about how we nurture ourselves and how we mother our dreams. Some people are making choices not to pursue conventional motherhood, but that doesn't mean that the nurturing part of us doesn't get to shine.
We see Laila as an entrepreneur with her company, essentially her baby, and her friends in turn celebrating, nurturing her and her goals---going back to the theme of friendship, that nurturing of each other and ourselves---so that theme of motherhood and seeing the various perspectives on it. It was an important theme for the third book and not just traditional motherhood.
"It's about nurturing and it's about how we nurture ourselves and how we mother our dreams. Some people are making choices not to pursue conventional motherhood, but that doesn't mean that the nurturing part of us doesn't get to shine."
xoN: What readers can really appreciate about this series is your ability to give us pieces of so many different characters that at the end, we’re just as invested in the sisterhood of Lexi and Laila, Tabby’s mom, grandmom, her sisters, and Ms. Gretchen as we are in Tabitha. How did those storylines shape Tabby?
JA: I was speaking for myself as a Black woman. I am so much a reflection and a product of the people in my life. Close family ties are part of our culture. That's why you see multiple generations in the book. You have these multiple generations in your life that are influential to you, that matter, that your family matters. I couldn’t create Tabby’s character without showing the people who make her who she is.
Sisterhood is important for us as Black women in particular. Compared to our parents' generation, we get married later in life, especially when you're in a career. So your soulmate, a lot of times… is your girls. Friendship is the support structure that keeps Tabitha Walker standing, and we got to see and meet these people. I was really happy to see their story progress and mature, and the characters mature.
Friendship is self-care.
xoN: This series also brought up allyship and how that impacts Black women in corporate America. How did that come about?
JA: I wanted to examine allyship in the book because it's very much a part of the Black journey in corporate America, because we're still in very much predominantly white spaces. In the new release Black Girls Must Have It All, there's a scene where Tabby questions her coworker Lisa and asks, “Why are you trying to help me?”
I thought that was such an important question that felt authentic to Tabitha’s journey. Here you have this ally, and because of the nature of how Black women are treated in corporate America, you question when there's someone who seems to be friendly to you—who seems to be advocating for you because it doesn't happen enough.
Then you see another relationship with her boss, Chris Perkins. I wanted to show the diverse types of allies, advocates, and mentors that you experience in corporate America. There's a big difference between having someone who's going to make sure you're in the room and that you have a seat at the table. So, Tabby's got these different models of mentorship, and she has to navigate which one is going to serve her best.
xoN: In book three, 'Black Girls Must Have It All' we gain a new perspective into Tabitha’s love interest, Marc and his journey. Let’s discuss the layers that were revealed.
JA: Marc is a really important character to me. On paper, he's a person that you want to date. You would want him without really asking yourself the more important questions like, 'Who is this person behind being handsome, the success, and the Porsche? [How] is he showing up as a partner?'
I examine Marc's humanity and get behind that facade and see who's there, how he grows and evolves. I wanted to give him the opportunity to mature. I wanted the readers to see his journey, and I wanted to see what Tabby was going to do with it and how she was going to grow with him.
xoN: How do you respond to the criticism that the Black male characters in the book were not shown in the best light?
JA: It's not representative of all men or all Black men. It is representative of Tabby's choices, which start with her dad. And then her dad’s choices started with his dad, and you get to read all about that in the book. It's not a characterization of Black men. It's just these particular men, by virtue of who Tabby is attracted to, by virtue of who her father is, and how that came to be, which has a lot to do with racism. It’s a very specific story that intentionally speaks to generational legacies and how that affects women and our choices. I hope readers are asking themselves those questions.
xoN: In your journey as a writer, what do you hope to see differently when it comes to telling Black stories and centering Black characters?
JA: Often, we see pieces of our story told by somebody else, or we see just pieces of ourselves, but to see an actual book about us and about people that we know and people that look like us. That's very important, something that we don't see in the publishing industry, especially when reading women's fiction and contemporary fiction.
I would read stories where there is a Black sidekick, and she has kinky hair and this spunky attitude. She's the one that everybody leans on, and I'm like, 'This is a caricature. Why are you telling me this character is Black without showing me the humanity of this person? Where's her story?' So that was my intention.
It's not meant to be representative of all Black people and not every Black experience, but the culture is there, and there's enough there that should hopefully allow readers to feel seen and be celebrated in a way that hasn't been so common.
xoN: What’s next for Tabitha and the characters in the 'Black Girls Must Die Exhausted' series?
JA: Tabitha is headed to television! A series is in development, we have a writer and showrunner, no roles have been casted, but it’s moving along! There have been some major developments that I can’t say just yet, but it's very good!
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Featured image courtesy of Jayne Allen