Boy. It's only March and 2020 has already been on one. Big time. If it's not the chlamydia that's in the Artic Ocean (yep, you read that right) or the fact that there are monkeys with herpes in Florida who are running rampant (is it just me or is Florida always good for a crazy story?), it's kids on TikTok treating empty toilet paper rolls like they're straws (eww). But man, if there's one thing that definitely tops everything I've seen thus far, it's got to be, what is now a pandemic across the globe. You know what I'm referring to. The coronavirus. And contrary to what some people are saying on Black Twitter, "No, Black People Aren't Immune to Covid-19".
There is simply no way around it. If we're not hearing about it in the media, we're noticing it when we get in our cars and realize that there is significantly less traffic on the roads. Or, we're going into grocery stores, only to realize that there is absolutely no toilet paper in sight. Then there are those of us who are trying to figure out how to juggle our jobs with the fact that our kids are out of school (check out "As Schools Close Because Of Coronavirus, Nearly 300 Million Kids Aren't In Class"). Or, it's the fact that more and more of us are unable to visit our elderly loved ones in nursing homes, we're spending hours in airports trying to figure out if—or how—we should catch a flight or, we're wondering when we'll see the people in our lives who are in the military again (due to the travel ban that has been placed on them).
And y'all, if you're looking to our fearless leader (I hope you can just hear the sarcasm that's just oozing from my keyboard to your monitor) for accurate information or even comfort, well, I'll just refer you to Trevor Noah's "Trump's Coronavirus Address, Blooper Reel Included". Make sure to wait for the bloopers. Trump never ceases to amaze, man (you might also want to check out "The sick joke of Donald Trump's presidency isn't funny any more").
I won't lie. Even with the coronavirus relief bill that was recently passed, the projections of what this pandemic has the capability to do is pretty mind-blowing. As of March 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 214 million Americans could be infected. That's nothing to Kanye shrug about. But with all of the information—and misinformation—that is out here, I thought it would be important to share some actual facts. Because, as we all know, "knowledge is power". Plus, the more truth you have about this virus, hopefully, the more inner peace you can gain about how to approach it in your own life.
As a heads up, this ain't a short read. That's because, I tried to be as thorough as possible. But I'm hoping that these 12 points will provide you with what you need to come to a place of knowing that, yes, we are in some trying times. Still, it shouldn't paralyze you with fear. With a little pre-planning and intentional precautions, we can get through this. As Black people, we've certainly been through worse, right? I'm sayin'.
1. What Exactly IS the Coronavirus?
So, just what is the coronavirus (COVID-19)? It's kind of a long and sordid tale, but probably the best way to sum it up is, it's a virus that comes from a family of other viruses that has the ability to infect both humans as well as animals. Someone was diagnosed with it in December 2019 (more on that in a sec), and it's related to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). It's highly-transmittable and while—please make sure you catch this part—many people who get it end up with a mild case, the huge cause for alarm is, sometimes it can lead to pneumonia, fluid build-up in the lungs or kidney failure (check out "Here's what coronavirus does to the body"). To date, the virus is less deadly than SARS and two percent of the reported cases of the coronavirus have been deadly.
Just where did it originate? I want to be careful about taking us all down that rabbit hole because new information is constantly coming out. What I will say is if you heard that it came from a Chinese person consuming bat soup, while scientific reports can confirm that there is definitely a coronavirus strain that comes from bats, what actually has baffled researchers is, there appears to be a different animal who served as the "intermediate host" between bats and humans in this case. What is factual is it originated in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province, presumably from an animal at a seafood market. Yes, it did come from China. However, let's use common sense. Chinese food is not going to give you the virus (any differently than taking the risk of eating out anywhere would) and—please stop—Corona beer definitely won't (goodness).
You can check out "What You Need to Know About Coronavirus" and "What Is Coronavirus?" for more detailed information (and additional fact-checking).
2. Who Is the Most Vulnerable?
As far as who is most vulnerable, according to the CDC, it's older adults (in China, 12 percent of the cases involved people who are over 70) and individuals who have medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes. And what if you happen to have asthma? According to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, because it is a condition that affects the respiratory system, you should be extra cautious too. Some studies state that men are at a higher risk than women as well. So are individuals who are taking care of anyone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Currently, children are at a lower risk than adults.
3. How Can You Get Infected?
How can you get coronavirus? From what I read, it is spreading due to droplets that come from people's noses and mouths. One science article stated that, standing less than six feet from an infected individual, for more than 15 minutes, can put you at high risk for contracting it.
For now, the incubation period appears to be 14 days from the day you are exposed, you would need a laboratory test to confirm that it is indeed the coronavirus and, as far as treatment? Yeah, that's another area where I want to be careful. From what I've researched, because the virus is viral and not bacterial, it doesn't respond to antibiotics. While scientists and medical professionals are trying to find a cure (and a vaccine), what is recommended in the meantime is to 1) self-quarantine (or your doctor may admit you into the hospital if it's a severe case); 2) to drink plenty of fluids in order to remain hydrated; 3) to keep the fever down and 4) if it's severe, supplemental oxygen may be needed.
It is important to keep in mind that, at least for now, 80 percent of individuals who get the virus are able to recover without the need for hospitalization or even extra-special treatment (reportedly, 70,000 have recovered in the United States as of March 12). The reason why self-quarantining is such an imperative thing to do, even if you have a mild case, is the person you could infect may have a compromised system. The less the virus spreads, the safer those around us can be. That's why more and more companies are requiring that their employees work from home right now. Makes sense, right?
4. What Symptoms Should You Look Out For?
OK. Let's talk about symptoms for a minute. When I read about a woman who freaked out to the point of being kicked off of a Jetstar flight, all because a man was coughing on it (we normally cough, anywhere between 1-34 times a day), I was like, yeah, I definitely need to throw the symptoms of the virus into this. So, here's the deal. If you want to see for yourself what makes the coronavirus stand out from the common cold, the flu or even allergies (since we are heading into allergy season), a chart that I checked out stated the following.
- Fever: Common
- Dry Cough: Common
- Shortness of Breath: Common
- Headaches: Sometimes
- Aches and Pains: Sometimes
- Sore Throat: Sometimes
- Fatigue: Sometimes
- Diarrhea: Rare
- Runny Nose: Rare
- Sneezing: No
Now, information about the virus is ever-evolving. Another article that I read is discovering that some people who have coronavirus are even asymptomatic. But what I am confident in recommending is, if you happen to have several of these symptoms (not just a cough, unless it isn't going away after a couple of days), you should make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.
5. Good Hygiene Should Be a Given Regardless
Everything in life has silver linings; it's all about whether or not we choose to see them. When it comes to the coronavirus, two linings that come to my mind is, during the (potential) quarantine season, it could create more quality time for families and two, it should also remind us to use common sense when it comes to hygiene.
For instance, although I'm not sure I get the logic behind why The Real's Adrienne Bailon thinks that there's no real need to wash your hands after using the bathroom, so long as you're at your own house (bacteria is bacteria, y'all), believe it or not, she's not an exception in this case. A couple of years ago,The Root published an article, citing the fact that only 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women wash their hands after going to the restroom (what in the world?!). Y'all, all kinds of germs and bacteria is not just coming from bodily waste but countertops, doorknobs and cellphones—all of which are in our house. Outdoors, there are things like steering wheels, shopping carts, gas handles, ATMs…need a sistah go on? So yes, wash your freakin' hands, please. Use warm or hot water. Definitely use soap. And, make sure that you lather up and wash for no less than 30 seconds and then rinse thoroughly. Wash them after using the bathroom, after you come in from outside, and after you cough or sneeze too.
As far as other precautions that you need to take, it's not too much different than what you (hopefully) learned in early elementary school. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Avoid touching surfaces, as much as possible, in public places. Also, keep your hands off of your face, your fingers out of your mouth, and keep your house clean and disinfected (this includes tables, light switches and desks, not just toilets, sinks and faucets).
Now the "extras" that you should factor in, just to be extra safe, include avoiding crowded spots and staying six feet away from people as much as possible; doing a fist-pound instead of a handshake, even with people you know; avoid touching surfaces, as much as possible, when you are in public (try opening doors with the sleeve of your shirt instead of your hands), and nixing the whole in-store product testing approach. At least for now (Sephora and Ulta Beauty won't let you anyway; again, at least for now).
If you happen to be like a friend of mine's husband and you feel like you can't give up the gym, no matter what, take a second to check out "Coronavirus and the gym: Be 'super careful' at public facilities, doctor suggests". Speaking of men, fellas, you can keep your facial hair (praise the Lord). It was a rumor that you needed to cut it off, but you don't.
And what about your pet? Rest easy about them. Reportedly, "The SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads from humans to humans. There is no research to support human to animal spread at this time." Yeah, I caught the "at this time" part too, but until we know something different, don't stress about Spot, Fluffy or whatever your dog or cat's name is. Treat them as you normally would—unless you kiss yours in the mouth or let them sleep on your pillow. Then…don't.
Oh, and what about the whole mask-wearing thing? According to the World Health Organization, you only need to put a mask on if you are actually ill and disposable face masks should only be used once. Otherwise, you can chill on that.
6. Use Soap More than Sanitizer
While I'm still trying to figure out what the obsession with toilet paper is right now, I totally get why hand sanitizer is flying off of the shelves. If you can't seem to find any at your local store, I wouldn't trip, if I were you. There are a substantial amount of sources out here that say a good old-fashioned bar of soap is more effective anyway. One article said that it's because soap has the ability to loosen bacteria and viruses from the skin (it also said that, when you're in public, it's best to go with liquid instead of bar soap). Another article that I checked out stated soap is one of the most effective ways to get rid of the virus because it removes the fatty layer that coats the virus. The New York Times also recently published an article entitled, "Why Soap Works". So, instead of thinking that you've got to take the risk of standing in line at a local drugstore for some sanitizer or that you should figure out what DIY recipe actually works, pick up some soap instead. It's totally got your back. Again, there's plenty of data to prove it.
7. Pay Attention to What’s Happening in Your Actual State
If you're feeling overwhelmed, I'd venture to say that, a part of the reason why is because, not only are you watching what's happening on our continent, but what is transpiring all over the world. While it is essential to be aware of what is going down globally, remember that it's essential that you are most knowledgeable about what is happening in your actual state (or where you are traveling to). For instance, in Ohio, health officials believe that 100,000 people are already infected while (at the least at the time of me writing this) West Virginia is the only state to not have a coronavirus patient yet. It's also important to know how your local officials are handling the situation. While I'm here, shout-out to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance, who may have read articles like, "Coronavirus to impact low-wage, black workers the most" and already decided to halt water disconnections for the next 60 days.
You can go to your favorite search engine and seek out US maps that track how many people are infected based on where you live, or you can go to a search engine and put "coronavirus" along with your state (or even your city) in order get the updated info. Make sure that you do.
8. Here’s What You Need for a 14-Day Quarantine
I went to the store to stock up for about three weeks a couple of days ago. I'll be honest with you—it wasn't so much due to the virus as the fact that so many people are panic shopping that I wanted to make sure I actually had something to eat in my house (because eating out is gonna be a no-no for me right through here for a little while). But whether you're shopping to stock up "just in case" or because you have been told to self-quarantine (or see the need to self-quarantine because you recently came back from Italy or something), you don't need to go broke by buying up the entire store. Here's basically what you need for about two weeks of staying in your house.
Dried and canned goods. It's pre-packaged (unlike fresh produce). Plus, I wouldn't 100 percent rely on electricity, if I were you. If the entire country goes on a lockdown, well, that's people who work at the electric company too and you just never know. Plus, I live in Nashville and was without electricity for a week after the tornadoes that we had a couple of weeks ago. Throwing out a freezer full sucked. Anyway, whatever you decide to get, make sure it's a 14-day amount for each individual who lives in your home.
Frozen foods (and a cooler). Again, the dried foods and canned goods are a precaution (they also last for a long time). Hopefully, your electricity will be just fine, so also get some frozen foods (they last longer than fresh produce) and a cooler, if you don't have one. That way, if your electricity does happen to cut out for a moment or two, you can put the ice in there and store your frozen food a bit longer.
30-day prescription of medications. Even running out "for a hot second" could infect you or someone around you. So, just to be on the safe side, have a month's worth of the medications (and vitamins or supplements) that you already take available.
Over-the-counter meds. If you do happen to have mild symptoms and your doctor encourages you to recover at home, you'll need some ibuprofen to help with body aches and your fever (although some experts are actually recommending paracetamol instead); cough syrup to manage your cough and some cough drops to soothe your sore throat. Stock up on those.
Paper products. Toilet paper, paper towels, you get it.
First-Aid kit. If you've got kids or a man who likes to tinker around the house, a kit is paramount.
Ladies, don't forget about sanitary products. If your period is scheduled to come on during the quarantine, make sure you've got what you need to handle it. Personally, since I've been using a menstrual cup, I've got just one more reason to be in love with it; I only need to use one and I only have to purchase one every 10 years. I'm set.
Water. They are saying that the virus won't affect our water supply. But again, if there is a nationwide lockdown, that somehow happens to affect the employees at the water company and how we get our water (you never know), having a 14-day supply of bottled water, per person in your household, is a good look too.
I could go on, but USA Today published a pretty comprehensive list. You can check it out here.
9. Yes, You Need to Budget
The shoes can wait. So, can buying up 10 plane tickets or purchasing whatever else is on your current high-end shopping list. The main reason why I say that is, in the midst of the pandemic, please don't miss some of the shadiness that is going on. Things like "Court cites coronavirus in blocking Trump administration's food stamp cuts" (yep, this administration is actually trying to cut people's food stamps during a pandemic. Wow.) and "For the Love of God, Why Is the Trump Administration Blocking Medicaid Access to Fight Coronavirus?". Moral to the story? Don't assume that the government is automatically gonna have your back right through here. If there was ever a time to create a budget (and stick to it), save and be frugal, it would be now.
Case in point. I have a girlfriend who is a speech pathologist in Maryland. Maryland and Ohio were the first two states to shut down all K-12 schools due to the coronavirus. She's married with four kids. When I asked her what all of this meant, she said that she would be paid for the next two weeks, then there's spring break and then…we'll see. You can't pay a mortgage on "we'll see". Spend and save wisely, y'all.
10. What About Air Travel?
As far as travelling, about half of the people in my intimate circle have been on a plane, at least once, since the news of the coronavirus broke out. They are still healthy and pretty "Omarion" (you know, unbothered) about it all. Good for them. Still, for as long as the government allows us to fly (check out "Are restrictions on travel within the United States coming soon?"), it's still important to take precautions. That's why you should have some sanitizing hand wipes in tow and you should also wipe down any surface that you plan on touching on the plane; to drink as much water as possible (it will flush out your system, keep your immunity in good shape, and help to prevent headaches, body aches and fatigue); and, that you have some Vitamin C on hand. It is a holistic way to fight off airborne germs. I'm hoping it's a given that you would cover your mouth and turn your head away from others if you cough or sneeze (you might want to do it into your sleeve rather than your hand, just to be extra safe).
When it comes to some avoid-getting-sick-while-flying hacks, NPR did a good feature last month. It included booking a window seat as much as possible, and also keeping in mind that the office where you work is probably nastier than any plane you've flown on, so stay calm. Peep this—"In the course of her research, Hertzberg's team took more than 200 environmental swabs on 10 transcontinental U.S. flights and didn't find a single respiratory virus in the sample (though there was plenty of bacteria)." Again, knowledge is power.
11. Make Sure to Keep Your Immune System Strong
The stronger your immune system is, the more equipped you'll be able to fight coronavirus if you do happen to get it. Stay hydrated. Eat healthy (especially consume lots of antioxidants like spinach, citrus fruits, beans, eggplants and dark chocolate). Get plenty of rest. Exercise (even if it's just in your house). Take a multi-vitamin. Open up your windows (indoor air pollution is 2-5 times higher than outdoor air pollution). Get some comfort foods for your quarantine but don't overdo it on the junk. Make green tea your friend. Have sex with your partner (sperm is like a mega-multi vitamin and a woman's vaginal fluids are the ultimate probiotic). In short, be as proactive as possible about your health. It's an extremely worthwhile investment.
12. Fear Helps Absolutely Nothing
Being concerned is one thing. Being paralyzed with fear is something else. The first is productive. The second? It really does nothing but make matters worse. That's why it's so important to embrace every moment, to remain as tranquil as possible, to operate from a place of wisdom, knowledge and discernment, and to choose to not fear. Because, as my Bible following family knows, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7—NKJV); love and a sound mind—for real, for real—are what's gonna get us through this.
If you need a little more encouragement, Hot New Hip Hop recently posted an Instagram message from hip-hop artist Lecrae that I thought would be a fitting way to close this out. Here's some of what he said.
"I stayed up late doing as much research as I possibly could. I was on the phone earlier today talking on the phone with someone who is very close to a biotech scientist who spent their 50-year career working with viruses such as corona and actually on coronavirus. COVID-19 is a new strand of coronavirus, so corona has been here for a while. This is a new strand." (He's right; reportedly, the first strain was described in the 1960s.)
"God is in control. We live in a world that is broken. There have been pandemics, there have been wars, there have been bombs, there have been plagues since humanity's been here. It is not an excuse for us to act inhumane and for us to act as if God is not in control and as if he's not a God we can trust. He's brought people through it. Not without pain and not without suffering, not without loss. This shows me where my true rewards are, where my hope really is, where my faith really is."
Yes, sir. If I were around you, I would give you a fist-pound for sharing this. Come to think about it, hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco also had a word in due season:
"As this thing grows and gets a little more out of hand, remember that corona is what you make it. If you make it a crazy, panic-driven, fear-filled thing, then that is what it will be. This disease isn't just the disease itself; it's also the reaction to the disease, and in some cases, for most of us, what we will be experiencing is the reaction to the disease."
The coronavirus isn't something I'm thrilled about, but with the info that I have, it's not something I'm terrified of either. Stay aware. Stay focused. Stay calm. Like all crisis, sis, this too shall pass.
Now get off of here and go to the store before all of the toilet paper runs out. #justsayin'
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
Here's How To Stop Worrying So Freakin' Much
10 All-Natural Ways To Avoid Catching A Cold
Stressed Out? Here Are 10 Steps Towards Immediate Calm & Tranquility
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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