This article originally appeared on Medium.
When my niece was three, she had her first existential black girl hair crisis. She told her parents that she wanted her hair to “lay down.” If you’re black, this story may be familiar.
You see, my niece went to a Montessori school and was in a class full of Asian and white girls. And my niece wanted her kinky-curly hair to be straight like theirs. Which is only possible with heat or chemicals, and a lot of patience (especially with a 3-year-old).
Fortunately, my niece had a Mom and Dad who constantly told her how beautiful her hair was. Her Mom and I even did the big chop so that my niece could see women with a hair texture like hers.
I’m certain these things helped. But I believe what really made a difference was when my niece left that Montessori school and went to a public school. Now, every day she was surrounded by other little black girls who had hair like hers.
Looking back, I don’t think I had ever thought about the effects representation — or lack of it — had affected me. You just kinda get used to it/expect it. And really take notice when you are represented.
The video clip is when Misty Copeland, an elite African-American ballet dancer, was promoted to Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theatre (ABT).
She became the first African-American to hold that rank at ABT. In 2015! The company was founded in 1956. Fifty-nine years later a black woman made history at ABT.
I first learned of Misty two years earlier, in 2013. And I couldn’t get enough of her. When I was fiveish, I took ballet and tap classes for about a year. So anytime I saw a female dancer of color, I got excited.
The mainstream media was how I discovered Misty. And they treated her like a unicorn. She was everywhere. She was a guest judge on one of my favorite shows, So You Think You Can Dance. She wrote a book. Even old performances, like her dancing on stage while Prince performed re-surfaced.
No complaints from me because, when I hear about a woman of color, I go into deep Google mode to learn any and every thing about her. The media attention made my work easier. 😉
At the height of the media’s attention on Misty, she was on the cover of Pointe Magazine. Also on that cover were two other elite women of color ballet dancers, Ashley Murphy and Ebony Williams. #mindblown
Before that cover, I thought Misty was the only elite black ballerina out there, even though I had not bothered to see if there were others. The media had treated Misty like a unicorn — she was its “It Girl” — so I assumed she was the only one.
This is no shade to Misty — I adore her and read every article and watch every video that is produced about her — but this magazine cover proved something Eve Ewing, an author and sociologist, says:
Eve was talking about actors/the entertainment industry, but her thoughts apply to all industries.
With one magazine cover and a rabbit hole on Instagram, I discovered other black and brown ballet dancers. There’s even an entire Instagram account dedicated to brown girls doing ballet.
The day Misty was promoted to Principal Dancer at ABT, I ugly-cried watching the video of her finding out she was promoted.
And then I learned about Stella Abrera.
On the same day Misty was promoted to Principal Dancer, Stella was also promoted to Principal Dancer at ABT. She became the company’s first Filipino-American Principal Dancer in its history (59 years later, too).
So…TWO women of color made history at ABT on June 30, 2015. And I have soooo many questions about how they got there. It’s likely their paths to Principal Dancer are wildly different.
So here I am with this podcast, How She Did It. Not only do I want to create a place to spotlight ambitious women of color, I also want to explore how each one got there: what did she do; who helped her; what did she learn about herself in the process? I finally have a reason to reach out to these women, chat about their paths, and share their stories with you.
I’d love it if you would subscribe and tell your friends about the podcast.
I want to end with one of my all-time favorite quotes from Eve Ewing — this is the second time I’ve quoted her in this article. I guess it’s obvious I want to interview her. 🙂
May this podcast push you to take action towards creating or finding a happier work life.