Dr. Yaba Blay is a scholar-activist and cultural consultant whose work centers on the lived experiences of Black women and girls. While she’s got all of the degrees and academic accolades, Dr. Blay sat down with us this week to talk about why she’s taken her work outside of the classroom. And how she’s creating impact through her creative campaigns and community on social media.
On Changing Your Mind
Carly: That's such a powerful thing to feel like you can change your mind. I think a lot of times on this show, we talk about people who have changed career paths, or who have just made a mistake and are like, "You know what? I thought this is what I wanted. It's not."
Dr. Blay: ….When I see folks, and I see it, I see it with my daughter, with my friends, I even experience it, that when you have that moment of, like, "Oh, I don't wanna do this anymore," or, "Ooh, I'm gonna change my mind," and all of these things could happen. But, for me, you know, I can say it out loud to myself, but I literally write it on paper, "The worst that could happen," so that I can see it.
Carly: You write that down?
Dr. Blay: Once I see it, it is actually not so bad at all. You know? And, so I know when I tell my story, it sounds crazy, particularly given the amount of debt that I have behind all these degrees. But when I think about it, there are no mistakes.
My background in counseling psychology, added with my training to Black studies and women's studies, absolutely fuels me, and makes me prepared to do work that actually impacts the lived experiences of Black people, Black women and girls specifically. 'Cause it's not just about the theory. It's not just about the history. It's not just about the words on paper. It's about how do these words on paper actually impact our lived experiences?
On Her Work
Dr. Blay: In the work that I've done, I've always started with myself. Right? So, my general area of interest and expertise is colorism, skin color politics. Why? Because I'm a very dark skinned Black girl who grew up in a very color conscious society of New Orleans, right, where there's a history in terms of the Black community there, where power was absolutely predicated upon the complexion of one's skin. And the closer you are to whiteness, right, the closer you are to a white aesthetic, white body features, then the more power that you're given in that space.
That absolutely is gonna impact me being as dark skinned as I am, and literally coming from Africa. Right? And, so, my interest in colorism was about also trying to make meaning of my own lived experiences. Why is the world this way? Why is society this way? Why am I gonna be treated differently because my skin is dark, and because my hair is kinky?
And, so, my own interest in the topic is what really drove me to research it. Right? So, then when I look forward to a campaign like Pretty Period, which is about affirming dark skinned beauty, I'm thinking of little Yaba. What did little Yaba need when she was six and seven years old, growing up in a society where she didn't see herself?
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