A couple of months ago, I decided to revamp my YouTube channel. I wanted it to reflect my interests in literature/writing. I review books, zines, and everything in between (movies, etc.) It’s an opportunity to expand my work on a different platform. I’m still working out the kinks, but it’s been fun to play around with creating videos/video editing. I’ve been inspired by so many wonderful Black YouTube content creators. In a few videos, you may hear light snoring in the background. I usually have to record while my toddler is napping 😉 I encourage folks to subscribe, like and comment! 🙂
This past summer I hosted a workshop on women of color: creativity and self-care. I decided to reach out to good friend/fellow writer, Hannah Eko. Eko has done amazing work on the issues of self-love/body positivity/mental health. I knew she would have some fabulous advice for attendances. So, I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview. I thought I would share with y’all as well 🙂
Hi Hannah! Tell us about yourself/background…
I’m a Nigerian woman who was born in London and mainly grew up in Southern California. I’m the oldest of four. I’m also an Aries with a Gemini Moon and Ascendant in Aquarius. I served in the Coast Guard for 8 years and was Miss Tall International 2014. Currently, I’m a third year MFA in Fiction student at the University of Pittsburgh.
I first met you at a zine event. Why did zines resonate with you? In your debut zine, The Weather up Here is Great! you write about your experiences as a tall Black woman. Why was it important for you to tell this story?
I grew up reading TONS of magazines as a kid/teen. I went to this after-school center. The site leader, Cristina, would gift me all her magazines. I read Teen, CosmoGurl, YM (my fave back then), Teen People, and Seventeen. I had adolescent dreams of being some kind of model-writer person, but obviously wasn’t really seeing too many models that looked like me. Nor was I always interested in the banalities covered within the articles. So, when I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was really looking for something to express myself. I somehow luckily got wind of your Black Women Zine Group and immediately loved it. I loved how with zines, anyone could create what they want and share their unique vision with the world. I loved the creativity and the community. I had a lot of insecurity about being taller than the average woman. So, zines were the perfect place to write about this. I wanted other tall girls to know that they were gorgeous the way they were. Of course, I wanted to tell myself this as well. My experience being a tall woman is multi-layered and a lot less straightforward than I was seeing presented. I wanted to at least showcase my own point of view.
You’ve been published in various magazines (Bust, Bitch, etc.) Did you always want to be a writer? How do you stay passionate about writing? Are there any writing tips you can give to folks?
I always wanted to be a writer, though I had absolutely no idea how one “became” a writer. I honestly thought you were just kind of discovered (a nod to my modeling dreams, I’m sure.) First I was into drawing, probably around age 4 or 5. And then writing soon followed. I love writing because it helps me make sense of the world. It’s a way I talk with myself, it’s a way that my thoughts become crystallized and I can sit back and be like, wow, so that’s what I think. Writing allows me the room to create whatever I want to see. Though I have many interests and extra-curriculars, writing is the one thing that has been a constant. I sometimes get frustrated with my own progress and fearful of the fast pace of the market and all these new, sparkling writers. However, I will forever love writing. I don’t really have to push myself to be passionate about it. I’m a constant journal writer, so I am always writing. I think my only suggestion is the piece of advice I am doing my best to live out, which is: write from your deepest self. Let go of ego and awards and fame and being clever and cute. Write fucked up things. Write things that make you cringe and propel you to go deeper. Write the thing you most want to see.
While sipping on your refreshing raspberry lemonade cocktail, it’s important to pair it with a good summer read. I must admit, I’ve been slacking lately. My “reading” has consisted of listening to audiobooks. However, this summer I’m challenging myself to do it the old school way. And really, there’s nothing like carrying around a worn copy of an engaging novel or making food stains on the pages.
“Simms writes from the voice of women and girls who struggle under structural oppression and draws from the storytelling tradition best represented by writers like Edward P. Jones, whose characters have experiences that are specific to black Americans living in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One instance of this is in “The Art of Heroine Worship,” in which black families integrate into a white suburb of Detroit in the 1970s.” https://www.reneesimms.com/home
I decided this would be perfect summer reading. I also thought it would be fun to have a mini book club. So, I’m hosting a book giveaway! If you are one of the winners, we will read the book on our own, then come together (virtually) in a few weeks to discuss it.
If you are selected, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “mini book club” in the subject line to let me know.
See this #AmazonGiveaway for a chance to win: Meet Behind Mars https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/0cd439167b052f2f NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of Jun 27, 2018 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Franchesca Ramsey’s “Sh*t White Girls Say.” I watched it over and over again. I couldn’t stop cracking up. I thought it was an accurate portrayal of some of the ridiculous things white girls say to Black girls. I actually used the video as an example of the microagressions Black women experience, for a paper I was writing at the time. I was working on the paper to submit to an essay contest at my university. I won the $500 award (thanks, Franchesca).
It’s hard to believe that video debuted six years ago. It’s been amazing to see Ramsey go from a YouTube talent, to a well-known persona on shows like MTV’s Decoded. So, when she announced she was coming out with a book, I waited with anticipation. I was curious to learn more about the funny young woman with the lovely locs.
Because I’m a busy single mama, I cheated and got the audiobook. I’m actually glad I did. There were some parts in the book that made me burst out laughing. I startled a couple of folks, while out and about, with my hee hawing. Ramsey has a great speaking voice, and reading her own story with her voice inflections will tickle you.
The one thing I took away from her book, is that she is hopelessly optimistic. I don’t mean this in a snarky way at all. As a natural cynic, and a member of Generation-X…the original “side eye” folks, I found this to be interesting. Ramsey recaps her journey from an unknown content creator, to what she calls “an accidental activist.” She shares how she learned to deal with racism (and other isms), as she came into social justice work.
However, I wondered at times, if she’s too forgiving. In the book, she talks about call in/call out. Call in is basically talking to someone privately if they do something racist/sexist/etc. in public. It’s considered a better strategy than calling out or as the young folks say, “dragging” someone.
I have mixed emotions about this approach. I think it’s because the call in method requires you to educate/explain to the offender what they did wrong. I don’t know, I guess I’m sick of educating folks. Personally, I think most people know what they are doing when they engage in oppressive behavior. Not everyone is naive or ignorant. Some folks just don’t care. Sometimes a good clowning or calling out will do.
For example, Ramsey speaks about having dinner with Lena Dunham. After meeting Dunham, she felt guilty that she used to bash her show and speak negatively of her. She decided to give Dunham benefit of the doubt, and try to have an amiable relationship with her. Dunham has been hella problematic and is symbolic of white feminism/white hipster racism. Also, I’m still trying to figure out how she got away with practically bragging about sexuality exploiting her sister when they were children.
Someone likes Dunham deserves to be called out. I would never waste my time talking to her about anything. This is not to say Ramsey agreed with everything Dunham has done, but this is where that hopeless optimism comes into play. The idea that we need to leave space for racists/sexists to become “better people.” Yes, that works for some folks. But most people just aren’t going to change. No matter how many bell hooks books you recommend. I feel Dunham is one of those people.
I did enjoy listening to Ramsey speak about the power of social media, and the impact it’s having on people’s lives. The good and the bad. Especially, for folks her age. As someone in her 40’s, I’m still trying to get a handle on all these damn apps. It’s fascinating to know there’s this whole generation where things like Facebook, twitter, etc., have always been apart of their lives. Ramsey talked about making videos, blogging, and graphic designing as a teen. These are skills I’m just now learning.
A couple of months ago, I took a class on training materials. The instructor talked about the do’s/don’ts of PowerPoint. One student talked about the horrible ways his teacher in high school made PowerPoint presentations. I almost fell out. When I was growing up, we were lucky to have a chalkboard in the room. I still remember teachers writing on overhead projectors.
“Well, That Escalated Quickly” was a good read…uh, listen. Ramsey brought humor as she covered everything from activism to her interracial marriage to “trolls” online. She does not disappoint. My grade: A-
Have you read Ramsey’s book? What are your thoughts?
Recently, the article The Strained Relationship Between Black Mothers and Their Daughters was trending on my newsfeed. I didn’t pay much attention to it, at first. Then it popped up again in an online group I’m in. Initially, I felt an immediate need to reject it. I always get anxious when I see articles like this. I feel that Black mothers tend to already be overly criticized, so why add fuel to the fire. However, I decided I needed to be open-minded and read the article.
While I have mixed feelings about the article, I had to acknowledge that it was the author’s truth and the story for many Black daughters. There are some Black mothers who lack affection for their daughters. They have never dealt with their own unresolved issues. There are some who are simply narcissistic and even see their daughters as competition.
I felt the article was missing something. I think it’s important to examine the complexities of Black motherhood. Of course, this is not to condone emotional/physical/mental abusive behavior. There are some parents who are just rotten people. But there are certain stresses that Black mothers contend with that may affect their relationships with their children.
Black motherhood has never been valued in this society, and is always under attack. Since being brought here as slave labor/breeders, Black women had to quickly redefine what was being a mother/motherhood. This has contributed to a long, shaky journey of trying to figure out what is the “right” way to mother. Mothering outside of white ideology.
A few day ago, I came across a social media platform, where the male host highlights stories of domestic violence/and other traumas in the Black community. I thought this was admirable, especially since we need more Black men thoughtfully discussing these issues.
“There was something so valuable about what happened when one became a mother. For me it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me. Liberating because the demands that children make are not the demands of a normal ‘other.’ The children’s demands on me were things that nobody ever asked me to do. To be a good manager. To have a sense of humor. To deliver something that somebody could use. And they were not interested in all the things that other people were interested in, like what I was wearing or if I were sensual. Somehow all of the baggage that I had accumulated as a person about what was valuable just fell away. I could not only be me—whatever that was—but somebody actually needed me to be that. If you listen to [your children], somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things, and deliver a better self, one that you like. The person that was in me that I liked best was the one my children seemed to want.”–Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart
Just yesterday I stood for a few minutes at the top of the stairs leading to a white doctor s office in a white neighborhood. I watched one Black woman after another trudge to the corner, where she then waited to catch the bus home. These were Black women still cleaning somebody else’s house or Black women still caring for somebody else’s sick or elderly, before they came back to the frequently thankless chores of their own loneliness, their own families. And I felt angry and I felt ashamed. And I felt, once again, the kindling heat of my hope that we, the daughters of these Black women, will honor their sacrifice by giving them thanks. We will undertake, with pride, every transcendent dream of freedom made possible by the humility of their love. June Jordan, On Call, 1985
A month or so ago, there was a huge debate regarding singer Bruno Mars. Mars, who has had a succesful run making r&b music, was called out as a cultural appropriator. This shocked a lot of his fans. Usually, it’s white artists who are accused of cultural appropriation. Folks wondered how Mars, a man of color, could be considered a cultural appropriator. His fans pointed out Mars was of Puerto Rican descent, thus had enough Negro in him to sing Black music/use Black cultural images.
It was a YouTuber, Seren, who sparked the national conversation. I’ve been a follower of Seren on YouTube. While I don’t always agree with her, I find her to be a well-informed young woman. She’s passionate about her views, particularly the importance of maintaining Black culture/Black legacy/Black history…as it seems to be up for grabs to any/everybody these days. I really didn’t find anything wrong with her argument, so it was surprising when people reacted to her with hostility, even threats of violence. Some folks thought it was tacky she said she didn’t care if Mars ate a cake and died, or something to that effect. Umm.. I’m sure most of us have celebrities we don’t care for, that if they fell off the face of the earth, we would say “oh.” To me, her dis didn’t warrant the vitriol she received. So, what else could it be?
I was on a messageboard, when someone pointed out what I had been thinking, the hatred toward Seren seemed to be because she was a Black woman. I read several posts were people felt she was loud/stupid/had an attitude, stereotypical words used to describe Black women. Or basically, Ms. Seren didn’t know her place. It was fascinating to see the abusive language coming not just from white folks, but people of color (they failed like hell on their allyship to a Black woman) and even some Black people. Black women are never allowed to be angry. Even when that anger, was really in protection of what this young woman saw as an erasing of her culture/her people’s contributions to this racist country. She wasn’t saying some off the wall shit, she was stating facts. Folks just couldn’t handle it.
I’ve had to use a few tissues, my toddler’s sock, the edge of my bed sheets (whatever is nearby)…to soak up my tears. Why do you ask? I’m listening to the audiobook “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir” by Patrisse Khan-Cullors. Check it out, if you can. Especially before March 29th. Khan-Cullors will be on Facebook Live Book Club to answer questions/chat about her work 🙂
It was the cute bowtie that caught my attention. I’d seen Danielle post several times on a Black woman’s website we both visit. I enjoyed her thoughtful commentary. I always wanted to ask her about her bowties. One day, someone started a thread encouraging people to promote their side gigs. Danielle shared briefly about her bowtie venture. It was an opportunity to learn more!
Hello! Thank you for the interview. Tell us about yourself.
Firstly, I was born in Frankfurt, Germany via military and experienced various countries, languages, and peoples…thus my engagement with learning about the world outside of the United States began. Those formative years shaped me into the individual I am today, because when you have the birth situation or opportunity to experience culture outside of the U.S., you’re able to intellectually flex your brain muscles a tad more to engage with a lot of really heavy topics. We eventually moved back to the U.S., to a military base, (surprise-surprise) and that’s where I’ve been intermittently since.
Second, I’ve always had natural hair, which I have to brag about because Black Women have been given so much scorn and belittling because of the way our hair naturally grows out of our scalp. Our hair is the most versatile and beautiful work of art: mohawks, high tops, braids, locs, curls, afros, bantu knots, etc. The sky is really the limit with our hair and it never fails to leave me speechless. Praise be and blessings to my Mother who saved my Sister and I from a lot of self hate.
Third, I identify as Ace-greysexual. This was a process of self discovery that was as confusing as it was educational because I knew about the main umbrella/lettering but the periphery letters so often get left off of the promotional materials, you know? I always felt like I was standing on the outside looking in when the topic of romantic and sexual relationships came up. I had no interest and the synapses that were supposed to ignite, didn’t even fizzle. I’ve learned that I’m not alone, an outlier, and more than anything broken.
Fourth, when I’m not working on content, you can catch me at the gym or working out at home. I got into powerlifting and various muscle training exercises while I was at University. It’s super cathartic, an incredible way to decompress, and great for my health. When I personally channel my own vanity, it’s for mental health and to combat some body dysmorphia issues that used to pop up for me.
I am excited about your upcoming bowtie business. I know you love fashion, but why specifically bowties? Any challenges you’ve faced as a Black woman entrepreneur? When will products be available for purchase?
Bowties have always been fascinating to me; I’ve always been enamored by their shapes and how they rest on/around the neck. Plus, I puzzled when I was little, where/how do you tie these? I bought my first bow tie when I was in Undergraduate school and am reaching closer and closer to 100. They are so much more exquisite in form, function, and variety to me than neckties. Alongside bowties, I have a sizable hat collection and collect more when my funds permit. The motivating factor in starting this business venture was minimal job opportunities after I graduated—and not living in a state where a fashion store or company could easily pick me up—with my particular niche/expertise.
Also, my Grandmother who passed away two years ago was a sewer, knitter, crocheter, needle-pointer, and anything else you can imagine with fabric. She made various clothes for her children, drapes and curtains, quilts, pillowcases, and so much more. My main regret is missing out on crucial learning time about her and with her; Dementia gradually sapped her mind and her voice. But, her legacy will continue in a way through her grandchild that wants to take up her mantle and sewing machine. I’ve faced no challenges thus far with my business (praying that the waters don’t become rough). My market has so much untapped potential that I personally feel that people will be knocking my website door down to make a purchase.
There’s so many businesses that by proxy of having a Black Woman (or Black queer woman) attached do incredibly well. My Grandmother has so much fabric, sewing machines, needles, thread, etc. that purchasing essentials may be nil to very inexpensive. At most, the domain for my website may cost a bit through Squarespace, but once I launch later this year, everyone should be on the lookout for something truly special!
You shared you’re an avid reader. I love to read too! My latest obsession is N.K. Jemisin (science fiction/fantasy). What books do you enjoy reading?
Thanks for the recommendation! I really need to get into more science fiction books because I love the science fiction genre, especially in film, plus I know it’s really grown and has tons of Black Women and Black people as leads. I read a lot of social justice, history, feminist, environmental, sci-fi, horror, and video game texts. I’m a logophile nerd that loved reading the dictionary and competing in spelling bee competitions, so of course I read everything!
There’s a book that was released recently called, Let’s Talk About Love by a young Black female author named Claire Kann. You’ve got to check out the cover too, you will be overwhelmed by its beauty. The story follows a young Black Woman that’s trying to navigate her relationships as an Asexual person, and its representation like that, which was severely lacking when I was a child/young person trying to navigate the world as a non-overtly sexual Black person. The media we ingest so often over-sexualizes Black people so that when you don’t fall into that spectrum, you feel like an otherized other inside of another otherness.
I also just downloaded the comic Bingo Love, it’s about two Black girls that fall in love in the 1960s, society forces them to change/act heteronormatively, get married yada, yada, yada…however their story doesn’t end there…when they’re much older in their sixties they reconnect in a Bingo Hall and rekindle the same love that was snatched away so many years earlier. The story and then the artwork had me hooked immediately, Black Women loving each other outside of a cis-hetero framework, sign me all the way up!