8 photos that flip the script when it comes to stereotypes about black women.

Black women are beautiful, complex, and worthy of love. It sounds so simple, and yet here we are.

While representations of black women have increased on television and movies, it's still an exercise in extremes. It's easy to scan from well-worn negative tropes and stereotypes like the "angry black woman," or "the baby mama," or the "hypersexual black Barbie" to the powerful leading ladies of "Hidden Figures," "Being Mary Jane," or "Black-ish," but there are few stops in between.

What have you done to support Viola Davis today? Double it! Photo by  Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures.


In fact, according to a 2013 report in Essence, negative depictions of black women appear twice as often as positive ones. These representations are demoralizing, and, speaking from personal experience, exhausting and embarrassing. Thankfully, we can look beyond television and film for positive representations in pop culture.

Mickalene Thomas brings bold, powerful representations of black women to fine art.

Based in New York, Thomas is known for her large-scale paintings of domestic interiors and multi-textured, rhinestone-covered portraits of women. Her work is colorful, vibrant, and affirming. Her paintings of women appear as collages, with small pieces accenting and challenging each other. Each woman is more than the sum of her colorful, mystifying parts. Time passes quickly as you attempt to "figure her out," but you can't. Therein lies the beauty.

Mickalene Thomas, "Racquel Leaned Back," 2013. © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Thomas' photography series, "Muse," seeks to challenge norms of black beauty.

In the series and book, "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs," she portrayed black women in highly stylized, fantastical portraits.

Mickalene Thomas, "A Moment's Pleasure #2," 2007, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

With each photograph, Thomas redefines black beauty for herself, pushing back on tired stereotypes and outdated norms. Each one is a stunning act of resistance.

Mickalene Thomas, "Calder Series #2," 2013, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Thomas drew inspiration from portrait photographers like James Van Der Zee (who beautifully documented the people of the Harlem Renaissance with his pioneering tableau portraits) as well as pro-black modeling campaigns from the 1970s featuring stars like Beverly Johnson.

Mickalene Thomas, "Remember Me," 2006, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). Courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Instead of using professional models for her series, Thomas' muses include her mother, sisters, lovers, and friends. These visually stunning portraits are a truly shared effort between Thomas and the women who've had an impact on her.

Mickalene Thomas, "I've Been Good to Me," 2011, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

In addition to "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs," released in 2015, Thomas has exhibited her work in galleries around the country.

Through March 12, 2017, "Muse" is on display in the Meyerhoff Gallery at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Thomas also curated  a companion exhibit of photography, called "tête-à-tête," which is also on display at MICA.

Mickalene Thomas, "La Leçon D’amour," 2008. © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Representations and depictions of black women are vital.

It's still too easy for little black girls to grow up seeing few positive depictions of black women outside of their families. It's easy to grow up feeling less than or unworthy when women with curly or kinky hair, women with full lips, and women with rich, dark skin don't make it to your picture books — or your history books, for that matter.

Mickalene Thomas, Din, "Une Très Belle Négresse #1," 2012, from "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs" (Aperture, 2015). © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

That's why we need to shout out and celebrate black women as the superheroes they are.

Black women write laws, start businesses, make art, explore the natural world, build towers, save lives, and teach at local schools. Yes, we are strong, but we are also tender, loving, and vulnerable. Black women are the embodiment of balance and resilience, holding down families, communities, and nine-to-fives, while pushing back against racism, sexism, and privilege. It's hard work. It breaks you down. But black women, for better or worse, keep grinding.

There is beauty in our strength, but you don't get to see that. Not nearly enough. And that's why black representation matters, why black art matters — it's a love letter to our persistence.

Mickalene Thomas, "Negress With Green Nails," 2005. © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Virginia is poised to become the 23rd U.S. state—and first state in the South—to ban the death penalty after lawmakers on Monday approved legislation prohibiting the practice.

"We're dismantling the remnants of Jim Crow here in the New South. Abolishing the death penalty is another step on that journey," tweeted Democratic Del. Jay Jones, who's running for state attorney general.

Both chambers of the General Assembly passed earlier versions already this month. On Monday, the Senate passed the House bill in a 22-16 vote; the House then voted 57-43 on the measure to ban capital punishment. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has indicated his support for the measure.

Keep Reading Show less
Courtesy of Creative Commons
True

After years of service as a military nurse in the naval Marine Corps, Los Angeles, California-resident Rhonda Jackson became one of the 37,000 retired veterans in the U.S. who are currently experiencing homelessness — roughly eight percent of the entire homeless population.

"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

"I was entered into a lottery and I just said to myself, 'Okay, this is going to work out,'" Jackson said. "The next thing I knew, I had won the lottery — in more ways than one."

Keep Reading Show less
Sumo Citrus
True

Don Bay has been in the citrus business for over 50 years now, and according to him, his most recent growing endeavor has been the most challenging. Alongside his son Darren and grandson Luke, Don cultivates Sumo Citrus®, one of the most difficult fruits to grow. The Bay family runs San Joaquin Growers Ranch in Porterville, California, one of the farms where the fruit is grown in the United States.

Sumo Citrus was originally developed in Japan, and is an extraordinary hybrid of mandarin, pomelo and navel oranges.

The fruit is temperamental, and it can take time to get a thriving crop. The trees require year-round care, and it takes five years from seed to fruit until they're ready for harvest. Thanks to expert citrus growers like the Bay family though, Sumo Citrus have flourished in California. Don and his son Darren worked together through trial and error to perfect their crop of Sumo Citrus. Darren is now an expert on cultivating this famously temperamental fruit, and his son Luke is learning from him every step of the way.

Don, Darren and Luke BayAll photos courtesy of Sumo Citrus

"Luke's been involved as early as he could come out," Darren said in a YouTube video.

"Having both my son and grandson [working with me] is basically what I've dreamt about," said Don. "To have been able to develop this orchard and have them work on it and work with me — then I don't have to do all the work."

Keep Reading Show less

Just over a month after passing the grim milestone of 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, the United States has surpassed another one. As of today, more than half a million Americans have been lost to the virus that's held the world in a pandemic holding pattern for almost a year. It's a number that seemed unfathomable even six months ago, and yet here we are.

Despite increasing vaccine rollouts allowing us to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the loss we've experienced is immense. Having a president who not only understands loss on a personal level—having endured the tragic loss of his wife and baby daughter earlier in life and the death of his son just six years ago—but who conveys with compassion the grief of the nation as we mark this milestone is a comforting change.

Tonight, the White House honored the 500,000+ lives lost with a display of 500 candles lining the steps of the building, with each candle representing 1000 Americans. The president and first lady, along with the vice president and second gentleman, held a memorial moment of silence outside the South Portico as a military band played "Amazing Grace."

Keep Reading Show less