“That Shit Is Special”: A Conversation on What It Means to Be Black, Femme, and Friends

After centuries of being forced into the margins, to be Black, femme, and powerful today is a revolutionary act. And it’s through the strength of our community that we’re not only able to fight the good fight side by side, but rest our bones together when that fight takes everything out of us. For me, this community takes many forms, but as I reflected on how I’d like to celebrate Black History Month, it was my friendships that came to the forefront. My connections and the spaces they thrive—our kitchens in Brooklyn, our backyards and stoops, our group chats—are not only my home away from, but an extension of the safest place I know. My Black femme friends have stood in the gap for me, professionally, personally, and through some pretty dumb-ass moments.

Take, for instance, the day I was working from home and saw a rat (not a mouse, a RAT) take his morning stroll through my living room. I didn’t call my landlord or 311 or 911; instead I hit up my group chat and asked who in the entire fuck was home at 1 p.m. on a Friday that could take me and my puppy in until my fiance got home. First they told me how shitty the situation was, which validated my feelings, and then they jumped into action to get me to safer ground. Cut to me and my dog Blanche rolling into Ericka Hart’s house with a bag full of random-ass dog toys and snacks and me in sweatpants and lingerie, because that’s what I had on when he who shall not be named came to visit. I ordered Domino’s pizza and sat on her couch watching telly and scrolling Insta as if I were home while Ericka worked on projects and watered her plants and I remember thinking, Damn, ain’t nobody like a Black femme.

These bonds run so deep for so many reasons; I don’t think there’s a world in which I could get through my life without them. I could yammer on all day about the hows and the whys, but let me tell you ‘bout my gooodddd friendssssss! Yaminah Mayo is a writer, model, and a force, and while we share Black twitter roundups and memes all day long, we also talk about issues like how much we should be charging brands for social promotion. Where else can you negotiate social content creation AND get a thank you in the form of a Whitney Houston gif?! I’ll tell you where: Black femme sibling circles (as I’ve been known to call them, too intimate to not be fam).

When I produced my first large-scale event on my own, I was in over my head. I was expected to pull whole-ass rabbits out of hats and I didn’t even have a lucky rabbit’s foot to hold onto. But in stepped Kiyanna Stewart, founder of Blk Mkt Vintage, along with her partner Jay. I told them what I needed to make this event a success, and of course, Black women came to my rescue with zero hesitation. Spoiler alert: That event was the best and would have been an entire mess had it not been for Kiy and Jay.

Last week, I invited Ericka, Yaminah, and Kiyanna to join me for a photoshoot and discussion about Black femme friendship. We met in a Black-owned space, put on clothing by Black designers, and got our faces beat by a Black makeup artist (hi Tara Lauren!) Below, the photos and conversation that followed.

Crystal: Okay, so we all work in very different fields—entertainment, business, fashion, academia—and we all know that many of these spaces are very white, and very patriarchal, so why is it so important to have a Black femme sibling circle that you can call on?

Yaminah: It’s so important because sometimes Black men and masculine people just don’t have the range! It’s like they think they have a monopoly on oppression. Also, it’s important to know that what you’re going through is valid, like, Okay, yes, that’s totally racist! Yes, that’s totally sexist! No, you’re not being dramatic. It’s good to be affirmed. And whenever I win, I get to share that with y’all what I did, so you all can win too! We use our friendship for business practices, relationship advice, food, style…

Crystal: Yes! I mean, I can hit y’all up for anything. When I need to know if these shoes go with this bag, I can hit y’all up. When there’s a sample sale, I pretty much know everyone’s sizes at this point and can send pictures or just by like, “Bihhhhh! You need these silver overalls, I can’t take a picture but they’re $40. I’m getting em for you!” Or like, me and Kiy were going to a Roaring ’20s-themed party and she hit me up before like, “Chileee I been too busy to buy something, what you got for me?” And of course I was like, “Girl, come get this vintage Dior robe!” So for me, there is just no other connection that resembles and feeds my soul in the way these friendships do.

Kiyanna: Yes! There is something in particular about being affirmed and celebrated by people who share your experience. This (points to the group) is reliable, I can rely on these folks for their opinions. You’ve been through the same or you will be going through the same and that’s what makes these relationships unique.

Ericka: It’s the familiarity, too. Like, Yaminah, you are an honorary queer person,* and as queer femmes, It’s nice to be able to talk about my relationship without having to explain it, or to talk about cultural things like, “No, I don’t want to see that movie, because it’s super straight, I want to see a film with queer influence!” So it’s great to be able to bounce those things off of people who not only look like me, but also navigate the world in similar ways that I do. Also, I don’t have to say much! Like in the group chat when we’re being messy, I can drop a name or situation and y’all will be like, “Yeah, no, we don’t fuck with that either!” and I’m like, Okay, so I’m not losing my mind! It’s just so important to be validated by your people.

(*Ed. note: Kiyanna, Erica and myself are queer and Yaminah is not, but she is one of the bombest allies.)

Crystal: I think there is an added layer of magic with this group in particular, where I just feel so blessed—and I’ve told y’all I’m just so emotional these days so I might cry—but it’s just such a blessing to be able to look to people and not just exchange ideas but also actively think: How can I support the things that you do? How can I pay you and also get you paid for the services and talents that you share, in a world in which we are rarely adequately paid for all the magic that we create on this earth?

Like, I don’t know very many groups who can be like, “Oh, you need a venue? I have a friend who owns their own beautiful-ass vintage shop!” Or like, “Okay, I don’t know shit about academia and I still have questions around sexual education, let me hit up Ericka who is a whole-ass professor at an Ivy league!” Like, that shit is special. Andy Barnard said on The Office: “I wish there was a way to know we were in the good old days before we left them,” and whewwww that just hit so close to home for me, as I sit and look at us at this very moment. I know I will be talking to my babies about their aunties and the way you all have shaped the trajectory of my life. We will look back at pictures from this shoot and call them the good old days and maybe these pictures will live on in a place like Blk Mkt Vintage and someone else will be able to see how dope Black femmes were!

Ericka: And this shoot is so special. Look at the people that are working with us on this shoot! There’s a Black femme photographer and a Black femme stylist and a Black makeup artist and I’m taking pictures without even looking at myself in the mirror because I trust Black femmes. On any other shoot I’d be in the bathroom trying to fix things, but y’all are like, “You like fire!” So I get excited and I’m just like, Okay let’s do this, cause the truth is, some of these people will have you out here looking a mess—shades all wrong, angles all fucked up—but I’ve had nothing but trust today.

Kiyanna: I’m appreciative to be a part of this shoot—it also feels like an extra affirmation that it’s taking place here in the store. When Jay and I were thinking about opening this space, we knew it would be so much more than just a place where transactions took place. We wanted to make a space where community could be found and a place where you don’t have to look far to see yourself.

On this day, no matter where I turned or who I was talking to, I saw myself. And for that I will always be grateful. To know these people is to know that I have an army at the ready (and bail money, if ever needed) and an extra closet full of fly shit. To know them is to be surrounded by a bunch of fools who make me laugh until my sides hurt. To know them is to love them, and it’s my greatest honor to call them my people.

Big thank you to Ericka, Kiy, and Yaminah for dropping everything to shoot this editorial. Y’all are more than I knew I could have in a friendship and the pinnacle of what it means to have a sibling circle.

Photographer: Makeda Sandford
Styling Assistant:  Share C Koech
Hair & Makeup Artist: Tara Lauren
Location: BLK MKT Vintage

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