Black is beautiful /ˈblak iz ˈbyü-ti-fəl/ phrase. – Black people are beautiful. See also. Black people, the 1960s Black is Beautiful movement
So, I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York, was there until about 14 or 15, and I think that had a lot to do with my experiences today and how I experienced going through life. And by that I mean like, where you grow up or the place that you call home has a large influence or can have a large influence on life and how you look at your experiences in life and how your experiences in life affect you. Um, so yeah, I take a lot of pride in being from a diverse city that has seen a lot of cultures and has seen a lot of different types of people and that has a lot of history — especially for the Black communities, but also other people of color communities — just kind of like bringing each other up. I take a lot of pride in that.
Um, my dad’s originally from New Jersey and my mom is from Grenada, which is a small island in the Caribbean. And so, I have one side of my family who is, like, a first generation immigrant — my mom moved to the area in like the 70’s — and my dad was born here. So it’s pretty interesting to have those two perspectives of parents: One is one who was born here and one who immigrated here. And I think that also influences a lot of my experience as an African American in America.
I think beauty is such a subjective thing. So, the short answer is: it’s what you make it. Um, you know, like, there are so many things that are beautiful to one person that may not be beautiful to others. I think beauty can be an internal thing and an external thing. Being a designer, I think beauty has a lot to do with what you think is beautiful and how you communicate it to others. Not to say, Hey, this thing is beautiful, but just say like, Hey, do you think this is beautiful? to strike a conversation about beauty. Cause I think as humans, we’re constantly attracted to things or are not attracted to things… And so, it’s kind of just something that we see in our everyday lives. And so, something that’s beautiful is what you make it and how you communicate it to me.
Black beauty…just those two words together… it’s such a powerful phrase. When it’s taken into a racial context, when it’s taken into a sociological context, when it’s taken into a people context… The color Black and that color being beautiful… it’s such a powerful phrase. And so if I had to sum it up, I would describe Black beauty as power.
I think the culture is communication. And I think that’s what’s so powerful about Black beauty is the ability for us to communicate our culture to each other and others — in the way that we talk, dress, think, walk, act. All of the little things that we do is a symbol of our culture and, in a sense, that helps us build culture with each other as well as others. And I think that’s another thing that’s really beautiful about Blackness and Black culture — the ability to communicate at a far range and at a far reach. And it’s maybe because we are just beautiful creatures and we have this almost, like, ubiquitous attraction to the world that our culture is able to spread so far and connect with other cultures. And, the same can be said for a lot of other cultures…But, I just loved the way that we’ve been able to do that for thousands of years.
A lot. Like…Getting my first job out of school, I was fortunate enough to work at a really large Fortune-100 company as a young Black man, fresh out of college, and being a designer — you know, historically being a graphic designer or product designer could be considered a very white field — And so I was really excited to have the opportunity and the chance to land a position like that. And I think the pressure that I felt once I got into that position was me needing to prove myself. That’s something I faced a lot just because of my race. You know, it was, This kid is cool, but like, can he do it? And yeah, I felt that a lot. And I felt a little bit of imposter syndrome as well during that time. And that was really hard for me, I think.
I mean, I think the elephant will always be there. And I think depending on where you work…it’s either talked about more…or it’s not talked about at all…or it’s talked about, but in a superficial way…I think that’ll, that’ll always be there for this issue, especially, but, you know, all types of issues of different communities of having a chance to express themselves in that role as a designer and having a chance to tell their story and communicate their culture. I think there are a lot of allies, and probably more so today than ever before, but that’s not to say that only allies can fix that issue. It really has to be a grassroots effort sometimes. Yeah, there just has to be grassroots effort. But, allies are definitely helpful. And they are there from all types of other cultures…There are people that are white, there are people that are white-passing, there are people that may have a one-up and they try to bring people of color into their lane and help them out. And I’ve experienced that, as well, which I’m really grateful for.
I remember one time I was at my job at the time, it was a Fortune-100 company, and I was getting prepared for a design talk with a famous graphic designer — his name’s Richard Daney and he was one of the graphic designers for the NASA graphics manual– and we were doing a talk on design systems and beauty together. And I remember being in the cafe before the talk started and kind of mingling with people, talking to people — and I’m not at all the type of person be like, Oh, it’s me, I’m speaking tonight, cause I was like the opener for Richard Daney — and so, I was definitely excited to do that, but I was just trying to stay humble and just talk to people and meet people. And I remember kind of being in a conversation with a couple people and everyone’s kind of saying, Oh, what do they do? Like blah, blah, blah. And then a person who was visiting the talk from a different company was like, Oh, like, do you, do you work in the coffee shop here? And I thought that was a really interesting comment that felt a little discriminative or racist because a lot of like African American people do work at the coffee shop in that companies on San Francisco. And I think what, what really threw me off was his assumption that because I looked the way I did, or because I was Black, I worked in a coffee shop. And that’s something I’ll never forget. And it felt really good to say, No, I’m actually one of the designers speaking tonight. I felt really good to say that, but it also hurt me because I know that there’s nothing wrong with working in a coffee shop, but I didn’t want someone to assume that I did because of the way that I look.
I’m really proud of paying my student loans off and being debt free as at my age right now. I think that’s one of the things I’m really proud of. I’m proud to be able to give back to my parents. I’m really proud that I invested in myself as a designer and trusted myself as a person and started my own freelancing business, and left a really comfy job and said no to another comfy job, because I believe that, I can further the the communication of like Black culture in different spaces and in spaces that we already are privy to and can call ours. And so yeah, I’m just starting, I’ve been doing that for a year now, and I’m very proud that I started my own business and I’m not doing it for someone else at this moment.
Um, it’s hard. It’s definitely really hard. But I love it at the same time and I’m excited about it. So far, it’s been really great. Like just connecting with people on a new level. Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely really hard, but I love it at the same time. And, as of right now, I wouldn’t trade that self-owned business for anything. Cause, I think it really gives me an opportunity to come into someone else’s game with a new perspective in telling the story or help develop the story and concept. And it’s a rewarding experience because I try to do everything I can to be as intentional as possible with whatever I’m making or whoever I’m working with and the output of what we both make together. And that’s just a lot of what I’m trying to lead. Like that’s been my personal appearance business with his intention. And that way, each pixel that I’m pushing or each product that I’m putting forth to the world is really thought out. Yeah, I think that it’s just like a really rewarding experience.
I kind of always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur in some sense of the word because I’m like my mom and my dad and my grandma. But I didn’t know what that looked like at the time. So that’s another reason why this was exciting for me. It was also just great to see, right before graduating, other really brilliant Black designers being the face of their own space in a sense and in expressing their design language and their intentions — either with other companies or with their own personal projects. It’s been great to see that throughout the world. I mean, I’m inspired by everyone doing their thing.
I think about that a lot, but I don’t have a good answer for it cause I don’t really know yet. I know I want to be a really great designer, but I don’t know what greatness means for me yet. I know I want to be a designer that leaves a legacy and that is, like, really grandiose and broad, but leaving a legacy would be far more important to me than any amount of money I can make.
So that’s like the bigger part of my dreams, I’m just not sure what that is yet. I’m still trying to learn and figure that out, and it’s definitely a process. But like my grandmother who also moved here from the Caribbean, founded two Montessori schools in Brooklyn, New York and they’re still running today even though she’s not with us anymore. And my mom and other family members helped get her name on the street that is next to the school. And so, she left an impact and left this garden in Brooklyn and she left an impact in her community for generations. And I think that’s legacy: leaving an impact no matter… it could be in a small neighborhood garden or it could be across the world…and it’s just how you do it…and it’s your intention.
I would say respect…I think it’s just respect from other communities and respect for each other within our own communities.
I think, in the same vein, and it’s to learn and to elevate ourselves in our communities and learn from each other’s cultures and respect them.
I think one way we can do that is to, like, take a step back from what we know and take a step forward into what we don’t know.
Behind every “no” is a “yes”. There’s going to be obstacles in what you do and there’s going to be people that don’t want to see you succeed, but if you are leading with intention and value then you will eventually find that “yes”.
I think that there’ll never be a day that you can walk in our shoes, but if you’re curious and we take them off to tell you a story then I hope you listen with an open mind and an open heart.
Interview Date: February 15, 2020
Story posted on June 19, 2020
Personal links: mylesthompsoncreative.com