Slay All Day

Slay All Day /slā ôl dā/  slang. – to consistently do something or perform exceptionally well or impressively. The slang, specifically ‘slay,’ began in the 1980s and 1990s ballroom culture where LGBTQIA+ people of color used it to compliment each other.  See also. Formation by Beyoncé, Slay by YG ft. Quavo, and Slay by Kirby

Interview with Rachel

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

Well, I am from St. Louis, Missouri. Moved to St. Louis between 1992 and 1994. I can’t remember the actual range, but my dad was in the military and we moved back to St. Louis and I basically grew up there. I consider St. Louis home, you know? High school, middle school, elementary there.

In college, I followed my sister to university in Springfield, Missouri. And then ultimately, I moved to Kansas City in 2012 and after Lauren (my sister) had moved here in 2010 and I finished school at UMKC. I’m 33. I am the middle of three. My sister Lauren is the oldest. Hmm. I think I’m a very layered person. So, this is really a loaded question. *laughing*

Oh, I’m married! Oh my gosh. I got married last February. It’ll be a year on February 2nd. Well, I got married last year to the love of my life truly and, yeah, that a new season of my life.

How would you define beauty?

I think beauty is incredibly suggestive because it really depends on who you’re asking and that varies and is influenced by culture. If you ask someone who is American what beauty was it would vary from Nigeria or from France or someone from Mexico. It varies. And so, beauty to me is incredibly suggestive. What I would consider beautiful, maybe aesthetically, maybe wouldn’t be the same thing that you would consider beautiful or the next person would consider beautiful. So I think it’s very suggestive, which is why it’s so dangerous, when we put universal standards of beauty on whole particular groups of people or that features of particular groups of people are more like aesthetically attractive or aesthetically pleasing than others because we’re creating a standard for something that’s completely subjective.

“It’s so dangerous when we put universal standards of beauty on whole particular groups of people or that features of particular groups of people are more like aesthetically attractive or aesthetically pleasing than others because we’re creating a standard for something that’s completely subjective.”

How would you define Black beauty? 

Black beauty is ever changing. As you move through the decades of this Black American culture, we can see how beauty has shifted and changed with the development of culture with the onset of, like, fashion, the internet, and so many things that influence like Black Americans as a culture. But, personally I would define Black beauty as revolutionary. I think to be Black is to be revolutionary, especially to be Black in America. If you are a Black American that rejects the “universal beauty image”, European beauty standards. And to reject that, to truly own your own beauty. So, I would consider like Black beauty to be revolutionary.

What does Black culture make you feel?

I feel immense pride. Have you ever had these moments where you’re in a group of Black people or if you’re at a family gathering, or what have you, and you’re just like like, Man, I just really love my people. And that’s what I feel. This immense sense of pride and belonging and that we have a rich culture. A culture of language and this interconnectedness and sense of community that is really hard to describe and replicate, as much as non-Black people might like to replicate. You cannot replicate Black culture. You can borrow, you can appropriate, you can try and replicate, but you just can’t. And I think being a part of that and being an insider, and not an interloper, gives me such an immense sense of pride to be Black. Regardless of how we’re portrayed in society. Regardless of how we’re seen in the media. Regardless of what negative or derogatory things that are said about Black people. Particularly Black Americans. I still have this pride to be, to be Black. Incredibly prideful.

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

I think there’s always this underlying need to not come off as that kind of Black girl. And when I say that kind of Black girl, usually when people meet me they kind of put me in this box… Like, well, Rachel is very “safe” Black girl. I grew up in a predominantly white school. Even though we grew up in a pretty diverse area of St. Louis, St Charles, my entire life from grade school through college was predominantly white. And so I’m this chameleon of sorts and I’ve gotten very good at kind of fitting into that mold upon that initial meeting. And so I think there’s this pressure not only to prove that you’re not that Black girl but also to retain your own Blackness at the same time. It’s this constant tension of being who I am, being my own Blackness. Recognizing that and not having to go into this false me that makes, particularly, white people more comfortable. So there’s this pressure to be two people and to toe this line of being African American. I think the tension is the hyphen. That’s where I live sometimes.

Have you ever experienced racism or discrimination? If so, any stories you would be willing to share?

Last year with my then-fiance, we went to Target and we were looking for something to do with the wedding. I think we needed to get some supplies for the wedding. Oh, stamps. We were looking for stamps and envelopes to mail our wedding invitations. It was really late at night and we were in the Target in Independence (Missouri) and we were pulling out of the parking lot, turning onto the intersection and this guy in a pickup truck like, almost literally, like rams right into us and it cuts us off. And my husband is a very calm person and so he just like honks his horn at the guy. He wasn’t even upset. But the guy visibly was pissed off. And he’s the one that cut us off. And he rolled down his window and called us both the n-word. And it’s almost like being like hitting the gut. And that’s really overtly racist, you know what I mean?

--- Read More ---

Like a lot of the racism that I think people of color, particularly Black people, experience sometimes is a lot more covert and under the surface microaggressions on the daily. But that was overt and I literally felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I didn’t know how to respond to it as it was happening, but then I was really, really angry and it made me really sad because I just don’t need another reason to hate White people, you know? And as a Black person living in America, I feel like that is a constant battle that you have to fight. I don’t need another reason to hate White people or I don’t need another reason to avoid White people and not associate with White people. Obviously, the actions of that one person don’t reflect on all White people, but it’s really hard to differentiate between those types of White people and then the White people that I know personally, like in my life who I love and have a close relationship with. It’s hard to trust White people that I meet because of interactions and instances like those. But yeah, it still makes me angry. Even thinking about it now, it’s still makes me feel angry,

Whether it’s TV, Movies, Books, People… What has shaped your life and your perspective about the world?

So, I was born in ‘86, grew up in the 90s. As a little girl growing up in the 90s, it was hard to see myself reflected in any source of media. I do remember my dad had Jet magazine when I was growing up and I do remember seeing all of these beautiful and Black women on the cover of the Jet magazine and cause they look so like so glamorous and so beautiful and I’d never seen Black women in that way. And then I also remember watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air… The first Aunt Viv not the second one… Like, she was a dark skinned woman on TV playing a clean, professional, educated, wealthy Black woman, married to a Black man. And I think that type of representation, even from the 90s was so crazy to think that was actually on TV. And even for The Cosby Show, for as long as it was on TV, and Family Matters to show like the Black family. The Black nuclear family. It portrayed the Blackness of your family, in that way of like mom and dad and kids and moms are married and the kids go through life and like various stages and and you can see that they are an American family. Portraying the Black family as an American family and not as niche and not as non-mainstream. So like I think the 90s was a great era for, specifically for Black sitcoms. A Different World. Like, Living Single. I mean, I think it was one of the greatest times for Black TV. Link, I just really don’t see it now a days to be honest. Not in that way at least. But as a little Black girl growing up with that was incredibly impactful.

Fresh Prince and Aunt Viv. Photo by: Chris Cuffaio/NBCU Photo Bank

Now you have people like Issa Rae, Viola Davis, and Kerry Washington that are getting the limelight. Why do you think it’s taken so long for Black women to get the respect that they greatly deserve?

I think nowadays, Black content creators, whether they be actors, producers, writers, what-have-you…Black women, in particular in TV, are refusing to be portrayed as anything less than authentic. And we’re wanting to write our own narratives and our own stories and we are mindful of who we allow to tell said stories. And so if you’re an actress, a Black actress, and you’re refusing to play the sassy Black friend in this TV role or this movie, yeah, you may not get as many roles, or you may not be as well known as the next person, but I think it speaks to something more important or something deeper. I think Black women as creators and in that sphere, especially nowadays, we are telling our stories and I think that comes with a cost. And when you refuse to assimilate, when you refuse to fit into this mold that someone else has created for you, there are consequences for that. Whether that be social consequences or like, consequences in your career. Issa Rae started on YouTube with Awkward Black Girl and that was on for a minute before Insecure came around. And so I think because you’re wanting to play the “game”, we have to kind of go the back channels.If we have to create our own way, we can. Sometimes that takes longer and sometimes that requires more grind and more grit. But we get to literally create our own path so that other Black women, Black girls who come after us, they get to follow the path. They don’t have to go the way the other Black women have gone because literally the path is being created for you. So I think because we’re wanting to tell our own stories and be portrayed authentically it’s taken a little bit of time for the true and authentic experience of a Black woman, in TV and media and film to kind of break through. But, don’t, don’t count us out like we’re, we’re out here, it’s just taking a little bit of time.

“To be able to live in this time and to be Black and to be a woman is just so incredible, to me at least. It doesn’t erase racism, sexism or make anything of the sort less weighty. But, I think there is joy there and the joy of being Black and being a woman and I don’t take that lightly or take it for granted.”

What do you feel you have accomplished in your life? What are you proud of?

I think for me being a Black woman in particular. Black womanhood, you know, that’s a whole other conversation in and of itself. To be Black but also to be a woman and to maneuver in society…the lens and the bodies that we occupy is so nuanced.

I think for me, what makes me happy is to be Black and also to be a woman. That I get to exist in this body. Even though it’s difficult at times and it’s exhausting and it’s tiring and so many other negative words that I could say — it also makes me really proud that I was born into this body. I was born Black and I was born a woman and I very much have so much pride in that. It just makes me feel incredibly grateful, even for the all the negative experiences. To be able to exist in this body. To be able to live in this time and to be Black and to be a woman is just so incredible, to me at least. It doesn’t erase racism, sexism or make anything of the sort less weighty. But, I think there is joy there and the joy of being Black and being a woman and I don’t take that lightly or take it for granted.

What are your personal dreams?

I think, personally, I would really love to discover who I am at this stage in my life. I think you should look back at our your life… And, it’s kind of like seasons or points in your life where you’re able to channel (your past) into that growth and development. All of these things. If this is the structure of my life, I’m just really looking forward to what the rest of my 30s look like. I’m 33 and just experiencing me as a 33 year old woman and now as a married woman. And seeing what that looks like and seeing how I’ll change and grow and develop and be different from this person I am now. I’m just really excited to see what kind of person I will develop into over the next year, even the next couple of months. I mean, I’m not the same person I was six months ago and so I’m just excited to see who I’ll become as a person. Also to see the ones in my life that I love and I care about walk through that journey with me. I’m really excited about that. It makes me really happy to be able to be alive in such a time to be able to say like, I’m literally living in 2020, and to think that I could live in 2030, 2040. It’s amazing.

What is one major problem minorities face that you would like to bring awareness to?

One thing is this, like, oppression Olympics. The idea that this group of disenfranchised people has it worse than this group of disenfranchised people. Playing the oppression Olympics, I refuse to play that. I will not do it. Getting trapped in that cycle of like, No, we have it worse — No, we have it worse, distracts from the part of the goal that we all are oppressed but in different ways. It doesn’t make my oppression as a Black woman any better or worse than let’s say this person’s oppression as a trans man or a person of color. Like it doesn’t make it better or worse. It’s just different. And I think when we play that way we get looped in the, Well, I’m an immigrant and I’m fighting for my personhood being recognized by the oppressive government and how people who look like me and have my experience are treated and I’m like, Oh, well I’m a Black woman. But I’m also in the struggle of having my own personhood recognized and acknowledged and people who look like me being treated well. At the core I think we’re all really fighting for the same thing. And not to diminish work to, or to negate the unique struggles we all go through…. But we really need to look at the larger picture if you want to be true allies to one another. If allyship is the goal, we have to look a little bit more critically. That would be one thing.

--- Read More ---

I think also, as minorities we really have to acknowledge the rules that we perpetuate and how that (those rules) only further oppresses us. There’s this outside weight of oppression that we navigate through. There’s all sorts of internal oppression that we kind of enforce upon others and it plays out in our relationships and it plays out in our dynamic within our own communities and cultures. We have to recognize those rules and we have to talk about them and not dismiss them. Because if we can dismantle the master’s house. We can’t use his tools once we dismantle the house.

You have to also change the mind. You also have to redirect and recolonize your own words. Thinking about how you’ve aided in the oppression of your brother and really recognizing that. I think if we are fighting amongst ourselves we are too distracted to see the bigger picture. The bigger picture to me is recognizing the things we have in common. I think as a people, especially as minorities, we’re so much more nuanced.

I think if we’re in-fighting, it’s very hard for to see that I’m Black, but I’m also an immigrant. It would be very hard for me to see that I exist in this one world but also in another and I don’t have to fight or have internal struggle in myself. I can exist in two groups. Intersectionality is in essence how we should be thinking. A higher level of thinking. Most of us do exist in multiple categories and we exist in multiple identities. No one is one dimensional. And so if we’re fighting with my immigrant brothers and sisters, my immigrant people, then I can’t see that I am also an immigrant and I also have a basic “dog” in this fight. So if we’re distracted and if we are all fighting for a seat at a “table”, then none of us are eating. Like, there are people eating. And it’s not us. We’re not even fighting for scraps. We’re just fighting to sit down to eat. And, because we’re fighting, we’re all starving and we’re dying and we don’t even see it. Once you continue to fight amongst each other and we’ve destroyed one another and there are aren’t many of us left then our oppressors can much more easily pick us off and finish us off, honestly. And so then who will fight for us if we’ve not only killed ourselves off, but we’ve killed off our brothers and our sisters, our fellow allies. If there’s no one left to fight for us? So this in-fighting is distracting. And really wish we would recognize it. Because it’s pointless. It’s to divide and conquer, which again is obviously one of the oldest tactics in the book and we’re re-falling for it over and over and over again, and I really wish that we wouldn’t.

“Intersectionality is in essence how we should be thinking. A higher level of thinking. Most of us do exist in multiple categories and we exist in multiple identities. No one is one dimensional.”

What are you dreams for society?

I want to society to obviously be better than what it is. But I also want society, really American society, I want us to acknowledge the wounds and the hurt and the damage that that American society has done to people of color, particularly to Black people. I think that racism is a wound that America has never acknowledged and will never heal from. And it will be our undoing. And I think to say that a post-racial society is possible…I don’t want to by cynical but… I’m not sure that’s even possible. But I think what is possible is a better, deeper understanding of our fellow human beings. And that’s gonna require a lot of work from members of the dominant groups. That’s going to require White people to acknowledge and to discuss and to unpack a lot of things. A lot of hurtful things, a lot of uncomfortable things. It’s going to require them to reach across the aisle and just stay here and to sit in the centuries of oppression, of strife, of blood, and just to acknowledge it and to repent of it and to seek forgiveness for it. I think that takes a lot of work. I don’t know if we’re quite there as a society, but I think we’re moving towards that. It’s discouraging at times, but I think little by little we are getting there.

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

Well, I think one practical way is if you have a friend or someone you love — or even someone you don’t love — its easier to start there with people that you, that you love. Cause it’s easier to show compassion. I think its easier when love is there, but also when you hear stories and experiences of people who do not look like you, who do not share the same life experiences or lived experiences as you do and they tell you their pain or they express to you their hurt? Believe them. Don’t diminish. Don’t dismiss. Especially when that expressed hurt wounds you in a way, in a defensive way. When you would be quick to respond in defense take a pause, take a beat, and ask yourself, Is this an experience that I have ever had in my life? Could this person’s different life experience be coloring the way that they are relating to me now? And, As someone who has never had and will never have the experience of this person, can they benefit from me just listening and not trying to speak or define or to explain away their hurt or trauma? Can listening be the tool that we use to make our society better? It may sound like an oversimplification, but I really do believe that listening, truly listening to another person’s experience that they may express that to you, and not even walking a mile in someone’s shoes but just sitting with them and listening to them and relating to them as a fellow human being — there’s a lot of potential there for healing. But people have to want to be willing to listen and more often times than not, I’ve experienced that there are some people who just aren’t ready and that’s okay. But if we’re ever going to heal some very deep, very, very deep things in our society, our American society, that have been festering long before any of us were born, it’s going to take more. So I think that one way is listening.

“Not everybody can be Black. It’s a privilege and you can’t teach it. You can’t you can’t buy it. You can’t create it, it can’t be replicated.”

What advice would you give to other Black people?

I would say not be afraid of the person that you are. Don’t Be afraid of that. Be that and live that every day because people aren’t going to get you. They’re not going to get us. They’re not going to understand us as a people. And that’s cool because not everybody can be Black. It’s a privilege and you can’t teach it. You can’t you can’t buy it. You can’t create it, it can’t be replicated. You are Black and because you are Black. And that was intentional, you get to exist in this body regardless of the threats to it, which sometimes it can be (dangerous). But, you get to exist in this body and that’s a privilege. That’s something to be proud of. So yeah, be proud to be Black. Celebrate it. Wear it, live it, breathe it. Don’t stop being it, no matter what anyone has to say about it. And when people try and shame you for being it, just be it that much more. Enjoy being Black. I think our culture is so borrowed from and people want to be Black, or Black adjacent. But, we have this cultural connection because we are cultural insiders. Like, we get to live this experience. We get to live being Black and I would tell other Black people to just grab hold of that and don’t let go of it. And just learn more about yourself and more about your culture and more about the Black experience. Both with the American Black experience and the global Black experience because, man, the global Black experience…that’s just a whole other conversation and that’s super dope in and of itself. But just keep living and seeing you and being Black and being proud.

What advice would you give to non-Black individuals to help them understand the Black experiences?

Not every situation is for you. If you were invited into a room or into a space, you are a guest. Act accordingly. And that isn’t to… Isn’t to cause division. That may be construed as slightly abrasive, but if you are a guest, if you are invited into a space as a guest, you do not get to comment, to pontificate, to define, or to discuss Blackness if you are not Black. And if you mean to be an ally, do not get it twisted. Your access, your guest pass, can easily be revoked. So act right. Act accordingly.

What is the experience like being a Black woman? 

Being a woman and being Black is exhausting sometimes. You have to deal with what I like to call as white feminists…. There are many and they’re annoying… who want to extend this olive branch of “sisterhood”, but they will fail to understand that your Blackness or your woman-ness is so deep in your Blackness that it can’t be separated and they don’t understand that. They don’t have a frame of reference for it. They don’t know what to do with us. They don’t know how to explain us. And yet they want to control us and to dominate and to break us down and to pick us apart. And it’s exhausting. And I think you kind of get that from both sides. You can’t escape it and sometimes it’s so exhausting and so unnerving that you’re like, I just, I don’t know. What do I do? Like how, how can I get along here because I don’t know how to navigate both of these types of my identity. Like living in the intersection. It’s so difficult sometimes. But also I think, being a woman, I do show a privilege there. I feel a deep privilege there. To experience this life as a woman, especially as a Black woman, I honestly wouldn’t want to experience life any other way. Even though I couldn’t always say that, if I’m gonna be honest. It’s definitely my identity of being a woman and being Black. I have realized that it’s very difficult to separate and I wish that people would understand that and to understand that is to understand Black women as a whole. Obviously, we are not a monolith, there isn’t one way to define Black womanhood. I do want to be very clear about that. We are nuanced. But, I think it can be exhausting at times. But also very beautiful. And again, living in the tension of those two things can be hard sometimes.

You and your husband got married on February 2nd, Black History Month. What is the feeling of two people sharing a life together?

I did not know how important it was for me as a Black woman…How important it would feel to me to marry a Black man. And I don’t say that to discount anyone who is a Black person married a non-Black person or found love with someone that wasn’t Black…but uniquely for me as a Black woman who married a Black man, I didn’t know how important that was until I did it. I think of how this institution of marriage and how sometimes the way we think about it and I think marriage, in the Western sense, isn’t really designed for Black people, honestly.And as two Black people coming together and saying that we are committed to each other in that permanent way. That marriage is to be in love with each other and to display that love in a very public way. Marrying one another is so beautiful to me.

And our wedding was very Black. We jumped the broom and everything. And that was really important to us. To have our wedding be cultural. To be deeply cultural, to be very deeply Black. Also my husband and I are both Christian and to also be very Christian is important to us as well because it’s like, man, I don’t see and I haven’t really seen, especially within our age bracket, a lot of young Black couples who was just out here. And real couples who are surviving and growing and walking this married life out. I’m blessed that we have a group of friends who are also in that same situation, other Black couples.

It’s been so life-giving, honestly, to be married to him. And’s something I just can’t explain and you can’t really explain it until you’re really living it. But it’s so important for me to just be, even from a distance, be an example. But not in that like, Oh you have to like have this life. It’s just for other young Black couples who are thinking about marriage or in that same area of life of to be like, Yeah, this is possible. This Is completely possible. Cause there were times where the Black nuclear family wasn’t a thing at all. We had to literally create and rebuild what it looks like to be the Black nuclear family and rebuild this idea of what marriage looks like in the context of two Black people coming together. And it’s just been incredible and beautiful for for me to go through the process with my husband. And, to be married [and] just to experience that with another Black person… It really does give me so much life.

“Our wedding was very Black. We jumped the broom and everything. And that was really important to us. To have our wedding be cultural. To be deeply cultural, to be very deeply Black.”

Additional Information

Interview Date: January 9, 2020

Day 3 — Story posted on February 2, 2020

Rachel’s sister is also featured on Pick Progress: Read Lauren’s interview

More Interviews