Yas Queen

Yas Queen /ˈyas ˈkwēn/  slang. – an emphatic term of endearment, encouragement, celebration, love and/or show of support. The slang began in the 1980s and 1990s ballroom culture where LGBTQIA+ people of color used it to compliment each other.

Interview with Dr. King

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

Yes. My name is Makini King and I’m born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri…East side…and I went to a middle sized elementary and middle school, a Catholic school, that was pretty mixed racially, ethnically. And then I went to a boarding school in upstate New York for high school. It was the school that my mother actually attended when she was in high school, so I wanted to go as well. I graduated from that high school, it was called Emma Willard School. And then I went to undergraduate at Emory University, majored in psychology and minored in Spanish. I then attended graduate school at UMKC in the counseling psychology program. I am a practicing psychologist and have been for several years now. I work full time right now UMKC in the division of diversity inclusion and have been doing that for just over three years, now. Prior to that I was doing primarily clinical work.

How would you define beauty?

Oh, I would define beauty as something pleasing to the senses. I mean there’s visual beauty…something pleasing to look at and that is attractive to look at. But I think it could relate to any of the senses. So anything that’s pleasing to engage with, to interact with.

How would you describe/define Black beauty? Black style?

So Black beauty actually has a whole new context and meaning to me. When I think about Black beauty, I actually think about a historical struggle towards reclaiming ourselves as a community and countering all of the damage that was done societally. Specifically to African American people, but also to Black people from the continent of Africa because I think that damage crossed the ocean, that’s how nefarious it was. I think of Black beauty as explaining to ourselves and to the world our worth and value…that we are attractive and titillating to all of the senses.

“I think of Black beauty as explaining to ourselves and to the world our worth and value…that we are attractive and titillating to all of the senses.”

What are some words that come to mind when it comes to Black culture?

We define culture. We defined pop culture. I believe that wholeheartedly. We don’t get credit for it, but we definitely define popular culture. I mean, from the language, the slang, our food, the music…anything that is in fashion, in vogue, if you go back — you don’t even have to go back that far — Black people were probably starting it. So, I think it’s a shame that today we’re still struggling with cultural appropriation. I’m very excited that these conversations are being had in some way, but I do think it’s a shame that we still contribute so much…we have contributed so much since the beginning of this country and still are not given the credit for it. So anything that you can point to that you see on TV, in the media, in music…Black people probably have something to do with it.

Is there anything specific in your life that reminds you of Black culture?

Anytime I’m listening to the radio or like, you know, the 2020 Grammy’s just happened, and all the popular artists that are not Black…most of that music comes from Black music or it was inspired by it. Sometimes the artists will acknowledge it, sometimes they don’t. But you know, when you’re hearing listening to anything, like, I don’t know, like, Justin Timberlake or somebody, it’s like, That’s clearly Black music, you know? What people think are popular clothing styles, like hoop earrings, or something…When I see people wearing hoop earrings, I’m like, Oh wait, we did that. We made that popular. Yeah, if we’re talking about present day, I see it online a lot, on social media, when people are talking about, like, body shapes when they’re using terms like “slim thick” and I’m like, Oh, well, Black people started that and now it’s like somehow made popular. It’s something to aspire to once, you know, dominant groups catch wind of it, but you know that was us first. So yeah, for sure. I see it in the wild so to speak. And I’m able to identify a week.

“I’m in a ‘professional position,’ but what does professional actually mean? I’m not sure, but I do hesitate to be as authentic as I want to be at work because I’m not sure how that would be received.”

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

Oh, lots. I’m growing more confident in myself. I’m not where I would like to be and I think maybe that’s a product of where I work and just my doubts about how accepting society really is, despite what they claim. As a child, I really struggled. My mother actually did not let me relax my hair — this was in the 90s,so like all Black girls had their hair relaxed and straightened and she refused to do that. I hated it back then. Now I’m very happy that she put her foot down and she was like, No, you’re not straightening your hair. But it was very excluding because I was dark skin, or I am dark skin, and I didn’t have straight hair. So that automatically made me an outcast to White people, but also to the other Black students in elementary and middle school. So that was really hard and serious, but it was very formative. I think it helped me to become comfortable with how I looked early on. So I think I was ahead of the game, you know, with the natural hair movement today. I think I’ve already been through the progression that a lot of women and girls are going through right now. I mean, I’ve been there, done that. So I think that wasn’t an asset. In high school I got locks when it was not popular. But because it was not popular, I think it made me very unique and I actually really liked the attention that I got. I kept them through high school and college and I think it gave me a lot of confidence because I feel like they were actually very well received and set me apart from a lot of people. Now, it’s no big deal. But, I think fondly upon that experience.

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I do get nervous. I’m in an administrative position, I’m in a “professional position”, but what does professional actually mean? I’m not sure, but I do hesitate to be as authentic as I want to be at work because I’m not sure how that would be received. So, speaking of hair…my hair is still natural but I usually wear it braided down or flat twisted to my head or twist. I never wear it out even though I want to. I love wearing it out, I love the way I look wearing it out. But when my hair is out it is big. Or if I wear it wrapped, cause I know before, in my leisure time, I would leave the house with a head wrap on and that might be pretty tall and bold. And I don’t think I would be received the same way if I were to do those things at work. I think that people would find me unapproachable, especially if they didn’t know me well. There might be fear involved, unwarranted of course, and that probably gets stereotyped. Like, any emotion I would show would probably get attributed to how I was presenting myself. So I’m very aware of that and, to be honest, I do struggle with it because I think it’s very unfair, but I also know that that is a thing that Black women in particular struggle with.

Have you ever experienced racism or discrimination?

The answer is yes, I have. Would I be willing to share details? No, not about specific incidents. But I can say that a lot of it that I have experienced personally and that I’ve actually witnessed…I don’t think the –I’m going to say “perpetrator”–they wouldn’t call it that. They’re deniable actions. So, I’m not going to be specific about them. And I think that even though I’m convinced that the things that I’ve experienced and witnessed were based around racial discrimination, I don’t think it would be easy for me to prove to a structure that is based on supremacy culture.

“I think that even though I’m convinced that the things that I’ve experienced and witnessed were based around racial discrimination, I don’t think it would be easy for me to prove to a structure that is based on supremacy culture.”

Why do you think that it’s so hard to claim a racist moment and feel like everyone one expects more of you to prove that it’s actually racist?

That’s the million dollar question. I don’t know if this is a human evolutionary thing or not. I hope that it is not. And I hope that what I’m getting ready to say, is societally constructed, which would mean that it can be changed. Cause I really do. I do actually believe that humans are good people. They want to do good things. It just doesn’t play out that way all the time, obviously. But I think we’re motivated by fear. And part of me thinks that it’s a consequence of living in a capitalistic structure, in a capitalist society where we’re convincing people that only so many people can have…and that means large groups of people cannot have.

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And when I when a society is led to believe that then people position themselves in defensive ways. And so that leads to things like tribalism and not being able to see the humanity in somebody else. Which means that you can allow things to happen to groups of people, that you wouldn’t want to happen to your in-group. So, I think that’s what’s happening when people have to prove that something racist happened, it’s calling attention to some injustices and saying, Wait a minute, I’m not getting my needs met because of something you did. And it automatically puts up people’s defenses because the interpretation of that is, You’re going to take something away from me. Like, if I acknowledge that maybe it was a mistake, maybe it was an accident, maybe give a benefit of the doubt…But if I acknowledge that I discriminated in this way, something awful is going to happen. I’m going to somehow be without. Like you’re going to get something and I’m going to be denied something. The other part of that, I think, is that we’ve also been socialized to think that to be perfect…one of the tenants of, supremacy culture is this idea of perfectionism. So, we in social media, we can only present our perfect selves and anything that challenges that notion that we are perfect human beings and do not make mistakes and do not do things that hurt other people, we are not going to accept. Even if it means helping somebody else, we’re not going to do it because acknowledging that I did something to hurt somebody else it means that I’m not perfect. If you ask most people, Can humans be perfect? Most people would say no, but that’s not the role that we play on a day to day basis. We have to present as though everything’s right and okay and uncomplicated cause that’s what society expects from us. Which is unfortunate because it’s not true. It’s a myth, it’s a fallacy. I think another consequence of that is when bad things happen, when racism happens, no one can accept blame for it. Because we’re perfect.

What are your thoughts on how the system seems to prevent this conversation from happening?

Yes, retaliation is a very real thing. I actually don’t know. I can’t say confidently that people mean to retaliate. Again, I actually really do think humans try to be good people. I think we do the best we can with what we have. So retaliation is 100% real, especially for stigmatized, marginalized groups. And I do think it prevents people from getting their needs met, from advocating for themselves because for fear that the retaliation might happen. And again, you know, the perpetrators…or the system…well, I should say the people who uphold the system… may not even have an awareness around how what they’re doing is actually retaliation. I mean, there’s a story they’re telling in their heads that rationalizes the retaliation and does not label it. And so I think that further complicates it.

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

Well, my daughter who’s 15, just turned 15 in December. She is a dark skin, natural hair, child who was luckily raised in an environment where I think — it wasn’t without problems but — I think that we are better off today than we were when I was a kid. Just as, you know, when I was a kid it was better than when my mom was a kid. So we have progressed. I’m proud of that. I’m proud that we are able to openly have these kinds of conversations. I don’t know if I’m misremembering, but I feel like we talk more openly about how our identities shape our experiences and actually shape the injustices that we’re seeing. I’m proud that I’ve gotten better at bringing these issues up. It’s really hard, actually. It’s really hard. Especially in my role in diversity inclusion. It’s literally my job to advocate. And even though it’s my job, it is so very hard to do. I’m proud every time I am able to do it because, you know, it’s just hard out there. So, I’m proud to have accomplished what I’ve accomplished, but also how to be able to give back and support the Black struggle and the struggle of other marginalized groups too. I think that’s also important. Cause, you know, we either all win or nobody wins.

“I think we’re motivated by fear. And part of me thinks that it’s a consequence of living in a capitalistic structure, in a capitalist society where we’re convincing people that only so many people can have…and that means large groups of people cannot have.”

What are your personal dreams?

I’m going to be real cliche and say happiness. And not happiness, like, you know, high all the time, like those people who are just like overly bubbly all the time and you’re like, What’s wrong with them? But just content to work toward finding a balance in my life where I’m still able to serve, I’m still able to fight for justice, fight against injustice, but also maintain an appropriate level of happiness. I say that because this kind of work is so exhausting and you have days where you’re just like, What am I doing? Nothing is working. And you just want to give up. So, I want to not do that. I don’t want to give up. I want to make sure that I’m taking care of myself mentally, emotionally, physically to be content and well so that I can keep serving other people and myself. That’s my dream.

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There are these materialistic or, or experiential things that I could say. But, I mean, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what the future holds in terms of those things. Like I think I can sit and speak all day about the things that I want materially or experientially, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not. What I do know is that no matter what I want…to still be in service, advocating for justice, and being and maintaining an appropriate level of happiness while doing so.

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

The problems around are disparities in…education and income and wealth and health — physical health and mental health. I mean name an outcome and I’ll show you the disparity between Black people and White people. But the thing is, it’s not Black people’s fault. It is this historical and present day structure of racism and White supremacy that maintains these disparities. And what I really want for Black people is for Black people to know that it is not our fault. It is not our fault. And we cannot be complacent. I think sometimes when we become successful, and we can easily get our basic needs met, and maybe a little more…we become really complacent. And we forget that we’re still not doing great as a culture, as a people. And I just feel like that cannot happen. Actually I think it may get even more complicated because I think we’ve been causing harm to other people in our group and because we become really classist,and look down upon other Black people who are not able to be successful.

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And we forget that it was the same structure that held us down for centuries, is the same structure that it’s continued to hold down many, many Black people. So I guess, maybe complacency. Like we cannot forget that the structure of the system of oppression is still very much at play and very much causing harm even to those of us who think that we’ve made it. Cause a lot of times, yes, Black people think they made it and they don’t have anything to worry about. And it’s like, Oh, those people over there can’t get their stuff together. And it’s like, No, we’re all in the same boat. So yeah, maybe complacency. I don’t want us to become complacent. I want us to continue to struggle and continue to help each other out and other marginalized folks as well. Cause we will do that too. Cause again, for whatever reason, humans are very tribal. It’s like only Black issues and it’s like, No, this system hurts all of these marginalized groups. So we need to support them as well.

“Know our history. You know, as expensive as my education was, I did not learn history till I got out of school. So, learn about our history. I mean, cause, we built this country. “

What are you dreams for society?

That everyone has their needs met. If everyone had their needs met, we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in. All problems would be solved if everyone had their needs met. Um, cause again, you know, back to what I said earlier is this fear of not having something being taken away prevents us from doing the right thing. I kind of think that if our needs were met, that fear would be gone and we would all be kind of more kind of compassionate to one another. So that’s why I drink to society. This competition thinks that it’s just got to stop.

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

Organize, probably. Change can happen through individual people, but it doesn’t have the same impact unless individual people work as a group. So I think maybe organizing and using our power collectively together to insist upon the changes we want to see.

What advice would you give to other black people?

Pay attention. And that’s advice for myself too, actually. So I wouldn’t say anything to other people that I wouldn’t say to myself because, we gotta pay attention.

What advice would you give to not black to help them understand the black experiences?

Know our history. You know, as expensive as my education was, I did not learn history till I got out of school. So, learn about our history. I mean, cause, we built this country. In terms of American culture and knowing the actual history of America, that includes Black people being the foundation of building what we think of as America. But then also, I think that we were also done a disservice because we did not learn, and people are still not being educated in school about any African civilizations. We learned all about European modern, European history, all of these kinds of things. But never Africa, which is a huge, huge place and older than Europe, way older, but we don’t learn anything about that. So, we do a disservice to ourselves in not learning about that continent. So yeah, learning. Learning our history pre- and post- America.

Additional Information

Interview Date: January 28, 2020

Day 19 — Story posted on February 20, 2020

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