By Valarie Stephens 
 What does it mean to be a black woman? Is it the way we walk? Is it the way we talk? Or is it something that comes from within? Or just maybe it's none of those things at all. Maybe it’s simply our melanated skin.

I often wondered if I were ever enough. I, the quiet awkward introvert who never quite fit into the black woman stereotype (labels) but just happened to be a black woman. Would my color ever be enough or did I have to be more than my color? Did I have to be the stereotype of what others envisioned my color to be? Or, could I simply just be? These were some of my insecurities growing up. That we must all fit within some type of category in order to fit in. That color isn't as broad as the spectrum we truly are but that we are only relegated to a category. So the question then becomes are we more than a stereotype?

Growing up I was an introvert who happened to be black. I define introverts as internal souls who live within. Introverts don't necessarily have the need to be social, outgoing or the life of the party. There is that contentedness of being solitary and having that quiet private time. It is a way to regroup and recharge from being in the world. And though there are many different types of introverted personalities the idea of being internal and private still rings true for many.

As a black woman who is an introvert I've faced some unique challenges that my conscious mind has now learned to process. Those challenges included being content with my own identity. From time to time I would get the 'You don't act black enough' or 'You don't talk black enough' comments. I would often wonder what that even meant. Are our minds that narrow that we have to limit ourselves to an accent or mannerism? Is that really all that we are as a race or can we reach beyond the superficial? Of course we can! There was a strong desire for me to fit in growing up because I was opposite of others and too scared to be me. By opposite I mean quiet, shy and unsure of myself while others were more vocal and fearless. And by the way, shy and quiet are two completely separate things. Although there may be introverts that are shy, it’s a personality trait that can be tied to all personality types. At that time, I just happened to be both things.

Well, I didn't want to be the shy, quiet one who stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn't want to be different. I wanted to blend right in. So my subconscious mind looked to the stereotype of what black is as who I should strive to be. This thought process caused a lot of problems for me because I simply covered up my authentic self. Instead of looking within I looked to others on how to be and who to be. I could not accept myself because I felt my differences were a negative. It was a rough time because self-love was not a present factor in my life at that time. I had no clue. But the bigger lesson in all of this is that instead of searching for an acceptable identity, realizing that I already 'am.' I was and I am the person God made me to be. I did not have to look beyond myself or try to be anything other than me. This is more of a universal message for all personality types. Self-acceptance/self-love is the key to embracing your genuine self.

Well, I finally came to realization that I was enough after my spiritual light grew inside and I became closer to God. Although it was later in life when I had this epiphany, my conscious mind began to digest the idea of what the essence of color is and then it all made sense to me. For me color is about culture and the idea of just being and nothing else. Black just is! And that’s it. There are no stereotypes that we should hold ourselves to. Being black is about accepting everything that black embodies and that’s a wide spectrum of who we are. One personality does not define another or an entire race so we must learn to accept everyone for who we are.

As an introverted soul I’ve accepted all facets that make up who I am as a human being. And what I’ve learned is that it is ok to be a black woman who is also an introvert and defy stereotypes associated with what it’s supposed to mean to be black. What’s most important is that we can all learn from one another regardless of race or personality type. We each bring a unique aspect to the table in this journey we call life.

What does being an introvert mean to you?

Valarie Stephens is a self-proclaimed introvert who lives life as a free-spirit and creative soul. Her life's journey of ups and downs, personal pain and setbacks are just some of her topics of discussion from her first book titled ‘The Quiet Thinker.' Through spiritual growth and prayer she's been able to get through dark times in her life and completely transform herself into the positive role model she is today. Whether you consider yourself an internal spirit or an extrovert, she has a universal message for everyone. Healing the world and helping others walk in their best light is her life's purpose.

Erickka Sy Savané
I was on the phone the other day with a receptionist. The woman was having me spell my daughter’s name for what had to be the 100th time. I try to be patient when this happens because I know her first name is a doozy–11 letters–and African. It’s like nothing most of us Americans have ever heard before. So when I begin to detect this woman’s tone changing, I make sure to chill. We’ll get there eventually.

 And when we do, she lets out an exasperated sigh and says, “Why’d you give that child that name?”

“Excuse me?” I say, not sure if I heard her correctly.

“Why’d you give her a name that she’d be lucky if she can pronounce, let alone spell?”

I put the phone down and start taking off my earrings. Had this woman lost her mind? Of all the rude comments! And to think that she was representing someone’s business. I’m a second away from reaching into the phone to grab her neck when I remind myself that I knew this would happen. In fact, I almost didn’t give my daughter her name because of people like that receptionist.

“You can’t name her that!” said just about everyone when I told them the name I had chosen for my unborn child. Others would just start singing, ‘Mama Say Mama Sa Mama Coosa’ from Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.’” They said it reminded them of that song. At one point, I stopped telling people because I didn’t want to hear it anymore.

What they failed to see was that I loved the name from the moment I first heard it. Ever fall in love with a sound? For some it’s the sweet cackle of a baby’s giggle, for me it was the rhythm of this name. Like music to my ears. The fact that it was African made it even better. Not just because my husband is African, but because I wanted a name that my child could live in to, a name that whenever spoken would create images of gold lit skies, and blackness, like the continent itself.

Yet, it’s funny how I still had doubts.

“Do you have a name?” asked the doctor who delivered my daughter as she placed her on top of me, still wet and slippery like a fish freshly out of the water. I was tired. Exhausted from a natural birth that had me laboring for 24 hours. Finally, I told her the short version because in that moment, I was no longer sure. Would I dare give her a name with 11 letters and five syllables? Would she be able to get a job? What if she was a gentle soul incapable of handling the teasing and insults that might come her way? Heck, what if she didn’t like it?!

“Okay,” said the doctor, letting the name roll off of her tongue. “What’s the long version?” I spit it out. Every. Last. Syllable. There. Say what you want. “Girl, you betta give that child all that name!”

We both laughed and in that moment I knew that I couldn’t go halfway. Why? To make it easy? To please other people? I’d been doing that my whole life and where had it gotten me? If I couldn’t stand for the name I wanted to give my child when would I ever stand for anything? This name was for both my child and me.

I think about the receptionist on the other end of the phone. Right now she represents all the ignorance and prejudice that will likely be a part of my daughter’s future.
How would I want her or anyone for that matter to respond?
Patience? Tried that.
Maybe I’d meet fire with fire.
I pick up the phone, and this time it is my tone that has changed. “Listen, Ma’am, I’m sorry if this name isn’t convenient for you, but you’re a receptionist not the name police. Mind your business.”

How do you respond to name shaming?

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in,,, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or  
By Mary Wolff

A question many naturalistas ask is should I really use grease on my hair? When we think of grease, we think of thick gunk that belongs in cars and not curls. Let’s a closer look at whether or not you should use it for your hair.


Grease is usually a combination of petroleum (cleaned up sludge from the earth) and mineral oil (even cleaner, liquefied sludge from the earth). Petroleum-based products come from the same Earth that we pollute every day with factory run off, pharmaceuticals, household chemicals, etc. Questions about the safety of mineral oil and petroleum in cosmetic products come from concern that they may not be clean enough after coming from such a dirty place. The petroleum and mineral oil used in medicinal creams (Neosporin, for example) gets cleaned much more thoroughly than the stuff used in hair products.

That being said, it’s important to remember that hair is dead – meaning it’s not connected to your blood supply after it emerges from the hair follicle. If you’re concerned about the safety of petroleum-based products, start by not using any on your lips. Most lip balms and glosses are petroleum-based and you end up swallowing the majority of what you put on. That’s much worse than putting petroleum on your (dead) hair!

There are a few great benefits of using hair grease that make it worth trying. It is a sealant which makes it ideal for treating frizz. It’s also good for getting a light hold minus the crunch factor of hairsprays. When looking for a way to get sleek edges in your latest style, hair grease might be just the trick you are looking for. Regardless of the reason you use hair grease, it is best to pay attention to the health of your hair and know what it needs to stay looking its best. No two heads of curls are the same so try it out for yourself before you make a final verdict on hair grease.
You should use whatever works to keep your hair from breaking and help you achieve the styles you like. While some curlies will swear off hair grease because of the petroleum part and the fact that it isn’t an all-natural based product, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its uses. If grease makes your hair look and feel good, you should use it, but keep a few things in mind:

Be Careful with Build Up

Be careful about the grease you choose, especially if you have fine hair. It’s not just the ingredients that matter, it’s the recipe too. You’ll know the grease is too heavy if you have to work to create volume/fullness on your finished style. Anything that leads to more manipulation should be avoided. Fine hair also doesn’t do well when you put a lot of weight on the strands. If you notice your hair breaking even when you know it’s moisturized (e.g. within 24 hours of a fresh wash), it could be the extra weight from the grease.

Shampoo Frequently

You need to shampoo your hair once a week (more if you work out). The best long term routine includes washing with a gentle shampoo once a week. Momma did have some things right back in the day. The routine was shampoo, condition, water, grease, repeat. Grease attracts more dirt than other products and it can easily build up and clog the cuticle layer. Clogged cuticles prevent the hair from reaching its optimal moisture level which will make it more breakage prone than ever. Make sure you don’t apply the grease to your scalp since it will only make this problem worse.

It Does Not Moisturize

The other big thing to know about how to use hair grease is that it has no moisturizing properties whatsoever. If you are going to use it, make sure you apply water to your hair first to avoid it making your strands dry. Using it as a sealant with water can create a better retention of the natural moisture your hair needs to stay healthy. You need to make sure you are hydrating your hair after every use of hair grease to replenish any lost moisture.
The decision to use hair grease is ultimately up to you based on your personal needs and individual hair. It is worth noting that serums were created to give us a better alternative to grease. Although grease works very well as a sealant, it’s heavier than other products and it attracts more dirt. If you have very fine hair or acne prone skin, you should choose a silicone serum instead.

Cover photo:
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