LADY LATONYA

Lunch Lady article - issue 17 - Lady LaTonya

In an online world dominated by white voices, Brooklyn-based stylist and blogger LaTonya Yvette has carved herself a platform to discuss everything from beauty, fashion and motherhood to the politics of white nationalism in President Trump’s America.

Her debut book, Woman of Color, combines her personal narrative with interviews and essays by other black women, creating a book that is inherently personal, political and feminine.

To order LaTonyas book Woman of Color, head HERE.

Who is in your family?

There’s me, LaTonya (30), my daughter, River (8), and my son, Oak (5). We are lucky to have family who don’t live in our home but we are still close to and are part of our family unit, along with friends that my children are being raised around like family.

Describe yourself now?

Who I am today is taking shape after a very eventful decade in my twenties. I’m now thirty and would say I am a mother and friend. I am creative, a stylist, a writer and now an author. I would add that I am attempting to live my life and raise my kids in the best way I can, while also trying to inspire others and show that life doesn’t have to be perfect and being a woman is layered.

How has your childhood affected your parenting? 

My childhood has taught me a lot about parenting. I was one of five children and raised under some different circumstances to my own children. When I think of my childhood, I wish someone had made me talk a bit more about what was going on or gave more importance to talking. I’m aware of this with my children. So, much to my daughter’s annoyance, I am always asking her questions. She’s a bit shy, but I try to create a safe environment so she can talk or at least know she can trust me with a conversation and not fear talking to me. 

You’ve had vitiligo from age seven. What was this like?

Having patches of my skin turn white as a young child was definitely hard. There’s no other word to describe that painful and very real emotional and physical transition. It forever shaped me, the good and the bad. And you know what? I’m thankful for it.

When did you begin to understand colourism, and what is your experience with it?

My mother was very light-skinned, so it was something that I was aware of as a young child. But more so in school, when the popular girl was usually light-skinned. Girls with lighter skin were considered pretty, and darker skin wasn’t. There would be comments like, “She’s pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” As if brown-skinned girls could not be utterly stunning.

Commercials showed the same idea. Families were white or light-skinned. I started to notice that beauty was based on this light-to-dark preference. This isn’t just an American thing, either.

How did you fight back to injustice as a child?

I literally fought! Physical fighting was my answer to being backed in a corner and bullied. 

I’m now trying to teach my children that there are other ways to respond to bullying. I hope they are equipped with the right tools to identify a bully or racist and gauge whether they should waste their time with a response. I hope that by always allowing space for safe conversations in our home, my children can always talk to me about it.

How do you fight back now, as an adult?

I am trying to unlearn many of my childhood responses. It has taken a lot of time and therapy to realise I can be justified in my anger, but how I choose to respond is up to me.

As an adult, I use language, meditation and a host of other tools. I think my experiences as a child make it easier for me to fight for what I believe in, so I use my voice and my platform for causes I consider important. I could not be content with my life if I didn’t use my position to help create change.

What was your experience of becoming a mother for the first time?

I became pregnant when I was twenty-one, and it was unplanned, but I put a lot of energy into becoming a mother. I took all the classes, obsessed over my contractions, timed the breastfeeding, slept when she slept. But of course, there were struggles, financial pressures and the blues. 

Having a daughter at a young age taught me a lot about work, fighting for what’s important and, also, taking in the grand and micro moments of joy that we often overlook in each day. It was a perspective shift. It’s these learnings that I take into my activism work.

You lost your second child. Can you tell us about your experience?

Losing a child had never been in the realms of possibility for me. I faintly recall a family member who lost a baby when I was young, and I remember her struggles from a child’s perspective, but it wasn’t something I really knew about. I don’t remember reading about loss or knowing anyone, as an adult, who lost a baby. It hadn’t been a consideration. 

When I lost my baby at twenty-one weeks, it was so strange. I wanted to be ‘over it’ until I realised that was impossible. 

A friend gave me the details of an anonymous hotline, and they then connected me with a woman who had also lost a child at the same stage in her pregnancy. And even that, when I think of activism, is activism: that older woman changed the course of my mourning and helped me so much. She was the first one to tell me that my grief would never really go away. 

You also lost your father, who you had a complex relationship with, and had a traumatic experience trying to resuscitate your grandmother. Can you tell us about living with grief?

You don’t wake up one day and it’s done. It just doesn’t work that way. Grief shifts, takes new shapes, and returns loud and clear at unexpected times.

I think grief is part of the human experience and my personal connection to joy. Because grief is there. It is tangible. Joy feels sweet and worthwhile because we know that grief and sorrow and loss are intricate parts of our collective journey.   

What do you think are the main differences between your children’s experience of growing up in America and yours?

My children have a white father, so I think our experiences will differ based on that. Whether those differences are big or small, I’m not sure. I’m not them. But I am raising them to be aware of their privilege, whatever it offers and whatever it doesn’t. In general, my kids live a really good life, without many worries. 

My mother faced different struggles when raising me. Not because race issues have gone away today, but I think there are different concerns with changing times. I expect my own challenge might be around navigating topics openly with them, in a time when the internet is accessible at a young age.

What are the common things white people do that they probably don’t even realise are racist?

Not listening to their black friends on major or micro levels. It is an issue, and something I do not see happen to white friends as frequently. And equally, when they aren’t listening, they dump their life and issues onto black women, as if we can fix their problems too. And at the end, they go back to not really being there but performing as if they are.

There is also an assumption that our labour is free or isn’t as important. This has come up a lot in my work and is something specific to me, but I am often asked to work for free because it will “further my career”. I find people often refuse to pay black people for their work, or don’t pay them on time.

What do you wish white people knew about the daily experiences of a black person?

I always say, imagine being followed around while shopping in a store JUST because you are white. Imagine living with the fear that it MAY be assumed that you stole something, even though you did not, just because you are white. Imagine getting freakishly angry because your son or daughter was playing around and put something in your bag, and you didn’t just get upset at them because they shouldn’t play like that, but you got angry at them because playing like that could lead to you being arrested, shot or killed, because you are white. And yes, how do you deal with that without explaining that to them? Imagine that this very easy weekly activity was so nuanced for you. THEN you may know … maybe. 

What should people do if they witness racism?

Be an up-stander. Be vocal that it is not okay. If you’re silent, you are giving the okay, and it speaks to a lot about your own racism. 

How can people prevent racism?

Teach your children and yourself and try to become actively anti-racist.

What are your hopes for your children’s future?

I hope they always fully know that love and joy are theirs. But also that they must care for and protect their neighbours and be good people.

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