"My first actual published piece after college was for Pitchfork, and it was on [Rihanna’s] 'Bitch Better Have My Money'. It was like, a really pretentious but also heartfelt piece on the symbolism of cash in subaltern communities. So, with respect to Rihanna, that would be her being a Black woman who’s not American, but who’s making music in America. I talked about how the move to a cashless society loses some of the grime and dirtiness that I think is kind of wondrous about women touching and exchanging cash. For Pitchfork, of all places! But essentially, once you freelance one piece, you freelance another, and editors just keep contacting you. I was taking whatever work I could get. And then, you end up in the position where you know enough editors that you can also pitch to them.
I never went to journalism school. I went to Brown, where I focused on non-fiction writing. I started writing and editing for the school newspapers—I learned a lot about longform journalism and studying it made me happy. After I graduated, I was so exhausted. It could be grueling. With the humanities, it could be as difficult as you wanted it to be. I chose to do a thesis—mine was a collection of essays on Black women. I talked about Michelle Obama, I had an essay on Lucia MacBath—the mother of Jordan Davis—I think I had one on Lauryn Hill, one on [Keshia Knight Pulliam] Rudy from the Cosby Show. White Girls by Hilton Als came out soon after—it felt serendipitous to me in a very motivating and energizing way.
When I first started [my journalism career], I really didn’t distinguish between print and digital. That was kind of because I had a different cultural upbringing. I’m from Haiti, and I didn’t really grow up with magazines in my house. That wasn’t the way we consumed culture. So it was really at Brown that I was exposed to a lot of legacy print magazines. And of course, then I wanted to engage with people and be able to talk to people. I was never precious about that—it was just a given that I’d be doing that online.
For me, it’s always been about hair. I wrote this piece on Madam C.J. Walker—she was born in the mid to late 19th century and was the first Black woman millionaire. She was working as a laundress and in her home, and she would concoct different balms and liquids and conditioners and things for the texture of Black women’s hair. So she started a business. The first Black female millionaire owned a beauty brand! It still exists today—I went to Sephora a couple days ago and saw Madam C.J. Walker Beauty. That’s sort of been my angle in terms of beauty. I also love Margot Jefferson’s memoir, which came out two years ago. It’s called NegroLand. No one would call it a beauty memoir, but she talks about growing up in Chicago in the mid-20th century and she discusses the varied ways that Black women have to deal with how colorism and racism manifest through comportment. She comes to the idea of beauty in an oblique way—essentially, she was in this capital where the ideals of Black beauty were produced, and that affected her in ways that could be considered either positive or negative. I just think that beauty should be handled seriously, and it should be historicized. [Negroland] was a really good example of how you can take a couple decades of American history, and then produce a compelling psychological portrait as to why Black women do the things they do to look the way that they look. Beauty is not something that I’ve written about a lot yet, but I think a lot about it. It’s where I’d like to see myself pivot.
My mom really nurtured my hair. I’ve never had a relaxer or a perm or anything—my hair has always been natural. Every Saturday morning, we would wake up and she would put conditioner in my hair for an hour, and then we would go to the tub and she would massage my scalp and detangle my hair and then put it in braids. The next day, she would put it in whatever twisted style she would do for me for the week.
When I was teenager, my mom told me to learn how to do my own hair because I was grown, and I became obsessed with the natural hair sites that were really popular, like CurlyNikki. I learned about bantu knot outs, milkmaid braids, and I learned how to straighten my hair—all the things you could possibly do. I don’t really wear my hair out now because I’m lazy—I do box braids mostly. In the summer, I’ll do crochet braids, which is what I have now. It’s fun, and you can get to your scalp more easily than you would with a weave. I’ll take some Shea Moisture Roche Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo and I’ll mix it with some water, and I’ll clean my scalp—not my hair. If I can’t really get to my scalp using shampoo, I’ll use witch hazel or co-wash. But [with crochet braids], you can actually wash it. I use DevaCurl Shampoo, and I love the Kinky Curly Clarifying Shampoo.
Before I do my leave-in, I do use this Coconut Cholesterol Deep Conditioner. This is really some OG, Flatbush shit. I think it literally does have cholesterol in it. Another thing I use is Oyin Handmade Juices & Berries. It’s kind of like a liquid styler, conditioner thing. It just really hydrates my hair. For my edges, I like gel. I use the Curls Passion Fruit Control Paste. But if it’s humid, I’ll use beeswax. It’s not the best thing to put on your hair, but mine is pretty resilient.
When my hair is out, and I need to braid it down at night, I’ll use the Lemongrass Leave-In Conditioner from Alikay Naturals. She was one of these people that I followed on YouTube, and now she has her own brand in Target. If I don’t use that, I use the moisture milk from As I Am. And of course, my bonnet—it keeps my hair from breaking.
Usually, I wake up and I go to the gym. I mean I don’t work out every day, but at least four times a week. I feel so much better when I do. It’s when I feel my most animal. If you create a habit that works well with your body’s chemistry, you’re going to want more and more of it—like drugs. I like to go to the gym on an empty stomach, even though depending on who you ask, that’s probably kind of bad. But when I come back, the bags that I woke up with are almost completely gone. Usually, I’ll do cardio for 30 to 40 minutes, and then I’ll do some bodily exercises or some weight training. It’s my hour of the day where no one can talk to me—that’s really important.
When I come back, I take a shower. I usually use black soap that I buy from any of the aunties on Flatbush Avenue. I would never use it on my face because it’s too harsh, but I’ve seen the dark spots on my body go away from using it. When I’m out of the shower I’ll just keep all the moisture on my skin, and rub avocado oil everywhere. I have coconut oil, but it doesn’t do as much for me. I also use Trader Joe’s Coconut Body Butter—it’s so good. And you know, shea butter everywhere, just in case.
A couple times of week, I do an oil cleanse. That’s when I mix together castor oil, olive oil, and avocado oil, and I get a washcloth really steaming hot and put it on my face for like 30 seconds. It’s supposed to dry out the impurities, it really works. Your pores just get cleaned out. I repeat it two or three times depending on how my skin feels. If I’m breaking out I’ll put in a bit of tea tree oil. I love oil. I use Neutrogena Hydro Boost to cleanse my face otherwise. It just works! Before that, I was using Korres Oatmeal Soap for a while, but I feel like it left a little bit of a film on my skin, so I’d have to tone after using it. I tone either with witch hazel or with Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore Reducing Toner.
I didn’t use to care about sunscreen, but then my sister really gave me talking to. She’s like, ‘You can’t just rely on that Black don’t crack shit.’ [Laughs] I’ve had like two facial injuries in the past couple of years—I got mauled by a dog, so I have some lip scars. And I was in Ghana a couple months ago and I fell on the street. Pretty much all the skin on my chin fell off. In terms of scarring, I think it’s a matter of protecting your skin from the sun. I really like Paula’s Choice Youth Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid with SPF 50.
At night, I’ll use Good Genes or this Skin Perfecting AHA. Good Genes is for when I’m really feeling special. I keep it by my bed for that luxe experience. [Laughs] Sometimes I use L’Occitane Ultra-Rich. It has a lot of shea butter in it. I love old school stuff, like Ponds. Ponds is the fucking shit. Ponds, Nivea, Noxema, I love all those post-World War II kind of indestructible beauty product things. As much as I love the natural, I live in a city with tons of pollutants and I can’t expect the oils to do the whole job. If I don’t use that cream, then I use Sunday Riley’s Luna Oil. Once in a while I use this Dior Hydra Life Deep Hydration Sorbet Water Essence. I just like feeling like I have more money than I do.
My natural look needs concealer. I love the Nars Creamy Radiant Concealer in Amande. I’ll put that under my eyes and I bake it with Ben Nye in Topaz. I’m too dark for banana powder, but it’s still Ben Nye. I use this Black Opal Foundation Stick in Suede Mocha to contour a little bit. I highlight with the Glossier Haloscope in Topaz.
Sometimes I’ll wear Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer in Dark 1. If I don’t wear that, I’ll wear the Kevyn Aucoin Skin Enhancer. It’s a little dark for me, so I mix it with some Cetaphil moisturizer. For special occasions, I use Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in 11.5 for more coverage. Then I use the Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector in Topaz—everything is Topaz. Some days I kind of cheat like it’s not a makeup day, and I’ll use the MAC Skinfinish and leave. That’s where I say I’m not wearing anything. I’m all about that lie.
Maybelline Great Lash is my favorite mascara. I’ve tried other ones and I feel like they’re too ink-y. It goes on thin and feels more like a stain. I wear a lip most days, and I really like MAC in Velve Teen. But my real baby is Nars in Train Bleu. I also never stopped wearing lip gloss. It’s the best! I just think that shine is good, and it always seems really glamorous to me. I associate it with Brooklyn and the girls who are in a hurry to draw attention in that way. I’ll put lip gloss over something or wear it by itself. It’s always sticky as hell.
I love the way Solange wears makeup. I haven’t built up the nerve to do it like she does. I saw a photo of Rihanna where she had like brown lip gloss and silvery teal eyeshadow—people talk about ‘90s makeup but they don’t talk about ‘90s Black girl makeup. That’s what it was! And I love that—white eyeliner, all that. I think nails fall under that category. I like OPI Lilac. That’s my color."
—as told to ITG