Cover Girls

The May edition of Ebony and the premiere issue of Jones hit the newsstands recently, and both offer plenty of fodder for Latte Cafe this month. Paula Patton offers probably the best pregnancy magazine cover I’ve seen since a very pregnant Halle Berry was on the cover of InStyle (I think that’s the name). Patton looks like a goddess, draped in that dreamy fabric, with her hair tumbling down her shoulders and holding the bouquet to her chest. In the article, Paula talks about managing her movie career and motherhood. Her husband Robin Thicke, the R&B singer/songwriter and son of actor Alan Thicke, contributes a sidebar, where he extols his wife. Among other things, he says: “As long as I keep my patience and take care of her, then we’re fine. She deserves to have a very calm and happy pregnancy.”

Patton is the child of a Black man and a White mother, but don’t dare call her ‘biracial’ or ‘mixed-race’. She declared that she is Black, full stop. When she and her brother was young, their parents gave them a very solid grounding in their racial identity. Patton said:

“I don’t like it when people go too far with the mixed-race thing. My mom is one of the strongest, smartest women I know. And she said: ‘Listen, the world sees you as Black and that’s what you are. There is no mixed-race this or that.’ The fact of the matter is, White people are not accepting me [as] one of their own. I am Black, and that’s how I was raised. Period. My father felt the same way,” she says.

Patton’s absolute clarity about her racial identity didn’t mean that she shoved her mother’s heritage off the table. In fact:

“It didn’t mean that I didn’t love my mother, that she wasn’t 50 percent of me. But the community that was going to embrace me was my people: Black people.”

Still, as a fair-skinned Black woman, and one who attended a racially mixed high school, Patton felt challenged to prove her racial allegiance. For her, that came in the form of being vice president of the Black Student Group, a public affirmation of pride and comfort in her Blackness. “I know there’s a new way of thinking of ‘mixed race,’ but I don’t personally like that. I actually think that is a way to separate yourself from Black people, and there’s a long history of feeling superior because [of] light skin or straight hair,” she says. “I don’t go for that one bit.”

Kudos to Patton’s mother for grounding her kids in their identity, and telling them the honest truth about how the world with see them and embrace them. It must have taken a lot for a White woman to practically place her kids, so to speak, in a racial-social group outside her own. I can see why Patton describes her mother in such glowing terms.

The very last article in May’s Ebony is a he said/she said essay from Stephen and Patricia Blessman, a Latte Cafe type of couple. It’s about how they met, married and started a family. Their story is touching, and guess where the connection happened? Her hairdresser—his friend—introduced them. I’m declaring it now: any guy who wants to meet an eligible black woman needs to walk into a salon or beauty supply store. This is the second interracial marriage for Stephen Blessman, whose first wife was also Black.

 

If you’ve never heard of Jones magazine, you will soon. It just made its national launch after a five-year run as Houston’s premier fashion, beauty, travel and lifestyle guide for affluent African-American women. I had walked out of my office building after a long day at my magazine, and was about to book it up the block to my train when I spotted the magazine locked behind the display case of a newsstand. Which was closed! I tried two other newsstands until I finally came across one that hadn’t closed down yet. I asked that vendor to open his display case, so he could sell it to me.

It was worth the effort. Jones scored big points for putting Veronica Webb on the cover, and getting magazine luminary Amy Dubois Barnett to write the feature story. I remember Veronica Webb from my high school days, and always remembered her as a woman of substance, a beauty who could also think, reason and write. I refuse to believe that this stunning woman with two daughters is 45 years old, though. Must be a misprint. I think Veronica Webb’s ex-husband, George E. Robb, Jr., is white, but I’m not going to stay up for long hours researching that.

I remember when British actress Thandie Newton appeared on the cover of Town & Country, sitting in what seemed like a garden, smiling that curly-Q smile of hers and I think she was holding an apple. Commentators noted the fact that she was the first black woman to appear on the cover of Town & Country, hinting that this was some sign of social progress among the apex of America’s social elite. Ha! As much as I respect and admire Thandie Newton, she’s biracial, which in my mind is a cop out on the part of a magazine’s leadership that couldn’t commit to someone equally worthy, more representative of most black women, and who have an undisputed regal bearing, like Phylicia Rashad or San Francisco’s ubersocialite Pamela Joyner. Newton and all the other women are completely blameless in this, of course. But the July 2004 cover of T&C underscores the way that mainstream white culture decides to include other cultures.

First the light-skinned ones …

How redundant. So tiresome.

At any rate, Tracey Ferguson, the editor in chief of Jones, has really hit on something special. Other magazines like Essence continue to appeal to our ambitions, always pushing black women toward affluence.  Jones markets itself to black women, not necessarily celebrities, who have already arrived. Since Thandie Newton’s appearance in Town & Country, I don’t remember seeing any other black woman featured on its cover. Maybe I missed them, but it doesn’t matter. That title never could get my attention at the newsstands. Too stuffy to inspire even my aspirational, curious eye for decorating and shopping. Maybe now it won’t matter. Instead of waiting around for establishment blue blood publications to pay heed to accomplished and refined black women, I can just look to Jones‘ commentary on elevated black culture. I just hope it doesn’t bore me to death with a parade of celebrities on the cover. But who knows? It seems to be a foregone conclusion among magazine publishers that only actresses, singers and models can sell a magazine cover on a newsstand.

Ms. Ferguson is really keeping herself busy. She runs the magazine, and leads the cast of a reality TV show on Centric TV, called “Keeping Up with the Joneses.” It’s about her life as a mother, friend and businesswoman, and her bid to take the publication national. You can view episodes of  the show if you visit the Centric TV web site. I tried to embed a couple of videos, but couldn’t do it, so you’ll have to take the trip over there.  In episode 2, Ms. Ferguson, also widow of Gary Ferguson, who was white, talks about the pain of losing her husband. It sounded like they had a solid relationship, one where he encouraged her to shine and make her dreams happen. I hope she is on her way to healing.

I will definitely be a faithful follower of the developments over at Jones magazine. Despite the drastic loss in ad revenue that glossy magazines have suffered during the Great Recession, I think the magazine medium will always last. And as a writer I always hope that magazines thrive so I’ll continue to have professional options!

Important note: Tracey Ferguson herself looks like she could be a cover model—way too young to be a mother of two teenagers. They say black don’t crack, but between Tracey and Veronica this is ridiculous!

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Black Like Mom | The Latte Cafe - February 9, 2011

    […] just updated a post about Paula Patton’s interview in the May 2010 issue of Ebony magazine, wherein she a similar “big talk” from her […]

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