Detoxaholic held the great pleasure of having an awesome grown woman conversation with renowned activist, professor, and producer, Dr. Yaba Blay. She warmly shared stories of her New Orleans upbringing, educational background, and how her evolving mindset destined her to serve as a reputable source for providing thorough insight on the layered history of racial identity amongst people of African descent.
Growing up in New Orleans, Yaba described how the city has always possessed a cultural mysticism – in everything from the language, music, cuisine, and fashion. This unique aesthetic of New Orleans only heightened her pride and expression of the rich essence of the African diaspora. Along with her colorful tales of New Orleans, Yaba also shared how she experienced certain identity struggles being a first generation Ghanaian growing up in the United States. Both of her parents are Ghanaian born, and have careers in the world of academia; her mother is a retired schoolteacher, and her father is a professor. Yaba shares her gratitude for how her parents were dedicated in maintaining their Ghanaian roots in their household through food, fashion, music, and many other traditional customs.
However, even with the loving support of her family, the growing pains of growing up in American culture were inevitable. She talked about how the Creole community, which consists of multi-racial people who have ancestry mixed with African, European, and Native American were at the top of the social totem pole amongst the African American community. Since Creoles are of lighter complexion with Eurocentric features, they were often given preferential treatment and able to become socially and economically affluent during and post-American slavery.
Yaba explained how while growing up in this culture, she didn’t see her type of beauty often celebrated. The creole women were usually viewed as the most desirable, and her chocolate skin and short hair as a little girl sometimes left her feeling ostracized by this culturally brainwashed standard of beauty amongst the black community. She reflected on how coming of age in this environment would play a major role in her spark of activism to celebrate and acknowledge the historical and confined realms of black beauty and identity.
Yaba has established an incredibly impressive and diverse higher educational career. She has her B.A. degree in Psychology from Salisbury State University, and a M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology from the University of New Orleans. While Yaba appreciates her degrees in Psychology and the people she was able to help, it started to become spiritually unfulfilling. She was yearning for more knowledge in a different arena, and unsure of her next transition. After speaking with a fellow professor about her thoughts, she was encouraged to follow her intuition and pursue other educational avenues; from there, Yaba decided to major in African American studies, and she received her M.A., and Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple University with a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies.
According to Yaba, her acquired knowledge in African American studies was a natural progression. During this pivotal period, she felt as if a light switch was turned on because she began to realize that her childhood in New Orleans and first-hand experience of colorism amongst the African American community was the foundation that sparked her deep relation to this specific field of study. She was becoming spiritually recharged, and it jumpstarted her advocacy to spotlight the ethnographic discourse of people of African diaspora.
Yaba brilliantly uses different aspects of media to ignite dialogue around the controversial correlation between skin hue and social placement in westernized cultures. Her 2007 dissertation, Yellow Fever: Skin Bleaching and the Politics of Skin Color in Ghana, explored the social phenomena of skin bleaching in Ghana. Next, her acclaimed book (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens of Race, discussed the limited perception of black identity, and the burdening weight of skin color politics amongst all people of the African diaspora in westernized societies. Then, Yaba was a Consulting Producer for the widely praised CNN documentary “Who Is Black in America”, which was inspired by her (1)ne Drop book. Plus, she provided and continues to deliver expert commentary on the hot button issues surrounding colorism for reputable media outlets such as: BET, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, Huffington Post Live, Ebony Magazine, and a host of others.
She also appreciates how social media has transformed into the new frontier for social activism. Yaba believes that raising awareness on social media is super effective because the hashtag movement allows people to relate to each other’s realities on a global scale. The immediate notification of social media causes people to organize and react in urgency, which Yaba believes can be a blessing and a curse. For her particular mission, her platform is to inform and she’s comfortable with the reality that it may make some people uncomfortable to discuss topics surrounding racism. Yaba hopes that her platform can continue to encourage people to take part in these necessary debates.
Along with raising awareness in the world, Yaba loves relaxing at home on her downtime. Like most everyday women, her guilty pleasures are ratchet reality TV shows such as Love & Hip Hop, Real Housewives, Black Ink, and a host of others. She loves music, especially hip-hop, the beach, and traveling. She loves to explore the traditional customs of different cultures and strays away from typical tourist destinations.
Currently, Yaba resides in North Carolina and is the Dan Blue Endowed Chair and Visiting Professor in Political Science at North Carolina Central University. As a natural observer, she plans to continue to provide cultural insight and social commentary through media. Yaba is currently producing a documentary series called “Adventures at Beauty World” that explores the wonderland of Black hair culture. She wants the project to be fun, informative, and of course thought provoking.
Yaba’s goal with all her initiatives is to ignite people into action. Besides healthy dialogue, she hopes that her research, projects, and activism will unite people, especially people of the African diaspora. She encourages all people, especially the youth, to self reflect and always be open to constant educational and spiritual growth. With this, it will become clearer what you stand for and what initiatives you want to join that reflect your passions and perspectives on the world.
To stay informed on Dr. Yaba Blay’s platform, visit her website.