All posts by Debbie

Going Gray While Black

photograph of Rebecca Carroll; no gray showing
Rebecca Carroll

Debbie says:

I’d be interested in an article about going gray by just about any Black woman, so finding  the awesome Rebecca Carroll is writing about just that (“Going Gray Is a Revelation,” published at TheZoeReport”) is a real treat. Carroll is 52, and her gray hair “has only just started to come in around my face over the past year or two, and I love it.”

after the recent loss of actor Michael K. Williams, I found myself deeply moved by a quote of his that resurfaced amid the myriad messages of appreciation and mourning that circulated on social media after his death. In an interview for Men’s Health, he said: “I spent a lot of my younger years not feeling beautiful. When I look back at my pictures now as a kid, I’m like, ‘Damn, you were actually beautiful.’ I couldn’t see it back then.”

I already knew I was going to write this piece before Williams died, but this quote reminded me of my context. Because there’s beauty, and then there’s us. By us, I mean Black folks — we who have never been factored into the “real” standard of beauty in America, the white standard of beauty. Many of us search for any reflection of ourselves in our surroundings, particularly during our youths, much less a reflection or representation of ourselves that is deemed beautiful. And for a lot of Black girls and gay Black boys (Williams was gay) this lack of reflection hits in an especially poignant way. In America, Black girls are too often hyper-sexualized, while gay Black boys are de-sexualized or erased altogether, when often all we want is to see ourselves presented as beautiful. We simultaneously ache for the validation, and feel ashamed for wanting it.

I am 100% clear that being fat is not being Black. That being said, this passage will likely strike a chord with adults of all races who were fat kids. I certainly have the experience of looking at pictures of my young self and seeing beauty I didn’t know was there, as well the experience of looking hopelessly for images of myself, let alone ones that spoke of beauty. I also know that the fat Black girls (and the fat Black boys) face a much higher barrier to finding their own beauty than I ever did.

Carroll’s short article continues in her lyrical, searingly truthful style:

I actually really like getting older. Although, doing so while also navigating the current generation’s insistence on one’s own hotness, in every way, on every possible media platform, is an increasingly ambitious endeavor. Still, along with the profound solace of mercifully depleted f*cks to give, comes a deeply intimate, unrestrained sense of beauty — your own, and all that is in and around you. It’s less a feeling of who or what is beautiful, and more of a revelation. Indeed, as the late Toni Morrison once said, “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”

On one level, I wish she had written more, and in the end, I deeply appreciate that she said what she wanted to say, said it clearly, invoked Michael K. Williams and Toni Morrison (both iconic figures) and then stopped when she was done.

This article is for everyone, and it is especially for Black women and gay Black men. I hope it gets in front of as many of those folks’ eyes as possible. Thank you, Ms. Carroll!


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Condor Reproduction: The Splendid Capacity of Bodies

California condor in flight

Laurie and Debbie say:

We usually write about human bodies, but we were both fascinated by the news about condor babies born without fathers. We saw articles about this in many places, inckluding Sarah Zhang’s article in The Atlantic: “After Thirty Years of Breeding Condors, a Secret Comes Out.

California condors have been one of the most endangered species on the planet; their endangered species goes back to long before the current mass extinction pattern. Condor endangerment is entirely attributable to humans hunting these magnificent birds as trophies. In 1983, the condor population was down to 22 (!) individuals (it is now believed to be more than 300, still a pathetic number, many of them flying wild).

Because of the extreme situation of the condor, Zhang writes, “biologists have been carefully breeding the birds in captivity. They kept track of who mated with whom, how many offspring they had, and when those offspring were released into the wild. All of this is logged in the official California-condor ‘studbook.'”

It’s from these records that we now know that

scientists conducting DNA tests as part of routine research found two condors with unexpected paternity. These two birds—known by their studbook numbers as SB260 and SB517—were not related to the fathers recorded in the studbook. Actually, they had no fathers at all. A full 100 percent of their DNA had come from their respective mothers.

This single-parent reproduction is called parthenogenesis, and it has been known for a long time to be possible in various birds, including turkeys, though it hadn’t been documented before in condors. Most babies born this way (known as “parthenotes” are somewhat genetically deformed, including both identified condors: however, they both were born live and lived to early maturity. In other vertebrate species. Zhang says, “In boas and pythons, [University of Tulsa biologist Warren] Booth has been able to get female parthenotes to breed with males and have viable offspring. In the wild, parthenogenesis could help these reptiles recover from severe population loss. ​”

For us, that’s the exciting part. Mass extinction threats and severe population loss are happening to thousands of species all over the world–not all of them will be able to reproduce parthenogenetically (apparently, mammals can’t). And we certainly can’t take this as a reason not to fight climate chaos and protect biodiversity. Nonetheless, the possibility is a stunning testament to nature’s endless creativity and unpredictability. What other life-saving surprises could be lurking in the genes and proteins of living things?


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