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Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies


November 12-14, 2014


How Do I Look?: Race, Beauty, and Desire


Dr. Yaba Blay is one of today’s leading voices on global skin color politics and colorism.  As a researcher and ethnographer, she uses personal and social narratives to disrupt fundamental assumptions about cultures and identities.  Her creative work as a producer uses images to incite dialogue and inform consciousness that leads to action and transformation.

Co-director of Africana Studies at Drexel University, Dr. Blay is the author of (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race and artistic director of the (1)ne Drop project.  In (1)ne Drop, she explores the interconnected nuances of skin color politics and Black racial identity and challenges narrow perceptions of Blackness as both an identity and lived reality.  In 2012, she served as a Consulting Producer for CNN Black in America’s Who is Black in America?— a television documentary inspired by the scope of her (1)ne Drop project.  In addition to her production work for CNN, Dr. Blay is producing a transmedia film project focused on the global practice of skin bleaching, with director Terence Nance.


Michaela Angela Davis is an image activist, writer, editorial director, feminist, fashionista, and community leader recognized for her relentless multiplatform efforts to expand media narratives about beauty, image, and power.  She has served as executive editor for fashion, beauty, and culture at Essence, was the first fashion director at Vibe, and currently serves as editorial brand manager for BET, the largest black media company in the world.  A trained actor and dancer, she has also been a celebrity stylist, with a client list that includes Diana Ross, Oprah Winfrey, Prince, and Beyonce.

Her essays have been anthologized in collections such as Everything But the Burden: What White People are Taking From Black Culture (ed. Greg Tate, 2003) and Black Cool (ed. Rebecca Walker, 2012) and published in online venues such as Jezebel and Huffington Post.  Davis has spoken widely at cultural institutions, community events, and colleges and universities, in addition to making media appearances on MSNBC, Fox, MTV, BBC, NBC, and regularly on CNN. 

Her activist work includes co-creating, with Essence, the Take Back the Music Campaign to stimulate conversations about depictions of women of color in mainstream hip-hop videos.  She is also creator of MADFREE: Liberating Conversations About Image, Beauty, and Power. 


Patrice Grell Yursik is a Trinidadian writer who currently lives in downtown Chicago. In August 2006, she created the blog to fill a void in print and online media in celebrating natural hair and women of all shades.  Yursik has also contributed writing to Essence,, and, and was one of the initial contributors to Italian Vogue’s Vogue Black.

Afrobella has been featured in numerous publications and has been listed on Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 list—alongside Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey, and the Obamas—as well as The Root’s list of 20 Black Bloggers You Should Know, and Black Enterprise’s list of 20 of the Blogosphere’s Best. is one of few blogs in the Black Weblog Awards Hall of Fame, and to date Afrobella has won more than ten online awards, ranging from Glam’s Best in Beauty Award to Best Writing in a Blog from the Black Weblog Awards.

In 2011 Afrobella partnered with MAC Cosmetics to create her own custom lipglass called “All Of My Purple Life,” part of the Bloggers’ Obsession collection. Her lipglass sold out in one week.  It was then re-released and sold out again in another week.  Currently there is a fan-created petition calling for the color’s return.


Mimi Thi Nguyen is associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  She is the author of the award-winning The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages (Duke, 2012) and co-editor of Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian America (Duke, 2007).  A former Punk Planet columnist and Maximumrocknroll contributor who also published zines for over 20 years, Nguyen writes and speaks widely on such topics as queer subcultures, punk feminisms, and the politics of fashion.  In 2012 and 2013, she participated in the POC Zine Project/Race Riot! Tour to discuss and read from zines by people of color.  She also blogs at ThreadBared.

Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies

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