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5 Phenomenal A Different World Episodes

by JAM


As an 80’s baby, I grew up watching A Different World. I can honestly say that the show affected my life in a number of ways. It was the reason why I wanted to attend an HBCU. Consequently, I attended both Albany State University and The Fort Valley State University for undergrad. The first time I ever heard Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping” poem, was while watching an A Different World episode. I was just a kid but I still remember thinking to myself, “Wow I have to find this poem.” Did I mention, I’m also a poet?

The power of A Different World was its complete grounding in the African American experience. It was when Debbie Allen stepped at the beginning of the second season that the show really started molding towards this trajectory. A Different World started off as a Cosby Show spin off, following Denise to college and ended as a show with a massive following and fan base completely its own.

There are a slew of memorable episodes but here are my top 5.

1. The “A World Alike” episode aired in 1990, when I was five years old. I saw it a number of times as a re-run. It was one of the first times I heard African Americans speaking about what I would later come to understand as Pan-Africanism. The students at Hillman University were putting pressure on their school to divest from South Africa and cut off all connections with any companies that engaged in business with South Africa during the apartheid era. It was real life worldwide protests like this that supported South African freedom fighters and helped bring additional awareness about the horrors of apartheid in South Africa.

2. The “Mammy Dearest” episode aired in 1991. Kim, an aspiring doctor recounted how she was called “Mammy” as a child, after she dressed up as a queen. The pain of this stuck with her, as a young dark skinned Black girl. Meanwhile, Whitley struggled with the new found knowledge that her family had owned slaves. It was during this episode that Kim triumphantly performed Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping.” She shed the mammy stereotype and was re-crowned queen (I’m pretty sure I practiced this scene about 10 times. My favorite line was, “I turned myself into myself, and was Jesus.”

3. The “No Means No” episode aired in 1989. In this episode Dwayne learns that one of his friends is a rapist. His friend Garth bragged to him about forcing a girl to have sex. Garth says, “Once we got started, she started putting up a fuss. You know how they are. They wanna do it but they just can’t give it up. It’s our job to let them off the hook.” Dwayne them realizes that his friend Freddy who has a date with Garth, is in danger. He rescues her right as Garth is trying to rape her. This episode does a great job of defining rape with its mantra, “No means no!” There is no confusion or excuses.

4. The “Love Taps” episode aired in 1992. In this episode Gina attempts to hide her abusive relationship with Dion, a local rapper. With black-eyes and bruises, Gina is caught in the cycle of abuse and is unsure how to escape. Her friend Lena tries to help her but she is too ashamed to accept assistance. Once the rumor spreads about her painful truth everything unveils and her circle of friends comes to support and protect her. This is what needs to happen in real life. So many Black women are in abusive relationships and not enough receive the support that is needed in order to break away from them. The episode also touches on the recursive nature of abuse. Dion recounts how his father beat his mother. In real life many abusers grow up in domestic violence environments and grow up to become perpetrators themselves. Most importantly this episodes shows Black women AND Black men coming to her defense.

5. “Save The Best For Last”, known to many at Whitley and Dwayne’s wedding episode is one of my absolute favorites. It aired in 1992. I don’t advocate someone storming into an ex-girlfriend’s wedding to confess their undying love and steal the bride. However, this episode showcases a powerful bond and love between two Black people that is not seen enough on television or anywhere in the media for that matter. I also rewound this scene a number of times.

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JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of & To reach JAM, email her at Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.

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RIO Hair Naturalizer System, Magic Hair Pills, And God Knows What Else

by JAM

Photo Credit: Youtube ScreenshotPhoto Credit: Youtube Screenshot

Years ago, Black women across America were enthralled with the hottest new hair product on the market, the RIO Natural Hair Relaxer. It was supposedly so harmless, that the infomercial showed someone eating it. It was the best thing since sliced bread. Until people suffered from severe hair loss, burned scalps and hair that turned green. There was a class action lawsuit and the company quickly folded. It caused a nationwide alopecia outbreak  that is still being talked about. However, it’s a key lesson of caution that is often forgotten.

There are a plethora of articles about the harmful effects of relaxers (especially when applied by non-professionals). However, the natural hair community is not exempt to throwing caution to the wind when it comes to hair. This is because dialogue about natural hair often emphasizes length, and other ways (besides perms) to alter the natural texture of hair.

Right now there are a few products on the market that are exciting hair enthusiasts and raising the eyebrows of skeptics. I’m one of those skeptics, mostly because I know these products are going to draw in a lot of money for the worst reason imaginable. Simply put, Black women relaxed or natural are still overly consumed with hair texture and length. These are remnants of Western beauty standards that perforate the otherwise positive discourse surrounding going natural.

As far as we’ve come with recognizing our natural beauty, there’s still a long way to go.

There are countless products focused on helping women with natural hair get the “perfect” curls. Followers flock to these brands in hopes that they too would have “curly” hair. The problem is, for everyone, natural hair is different, so certain curls are completely unrealistic for some.

Consequently, people are going through stunt shows for the “good” hair they claim not to want. People are obsessively popping pills ordered from the internet or putting their scalps at risk with the latest miracle concoction.

I’m not against pills or relaxers, I just want people to be more cautious. Right now, there are a plethora of tex-lax, natural relaxers and hair growth pills permeating the natural hair market place. These products are best used under the guidance of professionals and physicians.

In the case of hair growth pills, there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not they render desired results. Some users have even claimed that pills caused hair thinning and acne breakouts. These are symptoms of what could be greater unknown affects to your body. As I tell you these things, remember I’m not a doctor but you probably aren’t either. This is why greater counsel than a Youtube video is needed when deciding to use these products.

In the case of natural relaxers, tex-laxers and hair straightening crèmes, consumers are often mesmerized by the term “natural.” In the beauty product world, “natural” actually means a lot of things. Products regularly contain ingredients that can be labeled as natural even though they contain synthetic substances. This is because the FDA has yet to define what “natural” actually means.

FDA has not defined the term “natural” and has not established a regulatory definition for this term in cosmetic labeling.

And remember, choosing ingredients from sources you consider “organic” or “natural” is no guarantee that they are safe. You are still responsible for making sure your ingredients are safe when used according to the labeling, or as they are customarily used, no matter what kinds of ingredients you use.  Source FDA

Unfortunately, so many people still haven’t learned their lesson. Every year there’s a new hot product that promises Black women long flowing hair. Many of these come in the form of pills and elixirs. As many times as we’ve been through this, I’m flummoxed by how quickly people put their lives on the line for hair.

Vitamins are no exception either. Contrary to popular belief, “vitamin” is not synonymous with “harmless.”

On October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn’t. Two days later, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer. “It’s been a tough week for vitamins,” said Carrie Gann of ABC News.

These findings weren’t new. Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. (pg. 1)

Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, said, “The concept of multivitamins was sold to Americans by an eager nutraceutical industry to generate profits. There was never any scientific data supporting their usage.” (pg. 2) Source: The Atlantic

Additionally, certain vitamins are better suited for certain bodies. Certain people have deficiencies that others don’t, for them an increased intake of these vitamins may increase hair growth. Right now the vitamin Biotin is the popular kid on the hair block.

Excess biotin is excreted in urine; therefore, no known side effects exist for this vitamin. However, any ingested substance carries the potential for an allergic reaction; consequently, let your physician know if you have any allergic reaction to biotin, as advised by

The fact that it is a B vitamin indicates that people who have an allergy to cobalt or to cobalamin should not take biotin. In individual cases of allergy, a serious reaction may result. Signs include chest and throat tightness with chest pain, which could indicate the life-threatening reaction, anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can produce a loss of consciousness and severe respiratory or breathing problems. This is an emergency situation — immediate medical treatment is essential. Source: Livestrong

Livestrong also notes:

…it is important to note that the amount of biotin you take or consume is not commensurate with the amount of hair growth that will occur. Instead, biotin is more often used to supplement those who have a biotin deficiency. For these people, consuming increased amounts of biotin or taking a biotin supplement is associated with faster hair growth.

The amount of people that are willing to gulp down a pill for speedy hair growth, instead of eat healthier for overall health is disturbing. Countless Youtube videos and articles across the blogosphere are unknowingly encouraging recklessness. Every time you swallow a pill or “vitamin” for the sake of hair growth without first seeking professional medical guidance, you are putting your life at risk.

Even though it may be unnecessary, some vloggers are offering non-chemical methods for hair growth like the inversion method. The premise is that by placing your head at an inverted angle and rubbing the scalp, it stimulates blood flow and increases hair growth. Once again, I’m skeptical.

However, if people want to stand on one leg, hop around in a circle, bark like a dog 3 times and spit when the wind blows west, and it keeps them from unnecessarily popping pills; it’s better than the alternative.

Just please stop taking your hair more seriously than your health. Let’s focus instead on overall wellbeing starting with exercise, an apple, kale and some almonds.


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JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of & To reach JAM, email her at Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.Follow OurLegaci at

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  • Why you shouldn't do blackface this Halloween. Attendees of an "Africa-themed" birthday party (Facebook)Halloween is just one day away, so this is a good time to give my PSA about blackface costumes.

    "It's no surprise at all that some of our fellow Americans dressed up (and dressed their children up!) like Ray and Janay Rice this month, or that they proudly shared their pictures on Instagram.
    Of course they did.

    In the weird world of adult Halloween, tackiness pegged to current events is the name of the game. So, this was as predictable as the availability of a "sexy Ebola nurse" getup.

    Equally unsurprising: People from all corners of the internet agreed that the Rice costumes were, as Deadspin's Tom Ley put it, "the worst idea." Commenters didn't just criticize the insensitivity of the domestic abuse theme (Rice, of course, was kicked out of the NFL after he knocked his wife unconscious). They chastised the white revelers for painting their faces and bodies black to mimic the Rice's darker skin.

    To some of us, it's obvious that wearing blackface is an offensive, bad idea.
    People have even made very simple visual aids to communicate this.

    But the public service announcements haven't worked. If this season's costumes are any indication, a giant gulf remains between people who understand that blackface is in bad taste, or are willing to defer to black people who tell them so, and people who are still asking "But why?" (You know, the ones who are thinking as they read this, "You say it's racist but I can tell you right now I'm not racist, so it's fine if I wear it! Come on, get over it! Stop with the political correctness! I don't understand how this is offensive! It's a joke!")

    For the "why" crowd (and for anyone who feels moved to have a dialogue with one of its members), here's an explanation of what, exactly, is wrong with wearing blackface, on Halloween or ever:

    Blackface is much more than just dark makeup used to enhance a costume.
    Its American origins can be traced to minstrel shows. In the mid to late nineteenth century, white actors would routinely use black grease paint on their faces when depicting plantation slaves and free blacks on stage.

    To be clear, these weren't flattering representations. At all. Taking place against the backdrop of a society that systematically mistreated and dehumanized black people, they were mocking portrayals that reinforced the idea that African-Americans were inferior in every way.
    The blackface caricatures that were staples of Minstrelsy (think: Mammy, Uncle Tom, Buck, and Jezebel) took a firm hold in the American imagination, and carried over into other mediums of entertainment.

    Blackface has also been seen in Vaudeville Shows and on Broadway. Yes, black actors sometimes wore blackface, too, because white audiences didn't want to see them on the stage without it.
    We have blackface performances to thank for some of the cartoonish, dehumanizing tropes that still manage to make their way into American culture.

    Beyond that, blackface and systematic social and political repression are so inextricably linked that, according to C. Vann Woodward's history The Strange Career of Jim Crow, the very term "Jim Crow" — usually used as shorthand for rigid anti-black segregation laws in force between the end of Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement -— derives from an 1832 blackface minstrel number by Thomas D. Rice.

    There's no way around it: this particular costume choice has a terrible track record.

    If respect for people who had to live through a time when blackface went hand-in-hand with day-to-day hateful and discriminatory treatment isn't enough to keep you from wearing it, consider this: there's a case to be made that it's tied up with some of America's worst racial dynamics.
    David Leonard, chair of Washington State University's department of critical culture, gender, and race studies, explained it this way in his 2012 Huffington Post essay, "Just Say No To blackface: Neo Minstrelsy and the Power to Dehumanize":
    Blackface is part of a history of dehumanization, of denied citizenship, and of efforts to excuse and justify state violence. From lynchings to mass incarceration, whites have utilized blackface (and the resulting dehumanization) as part of its moral and legal justification for violence. It is time to stop with the dismissive arguments those that describe these offensive acts as pranks, ignorance and youthful indiscretions. Blackface is never a neutral form of entertainment, but an incredibly loaded site for the production of damaging stereotypes...the same stereotypes that undergird individual and state violence, American racism, and a centuries worth of injustice.
    See the connection?

    He told Vox that, today, blackface reinforces the idea that black people are appropriate targets of ridicule and mockery and reminds us of stereotypes about black criminality, and danger. This, says Leonard, can serve to support implicit bias and discriminatory treatment and in areas from law enforcement to employment.

    Plus, in a society that allegedly values racial integration, isn't there something unsettling about the idea that the closest thing to an actual black person at your party could be someone smeared with face paint and wearing an Afro wig? Leonard says this creates a false sense of diversity in at atmospheres that include "everything but the actual person, the community, and the culture." Does that sound like somewhere you'd be proud to be?

    common refrain in defense of blackface is that it is all in good fun, a joke, harmless, or not done with the intent to bother anyone. Some have even gone farther. Reason's Thaddeus Russell wrote that the practice could be understood as a positive thing:
    "We will likely never know what motivates contemporary blackface performers. But those who reject the beliefs planted in our culture by Puritans and Victorians might consider the possibility that, like the originators of the practice, they are joining a 200-year, unconscious struggle for freedom."

    But here's the thing: not feeling racist when you're wearing blackface does nothing to change how it affects those who see it (and today, thanks to social media, that doesn't just mean your trick-or-treaters, or the guests at the party you attend — it means the world).

    Your innermost thoughts don't change the impact blackface has on the people of all races around you, or the way it reinforces stereotypes and the idea that blackness is, at best, a joke.

    "In many ways, one's intent is irrelevant," said Leonard. "The harm, whether it's harm in terms of eliciting anger, or sadness, or triggering various emotions or causing [black people to feel] both hyper-visible and invisible at the same time, is there. When someone says, 'I didn't mean it that way,' well, their real question should be not ‘Did I mean it?' but, ‘Am I causing harm?'
    In "Just Say No to Blackface," Leonard wrote that some people feel they should have the option to live in ignorance about what's wrong with blackface. That itself, he argued, says a lot about how racism works:

    "The ability to be ignorant, to be unaware of the history and consequences of racial bigotry, to simply do as one pleases, is a quintessential element of privilege. The ability to disparage, to demonize, to ridicule, and to engage in racially hurtful practices from the comfort of one's segregated neighborhoods and racially homogeneous schools reflects both privilege and power. The ability to blame others for being oversensitive, for playing the race card, or for making much ado about nothing are privileges codified structurally and culturally."

    So, maybe you don't know anything about the history of minstrelsy, and maybe you don't know anything about the pain and trauma of living in a society that imagines blackness as comical or criminal.

    That, according to Leonard, is the problem.

    The question, to ask yourself if you claim ignorance is,  he said, "Why do you not know, and what have you done to make sure that you continue to not know?"

    After all, embracing the chance to mock, dehumanize, and to dismiss the feelings and demands of others, all while re-imagining history so that only things you deem wrong are wrong, is a pretty great way to perpetuate a racist society that treats black people like crap.

    Finally, if you really cannot understand what's wrong with with blackface, challenge yourself to figure out what seems so right about it.  Leonard suggests that blackface fans ask themselves, "Why do I derive pleasure from this? What's the investment in doing it, and what's the investment in defending it?"'

    If you can't answer that, but you're still set on doing something predictably offensive, why don't you just go ahead and choose the sexy Ebola nurse outfit instead? [Source]

    So there you have it. That is why you should not where a blackface costume this

    Finally, I am glad that Eric Frein has been finally caught. It took hundreds of man hours, and millions of taxpayer dollars to bring in this alleged cop killer.

    Of course he was brought in alive and without a scratch. (This is what white privilege can get you in America. Or at least that's what they are saying on black twitter.)

    He is just lucky that he didn't end up like this guy.

    But then.....

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