Blair Imani initially became interested in being a historian during her preteen years when she first interviewed her neighbor Dr. Terrence Roberts. Who would have thought that this interview with someone who volunteered to integrate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas at 15-years-old would translate into her love and fascination for history telling and catapult her career into something bigger than herself?
“That passion carried me through university, two historical books, and now the way that I educate people about the importance of history through social media,” Imani shared.
As a critically-acclaimed historian, outspoken advocate and activist, and dynamic public speaker, the Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and The Black American Dream author uses her platform of over 290K Instagram followers to educate them on topics including consent and pronoun usage with her new series thanks to IG Reels.
”My Smarter In Seconds series utilizes microlearning to convey complex subjects in digestible and friendly packages. I am able to lean into the aspects of content creation that I enjoy most like bright colors, vibrant eyeshadow, and of course, matching my lip color to my many different colored hijabs,” she explained.
Ahead of National Coming Out Day, HelloBeautiful spoke with the Instagram creator and activist about why her coming out story means the world to her, the beauty of intersectionality across all of her identities as a Black, queer, Muslim woman (she/her), and her day-to-day beauty routine along with her fave products. Check out the conversation below!
Tell me about the moment you decided to come out. What were your initial feelings and why was coming out so important to you?
Well, coming out is important but it doesn’t make you more valid than somebody that isn’t out. I’ve come out many times in my life, as do most LGBTQ+ people, in different contexts and at ages. Perhaps the most notable time was an accident when I was on national television. I do not recommend coming out this way. That probably makes sense though because I was correcting someone about their assumptions of me.
At first, I felt like I had opened Pandora’s Box and I wanted to shut it, but it was impossible to go backwards. Coming out isn’t always easy. Not everybody wants to celebrate you or accept you. That’s why I encourage people to find acceptance from within. If we build up the strength and self love within ourselves, it helps to give us resilience in the unfortunate case that you experience rejection.
How do your multiple identities across queer, Black and Muslim communities intersect and create the woman that you are today?
Being myself is the only thing I know how to do. I am not a very good actor and fortunately I have the privilege of being exactly who I desire to be at all times. Not everyone lives in a context where that is safe or realistic and it’s important to acknowledge that.
Living at these intersecting identities is my reality and I cannot separate parts of myself. I am Black, Bisexual and Muslim at the same time all the time. I list these things in this specific order because it’s in order of their appearance. I knew I was Black before I knew I was bisexual, and I converted to Islam in 2015. My bisexuality and my Blackness, just are. These are facts of who I am. Islam is something I chose for myself and that aspect is just as much a part of me as every other part. I am an equal parts historian, educator, influencer, Elton John enthusiast and activist. The woman I am is all of this as well.
How is your personal style reflected in your modest fashion from Muslim culture?
Today there are nearly 2 billion Muslims, so Muslim culture looks many different ways in many different contexts. Unfortunately due to narrow representations of Islam in media, people think that Islam means Arab, thin, lighter skinned, and hijab wearing. While I am often read as Arab, I am not but this grants me a degree of privilege in the context of being a convert to Islam.
Nearly every culture–whether that’s looking at regional differences, religious contexts, racial heritage or otherwise–has a form of modest dressing. Looking at the Greeks and Romans, for example, covering and dressing modestly was equated with status and power. There was a resurgence of this during the Victorian era centuries later. Today, people equate modesty and covering with sexual repression.
I dress to be comfortable, I love bright colors, I like to cover my head, I like to match my nails to my hijab and my lipstick. None of that is actually because I am Muslim. It’s because I enjoy dressing like this.
What are some stigmas against Muslim women when it comes to fashion and beauty?
One stigma is the idea that all Muslim women have the same hot takes on fashion and beauty. Christian women, for example, wouldn’t be asked something like this because Christian women are understood to be individual people with individual tastes in beauty and fashion. This is because we live in a society that normalizes Christian practices and encourages assimilation and adoption of Christian faith practices. For example, it’s rare to see a Ramadan sale in the United States but Christmas and Easter sales are extremely commonplace.
What are some of your beauty secrets and favorite beauty products?
Ooh, my favorite subject! The number one beauty secret: It’s okay and extremely normal to have acne so don’t feel like you have to annihilate your skin just because it’s not perfectly smooth. Same thing for hair. Allah made some people with two eyebrows, some with none and some with one. It’s all beautiful and that’s no secret. Another huge beauty secret is that white supremacist imperialism of beauty standards has socialized nearly everyone to believe that only whiteness, thinness, ableness, cisgenderness, straightness, and features like narrow noses, symmetrical faces and lips, and hairless legs and arms are beautiful. That’s not true. Every BODY and everybody is beautiful.
My favorite beauty products are those that work not just for me, but for people across gender and shade range. I also seek out products that are good in terms of animal welfare and human equality. Too many companies claim to be “cruelty free,” but refuse to make shades for darker skinned people or hire BIPOC. You can’t be racist and cruelty-free at the same time.
As for the brands, Fempower Beauty for lipstick, UOMA Beauty for eyeshadow and mascara, Olive & June for nails, Osmia Organics charcoal mask is my FAVORITE! I’m enjoying Rare Beauty and Exa Beauty for foundation. My eyebrows are tattooed because why draw them on everyday if they could just be permanent?
What do you believe is the most beautiful about community intersectionality?
It’s not so much what is most beautiful about intersectionality, but everything that is completely hideous with acting like liberation for one narrow group of people is better than actual liberation. Without intersectionality, feminism only works for white-abled cisgender straight women. Good for them, but what about everyone else? Intersectionality was developed as a theory of practice by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw and debuted in her legal essay in 1989. It was first created as a manner of understanding that the advances made within the Black community and for women continue to erase and neglect Black women. Since then it’s been applied to any approach that accounts for multiple realities at once. This richness, complexity, and nuance is where the beauty of the human spirit and experience lies. Otherwise Allah would’ve made us all the same.
With the upcoming election, how important is representation to you within the LGBTQ+, Black and religious backgrounds in elected positions? How can we use our voices to ensure protection and positive representation?
I am extremely excited to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and hopefully bring an end to this particularly orange chapter of the American Nightmare. Representation without work, accountability, intention, and material investment in community doesn’t mean a damn thing. This lesson must be learned. It’s nice to have a person in office that looks like my and my family, but what does it mean when that person is doing all of the same terrible things as the person that didn’t look like us? So yes, elect people across a range of diverse experiences. Don’t assume that belonging to a certain community means that you care about that community.