I said Yara is in the August Elle rather than on it, because… I can’t actually tell that she IS the cover star? Or whether there is even going to be a cover? Elle’s Instagram said she spoke to someone “for our August digital issue,” and no one has used the word “cover,” so… does that mean there is a separate print issue, or no print issue forthcoming? Maybe “on” is more accurate because she is ON the website but there is no physical magazine yet to have her in it? SEMANTICS! Gah. However: If Elle IS putting out a tangible issue and she is not on the cover, then I hope they have a real showstopper planned, because how do you top Yara Shahidi?
She was photographed for this by her father Afshin, who is a cinematographer and was the personal photographer for no less than Prince. PRINCE. So that’s awesome, and for sure a good person to have in your backyard during a pandemic (sidebar: How CUTE is this pic?). And the piece is wonderful — a showcase for Shahidi for sure, but suffused with insight and context from the writer Kaitlyn Greenidge. This is just one worthy excerpt:
“It is a tricky moment to figure out on social media,” she says. “Oftentimes, if you don’t post about it, then it didn’t happen. And if you share about it, then it may come off as shallow.”
The question becomes, “What of the work, what of your learning, do you make visible? And what do you keep secret?” It’s an old question in Black organizing, one that predates the current cultural debate over performative activism and that nasty phrase “virtue signaling.” Outside of that argument, made by those for whom fighting for one’s life is new, there is the older struggle, the continual waves of resistance, rebellion, and imagining a better future that we as Black people have engaged in since we were brought here in chains. Within that context, the question of when to make the work visible is one of survival. Imani Perry, a professor of African American studies at Princeton, has described it in this way: “You never tell all the secrets when you’re trying to get free.” Black people did the most radical activism in secret—we had to. The most famous example is the Underground Railroad, but this secrecy continued in a later era of relative freedom, when Black women’s organizations and Black fraternal societies organized in secret to provide mutual aid to our communities. It continued into the civil rights era, when the leaders of our movements were supported by hundreds of local activists throughout the Deep South and Midwest, who hosted them in their homes, transported them in their cars, and gave over their barbershops, restaurants, and business back rooms as places to build the architecture of this coming new world. All that work was done in secret, because to do it in public meant terrorism and death. But also, doing it in secret gave people the space to have long conversations, make mistakes, double back, and build trust.
Which is why, for Shahidi, the work continues even after a monumental moment like this. “It’s important to consistently be in conversation in between these [crises] where we have to advocate fervently for Black life,” she says. “We try to have the honest conversation: What is important to make visible? In doing this, we figure out that everything doesn’t need to be shared, but we also discover what could have a lasting impact. […] Especially in these moments of communal trauma, what has become apparent… is that these moments of trauma aren’t just in these times that are visible. Having to arm oneself consistently with that level of self-protection; not knowing if your peers or colleagues will be there and will support you. Or if they understand microaggressions; if they understand the way that we’re consistently being undermined, both in small and in major ways. In ways that can be an inconvenience, and in ways that can be life-threatening.”
Because of the unrelenting nature of this situation, Shahidi says, “joy is increasingly important to me…. Yes, this is a fight in the face of Black death.” But “there has to be a celebration of Black life. We have to be viewing this moment as a preservation of Black life. A fight for our willingness to thrive, or a fight for our willingness to be happy and unencumbered. A fight for our ability to just be allowed to exist. And so often that’s been taken away. We should be allowed to heal, be allowed to revel in our happiness.”
I also beg of you to go read it all. Yara is special.