After breaking up with First Love, Elaine began questioning mainstream messages about race. 6

from book

She received the call during Christmas break. It was First Love, calling collect from the county jail. He’d been arrested and, for the next six months, he’d remain locked up. Elaine was just completing her freshman year at Sac State. She kept thinking the same thing, over and over: it has to get better than this. She visited First Love regularly in jail, but by the summer of her sophomore year, she’d had enough. They split up. The breakup was disorienting, but Elaine soon met a professor who restored her sense of direction. Dr. Michele Foss-Snowden was unlike any teacher Elaine had ever seen. Young, intellectual, beautiful, biracial – M. Foss, as Elaine nicknamed her, was all these things. She provided a new template for adulthood and success. A mentor-mentee relationship developed. M. Foss helped Elaine put words to thoughts and feelings that had lurked below the surface of articulation for years. Serving as both guide and goad, M. Foss helped Elaine interrogate and unpack the mass-media messages she’d been steeped in since birth. Mainstream imagery conveyed a clear message: whiteness was preferable to blackness. If black people appeared at all in music videos or magazines, on television or in movies, they tended to have light skin and straight hair. Black qualities that veered away from white aesthetics, from dark skin to “nappy” hair, were rarely shown in a favorable light. This made Elaine mad. The more she talked with M. Foss and the more she studied, the more she realized how relentlessly American society primes black people for self-hate. Though still unsure of her path in life, Elaine longed for mainstream images and stories that would delegitimize the fairy tales of white supremacy. At the same time, she began to accept and own her blackness with more intention, letting her hair grow naturally and spending more time with black friends. However, it wasn’t until after a disastrous internship in New York City that Elaine identified her vocational calling – and began pursuing it with a vengeance.