Tracee Ellis Ross: The ​‘Stylista’Speaking Up for Sisters

Tracee Ellis Ross: The ​‘Stylista’Speaking Up for Sisters

The fashionable actress and Black Girls Rock co-host talks loving ourselves as Black women and the big myth behind celebrity life

by Melanie Yvette, November 8, 2012

Tracee Ellis Ross: The ​‘Stylista’Speaking Up for Sisters

Tracee Ellis Ross known for her lead role as Joan Clayton on the UPN/CW series, Girlfriends.

She came, she strutted, and she fell...flat on her behind. No really, you all didn’t see it at home. But during the taping for Black Girls Rock, the stunning actress and host actually fell out of her shoes while walking towards center stage. For someone else in her shoes, this may have been the most humiliating moment ever. But for Ross, 40, this was nothing short of a moment to laugh at her self. And we laughed with her. That’s just who she is, Tracee. A woman who’s just that confident with herself, that taking a plunge in front of a crowd of hundreds is nothing but dirt off her shoulders.

From the moment she picked up the phone, I knew this interview would be special. But I didn’t think it would have me in tears. I learned just why Tracee Ellis Ross is the star she is (it really has nothing to do with who her mother is, she’s special as hell).

EBONY: Ok, so I went to Black Girls Rock and you looked amazing and you were amazing you are amazing. But…

Tracee Ellis Ross: Oh. My. God. How about my entrance? Can we discuss my entrance?

EBONY: I was going to try to overlook the moment you fell, because we all have our “moments.”

TER: Let’s not overlook that, I am a woman who loves comedy. It was non-scripted, non-focused, I have no problem making fun of myself. That [fall] was hysterical!

EBONY: But you played it off so well.

TER: There is this perfect image by Getty of me going, “Oh my God!” I literally stepped right out of the shoe. I will leave the story to my website but its real good.

EBONY: You and Beyonce are the only two women who can fall and still look good while doing so. How has it been working with Black Girls Rock? You’ve been there since the beginning.

TER: Beverly Bond is such an extraordinary woman. She, to me, is the example of exactly what Black Girls Rock is about. It’s really about having an idea and realizing that anything’s possible. And supporting and celebrating each other. I really believe in what Black Girl Rocks is doing. I think the show that airs on television is just a small portion of the mission. I also celebrate BET for being so forefront for seeing something that was so important and giving it a platform. The examples that we set and the choices that we make and the actions that we take in our lives, especially when you’re in the public eye, are being seen by the next generation. We really are setting a tone for what is expected of them and what is possible.

EBONY: I was telling Beverly that when I was growing up, I was constantly looking for a face like mine on television. I’m brown; chocolate brown. So I really only had Oprah and maybe a few others. But seeing positive images of women of color in general, was rare.

TER: I’m extremely blessed to have the extraordinary mother that I have and I don’t mean Diana Ross I mean the mother. My mom paved a road that didn’t exist, as did Oprah. Black Girls Rock and so many countless others are setting an example. To put this show on the air in the context of the larger programming is really important. There were moments that really stood out to me. Janelle Monae’s speech was a really powerful. I’m always touched by people’s different stories of who they are and why they made the choices that they made. I feel so empowered by the story behind the person. Her sharing why she wears black and white, it really touched me and it really moved me. I took something from it although I didn’t take “I’m going to be wearing black and white.” [Laughs] Getting to hear those kinds of words is incredibly important. Hearing that we are more than our bodies is really powerful. If that message is being carried out in a larger way, that’s just wonderful.

EBONY: What has this never-ending journey of figuring out who you are been like as a Black woman in this industry? What has been the biggest hardships to overcome?

TER: Because of my unique experience as my mom’s child, the beginning of my journey was more about me trying to figure out who I was on my own. My mom is one of the greatest moms and so supportive of all my siblings and of all of us being who we are, and not who she wanted us to be.  But because of the uniqueness of my circumstances, the beginning of my journey with identity was really about finding myself. Figuring out who I was as a Black woman in the business was the second part of my journey, but an inevitable part. Like embracing my ass; these things fall under the very specific context of being women of color in the industry that I’m in and the world I live in too. I realized at a very, very young age that in order for me to make sense of the overwhelming attention that was coming at me, that wasn’t about me, but about my mother, I had to figure out who I was and what I had to offer. Otherwise somehow I was constantly battling feeling like a fraud.

EBONY: I’m just curious about what challenges Tracee Ellis Ross now, faces that people might not even know about.

TER: Did you read the article I wrote on boobs on my website?

EBONY: Yes. Yes!

TER: I think and for me, I can only speak for myself, I know that life is a mixed bag. Some days are harder than others. There’s this weird myth out there about money and fame that has been perpetuated further because of reality television, that life is some sort of fairy tale and when you get all of those external things, everything is going to be fine. It’s just not true. I think the most powerful thing that I have learned and that has been helpful for me is making friends with the uncomfortable feeling.

EBONY: I remember reading one of your Instagram posts and it said something like, “every moment we’re just trying to figure this thing out and after you figure that thing out its time to figure out something else.”

TER: That was the day after a bad day. On the bad day I called my sister, my big sister, and that is what she said to me.

EBONY: We don’t hear about the normality of life from a lot of women, especially in this industry, where everything does look perfect. This in turn affects young Black girls’ views of who they are, and if they’re good enough.

TER: Again, I always like to look at the mixed bag of the experience. A part of the industry is creating this façade of an image. Which is absolutely fine and still holds true for many celebs.  There are many people that sort of manage the thickness when they move into the light of celebrity through the facade. For me one of the ways I make sense of the very unique experience of celebrity life, especially because I was born into it and raised in it, is by sharing the inside of my experience. I don’t want to become some weird, I don’t know, cartoon version of myself. I can’t live with that. One of the things I’m very clear about, my favorite parts of my life are the basic routine things that are my life. I love going to the supermarket, I love walking my dogs, I love cooking my foods and washing my dishes.

EBONY: How do you handle making your own mistakes as a woman, and learning from them without beating yourself up?

TER: Here is what I will say: I don’t know I will ever grow out of beating myself up. But growth has come. In this area it’s about catching yourself once you start; the adjustment of telling myself to stop "it." There are areas I don’t beat myself up about anymore. You know, like when I feel out of my shoe!  First of all I broke into a sweat, like a cold sweat. My entire body had water coming out of it. It was ridiculous. By the way before I got on stage I had knocked my head into of the raptors behind the stage. So I mean I was like, “What is going on!” But anyway, I was told, and I believe this, that there is never a good reason to beat yourself up, ever! Even if you did something horribly wrong, the beat up in not going to help you change your behavior. The beating yourself up is not going to help you look at yourself with honest, loving, and kind eyes and enable you to be honest and say okay, “that didn’t work” or “okay that was bad.”

EBONY: What is the biggest thing that you have grown to admire about Black Girls Rock?

TER: One of the things I love about Black Girls Rock and about the awards show is who she decides to honor. Because it’s some people we know and some people we don’t. And more than that, the people that we do know are usually honored for what we don’t know about them.

EBONY: Exactly we are not honoring them because they are famous, we are honoring them because they give back.

TER: And because of this journey because they have taken that has allowed them to give back. They now have the opportunity in their life where they have an overflow to share from. So they can give for fun and for free. A lot of people can’t because they are in the daily life and struggle of surviving. It’s not because everybody is expected to give a certain amount back to others. Everyone has their version of what they can give and share. I always tell people that one of the biggest gifts that you can share with another person is to actually be present and listen. It’s the smallest thing.

EBONY: You’re so inspirational; just a special woman. Can you tell what your dying wish is for Black girls around the world is? Or for girls around the world in general?

TER: Here is my wish and my desire and my pledge as well: that we remember our true nature and our womanhood. That we own and know that we are more than our bodies and yet our bodies are these sacred, beautiful, rhythmic houses for us. I feel like sexuality in our culture has been so commoditized. Sexuality is such a beautiful sacred and wise thing, that we as women really hold. The charge or the call is that we remember that and cultivate that in a way that empowers us rather than belittling us.

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