OkayMuva: We’re Still Living in A World Crafted by Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard
“My mind, it amazes me sometimes.” – Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard
Few people commanded the public’s attention in the age of reality television like Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard. She was able to manipulate the big machine of reality television in a way that was yet to be seen at the time. She was the master of entertainment, she used her castmates, producers, and Flavor Flav as a contestant on the MTV show Flavor of Love as chess pieces for drama that was manufactured for the public’s delight.
This parlayed from her being the star and fan-favorite of Flavor of Love into her having her own series entitled appropriately, I Love New York. Since the conclusion of that series she has also done New York Goes to Hollywood and New York Goes To Work and has appeared on countless other reality television shows including Big Brother in 2016. Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard seldom gets discussed as someone who revolutionized how one does business in the entertainment industry in the era of reality, although she is the blueprint. She did not begin reality television, but she showed how to turn it into a brand. She is the dream that Mona-Scott Young sells the woman of Love & Hip-Hop; the idea that you can transform your appearance on a show into a worldwide recognized brand if you are smart enough. The problem is most are not smart enough, not because they are exceptionally ignorant, but because New York is that goddamn brilliant.
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Part of the success of New York can definitely be accredited to smarts in business, but I believe why she resonates is a very specific sociopolitical reality. New York is and remains the person that behaves how black people have been taught can only result in ostracization. She yells. She argues. She schemes. She is angry in public. She over-the-top, and she does not apologize. She is not unapologetically black in a way that is currently commodifiable. She is unapologetically black in a way that is cringe-worthy, mean, and exhausting, yet she is always thrilling to witness. I found myself pleasantly consuming Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard because I often find myself shrinking myself and my voice to not be interpreted as villainous. Often watching her was my release to be the person I wish I could be without auctioning off my safety in my work and social spaces. I recall her on Big Brother speaking to an older white woman and her roommates asking her to apologize and her responding, “I’m not apologizing to that old bitch. Absolutely fucking not.” She said what I have thought countless times when being asked to perform remorse for white people’s comfort.
During the Flavor of Love 2 reunion special, I remember how she arrived on stage facing all of her enemies with a confidence that is usually reserved only for pop stars and super models. As her castmates heralded insults to her about her looks, personality, and actions; New York, like a kind of quantum computer of insults, transformed all the negativity into positive attention. “And it is fabulous!” is how she responded to the insults and accusations, and she flared her arms around and played in her hair, turning the negativity into a drag queen brand of confidence. This is the dream self I wish I could embody when facing domination.
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Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard with her I Love New York series also complicated how a black woman looking for love could be viewed. Before the new black Bachelorette in 2017, it was Tiffany who erased the need for her pursuit of love to be limited to the black race or certain types of bodies. In many ways, not all, New York can be consumed as a decolonizing image because she was on national television as a black woman being in charge of her sexuality and romantic pursuits, and not being given limits, but variety and control.
Often what black people do in pop culture does not get analyzed or taken seriously, especially if it is seen as comedic or frivolous, but these are also parts of what crafts the world we live in and how we see it. Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard shifted the gaze of how we consume black woman, centering herself. She empowered us through melodramatics and comedy, transgressing respectability politics. She made space for the bold, loud black femme in media and invited people to love New York a little more.
Myles E. Johnson is an Atlanta, Georgia-based storyteller. He is also the creator of the literary project, Dear Giovanni. You can follow him on Twitter @HausMuva.