A set of cookies depicting the beauty and range of Black women's hair caught viral attention on social media as the gorgeous and soothing decorating videos were posted just after Black History Month to TikTok and Instagram. Now, the woman behind the creations is speaking out about her work and the impact of it, hoping that it encourages people to dive into anti-racist work in creative ways.
Grace Gaylord of The Graceful Baker tells Yahoo Life that she picked up royal icing for the first time 10 years ago before discovering how much she enjoyed decorating cookies. Her true passion in it all, though, is not the selling of the treats, but of using them for content creation and education for fellow decorators.
"Typically my sets are seasonal, centering around a holiday, the usual white, Eurocentric holidays, or season. Sometimes I will make sets for events for family and friends, such as birthdays, bridal showers and baby showers," she explains of her early work. "It wasn’t until December 2020 when the types of sets I did started to shift. I began to notice the types of requests I was getting from followers. Someone once asked for a Hanukkah set. At first I thought myself completely unqualified to do a Hanukkah set, but I decided my lack of personal knowledge of Hanukkah wasn’t a good enough reason not to do a set."
Gaylord says that she "doubled down and did my research on Hanukkah before designing the set," realizing that her existing platform provided her with a responsibility to create diversified content. From there, she took on Kwanzaa and Lunar New Year, as well.
"I think what people appreciated most about those sets was that I did my research and approached the themes as respectfully and elegantly as possible. I try to stay away from using the typical kitschy cookies or symbols for these holidays," she says. "For all three of those sets I consulted someone who personally celebrated all of those holidays before finalizing the designs, just to make sure I was on the right track."
When it came to creating a set inspired by the beauty of Black women and hairstyles, Gaylord's attention to detail and positive intention were no different. In fact, she was even driven to implore more help to make sure that she executed her vision properly and respectfully in honor of Black History Month and in light of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer.
"I am keenly aware that I’m a white woman with a large platform on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. I recognize the tremendous privilege both my skin color and platform affords me, and with that comes great responsibility. In my own personal journey to become actively anti-racist and to move beyond performative allyship, I knew that I needed to do something that would truly make an impact and be long lasting," she says. "I had two main goals in choosing to celebrate Black women’s hairstyles and contributions to history. One, to provide positive and uplifting representation of Black women and two, to educate."
Gaylord tapped into a number of resources, including fellow cookiers who had created similar sets before like Reneé DuBose of Reneé Monique Desserts and Nadia Williams of Kinky Culture Cookie Co. She even made sure to work with a Black-owned cookie cutter shop, Yomi Market, to create the cookie's shapes. Gaylord also did extensive research on Black hair, the lack of representation of it and the CROWN Act — a law created to prohibit race-based hair discrimination. It was after she did all of this, which contributed to the bulk of her plans for the set, that she spoke with DuBose and Williams for additional questions, suggestions and approvals.
"It was incredibly important to me that I didn’t create this set in my white bubble, as that would’ve defeated the whole point of this set," she says. "I did the legwork, but I knew that I needed a Black woman to look at my work and be the barometer of how my work was expressed."
DuBose tells Yahoo Life that she was immediately impressed. "I could tell she really wanted to get this right and she was really passionate about making this something Black women could beam with pride with once they saw it. She had already done all of the work for planning, there were sketches of the cutters she wanted to create paired with reference images of what those hairstyles looked like in real life. She showed me the color scheme for the set and the skin tones and hair colors she was thinking of using and she explained what the themes for the posts would be. Because she did such a thorough job with planning, there really wasn’t anything she missed."
The two discussed the names of different hairstyles and dove a bit deeper into the CROWN Act to make sure that the set of 24 cookies was truly inclusive and accurate. From beginning to end, DuBose points out, Gaylord's efforts stood out amongst the appropriation or performative activism that exists elsewhere on the internet.
"Black culture is pop culture and it’s often used in a mainstream way on social media with little to no benefits to the community who originated the creativity. This wasn’t just a post to showcase Black hairstyles because they’re trendy right now. This was a project that was thoughtfully planned to show Black hairstyles and their beauty, highlight the contributions Black women have made to history that are so often overlooked and to amplify Black creatives who don’t get the same level of visibility from social media algorithms," DuBose explains. "There was concrete meaning and actionable purpose behind this project which is why it received majority positive feedback. Grace didn’t just stop at being inspired by Nadia’s work, she made it a point to use that inspiration to educate herself, to share the knowledge, give a Black owned cookie cutter business exposure, all while affirming Black women through her beautiful cookie art."
DuBose goes on to point out that the "true allyship" demonstrated by Gaylord also took courage, as the decision to use her platform to amplify creations inspired by Black creators is susceptible to criticism. For Gaylord, this manifested in accusations that she stole Williams's designs from the original Black Girl Magic cookie set.
"Once the videos took off on TikTok, some people online falsely accused me of stealing the ideas from Nadia, despite having credited her as my original inspiration on all my platforms. People online pitted us against each other, when in reality they had no idea we were friends behind the scenes. So I picked up the phone and called Nadia to fill her in on what was happening," Gaylord says. "We talked about the set, we talked about representation in cookies, we talked about racism, and so much more."
Despite the criticism, Williams explains just why Gaylord's work is so important, especially as a white woman. "Representation doesn’t just mean Black people sharing Black stories, though. For minority groups to have the right kind of visibility, we need folks in the 'majority,' white people, to share our stories as well. As long as representation of authentic Black stories in white spaces is a rare occurrence, we will continue to deal with the problem of othering. When it’s done properly, as it was in this instance, it can only serve to advance our cause," she says. "[Gaylord] used her sizable platform and influence to highlight black stories, direct business to Black creators, and bring attention to legislation that will directly affect the lives of Black people across this country."
The impact of Gaylord's cookies is clear, as multiple of her decorating videos were seen millions of times on TikTok alone. Her posts on Instagram drew even more attention to the trailblazing Black women that she wrote about in each of her captions. Her content even led to conversations about the importance of representation of Black women in all areas of pop culture, including on cookies.
"I wanted to share with the largest audience possible how to actually make these styles with royal icing and where to buy the cookie cutters. I wanted this knowledge to be accessible to everyone," she says. "It is my goal that everyone’s local cookier knows how to make these cookies. Not just myself, but everyone, no matter the color of that cookier’s skin."
She continues, "I’m really excited to keep creating more sets that both educate and entertain. Through sharing the set celebrating Black women I received a lot of requests for other sets, everything from Black Kings to Hispanic culture, to Native Americans and First Nations. I’ve already mapped out the majority of my sets for the remainder of 2021 — I’m a planner — but who knows, I could always be compelled to shake things up."
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