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America Redefined

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rita omokha


On May 25, as I watched the video of George Floyd, I wept. I had never mourned for a stranger like I did that day. He could’ve been one of my four brothers.

I was raised in a Nigerian-American, ultra-disciplinarian Christian home in the Bronx, where the maxims were work hard and love your neighbor as yourself. Our skin color wasn’t talked about. All we knew was that mom had three jobs—picking up shifts at different hospitals—and all she asked of us was to do well at school and respect our elders. Simple. We never discussed race or class divisions. Or how to handle discrimination. Or what to do when someone poked fun at my hair. At one point, that was everyday life for me: walking around with African threaded natural hair.

I had thought, as mom had raised us, that if I gave to the world what I wanted, if I worked hard and tried to be a better person every day, somehow it would all work out in the end. Somehow, I’ll receive all of that back.

Not in America.

Seeing Floyd’s lifeless body lay there on my phone that evening, something cracked in me. I couldn’t eat for days. Then all I wanted to do was eat for days. I was a mess.

There’s this scripture in the Bible, in the book of Matthew, that speaks about wool being pulled over someone’s eyes. It warns of being deceived by what you perceive in that state, because when the wool is removed, you’d finally see things for what they really are. You’d no longer be deluded. That was how it felt. No matter what, out in real America, it hit me that it wouldn’t matter how good a person I was working to become. None of it would matter. My inherent value, according to these United States of America, would always be obstructed by my skin color.

The rage that rose within me was imprinted on me for weeks. As obvious as it seems now, I realized that America has never lived up to its name for centuries—there has never been unity in this country. The United States of America. The incongruity persists. The Trump presidency only unveiled and emboldened race and class divisions. This past year alone, we saw a surge in that once inconspicuous divergence in perspectives and realities.

Out in real America, it hit me that it wouldn’t matter how good a person I was working to become. My inherent value, according to these United States of America, would always be obstructed by my skin color.

Insecure and feeling conflicted in one of the country’s deepest moments of reckoning, heightened by a rampaging virus that stalks people who look like me especially, the gravity of the moment shook me. Even more when I thought about my mom out there every day on the frontlines—a Black immigrant woman caring daily for whomever came through the doors. Taking on more shifts and jumping between her OB/GYN unit and the ICU. Outside that hospital, mom was just another Black face. One wrong police stop, one wrong place, wrong instant, and that could be it. Her dedication, her sacrifice, her goodness—insignificant.

In that place of grief and deliberation, I wondered about who I was in this country as a Black immigrant woman. Was I just a token, an accessory, for the white spaces I had occupied? I wondered how the many others felt. What about white America, how did they view the plights of marginalized groups?

What were their racial experiences and attitudes in present-day America?

Rita Omokha/Cassie Skoras/Mariel Tyler

With one backpack and an oversized MZ handbag, two boxes of blue surgical masks, a box of gloves, loads of hand sanitizer, and three face shields, I took to the road on September 12. I traveled by plane and car, using four rentals, to 30 states in 32 days. Traveled 13,559 miles. Twelve flights, 23 gas station stops, 16 hotels, and one bed and breakfast (in Stuart, Nebraska). I drove a black Buick Encore, a red Mini Cooper Countryman, a blue Hyundai Venue, and a black Kia Forte.

I met more than a hundred people. After, I rendered the parts of their stories they revealed to me, and my story of discovery. Some of them felt empowered. Others felt America was built, and would continue to flourish, on a mismatched class system.

A few held on to a faith in the ideology of a unified America, where true equity could one day exist, and disparities would be a thing of the past.

Editor’s note: ELLE.com will publish the rest of Rita Omokha’s story in the weeks to come. This story was funded by The Pulitzer Prizes’ Traveling Fellowship.

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Fashion

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck Are ‘Telling Friends That They’re Together’ as a Couple

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Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck Are ‘Telling Friends That They're Together’ as a Couple


All the reports about Bennifer’s back-on romance aren’t downplaying how serious Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck are about dating again, just one month after they were seen publicly hanging for the first time. Entertainment Tonight reports that Affleck and Lopez have defined their relationship and are telling their friends that they’re a couple. This is not some casual fling.

Affleck and Lopez, for context, were originally engaged in the early 2000s. They ultimately called off their engagement for good and went their separate ways in early 2004.

Fast forward to summer 2021, and “J.Lo and Ben are very much a couple and have been telling friends that they’re together,” Entertainment Tonight‘s source said. “When they first reconnected, they had to see if the spark was still there because it had been a while. It was, so now they are both fully in it.”

They aren’t ignoring the past though, the source added: “[They have] talked about the past and why things didn’t work out. They are both hopeful about their relationship this time around and putting the effort in. They have both matured and are on the same page and it has been easy.”

Lopez in particular “is elated and really trusts Ben. Ben is more traditional and low-key in his values and Jen is into that. She likes that they can go on dates and have fun. She also thinks that Ben is extremely smart and has a lot of great input.”

ET’s update comes after People reported last week that the two intend to spend a lot of time together this summer despite being bicoastal. (J.Lo is based in Miami, and Affleck is in L.A.) Lopez and Affleckare discussing summer plans,” People‘s source said. “[They] want to spend as much time together as possible. They also want to take a trip.” Generally, “they are both acting very comfortable in their relationship.”

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Shailene Woodley Revealed She and Aaron Rodgers Moved In Together as Soon as They Started Dating

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Shailene Woodley Revealed She and Aaron Rodgers Moved In Together as Soon as They Started Dating


Shailene Woodley and Aaron Rodgers’ surprise engagement came after a rapid-fire romance that started with the two moving in together, Woodley revealed in a new interview with Shape.

“Starting a relationship where you immediately move in with someone—because it’s a pandemic and you can’t just get on a plane and go back and forth on weekends—taught us a lot about each other very quickly,” she said. “We jumped in headfirst and got some of the sticky bits out of the way early.”

Woodley added that while quarantine helped them get to know each other faster because they weren’t traveling for work as much, “I have the perspective that I would have met Aaron in any context, any space in time, because I feel we were meant to be together.”

Woodley and Rodgers’ exact relationship start date isn’t known. But Rodgers was in a relationship with Danica Patrick until July 2020, and Woodley described herself as single in April 2020.

Their engagement was revealed in February 2021, but Woodley later admitted they had actually been privately engaged for a while before the public found out. “Yes, we are engaged, we are engaged,” she told Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show in late February. “But for us, it’s not new news, you know, so it’s kind of funny, everybody right now is freaking out over it, and we’re like, yeah, we’ve been engaged for a while. Yeah, we got engaged a while ago. It’s been—he’s, first off, just a wonderful, incredible human being, but I never thought I’d be engaged to someone who threw balls [footballs, specifically] for a living. I never thought as a little girl, ‘Yeah. I’m going to marry someone who throws balls, yeah!’ But he’s really just so good at it, and I’m really impressed. He can throw fast balls, he can throw slow balls, high balls, low balls. When I first met him, I think my dog like pulled me aside and was like, ‘If you don’t date this dude, I will disown you as my mother because the three feet that I run with you when you throw a ball is nothing compared to the marathon I’m able to run with him.’”

A source close to Rodgers spoke to People in February about how shocked his friends were about his fast romance with Woodley. “It was a surprise that they got so close so quickly,” the source said. “I mean, it really felt like one day he was with Danica Patrick, and then suddenly he was with Shailene. It happened super fast.”

“It was so fast that at first, we thought she was just a rebound,” the source continued. “There was no way this could be so serious. Everyone thought it was a casual thing because that’s what he was telling everyone, even when it was clearly not a casual thing.

“Now we realize that it was clearly a lot more serious than they told anyone,” the source added. “All this goes to show that this must be a very special relationship for him and for her. So everyone wishes them happiness.”

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The Only Thing Better Than a New Swimsuit Is One You Got on Sale

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elle


David Bellemere

Since we basically skipped summer last year, we plan to double down on everything we missed out on as we enter a post-vaccinated world. Apprehensively. So while we won’t jet off to Portugal with the same joie de vivre we would have in 2019, we do plan to rebuild some semblance of summertime fun. Our starting point? Swimwear. Nothing gets us more excited for beachier days than a new bathing suit, with the exception of a new bathing suit we also got on sale. The best part is that our favorite brands seem to be on clearance simultaneously, with styles from Ganni, Oséree, Solid & Striped, Bottega Veneta, and Frankies all heavily discounted up to 70 percent off. Ahead, 19 of the best to shop right now.

1 of 19

Plunge Halterneck Swimsuit

Ganni
matchesfashion.com

2 of 19

Second Wave One-Piece Swimsuit

Madewell
madewell.com

3 of 19

The Taylor bow-embellished floral-print swimsuit

SOLID & STRIPED
theoutnet.com

4 of 19

Lumière Metallic Bikini Set

Oséree
cettire.com

5 of 19

Sunkiss Bikini Top

Medina Swimwear
modaoperandi.com

6 of 19

Apex One Piece Sale

Jade Swim
jadeswim.com

7 of 19

Printed halterneck Swimsuit

Emilio Pucci
net-a-porter.com

8 of 19

Broadway Bikini Top

Marysia
mytheresa.com

9 of 19

Stiza One Piece

Isabel Marant
shopbop.com

10 of 19

Walter Mio Ruched Swimsuit

Norma Kamali
net-a-porter.com

11 of 19

Avalon Bikini Top

Beach Riot
shopbop.com

12 of 19

Smocked Stretch-Crepe Bandeau Bikini

Lisa Marie Fernandez
theoutnet.com

13 of 19

Crinkled Stretch-Jersey Halterneck Bodysuit

Bottega Veneta
modaoperandi.com

14 of 19

Ruched One-Shoulder One-Piece

J.Crew
jcrew.com

15 of 19

Nova Bottom

Dos Swim
dosswim.com

16 of 19

Logo Cross Back Rib One-Piece Swimsuit

Off-White
nordstrom.com

17 of 19

Front Bikini Bottoms

Stone Fox Swim
freepeople.com

18 of 19

Halo Top

Frankie’s Bikinis
frankiesbikinis.com

19 of 19

Sailor Puff Sleeve Corset One Piece Swimsuit

Jonathan Simkhai
bloomingdales.com

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