Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Face of Kindness

It has not been a holiday season of joy, but one of challenge and strife. On Christmas Day I woke up with no heat in the house; a problem that plagued me from that day to this. I also had to deal with some devastating news about the health of a family member, and my own elderly mother not being able to join us for Christmas dinner because of her own health issues. A few family squabbles didn't do anything to make Christmas neither merry nor bright.

Early Monday morning, I got up to go to Home Depot to get a thermostat to see if that would solve my heating problem, and some vanilla chai tea, but Dunkin Doughnuts was out of my-go-to-drink when I need warming inside. Dejected, I headed back to my car, a black Honda Accord and pressed the button to pop the lock--or at least that's what I thought I did. I opened the door to black leather seats--definitely not my car! I closed the door quickly thinking, Oh my God! Somebody might think I'm trying to steal their car. I walked away a little startled still trying to figure out where I'd parked my car. I lose my car in parking lots all the time, and it still frustrates me because I don't why I can't keep up with my own car.

A man's voice reached out to me and asked, "Ms, are you ok? You look like some thing's wrong," he said as his words caressed me from the coldness of the season. I can only imagine what my face must have looked like because I know I having a telling face, and I joke with friends that I'd probably make a lousy Poker Player.

When I looked to see where the voice was coming from, I saw a man watching me as he sat in his car with a young boy. "No, I'm ok, I replied. I'm just looking for my car."

"Do you know where it is?"

"Yes, I see it. There it is. Thank you."

On a cold December morning during this subdued holiday season, I found kindness in the voice of a stranger, and his small gesture made my dimmed holiday light shine brighter.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

ABW--Not Again!

Just when I thought it was safe to put it away, I had to don my Angry Black Woman cape today.

There is this larger-than-life stereotype of Black women as always being angry, but no one ever stops to ask if our anger is valid. And while I wasn't the hand-on-hip, neck-rolling, finger-pointing, snapping off kind, I was vocal in my distaste of what happened when I decided to take in a couple of movies today.


Problem #1: I went to the theater and purchased tickets for two different movies. I used my debit card so I had to show my ID. I only have to show my ID at this particular theater. I can go anywhere else and simply present my debit card, but not in "da hood" because we all know that black people steal, so the theater has to make sure that I am the actual owner of the card that I present.

Problem #2: I finished watching one movie, dipped out to the bathroom before the second movie started. On the way back, this 20something, ponytail wearing security person told me he had to check my purse. I asked him why seeing as that I had just left one theater, and he said that he started checking purses at 3:00 o'clock. I obliged him, but not without telling him how I felt about the action. He told me it was for my safety. Of course. Silly me! I forgot that black people are violent.

That was it; that was the last straw. I tied up my cape and went to see the manager who tried to explain to me that the policies and procedures were for my safety. So, I explained to him that they made me feel like a criminal and that if I have to show IDS and be searched before I sit down to watch a movie, then maybe I need to go watch movies elsewhere. I also asked him for a business card, so that I could give my complaint some leverage by putting in writing.

I'm sure that there are those who feel like it's not that big a deal. Just go to the show somewhere else, but I want to say that it is a big deal! Expecting to be treated with dignity and respect is not an option; it's my God-given right, and when that doesn't happen, I need to let it be known that it's not acceptable.

With card in hand, and my cape flapping behind me, I left the theater. When I'm done with this post, I'm going to put my cape away, but know that it is within reach if I need it again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stephanie's Epiphanies: Being

Stephanie's Epiphanies: Being

Being

As you move throughout your day
Being obedient to the Spirit of Do,
Remember to honor the Spirit of Be
For it is through Being that we learn
What we need to be Doing--
Our Life's Purpose; Our Mission
If we spend too much time on what to Do
We forget just to Be
We must seek balance
Between Doing and Being
So that our life is fullfilling
And not just filled full of things to do
So Remember to just Be
One
With Ourselves,
With Nature,
With Our ancestors,
With God

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Life in Action Part 3

strand—leave in a helpless position: be stranded a thousand miles from home with no money.

I am a food connoisseur. Friend and family alike will tell you I love to eat! And I like food that’s good to me, but not good for me. I like food that sticks to the hips, thighs, butts and bellies long after the taste is gone from my mouth. I’ll do low fat, but not no-fat because my logic is if the food didn’t need the fat, it wouldn’t have been there in the first place. I like the camaraderie and the solitude the comfort of food brings. I eat to cure depression. I eat to celebrate. I eat to eat.

Most women go to the mall to shop; I only shop at malls that have good restaurants nearby. No matter what I’m doing, the foremost question in my mind is when and where are we going to eat when we’re done. One of my friends calls me Breakfast-Lunch-and-Dinner because she swears I am evil amplified when I miss I meal. But I never thought that food would make me lose my mind (albeit temporarily) and do something really stupid!

In 2005 during the Memorial Day weekend, some of Nefertari (Diane, Nicole and me) went to Silver Springs, Maryland for the 1st annual BOCA (Belly Dancers of Color Association) Festival--a weekend of dance workshops. We had an early morning flight, so I didn’t have time to eat breakfast, and the cardboard I consumed on the plane could not be counted as food. So, when we arrived in Maryland, we decided to grab something quick to eat before going to the hotel. I was eenie-meenie-minee-moing between an Annie’s Pretzel and a Cinnabon, when my keen sense of smell kicked in and I got a whiff of something even tastier. Ah, yes! A bakery that sold pecan rolls. It was the pecan roll hands down.

I was as happy as an audience member on an Oprah give-away show. Taking it apart layer by layer, I walked toward baggage claim with the taste of cinnamon on my tongue and the caramel coating sticking to my fingers. I was on the last part—the ooey-gooey center—and just as I was about to put it in my mouth, I saw my luggage come around the carousel. As I reached for my luggage, I watched in agony as my precious roll went airborne and landed nut side down. Bending down to pick it up, I reverted back to my childhood mantra, “God made dirt, so dirt don’t hurt.” I even thought about kissing it up to God to be doubly sure. It may have worked in childhood, but it wasn’t working for me as an adult. Reluctantly I put it in the garbage. But it wouldn’t go away. I kept thinking about it, dreaming about it, wondering how it would have tasted in the end, even though I knew—just like it had in the beginning.

I just knew I was going to get me a pecan roll on the way home, but when we got to the airport, we were on a different concourse. No!!!! It was right at 11:00 and our flight didn’t leave until 11:40. Could I get one? Not on my own. With my penchant for getting lost, I knew better than to wonder off to another concourse by myself. But hey, Nicole has an excellent sense of direction and believes she can get anywhere in 10 minutes. She volunteered to go.

I was all for it, but the sensible one, Diane said no. She is our conscience—when we want to listen. We didn’t that day. So when Diane went to the bathroom, Nicole left with my blessings. When Diane came out of the bathroom and found Nicole MIA, she just looked at me and shook her head. Shortly thereafter, they began calling passengers for our flight. The first 10 rows--No Nicole. The next 10 rows--no Nicole. I called Nicole on her cell phone--no answer. They called the last rows-still no Nicole. My heart dropped into my stomach and came back up again. Diane looked like you could cook an entire Sunday dinner on her head--with smoke coming out the top, and fiery red, coal ready cheeks. She had to get back to finish some paperwork, and we knew this. What was funny at first, turned out not to be quite so amusing. Just as they were about to close the door, and leave us stranded in Maryland, I saw Nicole walking fast with a white bakery bag in her hand. I ran, grabbed her by the hand, and yelled to Diane, to tell them we were coming. We made the flight, but the bakery was out of pecan rolls. We ate cookies instead, and laughed all the way home. I found a little, French bakery in Hyde Park that sells deliciously, delectable pecan rolls, and the three of us remain friends.
And that’s my life in verbs—to be, to see, to feel, to live!

My Life in Action Part 2

Sprawl—lie or sit with the arms and legs spread out, especially ungracefully: The people sprawled on the beach in their bathing suits.


It was a Saturday, summer afternoon, and the members of Nefertari --a belly dance troupe--and our instructor, TJ were sitting in Bar Louie’s in Hyde Park winding down from an intense 2 hour plus class. It was the whole crew—Tenisha, Diane, Nicole, Carmen and of course, me. Tired to the point of being silly, we were laughing and talking when Diane shared a recent conversation she had, had with her four-year old niece, Kyla who had discovered her vagina, and wanted to show her “toochie” to Auntie Diane. We were laughing hysterically and making all kinds of lewd comments, when this buff-body walked over to the table and interrupted our reverie. “Ms. Gates, is that you? How are you doing Ms. Gates?” said one of my former students all grown up. Freddie was in my class for two years when I first started teaching. “Hey Freddie!” I replied, silencing the silly in me before introducing him to my so-called friends. I felt my horns retracting, and was nearly blinded by the light from my halo when Freddie finished singing my praises. I was surprised my dance sisters didn’t throw in a few hallelujahs and amens of their own. As only my luck would have it, Freddie worked there and was our waiter. When he walked away with our drink order, they lit into me. “Looks like you might need to start teaching night school, Ms. Gates,” Tenisha said.“He’s 24 now, Ms. Gates,” Diane said, mimicking Freddie.“Yea, and you made him the man he is today,” Carmen chimed in. I had to take the ribbing because this is what we do when we get together. We tease each other all the time, about everything—no topic is sacred. Tenisha and I tie for being the most relentless. Carmen comes in second, and Diane is usually the group diplomat. Most of the time it’s Nicole, who gets got, but it was my turn that day--and they gave it to me good. “But he’s my student,” I whined. But they insisted that it didn’t matter because he was a man now. I gave up because I knew they were going to keep at it despite my feeble protests.After Freddie served our food and left, the conversation went back to touchies, and Tenisha said she was going to ask Freddie if he wanted to see mine. No amount of trying to explain why that wasn’t a good idea worked. I didn’t know if telling them Freddie used to have a crush on me would work for or against me, so I kept that tidbit of information to myself. We left without incident.Fast forward a few weeks. We return to Bar Louie on a Thursday night, and the place is crawling with people. Freddie and touchie were not on my mind, but should have been. Seated around the table, we are laughing and talking while feasting on chicken wings, chicken strips, fries and onion rings. The conversation is sprinkled with references to toochie, but it it’s a different time, a different night, and there has been no Freddie sightings, so I’m not worried. Tenisha excuses herself to go to the bathroom, which is close to where we’re sitting. Something tells me to turn around and when I do, I see Tenisha, the devil’s disciple, exiting the bathroom and slinking toward Freddie who is standing on the wall near the bar. She doesn’t see me, so I think I have a chance to foil her evil plan.I reach back to grab Tenisha’s purse, trying to snatch her, purse-and-all out of the room. It occurs to me that there is a reason why a chair needs four legs, but it’s too late. In that moment life slows down, just like in the movies, and I feel myself lifting off the ground. Carmen reaches for me, but to no avail. The chair tips over and keeps sliding right into the bar area. I silently pray for a trap door to open and allow me to escape with my dignity intact, but my prayer goes unanswered. Time stops, and the room stills. All eyes are on me—a grown sober woman, sprawled on the floor of Bar Louie. Someone is standing in front of me. My eyes travel up from the black gym shoes, to the nicely fitted jeans, to the chiseled chest, right into the eyes of Freddie. I just know the trap door is stuck, and is going to open any minute and get me out of this mess. “Ms. Gates, Ms. Gates are you alright?” I heard him say as he reached down to help me up. The bruise on my hip would heal a lot faster than the bruise on my ego. I assured him I was ok, and returned to my seat amidst the gawking and whispering of the bar patrons. When I sat down, my friends were hysterical. They said they couldn’t have done it better if they had planned it. I laughed along with them knowing that what’s done is done, but also plotting my revenge. I’m happy to say Freddie is married and living in Minnesota Last I heard, they have two children.

My Life in Action--Part 1

I get my thing in action (Verb!)
In being, (Verb!) In doing, (Verb!)
In saying
A verb expresses action, being or state of being
A verb makes a statement
Yeah, a verb tells it like it is!
Verb! That’s What’s Happenin’ School House Rock


I remember being a child in the 70s and watching segments of School House Rock on ABC in between my Saturday morning cartoons. The short segments helped reinforce what I was learning in school about multiplication tables, parts of speech, American history and science. I ran across the Grammar Rock video recently and began thinking about nouns and verbs in real life. As the noun, I know I am the receiver of the action from the verb. So, here’s my exploration of my life in verbs.

straddle—1. Have a leg on each side of (a horse, bicycle, chair etc.) 2. Stand or lie across; be on both sides of: A pair of glasses straddled her nose.

Back in the early 90s there was a BIG push from the self-help movement to reconnect to our inner child. Bookshelves were bulging with books on how to find and connect to the little girl or boy within who may have gotten lost on our way to adulthood. Finding and embracing our inner child was supposed to make us better human beings, filling us with childlike wonder. Well, at 28 on a cool, breezy spring morning 16 years ago, I had an unforgettable encounter with my inner child, and I learned that sometimes we shouldn’t go back no matter what the prevailing wisdom of the day is!
I had an appointment at Michael Reese Hospital for an ultrasound, and I had it all worked out--get my ultrasound and then head downtown for a little shopping. Sounds simple enough right? Well, I believe God has a sense of humor, and some of our trials and tribulations are for His amusement. I drew the short straw that day.
My neighbor gave me a ride because I did not drive at the time. And since I was already on 28th and Michigan, the bus ride downtown should have been short, sweet and uneventful, but if it had, I would not be telling this story.
After leaving the hospital, I got completely turned around trying to find my way to the bus stop. I can’t explain this because if I could, it wouldn’t have happened. I am directionally challenged. While I know my left from my right, north, south, east and west is as foreign to me as Chinese. In Chicago, people try to help me by reminding me that the lake is east. But this only works for me when I can see the lake.
I walked and looked; looked and walked, but I didn’t see the bus stop sign or another person even though it was the middle of the afternoon. No one was out walking the dog, taking a smoke break, or even begging for change. There was nothing but the back of the hospital, a big green field, the fence and me. I didn’t even know how to get back to where I had come from. After about 15 or 20 minutes of following my shadow, I saw it--the most beautiful blue and white bus stop sign I had ever seen. The only problem was, I was on one side of the chain link fence and the bus stop sign was on the other side. The fence was as tall as two NBA players stacked on top of each other, and the claw-like prongs were turned up ready to attack. My intuition and good sense abandoned me in that moment. Caged in with no visible way out, I was struck by genius--which is close to crazy--and decided to climb the fence.
Dressed in a raspberry sweat shirt, brand new Guess jeans and white lace-up gym shoes, I was up for the challenge. I used to climb and walk along the fence as a child so this was easy, I reasoned. It never dawned on me that close to 20 years had probably passed since I climbed my last fence. I was older, a little less limber and my feet were too big to neatly fit into the grooves on the fence. But my inner child wasn’t concerned with any of this. She wanted to be free. So, she silenced the grown-up me, stuck that superwoman “S” on my chest, and pushed me to face the monster before me.
I strapped my purse across my chest and began to climb. The fence was taller than the fences of my childhood, and I was carrying more weight--thoughts that did not occur to me when I had both feet on the ground. When I got to the top, I swung my left leg over. When I went to swing my right leg over, my shoe string got caught on the prongs. Oh, sugar-honey-ice-tea! I thought. I’m stuck. I tried wiggling my foot loose from the grips of fence monster, but he had my string between his teeth and wasn’t letting go.
There I was, a grown woman straddling the fence in the middle of an open field. My imagination ran wild. First, I had visions of going to jail because I knew somebody was going to call the police and report that there was a woman on the fence. Then I had visions of being on the six o’clock news with family and friends watching. “That looks like Stephanie . . . That is Stephanie,” I could hear them say as they fell over laughing. And once they recovered from their laughing spell, their sick, twisted sense of humor would kick in and they’d make up jokes and songs. Once during a game of charades, my brother mimed blowing up a balloon, and popping it. The answer was Stephanie’s lung. This was a few months after I had been treated for a partially collapsed lung. Being caught on tape and having to deal with family and friends was a fate far worse than jail. At least in jail I could get some reprieve.
I had to get down, so I wiggled my foot again. Nothing happened. I was caught up-- literally. Just outside of my peripheral vision I caught sight of my prince charming walking down the street unaware that he was about to rescue a damsel in distress. At that very moment I denounced my feminist principles and became a firm believer in the happily ever after. Well, sort of. The armor was a little dented, and he wasn’t that charming in a black skull cap and some beat-up dingy jeans. But hey! He was as fine as Denzel that day. “Excuse me sir,” I yelled from atop my prison. The man looked around, and of course, he didn’t see anybody.
“Up here, sir!” I yelled.
He looked up and shook his head as he began walking toward me. “What cha doin’ up there?” He said with this silly grin on his face. I didn’t get a chance to reply because my shoe miraculously came loose. I swung my leg over and jumped down.
“How did you get up there?”
“It’s a long story,” I replied “And I’m too old to be climbing fences,” I mumbled.
He looked at me shaking his head in disbelief as he walked away. I could only imagine how many times he told that story. But it didn’t matter. I was down. I was safe and I could go on with my plans for the day. Not!
I didn’t have a bus pass, and all I could scrounge up in my purse was a measly 37 cents—just enough change to call my brother, who lived nearby. As I headed toward his house on 29th and Indiana, I felt a burning sensation on the back of my thigh. I reached back to find a vertical rip in my jeans. Unable to tell how bad the damage was, I stopped these two guys headed in my direction. “Excuse me, but I ripped my pants and I want you to tell me if it looks bad or not.” To this day I can’t believe I actually asked a man to look at my booty.
“Go ahead. Walk on in front of us,” one said while the other licked his lips. “Naw, it looks fine to me,” the first one said as I walked down the street.
“Yea,” the second one agreed. I know I gave God a deep belly laugh that day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

“Good” Hair

We need to get to the root of the problems we still have with our hair. Because until we can untangle the mess in our head about what's on our head, we'll never be able to fully appreciate who we are as a people. Black hair, like Black people, in all its various styles and textures is beautiful.


Original Definition

“Good” hair. N. More European than African. Grade A or B only—definitely not C! Straight or loosely curled. Silky. Soft. Gentle. Wispy. Windblown. Preferably shoulder length or longer for females. Bouncing and Behaving. Naturally wavy--pre-Jheri Juice curl days. Relaxers or other chemicals need not be applied, but can be used on C hair to give it the appearance of Grade A or B hair so it can “pass” if not natural. Mimics the white girl toss-and-swing. Straight by any means necessary—axle grease, butter, bacon fat, goose grease. Originated in the antebellum south. Born out of racism. Decisive tool used to pit African American slaves against each other in color caste system of slavery. Product of miscegenation. Evidence of Indian in the family. Lacking kink. Easy to deal with. Compliant. Trained. Mainstreamed. Acceptable. Assimilated. Non Resistant. Superior. Opposite of “bad” hair.

“Bad” hair. N. More African than European. Grade C minus chemical intervention. Definitely D or F. Nappy. Kinky. Spongy. Wild. Wooly. Tightly curled--Home to kitchens and beady-bees. Short, if on a female. Unable to achieve waves even with pomade, brush, and doo-rag. Immobile. Denotes “pure” African ancestry. Hard to handle without aid of chemicals. Non-compliant. Unruly. Screams ethnic. Non-conformist. Antithesis of “good” hair.

Newly Defined

“Good” hair. N. Healthy hair. Well taken care of. Long or short. Straight or kinky. Locked or not. Any texture. Any style. God given. Emancipated. Manumitted. Free to be whatever the wearer wants it to be!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Blood on Our Hands

The blood of our youth that flows in the street stains the hands of the adults in our communities. We can point our fingers at various factors: the music, the media, the parents, society and it still comes back to us.

If we think that some of these children are monsters, then we must take responsibility for being the Dr. Frankensteins that created them. We went into the labs that are our homes, our schools, our churches and our communities and we took the worst of ourselves and molded them into the monsters that are terrorizing our neighborhoods.

We filled our children with self-loathing and self-hatred and tried to disguise it as arrogance and false pride. We gave them indelible minds but no moral compass, and they are lost in the wilderness of a world gone mad; a world that we created. And they are angry because they are afraid and they don't know what to do because we are not there to guide them.

We have failed our children because we lead by poor example. We smoke, drink, drug, sex and shrink away from our shared responsibilities. "These kids" as we like to refer to them, belong to someone else. We have adopted an "it's-all-about-me" attitude of greed and entitlement and passed it on to our children. They may not do as we say, but they always do as we do. IF they are monsters; it is because we made them.

If we want our children to stop being fodder for police blotters and yellow tape; if we want our children to stop being at the bottom of the national test scores, and the top of the dropout rates; if we want our children to stop being statistics for STDs including HIV and out of wedlock pregnancy; we must return to the labs that are our homes, our schools, and our communities and rescue our children. They're waiting for us to be the adults that we're supposed to be.

Otherwise, the blood will continue to flow and no matter how hard we try, we'll never be able to wash our hands clean.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Are You Laughing With Me or At Me?

By Stephanie J. Gates

I am a movie aficionado, and even with HD flat screen TVs, surround sound and blue ray capabilities to bring the movie experience home, I still love going to the movie theater to kick back, relax and enjoy a movie. I love all kinds of movies (except horror) and I pretty much take them for what they’re worth, most often mindless escapist entertainment. But scenes from three movies I’ve watched recently makes me wonder who controls our image and if “the joke is indeed on us.”

I was watching The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock as a woman who forces her assistant to propose marriage, and what happens as a result of that. It’s a comedy so I naturally knew it was supposed to be funny. There’s a scene with the fiancĂ©’s grandmother played by Betty White as a half Indian, half white woman who encourages Bullock to get in touch with her higher self by engaging in an ancient ritual of some sort. They’re out in the woods, just the two of them and White’s character keeps encouraging Bullock to just let go. And the prim and proper high maintenance diva taps into her spiritual self by singing and dancing to Get Low and I’m laughing because the scene is funny, right?

You, know the stereotypical scene where a white person tries to dance like a black person only everyone knows white people can’t dance because they don’t have rhythm, so we laugh at them making fools of themselves because they laugh at themselves. So, I’m laughing because Sandra Bullock is trying to get in touch with herself and she’s making this spiritual connection by singing and dancing like a white girl to this nasty song, but then I stop laughing because I don’t know who I’m really laughing at: Sandra Bullock or a stereotype of myself?

This revelation made me think about two other movies that I’ve watched recently, and I am disturbed by some of the scenes that come back to me. In Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey’s portrayal of an Australian playing a black man doesn’t bother me as much as the rapper and Tom Cruise’s characters who make me say, “Hey, wait a minute!” The rapper’s name is Alpa Chino (a take-off on Al Pacino) whose claim to fame is an empire of sexual explicitness including a song called I Love the P***y! and his products Booty Sweat energy drink and Bust A Nut energy bar. He was supposed to be this over the top character, but his character is more realistic than not of some rappers.

Tom Cruise is a studio executive, who dances off Get Back and Low, and like Sandra Bullock’s character, I was cracking up again at the trying-to-be-cool white person, but then I saw the mirror and it wasn’t as funny. It reminded me of being in school and laughing at the self-appointed class clown who then turns and plays a cruel joke an unsuspecting classmate, and the hee-haws turn to horror as the victim realizes what has happened.
To Stiller’s credit, he previewed Tropic Thunder to a group of African-American journalists and to members of the NAACP, according to Wikipedia and I guess they were OK with the film. It was also said on Wikipedia that Tom Cruise came up with the idea of his character dancing. I know that Tropic Thunder is a parody so I started thinking, how do you parody a parody? I admit, it’s a funny movie, but I couldn’t help thinking who was really being mocked, and how we decide when it’s offensive and when it’s not. When Ted Danson dressed up as a minstrel, it nearly ended his career, but we support real artists like the Alpa Chino character and tune into reality TV regularly to watch buffoonery. What gives?

In the beginning of the movie, He’s Not That Into You, an array of women are explaining how to tell when a guy isn’t interested, and they show women from all walks of life: in the mall, at the gym, out side etc. But then they also show three African women sitting outside their huts talking. To make matters worse, the women’s conversation is subtitled. To comfort her friend as to why the guy’s not calling, one of the women says, “Maybe he forgot your hut number.” And then her other friend laughs and says, “Or maybe he got eaten by a lion.” The African women were outside their hut while the Asian women were in the mall.

Later in the movie there are two overweight African-American women explaining how a man can make you believe the break-up was your idea when it was really his, and their solution is just go on and eat some ribs and some other kind of “black” food. There were a couple of plump white women in the movie, and we meet them in the park speed walking. The subliminal message of the movies is the same: we haven’t progressed. We’re still wild, savage, lazy people if you believe what you see on the screen.

I like to laugh as much as the next person and I’m not so serious that I can’t laugh at myself; my problem is the lack of balance. Why does it seem like we are we always the butt of the joke? And even more disturbing, is why are we ok with this buffoonery that continues to pass itself off as entertainment in its various forms?

When I was in high school, I went on a cruise and we when we were in the Bahamas the native people asked us where we were from and when we said Chicago, they made shooting gestures with their hands saying, “Gangster, gangster.” We were high school seniors, and it was 1980 and yet people from another country still saw as parts of the 1920s gangster image associated with Chicago.

Fast forward to the present, and hip-hop reigns, and the images of us from hip-hop and other media is projected world wide, and how do you think we’re viewed? What we see is a one-dimensional negative image of who we are as black people because the world sees us as one and the same. The worst of us represents the best of us and we see this played out daily even as a black man sits in this nation’s highest office. We are no more monolithic than any other group of people, but the reality is, is that we’re viewed as such.
Who controls our image? Taking into account the pervasive nature of the music in the movies mentioned, I was wondering who was I laughing at and who was laughing at me? Too much of hip-hop and reality TV is nothing more than mindless, lewd, violent representations of everything that’s wrong in the black community that disguises itself as entertainment, and we laugh.

I’m sure that there are people who’d argue that there’s no difference between the two, but I beg to differ. If I offer myself as the butt of the joke, I’m giving you permission to laugh along with me because I’ve agreed to take part, but when you put me out there without my consent, you’re laughing at me, and that’s not the same thing. I can appreciate self-deprecating humor from most anyone, but being sucker punched isn’t funny; it hurts.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Surrendering Power

One Saturday morning recently, I didn’t make it to Boot Camp so I decided to hit the track for a little jogging/walking combo (because what I do does not qualify as running) on a track near my house. It was the perfect weather for being outside with temperatures in the 70s on a cloudless, sun-filled day.

There was a group of three friends on the track; two women and one man—all in their mid to late 20s. One of the women’s cell phone rang and she fell back behind the other two. Because we were traveling at the same pace, and she was talking loudly I could hear her conversation; she was arguing with a guy, presumably her boyfriend, who had called her late the night before and she didn’t answer the phone because she was sleeping.

The conversation went on as we alternately passed each other on the track. When she first answered the phone she was angry that he had the audacity to question her whereabouts when he’d called so late, but as the conversation wore on, I could hear him wearing her down as her voice changed and she tried to convince him that she was home sleeping, then accepting defeat that she couldn’t. He eventually “let her off the hook” because her voice softened and became inaudible as her face matched the morning sun. She hung up and continued around the track.

For some reason, the conversation bothered me, and I wanted to say something but I was afraid. A conversation with a friend of mine about women giving up our power popped into my head, and I decided to take a risk and say something. When she came around the track again, I was off to the side doing some calisthenics so I stopped her. I told her I overheard her conversation, and that as a forty-something single, woman, I had done plenty of dating and I wanted to share with her something I’d learned. I told her not to surrender her power to a man. I told her if she didn’t want to talk to him because he waited until 11:00 o’clock to call her then that’s the way it should be. I agreed with her right to question why he had waited all day to call her if he wanted to spend time with her. I ended by telling her to decide what her expectations were and to stick to them. She looked at me, smiled and said thank you, and we both went on with our workouts. When she caught up with her girlfriend (the guy had left by then) she must have told her friend that I said something to her because I saw her pointing me out. It was weird for me at first, but I’m glad I did it. It doesn’t matter whether she takes my advice or not; what matters is I saw a sister in need and I reached out, and I felt better for doing so.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Other Side of the Plexiglass

I am Dorothy trying to find my way back to Kansas, only Kansas isn’t Kansas anymore. I have been thrust into the world of Plexiglass, and it ain’t nothing nice.
Plexiglass, the brand name for acrylic plastic, was first used in this country during World War II as a bullet-resistant glazing in war planes in our fight against the enemy. Today, the enemy is me.

Like the Jeffersons, we moved up—from the segregated west side of Chicago to the integrated (sort of) South side of the city known as Roseland. We had a shopping area two blocks from home. My niece, Rhonda, and I did not understand the significance of two little brown girls eating lunch at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. We just liked hopping up on the red swivel stools and enjoying our delicious, All-American lunch of cheeseburgers, fries and Coke. This was during the time when money actually changed hands. Roseland changed, too--but I wasn’t paying attention.

For a while I lived in Hyde Park, a multicultural Mecca and the answer (in theory anyway) to Rodney King’s “Can’t we all just get along?” Even in its congestion, it was still easy to breathe. When I moved back to Roseland, the first thing I noticed was the air. It is thick with misery--tight and wheezy, like an asthmatic.
I knew the yellow brick road had led me astray when I heard Roseland proudly referred to on the radio station as the Wild Hun’eds, and we do try to live up to our name sometimes. One day I am driving and I see a Do Not Enter sign with “fucking” in black magic marker wedged between not and enter. A couple of blocks away the arrow points in both directions on the One Way sign. Today I am a foreigner in a strange land. I am in it but not of it (I think) which makes daily life a surreal experience.

Not that I haven’t encountered plexiglass before, but lately I am perpetually perplexed by this proliferation of plastic. The friendly green and yellow BP sign is misleading. I am standing in line behind a woman awaiting my turn. The man of Middle Eastern descent pushes her change through the slit beneath the window and places her merchandise in the revolving door. She removes her things and asks, “Can I get a bag?”

“Put it in your pocket,” he replies.

“Man, give me a bag,” she says more forcefully.

He refuses, telling her again to put the stuff in her pocket.

She curses him and leaves.

I don’t know why I don’t leave, but I have not returned since that day. Scenarios like these are common.

Always on my way somewhere, I often eat on the run. One evening, I pull into a KFC drive-thru, place my order and pull up to pay for it, only to be greeted by a contraption entirely made of plexiglass. I think this is some kind of fluke until I stop at a Subway on a different night. The sandwich and their fixings are surrounded by this plastic shield that I have to shout through to place my order. Adding insult to injury, the employee tells me I have to pay 50 cents extra for banana peppers. They must be a delicacy in the ‘hood. I pass on the peppers, but not the sandwich.
When I stop at Wingz it Iz I know I am in for a plastic experience—the z’s instead of s’s are a dead give-away. Unlike Mr. BP, this man of Middle Eastern descent is nice, despite the double barrier buffer between us: plastic glass and a language barrier.

I stop at Walgreen’s to buy some Caress Body Wash and find it is locked behind plexiglass. This is done to prevent “shrink rate,” a Walgreen’s manager tells me when I inquire as to why some of the products are under lock and key. The “shrink rate” items vary from store to store. Even something as simple as buying stamps is done through a plastic portal at the U.S. post office.
Those behind the plexiglass believe they’re protected from those of us on the other side. My brain splits: I am not them, and they are not me, but strangely, we are one. I have come full circle, leaving segregation only to return to it in this city of plastic. I wonder what will happen if I close my eyes and click my heels together three times?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I'm Back on Track

After a hiatus of sorts, I have committed to making writing more of a priority.

Saturday, I started off by outlining short and long term goals, working with a creative coach and launching this site.

I hope that you'll find this to be a forum for intelligent exchange, and that you'll visit often...