Wednesday, December 21, 2011

You Can't Pretty Ugly

You can't pretty ugly. That's the conclusion I've come to after tuning into non-reality, reality TV. I kept hearing about these shows and their cast of characters that I was clueless about, so I decided to watch a few episodes, and was quickly reminded of the lyrics of a Jill Scott song that says, “Everything ain’t for everybody.”

People will liken my distaste for reality TV to that of being bougie or of liking things that are intellectually stimulating or thought-provoking. And yes, I do like watching, reading, listening to or talking about things that make me think. But I also like mindless, guilty pleasure stuff as well. One of my favorite pastimes is watching stupid comedies, and I love Beverly Jenkins African-American historical romance novels.

I know that not all idiots watch Maury and the plethora of judge shows. Humans beings are complicated creatures and most of us contradict ourselves in one way or another. Our complexity makes life so much more interesting. I get it; I understand why so many of us are glued to the TV and sucked into the lives of the “stars” of reality TV. It does make for compelling viewing as we become voyeurs in the real-life soap opera of the somewhat rich and famous. We fantasize about what it would be like to have money and status—to chase the promised, but elusive American Dream. We want to see what we think we might be missing.

So for a few weeks I tuned in too, but it got old for me fast because what I saw was pretty sad. The women are in their designer finest. They strut around in their Christian Louboutin shoes, working the wonders of the best weave that money can buy. They have perfectly manicured nails, toothpaste lover’s dream teeth courtesy of veneers and enough plastic parts to fill a landfill or two. On the outside, the women are beautiful, but it doesn’t cover up the ugly that reeks out week after week. I know it’s all about editing and ratings so much of what is passed off as real isn’t. But there’s enough backstabbing, gossiping and hater-aid being passed around to send everybody into rehab. The viewers take solace in the fact that our lives aren’t that bad. And we understand that the money-magic wand cannot fix all that ails us. But it doesn’t stop us from wondering what if we had that money what would we do?

Years ago, I promised myself that I would remove toxic people from my life, and I had until I started watching some of these shows. Feeling tired after an episode, I realized that watching these women is poisonous to my spirit. I had to hit the channel changer on my remote. I like Unsung and Life After because they’re about life’s trials, tribulations, tragedies, and triumphs. A bunch of whining women with too much time on their hands doesn’t give me the slightest bit of pleasure. Life happens to all of us--rich, poor, well-known and unknown. And I like tuning into the lives of people who wrestle with adversity and win.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nothing Cute About It

The firestorm surrounding the suspension of a 9 year-old boy from a North Carolina school has resulted in the suspension being rescinded and the resignation of the school principal. Emanyea Lockett was originally suspended for sexual harassment for calling his teacher “cute.” According to various news sources, the child did not say it in the presence of the teacher, but was talking to a friend when his comment was overheard by a substitute teacher who then reported it to administration.

I am disturbed by this story on many levels because I am left with many unanswered questions. For starters, I can’t believe that the principal, a 44-year veteran educator would have to end his career over something so seemingly insignificant. I can’t help but think that something’s amiss and we the unknowing public will never know the full details.

What especially concerns me about this situation besides the unknown is that it brings to mind the racist and sexist undertones that still permeate our society. Though we live in the 21st century, we are still operating from a 19th century perspective on race and gender because we still view the black male as a sexual predator and the white woman as a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. Although I don’t know the race the teacher involved, I do know that the black male is feared by some of those charged with teaching him because they take their cues from society at large.

Many of our teachers in urban schools are white females, which makes wonder how this social-sexual dynamic plays out in the classroom. I have seen glimpses of it, and it ain’t nothing nice to see. There are tons of literature on the behavioral and academic performances of black males. Are the problems facing the African-American male student a self-fulfilling prophecy brought on as a matter of social conditioning?

Society pounds into my head to fear and/or loathe black males. And if I, an African-American woman who lives and works in Urban America can sometimes fall prey to such stereotypical thinking, what about those who are two or three times removed from the population they teach. As I grapple with the dynamics of this story, I reflect on my own teaching experience. When I was a mentor teacher, I had experiences with teachers who were afraid of their students and it showed, and the students took advantage of the situation. It was a case of what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Every week when I walked into this young white female teacher's classroom, I had to talk her down off the ledge. She had previously taught Mexican students, so she didn't understand why she couldn't relate to her African-American students. One week she was particularly disturbed because a black male student had molded a piece of clay into a phallic shape and acted as though he were masturbating in her class. She reported the incident, and disciplinary action was taken against the student, but it was not to her satisfaction. The child was not suspended, and he probably should have been. This incident along with other issues she had caused her to resign at the end of the year.

Another young white woman wore her hair up all the time, and one day she wore it down, and it fell past her shoulders. The boys in her class were in awe. We live in a culture that worships long hair, and blond hair is even better, so it was no surprise that she got a reaction from her male students, but the incident “creeped” her out, and she decided not to wear her hair down. In both instances, I didn’t know what to say, where to begin to try and create a level of empathy and understanding.

As an educator, I have spent most of my time in middle school or junior high, and I have been subjected to the admiration of some of my students over the years, but none of which I would classify as sexual harassment though I am fully aware that students can and will make inappropriate comments, and should be disciplined accordingly. But my problem is two-fold: we don't discipline fairly as evidenced by the high percentage of African-American males suspended across the nation, and we allow our children to live in a culture that reeks of sexuality, and blame them when they lack the filters needed to discern what is and isn't appropriate.

I don't know all the details in this case. what I do know is that it's not a case of black and white, but various shades of grey. Until we address the dynamics of what's really going on in our schools, things will never change. We'll keep looking for scapegoats to blame instead of looking into the heart of the issue. Black boys are neither angels nor devils, and neither are those of us who educate them. In the end, we're all human. And that's what we all need to understand.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

See You in December

I've decided to take a short break from blogging as I am finding it too difficult to work, blog and work on a novel.

November 1st marked the first day of National Novel Writing Month and I decided to enter the contest. The goal is to finish a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

It's challenging, but I'm plugging away at it. So, see you in December.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Color Still Matters

If you’re white, you’re alright
If you’re yellow, that’s mellow
If you’re brown, stick around
If you’re black, get back
Old saying in the African-American community

For two days, I sat in auditoriums filled with a kaleidoscope of black people--a living document of our mixed heritage. The first night I was at DuSable Museum and the audience was made up mostly of adult women waiting to watch the Dark Girls documentary. Not widely advertised, the movie had been listed under the museum’s events and spread via social networking and word of mouth. Due to overwhelming demand for another showing, in less than 24 hours, one of the auditoriums at Ice Theaters was filled to capacity. The second night was still mostly women, but also sprinkled with men and children. Standing room only, a makeshift bench and folding chairs were set up to accommodate the overflow. And we all wanted the same thing: understanding and healing around an issue that has plagued us far too long.

A woman in the audience at Ice Theaters said when she’d heard about the film, she thought that the issue was archaic. She said she wondered why we’re still talking about it in 2011. I shook my head at the thought. This subject matter is not archaic, but real and relevant and we need to talk about it. The fact that it’s been taboo for so long is why it has become a more insidious issue. It’s like a poisonous vapor permeating our being. And it’s time to talk it out and toss it out of our psyche.

Every day, I see the harm our silence is costing us. When I first became a teacher in the 90s, there was a beautiful young dark skinned girl in my class who told me that her color was a curse, and that nobody could tell her otherwise because no one else was as dark as she. I had light complected boys who felt like they had to fight to prove their “blackness” much like our President has to do today. I had another girl who hated another student because of the texture of the girl’s hair. In a heated argument, she yelled at her, “So what you got Indian in your family!” A group of girls threatened to cut the face and hair of a light skinned classmate because of something she had no control over. The stories are endless. Our children have learned to hate themselves from us.

Much of what’s wrong with our youth is an innate sense of self-loathing from the internalization of eurocentrism. What we fail to accept about perceived ideas of standards, is that if we have a superior standard, then we must have an inferior standard. So, if Europe is the pinnacle of all that’s beautiful then the antithesis of that would be Africa in a world where only white and black exists. Colorism is a by-product of racism, but it lives and breathes because we have not made peace with our past.

One of the experts in the film said that we are the keepers of our soul, and it’s time for us to become better care takers. We owe it to ourselves and our children.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Buy. . .or Not?

To Buy or Not to Buy? That is the dilemma I am faced with as I learn that American Girls has released its second African-American doll.

Move over Addy! You've got company. Addy, the American Girls only African-American doll until the recent addition of Cecile, is a former slave who escapes slavery.

Cecile, on the other hand, is from a well-to-do New Orleans family. I'm sure that Cecile will be well received by some and rejected by others just as Addy's reception has been mixed. We don't want to see ourselves as descendants of slaves, but we want our stories told accurately. The real or perceived controversy surrounding the dolls is not my issue. If I decide to purchase either--or both--it will be because I want to add them to my collection. And therein lies the problem for me.

The American Girl dolls, African-American or not, are homely. While they're not quite ugly, they are not cute by any stretch of the imagination. So, do I buy them for their historical and nostalgic value, and not their aesthetic appearance? I don't know.

I love dolls. I always have, but homely doesn't hit home. The jury's still out. But I'm thinking about. In the mean times, Byron Lars has a beautiful new Barbie that I need to add to my collection.

Hold on Addy and Cecile. I just might get you yet.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remembering 911

I remember it fell on a Tuesday-- a beautiful, breezy, end-of-summer day. The trees were mostly green, but patches of red, yellow and brown were making their presence known. I remember having a full schedule of activities planned before and after work. My first stop was a follow up appointment with the surgeon who had removed fatty tumor from the upper right part of my back. My appointment was early in the morning and if I managed to get in and out quickly, I wouldn’t be that late for work.
I was thinking about my visit with the handsome, arrogant doctor and wondering if I should flirt with him since I hadn’t see a wedding wing on his finger. Arrogant is not really my type, I thought as I shifted to my long list of things to do on the list of living. As I reached to turn off the radio, something caught my attention. I stopped to listen; a plane had crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York. I listened for a few minutes, but I knew I had to go. The day’s happenings were unclear to me at the time so I hurried into the office, signed in and took my seat as an eerie feeling descended over me.
Everyone was glued to the television in the waiting room watching the attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon. It was pin-drop silence as we tried to make sense of what didn’t make sense. Chaos was reigning in New York, but it was business as usual in Chicago in a weird sort of way. On some level, I believe we found solace, in the semblance of normalcy. Something horrific was taking place, but nobody knew what to do because there is no protocol when horror unfolds in your face.
When my name was called, I unglued myself from the T.V. and went in to the examining room. The normally over-confident, clean shaven doctor was visibly shaven. He was talking as if I wasn’t in the room—something about understanding what they did because of things that the United States had done. Then he started talking about his family in D.C. His mother and uncle lived there and one of them worked near the Pentagon. He said he’d been trying to reach someone all morning, but the phone lines were jammed. I sat quietly, not knowing what to say as I tried to steady the rhythm of my own heart.
After a few more minutes of talking and pacing, he snapped into doctor mode, examined my incision, and told me that all was well—with me. I thanked him and left, but my mind would go back to him in the days that followed. I sent him a card wishing him and his family well. He did not reply. When I returned to my car, I called my mother who lives in Chicago because I needed the assurance of hearing her voice on the other end of the phone.
I work for the Chicago Board of Education, and when I got to work, we watched and waited. We were in public building and, we didn’t know if the schools would remain open or close. Carmen, my friend and co-worker decided to reschedule the twins’ birthday outing. Like most everyone else, I went home to watch and wait in anticipation of what was to come. In the days that passed, life for us in Chicago returned to normal, but we are forever reminded of our vulnerability.
Sept 11, 2001 is branded in the minds of Americans—a day in which our lives changed forever in visible and non-visible ways. Safety became our first priority—something we can no longer take for granted.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Relationship Circus

Washing my car the other day, I was privy to what should have been a private conversation between a young woman and young man at the car wash. From the snatches of conversation I heard as I vacuumed out my car, it seemed as though she was giving him the business for disrespecting her.

I shook my head as I listened to her emotionally charged tongue lashing wondering why she was giving so much energy to man that she knew wasn't hers. She acknowledged that she was the jump-off and claimed to have understood the nature of his relationship with this other woman.

Listening to her reminded of how often we become ring masters of our very own three-ring circus. Step right up as we engage in death-defying acrobatic stunts to prove our worth, turn summersaults and backflips, and jump through hoops to demonstrate our loyalty and committment. It's amazing how often we don the clown suit under the guise of love.

Some of us have teetered on the tightrope between sanity and insanity--leaning toward the latter trying to hold on,on an already slippery slope. A word of caution to the ring masters: step out of the ring before it's too late, and you seal your own fate.

Some of us have our head in the mouth of the lion, and maybe because we've been there for so long, or we think we know the nature of the beast, we don't know get out while we still have our heads. So, take my advice and pull out before the lion swallows you whole, and rips a hole in your soul.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Hoopla Around the Help

After first reading the book, then seeing the film and now reading the various articles popping up about The Help, I must confess that I don’t share the sentiments of those strongly speaking out against the film. There’s the chorus of why another story of a black woman as a maid, the chorus of a white woman telling our story, and the chorus of it being stereotypical int its one dimensional protrait of the maid as "mammy" and its lack of historical depth. The Help, based on the bestselling novel of the same name written by Kathryn Stockett, is a fictionalized account of the lives of domestics in the turbulent 60s in Mississippi.

All the hoopla around The Help rips off the post-racial band-aid America has been wearing since the election of President Obama. This movie that is stirring up controversy and raking in millions reminds us of the raw and real pain of our racist past. And I welcome it. In his critique of The Help, Leonard Pitts Jr. of The Miami Herald says, "As Americans, we lie about race…Lies that exonerate conscience and cover sin with sanctimony."

Pitts shares the story of his mother who worked as a domestic for a doctor in Memphis in the late ‘40s/early 50s. One day the doctor’s daughter came up and began rubbing the woman’s skin because the child thought the woman's skin was dark because it was dirty. Seems that when the little girl asked her grandmother why the maid’s skin was dark, the little girl was told that the darkness was dirt. "Years later, Mom’s voice still mixed anger and humiliation when she told that tale." Pitts describes his own irresolution with the film. "I suspect it traces to nothing more mysterious than the pain of revisiting a time and place of black subservience. And, perhaps, the sting of an inherited memory. That episode cost my mom something to tell — and even more to live."

In L. Lamar Wilson’s piece, Wilson complained that the director had an opportunity to show love to the maligned black women in our society and she failed. Wilson wondered why Abilene couldn’t recite the words for self that she spoke to Mae Mobley. And while I fully understood what Wilson was getting at, I was blown away by words of a reader whose response to the article appeared in the comment section following the story.

“I am a fifty-six year old black man whose mother was a maid, a servant, and raised little white boys and little white girls . . . As I write this; the hurt of being devalued soars into my chest, just as it did when watching the movie. . . I couldn't say them to myself when the world around me was saying, "you are dumb, you are ignorant, you stink, you are ugly, you are bad." THAT VOICE was too, too loud and there were no volume control."

The reader goes on to say how his mother's teachings affected him when he watched his mother put on her uniform and assume her subjugated positon in society.

We need to stop acting as though were are not a nation in pain. We need to stop lying to ourselves because the lies that we've all been told about race "pinched off avenues of aspiration till “the help” was all a Negro woman was left to be," Pitt said. "I think of those lies sometimes when aging white southerners contact me to share sepia-toned reminiscences about some beloved old nanny who raised them, taught them, loved them, and who was almost a member of the family. Almost. It is Kathryn Stockett’s imperfect triumph to have understood this and seek to make others understand it, too. I think mom would have appreciated the effort."

The multitude of voices speaking out both for and against The Help need to heard if we are to heal our hurt.Perhaps through these dialogues and debates we can come to some understanding what it was like to stand in and walk around in the shoes of the hired help. We will never know what it was like to live in their shoes, but through our conversations with each other, we can move from sympathy to empathy and outrage to understanding so that we can appreciate and celebrate these unsung heroes.

We need the balm of couragerous conversations to heal our wounded souls.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Holding Love Hostage

Recently,I was playing with my new toy--the cable remote, flipping through the channels, when I stopped as one of the judge shows caught my attention. Not a fan of judge shows, I stopped because a woman on on America's Court with Judge Kevin Ross was suing her boyfriend she got arrested for disorderly conduct after she make a false complaint against her then boyfriend.

Seems that the woman wanted to get married, but the boyfriend didn't even though the woman insisted that she and the boyfriend had discussed marriage. The boyfriend showed the judge the cards the woman had given to him signed, "your wife." Because she said he had promised to propose to her and chickened out, she called the police to scare him into marrying her.

The judge told the woman, "It's not about the wedding. It's not about I'm married," he said pointing to a wedding ring. "It's about someone who loves you and wants to to be with you." The judge dismissed the charges against the boyfriend. And even though I sometimes thing some of the people on some of these shows are short a table leg, I do know people in hostage situations disguised as love.

I know people who are strong arming or being strong armed by "love". There are people in relationships with people who love them, and yet they don't love their partner in return. Real love doesn't weigh you down and chain your soul; it's time for someone to be set free.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When Jesus Won't Do

Since childhood, my mother has always listened to the church. And one evening recently as I sat on the edge of my mother’s bed keeping company with her I had an epiphany: What do you do when Jesus won’t Do?
My mother’s regular program ended, but she didn’t change the channel. So, when tidbits of the Joyce Meyers show floated throughout the room, I had a flashback to the 90s and the image of the WWJD? armbands popped into my head as Myers explained that as humans we fail and hurt the people we love, but that the love of Christ never fails or hurts us. I left before the broadcast ended, but the thought of What happens when Jesus won’t do? stayed behind in my mind.

Don’t misunderstand me: Aspiring to be more Christ-like is wonderful, but sometimes it’s overwhelming to ask: What would Jesus do? and then do it. Sometimes I need to see a human being in the flesh doing what I want to do despite life’s challenges. And in those times, I turn to people around me because I am rich in family and friends who have stood down adversity.

My chest balloons with pride when I see the First Family, and though I am inspired by their presence in the White House; I don’t aspire to be like them or anyone else out of my reach. My heroes are not celebrities, but ordinary people who do extraordinary things in my mind’s eye. So, often times instead of asking WWJD?, I roll through the Rolodex of my mind and ask, What would ______do? Case in point: we know that Jesus wasn’t a dapper dresser, so one day recently not long after the Joyce Meyers broadcast, I was going to go to the store with a Jesus-like mindset: Take me as I am, but decided against it and asked, What would Rhonda do? instead.

Rhonda is my oldest niece and she never leaves the house looking like less than her best. It is a trait that drives me crazy because I’m usually the one waiting for her, but is also a trait that I admire because she always looks good—dressed up or dressed down. So, I plugged up the iron. Yesterday, I had a come-to-Jennifer moment because it was my mentor and friend, and not Jesus who prodded me to get off my butt and get back on my blog.

I know people who have climbed every conceivable mountain; I know people who I can aspire to be like because I love the way they live their lives. So, when I ask What Would _______ doI I know that I am indirectly asking WWJD? and I am satisfied with the answer.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Street

We complain about the lack of diversity and quality and black film making. So, here is an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. For as little as $10.00, you can contribute to a worthy independent project. There are only 6 days left, and the film makers need to raise $3,500.00. Please help!

"The Street is the poignant and unblinking honest story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her struggle to live and raise a son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the 19402." (Excerpt from the back cover of the book)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Long Wreck According to Dollar

wreck noun \ˈrek\ n.

Mega Church Preacher Creflo Dollar admonished the members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Seems that Dollar felt that Bishop Long’s church members were being judgmental, not Christian-like and unsupportive when some of them left the church following Long’s undisclosed settlement to the four young men who accused him of sexual coercion.An indepth look at the multiple meanings of the word “wreck” shows that Dollar’s analogy, if not his reasoning, is on point. This was a wreck.

In defense of his friend, Dollar made it seem like Long’s “wreck” was something that people could easily move past. But according to Webster’s Dictionary, a wreck is more than just the fender bender that Dollar alluded to in his recent Sunday sermon.

1: the action of wrecking or fact or state of being wrecked : DESTRUCTION c: a violent and destructive crash

A wreck implies that there was damage, injuries, maybe even fatalities. There is no such thing as a no-fault accident—something caused the collision. And in the world of insurance someone’s going to pay. In this case, Long voluntarily paid for the damages done. Dollar went on to say that Long’s premiums had been paid by the blood of Jesus. Does Dollar have a direct line to Jesus? Was he in on the three-way when Jesus told Bishop, “Don’t worry, I got you.” Often times in an accident, premiums go up. Did Jesus raise Long’s premiums or cancel his insurance? Were the vehicles involved totaled?

2: the broken remains of something wrecked or otherwise ruined c: something disabled or in a state of ruin or dilapidation ;

Dollar accused the parishioners of abandoning their preacher in his time of need. But maybe they thought their spiritual leader was a reckless driver. Perhaps the images of the mangled minds and bodies of the men in the wreck kept them up at night. Did they see the gaping holes in the young men’s souls and decide not to return to New Birth?

3: a person or animal of broken constitution, health, or spirits

An out of court settlement cannot fix what was broken; bring back what was taken. Dollar is right in his assertion that a wreck doesn't mean the end of the world. It is possible to come back after a wreck. So, in this case, let’s pray that Long and his accusers are on the road to recovery.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Price Of Living

$60.11. I stood there staring at the numbers willing them to change. Then I blinked. Nothing happened. $60.11. That’s what it cost me to fill up my 2 door, dull black, in-need-of-antifreeze Honda Accord 2002 Special Edition.
I had seen the prices and had done my fare share of SMH, but the reality of the gas hike hadn’t hit me because I rarely fill up my tank. When I see my car getting low on gas I put in 10 gallons or $40.00 –which ever registers first. But the other day, the gas light was on and I decided to fill up. To say that I was shocked is an understatement.

Because I earn a decent wage and have a manageable amount of debt, I can afford to put gas in my car. But this trip to the gas station cruelly reminded me of our country’s economic downfall and the fragility of my place in the work world. Teaching was always considered a “safe” profession, but with budget deficits looming large, teachers are being let go without the safety net of yester year.
That’s happened to me last year. I went to work on Monday and was out of work by Wednesday of the second week of June with benefits lasting through the end of the month. I took a position that was guaranteed for a year, and now I’m once again looking for employment. For the second time in my 18 years with the Board of Education, I’m teaching summer school—buying time until principals get their budget in July.

If nothing else, the reality check of my $60.11 trip to the gas station will force me to be more resourceful. I’ll put some air in my bike tires and ride my bike if I’m not traveling far. I can ride to the barber shop or the health club. I was a latent driver so I spent a lot of time on buses and trains so, I know that Chicago has an excellent public transportation system that I can utilize. A friend of mine is 50+ years old, doesn’t drive but manages to get anywhere she needs to go via public transportation. And last but not least, I bought a new HD flat screen, got Cable (finally!) I also have a great backyard, so I can create some wonderful stay-cations this year. I might not be able to beat the high cost of gas, but I can improvise.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dirty Ghetto Kids - Part 2

I recently ran across this photo of slave children while perusing articles on the internet. The article claims that it is a 150-year-old photo found in a moving sale in Charlotte, North Carolina. One of the two boys is identified as John while the other child’s identify remains unknown. Along with the photo was a document detailing the sale of John for $1,150.

After reading the article, I looked long and hard at their dark chocolate, somber faces, their torn and tattered clothes, the slump in their shoulders and shook my head. What’s distressing about the photo is these children from the 1800s don’t look much different from the children I encounter every day in the 21st century.

As I stared at these “dirty ghetto kids” from back in the day, I wondered how they’d feel about the DGK brand of modern day?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dirty Ghetto Kids

I've fought for as long as I could. But it's over now. I have to accept the fact that I am comfortably couched in middle age where I feel the chasm between me and young people widening to the point that I have become one of the adults of my childhood who just didn't get the young folk of my day. A trip to the mall has me SMH and asking WTH is really going on in the world today.

The other day I was doing something out of character: walking through the mall. Contrary, to popular belief, I am not a woman who loves to shop, but I needed to pick up a couple of items and was in no hurry as I strolled through Chicago Ridge Mall when I happened upon a store called Zumez. In the window was a mannequin wearing a white, girl's t-shirt with red "Dirty Ghetto Kids" lettering. I stood there stuck in the moment as all-kinds-of-ways it was wrong smacked me all upside my head. I walked away. But I came back. I had to find out about the shirt.

A white young man in an over-sized red t-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap turned sideways explained to me that the shirt was part of DGK line. He enthusiastically shared with me his love for DGK and how many DGK shirts he owned. Discomfort must have registered on my face because he said, "You don't like DGK?" I shook my head. He said the girls didn't like the shirt either but he'd like to see all girls in DGK. I nodded not knowing what to say and I left.

DGK is a line of skate boards and apparel founded by Stevie Williams, an African-American professional skateboarder who pays "homage to his Philly days when he and his skate crew would be taunted at skate spots throughout the city. . ." An unsubstantiated online story is that when a skater did a trick on his board and lost it, the "dirty ghetto kids" would run off with the board. Even if the story isn't true,I can't embrace "dirty ghetto kids" as positive.

In my work as an educator I am bothered by the number of children who show up to school dirty every day--matted, uncombed, broken-off hair; shoes with no strings and no socks; clothes so dingy it's hard to tell what the original color was; lunch stains from Monday's lunch and it's Thursday. These children look bad, smell bad and become fodder for conversation among faculty and students.

These "dirty ghetto kids" remind me of our short coming as a nation; that we continue to fail certain segments of our population and write them off as worthless. So, now we have a black man exploiting a marginalized segment of the population for financial gain by hocking his wares to skateboarders, many of whom are white and think it's cool to wear DGK.

Is something wrong with this picture or am I old, out of touch and just a wee bit sensitive?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Why You Should See Jumping the Broom

While casting my vote for the cutest kid contest on WGCI, I saw an advertisement for the new movie Jumping the Broom and an opportunity to win tickets to an advanced screening. I’m not one of those lucky people who seem to win things, but my luck changed and I won a pass for two to see Jumping the Broom, a romantic comedy about two families from opposite sides of the economic divide that come together for a weekend wedding on Martha’s Vineyard. For all my Roger Ebert-like readers, it’s not a film for critical analysis; this one is for pure enjoyment.

No complex characters, no multiple layers to peel back; it is typical boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl reunite for the happily-ever-after-ending that fairy tales are made of. I loved it because I needed it.

Here are five reasons why you should skip on over to your nearest movie theater and see it this weekend.

1. With so much drama, trauma and just plain old bad things going on in the world, for an hour and 53 minutes you can kick back, relax and enjoy. It’s a feel good movie.

2. In a world gone mad, stripped of too much of its goodness and goodwill toward mankind, this is a morality tale when far too many of us are filing for moral bankruptcy. Who can’t use a moral deposit now and then?

3. It’s not a Tyler Perry movie. Enough said.

4. It’s a depiction of the power of love coming on the heels of another fairytale wedding. That one was real, this one’s not, but hey - we can pretend. Yes, the ending is predictable. But who isn’t a sucker for a sappy, happy ending? If you’re not, you need to go back and re- read reasons 1 and 2.

5. For my fellow African-Americans, we have been whining in public and private about the destructive images of black people, and some of us have bought into the hype and fueled the fire about our lack of love as men and women. Disarm yourselves and bask in the glory of the beauty of black love.

See you at the theater!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Trouble with My and Mine - Part 2

My man, My woman, My husband, My wife. Proclamations of ownership are scary because people are not possessions even though we often times think in those terms. My and Mine - two small words that cause BIG drama.

We mistakenly believe that when get intimately involved with people and/or marry them, that they come with a bill of sales stamped paid in full. We think we own them. But the truth is we do not. We cannot claim ownership over another human being; we can only acknowledge the relationship that we share. And we have to be true to ourselves in that acknowledgment. People have been hurt and killed because of their desire to own the actions of another because we think He or She is Mine.
The tragic story of Rhoni Reuter, the girlfriend of former Bears Shaun Gayle who was pregnant with his child and was killed by Marni Yang,a woman who thought that Sayers was Hers and she didn't want to share. So, she eliminated her coompetition.

When we're invloved with someone, and we find that they're spreading themselves around, there are only two things we can do: accept it or not accept it. We can't act like dogs and start pissing around the hydrant to mark our territory. I can't count how many times I've watched this drama unfold with ugly consequences and it never stops the partner from stepping out.

People are who they are. Dating or marrying them doesn't change that. If the person wasn't monogamus when you were dating, he or she is not going to miracously change during marriage. The question you have to ask is Am I going to stay or move on? People do not belong to us. We cannot control their actions, only our response to it.

I want to date and be in a relationship, but I don't want to be claimed like a possession: the man who says I'm His woman; the man who says that he can't live without me, or the man who thinks if he can't have me no one else can. I've always said don't love me to death; love me to life.

Every relationship has its challenges, but if we need to shift our personal pronoun paradigm so we can make our relationships work.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Trouble with My and Mine

The tragedy of Lashanda Armstrong clings to me like rain-drenched clothes on a blistery day; no matter what I do I can't shake the chill that it gives me when I think about it. Lasahanda along with three of children 5,2 and 11 months of age drowned. The 10-year old managed to roll down the window and escape. We shake our heads and wonder how could a mother drive her minivan carrying her four children into an icy body of water?

It seems like an unspeakable horror to intentionally harm children, but I'm beginning to wonder how many of us have a little of Lashanda in us because for far too many of us, people are possessions--things we think we own like our homes, our cars etc. We're quick to claim my and mine reminding me of the self-indulgent immature nature of a child who becomes obsessed with something she thinks is hers.

Back in the day, we chuckled at the absurdity of our parents words: "I brought you into this world and I'll take you out," because we never thought that our parents would actually kill us. And maybe back then our parents spoke out of frustration and/or fear, but today with our country's economic instability and people's stress levels at all-time highs, there are far too many parents that take these words to heart.

The Lashanda Armstrong case is not an isolated news story. There seems to be a disturbing trend of parents killing children before killing themselves,and in the case of married couples killing their spouses as well. Lashanda had been arguing with the three younger children's father on that fated day. Why didn't she leave the children with Their father?

Even in death the problems of My and Mine continued when the children's father, Jean Pierre decided against Lashanda's family wishes to bury His children with Their mother. Tension was thick as the relatives of Lashanda felt that were not welcome at the children's funeral.

So, often in custody battles that I've witnessed I often hear parents argue about MY children who belong to ME because they are MINE. There's no longer a thought of what WE should do in the best interest of OUR children. Even when they're not fighting, parents are possessive, and it's not healthy.

The words of Khalil Gibran captures the essence of parenthood.And if parents take these words to heart, there will be no room for My and Mine.


And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, 'Speak to us of Children.'

And he said:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Hierarchy of Love

The movie, I Will Follow is as much a meditation on loving as it is on grieving. We follow Maye as she packs up her recently deceased aunt’s house and prepares to leave and return her own life. A cast of characters pass through and help her to reconcile her aunt’s death and begin life anew.

The aunt, Amanda, an eccentric character and professional drum player who dreamed of playing in a rock band, succumbed to breast cancer. The two had a close, loving relationship that demonstrates the complexity of how we love. As a naïve little girl, I thought love was love, but I grew up to learn that even in loving there is a hierarchy. The greatest love is reserved for mothers, then fathers as evidenced by how much more attention we give to Mother’s Day than we do to Father’s Day. After all, it is mothers who bring us into the world and we should love them the most, right?

After parents then it’s siblings and after that we have to figure out who’s next on the tier for our affection. In the extended family there are grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces nephews and in-laws. Figuring out where everyone fits is tricky. The hierarchy changes when we marry and have children and so we shift and shuffle the ways in which we love and oftentimes things get complicated like they did for Maye when we break rank.

We meet Fran, Amanda’s daughter and the tension between the cousins is immediate. Aunt and niece had the kind of relationship that should have belonged to the mother and daughter, but didn't. Amanda and Maye's relationship went against the hierarchy and Fran resented Maye for that. At one point, Fran asks Maye if she has ever thought that the very qualities that she loved about Amanda didn’t make her the best mother. Fran also demands that Maye give her all of Amanda’s things because they belong to Fran and her children because she’s the daughter. The movie never reveals what happened between mother and daughter nor does it ever tell us anything about Maye’s mother.

Love isn’t the same for everyone; it can complicate, create confusion or cause pain when someone loves out of order. So,I wonder about our capacity to love. Is it limitless and boundless, or are there known but unspoken restrictions? How do we love? Do we do it differently depending on the family pecking order? What happens when relationships change? Or order isn’t followed?

Mae is single with no children. Fran is married with three children. So, did Fran’s sense of obligation to her immediate family prevent her from being there for her mother? Mae loved her aunt so much that she left her boyfriend and moved to another state to be with her aunt. During a phone conversation, Maye asks him why wasn’t he there for her and he said that he couldn’t just pack up his life and move away like she did.

Like Maye, I am also single and childless and I wonder what this means for me on the hierarchy of love. What do I do if my hierachy is missing a tier or two?

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Dangerous Place

“The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” Really? The billboard stirred up so much controversy when it was put up in New York that it was taken down. I look at this ad in jaw-dropping amazement at the audacity of Life Always, the pro-life organization behind this mastermind. This is not simply an issue of women having abortions; it’s so much deeper than that.

The intent was to draw attention to the alarming number of African-American women undergoing abortions, but it missed the mark. This is a child. A little girl. Not a fetus in utero. This billboard implicates all African-American women—child bearing or not—in an act of incompetency. We’re damned if we abort and damned if we carry to term depending on which statistics you want to give credence to.

Is it our perceived hyper-sexuality and irresponsibility that makes Big Brother feel the need to watch our wombs telling us what to do and when? History shows that our fertility has never been ours to own. So, I wonder if and when we’ll be thought of as capable of making our own decisions regarding our bodies?

Just recently I was speaking with a friend of mine about her co-worker who had suffered a miscarriage. A struggling single mother of two, neither of thinks she should have another baby until she can better provide for them. Who are we to tell a woman what she needs to do when we don’t stand in her shoes?

“The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” Wow! I don't know if I should bless or curse my existence.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Carol Mosley-Braun and the Crackhead Comment

When mayoral hopeful Carol Mosley Braun called her opponent Patricia Watkins-Van Pelt a crack head not only did Mosley Braun paint herself as an insensitive elitist, she also perpetuated the stereotype of so-called crack heads as degenerates. Crack head has become a catch-all phrase to describe the undesirables roaming our streets.

But those of us sharing living space with them in blighted urban communities know that they are no more the Frankenstein monsters the media smear campaign has made them out to be than celebrities who have a revolving door in and out of drug rehab. Not all of them smoked the mutha@#$%@#$ TV like Gator from Jungle Fever, but are more like Dicky from the Fighter who do more harm to himself than others. Rich people and/or celebrities have substance abuse problems; poor people are crack heads no matter their drug of choice is.

What Mosley Braun doesn’t know is that Crack heads are assets as well as nuisances to the community. We have a love-hate relationship with them; we don’t like what they do, but we don’t mind their help when we’re in a pinch. For a few dollars, these substance abusers will do any outside work you might need done. Take the recent blizzard for example. Some of us would still be digging out if it were not for the locals with their handy shovels looking to make a few dollars.

Contrary to popular belief, they are not all lazy, shiftless folk looking for a handout. They work year around trying to earn a little cash. In the winter they shovel, in the spring they cut grass and wash cars, and in the fall they rake leaves—a handyman for all seasons. I know there are those sitting on high pointing an accusing finger that those who give them money are supporting their habit, and that might be so, but the way I see it, many of us have an addiction of some sort—food, sex, alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, social networking etc.—and we feed it. So, who am I to pass judgment on someone who offers to shovel my snow for a few bucks?

Friday, February 4, 2011

2011 Blizzard Musings

Whereas Mother Nature might be the great equalizer, the clean-up after reminds of the inequities we still face in our society. Forecasts for a blizzard to hit Chicago were projected far in advance thanks to the wonders of modern technology, so people were able to prepare as much as humanly possible for a date with Mother Nature, and a date it was—strong winds, knee deep snow and dropping temperatures.
The morning after the storm I stepped out on my porch to visually drink the raw beauty of nature. The houses, treetops, bushes cars and sidewalks were all gently blanketed by the purity of whiteness. Then later as the sun yawned and stretched across the noon sky, life emerged from the stillness people started coming out--to shovel, dig out, talk and laugh—all while marveling at the mass accumulation of snow.

I live in Roseland, a neighborhood best known in the last decade or so for murder and mayhem. Who can forget the beating death of Darion Albert when it was caught on tape and went viral for the world to see? But on Wednesday morning, we were a group of neighbors, many of whom have known each other for years outside clearing away the residual of the storm that engulfed our city and I wondered where the news crews were on a day like to today when something good was happening in the ‘hood.
After two days of peace and quiet, lazing around and catching up, it was it was back to work on Friday. People had shoveled out and left piles of snow in the street, and there were no signs of city trucks coming our way. So, I had to get my Honda Accord SE that sits low to the ground over a mountain of snow. It was not working, but my neighbors came out and assisted. As I drove to work I saw that the inequities that we face daily had returned as Mother Nature retreated.

On the Southside of Chicago, streets are not shoveled and snow is not as readily picked up as it is on the north side and in the suburbs. Even in areas where people do shovel their walkways, our blocks our plagued by so many abandoned buildings that for every house that has a clean sidewalk, there is a house or two buried in snow.
Mother Nature may not discriminate, but city services do.

Friday, January 14, 2011

OMG! A Lesson Learned from Steve Harvey

I am not a Steve Harvey fan. I didn't watch The Steve Harvey television show when it was on, I didn't listen to him when he was on the radio the first time around, and I turn my radio station away from The Steve Harvey Morning Show. When I saw the Kings of Comedy, I chuckled a time or two, but the gut busting laughter came from Bernie Mac's comedy routine. He just doesn't do it for me, and truth be told, he sometimes irritates me which is why I tune him out.

I know people that love his show and swear by his advice; I am not one of them. Somebody sent me a copy of his book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man via email and I perused it not because I thought I needed dating advice, but because everyone else was talking about it and I wanted to know what was the big deal?

What I know is that celebrities have become brands, and they can put their name on almost anything and it will sell. People love Steve Harvey, but his books don't say anything that hasn't already been said, but people will accept it better coming from him. And I am not hating on a brother for striking while the fire is hot. His first book did so well that he has now written a sequel, Straight No Chaser. He's been on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Ellen and Good Morning America--not bad for a man who's been married three times.

So, after I finished rolling my eyes and sucking my teeth about the phenomenon that is Steve Harvey, I sat back and thought that there is something for me to learn. In the world of celebrities at 53 his star is on the rise when others are fading. That's an amazing feat for someone in the public eye. We mostly like those that we think are young and fresh. We are also fickled because we can love someone in one moment and hate them in the next watching many shining stars crash and burn.

So, while I may not be a Steve Harvey fan, I have respect and admiration for a man that can push himself to achieve his wildest dreams and beyond. Havey has two books under his belt, both written in his 50s. He's the host of Family Feud and he's gives monthly relationship advice in Essence magazine.

I have always wanted to write a book, but I let other things get in my way, and sometimes I feel like my 40s is too old to be trying to write a book. But I look at Steve Harvey and think, I can write book, too.

So,I have to admit that lessons can come from the unlikeliest sources, and when I've learned what I need to learn I should be grateful. So, thank you Mr. Harvey.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

I know people who look at the world through a colorless prism; I am not one of them. Good or bad I’m honest enough to admit race looms large in the world and in my life. In this new millennium where hip-hop reigns and multiculturalism is King, people will have you believe race no longer matters: we are a nation plagued by classism not racism. But in America race and class are the Siamese twins of the lower socioeconomic class of whom a large percentage are African American.

Race is the heavy coat I slip on through all four seasons. Sometimes it’s warm and comforting: being able to witness Barack Obama become the first African-American President of the United States and see a Black first family inhabit the White House which was built by African-American slave labor.

Other times, it’s hot and stifling: Why do we need to have one Black mayoral candidate running in Chicago. What if I don’t want to vote for him or her? Is the Reverend Jesse Jackson going to revoke my Black card? I’m tired of someone else telling me what I need to do for me.

Being Black doesn’t make me an expert on Blackness anymore than being a woman makes me understand everything about being female. They’re both critical aspects of who I am and they do shape the way I view the world, but there’s more to me than race and gender. I don’t owe the world an explanation as to who I am and what I believe in, and I’m never going to apologize for the person that I am.

Some days I am obsessed with race, and I used to feel guilty, but since the Presidential election I found that I am not alone. At least I’m honest about mine, and don’t try to couch it in politically correct language.

Most days race matters, even with an African-American sitting in the Oval Office, but sometimes it doesn’t. When I’m engaged in a good book or film which makes me empathetic to a universal tragedy. I’ve tried to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room, but it’s still there. So, the question is, is that a bad thing? Is race in the room the same thing as racism being in the room? My Blackness shouldn’t take away from my humanness should it?