Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Skin We're In

It is a radical act to show up as your authentic self. 
It is a radical act to show up as your authentic self. 
It is a radical act to show up as your authentic self. 

In a span of days, I got three powerful reminders of this affirmation. This will be quite the trip down the yellow brick road, but I promise each character/metaphor will impart some lessons about the value of authenticity. Ready Dorothy? Here goes:

The Scarecrow - Race (Straw)Men

This young man appeared on FOX News to tout his family history on a segment about white visitors to Montpelier who were upset about having to confront its legacy as a working plantation. This occurred a few days after this same network offered this guy a platform to whine about the updated tour at Monticello. As you can see, this young Black scholar made a salient point that not all of our people have enslavement in their family trees, while an inspiring montage of photos of his family was shared. But when my Morehouse Brother, who happens to be a rather famous public historian, called this out for the fuckery that it was, young blood got in his feelings. He took the time to respond to everyone on social media who criticized how he was being used to argue against "wokeism", including little old me. I almost feel honored.

Just in case he ever reads this, I want to make a few points clear about why we always need to be careful when our skin is used as a handkerchief to wipe away the tears of white guilt. Young Brother, you weren't invited on a FOX News segment to share the story of your Black ancestors. It is July, not February. You were invited to help support their culture war strategy of false equivalencies--that Americans shouldn't be made to feel ashamed that slavery existed if there were free Black people. So when these tourists show up at plantations to get married or to tour vineyards, they want their rose-colored glasses to illuminate the pretty, not the gritty. They want to believe that First Lady Dolley Madison was a celebrated hostess on the strength of her cherry pie à la mode

Nobody is discounting your research. We are frustrated that these same people who decry wokeness are only interested in Black stories that assuage their guilt. True, there were free Black people living in cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. We know this because the African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) Church was founded in 1787 when two Black parishioners were thrown out of a white Methodist church while praying. That same year, the African Free School was founded in New York with support from two Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. And in Boston, slavery was abolished by 1783 in gratitude for the contributions of Black soldiers during the Revolution. Since you've done the supplemental reading assignments, you are also aware that most people aren't visiting New York, Boston, or Philadelphia to see historic plantations. We won't discuss how many of the landmarks that would document Black freedman history in those cities either no longer exist or probably aren't included on major tours.

Therefore, since you know that the history of your free ancestors isn't common knowledge and that they weren't regarded as equal to their fellow countrymen, why act like the rest of us ought to feel some kind of way about our enslaved ancestry? Learn this now, young blood, because I sense there might be hope for you--these same people used your free forefathers as straw men to sow division and sell propaganda in the 18th, 19th, and the 20th centuries. Ain't nothing changed, even now in this first quarter of the 21st Century. 

You have a brain, so think about it. You're getting high fives from the very folks that organized efforts to outlaw the history you seek to reveal, yet you took time to come for me?

The Tinman - To Thine Own Self Be True

Last Friday I saw a play about Ira Aldridge (1807-1867) at the Shakespeare Theatre called Red Velvet. I wrote about the experience and shared some thoughts about it here. To quickly recap the gist of that Facebook post, I saw all of these connections with the story of Aldridge as depicted in the play to the politics of casting, and how my Mom introduced local audiences to the idea that inner city kids could perform Shakespeare.

Othello is one of the most complex and iconic of Shakespearean tragedies. Everybody knows that the central theme of the play is jealousy, but as director Michael Kahn argues (having overseen/directed at least three unique productions), how that jealousy is presented to and acknowledged by the audience is dependent on the casting. I don't know a full history or evolution of the role, but it is clear that when Aldridge took it on at London's Covent Gardens in 1833, it caused a controversy such that the production was closed after two shows and he never performed at that theatre again. The play I saw imagines how that drama might have unfolded behind the curtains.

Much of the dialogue in the play about the politics of casting Aldridge could easily be Twitter chatter about current events. The drama addresses the role of art in pushing society and the sentiments of audiences being forced to confront their prejudices. I could not help but to see the connection to how people in this country have overreacted to the slightest deviations from convention in their scrutiny of Barack Obama and Kamala Harris. He wore a tan suit in the Oval Office, how unbecoming! She has high staff turnover, must be incompetent! Meanwhile the last guy never wore a suit that was properly tailored and he literally fired half of his Cabinet on Twitter.

The heart of the matter is that people see our skin, but not our humanity, no matter what they claim to the contrary. Our skin justifies biases, stereotypes, false assumptions, second guessing, border walls, denied access, and glass ceilings. The lack of compassion shown to us is evident in how they keep insisting that no matter how qualified our credentials and impeccable our presentation, we are still never good enough. Truly heartbreaking.

The Lion - An Offer She Could Refuse

It was last week right before I saw the play that I read about the decision by opera singer Angel Blue to pull out of an upcoming series of performances because another production at the venue made use of blackface. I find it ironic that the play touched on that same subject, so it was an Amen moment during an especially tense scene. Think about it, in 2022 in an era where there are countless Black opera singers, a European venue decides to mount a production that uses blackface and DEFENDS it!

I saw where a bunch of twits weighed in with comments about female singers portraying men and other costuming techniques that might be used in order to enable a specific actor to take on a particular role. All of that intentionally missed the point, because as usual some folks would rather twist themselves into intricate pretzels to deny the existence of racism or justify being offensive. For its part, the opera company claimed that this was consistent with a staging mounted in 2002 that used blackface. In other words, when we did this 20 years ago, no one complained, so what's the problem?

Where to begin?

First, European audiences have a tolerance for certain things that they shouldn't given their sordid history and legacy of colonization. Although we tend to think of England, Spain, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands as the most prolific global colonizers, Italy also had imperial holdings in Africa and parts of Europe. The Italian Empire was still in existence when the celebrated Italian director Franco Zeffirelli (1923-2019), was a child. However, he lived long enough to witness a world of change, so there is no excuse for him to have staged a racially insensitive production in 2002. The fact that he should have known better and did it anyway is one thing; the choice to repeat that error in tribute to him is quite another.

Second, in an era when Founding Fathers and dead Presidents are cast as Black men and the wives of King Henry VIII are Spice Girls, surely someone could have come up with a brilliant creative casting scheme for Aida. Ms. Blue walked away from the starring role of Violetta in La Traviata, a role that could have otherwise gone to any other soprano, so this didn't need to be all that hard. The fact that we no longer remain true to traditional staging is precisely because this is a big world full of talent. I get that opera is not Broadway, but let's not get silly and conflate gender-bending casting with racism. They are NOT the same!

Finally, the courage it takes to walk away from something that mocks your humanity is underappreciated. All someone has to do is jangle a little change and some of y'all discard your integrity like a used tissue. I don't follow opera, so I was unfamiliar with Ms. Blue and whether this would have been a transformative career opportunity for her. The fallout might be disproportionate, as in she might not be invited back to work in certain venues for having taken such a stand. That would be unfortunate because blackface isn't something she should have to grin and bear. 

The Emerald City - Are We There Yet?

You would think that in 2022, we would have finally reached the place where we aren't debating the politics of blackface or slavery. Seriously.

This enduring controversy over blackface has never been examined with any sensitivity to how it offends Black performers, because as long as white audiences accept it, there are no issues to be resolved. Which is why the irony that Aida is an enslaved woman never quite registers either. Apparently, they prefer an illusion of the exotic in the portrayals of Othello and Aida. It isn't that the actors are more believable when they are wearing grease paint. It is so that the audience can ignore the truth--like when they could visit Montpelier, Monticello, or Mt. Vernon before they got woke.

Stay with me young blood, because you need to understand this: it didn't matter that Ira Aldridge had been chosen by the man he replaced on stage, the London critics and audiences rejected him anyway. Born free, probably in the same New York community where you traced your ancestors, he attended the African Free School and began acting at an early age. He wasn't some inexperienced amateur when he made his way across the pond. The fact that he went on to become a star on other stages throughout Europe notwithstanding, his success didn't open the door to other Black Shakespearean actors until Paul Robeson, a century later!

Aida was written three years after Aldridge's death, but a Black singer wasn't engaged to sing it until Caterina Jarboro in 1933. Black women have been rising through the ranks of the opera world slowly, but steadily, so imagine how tone deaf that other opera singer must be to claim that her detractors are jealous of her success. Ironically, the first and last time I sat through a blackface performance was in a staging of Othello in high school. If memory serves, none of us recalled if the play was any good because we were distracted by the makeup that kept getting darker with each stage entrance. So yeah lady, Angel Blue is just jealous by how natural you look smeared in layers of self-tanner.

Young brother, you can't teach those plantation tourists anything they don't already know. The "woke agenda" that we're accused of pushing is no different than what Black people have been pushing for since Ira Aldridge tread the boards. Black excellence and resilience aren't modern concepts with which you were bestowed the honor of introducing. Italian audiences have been known to pelt Black soccer players with bananas, so there is no cultural understanding that can be bridged by performing for people who find blackface entertaining. What makes you think that you can accomplish more in a 5 minute segment than what hasn't been resolved for more than 200 years?

There is a man behind the curtain as plain to see. He can't give us anything to alter perceptions that we don't already have within our radical and authentic selves, blessed with sharp minds and caring hearts, imbued with courage. 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Apology Not Accepted

The other day after the seventh installment of the January 6th Insurrection hearings, there was this viral Kodak moment: Stephen Ayers, who testified about why he was inspired to come to DC that day, made this great magnanimous gesture of stopping to personally apologize to the Office Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police. For those who haven't been watching these hearings, Officer Dunn has been a ubiquitous presence since the first episode of these proceedings. And while the photog who took that million dollar shot was thinking "Pulitzer baby," in my mind, Officer Dunn was thinking: "So is this apology for threatening my Black life or for disrespecting my blue uniform? I wonder what wifey wants for dinner tonight...I think it is Tuesday, so tacos it is." (And yeah, I know folks are a little unsure if we can even joke about tacos this week but stay with me here.)

That evening, Dunn appeared on MSNBC and responded to a question about the apology. And for the first time that I have ever witnessed such a bold sentiment in public, this Black man said no thanks. Now since I don't read alt-right social media, I can only imagine how upset that has made some of the folks who feel entitled to Black forgiveness. But dammit, he's within his rights to deny absolution for the way he was mistreated by that mob, on behalf of every Capitol Police officer, and on behalf of every voter whose integrity was challenged. Bravo!

I wasn't planning on writing a think piece on Officer Dunn or the January 6th hearings, so let me explain why I am really here. It is in response to a segment I heard on NPR about the arrest warrant that was found for one Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman at the center of the Emmett Till lynching. By some belated miracle, a piece of paper that was never served has brought us to a real moment of racial reckoning.

I'm sure that a lot of think pieces have already been written on the matter of her culpability, including this question of whether we ought to be demanding justice from an 88 year-old woman about a story she told 67 years ago. It might be un-Christian of me to say this, but Hell yeah we should!

The very foundation of my faith is the concept of forgiveness. God sent Jesus to the world as a living sacrifice for our sins, so we are forgiven, no matter how badly we have sinned. There is even a verse in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus offers a hypothetical number for how often a person should be forgiven (490 in the KJV, but 77 times in the NIV, so there seems to be some new math in the mix). Whichever number you choose, I am left to question whether at any point in the last 67 years, did Mrs. Donham ask for forgiveness even once. Because isn't that baseline requirement? In all of the years in which I have been alive, I have never heard her utter a single word of remorse. 

That includes the interview which was contained in the book by Timothy Tyson, The Blood of Emmett Till, released in 2017 where she is reported to have recanted the accusation that Till physically assaulted her. But she also denied having recanted, and there are doubts of what she actually said versus what was "reported" in his book... (a whole sloppy taco).

To be clear, my position is not that Carolyn Bryant Donham doesn't deserve forgiveness. My position is that she needs to earn it. After living all these years with the weight of a lie story she told that led to the lynching of a child, that might have been a heavy load to bear, but she managed to live with it. She stayed married to the killer and had several more children with him until they divorced some 20 years later. She remarried twice, raised her family, and has managed to stay out of the glare of infamy. In fact, she's lived such a quiet life that she doesn't even have a Wikipedia page (so I had to research multiple sources for details and found this article most informative). At some point she decided to write a memoir, which (surprise) reveals that she didn't want Till killed and she tried to save him, but we weren't supposed to know about her heroism until 2036 (when it was supposed to be released).

In the interview she gave to Tyson, Donham expressed a hint of contrition, moved by the death of her own son, which she referred to as "tender sorrow" for Mamie Till Mobley. As we all know, Mrs. Mobley's determination to show the world what had been done to her child is the reason why we even know about any of this. It is rather ironic that Donham would come to acknowledge any empathy linking the two women; however, tender sorrow doesn't sound like an apology. It sounds like the name of a Lifetime TV movie.

So miss me with any appeals for sympathy or mercy for Mrs. Donham.

Am I so cold as to want to see an elderly lady in prison for a crime that was committed by her late husband? One for which he was acquitted, then bragged about having committed just a year later? Don't I understand that she was also trapped by the social mores of the time that made interactions between Black men and white women deadly? Even if that 'man' was actually a child and the woman later claimed that she didn't want him to die over it? So what you're saying is that she had no choice but to stand by her man, so we should not judge her by that smile frozen in time immediately after his acquittal? And I should feel some kind of way because her life was ruined by the notoriety brought on by the case?

Her life? The life that endured its fair share of hardships and tragedy; nevertheless, it continued. Even if she drops dead before I finish writing this piece, you do realize that she has had the benefit of YEARS to do something more than just maintain her silence. 

To put this into perspective, Till's mother lived for almost 50 years with the horror of what had been done to her only child. She spent the remainder of her natural life fighting for justice, and when she died nearly 20 years ago, she had also written a memoir. Her book had been scheduled for release before her passing, so though it was published posthumously, there were no bombshell revelations because Mobley had been outspoken and indefatigable. It isn't clear whether Donham had ever expressed any tender sorrows or condolences over Mobley's death, or if she just kept on anonymously making jewelry and liking cat videos on social media.

Serve the warrant! It doesn't matter if it can't be executed for lack of evidence or if Mississippi will never prosecute her. The reckoning that we seek is not in wheeling an elderly and feeble Donham off to jail, but in denying her the peace to die in obscurity. Publish her memoir in its entirety right now on the editorial pages of every major newspaper of record so that she doesn't earn a dime of royalties. Just stop protesting in front of her senior living facility, lest you make her into a martyr (FAAFO that the arrest warrants for harassing her will be executed). Don't give the world any reason to feel sorry for yet another complicit white woman.

And DO NOT allow her to get off light with some belated 99 paged confessional tome. For once, let's not coddle the person in the wrong and allow them to dictate the terms of when/how they are forgiven. That is exactly why Officer Dunn's refusal to accept that dude's PDA (performative display of apologia) is so liberating. You say you're sorry for what you did? Then show me that you regret your actions. There are countless examples of some deranged white person (or people) committing wholescale genocide, but as long as they mumble a half-ass apology if you were offended or harmed, then all is right in their entitled view of the world. For example, white folks finally admit the truth about the Tulsa Massacre 100 years later, now that all of the terrorists and most of the survivors are long dead. 

With everyone else who was a direct witness to the Till murder dead, Carolyn Bryant Donham sure did pick the right time to develop a conscience. Why should she have the final word on what happened? She's had 67 years and has remained utterly unwilling to express even the slightest ounce of public remorse. Think about that--she intended for her memoirs to be published in 2036, hoping to be dead and gone, without ever asking for absolution (just like her former sister-in-law did in 2014). If that warrant had never been found, she would have gotten away with it too!

Pull out your Bibles and turn with me to the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke. The Hub and I have often discussed our frustration with this parable, based on our belief that the older brother has a legitimate point about the way that the younger son is simply welcomed back into the family fold. From a certain perspective, he went back home when his money ran out. However, over the years, I have come to accept the notion that all of us are Prodigal children at some point in time, and forgiveness is the ultimate demonstration of God's unconditional love. We can always find His grace and mercy, but we've got to seek Him in order to receive it.

We need to understand that when we're living in pig shit, that existence is unworthy of a child of God. (Y'all know I cuss but stay with me here.) You can't believe the Big Lie that 81 million people stole an election from a con man or that said con man did not intend for a violent melee to take place on January 6th. You cannot tell a big lie that results in the death of a child, remain silent about it for 67 years, then expect sympathy. That man booked and boarded a flight to Washington in the middle of a pandemic! That woman is pictured celebrating with her husband after he was acquitted of lynching a child! Both of them, living and loving life up to their eyeballs in pig shit!

In the parable, neither the father nor the elder brother set out to look for that Prodigal son. So who knows how long he stayed in that pig stye before he realized how desperate and disgusting his condition had become. But once he came to his senses, he went home dressed in filthy rags and smelling foul. He presented himself to his father, literally reeking of remorse.

Stephen Ayers, we're glad that you disengaged from the alt-right media cult and that you now accept that everyone who disagrees with you ideologically is not evil. But as Officer Dunn said, you need to do the work to receive forgiveness, starting with apologizing to the American people. You need to take personal responsibility for the consequences of your actions. It means getting involved in some real work to preserve and protect this fragile democracy. At least you realized that you were wallowing in pig shit and have left the stye.

As for Mrs. Carolyn Bryant Donham, we're moved by the tender sorrow you had for the late Mamie Till Mobley after you lost your son. Yes, the magnitude of losing a child is immeasurable; however, that you found common ground with her 40 years later isn't enough to wash away the stench of the pig shit you've been living in. At the very least, you owe a genuine, personal apology to the Till family and to the community of Black people in Mississippi that lived in fear of what your late husband and brother-in-law did in your honor. If you haven't figured it out by now, no one is coming to rescue you. The fact that you are still alive means that there is still time to extricate yourself from the muck and mire.

Or you can stay there and pray that God is more understanding that we are.

Monday, July 4, 2022

American Idols

It has been a few months since my last piece in this space. I have been micro-blogging on the Facebook page because I've been lacking focus of late...too much going on all of the time (and for once, it has all been a little too much for even this Busy Black Woman). However, this was something I felt needed to post here.

Ever since I first heard the testimony of Fulton County election workers Wandrea Arshaye Moss and her mother Lady Ruby Freeman, I have been on a slow boil. Add to that my frustration at low voter turnout here in my city for a primary election where they literally gave out ballots and removed all barriers to voting and the bubbles in my pot boil faster and a little bigger. And though we're skipping past the fuckery of the Supreme Court's recent slate of opinions to address at another time, my pot runs over when I see all of the praise for Cassidy Hutchinson after she testified to what she witnessed in the hours before the Insurrection.

Y'all keep believing that this country will be saved by the very people who have at various times been hellbent on destroying it. 

Let's start with the movement to recast Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as some savior of democracy. I guess y'all forgot that her Daddy was one of the most vocal proponents of the Imperial Presidency when he was Vice President. This is the same theory that vested in then-President George W. Bush the power to declare an unjustified war in Iraq and authorize enhanced interrogation (torture) against enemy combatants. Recall how she never discouraged birtherism and hammered President Obama for being a globalist who didn't put "America First" in his foreign policy? And isn't that the same rhetoric that gave Donald Trump a rallying cry to go with his red trucker hats? Didn't she vote for Donald Trump twice, even in 2020, after having had a front row seat to all of his BS for four tumultuous years?

But she finally had enough when the rioters smeared shit on her chair in the House chamber...

No, I am not making light of the fact that Cheney the Younger has effectively ended her career in Congress through her participation in these hearings. That isn't a small thing...unless she has some kind of Golden Parachute awaiting her. My guess is that she has several, beginning with whatever cushy Ambassadorship she wants anywhere in the world. Of course, her Daddy still has connections at the various war-mongering corporations he helped make rich in the early 00s, so she can have her pick of board seats. But the real prize would be a run for President in 2024 and given the way some of y'all have fan-girled over that prospect, she could possibly go the distance.

She just needs to get rid of her most formidable opponent. And you want to know the craziest thing--it ain't even Donald Trump! However, before we travel down that yellow brick road, allow me to pivot to the newest staff assistant in Cheney's congressional office, Ms. Cassidy Hutchinson. Because here is where folks showed their hands (and their asses) in fawning over her alleged courage last week.

Like everybody else who watched/listened to her surprise testimony, I was riveted. I clutched my imaginary pearls as she recounted certain details, but in the end, there were no earth-shattering surprises that we couldn't have guessed. I mean, who didn't suspect that Trump threw man-baby tantrums when he didn't get his way and sometimes that involved breaking the White House china and/or crystal? 

Instead, it was the revelation that the Trump Organization fancies itself as the political equivalent of the Corleone crime family. Except to anyone who has watched The Godfather enough times, the Trump Regime is what would have happened in the alternative universe where Fredo becomes the Don instead of Michael. An utter calamity. Thus, when Select Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) lectured would-be witnesses about their reluctance to come forward for fear of retaliation, I think he should have reminded them that these are the same very smart people who held their post-election campaign event in the parking lot of the Four Seasons Landscaping Store.

Folks are hailing Ms. Hutchinson as a hero because that is how low the bar of expectation has been set for displays of character these days. It should be the bare minimum to testify against the cadre of lackeys and enablers who unleashed that angry armed mob, drunk on Trump wine instead of Kool-Aid, on the U.S. Capitol to 'stop the steal' of an election their cult leader had lost. And since she was an aide to his Chief of Staff, I'm sure she overheard every conversation in which Trump had been told multiple times by various people in any number of ways that he LOST. 

I'm not implying that agreeing to testify is not the act of bravery and patriotism you all want it to be. I am outright saying that it isn't.

It is NOT all that courageous when in comparison, those two election workers from Georgia, two Black women, really were intimidated and threatened by foot soldiers from the Trump Organization (dispatched by another one y'all forget is deplorable, Kanye West). When the threats of violence extended to Moss's Grandmother in the form of a home invasion to carry out a "citizen's arrest" (the same defense offered by the three men responsible for killing Ahmaud Arbery)...that y'all would even deign to use the word "hero" to describe the testimony of Hutchinson is offensive. Sure, I believe those bungling trumpets made threats. But she had protection in the form of legal representation provided to her by that same organization! 

Methinks Ms. Hutchinson did receive that suggestive phone call from her former boss, but then she got another offer she couldn't refuse. Because I bet Liz Cheney has seen The Godfather as many times as I have. Tessio was always the smart one.

Generally, I wouldn't bother to contemplate any statements issued by the former DESPOTUS wherein he disavows ever having known the person accusing him of whatever petty crime and misdemeanor because they all follow the same pattern: I don't know this insignificant person, they wanted something from me and I took pity on them, but because I don't know them whatever was done for them was the equivalent of me throwing change to a beggar from the window of my limo. True to form, he claimed that Hutchinson was a low-level staffer, but then he personally denied her request for a new job with his Organization in Florida. And that is some straight Fredo isht if you ask me. Specifically that scene in Cuba (in The Godfather II) the night of the Revolution when Fredo lets it slip that he knew Jonny Ola after having denied it hours earlier. 

Whereas for two Black women whom Trump never did meet or have the occasion to know anything about other than the fact that they were election workers from Fulton County GA, he certainly had a lot to say when he accused them of tampering with the vote counts. He called them thugs and scammers. He used language and invoked imagery intended to incite his true believers--the very mob that Gabe Sterling, the Republican Chief Operating Officer of the Georgia elections, explicitly warned would form. But since they were just practicing on a local Black family, there are no televised congressional hearings or criminal trials to seek justice. After all, terrorizing Black people over voting is as American as being moved by the crocodile tears of the white woman who watches from the safety of the window in the Big House behind her lace curtains. 

Y'all throw around the word hero too easily. Rudy Giuliani was once heralded as a hero, but only to the New Yorkers whom his broken windows/zero-tolerance policies exempted. Ask Abner Louima how heroic the NYPD acted when they sodomized him in 1997, or the countless Black and Latino men subjected to stop-and-frisk. I know, seasoned New Yorkers appreciate that Giuliani cleaned up the subway, Times Square, and stood up for the police and firefighters after 9/11. So surely, he had nothing but praise for Officer Eugene Goodman, a real-life good guy with a gun who put his life on the line on January 6th? Or offered sincere condolences to the family of retired Officer Aaron Salter, another hero cut from that same 'protect and serve' cloth who died defending patrons at the Buffalo, NY grocery store shooting rampage? 

You want to know what Mr. "Back the Blue" Giuliani said about those two brave men? Nothing. Because he was too busy hyping the Big Lie that Black and Latino and Indigenous voters stole the 2020 election instead of accepting that white suburban voters under-voted. Convinced that he is some kind of consigliere like Tom Hagan, instead of leaving behind the severed horse's head, Giuliani keeps making a horse's ass of himself.

America's mayor. America's sweetheart. American patriots. Yet none of those labels are applied to DC's Mayor Muriel Bowser who sent Metropolitan Police to the Capitol during the Insurrection even though Congress is under federal jurisdiction, and she doesn't have the authority to dispatch the DC National Guard. How many tears were shed with Wandrea Moss, who went above and beyond the call of duty in doing her job to assist voters, only to have her life turned upside down? "Back the blue" when they are upholding oppressive systems, but not when they are saving the lives of the Vice President or every Senator and Member of Congress on January 6th because you disagree with the outcome of an election. 

Here we go again America...only this time, I'm not going to let you celebrate your birthday without acknowledging some of the people who made this day possible. You will not erase them from the narrative!

You will not build monuments to the Cassidy Hutchinsons of the world because she looks like your impressionable and naive daughters. Sorry Douglas Brinkley, but I don't care that Liz Cheney is channeling Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) in finally standing up to the McCarthyism/authoritarianism in her party because until recently, it served her ambitions. We are not going to honor the white women who drove carpools during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts because it ensured that their Black maids made it to work on time.

So no, you will NOT skip over Madame Vice President Kamala Harris for some great white hope. It is courageous for Harris to show up to work every day in a country where the citizenship status of her immigrant parents is debatable; where the excellence of her college alma mater is improbable; where the significance of her career success is unprecedented; where the legality of her marriage is now uncertain; and where her step-daughters and nieces have fewer reproductive rights than she did at their age. You cannot compare the life stories of these two women and come away with the conclusion that Cheney is the profile in courage because she bucked the system ONE time.

Wandrea Moss got one of those awards too. 

You can be riveted by Liz Cheney's persecution of Donald Trump for inciting the Insurrection, just as long as you remember how well he was prosecuted by Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) in the first impeachment and Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) during the second impeachment. NY AG Letitia James already exposed the grift that was the Trump Foundation, and she's waiting in the wings to expose his other frauds. So are we really doing this America--making the Black women do all of the work? Because if you claim that the evidence is more convincing this time...

You're being set up America. While her Daddy is convalescing and playing with his grandchildren in the garden, Liz is settling all of her family's business. It's the smart move.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Blaming the Victim

It all began with my incredulous response to a bunch of tweets. The former Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted that she had been turned away from dining at the Perimeter Mall location of The Capital Grille (TCG) because she was wearing leggings. I was putting my Kid to bed after our return from her Spring Break, so I saw the Mayor's tweet a few hours after it had been initially posted. As I scrolled through the responses, I noted that several were in defense of the restaurant until I got to one dissenter who noted that TCG isn't really "fine dining" in the way that most non-suburbanites would describe. To which, I posted this tweet calling the incident weird.

Later in the middle of the night, jolted awake by a seven-year old elbow, I went to the bathroom where I did a little more scrolling and then fired off this quick 10-point rant to the Busy Black Woman Facebook page of the reasons why this incident struck me as absurd. Then I got sleepy and went back to bed. The next morning after proofreading and a few quick edits, I got ready for the rest of my day. And I guess in what must have been a mistake in the Facebook algorithm, my little rant generated quite a bit of traffic.

Now, because I don't know any of the people who commented, I will issue this disclaimer that I respect their right to have opinions, even if I think most of them are wrong. And that needs to be said at the outset since most were premised on the following erroneous assumptions:

  1. That I said this incident was about race. I never said that.
  2. The fact that I never addressed race isn't unusual, but the fact that people made that leap is interesting.
  3. The fact that other people called it out as a racial incident isn't surprising.
  4. I agree that race is a factor.
  5. Race can be a factor and that doesn't make this incident *just* about race.

Even when we don't mention how an incident has racial overtones, the mere implication touches a nerve. One of the first negative comments I read (yes, I have trolls now!) sarcastically suggested that I go cry wolf somewhere else other than on my own Busy Black Woman page...

First off, whet?! Second, you don't know me like that homie. Third, why so triggered that someone else saw what I saw and commented that other non-Black patrons had posted pictures of themselves dressed casually in leggings, clearly happy and pleased that they had just eaten at TCG in celebration of whatever or whomever? (Imagine that--I liked a comment that supported my point!) Fourth, did you seriously expect that I would push back against the emerging narrative that there might have been an element of racial shenanigans at play? The nerve!

The nerve of those several white commenters who shared anecdotes on Twitter of how they had not been turned away from TCG, in spite of their "violations" of the dress code. I noted that these stories were shared based on visits to other TCG locations, because it is a chain restaurant. A fancy high end chain, with a dress code that is selectively enforced, depending on who might be manning the host desk that day. But we'll come back to that detail a little later. What I would like to emphasize again for all of the knee-jerkers in my comments is that at NO POINT did I state nor in the three tweets she posted about incident did the former Mayor of Atlanta blame racism as the reason why she was not seated. 

That is the conclusion y'all made. You saw some commentary written by someone calling herself a Busy Black Woman and made all kinds of assumptions about Democrats and Black racism against white people, neither of which has anything to do with dress codes and whether leggings are pants. No one directly involved has officially commented since Friday. However, since that is the hill upon which some folks are determined to die, perhaps you should reflect on why you immediately assumed race was at issue. Because for people who trip over themselves to deny the existence of racism, it seems rather odd that you would see some evidence of that which you claim does not exist. 

Don't hurt yourself trying to untangle that. 

For the commenters that questioned whether the host/hostess recognized the former Mayor, I am willing to concede that is a valid point. Notwithstanding the fact that I would recognize her even though I don't live in Atlanta (because she is my Soror and a rather prominent one, so there's that), I thought it was a given that a high profile elected official from the neighboring jurisdiction would be easy to spot. My bad for presuming that the former Mayor of Atlanta, who got a LOT of national attention during her four years in office, would still be recognized in public. I made that assumption in good faith seeing as how I live in a city full of Very Important Politicians, and not even the most unassuming former ones can escape being recognized by somebody. 

Therefore, allow me to address the "rules are rules" crowd, who fervently claim that the former Mayor of Atlanta was rightfully held to the same standards as everybody else, to which I call BULLSHIT. Exceptions to the rules are made all of the time, especially when it is believed that a certain person or group of people should be exempted. For example, while I was in Delaware last week, I went to purchase coffee and was asked if I was a teacher, public safety officer, medical professional, or a veteran to which I replied that I was none of the above. The cashier explained that if I did so identify, I would have been offered a 10% discount on my purchase. In that case, the rules (the posted price) would not have applied. Yes, I know that offering someone a discount on a cup of coffee isn't the same as allowing someone to enter a fine dining establishment at the mall, and I might be compelled to agree. 

Except when some of you rules are rules sticklers are the same folks protesting mask mandates. Because if it is a policy that is applicable to everyone, why is that is more problematic than a policy that is only enforceable against certain people? Surely, you see the irony, but if not, allow me to explain.

Dress codes are problematic precisely because they are subjectively enforced. While a policy of exclusion can specify what kinds clothing are considered objectionable, there typically are no clear standards that can be universally applied. One manager's interpretation of athletic attire might exclude NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins in a golf shirt and khakis while another manager would escort him to the best table in the house. Does the prohibition against tank tops mean that a woman dressed in this outfit from Banana Republic would be deemed unacceptable?

Would HRH Prince Charles be turned away if he showed up wearing a bowler hat? As Bottoms rightfully asked, how were her leggings more inappropriate than the other patron who was seated after she was turned away? We don't have pictures to make the comparison, but I'm pretty sure that the former Mayor, mother of four, was most likely dressed in tasteful athleisure on Good Friday at the Perimeter Mall.

But rules are rules, even if they are applied in an arbitrary manner.

So let's return to the classification of the restaurant because someone asked if I was comparing TCG to Red Lobster, and well yeah, I did. Because they are both chain restaurants. And guess what I found out: TCG is operated by Darden Restaurants, the same company that founded and used to operate Red Lobster (but not since 2014). Apparently, I wasn't that far off.

Now for the sake of argument, I will concede that TCG is a whole lot nicer than Red Lobster. I've eaten there a few times, and each time I must have been "dressed" appropriately. I don't recall ever witnessing anyone being turned away, not when I ate at the Manhattan location in the heart of touristy NYC after we had seen the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Nor when I ate at the downtown DC location one hot August summer evening during Restaurant Week. And not even that time I had a casual lunch with a friend at the Chevy Chase location after I had just been shopping. I didn't even know that TCG had a dress code. 

Perhaps this is my liberal East Coast elitism showing, but any restaurant that sells gift cards and offers insider loyalty points hardly qualifies as fine dining. At best, TCG is where you take your family to eat after Junior's high school graduation or when your quirky Aunt Margaret stops by unannounced for a visit. Since I don't live in the suburbs, I don't frequent restaurants that are located in mall parking lots unless they have drive-thru windows. Therefore, I must side with Mayor Bottoms in her questioning of a policy that makes more practical sense in a downtown business district than it does for a location with curbside pickup parking. 

Furthermore, I stand by my statement that some of you have Stockholm syndrome if you are defending the dress code policy at what is essentially Longhorn Steakhouse without a kid's menu. The difference is that TCG intentionally overprices its menu and is situated in affluent neighborhoods to dissuade certain kinds of people from patronizing it. The dress code functions as an added layer of protection against those undesirables. Ask yourself who is more likely to be subjected to it: the argumentative people who stumbled onto my page to denounce me as racist or the Pick-Mees who tweeted back screenshots of the TCG dress code policy to the Mayor as justification for the way she was treated? It is for US--the same people who are always targeted by redlining, economic under-investment, over-policing, voter suppression, and other forms of discrimination. And some were too eager to chastise Bottoms with the quickness, as if more than a few of them had encountered the same snooty manager who had assured them that the policy was intended for the comfort of all guests and to better deliver on our promise of [the] refined atmosphere...from the parking lot at the Perimeter Mall??!!

A few weeks ago, it was the Ryan Cooglar incident at the Bank of America (also in Atlanta) that had same Pick-Mees tripping all over themselves on Al Gore's internet to defend the unfounded fears of a bank teller who was "just doing her job". Color me unconvinced that it was her job to call the police on a man who presented his photo identification while making a request to withdraw money from his own bank account. I almost joined the fray, because I wondered why he hadn't asked to see a manager instead of going to the window. Then I regained my senses--why was it necessary to excuse the teller's poor judgment when all she had to do was ask for the manager?

See how the devil works? He convinces us that before we can be justified in holding others accountable for their mistakes, we have to appear before the court of public opinion without any sins or blemishes of our own. If Ryan Coogler expected to withdraw that much money from his own account, then he should have called the bank to make an appointment with a manager, arrived 15 minutes earlier than the appointed time, and with his hat in hand waited patiently for them to decide whether to grant his request. If Keisha Lance Bottoms expected to secure a seat in the bar area of TCG, then she should have been dressed like she was scheduled to appear on a reunion episode of the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Or she should have gone to Ann Taylor and bought herself a pair of respectable pants or a mid-length skirt. 

And this is where I give all of these curious new commenters to my page what they came for--because I am BLACK and I know there are rules of respectability that are both written and implied. I understand the how harsh the penalties can be enforced against those of us who think too highly of ourselves in public spaces. None of us are exempt, no matter if we directed the highest grossing superhero film of all time or whether we are currently the Vice Chair of the DNC with a commentator side gig on CNN. Barack Obama is still paying the price for wearing a tan suit in the Oval Office, and y'all expect Oprah to apologize for Quick and Quack, Drs. Phil and Oz (but that ain't happening).

Because rules are rules...

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Be Mindful of the Falling Glass and Other Advice to My Daughter

On this beautiful weekend of her birthday and after the historic Supreme Court confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, I am writing an open letter to my daughter, Zuri Elena. (I was still writing on Saturday morning, and though I had hoped to include a picture of her at the mural unveiling...well, I suspect she won't read this until years from now, so we're good :)

Dear Z:

There are so many thoughts going through my head, and in spite of all these fancy planning tools I have been accumulating, I am still all over the place. These past couple of weeks have been overwhelming, and you, my dear, have been a handful! One day when you read this, you will probably wonder what I meant, but suffice it to say, you are what you have always been from the day you were born: relentless, strong-willed, sweet, fiery, imaginative, and the most amazing reminder that God will answer prayers. 

This is the eve of your 7th birthday so allow me to repeat--the weeks leading up to this moment have been hectic. Last year, I was planning a Zoom dance party from an unwieldy guest list; this year we opted to settle for a smaller classroom party. But your temper...so if you are still a little salty with me about my decision to cancel that celebration, just know that it was harder for me to stand firm (and I still caved a little, so you'll be fine). Part of making these difficult choices is about imparting life lessons and preparing you for a world that won't always cater to you, especially not as a young Black woman.

It might seem ironic that I would make that statement, on this historic day after...but trust, it wasn't an easy road. Back in February, I wrote a looonnng piece about the challenges of being a Black woman in the legal profession, and while I can hope that this moment won't be marred in all of the typical ways, I know better. I remember how elated I was the day after Barack Obama was elected. I also remember the worst days of his Presidency and how the opposition did everything to ensure that he would ever be regarded as competent, or even legitimate. I remember what it was like to wake up in the middle of the night to the somber news that Donald Trump had been elected. And while I am thankful that we shielded you from the true horror of that experience, that is the backdrop of my cautious optimism. The pendulum will swing...

And when it does, I will have to remind you that what led to the backlash (always modest, superficial progress) was once thought to be improbable, so we will journey on.

On this birthday eve, I look at this picture I took of you in front of the Supreme Court a couple of weeks ago. Judge Jackson was down the street testifying in a Senate Committee hearing room and I got the crazy idea to take you over to the steps of the building. I told you where we were going, but you're six and it was a beautiful early Spring day. You were more interested in striking the right pose than in the cherry blossoms that were in peak bloom. We got several great pictures, unlike that overcast Fall day when we last visited the Court.

The contrast between those two days--one bright and hopeful, the other gloomy and foreboding, is definitely a metaphor for our times. In September 2020 I took you to the steps of the Court to pay respect to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. We stood in a long line. We were still in the thick of the pandemic, so everyone was masked up (because a vaccine hadn't been released or approved). You were attending virtual school. The country was weeks away from the November election. I had begun researching plans to volunteer out of state as an election monitor. The DESPOTUS was teasing out his options for a successor Justice in the media. And because I need to you to understand this, none of the candidates that had been talked about in the press were women of color.

So don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise--at that bleak point in 2020, it was highly doubtful that a Black woman would have been considered for that Court vacancy. Every high-profile appointment in that Administration was emblematic for its overt lack of inclusivity and diversity. We were only just learning about the abysmal hiring rates for non-white clerks. Nobody even remembered that obscure Biden campaign promise, given that we were still in the heat of debating whether a Black woman could be elected to serve as the Vice President. Nothing was assured, except that the levers of power were being manipulated to remind us of how powerless and vulnerable we the people can be. The other side had already made it clear that if they could deny a duly elected Black President the right to exercise his constitutional power nine months before Election Day, surely they would enable a dubiously elected tyrant to install another Justice with all deliberate speed in six weeks. 

And they would do so with the added bonus of elevating a woman who could inspire their daughters, to replace the outspoken woman whom they felt had encouraged too much of the wrong kind of ambition. One of the statements made about Amy Coney Barrett, the jurist who was ultimately chosen was that she would be a positive role model. That description gnawed at me for some reason, not because it isn't true (and not because it is true, she has seven kids and isn't on a TLC reality show). Amys always are touted as role models for young girls. Ketanjis and Kamalas typically are not. Nor were Michelles or Sonias, which is why this moment is so important.

When women like Ketanji and Kamala and Michelle and Sonia embrace or acknowledge their historical significance, they are bombarded and diminished by those who would rather bask in the non-threatening light emitted from an Amy. That won't make sense to you yet, but I need to point this out because one day, some kid is going to prefer an Amy over you. And you are going to come home in tears and ask me to let you alter your appearance in some way to help you fit in with the Amys, and I am going to say no. Then you are going to insist, and knowing you the way I do, you will be relentless, yet I will be emphatic.

Because YOU are Zuri. And the world is so much better and brighter and interesting because of you.

There is nothing inferior or unattractive or too much about being a Black girl. And while your non-Black girlfriends great, they are not superior or more beautiful or practically perfect in every way. I mean that, so when you make us late for school because you are posing in the mirror, I just want to be confident that it isn't because you wish you could look like or become someone else.

Therefore, it is necessary for me to aim a few pointed jabs at Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). You might be wondering, why him when there were 46 others who voted against this nomination, including five of the seven women on the GOP side of the aisle. There is a lot I could say about them too, but we need to address Mr. Scott so that you can better understand why those five aren't really worth the effort. To start, instead of name-calling, I will simply express my profound disappointment in his choice of an Amy over Ketanji. I get the ideological differences, but somehow his Colleague Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) didn't feel compelled to choose one woman over the other. Romney didn't conclude that there was no place for Ketanji because she had chosen a career path that didn't treat the law as a tool for amassing more power. Amazing how a man who was once ridiculed for referring to his binders full of women actually flipped through the pages and came across someone who was not an Amy and liked what he saw.

I wish Mr. Scott had thought more about you and all of the little girls who flip through magazines or scroll through social media and see pages and pages of Amys who are touted as role models. For years people resisted the notion that representation mattered, because any woman could be an inspiration they claimed. While that is true, the problem has been that "any" woman was typically one specific kind of FOX News spokesmodel Barbie. A homogenous every woman who had so-called universal appeal from that blue blooded sorority of genteel ladies who came from the right families. 

This is all kind of above your head at this age, but there are these unspoken rules of pedigree that serve as electrical fences around exclusive spaces. Mr. Scott is himself a rarity in one of those elite enclaves, along with a handful of others. Judge Jackson has now joined another august body with similar restricted access. Part of his Constitutional job was to provide advice and consent for Judge Jackson to be confirmed, and he declined to give his consent. Then he made quite the show of opposing her, including a thumbs down gesture for the cameras as a demonstration. Prior to that lovely Kodak moment, he had issued a statement that his opposition to her nomination had to do with his fundamental disagreements with her judicial methodology/philosophy. Interesting talking points regurgitated by someone without a law degree, to describe guaranteeing criminal defendants their Constitutional rights by providing counsel and representation as judicial activism. 

It is one thing for guys like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) to attack a nominee for taking the side of the accused, because they were former prosecutors. And they are shameless grandstanders who are either running for President or begging to be picked by the former DESPOTUS as his privy council should he succeed in his next coup attempt. However, as the sole Black man serving in the highest elected office in the opposition party, the first one to represent the Old Secessionist South in modern time, someone who was appointed before he was elected, a man who claims to think for himself, for him to proudly vote against this nomination...well, at least he didn't vote from the closet like his mentor Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

But he voted against her because he could, so he did. And the warning I am sending here is for you to be wary of men like Tim Scott, who relish the power they've been given more than their moral obligation to exercise that power responsibly. Why did he choose to act like a bouncer at the exclusive club instead of a VIP in the roped off section like Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) did? All I know is that he waived Amy right on in but stood in the doorway with a downturned thumb to block Ketanji. 

I almost forgot that I am writing this to my soon-to-be-seven-year-old daughter...who is currently having a tantrum in the bathroom, so let's move this along with this lesson: If someone is in a position to hold a door open for you, but they opt to let it close in your face, that person is trash. That's why we don't even need to discuss those other Senate women because they saw how Judge Jackson was mistreated and disrespected, and they chose to grab their purses and cross the street.

So let's go back to why I started this letter before I lose my momentum. Zuri, I want you to believe that ALL dreams are possible. I don't know if Ketanji Brown Jackson dreamt of becoming a Supreme Court Justice, but I can tell you how I used to dream about arguing cases in that marble building. I got to see Justices Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O'Connor seated behind that long bench when I was in high school, and later I got to lobby for the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsberg when I was in college (I dropped off packets to each Senator in support of her nomination). I drafted an op-ed on the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito, and I think Justice Sonia Sotomayor is beyond awesome (here is a retro post* about her). It isn't too late, but if I never get to argue a case there, this confirmation process has reminded me of why I wanted to become a lawyer in the first place. 

Not to be rich or famous. Not to lament not being invited to the GOP Senate Ladies Auxiliary Tea at the Margaret Mitchell House with the Amys. Not to have my life and motivations micro-analyzed by a bunch of twits on social media. Not to provide b-roll for some aspiring candidate's political ads. And certainly not to be deterred by some self-appointed gate-keeper on a misguided power trip. I became a lawyer to help people and to advocate for change.

I'm surprised that no one has referenced the very short-lived show, The Court (2002), that was intended as a West Wing-ish take on the Supreme Court. This is where my idiot savant abilities in recalling obscure pop culture is useful--the late great Diahann Carroll portrayed the other female jurist, senior to Sally Field, newly confirmed. Who knows how that plotline would have developed, but I recall thinking that might have been one of the many reasons why that show was quickly canceled, because of the improbability of a Black woman on the Court. But that which seems impossible is, until it isn't.

Which brings us back to today. 

Judge Jackson remarked on the incredible journey that brought her to this moment, and a lot of folks got emotional because these firsts are both personal and collective victories. I imagine that Constance Baker Motley felt the same when she was appointed to the federal bench. These two women share a birthday, and I hope, the same determination to dismantle the obstacles that racism and sexism still pose. No matter what, my daughter, do not be deterred.

I never aspired to be a Supreme Court Justice nor have I ever considered the path cleared by others as one that I needed to follow. I don't see myself breaking any glass ceilings, and that is just fine with me. I hope that by the time you read this, there won't be that much glass left above you, only that which you sweep away on the ground.

* I hereby renounce that I denounced Justice Sotomayor's statement. She had every right to be proud and so do you, as a fellow wise Latina woman. And don't you ever forget that!

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The Devil in the Green Dress

This is one of those pieces where I can't provide a map or a key to tell you where I am headed, you just have to trust that it might all make sense by the end. Initially I thought I might write this in two parts, but that is not how it is unfolding. So follow me on this meandering journey through the personal and professional reactions to the noteworthy topic du jour. Because I've seen so many different takes on the Slap and since I've already had my say on that, I want to talk about Jada. 

Somehow, a fight between two men is her fault...because she made a face after a comment that was a joke made at her expense. She's at fault (checks notes): for not stopping her husband, for not following her husband to the stage to stand in between his open hand and another man's face, for being bald, for having an entanglement with a man who kissed and told, for addressing the matter publicly on her internet talk show, for dating Tupac back when they were in high school, for convincing Will that Wild Wild West was going to be a hit...

I'm sure I left something out, but it is absolutely crazy to me how Jada Pinkett becomes Helen of Troy and takes all of the blame for how two grown ass men acted up on national television.

How is that personal? Well, it isn't because I am friends with Jada. In fact, I am not even a fan of hers, since I believe her addition to the cast of A Different World is the precise point when the show jumped the shark. Her character was terrible and annoying, and with rare exceptions, I have yet to see Jada take on any role that isn't some derivative of Lena James. 

It sure is convenient that Jada became the Devil in the Green Dress that Denzel Washington alluded to when he sought to comfort Will Smith after the Slap. In our attempts to make sense of what set him off and made him forget where he was and how many people were watching, the only logical explanation was he got possessed. An evil spirit inhabited that man's body and forced it to act out on national television. And in the tradition of Adam blaming Eve for his choice to bite the apple, the world settled on Jada.

Why do y'all hate Jada so much? For anyone who has been paying attention to the Smiths for any amount of time, how did it escape your notice that while Will has continued to have a rather high-profile, yet consistent career that has ebbed and flowed, hers has been practically dormant for a minute. She started hosting an internet-based talk show with her Mama from her basement before the pandemic. Jada worked steadily in the 90s, up until she had her first child with Will. She found work here and there, but after their daughter was born, Jada went ghost for a while. She fronted a band, she had a short-lived TV show, she voiced the Hippo on Madagascar (with Chris Rock), co-produced a sitcom with Will, and she had periodic cameos in various movies. Will has been on a hot streak of summer blockbusters, intense dramas, and being a Hollywood mogul. Their son Jaden got to be the Karate Kid and daughter Willow got to be a rockstar for an entire summer. Jada got to stand on the sidelines with her spiked coffee to cheer everyone on.

I don't know why y'all never noticed that Will has always treated his family like employees. I remember that the Smiths hosted the BET Awards show together in 2005 and this promo captures my belief that Will has been trying to push guide his children's careers from birth. He and Jaden co-starred in a disastrous movie (one that I actually paid to see in the theater) and it included some truly painful moments of father-son tension that were not acting. Not too long ago, Willow opened up about the pressure she felt from her father to pursue a music career after the success of her Whip My Hair video. How it took her refusal to continue with a tour for him to accept that he had been forcing her into something that no longer seemed fun. She was 12.

Will has confessed on quite a few occasions that he does the most. Before he wrote his book, he gave plenty of interviews in which he outlined his I-think-therefore-I-am-Legend philosophy, and every single time, I have come away feeling drained by his intensity. The man is consumed by the pursuit of success, and every move he makes is about being Will Smith, the man with the multi-million dollar brand name. I wish more of you took the time to psychoanalyze him instead of Jada, who has been his ride or die all along. Every movie premier. Every twist and turn. Every career high and low.

Until August whatever his name told everyone about his puppy love affair with Jada, NOBODY had a clue how unhappy, unfulfilled, tired, and generally sick of Will's shit she was. Sure, the rumors about them have always alluded to them being about as real as the Fendi bag you bought from someone's trunk, but you wear it anyway. What man hasn't been called gay in Hollywood and shrugged it off because that is the rumor about everybody? And who cared if she went a few years without working if he was bringing home $20 million per film?

I have said this several times and will say it again for everyone in the cheap seats--Will isn't anybody's cuckhold. He's had dalliances and at some point Jada said bet, what's good for the goose is good for the gander and she got her some. But her non-disclosure agreement wasn't as airtight, so when her little boy toy got in his feelings about Mrs. Robinson cutting him lose once she had her fun, everybody is out here clutching pearls and denouncing Jada as if...

As if marriage ain't complicated and messy AF for everybody. Beyonce wrote a whole album in response to Jay-Z's extra-curricular activities, and I swear that is only because she knew fucking one of his friends wasn't worth it. And how we found out about that was because Solange couldn't believe that shit and threw hands in an elevator.

I mentioned to a friend recently how people are being way too dismissive of Jada's alopecia. I saw where someone questioned if it is any more or less traumatic than men going bald in their 20s and that was the moment when I realized how desperately y'all want to salvage Will's reputation and career. Did you know that there is a support and advocacy community for people that suffer with alopecia (and I know this because I'm on their mailing list)? When you dismiss it as a milder auto-immune disease than lupus or multiple sclerosis, is that because you know from personal experience, or just don't think it is a big deal for someone to suddenly be disfigured or have their appearance altered by something they can't control? As if the stress of being Mrs. Will Smith didn't finally get to her? Have y'all forgotten Michael Jackson's vitiligo?

Here is where I get personal. I have this birthmark on my forehead, which I've had since I was a child. This picture is one of the earliest appearances of it (the faint shadow you see in the upper left corner). In my teens, I had a dermatologist who provided options if I wanted to have it removed, and because I had been teased relentlessly about it for my entire life at that point, I considered it. This was the late 80s though, so the methods for removal sounded like torture--having it frozen, burned, or cut off. And get this, I did have portions of my birthmark cut off to get it biopsied for skin cancer and it grew back! That was the risk I faced including discoloration or some kind of disfiguring scar that would have been no different than the mark itself.

For years, I was very self-conscious and never felt safe from the ridicule of my peers or some adults. Once a substitute teacher cracked that it looked like I had a third eyebrow, that became the default insult for the remainder of my elementary school days. In middle school, I was declared ugly and diseased. By high school, I thought people had outgrown the taunts, but I later learned by accident that someone whom I thought was my friend had talked about me and the ridiculous splotch on my forehead.

Yeah, kids are cruel and teenage girls are mean and boy are stupid. All of that. And though I am used to the stares and the awkward questions from children, every now and then, someone makes a bad joke, so I recognize the look Jada gave in response to Rock's quip. I can tell you how I have accepted my birthmark and how I chose not to have it removed because I came to see it for something greater than a flaw. I can tell you that I don't care if people whisper behind my back about that thing on my forehead. But I can also tell you that I would NEVER intentionally sit on the front row at a comedy show...

I can tell you that it was a few years ago in San Francisco when an unhoused man made me feel like that ugly middle school kid again after he harassed me for not giving him money. He started out by hitting on me, then he asked me for money, and then completely turned into an asshole when I honestly told him that I did not have any cash. I haven't wanted to go back to San Francisco because of that encounter.

So yeah, I feel a personal connection to Jada over the fact that she had an honest here we go again moment and everyone is calling it the look that launched a hundred angry steps. You want to know why she didn't jump up to stop Will? Because she was in shock like the rest of us!

I haven't read Will's book and honestly, I won't since we all need a break from their never-ending drama to focus on other issues. I didn't have to write this, but I felt compelled to say something in Jada's defense after seeing how folks have either written her out of the narrative or reframed it to cast her as Tituba from the Salem witch trials who set this all in motion with her evil feminine wiles (midlife crisis). A lot of Hollywood couples had extramarital entanglements, and not all of them were discreet (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn come to mind). Even some of the long-haulers had non-traditional marriages. You'd be surprised.

So please stop. Miss me with all of your amateur expertise in relationships when we spend a great deal of time on social media trying to understand why some men think paying for a date is some kind of conspiracy by women to drain their souls. When we've got dudes offering advice from their cars in the parking lot of McDonald's before their weekend visitation starts. When there are women bragging about how well they take are of men who haven't married them so they've been playing house for 15 years. Water your own lawn!

A final word on why I took the time to defend Jada--because I see her. I see this woman living her life like the rest of us, dreams deferred and answered prayers and everything else in between. Maybe she is terrible and this is that moment in Mean Girls when she gets hit by a bus, or maybe she is a much better actress than we realize. Just because she is comfortable with her bald head that doesn't mean she is immune to the sting of a bad joke. Y'all think everything is fair game and it isn't. Words do hurt people, and as a friend pointed out, we know when someone is hitting below the belt. Poking fun at a woman's appearance walks a very fine line and is often just mean. 

And slapping somebody on live television is stupid. Will Smith has been telling us for YEARS what kind of person he is and now he's shown us. Chris Rock has been telling us that he's kind of a jerk too, but with more self-awareness. So again, how did this narrative shift in 24 hours to Jada being the Instigator, Geppetto the Narcissist Puppeteer? Incredible. That's a whole semester on Freud that most of you skimmed from a YouTube video, so now you think you know something? You only know what you saw, and no one saw Jada slap anybody. So stop smacking her around and if you can't say anything respectful about her, then keep her name out of your mouth.