Friday, March 17, 2023

Angela Bassett: The Queen of Our Hearts

I waited a couple of days (and some change) to comment on this matter because understandably, folks have mixed feelings. We all want to believe that opportunities are apportioned accordingly, and that credit is given when and where it is due. We all want to believe that the sun is bright enough to shine on all of us. Therefore, I am not upset that Angela Bassett lost the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year.

I said what I said.

I saw Wakanda Forever (2022) opening weekend. I have a piece in draft that I have been working on since last November that expresses some of how I felt about that movie and her stellar performance. It was great and worthy of the nomination.

I have not seen Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) all the way through yet (keep missing the first hour), so I can't say if Jamie Lee Curtis was deserving of the hardware; therefore, I also cannot argue that her co-star Stephanie Hsu was more deserving. Instead, I can suggest that this was obviously a sentimental nod to Curtis, who has reached a certain stage in her career, thus very on-brand for Hollywood to honor her in this way. (But I know nobody really wants to hear that right now.)

However, and I hope that this can be an agreeable consolation, I fully expect that Bassett will get her Oscar. Not as a supporting actress mind you, but in the category that is most befitting of our Supreme Sister Auntie Queen. And on that glorious evening, my hope is that we will all look back on this current snub and humph in satisfaction that her triumph happened in due time and course, and not as some kind of consolation prize in response to an #OscarsSoWhite trending hashtag.

This year of our Lord 2023, the Oscar blessings went to badass Michelle Yeoh. And to the inspirational Ke Huy Quan. And to Brendan Fraser for wearing a fat suit. And yes, even to the Dean of the Scream Queens, Jamie Lee Curtis.

There may be reasons to believe that these were not the best choices, but those are debates for the critics and among the Academy members who saw each nominated performance. As we recently learned, we can't even guarantee that most of those voters actually saw all of the films. As to Jamie Lee Curtis, I say we dispense with the grumblings because this has to be the high-water mark of her career at this point. Yes, she's a veteran actress with famous parents and a considerable list of IMDb credits, but unlike some of her peers who have been nominated multiple times like Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Frances McDormand, or Dame Judi Dench, the likelihood that Curtis will ever grace that stage to claim another statue is low. This is just one of those lucky flukes. 

No offense, but for someone who just released another Halloween movie in 2021, what else is there for her at this point, other than to portray someone eccentric and weird? Here you have a working actress who's been around for long enough not to be too jaded or too impressed by what she does for a living. If she even had to audition for this part, it would shock me, but for the sake of argument, let's assume she went in to read and when the casting director called her agent, their discussion went something like this: 
Casting director: You know what would be a hoot?
Agent: What? Jamie Lee trying her hand at martial arts? 
Casting director: Yes, but what if we had her look like a crazy cat lesbian who could perform martial arts?
Agent: Can we do that? And what if we put her in a bad wig and give her floppy hot dog fingers too?
Casting director: Sure, why not? Who will even notice?

And Curtis loved the idea because who would have noticed her as a supporting character in a quirky film like EEAAO for a sporadic 10-15 minutes worth of screen time? There is no way she expected any of this attention until the nomination came and suddenly the momentum behind the film took her like a wave. 

Furthermore, that is the entire point of honoring a Best Supporting Actor. S/he isn't the star--s/he's some random scene stealer who had an interesting/pivotal line or transitional moment. Either s/he died, killed, saved, or taunted the hero/ine: Louis Gossett, Jr. mocking Richard Gere as "Mayo-naise" while he slithers through the mud during basic training or a half-naked Anne Hathaway coiffed in a buzzcut and dying of tuberculosis. Everybody honored in that category enjoys their moment in the spotlight, then they disappear quietly to try their hand at something else like bee farming or Broadway.

That is not the career trajectory we should want for Angela Bassett. Quite honestly, it still doesn't sit well with me that Viola Davis got talked into submitting her name for that supporting category in 2017 because now it will take her another 20 years to ever get nominated again. We could have a whole debate over the value of an Oscar nomination as opposed to a win, and then more discussion about how it doesn't even benefit women as much as men in the grand scheme of things. We could engage in all manner of debate over the meaning of an Oscar versus the quality of roles in an actor's career. We could write these long think pieces about the snubs and slights and slaps, or...

We could write screenplays. We could write songs. We could compose music scores. We could design exquisite costumes and sets. We could be directors and producers. We could advocate for more opportunities for jobs in the industry. We could take notice of the fact that most of the people who win multiple Oscars are the folks who put in the work behind the scenes.

That isn't to say that our complaints that the #OscarsSoWhite weren't valid or that the improvements only lasted for a few award cycles. By drawing attention to the Academy's lack of diversity, changes did come. It came with everything, everywhere (all at once) from who got nominated to the kinds of projects that were greenlit. A Black woman was elected President of the Academy and we finally got a Black superhero movie with a Black director from the Blackest city on the West Coast. All of that set the stage for Ruth Carter to win two Oscars (and I bet no one even realized that she's been designing costumes since the 80s). Calling out Hollywood's highfalutin snooty predilections for English period dramas and biased historical fiction got them to broaden the categories to consider a wider range of films. 

This is why I say we shouldn't sweat this. We can't adopt the same mindset that excluded us by suggesting that a win for one person or community is a loss of opportunity for another marginalized community because it isn't. No, an Oscar isn't a participation trophy, but neither is an Olympic Gold medal or a Superbowl ring. Everybody isn't going to get one but it's a good thing when more people are allowed to compete on that level. And in that sense, everybody does win. For too long, that wasn't the case, not just for Black people but for every excluded group in Hollywood. There is a world of talent--a whole world, and we've barely scratched the surface.

A few months ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon watching Turner Classic Movies, and I got to see the musical Flower Drum Song (1961) with Miyoshi Umeki, the first East Asian American actress to win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress for Sayonara in 1958). By my math that was 65 years ago, and I had never heard of her despite the historic nature of that career accomplishment. It took decades to get to The Joy Luck Club (1993) amid the incremental progress of individual Asian actors. And then it still took years to get films like Mulan (1998), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000), and Crazy Rich Asians (2018), so if Black people are complaining that #OscarsSoWhite...and Mickey Rooney's cameo in Breakfast at Tiffany's occurred three years after Umeki's win, then I don't think we're done complaining about the lack of diversity in Hollywood.

Not when we just find out that the first Asian actress to receive an Oscar nomination in 1936, Merle Oberon, was passing for white so there is a disclaimer to the description of Michelle Yeoh's historic nomination. Not when we just learned that there are other regions in India (Telugu) that produce energetic musicals other than Bollywood. Not when women are still overlooked as directors in spite of turning in excellent work.

Which brings me to the inevitable backlash from the disgruntled old Hollywood guard. We start with that anonymous Cowardly Lion quoted throughout this article, the critically acclaimed Actor. I wasted a lot of time thinking about who this person might be and how best to express my disdain for him in the most unflattering way possible. I settled on a caricature--some former teen heartthrob, pretentious Tesla-driving, recurring CSI guest, nepo baby. In other words, another limousine liberal who claims to be vegan but only because he chews his steak and then spits it out (I'm pretty sure the interviewee is not Sam Seder, but you have to admit this clip perfectly illustrates the jab). Whomever he is, I hope karma comes in the form of his being fired by Gina Prince-Bythewood "the lady director" on some really prestigious project because he failed to "sit [TF] down, shut up, and relax" as told, so he's replaced by Cate Blanchett, who then goes on to win her third Oscar. As for Paul Schrader, that sleepy old fart...

Finally, I have a few words for all of these body language experts on social media who seem to know what was going on in Angela Bassett's head when her name wasn't called for that Oscar. WTF? Are y'all just determined to make Black women the villain in everybody's origin story? She looked surprised and disappointed. Perhaps she assumed that if she was going to lose, it would have been to Stephanie Hsu or Kerry Condon. If you look at the pictures of her husband, Courtney B. Vance in the same moment, he's the one who's mad. He was hoping that an Oscar win would mean the kind of salary bump per project that would allow them to put their twins through college.

Instead, folks and I mean snarky assholes like Piers Morgan in particular, want to sell this narrative that Bassett should have appeared more gracious, as if others haven't had similar reactions to losing in the past. I vividly remember how the late Lauren Bacall looked absolutely pissed in 1997, and apparently that was not my imagination because she's included on this entire list of other disgruntled nominees. A really shitty and sore loser reaction would have been to storm off and leave like Morgan did here...but whatever snowflake.

Dear Beloved Angela, you already know that I'm not here to urge you to take comfort in just being nominated because we're past that at this stage of your career. You did the thing, which was to carry the whole weight of that movie on your majestic shoulders in the wake of the incalculable loss of its fallen star. Notwithstanding the fact that some people couldn't appreciate that kind of fortitude, it remains my contention that your performance was too good for the Oscar in that category. And that isn't shade to the past winners, it is just stating facts. This was hardly your defining career moment.

So on your behalf, I have already declared and decreed that this won't be the last time you'll be nominated; if anything, this will be the last time anyone can make the claim that you aren't worthy of an Oscar. You've proven that time and again since 1992 when you were first nominated for portraying Tina Turner. This entire controversy is a distraction meant to rationalize why the Academy has been dragging its feet in acknowledging you and how they messed up the televised In Memoriam segment again. 

That's all I have to say. I'm pretty sure that Courtney, your kids, Austin Butler, and everyone else has bestowed you with flowers and all manner of consolation. Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors already let the Academy know they messed up when they took to the stage. And in spite of these hit pieces written by the publicists of some other disgruntled actresses, we are confident that you remain unbothered and thoroughly unfazed. You and Jamie Lee Curtis will be photographed getting drinks and this will blow over. You know who you are, and so do we.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Not In Front of White People

By that title, you might already have an idea where this piece is headed. Every Black person raised in the United States (possibly elsewhere throughout the diaspora), has been admonished that there are certain behaviors that are intolerable in public. Kids are warned not to go inside this store and do anything embarrassing, like steal something stupid (and get caught) or have some kind of meltdown requiring the Wrath of Mama and Her Shoe to be unleashed. Teenagers are told to act like they have some kind of sense in mixed company. Grown adults are reminded to check certain attitudes and to fine-tune their code-switching skills, especially at work and even more importantly at networking functions where a good impression might result in a job, a promotion, or some much needed philanthropic generosity to a worthy cause. I could offer quite a few more examples, but by now you all get the point that one of several "talks" Black people have been subjected to over the years has been to act accordingly in front of white people, lest one inadvertent slip-up results in the eradication of every inch of progress made since 1865.

That was a very long-winded introduction to the idea that all of us have been raised with that unmistakable nod towards the politics of respectability, and that at some point in our lives, someone has lectured us on our responsibility to represent ourselves, our families (and indeed, the entire race) with a certain kind of dignity. Let me get straight to the point and say yes, I got this title from watching the final punchline from the Chris Rock live comedy special on Netflix. No, I have not watched the entire special nor do I intend to. No, this will not be another long think piece about The Slap (not entirely). Yes, I have opinions on the matter, but I have already shared those so I will refer you what I have already written. Because in my opinion, this entire mess is a case study in the futility of respectability politics. And yes, I said what I said, even after a most tumultuous and disgraceful Black History Month, but this time it wasn't Black folks' fault, not in the least.

From the various snippets that I have seen, Chris Rock performed for a live audience in Baltimore this past weekend and finally took time to address The Slap. A lot of folks have already weighed in with their reviews of the special, and since I don't plan to watch it, there isn't much reason for me to opine on the substance of that which I have not seen. As for what I did see in snippets and soundbites, I can say that Rock kind of kept his word in keeping Jada Pinkett Smith's name out of his mouth; instead, he opted to refer to her as THAT BITCH. 

A year later, it is obvious that there is still a lot of bitterness and anger directed at her over hands that she didn't throw, so I'm reposting this picture as a reminder of what happened and who did what. For the record, I don't see Jada Pinkett Smith anywhere in that frame.

Yet, because Rock claims that he was taught not to fight in front of white people, he waits a whole year to unleash a metaphorical beatdown on a woman in front of an audience of Black people in her hometown. Bravo Pookie. Or should I say, good job Bony T...

The utter contradiction of respectability politics is how it condemns one set of objectionable behaviors while excusing others. Last year, Will Smith was castigated for what he did, and rightfully so. But I swear most of the Black people who were so outspoken then and now seem to have been more upset that it happened on stage at the Oscars instead of at the Source Awards. Because fighting at the office party is different than fighting at the BBQ?

Of course it is, and for all intents and purposes, the Oscars ceremony is a work function for every attendee. Folks just can't roll up to the venue because they have nothing better to do on a Sunday night for seven hours and they want to play dress up--you have to be there because of a nomination or because you were invited to perform or present. Anyone who pays attention to the Entertainment Award Season, knows that this is the Grande Finale, the Superbowl, Game 7 of the NBA Championships or World Series, the Gold Medal Match. Because it is a live telecast, every moment is a scripted performance which is why most of us thought that The Slap was just another corny bit until we found out otherwise.

Anybody who has worked in an office has that one coworker...the one who always burns popcorn in the microwave or who uses all of the paper in the copier but doesn't refill the tray. But you tolerate that person because they get along with the managers and you don't really work together in the same department. For the most part, you mostly encounter each other in the bathroom, the breakroom, or at official functions. At the most recent annual company retreat, you end up in a conversation with this person and you find out that your views on certain topics don't align, so you politely excuse yourself from the conversation to get a drink. But instead of taking the hint, the person follows you to the bar to continue to argue a point that you don't believe is appropriate in that setting. So you diplomatically say, hey let's agree to disagree, but the person keeps talking. Then you say, hmm I don't see things in the same light, so why don't we just change the subject, but the person has now enlisted another coworker to weigh in and you're standing there getting more and more annoyed. One final time, you say, look I'm going to the bathroom, talk to you later, and you turn around to walk away. To which this person says something offensive that stops you in your tracks.

At the office party, you are supposed to take a breath, count to ten, and then keep walking to the bathroom. You might file a complaint with HR, or just keep your distance. At the BBQ, you are likely to turn around, walk back, and exchange words. And we all know what choice Will Smith made, so perhaps we should explore how and why.

Last year, I wrote about how the Oscars were produced by Will Packer and how several of the changes he made to the ceremony might have been too much for some of the folks who are used to the standard four-hour format. He definitely added some flourishes that leaned more towards the NAACP Image Awards instead of the BAFTAs (and yes, Ariana DeBose, you did the thing, those stodgy coots just weren't ready). So it is possible that at this office party, planned by the Black people in marketing to be a different flavor than what Hollywood is used to, folks forgot where they were. 

That still doesn't justify what happened, so I reiterate that Will Smith was wrong. But not only because he slapped Chris Rock in front of the white people at work--he slapped Rock knowing that there wouldn't be any immediate repercussions. Whether it was a reaction to a bad joke or if he had just taken enough ribbing from Rock over the years and snapped is debatable, but like I said last year, they could have handled that in the alley behind Roscoe's. Everybody knew Smith was going to win the Best Actor Oscar, so all he had to do was sit there and wait for his golden moment. It isn't like he's some amateur who could blame adrenaline for sending him across that stage too soon, like a sprinter who takes off before the starter pistol. He's a professional, so hitting his mark (literally) is what Smith does for a living. 

And don't waste your outrage on behalf of Chris Rock because he is also a professional--a smug, shit-talking dude who wrote a whole TV show about his daily blooper reel of embarrassments in front of the white people he grew up with. So I call bullshit on his mic drop moment because if he's claiming that he was taught not to have certain arguments or fights in mixed company, he sure did pick a fine time to finally listen to his parents. Remember when his signature riff was differentiating Black people from n**gas for his largely white audiences? I do. Did you see Good Hair (2009) and initially think that he was trying to illuminate an issue for Black women (before realizing that it was just a mockumentary-style joke told at our expense)? I did.

(Quick true story: I saw Chris Rock when I was in law school and he was still touring and performing stand up college campuses. The entire BLSA membership had decided to go to the show along with the other Black graduate students and undergrads, so we took up the entire front half of the theater. Rock told several of the jokes that eventually made him super famous, such as the OJ "I understand" bit and platonic friendships with women. He told a joke about the ending of M*A*S*H and until that point, we had been unaware that the entire audience behind us was full of white people [because they got the joke and we didn't], so he made fun of us for thinking we were at a BET Comic View show.)

It doesn't matter which side you choose, since neither #TeamChris or #TeamWill is blameless nor are they suffering in shame. The entire PR department of The Fresh Prince Enterprises earned double their salary last year for handling the fallout from The Slap. That man is an ex-communicated A-lister, practically radioactive...who just won an NAACP Image Award! Chris Rock went on tour just days after The Slap and has been performing in front of sold-out audiences all over the country for a year. He earned $40 million for one night of work. I'm guessing that cold hard compress of cash he uses to soothe his cheek after each show must feel right nice. 

But you know who is still reeling from The Slap? The woman who didn't act a fool in front of the white people.

I've had my say about the way the world turned Jada into a modern-day Eve in blaming her for how both of these two grown ass men cut up a year ago on live television, and my opinion remains unchanged. If anyone's career suffered collateral damage in all of this mess, it was hers. This past year for her must have been a lot like being accused of writing a bad check or having your credit card declined while at the checkout at the grocery store with a cart full of fried chicken and watermelon. In the old days, they used to post a Polaroid picture by the cash register to shame the person from ever returning to the store. Other than Girls Trip 2, what new projects are clogging her inbox? Do you see her walking the red carpet or attending the Oscars ever again?

Notice how I can talk about The Slap without conflating it to any of the tabloid noise about the Smiths' marriage or resorting to dehumanizing name-calling. Y'all care so much about what goes on in other people's bedrooms, with all kinds of big opinions about how married folks ought to live. Self-righteous Christian condemnation heaped on Jada for her entanglement, but y'all lined up to hear Chris Rock confess to cheating on his wife, and then turn around to call every woman who's rejected or slept with him a bitch. For his part, Will Smith has never acknowledged any of his rumored dalliances, but let's talk about the production that went into this apology video.

Because THAT BITCH Jada...

Who is also a mother. A daughter. A woman with flaws. A woman who was likely hurt at points in her marriage, and someone offered her comfort that her husband didn't provide. A woman with a past and some rough edges from Baltimore. A woman who married a man with his own past and a bunch of issues. In front of white people, this Black woman has been called everything but a child of God and I'm supposed to find the humor and take a joke. At the expense of her dignity. 

I knew writing this would make me angry, so I am taking breaths and breaks, because I don't think people appreciate the irreparable harm caused by keeping up appearances or upholding respectability. For the benefit of whom? For what? To say it loud and proud that it matters more what white people think than how a Black woman might feel about what has been said about her to her face?

For all of the feigned concern that was expressed about the negative impact The Slap might have on Black Hollywood, things are no better or worse as a result. Yes, there were some great films and performances that were overlooked and possibly snubbed, but that happens every year. And clearly this year the momentum is behind Michelle Yeoh and her film, so we're not going to complain if she earns that hardware this year and makes history as the first Asian Best Actress. Given Hollywood's history of racism from blackface, colorism, to Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), it's the white people who ought to be ashamed. 

That last sentence was supposed to be my mic drop, but nah, I have a few more words for Willard, Christopher, and every other Black person who thinks that the opinions of white people ought to matter more than the example you set for your own families. For all of the tap dancing, running gags, the laughs, the buffoonery--these same white folks y'all been entertaining all of these years chose sides with a quickness. Nobody died, but you wouldn't know it from the way people claimed to have been so ashamed. Meanwhile, I feel let down that we've allowed The Slap to define what is considered acceptable behavior, not only front of white people, but on behalf of our families and communities. At the end of the day, both of you are still expendable and with the flip of a coin, Randolph and Mortimer Duke can determine the fate of their next Billy Ray Valentine.

For the right amount of money, some of y'all would put your wife, your daughter, even your mother in front of someone's open hand to take a hit. And that really hurts.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Playlist Project: Steppin' Out

Last year on the Facebook page, I promised that I would share this rather unconventional playlist on behalf of those for whom Valentine's Day is celebrated on someday other than February 14th. I got inspired to do this by a song that my friend and de facto music editor RC posted on his personal page, one that I had never heard, but was very familiar with the song that inspired it. Then a few Saturday mornings later, I was minding my business and heard a crazy song called My Side Piece (2016) on the radio...also for the first time. Later that same weekend, I saw a thread on Twitter about the meals that had been used to lure folks in and well, I took that as a sign.

But here's the thing--I never published this piece. Days turned into weeks and by the time I realized that I had moved on several times to write about other topics, this project languished in my drafts. Recently when I noticed the calendar, I wondered if anyone would recall that I had promised, but never got around to posting this...well, here it is for those who have been waiting. 

Now let me say this at the outset, the Busy Black Woman is NOT judging anybody, which is why this playlist is called Steppin' Out. I won't be resorting to name-calling or blame-gaming since it takes two to tango and much like the it's complicated relationship status category that used to be a feature on Facebook, nothing is ever as straight-forward as most of us would like to believe. And since I am not calling names or passing judgment, it is entirely your choice to continue reading to see which songs made the list...

We begin with the most iconic of songs in this category, a staple of bid whist in the basement/old-school Saturday morning R&B radio, Me and Mrs. Jones (1972), by Billy Paul. Because if you are of a certain age, you grew up hearing this song and had no idea what kind of thing they had going on "every day at the same cafe". I mean, until I gave more thought to the matter, I often wondered how wrong it was just to meet for coffee with an old friend until I realized that the lyrics were winking at us. This was a subtle nod to stepping out, unlike that other basement classic by Johnnie Taylor, Who's Making Love (1968). I think it is fair to say that Taylor's version is definitive because the Blues Brothers (1980) aren't really singing. Mr. Paul's triumph has been reinterpreted a few times, most notably by The Dramatics (1975) and more recently by Michael BublĂ© (2007). And though I could not find a stand-alone this clip of this song on YouTube, I must give an Honorable Mention to the waiter in the Walter and Jaleesa Anniversary episode of A Different World (you can watch the entire episode here). 

In this same vein of songs from the 70s, ain't nothing subtle about If Loving You Is Wrong (1972) by Luther Ingram. He admits to being a married man, but apparently that didn't deter Millie Jackson (1974) or Barbara Mandrell (1978) from stepping out with him. When the Manhattans sang Kiss and Say Goodbye (1976), I'm betting it was because old boy knew he was about to get caught, so in order to avoid the inevitable third degree from the wife and her crew, The Pointer Sisters, inquiring How Long (Betcha Got a Chick On the Side) (1975), he just called the whole thing off! Not sure if it was a similar preemptive strike happening in this 90s version by N-Phase, but it is kind of ironic to think of Beyonce Knowles-Carter channeling that same get-to-stepping energy from 2006 on Irreplaceable now (put a pin in that because you already know). Lest it be thought that married men were the main ones doing the stepping out, Bill Withers made it clear that he was suspicious of his woman on Who Is He and What Is He To You (1972). Nowadays since love is love, we cannot assume that a man would be the only partner asking that question because in 1996, Meshell Ndegeocello wanted to know as well. 

Not everybody can hide their tracks, thus when Betty Wright caught Richard "Dimples" Fields in the bathroom singing She's Got Papers (1981), we can all guess how that went down. Well as it tuns out, he landed on his feet according to the song that inspired this playlist by Barbara Mason She's Got Papers (But I Got the Man) in 1981. However, the original response was recorded by Jean Knight, but was called You Got the Papers (But I Got the Man); before that, Ann Peebles released a different song You've Got the Papers (I've Got the Man) in 1979. That's a whole pile of messy papers all over the place 😩! As an aside, and I hope Ms. Mason doesn't take this the wrong way, but she also sang a cover of If Loving You Is Wrong as well as I Am Your Woman, She is Your Wife (1978), so I have to ask if this woman had any friends? Or were her only other girlfriends the two women from The Soul Children, who sang I'll Be The Other Woman (1973)?

So that no one gets the impression that people only began singing about stepping out (and getting caught) in the 70s, I found quite a few gems from some of our favorite jazz vocalists, beginning with The Other Woman and You Can Have Him, both recorded by Nina Simone in 1959. Another classic comes to us from Carmen McRae's Guess Who I Saw Today, a song I often hear on the Sunday jazz programs that she recorded in 1957. This video interpretation offers an interesting twist using Nancy Wilson's classic version that was released in 1960. Wilson also sang an emotional rendition of You Can Have Him in 1964, but perhaps the most dramatic version came from Dame Shirley Bassey in 1966. There is something so dignified in the way these women sang about their hurt. I feel like throwing a martini!

(Random sidenote: two of these songs came from Broadway musicals, this song had been written in 1949 for Miss Liberty by composer Irving Berlin and was initially recorded as a duet between Dinah Shore and Doris Day.) 

If you think only city folks engage in stepping out, I'm inclined to believe it is a regular theme in country music as well. If Dolly Parton was worried about losing her man to some chick named Jolene in 1973, by 2021, Sis in Chapel Hart had decided You Can Have Him. Carrie Underwood was over her man too, but she made sure he knew how trifling he was in Before He Cheats (2005). And while this takes us off topic a bit in terms of songs that tell the story, check this 2018 video for Yola's Ride Out In the Country...

As D'Angelo said Shit, Damn Motherf***er

We all know human emotions and interactions are complicated. A change in routine got Stevie Wonder wondering on Lately (1980), although he was the one Creepin' in 1974 (oh wait, that isn't what he's singing about, that's what Luther Vandross was doing in the coda to If Only For One Night in 1985). Or was that Jodeci in 1993, begging for forgiveness clad in leather on a desert set on Cry for You after the tables were turned, once they too, realized that Lately things had changed? In 1985 Stevie sang about having a Part Time Lover (with Luther singing backup), so that's an easy mistake to make. However, there was no mistaking what Shirley Murdoch was singing about that same year in As We Lay and how she tried to warn Kelly Price from making the same mistake in 2000. For years, I could claim naivetĂ© while singing along with Whitney Houston to Saving All My Love into my hairbrush, but not so much when I was singing along with Stephanie Mills to Secret Lady in 1987.

Babyface and Pebbles offered an interesting perspective on how people got caught up in Love Makes Things Happen (1990) because sometimes things do just happen. Unless you are taking your partner for granted, and she decides that Ray Parker, Jr. was right in 1981 when he sang A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do). It could be the chance encounter with an old flame, as was the case with Rick James and Teena Marie on Fire and Desire that same year (and they clearly got consumed in the moment). It was loneliness that propelled Jeffrey Osbourne into the arms of a Stranger (1979). For Jill Scott in 2004, it was flirting with temptation on Cross My Mind while Philip Bailey was singing about all the Reasons in 1974 why he couldn't resist. Karen White enjoyed the thrill of the nonstop Secret Rendezvous (1988). For Cherelle, the other man was giving her Everything I Miss At Home (1988)...so Joe was right there promising to do All of the Things (Your Man Won't Do) in 1996. And in 1970, Gladys Knight was making a strong case for herself on If I Was Your Woman

Sometimes, the other person doesn't know all of the facts of the situation. For instance, I don't think Vesta Williams had the slightest clue in 1988 that she was the other woman until she happened upon the man's wedding! It took a minute for Shiley Murdoch to figure out that her man was somebody's Husband, and Jocelyn Brown was also in deep with Somebody Else's Guy (1984) before she learned the deal. Luther Vandross knew from experience not to get mixed up in a Secret Love (2001); meanwhile Stokely from Mint Condition questioned What Kind of Man Would I Be, and then chose not to yield to his desires in 1996. Ultimately, one would hope that when faced with temptation, most people assume like Toni Braxton did in 1992 that Love Shoulda Brought You Home.

When love doesn't bring you home, well that's how we end up here, like the couple in Atlantic Starr's Secret Lovers (1985). The ladies of TLC were singing Creep out of a mix of loneliness and revenge in 1994. Carl Thomas regretted his feelings for someone's wife in I Wish (2000). In 1983 when Klique found out that his woman was stepping out, he begged her to Stop Doggin' Me Around (taking his cues from Jackie Wilson in 1960 and Johnnie Taylor in 1972). Meanwhile the O'Jays, upon having learned about the state of things at home, were also attempting to work things out in 1976 on Your Body's Here With Me

By the way, when I said I wasn't judging anybody...I lied. I am judging how we refer to the participants in these liaisons because the evolution from being referred to as The Other Woman (Sarah Vaughn in 1958) to being called a Side Piece (Julia Cole in 2020) seems like quite the misogynist twist on how we regard stepping out. Property was the rather impersonal double entendre used on Naughty by Nature's O.P.P. from 1991. Homewrecker was the term used by Gretchen Wilson in 2004 to describe women out there with no shame, like Evelyn "Champagne" King in Betcha She Don't Love You (1982). Would the same be said for men waiting in the wings like Tyrese on The Other Man (2002)? What would you call someone like Bobby Womack who sang how I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much (198)? Is there a derisive name for a Mister-Too-Good-To-Be-True who is offering the world to someone's unhappy woman like Babyface was in 1989 on Soon As I Get Home? Men get just as caught up in these entanglements as the women do, like Mtume on You, Me, and He (1984). 

Now if you find yourself in one of these complicated situationships, try not to end up arguing like Monica and Brandy on The Boy Is Mine in 1998 (ditto for Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney in 1982 because that was whack too). Hopefully, you aren't the reason why Usher was dropping bombshell revelations on Chili in his multiple Confessions (still not sure why he needed two songs when he offered up the details in the first part). Nor would it be cool to roll up like Meshell Ndegeocello, confronting the rival by telling her If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night). I remain un-convinced that ultimatums are ever the move like Today demanded on Him or Me in 1988, because even if it did work for Prince on The Beautiful Ones in 1984, there is always the possibility that it might backfire. 

If you find out that your partner is stepping out on you, there are multiple ways of letting them know you Heard It Through the Grapevine, and most of us think of Marvin Gaye's classy heart-broken confrontation ballad from 1968. I had always assumed that Gaye was just putting his spin on the funkier up-tempo Gladys Knight and the Pips version from 1967, so I was surprised to learn that this song had been originally recorded (but unreleased until later) by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles in 1966. Motown was good for having multiple artists on the label cover their hits, and this song made the rounds because it was also recorded by Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers (1968), The Temptations in (1969), and The Undisputed Truth (1971). However, this song belongs definitely to either Gladys or Marvin, depending on your mood, which is why this joint live performance is such a gem. When Credence Clearwater Revival recorded it in 1970, it was a nod to both of their iconic Motown arrangements. Roger & Zapp took a completely different approach in 1981, with the talk box and the beat making this sound like dance battle at the club.

Speaking of public confrontations, this scene from Mo' Better Blues (1990) is probably how most men try to play off getting caught in the act and hope that the women respond without making a scene; I suspect Beyonce's rage on Hold Up (2016) is how most women really feel. Since Beyonce can afford to pay for all of that property damage, confrontations are more likely to resemble the Sunshine Anderson approach on Heard It All Before (2001) than Jazmin Sullivan's Bust Your Windows. Men get hurt too based on Oran 'Juice' Jones' low-key stalking then humiliating eviction of his girlfriend In the Rain (1986). To be honest, I remember hearing this song by Al Hudson and One Way when I younger in 1979, but now that I'm older I find it hard to believe that some dude is just going to Toast to the Other Man...

Which brings us to the penultimate song on this playlist, brought to us courtesy of Shirley Brown making that Woman to Woman phone call to Barbara in 1974. For years, I've tried to understand how Barbara was to blame for Shirley's man stepping out on her (given that they only just met if her number was still in his pocket). It also seemed like a weird flex to fight for a relationship by claiming that your significant other ain't shit without you...sounds more like a deflection. And that was exactly how Barbara framed her response on From His Woman to You in 1975. 

However, the fact that 'Barbara' is the same Barbara Mason who made a whole singing career of being the other woman (and was the impetus for this playlist) is both ironic and my cue to turn up the lights to send everybody home. The brown liquor is all gone, and somebody is probably waiting up for your response to a WYD or WRU text. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s listening to urban adult contemporary radio (i.e. The Quiet Storm) or watched music videos on Saturday night, then you probably know most of these songs. By now, you've also figured out why we were admonished to stay out of grown folks' business. Relationships are complicated, period. I don't have any profound observations or parting words because I'm not judging. Beyonce is still with Jay. This is a playlist reflects that reality, so if there is any lesson to be gleaned from any of this, it is to keep your eye on any woman you meet named Barbara...

Friday, February 10, 2023

The Rise and Fall of Great Race Men

This should have been published a month ago, the weekend after that insanity over the election of a new Speaker of the House. So, in the spirit of believing that just because you missed your intended stop the first time, that doesn't mean you can't go back, or keep riding until the train turns around, I decided to publish it now. Something about the start of Black History Month and watching the State of the Union address brought this train back around:

Now that the fun of electing the new Speaker of the House is over, we need to have a serious talk about a few matters. MLK weekend just passed and February is here, so we're entering that zone of time where folks need to be reminded that having Black friends and rooting for Black ballplayers is not a license to say anything to or about Black people. So for my second PSA in this new year, the Busy Black Woman has a few choice words of warning. If you read this piece or my initial commentary on the Facebook page, then you might know the matter of Rep. Byron 'not Brian' Donalds (R-FL) being trotted out as everybody's Black friend bothered a lot of us coming so soon after y'all tried it with Herschel Walker.

Our ancestors are displeased, and if you think it was hard work just to convince a handful of zealots to end their second insurrection attempt in two years, just try that so-and-so was a Republican and that makes us not racist schtick again! Y'all think this is a damn joke???

Don't play with us, and don't mock real American heroes for your political shenanigans. It is bad enough having to hear y'all misquote MLK every January because you think it deflects from the fact that you're still saying/doing something offensive. It only gets worse when you send in clowns like Byron 'not Brian' Donalds who allow themselves to be showcased like some Pet of the Week. We are neither amused nor persuaded to join your ranks because you happen to know a little Black History trivia, as if we don't have access to the same information. Google is free. 

Furthermore, Black folks don't need to be reminded or told about Abraham Lincoln, our past allegiance to what used to be the Republican Party, conservatism, or any other topics you feel compelled to educate us about regarding politics. We're not new to any of this. I keep telling you that some of our roots are deeper in this country than yours, so we know American History. Despite what some of you were taught, our stories are integral to this country. So to every twit who jumps onto my TL to 'teach' me that the Republican Party freed enslaved people in 1863, according to my calendar, this ain't 1863. In Washington, the Lincoln Administration also authorized reparations to be paid to their former enslavers for the loss of their human property. Unless you are willing to confront hard truths, then I don't owe anyone political loyalty for emancipation since my people never should have been held in bondage in the first place. 

But let's be exceptionalists and act like the point isn't whether American chattel slavery was ever right or wrong. Instead, let's continue to promote this idea that Black people (along with our Indigenous siblings) are perpetually indebted to the same folks who believe it is their burden to tolerate us since they couldn't totally annihilate us. 

I don't know much about Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), but after I listened to the entirety of his floor speech when he nominated Rep. Byron 'Not Brian' Donalds for Speaker, I decided to give Rep. Roy the benefit of the doubt by assuming that his intention was not to mock us. However, I fail to see how alphabetically picking the first Black guy on your side's roster wasn't intended as some kind of see, we've got Black people too stunt. Sure, for a brief moment, everybody in that chamber applauded, but then someone scrolled down that same roster to later nominate Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK), presumably to keep the game going by having two Kevins on the subsequent ballots. If Rep. Donalds' nomination really was about judging people by the content of their character, then support of Donald Trump was based on what, his hair?

No sir, we are not fooled. We know our history, but more importantly, we know yours.

We know that there have always been members of our community who were misled into believing that by aligning with certain interests, it would improve their individual/family condition. Just as long as they didn't agitate for more, some benevolent boss would gladly hand down their used clothes and leftover table scraps. In exchange for a more dignified job guarding the door instead of plowing the fields, this would allow them access to see all of the nice things they might eventually deserve. All they had to do was remain loyal servants with modest ambitions. 

Now the issue has never been whether one should remain loyal (because that is a personal choice), but rather if one should regard kind treatment as anything other than basic human decency. That should be expected, not earned, so the lie has always been that we had to be deemed worthy of respect. Think about that for more than a moment--how we are expected to prove our humanity to people who sold our children away like cattle. Lest we forget, white people passed all kinds of codes and laws to control every aspect of our ancestors' lives, all the way up to a Supreme Court declaration that we had no rights. This notion that it will be different now, as if we never had to fight for every single inch of ground, that we ought to trust the same forces that have subjugated us for centuries?

Miss me and my people with ALL of that nonsense! It is 2023.

Great Race Men made that same mistake too, such as Booker T. Washington, whom conservative Black leaders love to point out was practical, honorable, and misunderstood. At the turn of the 20th Century, he was definitely one of the most well-known and respected. A formerly enslaved man who literally pulled himself Up From Slavery, Washington had become a national figure after he gave an address to the Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895. His powerful speech, often referred to as a Great Compromise, was in fact, a pragmatic acknowledgement of reality based on his lived experiences. 

See, Washington had witnessed Reconstruction as a student at Hampton Institute in Virginia. When the federal occupation of the former Confederacy came to an abrupt, but politically expedient end in 1876, he was working as a teacher in West Virginia. He was sent to Tuskegee, Alabama to lead a new school in 1881, where he served until his death in 1915. The time period of Washington's formative education is a significant one during which Black men figured prominently in the social, economic, and political reconstruction and reunification of the former Confederacy with the Union. Yet, these men, all Republicans, lost their positions through Redemption tactics that ran the gamut from intimidation to political maneuvering to outright disenfranchisement. The Grand Old Party opted not to fight for its rightful place in Southern politics until nearly a century later.

Thus, by the time Washington was sent to Alabama to found and lead Tuskegee Institute in 1881, its lone Black representative in Congress, Rep. Benjamin S. Turner (R-AL), had lost reelection and the others would eventually lose their seats as well. Washington, the honorable, pragmatic Race Man must have thought he had received some long-awaited sign of approval from heaven when he was given a primetime speaking slot on the program. So he did what any intelligent person would do when trying to make a favorable impression on those whom one feels needs to be persuaded. He read the room and gave the kind of speech he believed would reassure those in power that the Black community knew and understood its place. 

The speech was a success, but his words didn't result in long-lasting change. Washington's prominence as a Black leader in what we know of as the nadir of Black life in this country, didn't shield Black bodies from the noose, the chain gang, or other exploitative forms of labor. Although he didn't publicly condemn white mob violence like his peers, he worked behind the scenes to support education and Black entrepreneurship. Yet, when he was invited to the White House as a dinner guest of President Theodore Roosevelt (R) in 1901, just six years after the address, it caused an uproar. When Woodrow Wilson became President in 1913 and ordered the segregation of civil service jobs, I'm sure Washington was not on the invitation list for the screening of Birth of a Nation (1915) at the White House. Ten years after Washington's death, how many of those same men who applauded the speech at the Cotton States Exposition borrowed their wives' bedsheets for this March on Washington in 1925?

Here is where some of the amateur Twitter historian would declare that political party affiliation matters since Roosevelt was a Republican and Wilson was a Democrat. And those identifications are indeed true and reflective of the ideologies of both parties a century ago. However, fifty years after Wilson left office when John F. Kennedy was President, the ideology of the Democratic Party had continued to shift in favor of civil rights. And this is the part that is conveniently forgotten or intentionally misrepresented, but it simply proves how some of us are much better students of American History than others. Or why some people are so insistent on shielding their children from the facts that don't flatter their grandparents.

Therefore, I have a few words of warning to these modern-day Race Men like Rep. Byron 'not Brian' Donalds, because I would hate for him to suffer the same fate as most of his ideological forefathers. It won't end well for you, bruh...it never does. And you're no Booker T. Washington.

In one of my all-time favorite movies, Glory (1989), there is a Black character named Thomas, who had grown up in Boston with Colonel Robert Shaw and Major Cabot Forbes. When Shaw receives his promotion to command the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Thomas is there to celebrate the news with them and volunteers as the unit's first recruit. During basic training however, Shaw becomes cold and detached from his childhood friend. This is demonstrated in two powerful scenes: one where Thomas is chastened to mind the proper protocol for addressing a superior officer; and another encounter with a fellow enlisted man who mocks Thomas for thinking that he was still 'friends' with Shaw. 

Your gambit to align with the Insurrectionists got you noticed, and now you have a new position on the Republican Steering Committee. And that is quite the come up from obscurity, so you must feel honored, much like bearing the regimental colors in battle. It is certainly symbolic, but meaningless if you don't ever become more than just the Black guy who guards the door. When McCarthy goes down, what do you think will happen to you?

Black conservatives have argued for over a century how just being in the room was progress. But we've always been in the room, but how much advancement occurred by following the go-along-to-get-along approach? Not much if individual accomplishments only rewarded those deemed exceptional, but never paved a wide enough path for others to follow. We've adhered to the conservative rules of respectability--we got educated at HBCUs; our grandfathers and uncles put their bodies on the line for this country through military service; we established Black businesses; and we worshipped the same Jesus who promised to wash all of us white as snow. Yet, it took agitation, not accommodation before we could even eat at the lunch counters where we cooked the food but were not allowed to be served. 

Rep. Donalds, you got on national television to denounce what you deemed was disrespect from a Black woman because she didn't celebrate the Faustian deal you struck. You're both in the same congressional class, and in the time that you've served together, how many times has she been attacked and been able to look to you as her defender? You know as well as the rest of us that you weren't brought into the GOP leadership because they hope you will recruit more Black voters to their side. They have made it abundantly clear that they would rather suppress or delegitimize Black votes than win our support. So how dare you even suggest that your triumph ought to be celebrated when all you've done is rise to the top of a trash heap? 

Your name shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as Frederick Douglass, let alone in the same sentence as Booker T. Washington. You will not be vindicated by history for siding with the Insurrectionists. Even with your new position, I don't see you becoming the first Black Speaker of the House, ever. I am not hoping for your demise, but as I have seen how prominent Black conservatives tend to fly head-first into that concrete ceiling...you might want to buy some insurance. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Dear Black Mothers

A few years ago, I attended a rally in downtown DC against police misconduct and brutality, shortly after the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri. This was sometime in the fall of 2014 following the death of Michael Brown. As a veteran attendee of these kinds of events, this was the first time I went as a soon-to-be mother...I was a couple of weeks pregnant.

Here's the thing, I would have gone anyway, but I was definitely more motivated and compelled to attend at that early stage of my pregnancy. It was still too soon to learn the gender, but my rationale was that in a family with one granddaughter and another one coming, both the daughters of my brothers, surely I could expect to bring forth a boy. (Of course, I was wrong as you all know, and for that we can blame my Dad for not passing on his mathematical genius to me, the Hub for his contribution of that second X chromosome, or my pregnancy hormones.) Nevertheless, the point of going was to stand with the other Black mothers, in solidarity as one of them with the same fears and anxieties for my unborn Black child. As I stood in the crowd and put my hand on the not-even-there-yet poof of a baby bump, I was overcome by tears. 

How can I protect this child from a system determined to regard him as guilty from the moment he enters the world?

Since I opted not to learn the gender of the baby in advance, when I gave birth to my daughter, I have to admit that I let out a brief sigh of relief. Sure, there are anxieties attached to raising a young Black girl in this society, of which I am most keenly aware as she heads into puberty. However, I don't have to set as a goal seeing her live to the age of 18 as a measure of my success or failure as a parent. Sadly, that isn't something that Black mothers of sons can assume is guaranteed. 

I became painfully aware of that fact just a few years earlier when Trayvon Martin was killed and his murderer was acquitted. The entire encounter hinged on the right of a self-styled neighborhood vigilante to determine whether the young Black man he saw was legitimately in his own neighborhood. The fact that the killer made the assumption that Martin did not belong is precisely the moment their fateful encounter derailed. I read so many opinions that framed what happened as a cautionary tale about how young Black men ought to conduct themselves. And no matter how many details pointed to what we knew was obvious, none of it mattered. It was somehow the fault of the 17-year old child who was profiled, stalked, attacked, and then killed to have acted in some way to overcome the presumption of his guilt for merely existing.

Since 2012, this pattern has been repeated too many times. There are too many names we vow never to forget, too many Black mothers in mourning. It doesn't stop. Every death renews the need for The Talk, but with constant caveats and revisions. Don't wear hoodies because you might look suspicious. Don't play with a toy gun because it might be mistaken for the real thing. Don't make any sudden moves that might be misinterpreted as threatening. Don't disclose that you are legally carrying a weapon with a permit. Don't make eye contact with the officers. Don't ask why you were stopped even if you didn't break any laws. Don't try to drive to a well-lit area because then you are leading the police on a 'chase'. Don't hang anything from the rearview mirror, not even a rosary or your graduation tassel because you might get stopped. Don't reach into your pocket for your license and registration even though you were ordered to provide them to the officer. Don't get seen smoking or drinking water in your own car. Don't assume that your good credit rating, advanced degrees, military uniform, or fancy zip code will exempt you from mistreatment. 

Do whatever they tell you, even if it consists of 71 conflicting commands all shouted simultaneously while you're being beaten. The goal is to make it home alive. 

In the cinematic build-up to the release of this video of Tyre Nichols, I had already resolved not to watch. It felt wrong both to anticipate its release and to make every effort to avoid it, but I understand that the Nichols' family authorized the timing of the release so that the world could see it, unredacted and raw. And in my internal debate with myself about why I didn't need or want to subject myself to that horror, I kept asking why must we force Black mothers to summon the courage of Mamie Till-Mobley? Why don't we have the option to mourn our dead children without the gaze of the world looking on while offering no comfort?

Of course, that begs the question of why we put Black mothers in the position of having to grieve for our children in the first place. We are always told that it is unnatural for parents to bury their offspring, but life doesn't happen according to how we think it should. And Black mothers are not unique in experiencing loss. However, unless it is accidental or unavoidable, Black death is always political. We die under circumstance that are engineered to kill us, from chronic untreated health disparities to environmental racism to gang warfare to the kind of state-sponsored lynchings carried out by the police. Grief is a permanent reality for Black mothers.

And no one cares. There are excuses and bullshit explanations for every incident. Here in DC there was a debate on social media over the recent death of an unarmed 13-year-old child who was shot by someone who thought he was trying to steal a car. It was disheartening to see that folks had taken the time to type out how bad they felt, but...and you can fill in the blank of any number of mitigating reasons why it was not outrageous that another Black child had lost his life. 

I won't reiterate the very well-written points that have been made about the spectacle of Black death and how seeing such violence further contributes to our dehumanization. And it isn't just Black bodies because I felt a similar sense of disgust over the calls for the Uvalde, Texas parents to allow the bloody photos of their massacred children to be published. The way these mass shootings have been stacking up numbers and occurring indiscriminately across all communities, I thought it was particularly gruesome to demand to see the bullet-ridden corpses of those Latino children. As if the scene of their slaughter would finally convince America that our love of guns is literally killing us... 

Note how similar requests have not been suggested to the families of other mass shooting victims. Also note the contrast between the way accountability was swiftly meted out in Memphis by its chief but how the finger-pointing in Uvalde dragged on for months. I want to believe that the makeup of each law enforcement agency made the difference but having a Black/Latinx police chief or a force that demographically represents those communities didn't prevent either tragedy. Yet, what happened in Uvalde is the norm, and now the police chief in Memphis is under scrutiny for her past leadership of another specialized police unit. Furthermore, as long as we're caught up in a culture war that treats policing itself as its own demographic that exists apart and above the lives of those whom the profession is supposed to protect and serve, then true accountability is impossible.

Perhaps it is endemic in a system that was built on the mythology of Black inferiority, of bodies bought and sold at auction, that it is our utility that has the most worth, not our actual lives. What else explains the organized backlash against the simplest of statements, that our lives matter too? And what of the self-defeatist denouncements of Black culture that come from our own children? I was dismayed to read a tweet from somebody's Black man-child that there exists within Black culture a pathology that glorifies death. And that truly broke my heart because if he's barely 21 saying something so declaratively ignorant like that on Al Gore's internet, as are prominent Black pundits like Jason Whitlock, then is it any wonder why Black mothers cry out loud but find little comfort?

Our culture glorifies death? Meanwhile white families pose for these pictures and send them as Christmas greetings. No one would dare vilify this mother if something terrible happens to one of her children. Yet, the single Black mother of two sons who worked hard to keep them out of trouble; who sent her younger son to stay with his father (her ex-husband) to give him more structure and discipline; who had to endure watching her family being re-traumatized in the court of public opinion after her son's killer was acquitted--she's the bad mother, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. 

Here's the thing Mr. Jason 'Fearless' Whitlock et. al., it doesn't take a lot of courage to talk shit about Black women on a podcast. True fearlessness is standing up in the aftermath of personal tragedy to demand accountability and justice, not whining to the manosphere. In most of these cases, Black mothers are the ones who lead the transition from mourning to marching. In Memphis, it was another Black mother, the police chief you attacked, who took decisive action to ensure that these officers were held accountable. That was supported by more decisive action taken by an organization of real community-minded men, the brothers of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. And that must really annoy the folks who pay you to keep the focus on the games meant to distract us instead of the struggles meant to liberate us. 

Dear Black Mothers and Aunties, there is a Balm in Gilead, but it will not be prescribed by those who oppress us and kill our babies. Why should we believe that our families are doomed just because someone else's faith claims that the only proper roles for women in God's Kingdom are as servants, virgins, prostitutes, or widows? The same God who anointed a lowly shepherd boy and made him a great king also performed some of His most transformative miracles in the lives of women. Look at what He did for Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Queen Esther, Elizabeth, Mary, Jairus' daughter, the woman with the issue of blood, the Samarian woman at the well, and Mary Magdeline at the tomb. Beyond procreation, every other gender-based restriction on earth is man-made and benefits those looking to retain their tenuous grip on power. 

If the patriarchy is threatened by strong women, then Black women, who have had to stand in the gap created by centuries of racist practices and policies that removed Black men as the primary providers and protectors, must be especially intimidating. Harriet Tubman didn't wait for her husband, who was not enslaved, to give her permission to escape, nor was she deterred when he didn't join any of her return trips. Mamie Till Mobley, a widow, was advised to bury her only begotten son quietly so as not to stir up trouble, but she had other ideas. Barbara Johns, Linda Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, and Ruby Bridges were children on the front lines of school desegregation in the 1950s and 60s. Claudette Colvin was an unwed teenage mother, but her arrest nine months prior set the stage for Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. So tell us again, Mr. Jason 'Fearless' Whitlock about who and what is God-ordained? Who are you to declare that Black women, who have lost fathers, husbands, and sons, ought not to take the lead in our families and communities as necessary? Just as our ancestors pieced together clothing scraps and rags into beautiful quilts, grieving Black Mothers have sewn together the remnants and keep their families together.

You write/talk about sports for a living...so maybe you need to stay in that lane.

I began with this piece by invoking the memory of a protest I attended back in 2014. It has not escaped my notice that Tyre Nichols must have been about 17 years old at that time (close in age to Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin) and how his parents probably sat him down to have what was then, a revised version of The Talk to avoid meeting their same fate. Here we are ten years later and I cannot fathom the pain his mother must be feeling. I look at Mrs. RowVaughn Wells and see a lot of the women I know--classmates, sorors, women at my church, etc. Any one of us could be in her place, even me as I am old enough to have had a son the same age. 

Like this young mother, I am willing to face down tanks and police in riot gear to protect my daughter, but I shouldn't have to. I should not have to worry that in 10-12 years, my young nephews, cousins, and great-nephews will have to be sat down for The Talk, updated with a new set of prohibitions because some other Black mother's son didn't make it home alive. Nichols' own son will be receiving that same Talk around that same time. 

Dear Black Mothers, we must keep praying and marching for the lives of our babies. There is a parable of a persistent widow who sought to be heard by an unjust judge, and though he initially ignored her pleas, he eventually granted her the justice she sought. Keep the faith, my Sisters, because we are fighting a corrupt system, and if we don't keep seeking justice, who will?