Saturday, November 19, 2022

Jangled Bells

It's the most annoying time of the year...

Yep, my inner Grinch is back because y'all insist on pushing Christmas on me earlier each year. This year, I swear some Southern radio station was playing Christmas music before Election Day and that isn't even the worst of it. I've been seeing Black Friday deals since September, so yes, it is already way too much too soon. 

Give folks time to eat the rest of the Halloween candy, damn!

Regular readers of this blog already know to expect a lot of bah humbugging from me right around this time of year, so no new ground to cover by writing yet another piece about how much I hate Christmas. So let's go in a different direction by addressing one of the many reasons why I find all of this so ridiculous: Christmas movies.

Specifically, the Hallmark kind that always end with a happy couple kissing in a faux snow-covered gazebo. Or the kind that features a magical appearance by Santa or his wife or an elf or an angel or an abandoned baby or a ghost. I think that covers the gamut of plot possibilities because no one has come up with a new Christmas story so y'all just do a remix of the various themes already out in the universe. And while there are a few Christmas movies that I do enjoy and could watch over and over, those tend to break the formulaic mode because they are comedies or about family dysfunction. If there is an all-day marathon of A Christmas Story (1983), Elf (2003), or The Family Stone (2005) playing somewhere, I am there--just not until after my birthday.

Every year, Hallmark, Lifetime, and now TVOne roll out a new batch of Christmas movies which makes avoiding that aspect of the holiday just as challenging as escaping Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas. I'm pretty sure that other TV networks have taken note and have been working on their own holiday programming, so now might be a good time for me to finally pay for a streaming service. What are the kids binge-watching on Hulu these days?

Having said all of that, the real reason I've brought you here today is to take note of a little article I recently read that explains why one of Hallmark's biggest movie stars, Candace Cameron Bure, suddenly defected to Great American Family network. Now, when this was initially announced back in April, I took a moment and thought, hmm, I guess that means more work for Holly Robinson Peete. And then I realized, yeah it must be nice that Candace can take her toys to her own room so that she won't have to share.

If you can read between the lines, it seems rather convenient that Bure would claim to want to promote more family-friendly holiday fare now that Hallmark has opted to expand the definition of its family offerings to be more inclusive. Not just in terms of racial diversity, but in presenting representations of family that depart from the "traditional" nuclear model. And while that is certainly her right, nothing screams I'M A SANCTIMONIOUS KAREN louder (except maybe writing it in all caps like I just did).

Color me not at all surprised because this script is just as predictable as one of those holiday movies. The former child star had built quite the brand for herself as the face of Hallmark made-for-TV movies. She got to work for about three to four intense months, and then spent the rest of the year teaching Sunday School and baking bread. It was the perfect gig, but then we had to ruin it for her by asking why come she and her other sitcom sorority sisters were the only ones getting cast in those kinds of movies. And then suddenly it was inconsistent with her brand to be seen in the company of the very people she moved to the exurbs to avoid in the grocery store.

I had taken note some time ago that the offerings on Hallmark were very pumpkin spice latte, so I rarely watched anything on that channel other than The Golden Girls or Fraiser reruns. Since I always fall asleep with the TV on, I often woke up to I Love Lucy, which as many of you know is definitely an all-time Busy Black Woman favorite. Like many niche channels, Hallmark fills the spaces between shows with a lot of promos for its own programming. And I began to detect a theme...

I wanted to keep an open mind about what or who I rarely saw. But it was kind of obvious, and despite the appearance of an occasional Black or Asian best friend, some things are exactly what we see as clear as day. Perhaps it could be written off as unintentional that Hallmark had become a refuge for former sitcom actresses, all of whom happened to be white...or maybe it was a choice. Because I could think of several nonwhite sitcom actresses who certainly could use some work but don't ever seem to get any.

The lack of diversity became undeniable to me the Christmas the Hub and I stayed with his sister. I remember that holiday in vivid detail because she LOVES those movies, they were airing 24/7, and I was pregnant. For three days (talk about biblical allusions), I don't know how many of those movies I sat through and actually watched, but if you can believe it, one stood out from the milquetoast fare. It starred Lacey Chabert, whom I knew as the kiss-ass friend from Mean Girls (2004), as a woman who gets wooed by a Prince in A Royal Christmas (2014). I don't remember anything distinct about the love interest, such as how they met or fell in love, but I do remember that his mother was Doctor Quinn Jane Seymour herself. And I thought out loud, well is there a white actress who hasn't been cast in one of these movies yet? When will there be movie starring the daughter from Mr. Belvedere?

No response to my pregnant rantings, so I just sat quietly in my corner. I could either brave the Staten Island Mall two days before Christmas, read one of my SIL's cookbooks, or give in to see if there was anything compelling or redeeming about any of these movies. I choose option C, and while not entirely terrible, it was a lot like spending a sick day at home with my grandmother. In other words, I knew to expect a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup, some saltine crackers, and an intense stare-down with Victor Newman...

The fact that my Nuyorican SIL was unfazed by the predictability of the plots or the homogeneity of the casts, in addition to knowing many sistahs who enjoyed those same movies, it made me wonder why none of the upstart Black cable networks hadn't produced any of their own holiday fare. It wouldn't have meant sacrificing much time on their already packed programming schedule to preempt a few hours of Martin reruns or not to air The Color Purple (1986) one weekend. Who would notice if instead of Danica McKellar, we got Tempest Bledsoe some work for a change? 

Like every other good idea that I was too busy to put into action, someone at TVOne realized that this ain't rocket science. Since practically every Black sitcom had a very special Christmas episode in the vaults that had been inspired by It's a Wonderful Life (1946) or Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, how hard could it be to come up with something, anything other than the sugar cookie cut-outs on the Hallmark channel? I don't know if Merry Wishmas (2018) was the first of their original movie offerings, but they've been pumping out new holiday movies every year which must have caught the attention of the Hallmark suits. Because now they've responded with their own Mahogany line of Christmas movies, along with a VIDA lineup, and methinks that it was only a matter of time before someone pitched the idea of two elderly lesbians kissing under a gazebo covered in faux-snow. And that was just too much for the most wholesome and ever self-righteous Candace Cameron Bure.

That, and having to cede some of her realm to Holly Robinson Peete.

I'm not calling Bure any names, just pointing out that it is really convenient to allude to "traditional family values" as a euphemism for realizing that she was no longer the Queen of the Hallmark Movie Empire. I wouldn't go so far as to call her a bigot; instead, I would argue that this was a rather shrewd move to make in the midst of a white-hot culture war raging in the real world. In a year when there has been legislation introduced in several states that target trans-youth and claims that children are being indoctrinated into the "gay lifestyle" by a storybook about two penguins, yeah Candy Girl you definitely chose a side. And again, that is your right, because there is an audience that prefers to only see stories that reflect what makes them comfortable in their own biases, so go forth and be mediocre!

But please do me a favor and stop using your narrow definition of Christianity as justification for your intolerance. I'm a Christian too Boo, and my Jesus, the one whose birth your crap ass movies are supposed to celebrate, doesn't seem like the kind of person who would have been concerned about tarnishing your brand. He wasn't all that worried about being seen with the wrong kind of people because there was no such thing in His eyes. You don't have to take my word for it because He said so, and I urge you to look it up in one of those $65 bibles you are hawking.

I will come right out and say it: the Hallmark channel got too ghetto for Bure, so she clutched her purse and hurried across the street. By switching to the Great American Family channel, she can lure her fans to the new mall where there is a traditional Santa and no David Sedaris-ian elves. At her new mall, Bure can get her overpriced coffee served in a disposable cup that has CHRISTMAS emblazoned all over it, brewed by an un-unionized underpaid barista working overtime. Her brother's crappy Christmas movie can play in the multiplex and her tee shirts can be purchased in stores where the retail workers are required to wish you a "Merry Christmas" instead of Happy Holidays (because Hanukkah and Diwali aren't for real Americans). The new mall is everything the old mall used to be before everyone got woke...

Because isn't that the reason for the season--for folks to keep buying the illusion that the Cameron siblings have been selling all these years? They want top shelf placement for their stuff, not to be comingled in what they perceive to be the bargain bin with ours. God forbid that someone just might prefer The Drifter's 1954 version of White Christmas to the movie version from White Christmas the film, also released in 1954. And why not add a little José Feliciano in the mix because Feliz Navidad is a jam! The notion that there is only one right way to celebrate Christmas, or that this is about constraining Christianity when it is all about Capitalism is absolutely on-brand for both Candace and Kirk and their ilk--former child stars whose careers were built on nostalgia for realities that only ever applied to them.

I want to end this on a more festive note because Bure did a lot of people a big favor by making such a dramatic exit. As she stated, this gives her an opportunity to help launch a new venture from the ground floor, so that is both admirable and risky. And by leaving an already established network franchise, she has cleared the stage for other actresses to get some of that Hallmark holiday shimmer and shine. Let the Mowry sisters build themselves an empire! My issue was never about the fact that she left (because even though I did write an entire piece on the matter as if I care, I don't); it is with the manner in which her departure was framed, as if she had to run for her life in order to save her virtue.

Although I'm sure her movies won't get any better on a different network, at least she is safe from secularism and the gay agenda. Her values and her fortune secured, Candace Cameron Bure will be just fine. All of you avid Christmas rom-com movie fans now have an additional channel with a new slate of movies, so now I know what to avoid while channel surfing. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Harriet Get Your Gun

For the record, my face is not tight like this over the fact that I missed Homecoming AGAIN...It is like this because I swear, some of y'all really need Jesus.

Let's cut straight to the point--yep, Ye is cancelled, and I don't want to hear anything about his genius or his mental health because none of that has ever been persuasive to me. As far as I'm concerned, he's been done since I wrote this piece back in 2018, but back then I was hoping that some divine intervention might save him from himself. It didn't, and after this very bizarre year of watching him turn every shade of misogynist, anti-Black, and anti-Semite, well, there isn't much else to say. It is above me now...

A few months ago, I had MSNBC on in the background while I was writing and some rapper popped up in a segment with Ari Melber, which wasn't unusual because he is a definitely a hip hop fan boi. Now, I need to say this as a disclaimer because I honestly did not know who his guest was at that time, but I did stop to watch because I used to find those segments kind of entertaining. However, in under one minute, dude insulted Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and the hairs stood up on my neck as I wondered, who the eff is this and did he just say that isht on television? So color me not at all surprised to see how this same ashy dude resurfaced on Blue Ivy's internet to sing the praises of Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) earlier this month.

Before anyone argues that Killer Mike has every right to endorse or vote for whomever, save your breath. I get that. And if he wants to shout it from the rooftops that he would prefer to keep the devil he knows instead of voting for someone else, then that is his business. This is America. Mike doesn't need my permission to vote for anybody. (For what it's worth, I wrote that without rolling my eyes or crossing my fingers while typing.)

But he shouldn't expect not to be called out for it. 

Perhaps he saw what happened when Ice Cube decided to try his hand at being a modern Race Man and introduced a Contract with Black America in the closing days of the 2020 Election cycle. Earlier this week, a clip resurfaced from an interview he did with Graham Bensinger in 2021 that referenced his ill-timed foray into politics. My initial reaction was to think, so you're back for more smoke, huh Ice Water? Because right now, just as we are two weeks away from an election that might determine the future of our democracy, we definitely should be having a conversation about why Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. hasn't reached out to you, O'Shea Jackson, Sr., to discuss your policy proposals for Black America.

Were we supposed to believe that Cube's been waiting by the phone for an invitation to the White House for two years??? That in between performing at NASCAR and building his Big3 League basketball endeavor, he didn't have time to get his COVID vaccine but he had time to wonder why his calls kept going to Biden's voicemail. That when he blew off that meeting with Madame Vice President as if she was some kind of note-taking intern, Dark Brandon was going to forget that? Bye Felicia!

However, as Cube himself pointed out, this clip is a year old and in his own words he's sitting this election out. So for now, I have erased the snarky tweets in my drafts, reserved judgment that nefarious motives are at play, and will simply suggest in the alternative that maybe you should care if and how folks are planning to vote. Because if you were at all serious about implementing policies to improve our community, Ice Man, then you should not have been so easily dissuaded by Black Twitter trash talk.

Because here is the problem--too many people believe that the work of revolution is as simple as writing a solid business plan. If that's all it took, we wouldn't be here teetering on the edge of Armageddon and the Apocalypse. 

In case Killer Mike or Ice Cube come across this blog and see their names written here, I need them to know that I am not arguing that they should just stick to rap music. On the contrary, we don't need them to shut up; we need them to speak up more often. We need more men with platforms of influence to weigh in on the issues that impact our community. Talking amongst themselves in the barbershop isn't enough. We need them to lend a hand, to do some of the heavy lifting, and to stay in the fight, even when things don't go as planned.

When Harriet Tubman went back to her former plantation to rescue her family and friends, she did so at great personal risk. She was a fugitive and under federal law, she would have been returned to enslavement and sold further South if she had been caught. The legend of her threat to shoot anyone who got cold feet on the journey North is an important metaphor for what we face in our community from folks who would rather settle than fight. It wasn't just her life, but the lives of everyone she was trying to save. That is what makes the work she did in her later years so much more inspiring, like when she served as a Union spy and militia leader during the Civil War. She kept on fighting.

If you opt to sit on the sidelines or decide that the status quo is tolerable because you got to eat the scraps off Massa's table, then like Mother Harriet, I'm good with leaving your Black ass behind on the plantation. Or shooting you if you get scared and decide to run back.

Words are my weapon of choice, so yes, I will unleash a few bullets of criticism if I think your choices are more harmful and selfish than helpful. I will point out that your Contract wasn't a bad idea, just a re-packaging of Tavis Smiley's Covenant that includes many of the same legislative policy agenda items proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus. (Historically, similar proposals have been put forth by the Niagara Movement, the Atlanta Student Appeal for Human Rights (1960), the Black Panther Party's Ten Point Plan (1966), and the National Black Political Convention (1972), just to name a few). Sure, Donald Trump took a meeting with you in 2020, but did you follow that up by meeting with Mitch McConnell or anyone else in the GOP Caucus? Have you been calling on them to do more than listen to your concerns since you believe that the other side hasn't? If the GOP regains power in Congress, have they assured you that your Contract will be part of their agenda and that the legislation that has already been introduced and still pending will move forward? 

Or, as you so eloquently twote, do you just not give a fuck?

To my one-time Morehouse brother who has been tweeting a lot, but not telling us much, I've got issues with this Aaron Burr act of yours. When you took that meeting with Brian Kemp and had all of this advice for Stacey Abrams afterwards, you did understand how it benefitted Kemp to pay lip service to Black concerns while promising to do the bare minimum. After participating in that photo opportunity with you, he didn't even need your official endorsement since all he had to do was demonstrate a willingness to sit and talk football or whatever (since in your own words, politics and policy don't matter). Which is great at any other time except for an election year because y'all could have met for some craft beer in 2021 to discuss the finer points of vocational education. 

As for what you said about Rep. Jim Clyburn and the Democratic Party on The Beat with Ari Melber this summer (no I have not forgotten that), that may be why the good Reverend Senator Warnock hasn't been returning your calls to appear on your show. You went on national television and called a civil rights icon a sellout because y'all didn't support the same candidate. Then you assumed that the Senator would not take that kind of insult personally? Now with the tables turned, isn't that why you've been responding to folks on Twitter who have been saying the same thing about you...

I know you have your reasons, and you are under no obligation to disclose how you plan to vote, but you do understand the damage that can be caused by sitting on the fence. If you want to be respected as a kingmaker, the responsibility for safeguarding the crown is equally heavy for the person who performs the coronation. This generation's MLK may very well be a rap artist who is willing to sit down with friends and foes alike, but it might help to clarify who's who.

Furthermore, while y'all are worried about who gets to be a King, armies of Harriets have been busy registering voters, canvassing door-to-door, writing postcards, phone-banking, organizing, and staying otherwise pre-occupied with the work of saving this fragile democracy in less than two weeks. I know this because that's what I've been doing. I don't have the luxury of being able to call up my Spelman sister to offer advice and have it matter. But I have the choice to roll up my sleeves to lend her campaign a hand. I helped to get your Morehouse brother elected two years ago as well, and in gratitude, he's been blowing up my phone with fundraising appeals. Just as Kemp had to seem willing to talk to you, Abrams and Warnock have to play a version of political three-dimensional chess too. 

And here is where I need to break through that third wall because I got caught up with being busy and didn't publish this piece two weeks ago as intended. I am currently in a hotel room in North Carolina, about to head out to do some canvassing for a few hours before I head down to Georgia to work as a poll monitor. Election Day is two days from now.

Since we are just days away, I need to end this rant with a blunt observation for brothers like Killer Mike and Ice Cube because what I'm seeing in these streets is real. The folks that have been in power believe that we are encroaching on their way of life, and they aren't looking to share or lose any ground. They don't regard us as equal participants in this democracy unless we align with them, which does not seek to elevate us as a community, just individuals. This has been the playbook for centuries--and that is what prompted women like Harriet to escape and eventually work to dismantle the entire system. We are no better off if only a few of us are free.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Politics and Estranged Bedfellows

Sometimes what's old becomes new again, and we find ourselves in this surreal moment with respect to Herschel Walker, former football player turned candidate for the U.S. Senate. For some time, and even up to a few days ago when I began drafting this piece, I was convinced that he had agreed to run for the Senate because he was so flattered by the attention it garnered. Other than his recent reality show appearances and mixed martial arts bouts, the last time he heard his name this much on television must have been back in his prime football-playing days in the 80s. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, it was back when Ronald Reagan was President, Johnny Carson was the king of late night, and the most scandalous thing on TV were those Where's the Beef commercials.

Perhaps it was a flawed hypothesis, much like our childhood naiveté that rival gangs in New York City settled turf wars through break-dancing. It isn't flattery or nostalgia that explains how Herschel Walker is still a viable candidate in spite of the credible allegations of his intimate partner violence, chronic absentee fatherhood, and abortion payments to his mistresses. It is something much more cynical that puts Walker on track to pulling off the biggest upset in politics if he manages to beat the good Reverend Senator Raphael Warnock next month.

There are all kinds of memes and humorous takes I could post to illustrate my thoughts on this match-up, but we don't need to laugh at the prospect of a Senator Walker. We need to be terrified and motivated to do everything possible to ensure otherwise. Sure, it is expected that we would poke fun at his gaffes and insane "theories" about climate change and electric cars, but fun time is over. November is coming and the polls are tied. We are literally at that point where Walker could shoot someone on Peachtree Street in front of the historic Margaret Mitchell Home and it would not have any negative impact on his electoral chances. 

If you've heard that one before, then riddle me this: do you remember the upstart USFL and that Herschel Walker was once one of its marquee players? And did you also remember that one Donald J. Trump, the former DESPOTUS, was an owner in that enterprise? If so, then here is your prize: a vintage copy of JET magazine. 

Because that is how I remember being introduced to Walker in the 80s, before I moved to Georgia for college. We didn't follow college football growing up, so I read about him in JET when he went pro before graduating. We couldn't see his games because he was in a different television market (and unlike watching NFL games today, you could only see your local team). And I sort of remember this McDonald's commercial. Although I pride myself on my memory of random popular culture factoids that no one else typically stores for future reference, it took reading a few articles and seeing this video to recall just how far back and entangled Herschel Walker and Donald Trump are (listen closely around 1:38).

That shed a different light on everything such that I believe there is a lot more happening with this Senate campaign than just a couple of rich guys getting their egos stroked. Some people will compromise everything to access and maintain power. EVERYTHING. We learned this lesson the hard way in 2016 and saw a violent demonstration of that on January 6, 2021, no doubt intensified over the loss of this very Senate seat since Warnock was declared the winner that morning.

We underestimate what drives Trumposaurus Rex to destroy everything in his wake, which is his intent even in this election. I just watched that documentary about him, Unfit (2020) and while I have no psychoanalytic expertise to offer, I came away from that feeling profound relief that 84 million votes had prevailed in saving this country from annihilation. But that respite is tempered by the reality that he hasn't gone away and that he is still hellbent on destruction if he doesn't get what he wants. 

Even if you are not old enough to remember much about football in the 80s (other than the Superbowl Shuffle), then reading up on the history of the short-lived USFL provides one of many clear examples of Trump's vengeful impulses. Legend has it that in 1981 Trump expressed interest in buying the Baltimore Colts but was rebuffed by Robert Irsay, the team owner at that time. He then bought the New Jersey Generals, part of the nascent USFL, a league that offered football in the Spring. After a disastrous meeting with then-NFL Commissioner Peter Rozelle, Trump persuaded the other owners in the USFL to move the season to the Fall to compete head on with the NFL. He also filed an antitrust suit that ultimately bankrupted and shuttered the fledgling league. 

While he has not succeeded in destroying the NFL yet, just give him time. Anyone else similarly humiliated and exposed as a liar and grifter in court like that would have slunked away in shame, but not Trump. He spent the subsequent decades plastering his name on everything from casinos to office buildings, making cameos on television and in movies, and marrying his mistresses, before barging into politics. He left plenty of carnage in his wake with those other endeavors too. Thus, when his recent bids for NFL ownership were rejected again, he used the bully pulpit of the Presidency to savage its players and taunt the owners. He used the NFL as a proxy for his culture war, characterizing its workforce (primarily Black men) as ungrateful and taunting the team owners (all white men) as feckless. 

That Jim Lampley interview from 1985 referenced a personal service contract between Walker and Trump, into which Walker was allegedly locked until 1989. But since the League folded and Walker was picked up by the Cowboys in 1986, who wonders what transpired behind the scenes to have kept Walker so loyal all of these years? And having lost the Presidency due to his fragile ego and stunning hubris, Trump is exactly the kind of megalomaniac to lob a few heat-seeking missiles at the government and its institutions. This is Trump meeting with Peter Rozelle all over again, except this time his nemesis is Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment, who regarded him as little more than a useful idiot. And just as he did with the USFL, Trump will gladly burn the entire system down.

Enter Herschel Walker, one of Trump's many useful idiots bringing the firewood. 

Walker and Trump have a lot more in common than just a shared love of football, their mistreatment of women, and being inveterate liars. Walker stuck by Trump even when it wasn't lucrative for him, as he admitted in this interview back in 2016. I don't have the psychoanalytic skills to diagnose the intensity of his narcissism either, but I'm guessing that it must be on par with Trump's. How else to explain that he knew how many numerous skeletons were hiding in his closet, yet agreed to run for office anyway? And before anyone feels sorry for Christian Walker for opening Pandora's Box on his father's myriad sins, consider how being Herschel Walker's gay conservative son built him a verified social media following. Methinks somebody's money got funny.

We've had men of bad character serve at every level of government (actual slaveowners), so this isn't some sanctimonious diatribe. To be fair, Herschel Walker isn't even the worst of the lot that Trump has chosen to carry his standard into battle; he just happens to be the most famous. So if it helps, I can denounce Mehmet Oz, J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, and every other Trump-aligned candidate with the same broad brush. They are all terrible and would be disasters if elected to the Senate. If you need any proof, just look at Sen. Tommy Tuberville's racist rant about crime and reparations and how that revelation of his true character stunned and hurt many his former Black players. Lest we forget, Trump's original choice for that Alabama Senate seat was accused pedophile Roy Moore.

As my Spelman sister argued in this opinion piece, there were better choices if the intention was to pit two Black men against each other. Of course, since Trump killed Herman Cain back in 2020, his pool of options shrank by one, but what about Vernon Jones? I wouldn't vote for him, but the goal was never for someone like me to be tricked convinced to supporting someone like him just because he is Black. It was to provide cover for white folks who bristle at being called racist, but who under normal circumstances would never vote for a Black Senator unless he had been a Heisman trophy winning UGA Bulldog. 

Which is Walker's only asset, but as we all know, anybody can be elected to public office. The question for the voters is whether just anybody should. Congress is a body comprised of people from all walks of life which encourages citizens to take an interest in the affairs of government. The only qualifications listed in the Constitution are related to age, residency in the state, and citizenship status of at least 7-9 years. The range of professions include farmers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and yes, even former entertainers of some kind. Until the con man game show host, Ronald Reagan was the first showman to reach the White House and I recall that he was also underestimated as a useful idiot.

Therefore, I will not attack Walker's intellect or his extracurricular shortcomings as disqualifiers for public office. Instead, my issue is that it is the combination of his lack of integrity, moral character, and intellect make him a dangerous risk for the Senate. I think back to just a few months ago when this same body deliberated the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court, a lifetime judicial appointment. The irony that her job history--having been a defense attorney and advocate for sentencing reform, is what almost derailed her nomination. No one is raising concerns about Walker's career in sports, but we are questioning his personal character. It confounds logic that a man who physically abused his wife and child could be considered fit for a position where it would be his duty to give advice and consent on the qualifications of others, especially women, to serve in a co-equal branch of government. I wouldn't be any more inclined to vote for him if he were running for a seat in the House of Representatives, but at the very least the damage he could do is minimized in a legislative body where he would be one out of 435. 

Finally, there is the issue of re-platforming Donald Trump in national politics by default. Hopefully after the evidence just offered at the January 6th hearings, he won't be able to run in 2024 from prison; however, installing his minions throughout the government is akin to allowing the cancer to metastasize and spread. He has already done significant damage to our democracy with all of the imps and trolls who have overtaken the GOP as well as the unqualified judicial appointments from his tenure in office. There is no use in trying to contain Trump because as any oncologist will tell you, even a controlled cancer can be lethal. The tumor must be surgically removed, zapped with radiation, and then poisoned with chemotherapy. And it can still recur, so we may never be rid of this evil man until the Rapture.

But we can fight like hell to rebuild a stronger democracy. We can hold out hope that something redeemable from the Grand Old Party of Lincoln can be found under the layers of rubble and ruin. I may never agree with them, but in a flourishing democracy, diversity of thought and ideas are how we progress. One party rule that stifles dissent and rebuffs compromise is authoritarianism. Trump is a fascist, and useful idiots like Walker and Tuberville are no different than SS soldiers wearing those red hats instead of armbands.

To make use of a few final pop culture references from the 80s, I pity the fool who doesn't believe that we are one to two Senate seats away from disaster. Donald Trump doesn't care about anyone but himself and like his James Bond villain doppelganger Max Zorin, he'll sacrifice anything and anybody. He's made threats to instigate more chaos once he's indicted, so his next coup attempt is already underway, aided and abetted by a cabal of abusive womanizers, tax cheats, racists, and charlatans. Debates over face masks, gas prices, and solar panels won't matter if our country descends into an actual civil war...over face masks, gas prices, and solar panels. Our disagreements over how to address those issues aren't tests of our love of country. The only reason why Walker made it this far as a viable candidate is his connection to Trump, so a vote for him is a vote that endorses the notion that our best days are behind us. I am no fan of Ronald Reagan, but growing up, it was his allusion to America as a shining city on a hill that inspires me to always work for the improvement of all. So please, reject Trumpism and his let's win one for the Gipper.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Open Season

My previous piece about Lizzo and the crystal flute had been published for all of 24 hours when I saw that a certain rapper who used to be married to a Kardashian had been talking about her on FOX News. Now, I don't watch anything on FOX News unless I am trying to compare news coverage of important events (and even then, it is only worth five minutes maximum of my sanity), thus my assumption was that the reason he had secured a primetime interview on its flagship "news" program was to explain why he wore a White Lives Matter tee shirt in his Paris Fashion Week show.

I don't care to know why Kim K's ex has such an insatiable appetite for attention, and I refuse to watch Carlson's show in its entirety to find out what prompted that particular soliloquy. My best guess is that he was asked to opine on the outrage that had been stirred up by Lizzo's crystal flute playing at the Library of Congress. And because it must be written into the agreement that if one appears in a one-on-one interview with one of these FOX show hosts, the point is to go along with whatever shit-talking they're paid to engage in to keep the culture wars aflame. KiKaYe (I'm trying out different nicknames for him) chose to use this golden opportunity to add his voice to the chorus of folks that think bullying Lizzo is some new kind of patriotism.

I found out about this latest mean girl take via a clip being circulated on Twitter. One minute was all I could stand because I suspect he had a lot more to say. But in essence, KitKat suggests that Lizzo's media persona and popularity are dependent on her weight and that the popular embrace of her body positivity is a subliminal message of toxicity. I'm guessing he missed how the sistahs dealt with Aries Spears when he tried that same line of attack against her a few weeks back. Imma say it again for the people in the cheap seats--keep trying it. She stays moisturized and unbothered.

I have already addressed some of fat-phobic misogynoir against Lizzo in previous pieces, so do me a favor and re-read those along with several others in which I have called out each instance in which folks have been building clout by bashing Black women. It has been exhausting and relentless since before I was born, but in this age of social media, it feels as if hunting Black women for sport has replaced baseball as America's pastime. We could start with the Moynihan Report, but I'll go back in recent memory for us Gen Xers when poor Black mothers were trashed as welfare queens. It took 40 years to admit that was a racist dog whistle, but nowadays no one bothers to be that subtle. 

Your boy Sneezy got on television and came for a Black woman days after he wore a White Lives Matter shirt in Paris, but y'all want to debate whether Lizzo's half naked crystal flute-playing is more problematic than his trolling. Are you effing serious?

Let's be clear, I don't need to write another piece in defense of Lizzo being Lizzo, but I do feel the need to strike back against what are clearly intentional and pervasive attacks on Black women with high visibility. Lizzo is only the latest Black woman to be picked apart on social media, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, Duchess Meghan Markle, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams, and hell, even actress Halle Bailey

Because I know someone is going to accuse me of reaching, let me hydrate and stretch...

Let's look back to just last year summer when folks were attacking Naomi Osaka for admitting that doing press interviews during her matches increased her anxiety and hampered her concentration. Folks criticized her to the point that she withdrew from competition and if you've noticed, her playing has been uneven ever since. Then it was Sha'Carri Richardson, who was disqualified from Olympic competition for having marijuana in her system. Admittedly, it wasn't a wise choice, but she's young and should be allowed to redeem herself from her own self-sabotage. And of course, THE story of those Games was how Simone Biles had to withdraw from team competition after she experienced the twisties in the middle of a vault. Folks were piling on these each of these women for their perceived weakness in dealing with the very real challenges of competing on an elite level. 

I'll throw in the unresolved drama of WNBA player Brittney Griner, against whom a lot of the same apathy and insensitivity resurfaced this Spring. This woman is being held hostage by a real-life James Bond level madman, but she is no Pussy Galore or that other Britney, so...

Still think I'm reaching? Remember how Senator Foghorn Leghorn from Louisiana suggested that a 50 year-old Black, Harvard-educated lawyer, and sitting federal judge might not be able to distinguish between a law book and a J. Crew catalog? During her confirmation hearing, other Senators mischaracterized her efforts on criminal sentence reform as showing sympathy to child pornographers and pedophiles. This week a sitting Member of Congress accused this same Black woman of being a communist because she articulated an interpretation of the Constitution that was taken directly from the original language and intent of the 'framers'. 

But I suspect some of you require more proof, so we'll turn to the daily attacks aimed at the current White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre. As the spokesperson for this Administration, the criticism of her job performance comes with the territory of partisan politics. However, the one-note refrain in the form of those attacks centers on her intellect instead of the policies she articulates. I did a Twitter search and nearly every disparaging tweet calls her stupid. That isn't the worst part since the three women who occupied the job in the previous Regime barely bothered to show up for work. Sarah Huckabee Sanders stopped giving daily press briefings before she quit and Kayleigh McEnany essentially quietly quit during the pandemic when she turned the job over to the DESPOTUS to tell his own lies. An open letter to Stephanie Grisham, who never gave a press briefing during her tenure, went essentially unanswered. But somehow the Black woman who shows up for her job is stupid?

That same tired narrative has metastasized onto Vice President Kamala Harris. That a Black woman who does her job gets derided as incompetent isn't new, but there is no basis for making those claims against Harris other than to undermine confidence in her ability to step into the top job. Kamala Harris has been a more visible team player in this Administration than Joe Biden was when he served as the Vice President to Barack Obama. She influences policy, unlike Mike Pence the delusional fall guy/whipping boy who still contends that Donald Trump didn't send a mob to kill him on January 6, 2021. Yet folks get on Al Gore's internet daily and call her a disaster.

And if it wasn't enough to have to work twice as hard to be regarded as minimally capable by white people, then imagine how that same standard works in the Black community. Again, this week while K-Y Jelly was on FOX dissing Lizzo, rapper Killer Mike and a few verified angry Black men were taking swipes at Stacy Abrams. Because Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp took the time to sit down and exploit their sexism as an opportunity to bash his opponent, he's perceived as more concerned about putting forth an agenda that benefits Black men? The same Brian Kemp who closed down a Level 1 trauma hospital in Atlanta, purged 200,000 voters from the rolls, and signed a law that outlawed giving water to your grandmother while she waits in line to vote. 

You demand specifics from Stacy Abrams despite the fact that she facilitated the election of Senators Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof in 2021. She organized and mobilized the Black community beyond Atlanta to vote by shouting from the rooftops to anyone who would listen that Black Voters Matter. She invested in cultivating those votes in order to beat back suppression and historic voter apathy. The fact that Warnock in particular can boast about the work he's doing in the Senate for Georgia is thanks to her and an army of Black women like Latosha Brown, Nse Ufot, and Helen Butler

When that Georgia Senate seat became available and the Democratic Party establishment urged Abrams to run for it, she opted to pass the baton to (checks notes) her Morehouse Brother, A BLACK MAN!!! I don't even recall that Warnock had expressed public political ambitions at that point, but like a lot of Morehouse Men, it wouldn't surprise me if he had. And I mean this in the most complimentary way, because she could have pulled a Beto O'Rourke move and just kept running for office until she won something; instead, she focused the job she wanted and stayed on task. When did ambition and focus become liabilities in politics?

I am not mincing words here: If you are standing on the sidelines critiquing Black women over petty nonsense like twerking and paying for dinner then you are not in the fight with us. And that makes you part of the problem. None of us has time to hold down full-time jobs; raise children and care for our elders; stay involved in our churches and community organizations; show up and vote to save this democracy; AND fix plates for a bunch of man-babies who want to play the role of Alpha Male on social media. Do you even read or replay that foolishness before you post it, because (speaking for myself) what kind of grown-ass man won't cut up the meat on his plate and is proud of that because having a woman treat him like a child is some perverse display of dominance!

That went way off topic, so let me bring this back to where I began, which was a rant in response to Troll the Rapper's appearance on FOX talking shit about Lizzo instead of being called out for his attention-seeking childishness. Now that he's dabbled in anti-Semitism, I don't need to say another word about his fuckery. So let me address Killer Mike and the barbershop hoteps about how disappointing it is to see them aligned against Stacy Abrams. Of course, it is their choice to support and vote for whomever they feel will best serve their communities and that doesn't have to be the person whom I would support or prefer.

However, my frustration with the grand declarations by these 21st Century wannabe Race Men is that their claim of being independent thinkers is hollow when they align with the very system of oppression that keeps our communities disempowered. Basically, your grand answer is if we can't beat them, join them, which is a surefire way to improve your personal situation but not make much progress for the rest of us. Killer Mike is an artist, which I respect, so I get that he doesn't see it as his job to be leading protests and causes. Yet, the minute he strapped on a mic and started offering opinions about policy, then he made the team, so what we need is for him to be a team player. We cannot win if we keep fumbling the ball. And trust that the woman who built an entire political movement from the ground up does NOT need to be advised to follow after some white man on the campaign trail and offer to clean up his mess!

What she and these other Black women need instead of you sitting on Bill Maher's show in awkward silence while he and some Karen whine about not liking them, is that you speak up and denounce that booshay with your entire chest the way you would if they were talking about your Mama. Because what they overlook but you know is that we are still here in the fight thanks to the tirelessness of Black grandmothers and aunties who kept our communities cohesive in the face of policies that were designed to disrupt and cause instability. You think Black men being over-represented in prison began with then-Sen. Joe Biden's crime bill in the 1990s? 

(And because I cannot let this point be missed, a Black man served as the U.S. Attorney General for six years under the Black President. But it was the "off-putting" Black woman who, as California's Attorney General de-emphasized prosecution of low-level marijuana possession cases. As Senator, she co-sponsored legislation to legalize marijuana, and as Vice President, she's promoting the policy that will pardon thousands in the federal prison system for possession. Now, if you don't want to give Biden or Harris credit for evolving on this issue, fine. But I assure you that Brian Kemp won't be issuing pardons in gratitude for your support.)

That's all...because I'm veering into Black preacher territory with each new paragraph, and I need to let you marinate on all of this as you make your plans for November. Stand up for Black women by voting for us and with us.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Who Invited You?

Imagine if you will some really formal fancy dress up event that you were invited to attend and while standing by yourself at the open bar, one of the guests toddles up to you and offers something along the lines of what she had convinced herself would be polite banter: 

  • Hello there, nice weather today?
  • Yes, indeed. (You extend a hand and say) Hello, I'm xx...
  • Yes, and I'm Queen Elizabeth's fourth cousin removed, Countess Nosypants. How nice that you're here. Tell me, are you a friend of the Blah Blahs? I've known them for more than 200+ years.
  • Actually, I just met Mrs. Blah Blah at the Harris Teeter the other night. She insisted that I come because she thought I might meet some interesting people.
  • Oh, I see (pregnant pause). Isn't that the cleanest Harris Teeter? I've often remarked on how competent the staff is in keeping the produce looking freshly picked (another pregnant pause). Tell me, did you know Colin Powell? He was Black too and I once saw his wife at that same store.

And after another awkward moment of silence when you wonder if the reason why she asked you such a random question was because your fancy black dress/tux looks exactly like you bought it off the rack a few hours ago (it does, but so what), you smile and say no, but your Grandfather served in the Navy during WWII.

I don't know why I went through that very Rachel Maddow-ian opening, but the point was to place a visual in your mind wherein some dowager society bitty tries to engage you in conversation before asking the uber loaded hot potato question, "how ever did you get invited to this event?" And I thought of this as I watched the social media reaction over the past few days to the concert footage of Lizzo from last week when she played a few notes on a crystal flute that had once belonged to President James Madison. 

Because the feathers of quite a few self-appointed cultural gatekeepers were ruffled, I thought this was an opportunity to explore how this latest outrage is consistent with their overall struggle against progress. You see, these people whose livelihoods depend on keeping a red-hot culture war going like an out-of-control wildfire decided that Lizzo would be an appropriate target of their rhetorical attacks. And get this, their beef was not with her skill in playing the flute, but whether she ought to have been allowed to touch this rarified artifact that once belonged to a Founding Father.

Mind you, because I'm guessing most of them conveniently missed this little detail, Lizzo was invited to come visit the Library of Congress (LOC) an entire week before she arrived in town for her performance. She accepted their offer and expressed her joy in ALL CAPS that she was looking forward to seeing their collection and possibly getting to play the crystal flute in particular. Fast forward to the video that she released from her show where she played a few notes on the flute and apparently that was all it took for the gatekeepers to start beating their breasts, aghast that Lizzo had the nerve to put her lips on such a rare and precious item that no one knew existed. The following day, the Library released its own photos and videos from her visit, including a demonstration of her playing in the Great Hall.

Now I need to say this because the algorithms on my timeline didn't reflect a flood of negative reactions, so at first, I only saw the commentary offered by Jenna Ellis on her show FB live feed. And I thought hmm, one of the Trumpet's incompetent lawyer minions is taking cheap shots at an accomplished Black woman...must be a day of the week ending in -y. I didn't bother searching for any other statements until this week, because as I suspected, it was the usual clown car of pundits who take issue with everything. It was almost too predictable, with generous use of the word 'woke' to describe the spectacle of a Black woman playing a flute. The horror! 

Or more like the nerve...

And then to make the haters big mad, the folks at Montpelier, the Madison plantation estate, extended an invitation for Lizzo to come and have tea and crumpets on Dolly Madison's china the next time she's in town. To think that 200 years ago, that's definitely not the kind of invitation she would have received!

But let's get to the heart of what these gatekeepers are upset about, because if Lizzo was the breakout first chair flautist for the National Symphony Orchestra or the leader of her own jazz quartet, then we know this would not have generated such interest. Apparently, the Library of Congress has this vast instrument collection, and it often invites famous musicians to come visit when in town. Who knew is exactly the reason they made a point of reaching out to Lizzo because only other musicians would have taken notice of a visit from a first chair flautist or maybe one of these other world-famous musicians...

Lizzo is hot right now, so for both the LOC and the folks at Montpelier, having her visit is great publicity. It is just that simple; yet, we all know that in life nothing is ever just anything if it results in this kind of howling at the moon. Therefore, I will use the word fortuitous to describe how we got here and why the predictable backlash by the gatekeepers is consistent with their overall outrage over a changing society where they are rapidly losing ground. 

Because when have these people ever had such issues with plus-sized Black women? These same folks who cried in their racist pancake batter over the long overdue retirement of Aunt Jemima? They've got concerns about a voluptuous Black woman flaunting her curves in public? Because when they were exploiting Saartjie Baartman, there are no videos to document whether James and Dolley Madison were entertained or repulsed by the way she was mistreated. Or perhaps, as my brother Ol' Hobbs and others have pointed out, the Father of our Constitution and fourth President of the United States was too busy being served by the women he enslaved at Montpelier.

So this is not just because Lizzo twerked onstage at her show with James Madison's 200+ year old flute. Entertainers do all kinds of provocative stuff in their stage shows that raise eyebrows, and after Aunt Pitty Pat is revived with smelling salts and has a sip of bourbon, we all go back to minding our business. It hasn't always been that way, and one can look back a few years to when Elvis Presley's hip gyrations got him drafted into the Army. 

And now we're getting to the heart of the matter--the traditional gatekeepers are losing all semblance of control over society. They can't punish Lizzo, so they tried to humiliate her. It didn't work, and they're frustrated because this really is Blue Ivy's internet now and only the residents of their cul-de-sac are clutching pearls over Lizzo doing Lizzo everywhere she goes. She remains moisturized and thoroughly unbothered. Mind you, it is okay to have opinions about her that aren't favorable. But it is undeniable that in 30 seconds she brought more attention to the importance of public libraries, music education, and the preservation of historic places than the complaints of her detractors at having to come to terms with James Madison's complicated legacy.

That isn't the conversation the gatekeepers want us to be having. Remember how upset they were about visiting Montpelier this summer, and instead of being served Dolley Madison's ice cream, they were lectured about yet another flawed Founding Father. So they decried 'wokeness' and banned books, re-wrote curriculum, conspired to overthrow elections, rioted inside the Capitol, and continue to revise all their old tricks in undermining democracy. 

Don't miss that because what has been happening is bigger than last week's shiny distraction of Lizzo and that crystal flute. Implied in all of the backlash and outrage are these questions: Who invited you? Who brought you into this space through the front door instead of making you enter through the kitchen? Who insisted that you are my equal instead of a servant? Who are you, but more importantly, who do you think you are

When James Madison authored the Constitution, he didn't have to provide any answers or explanations about his obvious personal hypocrisy in purporting to speak for 'we' the people. The early patriots were the elite few who consisted of white property owners, their wives, and their recognized offspring. Although he claimed to believe in direct democracy, Madison acquiesced in the compromise over the Electoral College. However, this country has been evolving ever since to become more perfect which is the conundrum for the gatekeepers--democracy gives everybody access. Everybody has a right to participate in the system. 

And you want to know what ensures that everybody has access? Public libraries. Comprehensive education that includes music, science, civics, and history. Programming offered at museums and historic homes that present the unvarnished and un-retouched truth. The Bill of Rights that Madison himself wrote as amendments to the Constitution. Free and fair elections.

So to answer the question as posed by Countess Nosypants at that society party, the person who invited Lizzo to walk through the front door and then handed her a priceless crystal flute was none other than Dolley Madison herself, our Nation's premier hostess and first official First Lady. 

Friday, September 30, 2022

The Most Septembering September

It's been a long while since I wrote one of these kinds of whew, Lawd pieces, but y'all...

I knew September was going to be a busy month, but I had no idea just how hectic and insane it would be. So today, I am sitting here surveying the damage in gratitude that I am still here to live and tell the story. My goal in sharing this is not to elicit pity (since I know some of you are thinking, well you DO call yourself the Busy Black Woman). It is simply to exhale and brace myself, because the rest of the year isn't really trying to let up. 

Come to think of it, this summer was just as hectic. I can't even begin to tell you how it feels like we time warped from May to October in a matter of weeks and all of it is a dang blur. Like, did I celebrate Mother's Day this year? I do recall Memorial Day weekend (because that is a story like you would not believe), but after that, what happened? Did I do anything significant this summer except for buy my Kid a pair of tap shoes for two weeks of camp? And does she even know where those shoes are, or will I find them when it is time to put away the Christmas tree in February?

Y'all where does the time go? How did I go from driving to North Carolina in the middle of August to it being Halloween in a few weeks? Where are we having Thanksgiving dinner? Are we getting together as a family this year after these past couple of years staying socially distant? There have been three babies born in my family since the panini, but I am unsure of their actual ages because one of them might have actually been born before the panini and I just don't remember. He is probably 5, but just short for his age.

Speaking of short, all of the leggings in my child's wardrobe, even the ones I just bought her in August.

Because several of my friends have been over-sharing details about their hot flashes, I am now paranoid about having them and I am not okay. The other day all I did was walk upstairs to my daughter's dance class, but when I got to the door it felt like I had entered the 5th ring of hell, and it took everything in me not to burst into tears (or flames). Like WHAT??? It lasted for about 3 minutes, but worse, I conveniently had a fan in my purse that no one thought was at all strange. 

That same day, I mislaid a pen that I had just been using and this caused an absolute meltdown. I put myself in time-out by staying inside the car by myself because no, I didn't feel the need to explain to the Hub how I needed that pen, and not some generic rollerball that he'd been chewing on. This man has been married to me for almost 21 years and I swear there are days when If You Don't Know Me By Now blares in my brain. For the most part, it's the Simply Red version, which means that I'm willing to shrug it off as not worth the energy, but if it switches to the Teddy Pendergrass of yet, I haven't added the Seal version to my mental playlist. And I just remembered that there is a Patti LaBelle version, but that might be too dangerous.

But back to how this year is practically over and my mind is still stuck on how it was just June last week. It was the last few days of the school year, and I was lamenting to my brother about how the school year had dragged on and then he proposes that I might want to relax with a trip to Disney with my daughter and the Niece at the end of July. That is exactly how it went down--he made this suggestion and the next thing I know, I am standing on line for some Goofy rollercoaster ride. And I swear, I will finally finish writing that piece before I take down the Christmas tree in February.

Before the Disney trip, there was our annual beach vacation to Bethany, DE that I barely remember because I feel like we were there for less than a week. Things felt off because we were there over the July 4th holiday and we were staying in a different rental. Thus, not much excitement, so let's go back a few weeks to that crazy Memorial Day weekend when we inadvertently spent the night in an occupied Air BnB. It took every ounce of self-control not to go full DMX on the host who didn't seem to think it was at all unusual to expect that a FAMILY of 3 might feel slightly uncomfortable staying in an apartment bedroom on an air mattress in Brooklyn!

(Side note, because this is tangentially related to what happened on Memorial Day: I have a whole other piece in my drafts about how we are exactly those parents who have already exposed the Kid to drag queens and the gay agenda, so if you need somebody to judge...)

If you read the previous piece, you know that I saw my college roommate and her darling son last month. The following weekend was my road trip to North Carolina, but what happens in the boonies among friends on a farm in the middle of the night stays there. A week later, I was back-to-school shopping and planning a surprise birthday/anniversary tribute to my parents, not taking note that the date coincided with the weekend of the Classic. But being Thee Busy Black Woman, I declared and decreed that I would make it all work! 

Again, this is not to brag because I was doing laundry the other day and saw clothes that hadn't been washed since Bethany Beach way down at the bottom of the hamper. At least I unpacked the suitcase.

I was talking to my line sister last week about how insane this September has been. Like in the middle of all our life stuff (specifically our children returning to school), the Queen of England dies and now half the state of Florida is under water! Somebody mentioned Mercury being in retrograde, and I don't even want to understand how astrology interacts with real life, but every single time y'all say that it's like that song in Hamilton, The World Turned Upside Down

Therefore, to reiterate, I am writing this piece because today it all hit the crescendo. I can't take No More Drama. Family, friends, church, school, advocacy, is all tew murch. I had moments this month when I felt like I should have rolled myself up in a ball, but acting on the advice of Elizabeth Taylor, I poured myself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pulled myself together. I'm not sure that my liver appreciated that level of determination. Maybe next month, I can have a day or two when I won't bother to fake it and push through. Please. Because I can't sit in my car for hours without arousing suspicion of a mental break. I don't have a driveway or a garage, and I'm not a podcaster. 

I'm just a writer who likes to make clever use of all the useless pop culture references that fill her head, so I'm going to take a nap soon, and you can Wake Me Up When September Ends.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

HBCUs vs. Everybody

It is Fall, so that means Homecoming season is upon us. For those who can't say anything nice about certain institutions, now is your chance to talk all the trash you want until November. For those multiple HBCU graduates and homecoming attendees, now is the time to submit your leave slips, get those booster shots, and start hydrating over the next few weeks. After what feels like YEARS of being on lockdown, this October is about to be LIT!

A few of us got a warm-up two weeks ago at the highly anticipated return of the Morehouse vs. Howard HBCU New York Football Classic. The match-up, which had been an annual tradition for years, is one of several classic HBCU football rivalries, such as the Real HU Showdown and the Bayou Classic. These games are more about bragging rights than anything, and this revived Morehouse vs. Howard game had been known as the Nation's Classic ten years ago when it was last played locally at RFK Stadium. Someone decided to move it to New York City, so the true-believers like me who rarely make it down to Atlanta for Homecoming, made the trek up north and had a blast.

A few days afterward, I saw some buzz circulating about a dance team from the University of Southern California (USC) modeled after HBCU dance teams, framed by all of the stupid arguments that often follow about cultural appropriation and gate-keeping of Black culture. So with a hand on my hip, reading glasses on the tip of my nose, dressed in my best Auntie caftan, and head wrapped in a turban, I'm watching all of this and wondering why y'all are so damn sensitive about isht that really ain't at all that deep.

I put that visual out there to emphasize the fact that in embracing that level of Auntie-ness, I am in the unique position of offering some personal history that might put some of this in perspective. You see, way back in 1990, this was me --->

And every Fall, also at this time of year, this photo and a few others from this era of my life resurface on Facebook. Until this past summer, it was something that brought the requisite amount of cringe mixed with nostalgia, much like imagining that my parents could have been Soul Train dancers in the early 70s. 

I got a rude reminder of just how Auntie I have become a few weeks ago when I was attending a birthday celebration for my college roommate. While talking to her teenage son about his college choices, I thought it would be cool to show him a picture of me from my marching band days. Y'all, that child recoiled in HORROR at the sight of me, and I swear I am still recovering from his reaction...because damn, I thought I was cute!

Well, that was almost 30 years ago, once upon a time when I was cute enough to go bra-less and high-step in go-go boots in a MILES-long parade route. Also relevant to this march down memory lane is recalling that this was the same year that the Morehouse Dance Team was re-branded as Mahogany in Motion, which was modeled after the famed Jackson State University dance squad known as the Prancing J-Settes. And because I feel like bragging on myself, I am one of the Founding Members (even though in real life, I was just the tall Banner Girl). 

Yes, that is the comedian Sinbad.

I won't take you all the way off course with old marching band stories, but it is important to point out that many of the HBCU dance teams and marching bands copied each other back then, and still do. Having just watched the dueling halftime performances between Morehouse and Howard, I can assure you that neither program is doing anything all that unique (even if I am eternally biased towards Dear Old Morehouse). If you've ever seen Drumline (2002), then you get that it is all just a show and at the end of the game, most of us only care about the tailgate.

As for this USC dance team stealing from HBCU culture...that's a reach in an era when everything is accessible on YouTube. This isn't like Bring It On (2000) with a bunch of suburban white girls spying on and stealing moves from an inner-city Black cheerleading squad. These are a bunch of Black girls who probably grew up watching movies like Drumline and Bring It On, so they already knew the deal. They have seen that step team episode of A Different World as many times as their mothers have reminded them that there were dorm step team competitions when they were in college. Even if no one in their immediate family attended an HBCU, it isn't like the "culture" is copyright protected against use by other Black people!

Like, do y'all understand that a lot of what you want to claim as HBCU-specific is actually an adaptation of other dance and musical traditions that have nothing to do with attending college? Seriously, watch a Lindy Hop dance number, a Second Line funeral procession, or go to one of these old store-front churches and watch the ushers march down the aisle during the collection. And then come back and argue with me about who appropriated what.

Of course, I didn't need to write a whole piece about why this is not or should not be a thing. Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. As we know from watching the evolution of rock 'n roll and hip hop, everybody samples, interpolates, remixes. This isn't to justify the way it often plays out, with somebody getting paid or becoming more famous than the originator, but I'm pretty sure that NOBODY who chose to attend USC over an HBCU did so because of the dance team. So listen to your Auntie YaYa: this ain't the hill to make your last stand.

Instead (and yes, I am headed there), I need the HBCU students and alumni who are so vocal on social media about USC's dance team to pay closer attention to other matters that are more urgent at our institutions. Do our dancers and band members have on-campus housing? Are they food secure and are their balances paid? Because if not...

Thus, I will say and emphasize for the folks in the cheap seats: AIN'T NOBODY CHOOSING USC OVER AN HBCU BECAUSE OF THIS DANCE TEAM! They are choosing USC because there are programs and resources available to them that are not accessible at most HBCUs. Off-hand, I don't happen to know what all of those amenities are but knowing a little bit about the program budgets at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), I am going to start by assuming that their dance team didn't have to hand-sew their own costumes like we did in 1990.

That doesn't mean that we aren't legitimately salty that these young ladies got a feature segment on the new Jennifer Hudson Show. I'm not sure that the J-Settes ever got that kind of exposure, except via this old reality show from 2014 on the Prancing Elites from Mobile, AL. More insulting is that even after all of this ruckus, all of the attention being paid to Jackson State isn't even about the dance team or whether the students have access to clean water.  It is about whether their larger-than-life football coach, Neon Deion Sanders is going to stay on the job for another season.

So why are we really mad? 

Don't worry, I've got a few words for all of you Black PWI alumni who get some kind of weird glee at watching HBCU students/alumni engage in online foolishment. Ask yourselves why you need to replicate these cultural experiences on your campuses? The grass may be greener on your side of the fence, but you don't seem to be having nearly as much fun over there. We see you hanging out at our Homecomings wearing those HBCU-ish shirts like we don't know y'all are crashing the party.  

Because this BYU dance team clip also resurfaces every Fall, I need folks to recognize that PWI bands have gotten hip and can play Cameo's Talking Out da Side of Ya Neck too. (OK, not at all the same...but that's the point. You know what's been up since Dreamgirls in 2006.)

Which is why I am here to tout the message that you already know needs to be shouted from the rooftops: HBCU Just Give!

  • Pay the damn tailgate fee like you paid that $40 parking fee at MetLife stadium.
  • Participate in whatever corny Homecoming challenge your school devises as a backdoor fundraising effort.
  • Buy a pennant from your campus bookstore to send to school with your child(ren) for their guidance counselor to put on display.
  • Stock up on new gear from an HBCU alumni-owned vendor, because you know none of that stuff sold at Sam's Club or FanDuel is all that unique.
  • Donate to a local food bank near the campus.
  • If you are living HBCU-ish at a PWI, we're not disinviting you to the festivities. But you can't leave with a plate and try to pass it off like you made the mac n' cheese. Give credit where it is due.

I'm not saying anything you haven't read on this blog in the past. The issues facing our institutions are bigger than who got booked on a talk show, especially when that same host also gave a national platform to the new Fisk University gymnastics team. An HBCU is attempting to build a program that could produce Olympic-level Black athletes like Simone Biles and Gabby Douglass, but y'all are arguing on social media about who gets credit for twerking on television...

Don't raise Auntie's pressure with that nonsense. Put your money where your mouth is and just give.