Monday, January 3, 2022

Another COVID Christmas

Happy New Year! Pretend that you are reading this right after Christmas, which technically you are, but you know, as if the calendar still read 2021...

December is always a crazy month for me. I tend to experience it in three distinct phases: (1) my birthday; (2) that weird space between the 10th when everything is still moving in slow motion until things suddenly accelerate to the 24th; and (3) then the countdown to January and the annual question of how long to leave up the decorations. (For the record, mine are still up.)

This year, as in the past three years, it has been one crazy ass month.

It began with so much hope and promise. I actually got to celebrate my birthday with brunch, a play, and dinner. I ordered our Christmas cards on time and got my Holiday Gift Guide up on IG and FB. I got most of our shopping done, including some gifts for my Dad, and all was proceeding steadily...then shit hit the fan on the 16th.

I got a phone call, and I almost didn't answer it because I didn't recognize the number. But there was a little green check mark beside it, kind of like those blue check marks on Twitter, so it registered as a verified number and not a spam call to get solar panels on my roof. It was the assistant vice principal at my daughter's school. The Kid had been identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID.

As you might imagine that notification threw me into a panic spiral which was exacerbated by the fact that I was sitting in the car in front of the Target. The plan had been to go inside to pick up an order, then to head over to the mall for a little more shopping for all of the events that had been planned for the coming weekend. I called the Hub to inform him, and then after wandering in a circle around the Target for at least five rotations, I tried to contain the urge to scream.

We got ourselves tested the next day. We notified the appropriate persons with whom we had been in contact. Our results came back negative on Saturday, as did the two subsequent tests we took over the next few days. All of our extra-curricular activities were cancelled and where appropriate, everything went virtual and we stayed quarantined in the house (except to get tested). We got cleared the day before Christmas Eve and we were able to resume the rest of our holiday preparations. In a word, we were spared.

However, other members of our family were not. My brother, who is a teacher, tested positive for COVID the same day we got the call about my daughter's status. His wife and youngest daughter tested positive that weekend. Two of my nephews in New Jersey also tested positive, so we decided to cancel our travel plans to New York. I have heard from several other people that this Omarion variant of COVID got to them before they could get boosted. Just this past week, I have read emails from several parents that their children tested positive on or about Christmas Day.

I am still suppressing the urge to scream. It isn't enough to suggest that we got lucky, because I know it was more than a roll of the dice. The Hub got his booster in October. My parents got their in-home boosters in November. The Kid got vaccinated as soon as she was eligible, and I got my booster shot a few days after my birthday. Fortunate doesn't even begin to describe my relief, and exasperated isn't an adequate word to describe how it feels to be heading into season 3 of COVID.

Maybe to the folks who keep suggesting that this isn't that big of a deal, it is just an inconvenience to cancel travel plans at the last minute and have to provide all kinds of documentation so as not to forfeit a $500 deposit. Maybe I shouldn't have been anxious that on the same day I got word that my child was a close contact, she had just been in dance class around other kids and their parents, so out of respect for their health, they all had to be notified. Maybe it isn't all that difficult to keep an energetic six year old occupied when she wants to be in school with her friends and there really isn't a sufficient virtual learning option. Maybe all of the families that just celebrated their first or second holiday season without a cherished loved one should just...

In all of the other parts of the country where folks have been protesting mask mandates, misquoting MLK, and blocking access to mail-in voting, maybe it doesn't matter that we were just starting to get back to some version of normal pre-pandemic living. Now we have to reset. I've had to re-draw imaginary lines around my family again because I can't afford to slip up. Contrary to your jeers that I am living in fear, nah...I am living in the real world where a global pandemic compels me to take precautions the same way you "live in fear" over Critical Race Theory ruining your lives.

And that is the part that has me scanning the thesaurus for better words to describe my feelings. Vexed is a good word, but it is too close to vaxxed (which is now a word that doesn't trigger the Spell checker). I am vexed that people are so infantile and peevish about making minor adjustments to preventing the spread of an airborne virus that has killed more than 800,000 people in this country. Thankfully, I am also vaxxed and boosted. Another word that I like (one that my Mom used a lot when we were younger) is heedless. Because calling folks selfish is so 2020 (and deplorable is so 2016).

After her embarrassing interview with TFG wherein he contradicted her stance against the vaccine, I wanted to find a good word to describe the prattling college drop-out pundit who swears that she is smarter than folks with medical degrees. It was a toss-up between supercilious and delusional, but as I watched her cat fight on Twitter with her sorority girl rival, it seemed more appropriate to move along and just let them have at it. Mudwrestling isn't even a sport. As for the other young clout-chaser I saw attempt to take on the Oprah over her holiday dinner policy, she definitely earned all of the ridicule meted out for taking aim at our Patron Saint and missing. I almost felt a twinge of pity for her, having invited the wrath of a gang of blue checks on Twitter who probably should have left her to being dragged by the unwashed masses. But I won't waste any emotions on another opinionated Canadian (that's an inside joke, btw).

Nor am I going to waste any energy complaining about these new CDC guidelines since I am going to keep wearing my masks, washing my hands, and staying the heck away from people who want to live free and die. I admit to having advantages that allow me to ignore the shortened quarantine recommendations, and I realize that there are economic costs to COVID that someone must bear. Therefore, if that means I have to wait an extra day or so for an Amazon Prime Delivery, so be it. I can wait for that fire pit that I haven't yet ordered because it isn't a necessity. Save your trash talk about my alleged misunderstanding the global economy if that is what makes you feel better, but I have been ridiculed ALL of my Busy Black life for one thing or another, so calling me a sheep isn't the worst insult I've heard. Not even top ten.

And in spite of COVID being that houseguest that has way over-stayed and refuses to get the hint to GTFOH, I declare myself blessed this Christmas. First of all, my family walked away from a hit and run car accident. Second, my brother, his family, and my nephews are on the mend. Third, I already told you that my parents are vaxxed and boosted, and they are living one day at a time. In spite of daily attempts to steal my joy, I didn't even lean into my Grinch routine this year because as I reflected on the story of the birth of Christ, I had a revelation about real inconvenience. Try having to travel when you are nine months pregnant on the back of a donkey, giving birth in a barn without anesthesia, and then putting your newborn baby to sleep in a food trough for livestock. Add in a stream of uninvited visitors, including a child with a drum...

The Christmas story isn't about any of the superficial shit that we have emphasized all of these years. It isn't about disposable coffee cups or what the minimum wage-earning cashier says after bagging your purchases. It isn't that perfect Hallmark movie ending with a kiss in a gazebo. Nor is it about actually being in a church on the day in question (because I've done that, and nobody else comes but the most devout and childless). Christmas is the kindness that doesn't get staged for social media--the generosity, the selflessness, the humanity that transcends hashtags.

Therefore, if you think your holiday was ruined by COVID because Pete Buttigieg took paternity leave and your packages didn't arrive on time; the FOX News tree was intentionally set on fire; or because you didn't read the instructions and burnt your pumpkin pie...I've got a thimble-sized amount of empathy for you. Life happens. You are entitled to your feelings and I won't respond with the same kind of indifference and lack of compassion that has been the norm since the beginning of this pandemic. Better luck next year.

However, if your Christmas was impacted by COVID in a more extreme and tragic manner, you have my sincerest condolences and sympathies. If I could offer words of comfort, they would express my hope that you find some measure of reassurance that you are not alone in your suffering or grief. Others are in your midst ready to surround you with love and to see to your physical needs. In the event that all I can offer are thoughts and prayers, they are sincere in wishing for your ability to endure and power through this moment.

Finally, as it is now several days after both Christmas and the New Year, my personal public service announcement (because it is crazy out here in these COVID streets) is to take precaution and extra care. I have been reading some of the chatter on social media, so let me state at the outset, I am no scientist; I am a lawyer. And that part of me wonders how some of these folks get to go on television every day as if they are reading these recommendations for the first time on the air. As in, nobody considered that y'all were going to eff up sick leave, such as it is, for everybody? Therefore, let's all touch and agree that those CDC guidelines are aspirational in assuming that folks are going to be honest. And since that hasn't exactly been working out as we hoped, you can take care of you by masking up and getting vaxxed and boosted (or not); however, if you won't do either of those things, then stand six feet back! This isn't some gazebo scene out of a Hallmark movie.

Starting 2022 with a Ban

I really did not want to use ten to fifteen minutes of your valuable time on another angry rant about these Stunt Queens voters keep sending to Washington, nor did I intend to spend at least four hours writing one, but it needs to be said. Because some of these meaux faux y'all be sending here...

I thought that I could just rattle off a few paragraphs in disgust on the FB page and maybe reach the same six curious people that regularly see my posts. After all of these years I still can't outwit the algorithm, and I have accepted that. Which is one of my New Year Resolutions--to stop worrying about the internal sabotage and just set my sights on growing my base in other ways. And that is one of the main reasons why I am so vexed...

I don't use my little corner of cyberspace to say anything outrageous or misleading. I make carefully thought-out and intentional statements. My reasoning is usually sound. Even when I am fueled by emotion, I am neither mean-spirited nor a bully. I am also not a dumb bitch. But apparently that is what it takes to be heard. Or get elected to Congress these days.

Perhaps you might be reading this and thinking, well why are you complaining then? If you think you are so smart, why not run for Congress so that you can be heard? Hence, this rabbit hole lecture on why this country is doomed if y'all don't get serious about saving this democracy.

Earlier today it was announced that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) would be permanently banned from using her personal Twitter account to spread misinformation about COVID (and other assorted lies and conspiracies). I had typed out six extemporaneous paragraphs on my Facebook page to get to the point where it stopped making sense to argue that I don't care about her, because I do. Therefore, I decided to migrate that rant to this space where I can flesh out and explain exactly why it matters that elected officials like Greene deserve to get singled out and exposed as vivid examples why you just can't send every crazy loud mouth to Congress.

As a factual introduction, I need to debunk the arguments that Greene is being unfairly silenced or censored. She is not. She still has plenty of communication avenues to share her insanity, including access to her official Twitter account which is tied to her position as an elected Member of Congress. Presumably, she can continue to tweet all kinds of nonsense and foolishness because it serves the public interest and her constituents to know that she is batshit insane and stupid. My best guess is that Twitter will flag her comments with a disclaimer if they contain false or misleading information, which is what was done with the former DESPOTUS when he was accused of inciting violence after George Floyd was killed.

The issue is not whether she can say whatever she wants, but where she can say what she wants. The First Amendment offers this beautiful declaration that the people ought to be able to express themselves without fear of government sanction. There have been several cases argued over the years that have provided some guidelines for how that speech is regulated, so I won't delve into all of that here. Just know that the right to free speech is subject to certain reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, as well as considerations for content. The operative word contained in that amendment is Congress.

Twitter is not Congress. It is a communication platform.

When you signed up for any of these various social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr, and even an old school platform like Blogger or MySpace), there was an agreement that most of us skipped reading. In essence, it said that we didn't own the space, but that we were being granted access to use the space. Therefore, it is a misconception to believe that we have the right to use these spaces in any manner we want.

Now for the most part, we know that the content police overlook a LOT of what goes on (so I won't digress into a side rant about how these same platforms are used for bullying and various criminal enterprises), but they are. Knowing that social media is internally regulated, it is problematic when someone in a high-profile position like Marjorie Taylor Greene (MTG) or the DESPOTUS with millions of followers abuses the privilege of access. They have the ability to influence how people think or behave just by offering an opinion or sharing misinformation or promoting propaganda.

When we call social media a communication platform, we are literally saying that it is the online equivalent of a step ladder and a megaphone. It is a podium, a stage, or a pulpit with a microphone and giant loud speakers. I've addressed this previously, but it bears repeating and emphasis--be wary to whom you pass the mic.

For lack of a better pop cultural reference, MTG is that bully in the racoon hat from A Christmas Story. She lurks in the alley to jump out to terrorize people, whether it is a young activist with whom she disagrees on the appropriateness of guns in schools or her fellow lawmakers whom she taunts for wearing masks. Having been stripped of her committee assignments for her excessive trolling barely six weeks after being sworn into her term, she spends most of her time loitering in the hallways and tunnels, devising a workout alternative to CrossFit in the Members gym, and auditioning for right wing media outlets as insurance in case she doesn't get re-elected.

In other words, she is a waste. I cannot emphasize how utterly disgraceful it is for this woman to even have an official Twitter account, let alone an office and paid staff. The fact that she occupies a seat in Congress from which she accomplishes nothing other than to promote herself is beyond words. I don't care how or why she got elected. I just know that she didn't question the legitimacy of the votes that sent her here back in November 2020. Yet, she has been a vocal and visible proponent of the Big Lie that somehow there were illegitimate votes cast from her state that resulted in the ouster of MAGA Man, the hero to whom she has pledged her allegiance. Because it sure ain't to the same Constitution we both swore to uphold and defend.

To be clear, my disdain for her isn't just ideological. There are several Stunt Queens serving in Congress and I get increasingly frustrated with every single one of them, from both political parties. At the end of the day, the job is to represent the people who elected you, not to spend half the time engaging in silly Twitter fights or negotiating a primetime appearance on cable news or a Sunday morning talk show. The personal affront of their existence is why I have chosen violence as my opening salvo this New Year.

And because I don't have a congressional vote. The District of Columbia has a non-voting Congressional Delegate who can introduce legislation, vote in committee, but she must appeal to her Colleagues to vote on behalf of the citizens of this city. Therefore, I couldn't position myself to run for political office on behalf of my beloved hometown or its 700,000+ citizens even if I wanted to (and no thanks, I would rather fight from the outside). If I had the temperament, I guess I could run for City Council or Mayor thanks to Home Rule charter. But with powers limited to the purview granted by Congress, and the way I cuss...

A year ago, the world witnessed how partisan elected officials disregard the citizens of DC as expendable. While MTG and her co-conspirators in the Insurrection Caucus encouraged the rioters as they breached the Capitol, the DESPOTUS refused to engage the National Guard to quell the uprising. No concern for the lives of office staff, facilities and maintenance workers, or the Capitol Police and there was no effort to protect the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods if that mob had continued their rampage beyond the Capitol grounds. When the Mayor, the City Council, and various experts cited the limitations of Home Rule in invoking the mechanisms to protect the City in a historic hearing on Statehood, their pleas were dismissed along partisan lines

Thus, it incenses me that this woman and I, same age and with roots from the same state, are not treated equally as American citizens. I worked in that same Capitol building more than 20 years ago. I can't even enter the Longworth Building, where her office is located, to transact business at my credit union branch because of her seditious antics. If I participated in a peaceful protest to urge passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act on the street, how long before I would get arrested? She lost use of her personal Twitter account, but she can still reserve time to take to the floor of the House of Representatives to spew conspiracy theories and racist rhetoric to all of America, thanks to the C-Span cameras. Yet, no matter how eloquent, rational, and right I am in my indignation, I would be lucky to reach 25 people with this rant. I might get a few RTs, but that rarely happens in the eleven years I've been blogging...

So, ban that broad because anything less than pulling the cord on her bullshit is to concede that what she allegedly has a right to say is more important than the impact of what she says. She can't shout FIRE in a crowded theater and then shrug when folks get trampled. She sought this attention and the exposure, so she must use it responsibly or lose the privilege. And face the consequences same as her MAGA Man who lost his account too. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

Finally, I hope not to spend this much time and energy on Marjorie Taylor Greene again in the foreseeable future. She will continue to piss me off, but the next time, I will take action instead of offense. She represents a district in Georgia that might be hard to flip given redistricting shenanigans and partisan election law changes, but there are four declared Democratic challengers and one Republican. Surely any one of them can do a better job of serving in Congress. Statewide, I must work to re-elect my Morehouse Brother Rev. Raphael Warnock to the Senate and to elect my Spelman Sister Stacy Abrams to be the first Black woman to serve as a Governor. We need to register voters and organize for other local elections. I need to save up a little bail money, in case I run into some good trouble (although my Daddy has pledged that won't happen if he can help it). Let's not get distracted by her nonsense because that was clearly the job she was sent to do. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Feeling Secure

Twas the day after the Christmas and I spent the afternoon on the sofa with a bottle of sparkling wine, chicken strips, and a few hours of kid-free silence. So naturally, I did what every other Insecure fan should have been doing in preparation for the series finale later that evening--I caught up on the episodes that had I missed or half-watched from this last season.

Now, because I am mindful that there are Busy Black folks out there who aren't fans or maybe haven't had a chance to watch the finale, so I won't spend that much time this Monday quarterbacking the finale. Watch it, come to your own conclusions, and then come back here for my take on what I hope will be the impact of Insecure for the long-term.

1. Conversations with our families about estate planning - This really hit home for me. My parents wrote their wills some twenty years ago, long before there was a notion of the chronic health issues we have faced for the past ten. My Mom, on the sage advice of Suzie Orman, had the foresight to invest in long term care insurance, which has made been a lifesaver in every possible way. While my Dad is still old school with respect to his faith in life insurance and bank savings, it was the financial planning that my Mom initiated that has really made this season of their lives manageable for us as their children.

There's so much more to say on this topic, because Black people can be inconsistent when it comes to death. On the one hand, we deal with it as a part of life, yet it amazes me just how reluctant our families are to plan for anything other than the funeral. I don't want to think about dying either, but if these last two years have taught us anything, it is that we need to have contingencies in place to deal with the unexpected. TALK TO YOUR PARENTS! Get their passwords. Have them walk you through their finances. Ask them how they want things to be settled. And talk to your siblings so that everyone is on the same page. Ain't nothing worse than drama and tension on the front pew that never gets resolved. 

2. Embracing imperfection by dropping the Black superwoman trope - The name of the show was Insecure. A lot of y'all missed that. Some of you were very critical that Issa didn't have her shit together from the beginning. Some of you probably thought highly of Molly until she realized how much of a hot ass mess she had been for four seasons. Some of you were more concerned about Tiffany wearing your sorority colors than you were about the vulnerability she showed as a new mother suffering with post-partum depression. You might have missed the fact that Kelli was sober this entire season, which was a good thing considering that she pissed her pants during Coachella and got into all kinds of nonsense whenever she imbibed. Y'all were siding with Lawrence's irresponsible fuckboi declaration that Condola blew up his life when she got pregnant (which we're going to revisit a little later).

Life is messy and not even fictional people are perfect. Thank goodness!

3. Addressing the stigma of mental health, especially among Black men - We saw Molly with a therapist, and I know that the religulous among you will argue that all she needed was Jesus. But I'm sure He would have sent her to a therapist too. Despite the ultimate outcome of his story arc, Nathan was one of the most valuable characters, working through his issues with others and with himself. Unlike most stereotypical depictions of mental illness (the homeless vagrant or the drug addicted loser), it was refreshing to see a high functioning, yet flawed individual who owned his issues. 

4. Establishing and maintaining mature co-parenting relationships - So we've reached the hill where I plant my flag--Lawrence, the dude who perpetually let life happen to him finally grew a pair! The fact that it took his fast-talking friend Chad to blurt that out at him for it to finally sink in that he needed to make some choices and man the fuck up (and you thought that was only about his on-and-off again situationship with Issa)...

And one of those choices was to be more present in the life of his son with Condola. She didn't get pregnant--they were fucking. Birth control goes both ways, but sometimes it fails and one of those little swimmers is gonna go all the way (we all saw Look Who's Talking). Given that Lawrence was rather promiscuous generous, I'm surprised that he hadn't created more babies...but y'all aren't ready for that conversation.

Instead, let's keep the focus on the fact that if more folks took responsibility for their actions, the world would be so much better for the children that result. I say that as a lawyer who used to represent parents in their custody disputes. I say that as a woman who has read some of the really shitty takes that some weekend Dads have expressed about paying child support. I say that as a mother with equal disdain for the toxic Moms who feel entitled to erect insurmountable barriers to healthy co-parenting because they have irrational trust and control issues. 

Look, parenting is hard within a marriage, let alone between two households. We only got one full episode, a HUGE blow-up, and a few tranquil scenes scattered among subsequent episodes, but I assure you, it took a LOT of work to get him to that happy ending. 

5. Blackness is Beautiful - I mean, we know this but I don't think the rest of the world always gets to see it presented that way. Sure, we've had sitcoms with all-Black casts that have been unapologetically Black in the past, but this time we got an experience that showcased Black Los Angeles as well. We saw Black people at art galleries, at outdoor festivals, planning events, attending Coachella, hiking, hanging out on the beach, owning businesses, and doing all of the bougie stuff that white folks assume we don't do. We drink coffee too, but in every other sitcom, we'd be the sassy barista or the silent busboy. In any other sitcom, we'd see a few Black faces in the crowd and that would be touted as inclusion. For once, it was great to see us as the foreground and the background. It was significant to depict various aspects of Black life that weren't confined to any one space within the community--the Dunes apartment complex in Inglewood was just as integral as Molly's downtown office or Crenshawn's warehouse workspace or Black alumni weekend at Stanford.

It matters that Issa Rae, the actress, writer, and producer was an aspirant just ten years ago when we first encountered Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl back in 2011 on YouTube. Like most people who became fans of that effort, who could have foreseen that it would lead Rae to the point where she is today? Not just in her career, but also the other Black actors, writers, and directors that she took along with her for the ride: Stella Meghie, Melina Matsoukas, Prentice Penny, Natasha Rothwell, Jay Ellis, and Yvonne Orji. I am thinking about Tracy Oliver, the antagonist on the web series, who is now a budding media mogul in her own right. There is also Robin Thede, the writer and producer of the hilariously funny and Emmy-nominated A Black Lady Sketch Show. I am thinking that when Rae stated that she was rooting for everyone Black, that meant EVERYBODY.

Of course, the predictable backlash to this will be to point out that there is no such place as Black LA if we only make up 8% of that city's population. Some snooty TV executive, probably the same guy that canceled Girlfriends without a series finale, will wonder aloud where in Los Angeles they found that many Black people and whether it was truly representative if there were not as many Latinx or Asian Americans depicted (because it is perfectly acceptable to accuse us of excluding others). Surely, token efforts to integrate shows like the original Sex and the City or Girls, which celebrated a very specific demographic of empowered white woman (the Christines and Kristins) would have more impact. Just greenlight a reboot or a pre-boot with a Black girlfriend and set one of the episodes outside of their typical exclusive enclaves of privilege. Send Miranda Hobbs to a Black church in Harlem with her law school professor. Because that isn't racist...

But it ain't progress either.

I would love for the legacy of Insecure to be a more sustained movement towards inclusion in Hollywood--more diversity in directors, writers, production crews, etc. It would be great, but I lived through the 80s and 90s. Ground-breaking popular Black shows still get marginalized while mediocre mainstream shows live on in syndication. I still believe that our stories deserve to be told and that there is plenty of space on the red carpet for more diversity, but I don't want to wait another 30 years just to make incremental advances. Because Issa Rae decided not to rest on her dreams, someone else needs to wake up and follow suit. 

Are you waiting on a chance, or are you taking any?

Read that again, look at the calendar, and get then serious about making that next move. If you saw the finale, that was a personal message in a bottle that even if the ground is shaking beneath your feet, trust yourself...Everything is going to be, Okay?!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Beauty is a Beast

Recently on a trip to New York City, we took the Kid to see the Empire State Building. I hadn't been inside in decades, and like many classic attractions, it has ben re-designed as an experience. Now there are interactive exhibits on the building process and the various ways that the iconic structure has been depicted in popular culture. There were nods to films such as An Affair to Remember (1957), Sleepless in Seattle (1992), and of course, the multiple versions of King Kong. My daughter enjoyed seeing the King Kong references, and I didn't have the heart to reveal the scowling face I was making behind my mask. So in all of the pictures, you see me smiling as if I didn't have a visceral reaction to being reminded of one of my earliest lessons in subliminal racism and sexism.

Yes, and don't act so surprised that I caught on at an early age that some women are regarded as damsels in distress in need of rescue and protection, while others are collateral damage left to perish or fend for themselves. I must have been about eight or nine years old when I first saw the 1976 King Kong remake. It aired on a Saturday night, and I watched it with my Mom. Like most precocious kids, I had questions, including why women were being sacrificed and what this giant ape did with them once he got hold of them. I also wondered why Kong seemed so smitten with this particular white woman and why it was necessary to save her, but not any of the native women. I'm sure my Mom gave me all of the answers that one is supposed to offer a child; nevertheless, I really got the message when I saw the original film with Fay Wray...

Since this piece is not really about King Kong, my point is that certain women are treated like hapless victims while others are fair game. I guess I could attempt to deconstruct why a giant carnivorous ape was allowed to terrify the inhabitants of a tropical island, but that would also require me to come up with an explanation for how those same humans were able to survive on that island with him, that ginormous serpent, and various prehistoric dinosaurs...

It is a lot easier to point out that the message has been the same whether we are talking about movies or politics. I am referring to that anime video that Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) posted last week (before he deleted it and got censured for it) that included his heroic fantasy of killing fellow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). I noted that she was depicted as some giant beast hellbent on a mission of destruction, and Gosar imagined himself as some kind of action hero, aided by fellow Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) as his sidechick co-avengers. 

Much of the initial fallout honed in on AOC's response to being the subject of his sick and twisted revenge porn video, but as usual, I saw a lot more in that 90 seconds of pure fuckery. There are the illusions to AOC as Kong; actual footage of the mistreatment of Haitian migrants and refugees; the celebration of border patrol and law enforcement; and of course, the insinuation that Gosar and Company are fighting the good fight against the current Administration. The anime portion is typical of the violent imagery that became common under the DESPOTUS Regime, so while it must be upsetting and frustrating to AOC personally, it occurred to me why all of this is so familiar.

I am not a fan of anime, so I hadn't seen the original video or the series that inspired this dreck. But knowing what I know about how certain imagery tends to be borrowed and reinterpreted, it doesn't surprise me at all that Gosar and his staff would cobble together this racist and sexist mish-mash of fearmongering tropes. Of all the people who best represent the embodiment of his worst fears, it is the beautiful, smart, and outspoken Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC)--a Latina whose very existence is both an affront and a delight. 

Of course he hates the Squad. And it follows that he would hate Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Kamala Harris, former Secretary Hillary Clinton, and every other powerful woman who disagrees with him ideologically. That part isn't surprising, but it is intriguing that he didn't choose to dehumanize or kill any of those other women, all of whom make cameo appearances in his video. Nor did he choose to depict himself slaying President Joe Biden, though I'm sure that could be a crime (but you can ask Kathy Griffin just to be sure). Therefore, it isn't enough to suggest that AOC makes an easy target for derision and ridicule. But it is a good starting point to mention that her youth and attractiveness probably rev Gosar's engines. And that's one major reason why she's so dangerous...she might seduce him to betray his core beliefs to accept climate change or to cancel student loan debt! 

Hence, another important lesson of subliminal racism and sexism--women that don't know their place aren't damsels in need of rescue, they are beasts that must be broken. 

I've noticed the devolution in the manner of attacks on AOC since she rebuffed Candace Owens' offer to debate on Twitter. Remember that nonsense? Before she even got elected to Congress, folks thought they could prove that she was an intellectual light-weight just because she had been working as a bartender in the Bronx. Perhaps the assumption was that she would be the Democratic version of Joe the Plumber and become a caricature--Sandy from the Burbs. But when she refused to be baited into a breakroom brawl with the designated toadie, her detractors searched for other means of attacking her. She can't be that broke, they argued when she was photographed in an expensive pantsuit that Anna Wintour loaned her from the VOGUE closet. She can't be that smart since she graduated cum laude from Boston University, but not Harvard. 

When they found that old footage of her dancing in a college video parody of an iconic scene from The Breakfast Club and bellyached that she was bringing Cardi B instead of respectability to the hallowed halls of Congress, not even that was scraping the bottom. She responded in typical Millennial fashion with a Tik Tok video filmed in the hallway in front of the entrance to her office. That must have really set their pants on fire, so they hit back with memes. And then at some point, it became acceptable to dehumanize her appearance so that the attacks could better appeal to the intelligence of her detractors. 

That's another tactic of the patriarchy that goes back to Saartjie Baartman, otherwise known as the Hottentot Venus. Turn the object of your obsession into an oddity, a curiosity, or worse, a revulsion. Exaggerate certain physical characteristics to convince others that the person is subhuman or some kind of freak. If you think that's a reach, then consider how in just a few years AOC, a mere cocktail waitress from the Bronx, has morphed from the village idiot to being depicted as a rampaging, hairless Titan in Gosar's video. Explain the tepid reaction to when she was called a fucking bitch by another Colleague over an ideological difference of opinion on poverty and crime. Explain how her admission to having PTSD after the Capitol Insurrection was downplayed and mocked in the conservative media. Explain why it even made sense to release this video mere days after she pissed off her Caucus and her Party by voting with Gosar and most of the GOP against the infrastructure bill.

To offer a study in contrasts, explain why Rep. Lauren Boebert, also a mere cocktail waitress from Colorado, can claim that she fears for her life and must carry a gun around the most heavily guarded neighborhood in this city. Ain't nobody coming for you, lady...except maybe the IRS and the FEC! But trust that if IRS and/or FEC agents were to show up with subpoenas and Boebert suffered as much as a paper cut, these mofos would take to the floor of the House of Representatives to defend her honor. 

Thus, another reminder of how patriarchy works tirelessly to rescue the hapless maidens that cry wolf even though they keep looking for trouble. And when all else fails and you can't taunt, humiliate, tame, and ultimately conquer the Beast(s), you can always kill them.

Take a closer look at that video. Then tell me how America's fate depends on the courage of Paul Gosar, a dentist by trade, to prevail. That shit would be comical we hadn't already seen it a thousand times; yet, y'all keep remaking King Kong as if we don't get the message.

Beauty is a filter, a mirage, special lighting, and other tricks of the camera to make us believe we are seeing something that isn't real. If left to be defined in the eyes of beholders like Paul Gosar, then we get Ann Darrow (America the "Beauty") in need of rescue while the native women get devoured or trampled. We get men that rush in to save the damsels, but only to claim them for their collections of trophies and stuffed game heads. We get wannabe heroes who think it is courageous to turn away those in need, to ignore those who are sick and hungry, and to exploit those who are desperate. We get legions of defiant and unrepentant men elevated to the cult status of hero, even thought they lack any moral fiber, and are only motivated by the relentless pursuit of greed and personal gain. We get immature cowards like Gosar, whose shining moment of bravery is an imaginary conquest in a doctored cartoon. 

Beauty isn't one standard quality or physical characteristic, it is a combination of attributes. Beauty is the ability to see the humanity in another person, regardless of our physical or ideological differences. Compassion, fairness, equality, and diversity are beautiful. Charity is beautiful. Kindness is beautiful. Decency is beautiful. Respect is beautiful. Service and sacrifice are beautiful. Tenacity, persistence, and audacity are beautiful. If America's beauty is meant to be more than a celluloid fantasy, then she must live up to the ideals she espouses and claims to represent in the world. Otherwise, she is really the Beast...

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Dining While Black

A friend of mine helped to organize a celebration of Black-owned restaurants in the DC area, and though I missed the official kick-off, my intention is to visit one or two of the spots before the end of the week. Both to support his work, and to lend my support to some local restauranteurs. I've been shut up in the house for over a year, so I need to find some new places to hang. And as an ongoing objective that I've been pursuing here at Busy Black Woman, this gives me a chance to seek out and support more small businesses owned by Black, Latinx, LGBTQIA, and women entrepreneurs.

Does that make me a racist? Apparently it does because I should not care about the gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation of the business owner. I should only care that the product serves my needs. To pay attention to those attributes of the owner means that I am not adhering to MLK's dream of a colorblind society and I am only contributing to the division of our already polarized world by taking notice of something that I am supposed to pretend doesn't exist.

Yeah, whatever man.

I am tired of explaining this, but here we go--representation matters. It matters for people to see themselves as part of this society. It matters for our children to have role models. It matters for you and your children to see that competency and success are not reserved for the few but available to all. It matters because I say so!

It matters that when starting a business, women and people of color start off with real deficits. It is a fact that some business owners are less likely to receive start-up capitol from banks, or that they might face repayment terms that are more onerous than others. It is a fact that there is discrimination imbedded in the system that affects where businesses are located. In addition to financing and location, there are 50/11 reasons why small business ownership is a challenge for anyone, so when the owner happens to belong to a historically marginalized or underrepresented group, those challenges are magnified.

So why are y'all so triggered that someone thought that Black-owned restaurants deserve a little advertising boost for a week? Like seriously, how is that any more racist than Taco Tuesday?

Let me put this another way, because as we head into the holiday season and folks are advertising Black Friday sales and deals, I don't hear any complaints. I have yet to see any whining about there being no White Friday sales or how unfair it is to capitalize the word "Black" in those advertisements. I haven't seen any ALL Fridays matter backlash; I see y'all opening your wallets to buy whatever you can at a 25% discount.

Nope, not the same because there is a reasonable explanation for singling out the Friday after Thanksgiving versus the other 51 Fridays on the calendar...right?

I said what I said. I'm tired of the knee-jerk backlash and the intellectual laziness. This isn't that hard. Nobody is forcing you to participate if you don't care to. If you would rather eat homophobic chicken nuggets because their customer service is better, then have at it. Or if you would rather have the pizza from the same chain where the owner got caught on tape using the n-word because they deliver, that is your business. Do you also go into the Chinese food take-out in your neighborhood to complain that calling it Chinese food is discriminatory against other kinds of cuisine? Still mad because there are no Cracker Barrels in the city?

Let's say that you're right. You don't need to know the race or gender of the restauranteur who is serving your truffle fries and ceviche. But you need to know that where you do business impacts more than just that owner, their employees, and their families. Your dollars help to stabilize and sustain communities. If you don't believe that, then drive through the hood or through some small town where the lone factory just closed. 

When I became intentional about supporting small businesses, it was after I decided to try my hand at selling tee shirts to support this blog. I reasoned that it would be good karma to support other small business owners, so wherever possible, I would buy cards, books, candles, jewelry, and other knick-knacks from vendors I encountered at bazaars, street festivals, and on social media. Then it became integral to my Busy Black ethos to disengage from mass-produced merchandise in order to highlight unique goods and products. Sure, I could buy a generic box of all-occasion cards for cheaper at the Big Box, but these cards produced by my Spelman sister are cuter. I can give my Kid a lunchbox or a tee shirt with affirming messages about the beauty of her Blackness. These earrings are one-of-a-kind, this hat is dope, and wow, this is an interesting combination of scents in this hand-poured candle. And so on.

I also noticed the importance of a vibrant Main Street as opposed to a booming Wall Street. Local economies depend on localized economic activity. And big corporate chains don't always see the value in investing in certain communities. However, the Mom and Pop shop that hires local teens who need some spending money and something productive to do outside of school has been around for years. Small diners and restaurants employ single mothers as waitresses and returning citizens as busboys and cooks. The old man at the repair shop inherited the business from another resourceful old man who taught him that shops like these are valuable training centers for skills and life. So what do you mean it doesn't matter?

You mean it matters in those homogenized Hallmark movies, but not in the city, especially in neighborhoods that haven't been gentrified or where there hasn't been the same level of economic development. We don't need to emphasize the existence of small Black or Latinx businesses that will employ local kids and instill in them the value of hard work. They don't need to see entrepreneurship up close when there are jobs downtown. They don't need to know that money deposited in a Black bank will provide the financing for a start up company that couldn't get a PPP loan. That community-based businesses are more likely to sponsor uniforms and equipment for the Pop Warner football and Little League baseball teams than the corporate conglomerate. These kids don't need to be inspired by the story of the intergenerational family who all worked in the restaurant started by their immigrant patriarch who came here to escape civil war. 

No, let's insist that race doesn't matter and that we don't need ethnic hair salons and barbershops because everybody can just go to Supercuts. 

Riddle me this: for all of the complaining on Blue Ivy's internet about highlighting the race of these restauranteurs, is it racist to be told that the owners are Black or more racist to find out and then opt to eat somewhere else? In a city where folks line up for overpriced Top Chef burgers, $15 salads, and $4 doughnuts, y'all are offended by a listing of Black-owned restaurants? But it's okay to go on Yelp to look for whatever other ethnic cuisine... 

In a past life I was a civil rights lawyer who advocated for affirmative action. I will never forget the time I stood next to a small business owner in line outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments over a federal contracting case. This man told me that his business was adversely harmed by set-asides that guaranteed portions of government contracts to qualifying minority-owned small businesses. He got plenty of other contracting work, but because he couldn't compete for every contract, that was unfair to him and his family. When I pointed out that like his, these businesses were vying for taxpayer-funded contracts and the set-asides ensured equitable distribution of work that those businesses would not have access to otherwise, he stopped talking to me.

To illustrate with a restaurant metaphor, he had his own table (one of the best in the place), but he still wanted someone else's table as well.

We are emerging from a global pandemic and the fact that some of these places are still open should be a cause for celebration. Last month y'all were complaining that people don't want to work for $2.13 an hour; last week the debate was over the ethics of tipping at least 15%; and now the issue is not wanting to know that the owner is Black. I'm detecting a theme here...

But don't let me call you on your bullshit and risk not having your support for teaching American History.

I'm done, because I need to make lunch plans. I've got some new places to try and some old faves to track down (since a lot has changed in a year). The holidays are approaching, so I need to gear up for my Busy Black Woman Holiday Giving Guide and get on with my Busy Black business. In the wise words of someone, everything ain't for everybody, but you won't know if you don't try. Ciao!

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Adventures in Gen X Nostalgia: Hey You Guys!

Recently, I was in the car when I heard the last few minutes of a segment on NPR that celebrated the classic PBS Kid's show, The Electric Company (1971-1977). As many of you know, I am a PBS Kid all grown up, so it was a fun trip back in time to remember that show. I posted a few clips on the Facebook page, and then of course...

Yep, I fell down a rabbit hole of memories and recollections that I just had to share! In addition to so many fond memories of TEC, I found clips of several other kid shows I grew up with, not all on PBS, but several that definitely shaped my Gen X childhood. Additionally, with quite a few friends preparing to celebrate that golden milestone of having lived for 50 years (and several who have already done so), I thought it would be fun to take you all on a trip back down memory lane to recall several of the shows that helped define our childhood.

First, a few words on the original The Electric Company, since that launched this reminiscence. It was an integral part of the programming block of shows that I watched on PBS as a child (as you know, in between Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood). Too much time has passed for me to remember exactly what time of day or for how many years I watched, but certainly enough to still remember several sketches all of these 40+ years later. We also had this cast album which got played regularly, so I have deeply embedded memories of the theme song as well as many others (listed below). At some point, the show got canceled, but never forgotten, as I am sure many of my peers will attest. 

While I have stronger recollections of that classic PBS trio, there were other kids shows on the network that aired during that same time period. Some I remember better than others, maybe because they only aired on the weekends, which is why I have memories of seeing Zoom (1972-1978), but have no idea what it was about. I did remember the opening song and probably noticed that there were different kids on each episode. The same is true for Villa Alegre (1973-1981), which I thought was called Viva Alegre, so that probably explains why my spanglish is still terrible after all of these years. 

However, one show that I remember well was 3-2-1 Contact (1980-1992). In addition to watching it most days after school, special segments were shown in school during science class. What I find remarkable about the existence of this show is how it promoted STEM long before we called it that--when it was merely learning and emphasizing practical applications of science and math. It imagined the reality of relying on a personal computer for relaying information, a prospect that seemed inconceivable in our analog world of the time. It also had a companion magazine, for which I had a subscription until I graduated from elementary school. In addition, 3-2-1 Contact contained a show within the show about a kid detective agency called The Bloodhound Gang, that solved "crimes" using the scientific method or some concept that had been introduced on the show. Was it just me, but did anyone ever see both parts of those mysteries in succession, or was it like those corny Batman cliffhangers?

Beyond PBS, there were cartoons, but we'll have to reminisce about the kid-friendly ones another time. I am old enough to remember Captain Kangaroo (although not this old), but still older than a mug, according to a friend's recent Facebook post. Bob Keeshan (who donned the coat with the big pockets from 1955-1984) was already a kid show veteran, having been the original Clarabell the Clown on the Howdy Doody Show (1947-1960), the first children's show that our parents watched. I have vague recollections of Romper Room (1953-1994) and the Magic Mirror, but I became a devotee of Sesame Street early on, so neither of those other shows made lasting impressions on me. Nor did Shari Lewis and her ubiquitous sidekick Lambchop, whom I saw as a guest on talk shows and gameshows, not knowing that she had once had her own show and a cult following. 

However, the two non-PBS shows that did make an impression on me were the New Zoo Revue (1972-1977) and the Great Space Coaster (1981-1986). What I recall the most about the NZR were its creepy life-sized furries: Henrietta Hippo, Charlie the Owl, and Freddie the Frog. I feel like everybody should remember the theme song to the GSC (as well as this Family Guy spoof), and Gary Gnu, everybody's favorite gnews reader. But did you also remember the Speed Reader and the La Linea segments as well? And I might be wrong, but I think GSC featured the Carole King and Maurice Sendak Really Rosie (1975) animated shorts, including my all-time favorite, the Story of Pierre

Speaking of shows that introduced beloved book characters, we must return to PBS and pay homage to Reading Rainbow (1983-2006), which ranks high on my nostalgia list for a variety of reasons. We revere host LeVar Burton as a national treasure, but that is thanks to his many faithful years of preaching the gospel of reading. I actually saw the premier episode of that show during the summer of 1983, even through I was already older than the target audience. I remember that we watched it together with our Mom and then we spent a great deal of time at the library, always on the hunt for some of the books that had been featured on the show. And for anyone who didn't already know, it was Reading Rainbow that introduced us to Marc Brown's popular Arthur the Aardvark character, before he became the star of his own iconic PBS Kids cartoon (1996-2021). The book, Arthur's Eyes, was read by none other than Bill Cosby.

In the 1970s through the 2000s, Bill Cosby made the rounds on various kid's programs during this era, so we won't ignore or diminish his contributions despite his current persona non grata status. He was part of the original cast of The Electric Company,  he appeared on Sesame Street, and he hosted a segment on Captain Kangaroo. He also created the iconic Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972-1985) cartoon show during this era, which was a staple on Saturday mornings for years. Although we will revisit some of the other great cartoons of our youth at another time, Fat Albert deserves mention along with Little Bill (2000-2004), another Cosby creation that sought to impart moral messages on values and education. with the same objectives. This was why so many of us who grew up with this image of him as America's Dad and life-long education advocate found the revelations about his personal life so dissonant and perfidious.

Of course now at our age, we know better than to conflate the persona with the actor; yet, we also know that the revelation of certain human foibles and faults can be disastrous. Infamously, comedian Paul Reubens, who created the character Pee-Wee Herman and later the TV show Pee Wee's Playhouse (1986-1990), was arrested for indecent exposure in 1991. By that time that happened, I was in college and definitely old enough to understand the concept of separating one's personal life from one's work, but I can only imagine the dilemma that created for parents of younger children. Kids don't necessarily see these characters as performers, but as real people. And adults want to believe that the people who bring these beloved characters to life are as kind and good as their alter egos. 

Ironically, one of the objectives of children's television programming in our day was to teach concepts that might have been challenging for adults to explain. While the most notable example of that was the explanation of death on Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers's Neighborhood (1968-2001) dealt with emotions and feelings from the outset. His show tackled real issues such as divorce, the birth of a new sibling, moving, taking care of pets, and understanding physical abilities. Often mocked for its absurdity, his Neighborhood of Make Believe helped to reinforce the magic of imagination. I still remember when I finally understood why Mr. Rogers never appeared on the other side of the tunnel...

Once that made sense (and as I got older), it was easier to separate fact from fantasy when seeing the actors on adult shows or in commercials. I remember when I saw Lee Chamberlin on other shows and Judy Graubart in commercials. Later I realized how significant these shows had been for actors in the early or transition stages of their careers, particularly for adults like Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, and Alaina Reed to half of the performers who appeared on Kids Incorporated (1983-1994). 

Of course, there are a slew of iconic kid shows from the 80s and 90s that I don't remember for various reasons. Fraggle Rock (1983-1987) tops the list because it aired on HBO. The Elephant Show (1984-1989) must have also aired on cable because I only learned about it's existence when as a Toddlersaurus, my daughter became obsessed with the Skidamarink song. I was in high school when Pee Wee's Playhouse aired which explains why I missed the revelation that Laurence Fishburne was the jheri curl cowboy. A friend recently posted about introducing her daughter to Zoobilee Zoo (1986-87), another show I missed by a few years. By the time shows like Barney & Friends (1992-2010) and Blue's Clues (1996-2006) were popular, my kid show watching days were over unless I was babysitting younger cousins, nieces, or nephews.

Thanks to these past few years with my Babe/Toddlersaurus/Kid, I've become reacquainted with several of my old favorites from childhood as well as the current incarnations of those same shows. Sesame Street, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2019 remains the gold standard, even with the format and cast changes since 2015. Although Mr. Rogers has been in syndication since it finished its original run 20 years ago, its animated reboot Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood (2012- ), is a favorite among this generation. The revived Electric Company (2009-2011) had already been canceled by the time it entered our rotation of must-see TV, but we watched the reruns on HBO until it got moved to the streaming platform last year.

The rebooted EC had potential but it only lasted two seasons. It brought back some of the iconic segments from the original show such as the word blends in silhouette and it updated the teaching component with modern musical numbers (like this high energy Silent E). For a while, they even brought back Paul the Gorilla. Their Music Man segments might have been intended as a nod to Easy Reader. Instead of a sketch comedy variety show, the format of the new show followed the classic Sesame Street model with a continuous storyline involving the core cast. After watching a few cycles of it in reruns, and despite an all-star roster of guest artists including Ne-Yo, Wyclef Jean, Good Charlotte, and LL Cool J, it could not recreate the magic of the original. The new EC might have worked better if the cast had been given more interesting storylines, if there had been more memorable songs, and well...let's just say that not even the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda could save the show from being corny and dull. 

Now corny is expected in the realm of children's programming, but dull is a mortal sin. Kid shows have a limited amount of time smaller window to catch on because there are a lot more options than when we were growing up. With multiple channels and entire networks dedicated to providing children's entertainment, that means an abundance of distraction, sensory overload, mediocrity, and less emphasis on educational content. In my biased opinion, the better quality shows are still on public television, an observation that makes sense since I grew up without cable. As a parent, I am more familiar and trusting of PBS to support my child's education; yet, I have noted that in order to remain competitive with the cable offerings, their content has had to adapt. Instead of one show like Sesame Street or Electric Company to teach kids reading, phonics, spelling and math, now there might be six. And with shows airing all day and on-demand, new programs can run their course within a few months. 

Repetition is why I can still remember my favorite songs from the original Electric Company some 40+ years later, but that was from watching the show over a span of years, not weeks. The segments were shuffled and recycled constantly, just like School House Rock (1973-1984) which aired on Saturday mornings. We didn't grow tired of those shows, we just grew out of them as we got older, but the lessons never left us. That is a topic for another day as the time has come to bring this episode of Adventures in Gen X Nostalgia to a close. I hope this piece rekindled some great memories...as you can tell, I've got enough  to keep this going at least until my 50th Birthday!

In the meantime, here is a Top 20 countdown of some my favorite songs and skits from the classic Electric Company (including a few that were not featured on the Facebook page). There were several skits I was unable to find individually, so you might want to check out this full episode or one of the compilation clip shows for some of your favorite characters like Jennifer of the Jungle, Fargo North Decoder, and J. Arthur Crank:

  1. Original Theme and Closing (season 1)
  2. Opening (season 6)
  3. Silent E (animated song)
  4. There's A Hole In the Bottom of the Sea (song/skit)
  5. T-I-O-N (animated song)
  6. Street Sign Song #1 (Home Sweet Home) and Sign Song #2 (I Love You)
  7. Whimper and Whine (Short Circus skit)
  8. Punctuation (song/skit with the Short Circus)
  9. Easy Reader (theme and skit)
  10. Spiderman (theme and skit)
  11. Word Blend (Ch-sound)
  12. That's Not the Note! (skit)
  13. Otto the Director (skit)
  14. Adventures of Letterman (animated segment "Small Talk")
  15. Rob/Robe (skit)
  16. Lick-a-Lolly (song/skit)
  17. Phantom of Love w/Phyllis and the Pharoahs (song)
  18. D Song (song with Short Circus)
  19. March Cha Cha Cha (skit)
  20. That's All (finale)

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Understanding the Assignment

It is a painful revelation to acknowledge that someone you once admired is terrible. In fact, it really sucks. A few weeks ago, I had to confront the realization that a lot of what has been said over the years about former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was right. I won't call her any of the names that some of y'all have used to describe her over the years, but let's just say that after her appearance on The View, I see things so much clearer. 

For years I have been mis-hearing the subtle reassurances and denouncements in her account of her personal narrative. While I heard her speak of overcoming the racism and prejudice of 1960s Alabama to accomplish remarkable feats, in fact she was demurring that the system was ever implicitly racist or sexist. The difference is more than semantic. You see, she did the work of overcoming her race and gender to be regarded as acceptable enough to advance inside a system where Black women typically aren't concert pianists that speak fluent Russian. And she did all of that without raising her voice or rolling her neck. How admirable.

So when she appeared on The View and made the case for why little white children don't deserve to have their feelings hurt in the hard discussions of American history, it was consistent with her special brand of suburban Mom diplomacy. What would the neighbors think if we traumatized their children with horrific stories about the sins of their grandparents? No, no, we mustn't do that...

For years, I admired and defended this woman, in spite of her politics and her devotion to the neo-Cold War worldview espoused by the Bush Administration. In my mind, it was more important to focus on the fact of her achievements, not the compromises she made along the way. Even when she was shoe shopping while Black people were drowning in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I argued that her portfolio as Secretary of State did not address domestic policy. Therefore, her presence would merely serve to distract from the incompetence of the Administration's response. In her book, Rice conceded that her trip to New York was ill-timed, the kind of regret one expresses after just missing the end of season sale. 

I thought I had said my peace on Dr. Rice a few weeks ago when I posted my initial reaction to her comments on the Facebook page. However, this week a former colleague of mine posted this thread to Twitter about former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun. On November 3, 1992 she became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois. The thread covered various factoids and anecdotes of her career, and it reminded me how those had been the very attributes that had inspired my class to request her as our commencement speaker in 1994.  

I recall that we were beyond excited and were expecting a rousing speech full of marching orders! That previous summer had been when she argued so passionately against a routine Congressional trademark renewal for the Daughters of the Confederacy. I was primed for her to offer more insight into what compelled her to shame her colleagues into to denying those "delightful gentleladies" the "imprimatur" of the U.S. Senate. I wanted to know exactly what shade of red former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) turned in that elevator when she stared him down and told him that his singing of Dixie could never make her cry. I was ready!

Instead, we got some insipid Flag Day keynote address to the local VFW. Disappointed doesn't begin to describe how we felt. All of these years later, that is what my classmates remember (or try to forgot)--that she came all the way to Atlanta to lecture an audience full of Black women and their families on patriotism. Someone on her staff clearly misunderstood the assignment. 

Or did they...

Wisdom, the passage of time, and current events would suggest that the Ambassador came to our graduation with a different agenda than to deliver a typical "win one for the Gipper" commencement address. We knew what we wanted to hear from her, but in hindsight it was a four-hour long graduation ceremony with several speakers. There were others on the dais that salvaged the moment and offered the more memorable and meaningful remarks. Whether she knew that in advance or just made up her mind at the last minute once she had sat through at least two hours of pomp and tediousness is anyone's guess. I just know that most of my classmates don't recall with any detail much of what she said, not even the fact that she gave a soporific speech on patriotism. I can't imagine she expected us to reflect on her theme, so methinks she used our graduation as an opportunity to send a message to a broader, national audience of folks who didn't seem to understand what has now become the gospel truth. 

Black people, particularly Black women, don't need to be lectured on patriotism. But apparently white people do. If you disagree, then just consider the fact that white people would rather overthrow this democracy than see certain women and people of color ascend to positions of power in our government.

Of course, no one foresaw that possibility in 1994, but then again, no one foresaw the impact of integrating the Senate with one single Black woman. They didn't expect for her to cause any trouble since none of the other nice ladies had been so bold as to challenge their traditions. It was supposed to be a routine vote, but she threatened to hold the floor until hell froze over--and she had every right to do so under Senate rules. After all, hadn't some of those same Senators tried to filibuster the Civil Rights Act almost thirty years prior?

One day I hope to inquire about this directly, but perhaps Braun felt the need to explain to those white southern gentleladies and their defenders why their support of a symbol of insurrection was so objectionable. She knew that her invitation to the Daughters of the Confederacy annual Margaret Mitchell Tea Party had been permanently revoked, so she used the platform of Spelman's graduation to show them what real patriotism looks like. This wasn't the soaring oratory the great-great granddaughters of women who had once been enslaved and forbidden an education were expecting; instead it was a message to the descendants of Miss Mellie and 'nem on what it means to be an American.

And I declare that whether we realize it or not, that is exactly what Black women have been doing all along. We've always understood our assignment. We keep saving this republic from the clutches of these "innocent" gentleladies who would rather debate white children's self-esteem than support the actual lives of Black and Latinx children. At every decisive turn, we show up to vote against tyranny and injustice. We advocate for the needs of our communities after having worked a full shift for less pay, fewer benefits, and for longer hours. Our blood, sweat, and tears run red, white, and blue; yet y'all keep insisting that their reverence for a Lost Cause is somehow more patriotic. 

You know how exasperating it is when someone can't or won't do what is expected of them? We often sigh facetiously, you had one job...but in reality, it isn't just one job. It is always the 'other duties as assigned' part that makes the difference. For Black and Latinx women in visible positions of power, part of the job is to inspire our children to believe that they can accomplish anything when given the opportunity to shine. And another part of the job is to burn the place down as necessary. We can't transform racist and sexist structures if we allow them to remain intact. Therefore when I juxtapose my frustration with the Ambassador in 1994 to the profound disenchantment I've come to feel about the Secretary, it becomes so clear why I have been wrong all of these years. One woman understood the assignment.

In all the years Condoleezza Rice has been on the national stage, I have never witnessed her flub a line or stray off-script. She recites every word with A+ perfection, even when she recounts her childhood in Birmingham. Never a quiver in her voice or a tear shed for the violent death of a playmate or whatever indignities segregation forced her to endure. She's not bitter; she's better than those who took to the streets to demand justice because she stayed in the library to get her homework done and didn't cause trouble. She made it to the halls of power and didn't touch anything, not even the furniture. The only fires she's lit have been the candles in the candelabra atop her grand piano.

Carol Moseley Braun may not have set the Georgia Dome ablaze at my graduation, but I bet there are still some smoldering embers in the U.S. Senate. In fact, those nice gentleladies are still burned that her words on the Senate floor have reverberated across the country and their flag no longer flies. She made them so big mad that they have led the charge to ban curriculum that isn't taught to prevent the sins of their parents and grandparents from being revealed. In spite of the backlash, Braun declared that one doesn't become the first Black woman elected to the Senate to make nice with the good ole boys

"My duty is to stand up for something and to be a spokesperson for the outrage and disappointment and those who wanted to see change in the Senate."
-- Carol Moseley Braun

Someone understood her assignment, and it was not the star pupil who never let her race or gender distract or offend those in power. Putting up with sexism isn't the key to unlocking the corner office. Racism isn't some fairy tale that happened once upon a time, long ago in a land far, far away. And patriotism isn't misquoting MLK so that white children can feel better about enjoying their skin color privileges guilt-free. We can disagree about a lot of things, but we cannot disprove the existence of systemic -isms by pointing to our historic positions within exclusive spaces as progress. Until there is more than one face in the crowd, paved roads for others to follow--unless there are fundamental changes to standard operating procedure, then there is NO progress. 

Let me close by invoking and tweaking the words of another famous women who made history during the first week in November back in 1968. Shirley Chisholm understood that the assignment was not to demand a seat at the table in order to pour tea. If you did the work of bringing your own chair, you'd be wise to have brought along some matches as well.