Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Is This Your Man?

(This comes from the archive of pieces that I started, but did not finish. I saw a FB post today that compelled me to dust this off as a public service to every woman still looking for her Boaz. But please, for the love of God, don't marry any old boy that calls himself a prophet but is advertising for a wife on Facebook...)

Whenever I see a Facebook status, Instagram meme, or a tweet that begins with the phrase, "I don't know who needs to hear this, but..." I prepare myself for the laughs (or the truth). One time it was a reminder to get the clothes out of the washer which is something I ALWAYS need whenever I finally get around to doing laundry. Another time it was a reminder that everybody can't be my friend.

Well today, I am offering that same service to some single person out there. If this or a similar meme was shared by some guy you know, do yourself and the rest of us a favor...tell him to kick rocks, then unfriend/block him, and then move on with your life.

Tell him that nobody asked some dude to tell the world how real women are supposed to act. Nobody needs to take advice from a poorly doctored Facebook meme. Tell him, and I am serious about this, real women are tired of grammatically offensive viral misogynist hotep claptrap.

I don't know why, but seeing this triggered all of the nonsensical debates I had in college about fixed gender roles in relationships. These were deep conversations about last names, killing spiders, and taking out the trash, because that's what some real men were taught to believe defined them...

Before you ask why so bothered if you're such a secure Busy Black Woman--trust me, I am good. I just want to expose some of this booshay because I have lived long enough, been married just as long, and it is my duty here on Beyonce's internet to warn others. So I don't know who needs to see this, but:

Don't let some man-child list all of your kindnesses to him as a obstacle course of hurdles you had to jump over in order to 'earn' his last name. Don't be fooled by his overuse of the word Queen in his descriptions of you on social media. Don't consider it a triumph that your fidelity was finally rewarded with a walk down the aisle in your dream dress with all of your children in the wedding party. You are not best friends with his Mama...you're her tag team partner (as were all of his exes).

This same dude will be calling you out of your name the instant you make some unreasonable request, like watch the kids while I run to the grocery store. He will hit you back with some nonsense about being in the middle of the game or needing time to work on his latest MLM scheme that has y'all in so much debt that you are working two extra jobs. But if you run out of his favorite cereal, he'll be talking shit about you not holding a brother down...

That's not the life you want, Sis. FWIW, this is just my Busy Black Woman's opinion that if these dudes need someone to tell what to do, they should take up dog-training as a hobby. Grown women who are handling their business don't have time for this kind of crazy. I know, that is a generalization that might not apply to every situation, and trust, I know that the dynamics within every relationship differs from the outside looking in. I'm just saying that what works in the hotep world is what works for them and their various baby mamas. Do not be deceived into believing the false teachings of ashen men.

And since I mentioned Boaz, I feel the need to apply my own biblical interpretation--a lot of folks are preaching bad religion. They are out here telling women how to dress and act with no proven results except Scripture, which they misuse. The story of Ruth and Boaz (which is actually a story about Ruth and Naomi but I will get back to that in a few) is often recounted as an allegory about a woman's faithfulness in waiting on God to send her a new husband. And while I have all kinds of issues with that...what if we told the story from the perspective of what Ruth and Boaz saw in each other? Ruth saw a man who was willing to care for her and her mother-in-law; Boaz saw a woman who had been loyal and dedicated to her mother-in-law. Could it be possible that while this is a story about love, we've been focused on the wrong couple? 

And as for the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, have you really paid attention to what is being described there? Of course she's called blessed by her husband and children because who wouldn't love a woman who does all of that work before the crack of dawn? And she's running a profitable side business too. That's the kind of woman this dude on Facebook was advertising for, but he added that she also needs to be short, light-skinned, gorgeous, and able to sing...so damn, I missed out. Meanwhile, I'm questioning his self-proclaimed apostolic status if he leads a church but doesn't have any eligible candidates in his congregation.

You don't have to take my advice, but trust me, your dream husband is not some man-baby who feels the need to publish a superficial list on social media to get attention. Note that he did not ask for a kind and devoted woman like Ruth, or for an industrious, hard-working partner like the proverbial virtuous woman. Instead of telling the world what he wants, he should have explained why anyone would be eager to apply for the job of being his wife (and because I'm curious about the benefit package for lugging around that kind of ego).

Last year when I first wrote parts of this piece, it had been in response to a lot of crazy I had been seeing on Blue Ivy's internet, and each time, I recall wondering if these sisters would have been better off single than having to face the utter humiliation of some dude publicly branding them as doormats. Inevitably, these same self-aggrandizers will go from calling her his Queen to thot as soon as she asks for child support or moves on with someone else. And while he's trashing her, he'll only make time to see his children to take pictures in the matching team jerseys he bought last month. 

So I will say it again for the sisters in the cheap seats--YOU DON'T WANT THAT LIFE. And I know, it's getting colder, this pandemic is still with us, who knows how this Election will go, and we could very well be heading for the Rapture, but naw. There is no book of Desparations in the Bible.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, The Notorious

If this year has proven anything, it is that anything can happen to just about anybody. Death is inevitable and it will eventually come to claim all of us, even the octogenarian Supreme Court Justice who successfully beat cancer three times. Even she, who took on the white male legal establishment in the 60s and proved that a woman could do more than just type her husband's legal briefs: she could attend her own classes, raise a child, and manage to graduate at the top of her Columbia Law School class. Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known affectionately and reverently as the Notorious RBG.

I will not waste any time on tears. That isn't to say that I am not saddened by her death, but I won't waste any time worrying about the political shenanigans that are already underway. Because right now, the time for long-winded think pieces on the hypocrisy and virulence of white supremacy in its last desperate, dying stages isn't worth the effort.

Instead, I will share a couple of stories that illuminate why I was such an unabashed #NotoriousRBG fan, and how just like her, I plan to fight until that day when Death comes to collect even me, the Busy Black Woman.

I first learned about Ruth Bader Ginsburg the summer I interned for the Women's Legal Defense Fund (now the National Partnership for Women and Families). Because I was in college, I simply thought it was exciting to have another woman nominated to the Court. The confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas had been an eye-opening experience for me, given the uniqueness of being at Spelman at a time when many of us were grappling with the meaning and implications of feminism. And it seemed politically correct to counter-balance the appointment of a conservative Black man on the Court with a liberal white woman.

Also of note, the semester before my internship, I took a Constitutional Law class as part of a sequence of pre-law classes to prepare for law school. I will share some anecdotes from that experience at another time (because it was at Morehouse), but the main point to this is to mention that when we studied a series of cases about gender discrimination, I was unaware that many of those cases had been argued by Ginsburg. Color me awestruck to learn that she was the Thurgood Marshall of the Women's Movement, so I was enthusiastic about her selection and confirmation. (BTW, I hate those kind of comparisons, but suffice it to say she applied a similar strategy in attacking gender distinctions in the law.)

Fast forward to several years in the future when I had a chance to hear Ginsburg speak at some event where I was still mesmerized and charmed by this little lady who swore that her best friend on the Court was her ideological opposite, Antonin Scalia. I was in the official civil rights advocacy phase of my career and our consortium was preparing to litigate at least two major affirmative action cases, and he was at the top of our list of nemeses. Yet, it was fascinating to hear her describe their friendship such as their mutual love of opera and dining at a certain Italian restaurant. The fact that she didn't take their ideological differences personally seems so retro given how ardent disciples of both are now engaged in Mortal Kombat over each successive Court vacancy.

That Ginsburg was dubbed Notorious by her admirers and probably called worse by her detractors is a testament to her insistence that she be heard. She authored many opinions during her tenure on the Court, a time of monumental shifts within the legal profession. Coincidentally, a lot more young women and people of color attended law school during her tenure, so we had a lot more reading to help define our generation's advocacy. Ginsburg became our shero because she was so relentless and indefatigable--and this was before we knew about her multiple cancer diagnoses and the workout regimen and the fact that she probably hasn't slept for more than four hours a night since her third year of law school. 

That brings me to one of the criticisms I have seen on social media--that she should have relinquished her seat when Obama purportedly asked her to resign. I disagree. She was confirmed to a lifetime appointment, and much like a few other women that I have come to respect, the concept of dedicating one's life to a particular cause typically means that the cause itself becomes one's reason for living. There is no such thing as retirement...die on the field in battle, not on the sidelines. And it was her seat, not Obama's so she had the right to decline his request. She knew as well as anybody else that her departure would launch a thousand missiles from both sides of the political spectrum, and perhaps once she knew that she would not outlive this current Regime, she decided to bequeath us with sufficient motivation to press on with the movement.

Movements change things. Those who are now second-guessing her decision to stay on the Court are thinking in terms of monuments. Monuments are content to stand still to be admired. Anyone who thinks that Ginsburg was concerned about admiration missed the point of her entire career. 

The point was not to become a meme or an inspirational Halloween costume. If her life could be summed up in one word, it was dissent. The norms of her upbringing had been that true happiness and fulfillment for young women could only be found in a family. She had both a husband and a child by the time she graduated from law school, but decided that she had more to offer the world. So she dissented. She eventually found a job as a professor, but then resolved it was not enough to shape the young minds that went forth to challenge the status quo; she had to be willing to march into battle as well. So again she dissented. She had ascended to a seat on the highest court in the land and had served that institution for more than a generation, but instead of enjoying a well-deserved retirement, she would vacate in her own time. Another dissent.

I saw the RBG documentary (2018) when it was released, and it hinted at a few of her personal shortcomings. I took note of one in particular, but it was in the dramatized movie of Ginsburg's life On the Basis of Sex (2019), that it became more clear. Like everyone who aspires to and achieves greatness, there are high costs. In her case, Ginsburg was revealed to be a less than involved mother. Her husband became the happy homemaker and made the sacrifices (and connections) that propelled her career. She acknowledged that, and while there is no cup for measuring maternal instinct my guess is that hers was small. Her single-minded focus on dismantling gender inequality didn't give her much time for mothering, but it empowered women to choose their own path to happiness and fulfillment.

Another critique on social media has been the elitist blind spot she (and the rest of the Court) have had with respect to hiring diversity. I agree that she could have done a better job of democratizing the fraternity of Supreme Court law clerks, as it is a rarefied gateway to every elite space in the profession: white shoe law firm partnerships, executive appointments to the Department of Justice, endowed professorships, the federal judiciary, and possibly back to the Supreme Court as a justice (as was the case for John Roberts, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh). Ginsburg should have hired a more diverse assortment of clerks, but so should every justice. It is a blight that everyone except for Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor share. (And yes, that includes our other SCOTUS hero Thurgood Marshall as well.) But it is a bridge too far to assert that her failure in that respect is proof that she did nothing for people of color or Black people in particular.

That kind of rhetorical nonsense is the stuff of zero-sum cancel culture. It is the bullshit logic of the keyboard whiners who never gear up to fight because they would rather complain about there not being any vegan snack options. Don't be so precious about losing a battle that has not yet been fought.

Of course the odds are against us. Of course this DESPOTUS and his Regime believe this is some kind of flaming cross--a sign that they can still stack the deck and win everything. Maybe. But so what?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote mostly dissents as a member of the Court, and if that record is to be compared to the number of cases she won as an advocate, that could brand her as some kind of sore loser. But if you are mourning her death, then you should already know that she didn't mind losing. The point was to fight on anyway. For example, Ginsburg didn't write the majority opinion in the Lilly Ledbetter case, but her dissent helped to inspire the law that sought to correct the injustices Ledbetter had endured.

Don't dis the RBG for the state of the world if you don't know basic civics (Supreme Court justices don't legislate from the bench). Don't come for the RBG if you aren't registered to vote or only think about elections every four years (there are nine seats on the Court, but hundreds of federal judgeships and McConnell has been green-lighting every Trump appointee that can spell). Don't get so caught up in ideological purity that you would rather ruminate on her shortcomings instead of strategize to move the needle forward on progress. Don't give up the fight just because the battle will be fierce.

Be Notorious. Dissent.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Flashdance Culture Cuties

I ask myself this same question every time I watch more than a few minutes of Flashdance: how did this movie ever get made and why was it such a big deal?

Or is that just my imagination? Because when Flashdance came out in 1983, I recall that it was a huge hit (even though it was rated R, so I didn't actually see it until many years later). I remember watching the music videos for What A Feeling by Irene Cara and Maniac by Michael Sembello and thinking that they were exactly the same (they aren't). I wanted to cut my tee shirts to fall off my shoulder so that I could look effortlessly cool like Jennifer Beals, the star.

In fact, I wanted to be Jennifer Beals. I wanted her hair, her legwarmers, I wanted to break dance and table dance just like she did...luckily my parents had better ideas and enrolled me in ballet class. As you know, I went on to take ballet for many years, so by the time I finally saw the movie and realized that was the whole point--that she wanted to be a ballerina, there went my childhood dreams and naiveté. How come no one told her that you can't go from the strip club to the Pittsburgh Ballet without any ballet training, no matter how flexible or agile you are, and in spite of the generosity of a nice elderly white lady who can arrange an audition?

Of course, that was the 80s and I'm sure crap like that movie propelled many a young girl to beg her parents to let her take dance class, only to show up to learn that first day, NO you cannot wear black jazz shoes nor wear your hair all over your face without receiving a strong rebuke from the stern ballet mistress.

Ironically, I was watching Flashdance and contemplating its enduring absurdity as I became aware of a #CancelNetflix campaign on Twitter, related to the release of the French film Cuties about the sexualization of underage girls in competitive dance teams. I read through a few tweets and quickly realized that the controversy was unnecessarily overblown and politicized, so I moved on. But then I read this article about how the director is now receiving death threats, and wow. Judging from the tone of the tweets, I was right to ignore the hashtag initially; however, it might be timely for us to address the issues raised by this film. 

Let's start by dispensing with the politicized outrage because really...your biases are showing like a church lady slip. You ain't fooling anybody with all of this pearl clutching over exposed midriffs and metallic eye shadow. It was all good when you were fans of Dance Moms, a show that is still airing and that features the very world of dance competition at issue in Cuties. And surely some child in your orbit went through a phase when they begged you to turn over your phone so that they could watch JoJo Siwa videos nonstop.

You are suddenly concerned about pedophilia now? Have you been clothes shopping for a child lately? Have you seen the shows on Nickelodeon or the Disney channel? Do you listen to Kidz Bop? Did you even look into the backstory about Cuties before you decided to comment and retweet conspiratorial nonsense? Or did you just react to the possibility that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros  all walked into a bar and colluded with the Chinese bartender to mix the ingredients for this COVID mocktail hoax that has killed 193,000+ people?

Second, let's analyze the timing of this, just not in the context of politics. A few weeks ago, we learned a new acronym that brought more pearl-clutching from decent respectable ladies who would never...and for what it's worth, I am not walking back what I wrote. But I am just taking note that reactions are very much dependent on the messenger. Y'all weren't this animated when Britney Spears went from the Mickey Mouse Club to being Toxic.

Or maybe you were, and now that I have my own impressionable five year old, I am more aware because I too wonder about the conflicting messages we send our children about their bodies. I worry about this culture of competitive dance as I prepare for a new season of ballet classes via Zoom. I think back to what got me hooked on dance, and indeed it was the flash. It was watching hours of the Solid Gold dancers, Soul Train, Fame, and the synchronized choreography of the Beat It video. It was also watching Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre performances on public television. It was seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland dance every Christmas for many years in The Nutcracker. However, the reality was this iconic speech that Debbie Allen delivered in the first season of the TV show Fame.

I put in the work, had big dreams, but I was tall and Black in the 80s. I felt more comfortable at the ballet barre because no one made fun of my lanky limbs. In the corps de ballet we moved with control and precision, so that was my comfort zone. Through dance I learned discipline and commitment. I also learned to regard my height as an asset even though I wasn't even the tallest dancer...that was my dear friend Karen who stood six feet tall before she effortlessly rose to the tops of her toes in pointe shoes. Those fundamentals allowed me to continue dancing (and to perform, thank you very much) well into my eighth month of pregnancy and beyond into my 40s. Hell, for my 50th Birthday I am thinking of pulling a JLo at the Superbowl! (Note that I said JLo, not Jennifer Beals, who didn't even do her own dancing in Flashdance...)

As a society, of course we send conflicting messages to children, regardless of gender. We have gender reveal parties to determine what color baby clothes we will shower on new parents. Somehow, we have determined that actually matters, even though we also claim to believe gender is a construct (well some of us do). Which is why it seems rather predictable that a majority of the #CancelNetflix crowd tend to be those who were just fine with voting for a man who once exploited his ownership of a beauty pageant as license to go hunting for genitals to ogle and grab.

Finally, it seems rather fitting that the director of Cuties, Maïmouna Doucouré, is a French Muslim woman. I'm guessing she knows enough about modesty to issue an indictment on western cultural hypocrisy, which appears to be the entire point. After all, France is the land of the can-can and Moulin Rouge, but also Edgar Degas so go figure. From what I can tell (and I haven't seen it yet), this film has become a convenient pawn in our culture wars because of the U.S. marketing and it's mature audience rating. The U.S. poster is problematic...but so is competitive dance, in my humble veteran dancer now dance Mom opinion. And how would these complainers have felt if the film had been rated PG since the point is to make people uncomfortable?

We should be uncomfortable. We should feel just as horrified as I was a few years ago when my Niece took classes at one of those competitive team factories. We were invited to her summer recital, and though she was dressed age-appropriately, that was not the case for many of the performers that day. The worst part was when my daughter, still in diapers and sucking on a pacifier started dropping it like it was hot in the aisle to one of the songs, mimicking what she saw on stage. That audience was full of applauding parents who had paid top dollar tuition for what was essentially a kiddie burlesque revue. 

If we don't want our children to emulate Cardi B, then we've got to give them Misty Copeland as a viable alternative. And if you think this is my elitist preference for ballet showing, I assure you that it isn't because just the other night, my child and I both were transfixed by a contemporary step dance company. I know that there are other layers to this conversation, such as the institutional racism of classical dance that limited options and opportunities for dancers of color, and I am willing to concede those historical biases are yet to be overcome. However, from what I have observed, competitive dance is just another example of how everything ain't for everybody.

One more point to clarify before I conclude, yes I did joke about wanting to pole dance like JLo, but allow me to point out that she also is a lifelong dancer. If you want to have that kind of flexibility, stamina, and strength, it requires training, not just talent. Talent will distinguish you in a chorus line, but training is how the body double in Flashdance fooled me as a child. Training is why Debbie Allen can still lead a dance class that rivals half an hour of zumba. Training is what you need to ensure that your child is getting in addition to those expensive costumes and glamour shots.

The controversy over Cuties is precisely that as well--this film might not be your cup of tea for any number of reasons. But if you didn't cancel your Netflix subscription after Tiger King but you are an ardent fan of Dancing with the Stars...then know that I am judging you. But I might reconsider if you slide me your password.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Our Shining Black Prince

Of all of the chaos and havoc that we're processing during this pandemic, Chadwick Boseman's death is  incomprehensible. How is he just gone?

I didn't think I would have any additional words, at least none as eloquent and exquisitely beautiful as what was written on his social media account. I was struck by the word immeasurable and how more than any other adjective that I might consider, that remains the word that I will use when I think of him and the deep well of his talent. Immeasurable.

I found out about his death while I was driving home. I had just hosted a program that included a segment about the Black Panther Party, its origins, and the significance of that symbol. Of course, the character Boseman brought to life bears some slight resemblance to that political movement, but perhaps now we should consider whether it was more than coincidental that Stan Lee found inspiration from that same image. We should contemplate whether Boseman's transition at this moment is some kind of omen...or perhaps something else. It should be noted that his death occurred on Jackie Robinson Day (celebrated in August this year because of the pandemic) and that was the character that introduced us to his brilliance.

Before I delve into this notion that God is trying to tell us something, I must explain why this hurts so much. It hits after nearly six months of watching Death relentlessly claim our beloveds with no sufficient protocols for honoring their lives. It happens at the end of a horrendous week that began with another police-involved shooting, compounded by a mid-week hurricane, while in the background we watched (or purposely did not watch) that convention of sycophants blame our rage on grievances they refuse to acknowledge. Then late on Friday night, we learn of the unexpected death of our hero, our brother, our son, our friend. Our King.

If he is now gone, what hope is left? If he could move us to such grief, someone we only knew from the roles he portrayed on screen, then perhaps all is not lost?

I saw Black Panther once. I lucked up and got a chance to see it in NYC in a crowded theater at 10am, surrounded by young men who had probably already seen it a dozen times. Because it was not during the premier week, I missed all of the pageantry of seeing it with folks who had waited their entire lives to see a Black superhero onscreen. I've had more chances to see his other big films, including Marshall which, when it came out, made me wonder whether this brother was a little too serious about being the go-to respectable Black man (just a shade different than being the magical Negro). Even his portrayal of  James Brown had that whiff, because biopics are built around those who are larger than life. 

But what else was he supposed to do...he was a star. I know he had a working actor's career before he took on Jackie Robinson in 2013, and I'm pretty sure that he was stellar in every one of those supporting roles. But he was a star, and that is something that was discovered and nurtured in him by Black acting royalty, Phylicia Rashad and Denzel Washington when he was in college. Had he come out of Julliard or Yale, perhaps that kind of recognition would not seem as unlikely, but he came from Howard University where the road to mainstream success was less assured. Still, he ascended to the top where his light shone immeasurably.

There is an astronomical phenomenon when a star explodes called a supernova, so in this instance that is the analogy that answers my entreaty to God: what are You trying to tell us in taking Boseman at this point in his short, but brilliant career? How is it, Lord, that this vibrant young man with all of these beautiful gifts would die of a cancer that isn't supposed to kill people under the age of 50? How can we keep the faith that we will survive this pandemic, in spite of every indication that this world does not care about our collective demise, that though we are beautiful and brilliant, we still die too young? 

The black panther symbolizes the resilience, perseverance, determination, and strength of a people that fight against the odds. It makes its appearance as the emblem of a political movement in Alabama's Black Belt that started in the aftermath of the voting rights marches in 1965 (this was the topic of my program on Friday night). When cornered, the panther pounces and fights. The gun-toting Black Panther Party for Self Defense garners popular attention around the same time that Stan Lee introduces his African superhero in the Fantastic Four comics. The evolution of the character, its history, and how that all come together for the film make for a fascinating read.

That Boseman will forever be T'Challa (because we will not stand for him to be recast) means that his story is now written into that narrative. To know that Boseman suffered to share his gift speaks to his character, but it also gives us hope. His heath challenges symbolize the racism we face--subtle then aggressive, and ultimately fatal if it is unresponsive to treatment. Yet, like a panther he did not back down; he pounced and created the beautiful body of work that we celebrate in the wake of his passing. Therefore, we must not back down either. So few of us ever get to inspire or touch as many people just by doing our job. Fewer still get to choose the conditions under which we produce our greatest work. If we are still here, then we have work to do, beauty to create. We must pounce.

Yet though our brother Chadwick is gone from this world, his marvelous light is not gone. It has been transformed. This world could not contain, nor dim, nor nor stifle that glorious incandescence. Our Black Panther lives in us now, so sleep well in Wakanda, forever.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Higher Learning

Several years ago, I taught a course called the History of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the first class I was hired to teach, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my brief adjunct professor career. This class always attracted a multiracial and diverse group of students with respect to age, life experience, and ideology. It was also offered face to face, which allowed me to facilitate spirited class discussions. 

I believe it was my third time teaching this particular course that I had this one student, a white man ("John") whose wife was an educator in the Baltimore County public schools. He was a regular contributor to class, and over the course of the semester, he shared various anecdotes about his wife and her experiences. One of the common themes had been how she had begun teaching in the city, but recently she had chosen to transition to the county system. Because the campus was located about 10 miles outside of Baltimore, many of the other students hailed from either the city or the county as well.

One of the students in class, a Black woman ("Erica") often took issue with John's reflections about inner city Baltimore. She was a single parent, so she took his observations of her beloved city personally. Also, I just think John irritated her, so they got into debates on a regular basis. For example, one typical exchange about the difference between the City and County students and parents centered on his assertion that one set of parents cared more about education than the others. Erica countered that she worked a full-time job and went to school, so there were limitations on her time. Her ultimate goal was to secure a better job with more flexibility to spend more time with her children, so he could just as easily be judging her as he did those other parents. 

They went back and forth about it, with him making several qualifications that his critique was not about her but about apathetic parents. How do you know they don't care, Erica asked, and John cited how the kids dressed for school, often in expensive sneakers and designer outfits. Erica: If they come to school with clean clothes, how does that translate into not caring? John: Well, if they cared more about education, wouldn't it be better to spend that money on computers and books instead of clothes? Erica: How does judging how they spend their money on clothes prove that they don't care? John: I think that money could be put to better use. And on it went.

Eventually, I would intervene to move the class along, but it was definitely an interesting exchange (and yes, I enjoyed it). Once after class, a few of the students questioned why I gave them so much class time for debate, and I responded that it was important for people to hear different arguments. I told them that it was always useful to hear how someone frames their disagreements and how important it was to listen. From my point of view, the source of their disagreement was based on perceptions and assumptions that both of them were making about each other. One student, an older Black man ("Steve"), swore I was wrong, and that I was giving a racist an opportunity to air his views. 

On the last day of class, John offered some more controversial opinions about Black leadership. Specifically, he asked why more Blacks were not followers of General Colin Powell, whom he felt was a better spokesperson than someone like Sean Combs. At that point, Erica should have spoken up to challenge him; instead she kept taking notes. So Steve, who had begun to in to spar with John in the past couple of classes asked who said Combs was as a Black leader. John explained his perception was based on Combs' involvement in the Vote or Die Campaign and how Combs' status as a hip hop artist influenced how his wife's students thought. Then Steve stunned everyone when he responded, well see that's part of the problem with white folks, you want to pick our leaders for us. We didn't ask for your opinion, nor why you vote for racists like Bush...


Yeah...so I pulled a Chris Tucker and jumped in to diffuse the situation. As this was the last class, I used that moment to stumble through a closing argument about the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement and how different tactics and leaders still sought a similar goal. On the way out, John thanked me for such an engaging class while Erica, Steve and a few other students lingered. I got nervous when they approached me, but they complimented me on my diplomacy. And in wise older Black man fashion, Steve told me that he still thought John was a racist, but in letting him talk, it had made the class more interesting. It had inspired the others to do more studying not just to learn the material for class, but to be better prepared to argue with John.

I thought about that class this week, but my intent in writing about it had been to highlight that exchange from the last day of class about Colin Powell and Sean Combs--that Black people choose our leaders, not white people. And I had planned an entire lecture on the subject beginning with Booker T. Washington to Barack Obama (very similar to what I said in class that night). Then as I was recalling the incident, I had a chance to reflect on the entire experience of that semester and how it illuminates some of what we are witnessing now.

First, I thought about Erica, the hard-working single mother who stood up to John's assumptions. As soon as she realized that John didn't know any more than she did, she challenged him at every turn. What did he know about the students in Baltimore City and their parents? Nothing first-hand, so how was he so sure that the parents were apathetic? Who was he to make pronouncements that were at best, based on superficial criteria that had very little bearing on the issue? She made up her mind that John would not underestimate her.

And then I thought about Steve. Like every Black man who has lived long enough, his opinions had been formed by life experiences that someone like John could never imagine. He had little use for John because he had dealt with folks like him, well-meaning white folks who thought they could relate to Black people, but only on their terms. Steve knew the pitfalls of appeasement and respectability. And as the father-figure in the class, he would stand up for Erica as needed.

Poor John. He meant well...as evidenced by his enrollment in this class, right?

But before I go there, allow let me address my role in this. In hindsight, I probably gave John a lot more space than I should have for fear of being accused of bias. At the time, I thought it was valuable to hear his perspective, and I stand by that. This was a college class, and academic discourse often demands that we consider opinions that diverge. My job was not to protect them, but to expose and engage them, and as a result, many of them became better students.

So back to John, who is the reason why I revisited this--I heard something from a commentator on television that made me think back to my experiences with that class. I'm pretty sure his opinions were set, but he was just as engaged as the others. And unlike Steve, I give John credit for showing up and challenging the class to confront divergent points of view. I'd like to believe his eyes were opened to biases he didn't realize he held, and maybe the three of them became friends and continue to debate over coffee a few times a year...

Or, it is more likely that John and his wife continue to live in Baltimore County while Erica and her family live in the City of Baltimore, still miles apart in proximity and ideology. I wonder how the two of them have responded to the political conventions of the past two weeks, and which candidate will get their vote. I wonder if Erica could be swayed by the arguments of a Kim Klacik or if John would be impressed enough by a Kamala Harris. And what about Steve, would he stay home? Would he be motivated to vote for either candidate given the choice between a populist and a moderate?

Back to the point I was supposed to make here, which is the inherent distrust many Black people have for racial emissaries or spokesmodels. As in, we prefer to elevate leaders of our own choosing. We decide, and we can quickly determine when someone is a fraud. So if a person appears to have been selected for his/her clean appearance, articulate cadence, and willingness to parrot the talking points specifically written to communicate someone else's message, we're not falling for it. 

One of the reasons why the great Booker T. Washington has such a complicated legacy for so many of us is rooted in the speech he gave for the Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895. We refer to his remarks as the Atlanta Compromise because he told that audience what they wanted to hear, that Black people would be loyal and willing workers. That we would forgo equal rights even while we were being lynched and terrorized. Even though Black men had been given the right to vote 15 years earlier, it was too premature to encourage that type of civic engagement. The fact that Washington worked behind the scenes to support education and build Black businesses via the political alliances he made with wealthy white philanthropists and industrialists was great, but his words legitimized the separate but equal existence and disparities that we have yet to overcome in parts of this country more than a century later. 

So we've heard the rhetoric and the double-speak and like Steve, plenty of us have lived long enough to know better. Our leaders aren't here to appease white fears or ease white guilt. White folks can vote for whomever they want for President or to be the next American Idol, but they don't get to decide who will speak for Black people. They only started quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. after they killed him.

By the way, we love Colin Powell, but we were right to question his judgment. We never said Sean Combs was any kind of civil rights or political leader, which is why nobody with any sense is voting for Kanye West. Many of us would rather follow Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, and the courageous WNBA players before we'd trust the words of Herschel Walker, Tiger Woods, Mariano Rivera, or any sports legend who values their golf membership more than Black lives.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Whites of Their Lies

Ordinarily I would not go out of my way to fact-check the numerous falsehoods and outright lies told by those whose political opinions differ from mine, but whew chile, on the first day of the Republican National Convention, I heard some whoppers. It will only get worse, as there are three more nights and so as a public service, I will offer this Busy Black Woman's opinion of what happened and what I suspect will be the continuing theme of this convention in a meme:

But allow me to rephrase my opening sentence, because not everything that is said by those with views on other political spectrum are lies. We disagree. We see problems and solutions from different perspectives. Their blues aren't like mine, et cetera, et cetera...

For me, the tone was set earlier in the day with that State Roll Call. I was unbothered by the fact that there were a handful of people of color chosen to announce their delegate commitments, but I took note of it as a nod to my prediction that there would be no overt efforts made to demonstrate diversity where there was none. And I would have ignored the entire process as background noise had it not been for the fact that the Arkansas representative invoked the name of Daisy Bates as a honored citizen of his state.

Suddenly, my ears perked up and I spent the next several hours live-tweeting the roll call for other tall tales and American fables. It just struck me as incredibly discongruous that the mostly white assortment of convention delegates would choose to highlight women and nonwhite citizens from their state, most of whom would not have been lauded as heroes during their lifetimes. Based on what we know of history, I am pretty clear that most of them would NOT have been supporters of this Regime either. For example, the DC delegate was proud to identify Frederick Douglass as a Republican, which certainly is the party to which he belonged back in 1880. But to suggest that he would have maintained that affiliation in 2020 is peak 2020 insanity.

The Roll Call got suspended twice to yield time to both Mike Pence and the DEPOTUS to address the delegates. I should have listened, but I had to clean the crap from my Kid's underwear.

When I tuned into the prime-time proceedings, it was with an eye towards hearing the remarks from Senator Tim Scott (SC) because I was genuinely curious how he would be able to stand up for this President and the chaos that has rained down on America and the world like acid rain. Since Scott was the keynoter for the evening, I choose to sit through the preliminary speeches just to get a taste of what would unfold throughout the week. And I won't bore you with details because it was all the same our-side-is-better-than-them that always goes on at these events. There were some awkward taped segments, but mostly a lot of stylized production which shows they took notes from last week. For more expert analysis and fact-checking, you can tune to your favorite cable news network.

However, I do feel the need to weigh in on some of the speeches because it isn't enough to suggest that Vernon Jones was not just exaggerating about his candidate's support for HBCUs. Or that Herschel Walker's personal relationship with the DESPOTUS doesn't mean he isn't a racist. Or how Nikki Haley clearly doesn't even believe her own spin on American racism if she can't use her first name, Nimrata. Or how Kim Klacik is hardly credible as a candidate to represent a city where she doesn't reside. Their personal affection for the White House occupant is their business, but as usual, people of color are trotted out to disprove the truth of what our eyes see and ears hear when he speaks. The disconnect here is to assume that because they found personal favor with the emperor, the rest of us are not suffering under the yoke of his oppression. 

And for all of the warm fuzzies those speakers offered, there was the appearance of the McCloskeys, the Missouri couple who brandished guns from the lawn of their Versailles-style palace while BLM protestors marched through their neighborhood. Mind you, the marchers went past their house, not through it and not a rosebush was trampled, but because gun-toting white folks feared a mob of Black kids armed with cell phone cameras, they are victims. They got rewarded with a prime-time audience to validate their entitled whines about good suburban homes being devalued by an invasion of poor peasants.

Some things never change. Good Black and Latinx people who know how to behave are more than welcome to work in the big house among the master's fine things, as long as they remember their place. As long as they shut up and sing or play ball; as long as they speak from the script that was written for them; as long as they denounce where they came from; and as long as it is profitable for them to denigrate the rest of us in the fields as trash. I have always wondered if they earn any extra for accusing us of mental enslavement while they are driving the buggy or cleaning the kitchen.

I'm not calling names, but I am calling it as I see it. We're called thugs and Marxists for demanding justice in the streets when a Black man is paralyzed by bullets to the back for breaking up a fight. No one will mention Jacob Blake during this blow job of a convention, just as no one will mention Herman Cain, one of their own who joined the growing number of COVID casualties this Regime has shrugged off as within the acceptable range of death. They've invited Daniel Cameron to address the convention, the Kentucky Attorney General who won't take action against the officers who killed Breonna Taylor. Their respect for Indigenous people extends to invoking the name of Sitting Bull while gloating about shooting off fireworks at Mt. Rushmore on land that was stolen. Oh, and they've invited the kid who smirked in the face of the indigenous veteran at the Lincoln Memorial, so there's that.

This is why we're not buying the snake oil from Mr. It Is What It Is. People of color know all about false promises via glass beads, 40 acres and a mule, the Trail of Tears, separate but equal, and #BeBest. I can't speak for anyone else, but nah...

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Identity Political

I was recently reading some analysis about the two political parties regarding 'optics'--how one party's clamor to showcase diversity is the very turn-off for some members of the other party who would prefer not to engage in identity politics. You know, the All Lives Matter folks who get triggered at the mention of the word black in any context other than fancy dresses and eyeliner.

Briefly, I thought about their discomfort as I rejoiced during Sen. Kamala Harris' acceptance speech. As you might already know from the name of this blog, I don't have any issues with being Black, living while Black, consorting and living amongst my fellow Blacks, nor do I worry myself about how others perceive my unapologetic Blackness. I don't exactly get why that is so offensive or abhorrent, but I also don't get a lot of things like treating dogs like children or Taylor Swift fans older than 30. Life is like that sometimes.

But now that we're all set to make history (regardless of the election outcome), I guess it is time for us to have the talk. The Dear Colorblind White People talk...

Let's start with the low-hanging fruit, which is everybody's favorite MLK quote from the 1963 March on Washington, which was delivered 57 years ago this week. We know how much y'all LOVE that speech and that line, and how it serves as a guiding principle for people who gloat of their lack of prejudice. I know, you're just out here living King's dream, judging people on the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.

And I'm glad that you took those words to heart, but perhaps you took it too literally. There are times when you can and should make decisions on the basis of skin color. Let's start with your definitions of nude and flesh-tone, or the notion that there are certain colors that are universally flattering. Having emojis available in a range of skin colors is a good thing. And as cute as it seems to suggest that everyone should be treated the same, as if we were all purple...no. Because nobody is purple.

The fallacy of colorblindness is its default to whiteness. You can afford not to see color if you exist in a dominant space where decisions have always been made for your benefit. You can choose colorblindness as a justification for all of your implicit biases. You don't have to notice that every person who gets hired looks like you or that they went to the same schools or that they grew up in a certain part of town. You don't have to consider anyone else's experiences if you can safely assume that yours are typical. And even when you make space for others, you can choose how much or how little counts. This is why we call that white privilege, in case you were wondering.

So what I fully expect to see next week is akin to spending the day binge-watching the early days of TV Land, back when it was non-stop Father Knows Best, Andy Griffith, Leave It To Beaver, Bewitched, Ozzie and Harriet, and Wyatt Earp, with Archie Bunker as the prime time highlight. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with these old shows, but when it comes to inclusion or post-60s progressiveness, the only shows y'all remember are Julia and That Girl

The homogeneity of that worldview is one that insists on American exceptionalism at the expense of the truth. It excuses hypocrisy and operates in the universe of alternative facts. It celebrates the gallantry of a Lost Cause and justifies certain forms of exploitation as opportunities. It refuses to admit wrong-doing, choosing not to dwell on the negative. It insists on assimilation and diluting one's culture for palatability. It chafes at being inconvenienced, even for the common good.

It says that to be a real American, your dream is to live in a home that resembles this: 

With a family that looks like this:

And a religion that definitely preaches this:

There is room for some deviations from these images. You can live on a farm.

Of course this is an exaggeration. But I dare you to watch that other convention with any expectation of seeing the kind of old school Benetton diversity on display. It's going to be all Ralph Lauren, Yacht Club, Wrangler jeans, and cowboy boots. And that's okay, but please do us a favor and not insist that your America has evolved much from this:

For this too is America, just a few years removed from the black and white idyllic past you miss. And while you will twist and bend yourselves in all kinds of shapes to pretend that is no longer the reality, the fact is, some of you were proud to parade through the streets demanding hair cuts. But then had the audacity to take offense against folks demanding not to be killed in police custody.

I fully expect that the RNC convention this week will go out of its way not to showcase diversity, just to make the opposite point. Who needs a cup full of brown sugar when a nice sprinkle will do? And what's wrong with refined sugar anyway? Why do we need agave, cane sugar, and all that other stuff if sugar is sugar? People are people. Conservative people just have different ideas.

By the way, conservative might not be a racial category, a foreign language spoken by the help, violent religious fanaticism practiced by people in the desert...but it is a label. It is an identifier, so the sticking point isn't identity politics inasmuch as it is dealing with the adjectives and hyphens that are more tolerable than others. Blue Lives Matter even though nobody is born blue. Build the wall to keep out immigrants from shit-hole countries although no one else is dying to get here, especially not now. Evangelical Christianity is under persecution when we say Happy Holidays. Masks infringe on your liberty but the Confederate flag is just cloth...

 
But please, no pandering or virtue signaling.