Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Fight on Black Women

This is not going to be another piece that offers high fives and chest bumps to black people for that nail-biter of an election "victory" that occurred in Alabama. Nor is this going to be the piece I intended to write months ago on the "role" of Omarosa Manigault Newman, formerly of the current Administration. This is actually a warning. The events of the last 24 hours have convinced me that if black women are the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to issues involving this country, then your President threw down a gauntlet today.

Admittedly, it has been fun to wonder why Omarosa had a job in the Administration from jump. If we look back to her tenure on the very first season of Trump's reality show The Apprentice, we all remember her as the villainess who sabotaged every teammate, especially Kwame Jackson in the finale. We also know that she went on to appear on several other reality shows where she essentially perfected the persona of the mean black bitch. And then we know that she starred on a single season of her own forgettable reality show, sponsored by Trump, as a knock-off of The Bachelorette. And then she went to divinity school, inherited all of Michael Claude Duncan's money, and then she ended up back at Trump's side as his liaison to black folks during his presidential bid in 2016.

Earlier this year, Omarosa got into a spat with journalist April Ryan (which was supposed to be the subject of the piece I wanted to write about her), and then with the National Association of Black Journalists, and then with the current chief of staff--all of which should have provided credible reasons for her to have been fired. She garnered more press for her shenanigans than for delivering anything of substance. Yet she got dumped within twelve hours of Doug Jones' victory speech. The Trumpet tweeted an odd note of congratulations, and while every black friend I have on FB did a church holy dance, I sat still to wait for the other shoe to drop.


My spidey sense tells me that while we all long ago wrote Omarosa off as merely an ornate vase that couldn't display anything, the Trumpet kept her around because he assumed that she really might have some sway in the black community. As the one recognizable black person who was willing to serve as his emissary, her presence was meant to disprove the alternative fact of his racism. Perhaps even her new husband could work with like-minded brethren to persuade their meager flocks to follow along for the ultimate payoff. But when those election returns showed how 97% of the black women who voted in Alabama yesterday supported Doug Jones, and then were universally applauded for keeping Roy Moore out of the Senate, Omarosa's uselessness became evident.

Men like Trump who have no respect for women, hold the women who have no respect for him in special disdain. Witness how vulgar his statements were about Kirsten Gillibrand, Carmen Yulin Cruz, Frederica Wilson, and every other woman since he flamed Rosie O'Donnell. Knowing that he can't come out and say something truly vile about thousands of black voters, he can strike out at the only black woman in his orbit and allow her fall to represent his first strike against the rest of us. Especially those in power...

Like each of the recently elected mayors of major cities where his Department of Justice sent word that they plan to withhold funds from any of them that declare themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. Any crimes that he can mischaracterize as weakness will be exaggerated  to undermine and de-legitimize them just as he relentlessly trolled President Obama. He will use every opportunity to paint black mothers as failures if any of our children become casualties of street violence. He will never call for police to reform lethal tactics and he will reward departments that move aggressively to contain black protest. There will be no federal legislative action on gun violence prevention as long as he can invoke images of urban unrest and pathology.

Not that he hasn't been setting the groundwork to do all of this and more while Omarosa's stunting azz was sitting over in the Old Executive Office Building giving herself unearned honorifics and ordering crap from Amazon Prime. It doesn't matter if you believe that she was fired or if she resigned because the only difference is the color of the paper upon which the letter was written.

And one last point about this victory lap folks want to take around the state of Alabama...don't be the crowd that lines the sides of the race to cheer on the runners. It is way past time that black women (and black men and other people of color) who live in these states began to strap up. We can be encouraged and cajoled to get out the vote every two to four years to elect somebody else, or we look inside our churches, sororities and fraternities, alumni associations, Mocha Mom and Jack and Jill Chapters, and PTAs to support the folks whom we already know can handle the job. The husband of one of my classmates ran for that same Alabama Senate seat as a long shot--but he ran. My hope is that he will get another chance to serve the people of his community in some significant capacity. And maybe he will be joined by more than a few of those thousands of black women who voted on Tuesday.

And maybe, Omarosa can finally get a real job.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Our Regards to Anita Hill

This morning began with the announcement that the TIME Magazine Person of the Year is actually the group of silence-breakers (mostly women) who have captured our collective attention since October over the issue of sexual harassment/abuse in the workplace. By mid-afternoon, a friend was taking a FB poll to inquire the path forward for embattled Sen. Al Franken amidst more allegations of inappropriate sexual advances.

Y'all, this is not going away.

So I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe to Professor Anita Hill, the woman who brought forth allegations of sexual harassment against her former boss, Clarence Thomas, during his Senate confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court. Her effort was unsuccessful and would have been largely forgotten, but as we now see, it was her public sacrifice so many years ago that has helped to pave the way for this moment.


By the time anyone reads this, it is possible that Franken would have decided to resign his seat. It is also quite possible that by the time a decent number of people have read this, Al Franken would not have resigned, but Roy Moore would have given a defiant and smug victory speech. Or maybe Al Franken would be gone, Roy Moore would have lost, and Melania Trump would have spoken out against bullies and we finally believed her sincerity.

None of that matters, though, because the winds of change are blowing and the days when unacceptable and inappropriate behavior in public spaces is tolerated in order to keep things moving are coming to an end. It might not end tomorrow, or next week, or even by the mid-term elections next November. But change is coming.

I was a college student in 1991 when Clarence Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court. I remember how initially, there was a cautious mood about that choice because President Bush had nominated a black conservative to replace the legendary Thurgood Marshall. I caught the irony of his selection but did not fully grasp the stakes of this maneuver until the allegations came from Professor Hill. And suddenly, it felt like we were caught between the prospect of seeing Marshall's seat go to someone else (white), or have it 'maintained' by a black man even if his ideology was problematic, all because she had the audacity to dredge up the past.

I thought about this situation anew when I responded to my friend's post on FB about Franken. I thought about the fact that there have been plenty of situations where women have been asked to remain silent, or have been told to stay quiet, or it has been demanded that we shut the fuck up. Assign your own historical analogies to each one of those statements, but I distinctly remember how my righteous young Morehouse brethren argued that the seat being vacated by Marshall had to be filled by another black man, regardless of his disturbing flaws. Some questioned whether Hill had been harassed or if this had been an office romance gone bad. Others suggested that she was just mad because Thomas' wife was white.

In hindsight, the seeds were sown. Her complaints would not bear fruit, and we've had all the proof we need that Clarence Thomas was not a worthy successor to Thurgood Marshall. Yet, we know that for every young impressionable woman like me who witnessed her public humiliation and his elevation at her expense and spent the last 25+ years watching this cycle rinse, wash, and repeat; for those of us who have wondered whether our silence/tolerance in fact made things worse for this next generation of young women if nothing has changed; and for the women who realize that every concession made for the sake of keeping the peace, political expediency, waiting our turn, etc. is BULLSHIT--yeah, it's time to clean house.

Al Franken can go. He can endorse a woman to replace him, and then campaign on her behalf. He can write her speeches. He and Garrison Keillor can sit by Lake Wobegon and think up a quirky new show for satellite radio. Save the arguments about taking one for the team, or the unfairness of it all if the President gets to stay in office. This isn't about the Trumpet right now, but trust that his day is coming. This isn't about fairness either...it is about justice.

Anita Hill was seeking justice when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and it was denied to her and every other woman in the workplace until this recent wave. If she had been taken seriously, then powerful men might have known how intolerable certain behavior is and maybe we wouldn't have to endure this painful moment of watching so many fall from grace. Justice for Anita Hill in 1991 might have meant that all these men whose careers we are eulogizing now might have unfolded quite differently.

Anita Hill doesn't need to be featured on the cover of TIME or named the Person of the Year. Justice is so much better.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Rude Awakening

You don't need to guess what I was doing yesterday when the news of Matt Lauer's abrupt dismissal from the TODAY Show broke, because I'm sure everybody was doing pretty much the same thing...scrolling through FB and Twitter or searching for the remote control to determine if what we were reading/hearing was true.

The sad thing is how so many of us reacted in shock over the swiftness of the dismissal, and not in that much shock over the allegations. At 7am, when Savannah and Hoda opened the show, there were no details to report. Thus, by the time we started to learn about Lauer's secret door-lock button under his desk and his general bitch-assiness, we were learning that Garrison Keillor might be as creepy as we always thought. By the evening, we had moved on from those revelations to "learn" that almost no one who works at 30 Rock, except for the folks on the TODAY Show, actually knew Matt Lauer personally. Which is total bullshit.

I am not even going to defend the fact that I continued to watch the TODAY Show even though I was personally bothered by the way Ann Curry was treated. And the way Tamron Hall was treated. And let's not even talk about Megyn Kelly. Or the way I think Matt and Savannah were just as complicit and responsible for the normalization of #45 as Mika and Joe (and every other news team or anchor that gave him a megaphone for his opinions).

But since I am raising the issue of complicity, I need to acknowledge my own. As a loyal viewer of the TODAY Show, I am one of the millions of reasons why Matt Lauer could be such an asshole and get away with it for so long. I always suspected that the rumors about his inability to keep his pants zipped were true. But his philandering was none of my business. His job was to keep me informed and entertained. If I just wanted the straight information, there was Charlie Rose...

Was I sufficiently tolerant of Charlie Rose's lecherousness? Yes, even though I had no idea that he was like that. I had occasionally witnessed the flirty banter that took place on the morning show with Gayle and Nora, but I didn't watch often enough to notice if it was anything other than on-air chemistry.  

With the revelations about Garrison Keillor, do I dare admit my suspicions that his jocular folksy persona was just a cover up for a randier alter ego? After we learned that Charles Kuralt supported a second wife and her family for nearly 30 years, perhaps we should have looked upon those cuddly bookstore owner types as the most likely to use that sweetness to their advantage. That and the fact that Keillor pretty much adopted the language of there-are-good-people-on-both-sides in his defense of Al Franken just hours before his own sins were revealed.

By now, you probably guessed that I am not really admitting that I approved of, knew about, sanctioned, excused, witnessed, or was ever victimized by any of these men who have been recently felled by their 'inappropriate" behavior. I am suggesting that my understanding and acquiescence to how sexism works in the workplace is part of the cover up that we are often too afraid or unwilling to confront. We all know that certain men have reputations and act with impunity; unfortunately, most of us are too invested in getting along to challenge their hegemony.

So Matt Lauer got flown into work by helicopter so that he could maintain the appearance of being happily married, while still chasing skirts. Al Franken could visit the country fair and brush up against his constituents because everybody wanted to take a picture with him. Russell Simmons could appropriate the language of yoga to mis-remember how he might have sexually violated a woman he thought was down. John Conyers checked himself into a hospital for stress because he's 88 years old. Roy Moore was just looking for virgins.

The President? Well, as long as he's still doing this, you tell me.

When Harry Met Meghan

Meghan Markle, future Duchess of Sussex. An American in the House of Windsor! Her Royal Highness, Sista girl M&M from Compton, is now going to have her own postage stamp and her image commemorated on collectible thimbles and teapots!


It was just a few days ago that I branded the latest announcement from Kensington Palace that there would be no daily updates on Prince Harry's love life as #RoyalNewsYouCantUse. I even quoted my Dad, whose knowledge of tabloid headlines is usually quite surprising and random, when he suggested that any upcoming Royal weddings needed to occur after the Queen and Prince Phillip's 70th Anniversary and the birth of William and Kate's third kid. My take was that we're all intrigued, but until there is a ring, nothing to see...

Y'all there has been a ring for like a month! And she looked pretty darn radiant as they casually strolled into the gardens to wave at the press, and then quite ecstatic to finally be able to flash that ice for the world to see.

Y'all, can we wrap our Busy Black heads around the fact that Prince Harry already wakes up next to a woman wearing a silk head scarf with a scalp moisturized by coconut oil?


That when they put together that wedding guest list, they will have to invite and sponsor several of her Compton cousins? And that they are going to need to reserve a section of the church for the delegation of black church ladies coifed in their peacock and ostrich feather church hats paired with matching satin suits accented with sequins and pearls, waving cardstock church fans depicting Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Obama family?


And that the Obamas will actually be there, whereas Melania Trump will have to watch on TV like the rest of us commoners?

Does everyone get that there will be little curly haired ginger brown babies running after great-grandmum's corgis around Buckingham Palace?

Every bad joke we made about barbecues at the White House with the election of Obama now makes the reverse transatlantic voyage across the pond for British audiences. So we'll let our West Indian and Afro-Brit cousins translate the cultural equivalencies of having a black woman in the Royal family. She's American though, so we are still expecting some YouTube footage of Auntie Ree Ree teaching Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla the wobble. And right now in heaven, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, the Queen Mum, Prince, and Elvis are working out that seating chart? (If not Elvis then Tom Petty, because we can't forget that Meghan's dad is going to have some say in this too.)

Which brings us back to reality and the controversy of her racial identity. Yes, to every black person on the planet, Meghan Markle is neither half white nor biracial. She is BLACK. And none of us gives a damn about her blow out, her fair complexion, her white ex-husband, or her suburban upbringing.  She can self-identify as she pleases, so if she wants to call herself biracial, we will just nod our heads in collective understanding that her choice is actually more about making white people comfortable than it is about actually denouncing anything. We've already seen her yoga posing Mama with the hair twists. They're from California...it's called La La Land for a reason.

To claim her as one of our own does not negate her father in order to elevate her mother. Contrary to what other folks think about racial identity, most black people are rather pragmatic in understanding how the world works. We didn't devise the one drop rule--it was bequeathed to us by our British/American colonizers/owners. So we're not going to allow y'all to revoke a 500+ year old rule just because it is convenient to support the lies you need to believe about racial purity. Phuck that. We all know about Queen Charlotte. And to those few whiny pants blackademic hoteps and bitter boos who are urging us not to celebrate Meghan because of their own issues with racial identity, phuck y'all and Sammy Sosa too.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Busy, Black, and Blessed

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. I got home this morning at 1am, after I chatted with my Dad and cleaned up my parents' kitchen. I was tired, and in that can't sleep mode where I was wide awake, sore, and trying to catch the last 30 minutes of both The Godfather II and Gone with the Wind (don't judge).

And then, as soon as both films ended, I was out like a light. Thankfully, I took the time to remove my makeup during one of the commercial breaks. I made a mental list of all the things in my life for which I was grateful and during another commercial break, I started to write this post to share that list. But as I said, as soon as Scarlett O'Hara declared that tomorrow is another day and the ending credits scrolled, I took her at her word and closed my laptop.

Today finds me no longer basking in the afterglow of feeling accomplished and satisfied about pulling off a pretty decent Thanksgiving gathering. Today, I was awakened by the Toddlersaurus' refusal to use the toilet. She lost one of her earrings because the Hub insisted that I should wait until she was calm to remove it (since he can't figure out how to do so). Apparently, her version of finding calm is to pee in her training panties and then spread her toys all over the living room floor. Such is life.

Earlier, I scrolled through my FB feed to "like" how all of you spent your day. I'm also looking to see who decided to brave the crowds to wade into the Black Friday madness. I'm impressed by your restraint, or perhaps your low tolerance for unnecessary nonsense. I've decided to avoid political news, if I can, until this evening. I'm sure whatever ridiculousness the President chooses to tweet about today will be sufficiently outrageous to occupy the news cycle until the evening.

I won't be making an endless list of gratitude as initially intended, but I won't complain either. Dinner was only half an hour later than I had hoped. The Toddlersaurus didn't get her nap, but she got to exhaust herself by running around the house with her favorite cousin. The Hub's macaroni and cheese (made with penne pasta...yeah, I know), was delicious. We will have the collard greens on Sunday since they didn't make it to the dinner table yesterday. My Mom ate her dinner and my Dad was pleased.

Although I'm still not ready to transition into Christmas, I accept that tis' the season. I'm going to check out a few online deals in advance of cyber Monday. I'll look for some Christmas music for the kid while I enjoy this marathon of first season Living Single episodes. I'll get dressed shortly to take my Mom to Arena Stage this evening. I'm going to plan my birthday outing and the Niece's 8th birthday bash. And I'm going to finish this piece with a shameless plug for my new Busy Black Woman side hustle--coffee mugs (sold individually $10 plus shipping). Email me at ayannadamali@gmail.com to place your order!


Friday, November 17, 2017

What's the Matter With Kids Today?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it might also be worth a thousand gasps and sighs (although I am unsure if this represents $1000 of ruined product). And it's also worth at least a thousand different opinions about inattentive parents and the damage that can be done by one child who has been left to his/her own devices for a little too long. Idle hands, as they say. And trust, I could write a book about what my Toddlersaurus has done in the space of five minutes by herself...

I've already shared my initial assessment of what probably went wrong at the store, and again that is just one of a thousand thoughts with which you may feel free to agree or disagree. But there is this question out there posed by the photographer and subsequent internet mom shaming, which is how do parents go anywhere with their children without causing some kind of drama?

There is only one answer to that question--we can't.

Our parents and grandparents couldn't either, so before anyone tries to argue how much different it was in the golden era when children were always polite, well-behaved, listened to instructions, were respectful of property, etc...yeah, take a short trip with me down memory lane.


When we were kids, major department stores had toy departments and pet stores. There were electronics departments lined with television sets along the walls. There were record stores and book stores in the mall where we went to flip through albums and magazines. There were arcades and movie theaters. If we were out someplace where none of those amenities existed, sometimes we stayed in the car. Or at home.

At the grocery store, we began in the produce department where we were given grapes or berries (unwashed, right off the display). Maybe one of us was allowed to push the cart with a younger sibling seated up top. Or perhaps we were trusted to help find items on the list. At the checkout, we were rewarded with candy that was displayed by the register. If the trip was meant to be a quick one, we stayed in the car. Or at home.

Sometimes we had to go to places where there were no accommodations for keeping children distracted, like the bank or a repair shop. So we were given the warning not to touch ANYTHING, which was always a challenge and rarely was heeded, and which resulted in an inevitable meltdown. In response, we were disciplined in public, and the business was completed.

Yep, we were disciplined in public! We were also bribed to behave by promises to visit McDonald's or places like Farrell's. Snickerdoodles and pet goldfish were our rewards for staying out of trouble.

All of this was life before personal electronic distractions. Before parents had to be concerned about children being abducted or molested. Before parents were reported to Child Protective Services or became the unwitting stars of viral videos. Before malls began to fall on hard times and people began to do much of their shopping online. Before times changed.

Our parents had it rough because we were kids. However, the world accepted that children exist and enter into spaces that are not built for them, often out of necessity. Our existence was accommodated and tolerated, and it was understood that despite all of the distractions and activities that could keep us out of trouble, nothing was foolproof. A baby will cry, a toddler will tantrum, a school-ager will wander and explore, a teenager will get bored, and all of that is normal.

Our generation has it hard because we can't take our children's safety for granted, so we have to keep them essentially tethered to us in order to monitor both their behavior and our suspicions of strangers. And despite whatever herculean efforts we attempt to keep them out of trouble, isht happens. A display of glasses will crash and break because some kid bumped into the table (Bloomingdale's when I was eleven). There will be a harried Dad calling after his rambunctious kid to stop running and screaming, and to stand still so that they can leave soon (usually on a day with no Mom in sight). You will overhear promises to buy crap. You will see a child concentrating on a game or video on Mom's phone or ipad. And yes, some unsupervised kid might cause a lot of damage to the makeup display at the cosmetics store.


Monday, November 13, 2017

The Busiest Black Woman Holiday

Busy Black Women of the World are already making lists and checking them thrice. They are making the hard choice between disposable dishes and the wedding/heirloom china that rarely gets used. They have declared the proposed the logistics for the day. They have issued the assignments and then made contingency plans. With Veteran's Day now over, the countdown to Thanksgiving has officially begun!

This year, I will assume the great task of being the Busy Black Big Mama for my family, which could be described in one of two ways. On the one hand, it is akin to being the artistic director of a favorite theatre company; on the other hand, it could be described as herding feral cats. I haven't done all of the things that I have mentioned in the first paragraph yet, but how hard can it be to just coordinate a family dinner? My Grandmothers did it. My Mom and Aunt did it. My In-Laws have done it. One of my law school classmates organized a Friendsgiving dinner twenty years ago that I fondly recall as one of the best holiday experiences ever. Another friend, bless his heart, attempted the same 24 years ago with less success, yet it also ranks as one of my faves. And actually, I almost coordinated my first Thanksgiving a few years ago, but in the words of Forrest Gump, that is all I have to say about that...for now.


Why, you ask? Well, for starters, it is the duty of every Busy Black Big Mama to oversee the meal for Thanksgiving, especially the bird. It is my job to make all decisions about the meal, so when my passive-aggressive Dad offered to buy a cooked turkey from one of the grocery stores, I declined. I may not be a Food Network chef, but I can read and follow a recipe. And I've cooked a turkey before. I've also cooked plenty of other meals, so think I can manage without second-guessing from a man who prefers to eat pre-packaged food "cooked" in the microwave.

Second, this is my moment. My Mom took over the role of being the Busy Black Big Mama when I was in college from my Grandmother who became the supervisory BBBM Emerita. Grandma had managed the gathering for years, but she yielded the title with all rights and responsibilities therein to her daughters (my Mom and Aunt) once she determined that they were capable of handling large family gatherings. Unfortunately after her death, the extended family stopped gathering, so my Mom focused her efforts on our nuclear family unit. When I got married, we alternated the holiday with the Hub's family in New York where my Mother-in-law had begun a similar transition of power to her daughters. After a few years I was allowed to contribute the greens that were politely eaten or refused (because apparently nothing green is consumed by Puerto Ricans).

Sadly, both of our mothers took ill at the same time. My MIL had a succession plan in place, which has worked quite well as far as I can tell. My Mom hadn't begun the transition process, so when it became necessary that we would have to carry on without her leadership, I stepped up and devised a plan for our family feast. I understood the basics, so I made the necessary assignments, including provisions to secure a fried turkey from an Uncle. Then moments before the meal was to be served, my plan was upended by a wagon fully laden with food that was rolled into the kitchen. So again, in my Forrest Gump voice, that is all I have to say about THAT...for now.


This year things are different, so I've got this. Yes, I have a Toddlersaurus who might make implementation of my plans more challenging. Yes, my Dad might try to sabotage help. Yes, someone will offer a suggestion that will rub me the wrong way and I will have to lovingly remind them to stay in their lane. Yes, I expect this to be exactly like herding feral cats, and nothing like serving as the artistic director of a favorite theatre company. So what. I have rightfully earned and inherited this responsibility, and as such, I have the right to try and fail (or succeed) just as my predecessors. And like them, I have the grace and grit to fully manage the various personalities and their accompanying drama. That means I will let my Dad make his pumpkin pie from a can, but will not entertain any arguments about the superiority of canned cranberry. No thank you, we pass on the kale and mashed cauliflower. And look, there is no polite way to say this but don't nobody want any store-bought macaroni and cheese!

Look, I know Thanksgiving isn't for amateurs, and I get the inherent danger of punching above my weight class. I have learned from over-thinking almost everything that perfect is the enemy of the good, but good enough is never quite so...which is why we don't allow men to do that much except to buy last minute groceries, pray over the meal, and ceremonially carve the meat. The consolation for most Busy Black Big Mamas is the fact that Thanksgiving is literally just a speed bump on the road to Christmas, so the pressure isn't as great. Our sole duty is to ensure that everybody eats. My only other job is to set an example for my Niece and daughter. And well, if I mess it all up, then I guess that will be all I have to say about that.