Wednesday, October 13, 2021

An Elegy for Ghetto Malls

It was this tweet and then this article that inspired me to take a stroll back in time to revisit an unfinished piece I had started way back in June about living and growing up in DC in the 80s. The original piece was part of some research I had started after I wrote this piece about my high school, and the last visit we made there as a alumna community before its demolition (which just began this past week). In the process of writing about the changes I had witnessed over the years between the District and neighboring Prince George's County, it got a little too overwhelming to confine it all to just one long-form article (therefore, it is still in draft, so you'll have to wait for it). In the meantime this more urgent matter deserves separate emphasis because it is imperative to settle the question of which DMV area ghetto mall has the better snickerdoodle cookies.

Of course it is Forestville Mall. Fight me.

But before I engage in that debate, this elegy for the ghetto mall is a lot deeper than cookies. Times and shopping habits are rapidly changing, and pretty soon it won't matter which mall had what because by the end of this decade, they might all be gone. So, in response to that original tweet, no, Iverson Mall is not still making it. (But you should keep grinding, if that advice resonates.)

When that tweet was posted at the beginning of September, I had to seriously stop and think about the last time I had been inside Iverson. Mind you, I have driven by Iverson countless times because my parents still live about fifteen minutes away. I no longer live on that side of the city, so my trips in that part of Prince George's County are generally rare. Before COVID, my parents used to like eating at the Red Lobster further down the road and I have friends that live in the neighborhoods adjacent to the Mall. I've gone to the $5 movies at the Marlow 6 next door with the Kid a few times and I might have been in that Macy's for towels or something random because I was desperate. The last time I had been in the area was before the pandemic for a house blessing.

I hadn't actually gone inside Iverson Mall in nearly 20 years.

Before I share my recent adventures there, let me say that I have been on a rather coincidental nostalgia trip back to some of the long deserted landmarks of my youth, stirred up by a series of various events that began with my Mom's Zoom birthday party back in February. Because I was determined to reach every relative I could, that drive took me to a lot of homes and hoods that haven't been in my orbit since high school. Then there was that aforementioned all-class high school reunion in June. That visit was  a surprising high point, which was then followed by the sad news of the death of a high school friend a few weeks later. On my return visit to the area for his funeral, I ended up driving past several other old haunts from my youth, including my grandparents' old neighborhood in DC. A friend purchased a home not too far from there two years ago, and I have been reacquainting myself with those old stomping grounds as well. Finally, on a whim last week, I decided to use some errand time to take a trip to Iverson.

Because of the pandemic, I hadn't been inside any mall until fairly recently. Not even my local ghetto mall, Prince George's Plaza, which I used to frequent regularly for errands. The first time I went back there was in Spring of this year when I was shopping for my daughter's birthday party. A closer Target store in the city has made it unnecessary for me to travel outside of my COVID-condensed bubble of home, the Kid's school/camp/ballet, my parents' house, and assorted errands within a limited radius. So when I had to travel into Virginia to Pentagon City Mall to pick up a pair of shoes this summer, for the Kid it was exactly like that scene from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door to Munchkin Land. And it dawned on me that her excitement was genuine because the last time she had been inside of a mall might have been when she was still being pushed in a stroller to take this picture with Santa.

And from the looks of the many vacant store fronts whether inside traditional malls, open air shopping strips, or stand-alone retail, to declare that the pandemic took a toll on brick and mortar retail is an understatement. Everywhere, even in Manhattan, we walked passed dozens of deserted establishments. My guess is that some of those store fronts will be re-occupied as some businesses and national restaurant chains re-brand new concepts. Or there will be a lot more banks and pharmacies. But a lot of that will depend on economic factors that are beyond my Busy Black understanding.

The experts say that malls are dying, and it doesn't seem to matter if we're referring to the local ghetto mall or the former upscale mall that has rapidly become a ghetto mall. Major department store anchors have closed at Annapolis Mall (Lord & Taylor), the Marlow Heights Shopping Center (Macy's), and the Bowie Town Center (Sears). I haven't gone into Mazza Gallerie in a while, but my understanding is that the Neiman Marcus closed a year ago. On my most recent trip to downtown Silver Spring, we perused the Five Below because it was the only store open at the former City Place (now Ellsworth Place Mall) after 5pm. 

I didn't even see a Five Below at Iverson.

A few days after that "motivational" tweet, I saw a similar tweet about the West End Mall in Atlanta, and that one made me laugh out loud for real. I lived within walking distance from that mall for four years and it has been at least 27 years since I've been in there. I didn't spend nearly as much time or money there as I did uptown at the now beleaguered Lenox Square Mall, but I have walked by West End whenever I've taken the MARTA to visit campus. That stretch between the station and the campus parking lot have remained unchanged, and I regard it as a last vestige of old Atlanta that only survives because gentrification had more lucrative options in the area. As it has also been the same amount of time since I've been in the Greenbriar Mall, also in the SWATS (SW Atlanta), and I am curious to see how it is still surviving as well. 

I guess the point of this analysis, short of arson and in spite of improbable odds, is that ghetto malls do manage to endure. Upscale malls decline to the point where they become ghetto malls or get redeveloped into condos, some kind of art space, or just abandoned like Landover Mall. I foresaw the fate of Lenox back in 1994 when I got locked inside the Crate and Barrell Store during Freaknik--all because Snoop Dogg and his entourage walked past the Macy's. Now that the METRO goes all the way out to Tysons Corner, it is only a matter of time before the anchor stores forget to renew their leases. Georgetown Park Mall, White Flint, and Landmark Mall are or will become redeveloped as high-end mixed-use communities. 

As for Iverson, there isn't much to see and my visit there had to be one of the saddest nostalgia journeys to date. When my Mom and I used to frequent there, we parked at the Woodward & Lothrop (Woodies) entrance, because that was usually her primary destination. We only parked in the deck if it was too crowded, typically during the holidays. On the morning of my recent pilgrimage, I had to use the parking deck because the store now occupying the old Woodies didn't appear to have a public entrance from the lot, and I could not remember where the mall entrance was on that side. Then I had a kind of Wizard of Oz experience in reverse, from technicolor to black and white (or more like that scene from The Wiz when Dorothy and friends confront him for lying to them). It was 10:30 in the morning, and half of the stores weren't open yet. I expected to see a few mall walkers, but apparently I was too late, or perhaps that effort has been dispatched to another locale or disbanded.

Afterwards, I drove over to Marlow Heights and learned that the Macy's finally gave up the ghost. I didn't even look to see if the Baskin-Robbins was still there. I drove down St. Barnabas Road and thought about making a trip to Rivertowne Commons, but decided that one retail graveyard was enough for the day, so I headed back to the strip where the Cavalier Men's Shop and the Kemp Mill Records used to be. I thought back to when it had been my dream to score a retail job at Iverson Mall instead of in the corporate office at the downtown Cavalier's, because it was closer to home and many of my friends worked there. Those were the days...

Indeed, there had been better days when life and commerce teemed from every storefront, and every nook and cranny. I wonder if the patrons that still shop at Iverson know that once upon a time in the main concourse, there had been a Jordan Kitts Music store where some of my friends took piano lessons. The pet store next door is where my brothers would go to stare at the dogs, and later where my parents bought us goldfish. We spent what felt like hours waiting to try on shoes at the Stride Rite, and then more hours waiting on my Mom to flip through the enormous pattern books at the fabric store across the way. Sometimes while we waited, we could get a slushie from Orange Julius, or maybe some fancy candies at the Fannie May upstairs. There was a costume store where my Mom bought my first ballet leotard and a few of the costumes her students wore for their performances. There was a Wilson's Leather, a Florsheim Shoes, a Lerner's, and a Hit or Miss. Although we didn't venture often to that side of the mall, the other anchor store had been Montgomery Ward.

Get a group of local Gen Xers and maybe a few geriatric Millennials together and we could go on and on about the glory days of Iverson before it became the ghetto mall where we used to shop. Shoot, there is a whole movie about how our generation came of age at the mall. So yeah, Imma need a minute or two, because this hits a little different...

However, I'm not that torn up over the reality that the modern mall concept has more days in its rearview than ahead. COVID has seen to that, aided by Amazon and the trend towards e-commerce in general. There is an ebb and flow to our shopping habits, and while I miss those marathon mall excursions with my Mom and Aunt, the truth is that I like receiving products in the mail from a more diverse assortment of businesses. For example in the golden era mall days, I bought candles from the stores that sold candles, and that was probably from an exclusive or limited number of brands. Now I can order candles from any number of small businesses, and the same is true for stationery, personal care items, and clothing. The new trend in retail appears to be the pop-up, which allows a hybrid of options between traditional brick and mortar storefronts and smaller entities that "rent" access to those patrons. Another trend that may help more small businesses grow are these food halls, which also incorporate some space for retail. Perhaps we don't really need the mega Mall of America model of retail when there are other options that aren't as dependent on the fortunes of regional and national department stores. 

If Iverson is barely making it on a tired business model that hasn't changed in over 20 years, then maybe that isn't the kind of encouragement we need in uncertain times. For all of the Black wealth in Prince George's County, Iverson is a poor reflection of all that "success". I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with shopping at stores like Roses if that is your price point (because it ain't like rich folks don't shop at Walmart and the Dollar Store). However, it speaks volumes that there are so few small Black-owned businesses occupying spaces in these ghetto malls except for nail and hair salons. That is not a criticism of the immigrants that appear to run most of the stores, but I don't see them doing much shopping or hiring...

So then the issue is us. It is our definition of "making it" and what that is supposed to look like. When I started this piece, my objective was to lament the decline of a once vibrant community space. Well I've done that, but I also realize that as long as Iverson and West End and their sister malls are still standing, there is hope that those spaces can be revived. Perhaps not restored to what they were, but reinvented into something else. 

On the same day of my trip to Iverson, I made a few more stops, including one last ride past my old high school. The demolition had begun and throughout the week, other alumnae posted pictures of the process. I posted my own and wrote about the prospect of new beginnings and perhaps that is the metaphor that we miss when we focus so much on what was or is instead of what could be. Unlike the other alumnae, I do not mourn the end of that era because the school no longer serves the purpose for which it was built. We left, and the middle school students that will inhabit the new school deserve a modern and more functional space. The same is true for the patrons of Iverson--now that we've moved on, they deserve a better mall. Not some relic of a bygone era. 

As for the snickerdoodles, one of my LRHS sisters conducted this taste test to compare the offerings and for the record, I was always #TeamForestville. As someone who could once brag that I knew every inch of both malls, I never had any recollection of getting snickerdoodles from Iverson (although we must have). If I venture back over there again, hopefully I will have more compelling reasons to go inside.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Peace, Love and Soul Train!

Forgive me for not paying closer attention to the date, but ya'll, Soul Train premiered nationally 50 years ago on October 2!!!

The lazy way of acknowledging this major milestone in pop culture history is to point out that I wrote an ode to this show ten years ago, so this piece will refer you back to that one and build on it just a tad. I'm not saying that what I wrote back then was perfect (because Lord knows it wasn't), but a lot of what can be said about Soul Train doesn't need to be re-written. It doesn't need a scholarly re-examination, nor does it require another long-form essay from some Gen X blogger who lives for nostalgia. 

Okay I'm lying...

Because I effin' LOVE Soul Train. Sadly, the reruns haven't been aired on TV for quite some time, so for the most part, I only get to see the clips on YouTube when I make #PlaylistProject updates. In that earlier piece, I was able to include some of those video clips until someone tipped off the lawyers, and my lack of coding knowledge means that I cannot just update that piece with links without possibly losing the content. Therefore, I will update, expound, and opine on a few of my other favorite aspects of the show, not included in that original piece:

1. Al Green performing with a live band and then breaking into a church revival, twice. Clearly this was from the very early days when the emphasis was more on the live performances, because Green took up a full twelve minutes in that first set, then nearly seven in this second segment, and then there was this third song that I did not remember. I might have seen this in real time as a baby in 1974, but once I saw it for real, I assure you that this is one of the most iconic performances EVER. And that is saying a lot since Green was a semi-regular on the show.

2. The Jackson 5 performing Dancing Machine in 1973. There are a lot of reasons to love this clip and this performance, but for me, it is recognizing that Michael was such a boy wonder. It isn't just the voice or the moves, but he had ALL of the charisma, so when the other brothers stand back to watch him do the robot, it is as if they already knew.

3. Kim Fields' performance (1984) is one of my favorites, and I think it is the perfect follow up to that Jackson 5 clip because it speaks to the phenomenon of MJ during that time in the early 80s when he truly was the GOAT. What Fields accomplished was nothing less than extraordinary--she got a fan letter through to him! As someone who wrote plenty of my own, perhaps I love this clip because it was insane to think that Kim Fields, who was still on The Facts of Life, had a fan crush on Jackson like the rest of us. And let's not forget that she had that episode two years earlier where her character had been in love with Jermaine...clearly because MJ was already too big for a mere TV appearance.

An important side note is that Fields' fan letter was a remake of a solo MJ effort of the same name that he had released ten years earlier. While I've known that for some time, I did not know that in 1984, so I guess she was his number 1 fan... 

4. This 1975 Elton John performance has quite an interesting back story according to the dramatization provided on American Soul, the BET original series that offers us a look at the early days of Soul Train. I won't spoil it if you haven't seen that episode, but it certainly proves that host Don Cornelius was a shrewd poker playa because I bet your Grandma can still sing all of the lyrics to "Benny and the Jets".

5. Of all the clips I could have chosen to epitomize the crazy 80s, I cannot believe I chose Pebbles...when I could have gone with this very early appearance from The Deele.

6. I must have been in a rush to finish that piece or something because all I did was mention that ridiculous Scramble Board. Easily the most disposable of segments, we still looked forward to seeing it, if only to see if anyone would ever guess wrong, which no one ever did.

7. As part of the promotion for American Soul, the producers tracked down several of the iconic dancers and talk about a blast! I didn't remember any of the first wave of dancers from the 70s, including the late greats Fred 'ReRun' Berry and Adolfo 'Shabba Doo' Quiñones. However, when the 'Best Of' series aired on Bounce TV a few years ago, I got a chance to see them and quite a few others in action (check out ReRun here at 1:07). My era was the 80s, so of course it was dancers like Cheryl Song and Reggie Thornton that stood out. There were definitely others, like the guy my Dad and I called the Poser and that dude who wore the Foxtails.

Part of the fun of watching those interviews and just remembering individual dancers was learning more about one of the greatest gifts that the show gave the culture, and that is the Soul Train line! It was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the show, and of course no Black dance party is complete without one. Definitely take some time to watch some of those clips, especially one of my faves with The Don himself making a trip down the line with Mary Wilson. 

8. The commercials that aired during Soul Train were just as memorable as the show itself. All of these years later, there are certain commercials we don't necessarily remember seeing in real time, but we knew about them because who could forget that there was an Afro Sheen commercial that starred the ghost of Frederick Douglass?! Or that ST dance alum ReRun and his group the Lockers also starred in a Schlitz Malt Liquor ad? Part of what made thee Billy Dee Williams THEE MAN in the 80s were these Colt 45 malt liquor ads. And because remembering random and obscure pop culture trivia is kind of my thing, I first saw Robin Givens as the Dragon Lady in this anti-smoking public service ad!

But what I did not realize at the time, but so appreciate now is how many celebrities and singers were in those ads. One of ST's main corporate sponsors was a Black-owned Chicago-based hair care company, Johnson Products. That company and its history are deserving of more recognition, and when one of its founders, Joan Johnson, passed away in 2019, I posted a tribute to their commercials on the Busy Black Woman Facebook page. Stay tuned for more about them in a future post.

9. Don Cornelius was supposed to have received his own paragraph in that original piece, so let's give him more than that one sentence. He deserves that and much more for being the visionary who recognized in the years before there was Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Music TeleVision (MTV) that Black music needed an outlet to be heard and seen beyond local radio. Of course, Black artists performed on American Bandstand, the Ed Sullivan Show, and others, but Cornelius gave us our own show. Actually, it was his show, which he created, produced and hosted--almost unheard of at the time.

Almost...because there were several Black owners in media when Cornelius' Train left the station: Berry Gordy and Motown; Al Bell rising through the ranks at Stax; Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at what would become the iconic Philadelphia International label; the Johnson Publishing empire that gave us Ebony and Jet magazines; and countless other local radio stations across the country. While some might argue that Cornelius simply adapted the format of local dance shows and syndicated it for national audiences, my interpretation of what he did was to create a prototype for how music content would be delivered in the decades to follow. 

In that sense, Cornelius was not just a veteran deejay with super suave stage presence, nor was his TV show merely a performance venue for Black entertainers. Behind the scenes, ST was a music label, a production company, and a talent agency. Beyond the TV screen, ST was an unapologetic ambassador of Black culture and promotor of Black business. In addition to the Black actors in every commercial, did anyone else get the not-to-subtle hints from the public service announcements that success and uplift could come from joining the military or going to college? Even the corny Scramble Board trivia was intended to teach us pride in being Black, as several of the questions were about Black historical figures. Once a week for more than 20 years, Don Cornelius was the maître d' of the Blackest hour of television!

10. When I was growing up, in DC Soul Train came on every Saturday at 5pm. It didn't matter what we were doing, but somehow, everybody in the 'hood knew that e-v-e-r-y extraneous activity needed to be completed or suspended in time to watch ST. And for a good deal of its run, those were in the days before we had VCRs, so we couldn't afford to miss any episodes, in whole or in part. 

What fuels my Gen X nostalgia for a show like Soul Train is the realization that it was one of the few shows that we ALL watched, not just as a family, but as a community. Almost nothing has that kind of universal appeal, or involved a full-scale shut down of activity that beckoned us to all crowd around a communal television at a designated time. Of course, that was in a different time and space, since now we have with limitless options and content is accessible on a variety of platforms. And that isn't lost on me as you read this updated piece with YouTube links and GIFs on your phone or laptop, brought here by a link you saw on social media, an email subscription, or just curiosity. 

Thus, I find it surprising that this anniversary came and went without much fanfare given how HUGE an impact Soul Train had. I mean, where was the weekend marathon from the 'Best of' shows on BET (which owns the rights)? Did Vh1 air The Hippest Trip In America and I didn't know? Did y'all pay tribute at the 2020 Soul Train Awards and can I see it online? Or am I supposed to wait for the 2021 Soul Train Awards? I saw that there was a dance party in Detroit, but what about in Chicago where it all began? Is this all you got NPR? What did I miss???

And now here is an abrupt segue with a few of my bonus thoughts and observations (because I told you I was lying earlier):

The aforementioned scripted drama, American Soul, is an interesting project, one that offers a history of the show via dramatizations of past performances with current artists. I hope it will return to production soon. However, as I was binging that show one weekend last summer, the concept felt slightly familiar...kind of like the show American Dreams, which aired 2002-2005 and used that other dance show, American Bandstand, as its backdrop.

So that brings us to the inevitable comparisons of Soul Train and American Bandstand, and more broadly to comparisons of Don Cornelius and Dick Clark. Having said my peace about Cornelius, I don't have anything negative to say about Dick Clark. Although I was not a big fan of AB, I certainly did watch it on occasion. I would categorize it as one of several mainstream music shows that I saw over the years such as America's Top 40 with Casey Kasem and Solid Gold. Unlike Soul Train, none of those other shows left the same indelible impression on me. 

That there was a rivalry between Clark and Cornelius doesn't surprise me. Clark probably did not appreciate the competition and he must have resented the fact that his show had been on for 15 years already. But that's capitalism, and there was a marked difference between the products that each man was selling. If Cornelius presided over the Blackest hour on television, Clark helmed one of the whitest. Clark's show featured Black musical guests pretty regularly and he spoke about the process of integrating the studio audience here. However, the primary goal of his show was to showcase American music, which at various times throughout Bandstand's 37 year run was rock n' roll, some country, easy listening, disco, and dance music. Train was strictly for the culture.

Thus while many of the Black artists that went on ST also appeared on AB, these were not interchangeable platforms. Bandstand was a mainstream show, while Train clearly targeted a niche audience. Most mainstream artists never needed to go on Train to sell records unless they were trying to cultivate a Black fan base (i.e. Elton John, Teena MarieMichael McDonald, Hall & Oates, and The Beastie Boys). Alternatively, the Black artists that went on Bandstand already had some crossover appeal. Of course there were notable exceptions, and perhaps that is a rabbit hole worth exploring at another time. 

For most artists, Soul Train supplemented urban radio airplay with television exposure that made lesser known performers Black-famous such as Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Angela BofillMidnight Star, and Switch. If you don't know any of these artists then you have never flipped through your Auntie's old vinyl, and you can probably guess why they were profiled on Unsung...

But let's be clear that Black artists, no matter how big they got, never took Soul Train for granted either. For example, before Michael Jackson went supernova, he appeared on the show with his brothers and as a solo artist. I found this clip of his final live appearance in 1979 that came right after he finished filming The Wiz and right before Off the Wall dropped. Other members of his family continued appear on the show, including Jermaine, Rebbie, and Janet who performed Control in 1986. MJ, who was slated to perform at the Soul Train Awards in 1993 did so with an ankle injury while seated on stage. He later performed for the Soul Train Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Special in 1995. When Janet received the Lena Horne Award at the Lady of Soul Awards in 1997, she reflected on how important it was to remember where she began.

And that is a good place to pull this train into the station. We all have dreams and so many of us start with little more than some DIY, some slight-of-hand camera angles, perseverance, and a bucket of fried chicken. That is certainly how this blog got started...but more importantly, it is the vision and the audacity to pursue those dreams. And you can bet your last money on that, honey!

Friday, October 1, 2021

Days Like This

One random day in September is designated as National Daughters Day and that means a lot of pictures of smiling parents with their little Princesses. A few days later, for National Sons Day there are lots of handsome young men brightening my timeline. Then, right at midnight as the clock barely strikes 12, some of y'all started posting status updates of you sucking on lemons...

Why do y'all insist on ruining EVERYTHING?

After I saw a status update written by a fifth disgruntled person complaining that there was no day to celebrate her because she had no children, I sent out a tweet thread to express my frustration. Yes, that was hella passive aggressive because it didn't respond directly to her, and perhaps writing this piece will be seen in much the same way since I won't be personally posting it on anyone's personal page. But if you happen to read this and begin to wonder if this is about you, then yes, it is, and yes, I am judging you.

What ever happened to just letting people share their good news, putting on a fake smile, and then talking about them later? When did everybody become so sensitive? I know that social media allows everyone to share every single feeling and opinion, but damn, some of y'all aren't happy unless you post something to make everyone else miserable.

I noticed this a few years ago around Mother's Day. I have written about my own issues with that particular holiday, but mostly on my blogs. And I am pretty clear that my issues were never tied up in feeling any kind of way about not being a mother at the time. It was mostly about my own mother and the issues I had with her. I don't think (and I am open to being corrected if this isn't true) I ever saw this as a reason to make other women feel bad about celebrating their mothers or feeling special about being mothers themselves. In fact, I was big on celebrating every woman in my life who had some kind of mothering influence on me, and to this day, I try to send cards to every Aunt, cousin, sister-in-law, friend, and whomever to celebrate them.

I did all of that before I joined the Mommy club in 2015. Since then, I have softened in my feelings, but again, mostly towards my own mother. I don't have any grand expectations for how I should be celebrated except to take a picture with my daughter every year. Anyone who follows me knows that I am generally happy to take a picture with her for just about any reason at any point in the year, as long as I look decent enough to be in the shot. So there's that. 

However, one year I saw a post that listed all of the reasons why some people might not be as joyous as others, and I took note of the various categories of grief and loss listed that may be triggering. I empathized, and it made me pause to think about how in focusing on my own issues, I had never noticed that others might actually be suffering through a day that I merely had to endure. When Father's Day rolled around, I took note of the gripes, mainly from those who felt the absence of their fathers (or co-parents).

Thus, it was no surprise to note that Valentine's Day had become yet another holiday where scrolling through Facebook felt like a day of navigating an emotional minefield. Mind you, I don't care for that one either...but I dare not say that aloud and expect not to annoy someone who would point to the Hub and slow blink. Therefore, as social media created other holidays for pets, lefties, coffee drinkers, tacos, etc., I actually felt relieved that people could find other reasons to express their pride.

WRONG. Apparently, some people who don't have children, significant others, or parents they like also don't have pets, are right-handed, drink tea, and don't eat tacos. So for them, any day that is specially designated to honor others is another day to complain. If only I could only empathize with feeling that left out...

Social media is a carefully curated form of social interaction. Which means, on any given day, it is probably someone's birthday or anniversary. Someone might be celebrating a new job, starting a business, achieving their fitness goals, or just happy to be alive. Sadly, others might also be experiencing the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a marriage, or barely making it through some horrific natural disaster. People choose to share all of these tragedies and triumphs, and most of their friends and acquaintances know how to express the appropriate sentiments.  

Therefore, for the life of me, I don't understand the need to be the cloud in other people's rainbow. Why is it necessary to point out that some people grew up without their father on Father's Day? We know that it isn't a day to celebrate deadbeats. Are you hoping to shame the guy who abandoned his family into finally reaching out to make amends, or is it intended to make everyone else whose father was present in their lives feel bad? You want an entire day to celebrate your awesome wonderfulness? It is called your birthday, or you can pick a day to dress up and toss confetti on your Instagram profile just to see who comments. I bet at least 20 folks will hit the 👍 or 💓 just because.

I get that some of these holidays aren't inclusive, but in an age when everyone gets participation trophies just for showing up, I don't see why you can't find a way to barge in with your own folding chair, if that's what you want. Someone suggested that a day designated for sons and daughters wasn't considerate of non-binary offspring and guess what, I won't question it if you decide to tack on a disclaimer so that your kids don't feel slighted. If there are missing letters in the LGBTQIA+ acronym that don't describe you on National Coming Out Day, just tell us how to acknowledge your truth. When someone schedules an event that conflicts with your religious observances, trust that it is not because they don't care, it is because they probably didn't know any better. And if there really is a holiday or celebration that is inapplicable to you, then just scroll by. It takes more energy to get offended by something that has nothing to do with you.

I joined in on the National Daughters Day posting a day or two after the fact and even joked that I thought it was all rather silly. But then it occurred to me that after 18 months of being shut in, disconnected, and stuck in a cycle of endless angst and grief, seeing all of those smiling children on my timeline was a good thing. I don't have a son, but that didn't stop me from liking those #BoyJoy pics a few days later. I don't have a lot of what some of y'all have, but life is too short to wallow in my feelings about not being able to join the fun of Boss's Day on October 16 (unless I can celebrate not having one). Given the state of the world these days, having anything to celebrate is worthy of acknowledgment. 

So back to Mother's Day, which is fraught with all kinds of complicated feelings. Does it have to be that way? Can you find some happiness for the new mother, some compassion for the mother who has lost a child, or the imperfect mothers who did the best that they knew how? If you aren't a mother, can you celebrate someone else who is, just because? My attitude on Mother's Day changed after my Mom's diagnosis, then it changed after I had my own child and I began to appreciate what she managed to accomplish with three of us. Then it really changed as I had more friends who lost their mothers. Instead of complaining, can you find the space in your heart to reassure that single mother that she can make it or to comfort someone who is grieving their mother that they were loved? 

If you still feel left out, you can borrow my kid on National Aunts and Uncles Day (July 26) while I enjoy my bagel with a coffee milkshake in peace. 

Ten years ago, in this very space, I heralded the joys of being an anti-parent. Also ten years ago, not long after I wrote that piece, I learned that my Mom had Alzheimer's. I am sharing that not to elicit your sympathy, but to highlight how life unfolds in the most unexpected of ways. There is beauty, there is pain, and as we know from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, a time and a season for everything under Heaven. 

Celebrate yourself! Go on an exotic vacation, have brunch and happy hour get-togethers with friends. Share the good news of your job promotions, your new home purchase, your newly published book,  your new exercise obsession, and whatever else you have going on. If you don't have anything fantastic going on in your life, who cares? It is social media--make up something and keep it moving. The thing is, you don't need a designated day to feel special because you ARE special!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Not All Asians Are Crazy Rich Racists

Can we talk about cultural appropriation, again? As in from this Busy Black Woman's perspective, what it is and what it isn't? Because Halloween is coming and things are about to get very uncomfortable.

The motivation for revisiting this topic is Nora Lum (better known as Awkwafina), star of the current Marvel Studios superhero offering Shang-Chi. From what I could surmise, while doing the press promos for that film, she was confronted about her use of a 'blaccent' in her debut film, Crazy Rich Asians (2018). And it appears that her response was to look like a deer caught in headlights instead of offering a genuine answer. (She's been asked about this in the past and her response was pretty much the same.) 

As this clip made the rounds, I saw a lot of dragging on Black Twitter. That resulted in a familiar discomfort that I've come to recognize initially as old age because blue light filters and sitting in one place for a long time have adverse effects on me physically. But the headache I also got could be attributed to my feeble efforts to comprehend this generation gap between me and the self-appointed Millennial gatekeepers of Blackness on social media.

Before you read any further, I already know that yes, I am getting Auntie old and anyone under the age of 40 might give me an Ok Boomer sigh throughout because I may end up sounding a lot like some of those cranks that complain about political correctness. BUT...

Y'all have this one wrong. 

First of all, there is no denying that Blackness gets routinely appropriated and mocked, with oppressors and fellow oppressed people of color guilty of both. We know that stereotypes in artistic renderings of marginalized people of color were once part of mainstream popular culture, which is how we got Aunt Jemima, Chief Wahoo, and six Dr. Seuss books banned. While white folks sort out their feelings about losing some of their beloved racist icons, some of y'all need to take a break from being offended by everything.

I've seen the appropriation accusation thrown at artists like Bruno Mars, then seen the various reactions when we catch white folks reinterpreting art or cultural expressions that we have claimed as ours. Every Christmas, I swear someone posts some choir's bland version of Betelehemu in our SpelHouse group and practically demands reparations. Another clip that makes the salt, but no seasoning rounds annually comes from the Brigham Young Cougarettes. Admit it, we get perverse glee in laughing at white people.

And that is because we are keenly aware of the cultural white-washing that has occurred to make certain aspects of Black culture more palatable to white audiences. While that doesn't just happen to us, we take notice and offense to it more readily. It should be an honor to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform a version of a Yoruba Christmas carol or to see the all-white BYU dance team modestly twerking, but there is that pesky matter of historic racism and exclusion in the Church of Latter-Day Saints. While the Mormons would argue that this is progress, we are right to detect both irony and an appalling lack of awareness. And no rhythm.

At the same time, we also know that not all aspects of Black culture are the exclusive creations of Black Americans. As previously mentioned, Betelehemu is a Yoruba Christmas performance piece that was written and arranged by Morehouse College alumni Babatunde Olatunji and Wendell P. Whalum. Of course, that means the Morehouse Glee Club performs the definitive version, but I wonder if there are Nigerians that see it and feel similarly possessive. How many of us insist on proudly embracing its African-ess, coifed in Ghanaian kente stoles and kufis made in China? (Take all the time you need to get that.) And why are we surprised that some of these PWI bands finally got the memo to jazz up their half-time shows? But more significantly, when did we not notice the various ways that other cultures have been the basis of almost everything that has been branded quintessentially American?

At what point do we redraw the lines so that there is no confusion between what is "ours" and what belongs to another marginalized group or culture? How many of these so-called Millennial gatekeepers of Black culture grew up on anime style cartoons or collecting Hello Kitty and Pokemon? What about visual artists like Iona Rozeal Brown, is she appropriating Japanese culture, or is she creating bold statements about cultural overlap and mutual inspiration? How many of us have kimono-style robes or have ever worn our human hair weaves styled into a low chignon with chopsticks? What about those fireworks that we love to shoot off every Independence Day? Are we not acknowledging that we got Tiger Woods in a trade for the Wu-Tang Clan?

Do y'all even get why that Dave Chappelle Racial Draft skit was so funny?

And then it occurred to me, no they don't because they didn't grow up in the 70s and 80s like I did. So they don't know anything about 70s film star Jim Kelly or the friendship between Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bruce Lee. They probably don't get old school Godzilla movies; TV shows like Ultraman (1972-73) or Kung Fu (1972-75); the original version of Kung Fu Fighting (1974) by Carl Douglas; references to the original Karate Kid (1984-89) movie franchise; crushing on Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat or Dustin Nguyen as Harry Ioki on 21 Jump Street (1987-1991); Michael Jai White as Spawn (1997); or why Kill Bill (2003-04) is such a gratuitously guilty cult classic. I am more than 1000% sure that none of them have ever seen The Last Dragon (1985) with Taimark as Bruce Leroy...

So if we don't relate to the same pop culture references, or get that for many of us who came of age in the 80s, we didn't openly discuss or fixate on the notion of perpetual antagonism between the African American and Asian American communities. I'm not naïve, because there were tensions, but shopkeeper rudeness was not the norm with every Asian American in our personal orbits. For those of us who grew up with Asian American friends in our schools and neighborhoods, we gained some measure of cross-cultural understanding. There was a Filipino community just over the DC line in nearby Oxon Hill, Maryland made up of kids who definitely adopted what we would call Black affectations to be down. We didn't hold that against them, especially since they had to patiently explain the differences among Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian cultures.

So when I see Awkwafina, and know that she started out as a rapper from Queens, and think back to all the other Asian American friends I've had through the years, I don't get why she's problematic. Any more so than Debbie Harry of Blondie getting credit for being the first rapper on MTV? Have any of you met native New Yorkers from the boroughs and heard them talk? And if you haven't, how many of you speak one way at work and another way at home and thought nothing of it until someone came up with the term code-switching?

But let me take this a step further because the danger implicit in the attacks on Awkwafina and others go beyond whether she donned a blaccent. She's an actor and what she gets paid to do is assume other personas. That also includes accents. Plenty of actors adopt affectations in speech that aren't natural to them. For example, Jasmine Guy used a very exaggerated Southern drawl in her portrayal of Whitley Gilbert on A Different World and to this day, I have yet to hear anyone complain. I know that I have mentioned the fact that many of the actors in Black Panther (2018) were American, and there are countless other examples of British actors portraying American Southerners, Canadians, and Australians with few complaints. Would you argue that Gillian Anderson needs to return that Emmy? 

Should Awkwafina have had a better response to the question of using a blaccent when she has explicitly rejected adopting "Asian" affectations in speech for roles? Yes, although I'm guessing the politics of that choice are much more complicated. As I have been telling my age all through this piece, I need to invoke the memory of actor Pat Morita, best remembered by my generation for his role as Mr. Miyagi in the original Karate Kid franchise. Most of us were shocked to learn that he didn't speak with a heavy Asian accent. But it didn't matter because when people saw him, they had a certain expectation of how he should sound. At times, several other Asian American actors with no accents took on roles where they had to adopt affectations to seem more convincing including Lauren Tom (for Bad Santa), Tamalyn Tomita (for Karate Kid 2), and Constance Wu (for Fresh Off the Boat). I get Lum's reluctance to follow suit even if it is less likely that she would face such an expectation now.

Therefore, in a film such as Crazy Rich Asians (CRA) where the actors with British accents appeared to be cast intentionally to represent the born and bred while the others were clearly cast as the nouveau riche or worse, American...

Before I completely lose track of my point, the accusation of cultural appropriation is almost the same as knowing obscenity when I see it. We're clear that we don't want people to treat culture like a costume; yet, isn't that more or less what culture becomes if we don't allow for context? Especially in America where a man wearing Bermuda shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and black knee socks with sandals while grilling shish kabobs is probably somebody's Dad, not some culture vulture. However, if it is Megyn Jesus-is-white-and-Santa-too Kelly wondering aloud if she's wearing enough blackened cork on her face, then we definitely need to shut that down. I know that your child dressed as a character from a Disney movie isn't cosplaying culture, but that also depends on which character you choose (so no white kids dressed as Killmonger). 

The bottom line is intent. When I watched CRA again earlier this month, Awkwafina's Peik Lin Goh is easily the least problematic character. She stands out in an otherwise uninspiring fish-out-of-water Cinderella story replete with horrible people. Having just watched Mulan (1998) again as well, it is worth noting that there are only a handful of other mainstream depictions of Asian families that don't get bogged down in stereotypes, so perhaps we should complain about that. Follow me here because marginalized Asian representation in popular culture isn't a myth. The Disney Channel gave us a complex Asian American family in Andi Mack (2017-19) a few years ago, but it was so short-lived and was probably better suited for the Freeform audience. Now they are rebooting Doogie Howser MD with the former star of Mack, Peyton Elizabeth Lee, in the title role as Doogie Kamealoha, MD. We haven't even mentioned the paucity of roles for South Asian American actors other than Bollywood productions, with notable exceptions for such stars as Mindy Kalig, Kal Penn, Priyanka Chopra, and Aziz Ansari.

I'm not coming for Awkwafina when I doubt Asian Americans came down this hard against Sho'nuff. Or maybe they realized that over-the-top performance was more about creating a stand-out character in a really bad movie. If we are going to police all incursions into other cultures, then we need to be as equally critical of blue-eyed soul artists as we are of Bruno Mars. We should be more wary about embracing fusion cuisine such as Korean tacos and Turkish pizza without proper acknowledgment from Mexicans and Italians. Or put another way, perhaps we shouldn't be so adamant about gaining access to cultural spaces that were once kept from our reach. Does the world need more Black ballerinas and opera singers? Or martial artists...

I think we can tolerate one more mediocre actress.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Shaky Platforms

It was all fun and laughs when I first saw the social media reactions to this now infamous warning tweet posted by Nicki Minaj about her cousin's friend in Trinidad. I mean, who didn't snicker a little to learn that some dude's testicles allegedly swelled up after he received a COVID vaccine (when the truth is likely unrelated to getting the shot). But okay Nicki, keep researching... 

And it continued to be humorous when various people weighed in with their snarcastic reactions to the vaccine and Minaj's tweet. In these crazy polarized times, we need reasons to laugh together. We needed to know that several very important people were so concerned about this dude's balls and Minaj's misinterpretation of the situation that it kept Joe and Jill up past their bedtime on the phone with the Health Ministry officials in Trinidad and Tobago. We were amused to see Tucker Carlson devote so much time and energy to addressing it (because he probably needs an excuse to offer his wife for his own swollen testicles).

But then it stopped being funny the instant I got the news of the death of a friend from high school. 

It hits differently on every level as I had to administer a home COVID test in order to receive clearance to attend a memorial service this weekend. The plan is for me to take my Dad, who has essentially decided that he ain't driving anywhere outside of the Beltway anymore, so I volunteered to be his chauffeur. For the record, taking the home test isn't that big of a deal, and I guess it needs to become a fact of life now, so I accept it along with every other concession I've had to make in the past year and a half. Like never leaving the house without a mask.

Mind you, I took that home COVID test in response to a question on a COVID pre-clearance form to attend this weekend's memorial service where I had the option to lie about having traveled outside of the state in the past seven days. I told the truth, because that trip was in order to attend another memorial service for a relative in New York. We wore our masks, but some attendees did not, so it was probably a good idea to get tested out of an abundance of caution. The fact that some of us think like that and others don't is another adjustment to the new normal. 

Then there is also the matter of the Kid and the fact that she cannot get vaccinated yet. In order to minimize her exposure, she didn't accompany us to New York, but that doesn't guarantee that she hasn't already been exposed at school where several children have tested positive and it has barely been two and a half weeks. That was the drama that began this week, accompanied by a 13-page confessional/accusatory letter by the parents of the infected. It hits differently when it becomes clear that we can do everything right and still...

Nicki Minaj's cousin's friend's got swollen testicles, so maybe you should pray and think twice about getting the vaccine.

I am not coming for Minaj, because it wouldn't have the desired impact seeing that her response and that of her stans would be to clapback hard. Particularly as one Black woman to another, the only benefit might be to generate some attention for this little passion project that I have been laboring away on for years without so much as .0000001% of her same impact. Thus, to piggyback on the point that Joy Reid attempted to make a few days ago, Minaj has a substantial following whereas I don't. She's an influencer. I'm an urban Mommy blogger. So if I did strike at the Queen, I better not miss, lest I be branded an Uncle Tomiana, whomever the hell she is. 

But how about this instead: it doesn't really matter who comes for me because (a) nobody will and (b) I don't care. Furthermore, the worst that could be said is that I am an obscure nobody who is so very tired of every single asshat who keeps defending their dumbass takes on this virus and its impact. Fuck you and your vitamins. Fuck you quoting the Bible. Fuck you and your YouTube research. Fuck you and your personal freedom. Fuck your feelings.

And so that we're clear that this isn't about calling out another Black woman for saying what several others have said: Busta Rhymes, that SNL comedian whose name I don't care to look up, Eric Clapton, and anybody who voted for Larry Elder--FUCK ALL Y'ALL TOO!

I am soooo tired of COVID. Two weeks ago I had a meltdown over the prospect of having my Mom go to the ER over something minor that no one could diagnose. Because Google is not a doctor and her actual physician was out of town, the only way to have the problem addressed was to pay for medical transport TWICE. I am so tired that we are still debating the politics of masking because a few people insist that their discomfort is a civil rights issue (meanwhile restricting voter access and policing women's bodies are moral imperatives). I am so tired of worrying about who might be vaccinated because it isn't my business, yet if I get sick it becomes my problem. It upends my life and jeopardizes the health and safety of those in my family. 

I am so tired because I have followed the rules and still the risk remains high. Because somebody's swollen balls in Trinidad are supposed to be more devastating than dying.

It all hits differently when you read the forlorn tweets of people you don't know who turn to social media to share the pain of intimate loss because that is how we grieve now. We cannot gather together as we once did to mourn or to celebrate without dealing with red tape on the front or back end, so we improvise and feign excitement or sympathy virtually. In reality, the only consistent emotion is ennui.

Admittedly, I did no in-depth "research" on the vaccine. I made my decision based solely on the fact that close to 600,000 people in this country had died by March of this year when I got my first shot. And I have not regretted that decision as just this summer, several unvaccinated acquaintances who contracted COVID died. I'm pretty sure that this particular friend from high school, a grown ass 50-something year old man, wasn't influenced by the anecdotal prospect of swollen testicles (and sadly, he was already gone when her tweet went viral). But whatever "research" led him to forgo getting the vaccine was dead wrong.

It hits differently because even as we make every effort to avoid exposure to COVID and resume some semblance of normal, we are stuck in this perpetual Groundhog Day of watching bad choices produce bad outcomes, yet no one has learned anything when the alarm goes off. We are 18 months into this pandemic, likely to get hit with another variant and winter is coming. We were sooo close to this being over, but instead we're waking up to Sonny and Cher again.

The irony--a song about having each other's back. We know how that turned out for them, and look at where we are now...

And because shots were fired and Sis was out here on Blue Ivy's internet re-tweeting Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens, like really? You've aligned with Boris and Natasha because they care about your cousin's friend? More importantly, because they care about the fact that Black people comprise the lowest percentage of vaccinated adults in this country (26.3%) and represent the highest percentage of COVID-related deaths? Two people who have been heavily invested in the Big Lie, have an ideological axe to grind, and as such only care about TV ratings and going viral by picking Twitter fights--the TV dinner heir and a thirsty clout-chaser with no job? You went hard against Joy Reid for expressing her disappointment in your tweet, but no smoke for Carlson and Owens who have collectively disrespected nearly every Black woman who disagrees with them, including some of your fellow sisters in rap such as Meg Thee Stallion and Cardi B. 

Hold up, this is really about your beef with Cardi B? Ain't that some shit! Are you sure that you aren't the one being used?

Before it was dis tracks and record sales, but it all hits differently because of COVID. 

(I had finished writing and had published this piece, then things went from sad to surreal later when I saw more insanity on Twitter. The Barbz had taken to Twitter and to the streets of Atlanta in defense of their Queen. Whew, y'all have conflated issues and yep, this is that point in Groundhog Day when Phil Connors the weatherman keeps finding more creative ways to kill himself.)

So one last point, because it needs to be said: nobody has made any attempt to silence you or any other person who has expressed genuine hesitation about the vaccine. Doubts can be useful to provoke dialogue and offer clarification where there is confusion. What you tweeted was labeled as misinformation, and last I checked a 24 hour Twitter ban isn't imprisonment, nor is it a punishment since you have other means of communicating to your followers. And what's more disingenuous is to dig into your position as if all of these high-profile busy folks didn't take time to investigate and address that nonsense. You are reacting to becoming the butt of late night jokes, not some secret illuminati plot to get you to shut up. It is precisely because of your visibility and reach to over 20 million folks--acknowledgement of your influence that prompted the range of responses.

It appears that fame, influence, propaganda, and loud speakers do make for shaky platforms that cannot withstand a whiff of debate or dissent. And it all hits differently because of COVID.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

States of Confusion

Every now and then, one of those profile surveys will circulate on Facebook that asks people to check off items from a virtual bucket list of experiences and places. Have you ever broken a bone or gotten a tattoo or have you ever had chess pie? One such list that seems appropriate to mention today involves checking off the number of states one has visited. Because my family went on a cross-country trip when I was seven years old (so exactly 40 years ago), I can definitely check off more than half of the states on the map. In my travels over the years, I have had the opportunity to add a few more. Recently a friend declared her intent to visit all 50 states by her 50th birthday, and I thought that was a novel idea until I realized that such an undertaking would require crossing the borders of several states that have essentially become vast sundown towns.

In Georgia, it is illegal to give bottled water to voters while they wait on line. In Texas, you can be sued by anyone who suspects you even read the word abortion in the newspaper after six weeks of pregnancy. In Idaho, where 90% of the residents are white, it is illegal to notice that fact. In Wisconsin, poor kids don't need to be spoiled by free tater tots and square pizza slices. In Florida, you can't force anyone to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID or possess less than 20 grams of marijuana, but you can take veterinary drugs with the Governor's blessing. In California, your Governor can be recalled if he pisses off enough people.

In these yet to be United States, we appear to be in the full throes of another culture war and in typical righteously indignant social media fashion, there have already been calls for boycotts. Let's not spend any of our hard earned money in that state until the laws get changed (blah, blah, blah), which means business as usual until Hell freezes over or until WalMart declares bankruptcy. Because no one is boycotting anything as long it took the NFL to give Colin Kaepernick a job...

This week I have seen a lot of overwrought emotion expressed in reaction to this latest authoritarian edict which only continues to prove what we already know, yet folks still seem utterly surprised. Y'all are big mad that Texas enacted the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation even though they were pretty open that was their intent. They were also very intentional about calling a special session of the legislature to enact more draconian laws to restrict voter engagement and that allow wannabe cowboys to walk around armed and unencumbered, but you were thinking those were aimed at controlling only certain people? When they banned critical race theory from being taught, as if Texas barely even teaches standard American History, no one thought to look at what other insanity this Governor might have already signed into law? That when Sen. Ted Cruz hopped on a plane to Cancun during an ice storm and left his dog Snowflake behind to fend for itself, these people give one hot damn about our feelings?

These same people who issued death threats against their own (Dixie) Chicks?

I could list every hypocritical point of divergence, but to what good? None of these folks are ashamed or moved by compassion for anything that doesn't comport with their ideological leanings. They will call for the resignation of one President because he stutters but will storm the Capitol for the one who tells outright lies. They will regard a foreign-born former First Lady as an American dream but will call the first woman to be elected Vice President an opportunistic whore. The former President who dragged us into Afghanistan 20 years ago doesn't bear responsibility for the lives of the American soldiers who were killed on his watch, but the former Secretary of State is unqualified for higher office because of a raid on an embassy in a country where we were not actively engaged in conflict. Ashli Babbitt was a martyr but Breonna Taylor was just another dead Black woman. 

I'm outraged by the state of things too. I've reached the point where expressing any form of frustration or disillusionment feels like an exercise in futility. (Of course, that is exactly what I am doing, but keep reading.)

I shared an emotional story on the Facebook page, aspects of which I have shared in the past about my own pregnancy to illustrate the abject cruelty of the Texas law. The thing is, anecdotal experiences don't sway people who are intent to believe what they believe. I debated the issue of abortion years ago with a student who was adamant that the regret she felt about her own choice meant that she would support the prosecution of other women, knowing full well that she would never face such consequences. And I didn't fully process the disconnect of her position until now, but it does explain why appeals for compassion fall short. Some people really don't give a fuck.

We keep thinking that cruelty is an overt act of malice. We only denounce racism when certain words are used. We excuse sexism if the culprit is someone we admire or need. We know that there are absolutes in this world, and that there are myriad shades of gray. But there are also various shades of black and white that are not gray such as ivory, eggshell, ebony, and soot.

The struggle to retain our humanity isn't won easily. There are people that go to great lengths to justify being on the wrong side of history because their culpability was less than someone else's. In a lynch mob, the onlookers are less guilty than those who bought the rope, tied it, and actually killed the person. But they did pack a lunch, spread out a blanket, and chatted with their neighbors in the meadow while the grisly deed was taking place. And no amount of moralizing after the fact will change that.

That's why the romanticized Antebellum fantasies of a heroic Confederacy are so pernicious and dangerous. Scarlett O'Hara is and always was a Karen, but so was her sister-in-law Miss Mellie! The only difference between the two of them was in their temperament. Melanie Hamilton Wilkes is every nice white lady who claims not to see color, even as she enjoys every privilege and perk of whiteness. She believes in feminism until it impacts her son's scholarship or her husband's job. She claims to be a Christian, but she never offered to pay Mammy or reward Big Sam. She knowingly sent her husband off to defend white Southern womanhood dressed in her best bed sheets, so how is it that people are still fooled into believing she can be persuaded to vote against her best interests? She can't. So stop trying to appeal to her sense of justice. 

Miss Mellie and 'nem are unmoved by the growing number of casualties to COVID even as several outspoken mask and vaccine opponents have themselves died. Those people were poor, unfortunate souls, losers. Similar to every other crisis that must penetrate her exclusive circle of intimates, Miss Mellie's freedom to spread pestilence and disease is paramount to your desire to live. Now you put on that mask and get on back to work, ya' hear?

She doesn't concern herself with the hardships caused by voter engagement restrictions because she never stands in long lines to vote at her precinct and she renewed her drivers' license online with no problems just last week. If she's still waiting on her identification, no worries because the election judge is that nice lady from church that makes Bundt cakes and crochets baby afghans. She knows Miss Mellie and forgives the oversight, so there is no need to challenge her integrity or make her lose her place in line. If the people in Harris County don't understand how these things work in the suburbs, Miss Mellie didn't make up the rules.

When she got into trouble in high school, her future husband Mr. Ashley Wilkes did the honorable thing and drove her across state lines so that no one could report back to her Aunt PittyPat. Years later, when they were married and Miss Mellie gave birth to their only healthy child, it was because Mr. Ashley's private health insurance provided comprehensive prenatal and neonatal care. And Prissy, who didn't know nothing about birthing no babies, needed a job so she did a stint as The Help so that Miss Mellie didn't have to quit her bridge club before young Master Beau was old enough for school. As he grew into a strapping young man, Mr. Ashley made sure that his son spent plenty of time at the gun range where he learned the necessity of having an adequate stockpile of assault rifles in case he didn't have enough time to grab the right set of white bed sheets in an emergency.

This is why our anecdotes don't work on these people. We are not like them. If you had to work through this pandemic, Miss Mellie thinks that her part was to add a little extra to the tip on her take-out tacos and weekly booze deliveries. But once she decided to re-open her small business (selling Old Uncle Pete's craft brew from the secret recipe he sold to help pay off some of his medical bills), that was the end of her patience. She got her PPP loans, so now the government has to cut off your unemployment. She pays decent minimum wages, so what makes these workers think they deserve an extra $3 an hour? Hasn't she always been good to you people?

(Yeah, I know. But I needed to make sure you were paying attention.)

You are wasting your time with all of these common sense comparisons, such as mask-wearing to seat belt mandates. That took nearly 30 years to catch on, many avoidable deaths, and finally attaching criminal sanctions to make people comply. I know this because I lived through it, having grown up in the 70s and 80s. I lost a classmate in high school in the late 80s to a car accident because she was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown through the window. My parents even had a child safety seat before those became mandatory. People considered it cruel to lock a baby in a car seat that faced backwards (he can't see out the window). My Dad insisted that everyone in our cars had to wear seat belts because of a near-death experience he had as a college student in the 60s. Not even that convinced my Grandfather to wear his own seat belt, despite his own scary incident, and it was only not to hear it from my father that he made us wear them in his station wagon.  

Let me get back to the point of this, which was to emphasize that we won't persuade these people through emotion, Christian siblinghood, reason, or logic. So we have to employ other tactics. Y'all won't be boycotting Texas, not because it isn't a good idea, but it isn't sustainable. Boycotting Texas means I can't visit Houston to try out one of these stuffed turkey legs, but more importantly, a boycott of the entire State of Texas means that when the next big storm threatens the Gulf Coast, where do we expect people to go? All the way through to Oklahoma, where they've also banned the teaching of critical race theory and can't decide if reparations are appropriate for Tulsa Massacre survivors? Or to Arkansas, where critical race theory has also been banned and there is a current challenge to its abortion restriction that begins at 20 weeks? There are marginalized people that live throughout this country who face more than just the loss of reproductive freedom. 

(So umm, thank you Bette Midler, for the suggestion, but maybe let's come up with something that can liberate all of us, okay?)

Students of history will remind you that there were various kinds of protests, and depending on the circumstances, some were more effective than others. Thus, the push for change did not depend on protest, but worked through a combination of tactics that included litigation, lobbying, boycotts, civil disobedience, and nonviolent resistance. Every year, the Rev. Al Sharpton revives the March on Washington because he knows that it will get media attention and he'll get a primetime speaking slot; meanwhile, Stacey Abrams is on the ground in Georgia registering voters and recruiting candidates. Her strategy resulted in sending two Democrats to the U.S. Senate which is why they were so quick to change the voting laws. With respect to Rev. Al and MLK III, we need more than inspirational speeches to stay in this fight.

So let's think this through. If Texas is now a permit-free open carry state, then where are the Black gun clubs? How many of you are willing to organize efforts to patrol the polls where Black and Latinx voters are likely to face intimidation? Beyoncé is a Texan married to a Yankee billionaire, so let's get her and Jay to back a bail fund in case that becomes necessary (which it will). If these white actresses are so convinced of their allyship, then instead of teasing a run for office, support the candidacies of the local activists who could use their name recognition to reach potential voters. Since a boycott of the state isn't feasible, a coordinated economic boycott of certain companies can move the needle towards change. Several major companies are headquartered in Texas including Southwest Airlines, FedEx, and most major oil and gas companies. Through discipline, we can pull off a boycott, just as we did back in the 80s to force divestment from South Africa. 

In every state that bans public schools from teaching critical race theory, we need to revive the Freedom Schools that popped up during the Civil Rights Movement to teach Black voters how to pass the literacy tests. The late great Robert Moses initially went to Mississippi by himself for that very purpose. We can sponsor a new kind of Freedom Rides for women that live in these states where the abortion laws have changed, underwritten by these celebrities who are so vocal about sex strikes (of course, it would not be a terrible idea if the mistresses of every one of these reactionary politicians tried that.) All of these young idealistic college graduates can use some experience, so let's find ways to support them by forgiving their loans and/or sponsoring fellowships for them to work pro bono.

Pick a state, any state and there is plenty to do. And I will close with my reminder that voting is the easiest statement of defiance and act of resistance you will make if you cannot do anything else. All of these restrictions are recognition that your vote has power, so not voting is what they are counting on, especially on the local level. These folks have no shame, so fight back! Demographic changes in Texas are what gave a two-term Congressman named Beto O'Rourke the mediocre while male confidence to run for Senate and President. If we want to beat back tyranny, then we need the same energy y'all have for driving hours across the state for turkey legs, brisket, and tailgating.