Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Quid Pro Quarantine

I had a not so good moment yesterday. I unleashed a profanity-laced tirade on Facebook after watching Monday's White House press briefing. I know better--not only to keep my cool because you never know who is reading your posts, but also not to watch masturbatory propaganda in the midst of a global crisis. In a normal disaster, one would expect that the President would offer comfort and reassurance...

But this ain't normal. Especially when the My Pillow guy takes to the podium to thank God for the 2016 election results during a PUBLIC HEALTH briefing. Hours after the Governors of Maryland and Virginia, and the Mayor of DC all announce coordinated mandatory shelter in place orders that effectively put our entire region on lock-down through May. And life still has to go on in the shadow of an unseen enemy that could take any one of us down and/or out with barely a moment to catch our breath.

So, no. I am NOT okay. But I do feel better about getting all of that off my chest.

I am not angry or offended or even remotely interested in the political affiliations of those who stand up to volunteer the man-power of their now-shuttered factories and plants for the effort against this virus. I know that they will be handsomely rewarded for their sacrifice...and I hope that at the very least, their employees will receive adequate compensation for putting their lives at risk. I hope that, unlike the Instagram and Amazon CEOs who were not invited to participate in that public fellatio, the My Pillow guy doesn't lobby for exemptions that deem his workers are essential, and as such, exempt from applicable labor laws. That in these uncertain times, when many people depend on the at-will gig-economy to make ends meet, that his factory won't be so callous as to rev up production without basic provisions for employee health and safety.

I would love to believe in the altruism of these corporate efforts. That for example, the auto industry is stepping up because they care, and not to avoid the public relations nightmare of being called out by this President on Twitter. However, in this moment of crisis I will save my skepticism.

For what it's worth, I find it grating that we're not supposed to be offended that the My Pillow guy was invited to the White House, whereas fashion designer Christian Siriano was not. Last week when the Governor of New York was issuing a desperate plea for medical equipment, Siriano volunteered his services, as did several other fashion designers. I haven't seen any official acknowledgement of those fulfilled promises from this President; instead, we've seen him question the integrity of the medical personnel who needed the face masks. We've seen him attack journalists who ask him legitimate questions about his decision-making and his contradictory public statements. We've seen him denigrate duly elected public officials who are on the front lines of this disaster. We've seen him abuse the public trust conferred by that podium and that presidential seal to shamelessly prevaricate. We've seen him do everything to heighten our fears and angst because it brings him ratings.

So when the My Pillow guy got on national television during a daily public health briefing on the day that the U.S. death toll from this virus topped 3,000 to proselytize the bullshit gospel of a capitalist messiah, yeah, I lost it. And I don't regret a single fucking word.


For the last two to three weeks since the Democratic Primary all but ended, I have been watching the chatter on Twitter, and now that my profanity filter has malfunctioned, I'm going to cuss about that shit too. Because somehow we're engaged in an existential crisis that threatens to doom all humanity if the trumpet gets re-elected. It really isn't that hard--one guy has more delegates and the other guy doesn't. At one point there were 25 candidates, and it was all fair until now. Really? And we're going to implode because the guy who succeeded in pushing the party to become more progressive has deluded himself into thinking that he's Joshua and not Moses.

And, because I want to be on record, yeah I know about the Tara Reade allegations and that shit pisses me off. If you know me, then you also know that I am inclined to believe her allegations, and so it sucks that Uncle Joe is a creep. It sucks that at this critical moment, we are once again learning that men we admire and laud can be terrible people. That power deludes these old assholes into believing they can and should get their way with any woman in their wingspan.

None of that changes my mind about voting this orange pestilence from office though. I would rather vote for a flawed man than continue to abide under the regime of a truly horrible man. I support that investigations are necessary and accept that there will be consequences as a result...and all of that can take place after the election.

As the My Pillow guy and those self-righteous Hobby Lobby folks have been fond of invoking God's return since November 2016, it has been rather biblical since that golden escalator ride--the moment the golden calf was forged. It has been an unrelenting, perilous journey through Hell in an asbestos suit...

So this isn't Sophie's choice or a crisis of conscience for me. It is a moral imperative:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land. -- 2 Chronicles 7:14

Sunday, March 22, 2020

For The Birds

The first week of this virus pandemic has given me a newfound respect for those true-believing home-schooling parents...this ain't my ministry y'all. (I already knew this, but I'm not sure if that was common knowledge or if I was thoroughly convinced; now I am.) I appreciate all of you who have open kitchens with islands and new appliances and clean granite countertops. I appreciate those folks on TV who are doing their own hair and makeup. I appreciate all of these small businesses who are still selling stuff that I don't really need, but my civic sense of obligation compels me to buy candles, winter hats, party supplies, and baby gifts. I appreciate all of these talented people who are using their gifts to bless the masses on social media.

In the alternative, there is a lot that I do not appreciate, but instead of boring you with a list of specifics, I will offer you a dramatic rendering of sorts. For the love of God, try to refrain from being these kids, all of whom will probably land jobs on MTV or become Instagram influencers when this is all over because life ain't fair:


Also, if you can, do your best to avoid watching, listening to, or believing anything this guy has to say because it is a LIE, and a RACIST lie to boot:


By all means, listen to this guy, although I'm guessing he won't be around much longer:


And that was from Friday. All week it has been one never-ending reminder that y'all voted for that orange nincompoop because of an irrational hatred for her and the undeleted spam in her AOL account:


Meanwhile, the Real Leader of the Free World is honest and frank:


As a side note, can we all just agree that either one of these guys will suffice as a replacement come November?


When I sat down to write this piece, it was with the intent to poke a little fun at folks for their hysteria. As I am a repository of random pop culture references, I thought of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds. In a pivotal scene, various people from the town are gathered at a diner discussing the events of the past 24 hours. There is an elderly woman who studies birds, an ornithologist, who initially doubts the stories of coordinated bird attacks. In the midst of a bird swarm, a man who is pumping gas causes a fiery explosion after he drops his lit match onto spilled gasoline. The woman pictured below is a mother with two children whose distress leads her to shriek that Melanie (the protagonist) was a witch whose presence provoked the bird attacks. This is her face right before Melanie slaps her:


If ever there was a scene in cinematic history that could represent the range of reactions to the current situation--experts who can't offer reasonable explanations for what is happening; people who spread hearsay and gossip as credible sources of information; the blame cast on a mysterious stranger for unexplained havoc; blithely unaware folks who engage in intentionally risky behavior; and then those frantic people who overreact. I had often wondered about the origin of this film, so in my research I learned that the movie was based on a short story with the same name, written by British author Daphne du Maurier (1952). Now that I've read that, I'm not so sure that a little panic isn't unwarranted...


I said a little panic. Not full-out bunkering akin to The Day After-like nuclear holocaust (again, another one of my random pop culture references):


The anxiety is palpable because we need real information, not propaganda or gaslighting. That instead of folks believing unverified claims by random people who know people who work with people, that we get our news from trustworthy sources. Which is almost impossible under this Regime, so maybe we should just hunker down and pray for the best.

Of course it sucks. I live with a four year old who doesn't understand why she can't see her friends. I have vulnerable parents and relatives (essential employees) and I have to trust that they will all be safe. I have friends that live alone. I am sure that I have gained more weight this week than I did while pregnant. I am still grieving and trying to get my shit together and hoping that I accomplish something this year. In a matter of days, I have seen all kinds of life plans altered and upended.

Out of nowhere, it feels as if Nature has turned on humanity and we are at Her mercy. Or in our imperial arrogance, we brought this on ourselves through recklessness and hubris (too much single use plastic). Until this point, we have never faced this kind of widespread disruption. We typically watch disasters strike other people on television or at the theater. Now we actually have to live through the kind of fictional doomsday scenarios that used to entertain us.

It is never explained why the birds attacked the town of Bodega Bay, nor do we learn of Melanie's fate after the last savage bird attack leaves her catatonic. I would guess that she lives, chastened by her experience and more mindful of her choices. In every post-apocalyptic film, there are survivors who must adjust to what becomes the new normal. Therefore, the point is to make it through this ALIVE. If people heed the warnings to stay inside seriously, the sooner we get through this. We are resourceful enough to find some creative and unique ways to remain engaged. This isn't that hard. And God forbid if this is the end of the world, then:

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Playlist Project: Be Optimistic

We're in our first week of social distancing, which is the new age term for stay the f%$# inside your house until further notice...and I'm guessing folks are getting a little anxious. You're stress eating, binge-watching stuff that you've already seen, and possibly reconsidering certain life choices. But do not fret!

Like a virtual USO tour, famous musicians like John Legend and Chris Martin are giving mini-concerts on Instagram, Josh Gad (Olaf) is out there reading to our children, and Debbie Allen is out there teaching dance class. I thought to pull together a feel good effort of my own--the Busy Black Woman's Be Optimistic playlist to help you get through the days ahead, for getting through the current crisis or something else at some other point in time. I posted most of these songs to the Facebook page, so this is an index of those selections as well as some additional material. It covers a few musical genres, so there is something for most people to enjoy.

Prince - Let's Go Crazy (1984)
Of all the apocalyptic Prince songs that I could have chosen, this is the one that makes the most sense to recommend while we're all on lock-down. We would love to party like it's 1999, but we can't go anywhere so this song perfectly describes what it might feel like by the end of this week. But don't go Delirious, dance it out of your system, then turn your attention to something more positive.


For the Entire Family

A few of these songs are on regular rotation in my household because they make the Kid happy, while a few of the others make her Busy Black Mama happy.

Pharrell Williams - Happy (2013)
I love this song, even though it can be annoying and inescapable. It came out before the Kid was born, so if you can believe this, the person who was obsessed with it back then was my Dad! He watched every single video, including all of the international covers (here is a shorter compilation) and the Weird Al Yankovic's Tacky (2014).

Justin Timberlake - Can't Stop The Feeling (2016)
I took the Kid to see Trolls in the theater, which of course she loved. Then once she saw a video on YouTube, she had to watch it constantly (because she is her grandfather's grandchild)--but I won't torture you with the different versions. Just know that there are Storm Troopers and Spider-man involved and I don't really know why.

Katrina and The Waves - Walking on Sunshine (1983)
You know the song from commercials and possibly from this scene in Look Who's Talking (at 1:55) released in 1989, but I honestly never heard of this group until now. Now I know that they were a one-hit wonder stateside, but had other hits abroad that included Love Shine a Light (1997), which seems like a benign enough addition to this playlist.

American Authors - Best Days of My Life (2013)
This song is so corny and the video so ridiculous...but as someone commented, it isn't like I found it by accident. I've heard this song a thousand times, and the point is for it to bring some joy in the midst of chaos, so I see no need to explain myself.

Deee-Lite - Groove Is In The Heart (1990)
I don't know if the Kid could ever love this song as much as her Mama, but if there was an adult equivalent to Happy, this is it.

Tony! Toni! Toné! - Feels Good (1990)
This is another one of my happy songs from freshman year of college...definitely a less anxious time and place.

Tupac Shakur - Keep Ya' Head Up (1993)
Yeah, I know this isn't a kid-friendly song, but it comes from two songs that are, so we're going to use what Tupac did here to educate and uplift. First of all, his song is intended as an ode to single mothers at a time when a lot of rap music was awash in misogyny. Second, this song includes two classic samples that reinforce the positive message--Be Alright by Zapp (1981), and Ooh, Child by the Five Stair-Steps (1970). Third, now I know who sang the latter song, and that Nina Simone also recorded it in 1971. I did know that it had been re-recorded by gospel artist Donnie McClurkin in 2004.

Journey - Don't Stop Believin' (1981)
I have a playlist of power ballads still in the works, so of course there is more Journey ahead. If there ever was a Boomer anthem, this is it.

Jackie DeShannon - Put A Little Love In Your Heart (1968)
Last summer due to something tragic that happened in the news, I posted this song and some history I uncovered about it on the Facebook page. Now seems like a good time to remind people that we are all in this situation together, so in addition to this original, the 1988 remake by Al Green and Annie Lennox (from Scrooged), I can now add this 2002 version by Mary Mary (from Stuart Little II) to our rotation.

Stevie Wonder - Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing (1973)
How I overlooked this song on the Facebook playlist is beyond me, but this is the JAM. The Kid loves this 2016 version by Tori Kelly from the Sing movie soundtrack. One of my favorite versions is by Incognito (1992); however, mad props go to the reigning Sexiest Man Alive, John Legend, who definitely brings it on this 2005 version from the Hitch soundtrack.


Undefeated 

Technically, a few of these are the kind of songs one might send to a friend in the aftermath of a traumatic breakup, but since folks aren't hooking up right now, we might as well re-purpose these as the kind of songs we'll enjoy once this is all over.

Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive (1978)
In addition to this being our testimony on the other side of this nightmare, Mother Gaynor has given us permission to adapt the song as a challenge to others to wash their hands.

Destiny's Child - I'm a Survivor (2002)
Let's hope that Debbie Allen will choreograph a flash mob for this song once this virus has passed.

Kelly Clarkson - What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger) (2011)
I am pretty confident that this song is on every Peloton, Zuumba, and Soul Cycle playlist right now, so keep going!

Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive (1977)
Enough said. This is the goal folks!


Reggae

Bob Marley - Three Little Birds (1977)
If you read the title and didn't know otherwise, you might wonder why I would include a song about birds. For years, I thought the name of this song was Don't Worry About a Thing, which is the point--we must believe that everything will be alright. Here's a lullaby version from Renee and Jeremy (2007) for the kiddies...or for whomever needs it.

Jimmy Cliff - I Can See Clearly Now (1993)
I feel like I only hear this song in commercials, which is unfortunate. Because it is much better as an uplifting song of hope and optimism, perfect for a movie like Cool Runnings. It was written by Johnny Nash (1972), and became a hit for Ray Charles in 1978.

Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry, Be Happy (1988)
Much like the aforementioned Happy, this song was the earworm of my youth. People loved it because it was quirky and catchy and we were all amazed by McFerrin's abilities. It isn't reggae, but it has that feel. People have been commenting recently how this song is still comforting more than 30 years later. It was McFerrin's one big hit, but if you poke around YouTube to see what he's been up to, it appears that things worked out for him quite nicely. Plus, he is immortalized on the theme to the fourth season of The Cosby Show.

 

Gospel

Of course, there is a gospel music section. In times like these, you've got to get your praise on!

Hezekiah Walker - Better (2016)
This is one of the Kid's favorite songs, and the fact that the video features people all over the globe makes it perfect for this list.

Kirk Franklin - Smile (2011)
This song reminds me of when my Niece was my daughter's age. She sang this to me in the car one day, and it lifted my spirits. Now the Kid loves this song too (well, because Mary Mary are featured in the video, and if y'all don't already know this, my child LOVES her some Mary Mary).

Sounds of Blackness - Be Optimistic (1991)
They are so 90s, which means I love them. This group was one of the pioneers of the secular gospel sound, so most people who heard it daily might not associate it with having a religious message. A couple of their other secular-ish songs have similar messages: Everything Is Gonna Be Alright (1994) and Hold On Change is Coming (1997) featuring Roger Troutman of Zapp.

Yolanda Adams - The Battle Is The Lord's (1993)
This one is for when you need to go to church because this can all get overwhelming. Afterwards, if you yearn for more hard-core gospel, I'm including For Every Mountain (2006) by the Kurt Carr Singers. In case you didn't know in advance, the tears are going to fall so let it go--you probably need to release some of these emotions.


Easy Listening

This is the cool down section--because after listening that gospel section, here is your virtual church fan.

Ledesi - Alright (2007)
This video version includes her hit In the Morning as the intro. Very mellow. Legend has it that she was about to quit the music business when this song hit.

Blessed - Jill Scott (2011)
This sounds like a song that was written on the fly, but they fixed it up in production and then made a crazy video, so what's not to love?

Bill Withers - Lovely Day (1977)
This song is absolute perfection. So Jill Scott (2011) had to bring it, and so did Jose James feat. Lalah Hathaway (2018). Let's face it, no one can mess this song up so enjoy these additional covers by Anthony David (2018) and Gerald Albright feat. Michael McDonald (2016).

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly - Golden Time of Day (1978)
This might be a less conventional choice than say Happy Feelings (1977), which is probably a bigger hit for most fans of Maze, but I think Golden is vastly underrated. Of course this could be the subject of an intense Saturday-night-in-the-basement-playing-spades-and-drinking-brown-liquor family debate since we've settled that Frankie Beverly is only Black-famous. As far as I am concerned, so is Kem (2009), and as his cover isn't as soporific as most of his music, this is a pleasant surprise.

Earth, Wind & Fire - Keep Your Head to the Sky (1973)
This was the song that inspired this list (and I just re-discovered this fantastic 2002 cover by Maysa). For some reason, this song came to mind as I was trying to sort out a few ideas for how to make the best use of this time. There is something very soothing and reassuring about this song, so I hope it blesses you in some way.

I hope this list brings a little joy to soothe and calm some of the anxiety.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Seeds in the Ground

The Busy Black Woman has had enough of the bickering and whining and back-stabbing and hysteria! So Mother is going to share some advice with you, which you will need in the coming weeks. First of all, WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS WITH SOAP. They still have plenty of that at the store. I know, it dries out your skin and makes everything ashy and hard so you look like you've been playing in flour, but just do it. Because the revolution cannot afford to lose you to some preventable disease. Besides, antibacterial hand gel will not work against a virus.

Second, I had another great epiphany the other day (a lot of those lately, I know) wherein I realized that the 60s were to our Boomer parents and grandparents what the 90s are to us Generation Xers. Because it was 30 years ago this month that House Party was released, which technically makes Freaknik our Woodstock! Therefore, accepting that one of the perks of middle age is that I'm right about most things, I am gonna give a lecture just like my parents and their friends used to give us whenever we thought we knew more than they did.

So let's get down to discussing a few political realities. You might have to vote for someone you didn't intend to come November. Either it will be a vote for the status quo (in which case, why are you even reading this blog), or it will be a vote for the other status quo. Choose the latter and keep it moving. Okay?

In case you forgot, the Busy Black Woman taught American History and Government online in a past life, so this lecture will consist of some outside readings, a few bad jokes, and at least two stories from my past. I promise the glaze that overcomes your eyes will subside in time, so to give you some perspective on what is happening right now, we must first take a trip back to 1988.

Picture it, Atlanta, in the middle of the summer, there was a convention in town, and the goal was to select a candidate who could beat the current Vice President, George Bush the First (only then we had no idea that he would be the first Bush to occupy the Oval Office). The Democrats had been humiliated in the previous election against Ronald Reagan, so you would think that the effort to choose an electable candidate would have yielded a better result than Michael Dukakis, whose cousin was and is still better known...

Back then, the most prominent Black leader was the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He had been a candidate in 1984, so this was his second run for the White House in the Democratic primary. (Ordinarily, I would pause right here to share a story about his first run and how that was the first time I wrote a political opinion piece back in the sixth grade, but another time.) At my conservative Catholic high school, most of the institutional support was for Bush, so the primaries were only of interest to the Black students (another story, but for another time). The field included a certain Uncle Joe Biden (DE), who was making his first bid for President until he had to withdraw due to an embarrassing plagiarism allegation. The other choices included Sen. Al Gore (TN), Sen. Paul Simon (IL), Sen. Gary Hart (CO), Rep. Dick Gephardt (MO), and the aforementioned Gov. Mike Dukakis (MA).

Now, to move this story along, your first homework assignment is to read up on the convention machinations later, and then note that Jackson delivered one of the greatest convention speeches until Barack Obama's keynote at the 2004 convention. Despite coming in second place, Jackson was not chosen as Dukakis' running mate and they lost. While it was naive of us to assume that America was ready for a Black man in the Oval Office in 1988, it took us twenty years of working through the party system to get us to that reality in 2008. It was the seed that was planted by Jackson's historic run, one that was ready to bloom once the stars aligned accordingly. (Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Shirley Chisholm...keep reading.)

After you have read Jackson's speech (seriously, the speech is required reading), you will note that after a typical Baptist preacher intro, in which he names and thanks his family and friends, he offers a formal greeting to former President Jimmy Carter, elder statesman of the Democratic Party as well as a nod to fellow civil rights activist Mayor Andrew Young. Ironically, ten years earlier, Cater had fired Young as Ambassador to the United Nations; now he was the mayor of what would become the capitol of the new South. Jackson then went on to invoke the names and places from civil rights events that laid the groundwork for his journey to that stage. Specifically, he calls the names of those who were denied a seat at the 1964 Convention (thus, your third reading is Fannie Lou Hamer's famous testimony and the shenanigans President Johnson attempted to keep her out of prime-time).

So marinate on that for a moment--Jackson got to reap the seeds that had been sown just twenty-four years earlier by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. And Obama got to reap what Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition had sown twenty years later. So my beloved, your time is coming. The seeds are in the ground.

I know how hard it is to wait and see what the end will be, but impatience is a vice, not a virtue. Some people do not live to see the harvest of their labors, which can be unsettling and disheartening. But you need to have faith. (OK, that veers into sermon territory, which I am not equipped to give, so let's get back to the lecture.) If you want to see some tangible proof of how progress works, then look at how Jackson's speech invokes several themes that have become synonymous with the Democratic Party. This speech references a multi-hued coalition, support for the working class, unfettered access to the ballot, universal health care, a living wage, LGBTQ and women's equality, common-sense gun control, and affordable housing. Here is one key line in that speech:
Progress will not come through boundless liberalism or static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival.
Progress [through] the critical mass of mutual survival. Not from the extreme poles of ideology, but on common ground. Because Jackson repeated that sentence and that theme, I am tempted to believe that this was some prophetic wisdom he saw fit to impart to future generations. We won't get very far unless we find a way to work together as a united party with a mission to serve the common good. Kinda like the current Democratic Party platform.

Oh, and here's a footnote to fill in a few gaps. When Jackson ran in 1984, he was the second African American to seek the Presidency in the 20th Century (Frederick Douglass did not seek the office, but he was nominated in 1872). One hundred years later in 1972 Rep. Shirley Chisholm (NY) was the first to seriously seek the office. When she ran, she was dismissed by both the nascent Black political establishment and the polarized women's movement. I encourage you to listen to this excerpt from her campaign announcement and see if anything sounds familiar.


When Chisholm died in 2005, it was before Barack Obama was elected and before Hillary Clinton was nominated. She did not live to see the harvest, but she still planted the seeds in the ground. The disappointment some of us feel by the choices we have now, having lost the four women from the U.S. Senate as candidates is real. But when we look back to when Chisholm ran in 1972, to when Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY) was the first woman to be nominated for Vice President in 1984, we see the evidence of the seeds they planted. Our time is coming.

Those of us who have been around long enough to remember these past battles know how frustrating it is to trade idealism for realism. But we have watched the incremental changes that have brought us to this moment and know that while pragmatism wins the battles, idealism fuels the fight. In my lifetime, we almost elected a woman to succeed a Black man who had previously lost a congressional campaign in 2000. So from what had been the most diverse field of rising political stars in my lifetime: a Latinx former Cabinet Secretary and big city Mayor (Castro); a Black State Attorney General and U.S. Senator (Harris); a Harvard professor, U.S. Senator, and creator of a federal agency (Warren); another big city Mayor and U.S. Senator (Booker); a gay naval intelligence officer and mayor (Buttigieg); an Asian American venture capitalist (Yang); and two other women in the U.S. Senate (Klobuchar and Gillibrand)--yeah, it's a blow. But our time is coming.

There is a place for idealism in politics; it's just not always in the seat of power. Thus, from that collection of former candidates there could come a Vice President, future Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices, Governors, Senate leadership, etc...if y'all get over your feelings. The shortcomings of an imperfect leader can be overcome by a good team.

Therefore, if your preferred candidate doesn't get to accept the nomination this summer, you do not have the luxury to stay home to sit this election out. This country cannot survive another four years of this moronovirus incompetence. Nor shall you vote third party in protest. Those folks never truly intend or desire to be President. Show me what Lenora Fulani, Ralph Nader, and Jill Stein have done for this country after they lost and I will remind you how we ended up in a never-ending land war in Asia with a fake-tan pussy-grabbing reality TV show wannabe dictator.

I know, you wanna cancel folks over past mistakes that had unforeseen and catastrophic consequences. Like this 1988 interview on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Yeah, she deserves to be dragged for unleashing this pestilence on the land, but I assure you that everyone has committed major regrettable acts. I think a certain well-meaning, but tone-deaf person should regret recording this album. But living long enough has given us the hindsight and wisdom to know better for the future. Not all seeds are good, so be careful what you plant.

A few closing thoughts: I was never at Freaknik and no one saw me there. Through the years, I may have regretted my choices, but never regretted making the effort to vote. For the record, I was not old enough to vote in 1988 nor was I born in 1972. Yet and still it feels kind of liberating to be to be so unbothered about being old enough to remember things that I can incorporate into a lecture. So no, the readings are not optional, and maybe I can still dance like they did in House Party. The final this fall will be whether you choose to tend this garden so that good seeds can grow and flourish, or if you prefer to bulldoze the plot to make way for a big beautiful border wall. That's the lecture--choose wisely and wash your hands.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Sun Rises on All of Us, Not Just You

I happened to be watching a Sex and the City marathon this weekend, which I tuned into during the very sequence of episodes that a friend and I were discussing last week about how I need to get my shit together to publish a book (yeah because so many people already don't read my blog)...and I noticed certain random characters for the first time. And that led to this epiphany:

Y'all don't see us. We're there, but unless there is a specific reason for you to acknowledge our existence, we don't count. (Yes, this will be a rant that addresses race, gender, and other marginalized categories. If you are uncomfortable, then I am definitely talking about you.)

Of course, most of us barely notice the various people who exist on the periphery of our personal galaxies. I know my mailman's first name because he told me, and I recognize most of my neighbors well enough to exchange pleasantries. But honestly, the most I know about anyone's life is based on what they post on social media, so if you aren't my Facebook friend, I think it is safe to question whether you actually exist or are a figment of my imagination.

It was my stray realization that there were random people of color sprinkled throughout all of those based-in-NYC shows that we were very critical of for lacking diversity during the 90s. They just weren't germane to the plot of the show. Thus on a show like Friends, there was the Black barista who worked in the coffee shop, but she didn't have a name or say anything so only those of us who went to school with her and were excited to see her on-screen every week cared that was Tanika Ray. Or how we recall that the only people of color on Seinfeld were the gay Puerto Rican guys, the Japanese tourists that Kramer housed in a chest of drawers, the muffin stump/bathroom book lady, the exterminator, and Jackie Childs. On SATC, there was that one episode I hate about Samantha dating the Harlem chef's brother, and that minor storyline that had her dabbling in lesbianism with Sonia Braga; otherwise, no one else stood out.

However, this is not a re-visitation of old sitcoms, but an examination how the failure to see others has real world implications. How your discomfort in addressing immutable characteristics such as race and ethnicity impacts your ability to understand what others experience, even when you claim to be allies or to have empathy. How even your so-called neutral behavior has prejudicial undertones. It might not be racist to leave all of your trash on the table after you've eaten at a casual fast food place, but it is inconsiderate and trifling to assume that it is the Latinx busboy's job to know that you couldn't be bothered to walk the three feet to the trash can yourself. I bet if I did that at the suburban Chick-fil-A you would have all kinds of opinions about my lack of home training.

So yeah, I found it rather puzzling to learn that some of y'all have nothing better to do than to take offense at a 30 second commercial about a product line created to clean our lady parts. Are your feelings really hurt that a Black woman expressed pride in having her merchandise sold at a major retailer? During BLACK HISTORY MONTH???

Are you one of those people whose knee-jerk response to Black Lives Matter is to claim that you have a Black grandchild? Do you think Obama was a racist because his mother was white, but he still married a Black woman? Do you go to ethnic restaurants and tell them how to adjust the spice? Do you get nervous that the janitors at your office who converse with each other in Spanish are talking about you? Did you hear your female colleague make a suggestion, repeat it, and then take all of the credit as if it was your original idea? Do you think that the athletes who kneel during the anthem are overpaid ingrates, but women wearing American flag bikinis are sexy patriots? Do you think it is perfectly fine to call the police on children selling water on the street without a permit, but never question the Girl Scouts? Are you more afraid of a woman wearing a burka or hijab than you are of a nun dressed in full habit wielding a yardstick?

Do you realize that in every one of those examples, you might not be seeing the others as fully evolved people? As in, you were fine with their existence until they stepped out of line, until they asserted some right that you had not granted. Took up space. Centered themselves in front of the camera. Got uppity.

Like this bitter lemon who went after Meghan Markle. Lady Pettyboots wasn't defending the Queen--she and the rest of the haters (including Meg's dreadful Daddy) think that the Duchess ought to show more deference and gratitude. That she should have been happy to have tea with the Queen instead of serving it to her...

Yeah, I said it.

Because even when we are gracious and deferential and respectable and appreciative and behave ourselves, you still want to define our right to exist. You want to tell us how to be. And then mete out punishment when we chafe or resist.

You want the Dixie Chicks to shut up and sing. You're uncomfortable with the NYT 1619 Project which framed that pivotal year in terms of the injustices heaped upon indigenous peoples and the enslaved. You disagree with the DESPOTUS about Parasite winning the Best Picture Oscar, but you don't get the deal with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag (and you enjoy plantation weddings and Gone With the Wind). You want to brag about being a #GirlDad but then complain about Title IX's impact on men's college wrestling. You believe rules are rules, so if the young lady in the modified track uniform didn't make her request for a waiver in advance, then her disqualification was fair.

I believe you when you tell me that you would have marched with MLK, and I'm glad you voted for Obama. However, when your six year old snotty-nosed son demanded that I tell my daughter and niece to let his friends play on the see-saw, you stood there and did not correct his impudence. Or when you were busy telling me how much better we could all get along if I just (fill in the blank), you thought you were being conciliatory instead of patronizing. The nerve of me to get offended...

I know, you just want to watch those reruns of Friends and Seinfeld and SATC without having to feel any guilt about homogeneity and privilege. After all, Ross did date two non-white women, and Elaine thought she was dating a Black guy at one point. You probably didn't even get why I used a gif of Whoopi Goldberg as the symbol of my revelation, and you won't unless you reconsider why you liked her so much in Ghost. It isn't that hard once you open your eyes to really see.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Over-Policing Our Babies

My head and my heart hurt from this video footage of a six-year old being arrested in Orlando (the incident occurred back in September, but the recording was recently released). She apparently had a violent tantrum at school due to some underlying health issues, so the police were called.

On an unrelated, yet in a similar vein, a tweet from Moms Demand reminded me that it has been eight years since Trayvon Martin was gunned down in his Dad's gated community by a vigilante (whose name I refuse to acknowledge). The wannabe neighborhood watchman initially called the police because Martin looked suspicious, and sadly we all know the tragic result of that encounter. I'm sure that if I keep digging, I will find other incidences to depress me--like the video footage from the arrest of a family after their four-year old held onto a doll from a dollar store in Phoenix. Or I could invoke the memory of twelve-year old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland playground, but wound up dead because the police officer thought he was a threat.

I can tell you that as a Black mother, my worst fears are always realized whenever I read about these instances where our children don't elicit the same empathy as abandoned pets. Where our children are held accountable for their own demise. Where our children are not allowed to be curious or misbehave without it becoming a referendum on our parenting (or our culture).

Recently in the Atlanta airport, my daughter had a tantrum over a toy that we refused to buy and the intensity of her behavior escalated to the point where I got nervous that we might get into trouble. As in we-need-to-speak-to-you and yeah-you-might-miss-your-flight kind of trouble. Maybe it was an irrational fear, but in an era of ubiquitous security and cell phone cameras, who knows. Because public discipline of a Black child in mixed spaces can have untold consequences beyond viral video infamy. So I carried her off to the bathroom for a 'talk' which was indeed just a talk...

Welcome to the reality of constantly walking that tightrope between damned if you do/damned if you don't--that purgatory where your child is deemed a risk to public safety for existing and you feel constantly judged and impotent as a parent.


I don't know what caused that girl in Florida to lash out in such a rage at school, but whatever it was, it disheartens me. That could just as easily have been my daughter on a bad day when I have deprived her of something she wanted. Like the day we threatened to leave her on the beach when she refused to stop playing in the sand. Or the other day when I told her that she could not have an ice cream bar, so she screamed and flailed and cried for 20 minutes straight. You might be reading this and thinking spare the rod, spoil the child, and all manner of old-school parenting responses.

And that's part of the problem. Old school parenting doesn't work anymore. It causes more harm than good according to studies and outcomes. Enough of us live with the trauma of abuse to know that beating our children into submission will only make them more resentful than obedient. So we rely on more creative punishments, rationalization, prayer, wine...because failure could mean that I end up talking to my child through several layers of glass on a prison phone. Or I'm selecting a coffin.

Maybe this is just my scream into the void. But it cannot be acceptable that, at least with respect to our children, our shortcomings as parents come with the threat of police intervention. That successful Black motherhood (in addition to surviving childbirth) and fatherhood are judged by not having your children arrested or killed prior to reaching the age of 18. That instead of a village that nurtures and supports our families, we live in a police state.

Why was it deemed necessary to call the police on a child? And if that was the appropriate protocol to bring a volatile situation under control, then what were the next steps taken to keep the child safe? When the officer arrived on the scene, the child was calm. The child became hysterical again when told that she was being arrested, but she did not respond with violence. So was the point here to frighten her into more acceptable behavior? Might that have been accomplished without arresting her and subjecting her to that trauma? The officer lost his job, but was he a scapegoat for a system that would have otherwise applauded his actions absent the public outcry? And what about the child--what services will she and her family receive? Obviously she needs help...

So yeah, I'm going to say it because if she had been WHITE, none of this would have happened. Her behavioral issues would have been identified and diagnosed. She would have been at a special school where administrators would have known how to diffuse her outbursts. Her parents would have been called (not the police), and there would have been meetings to determine how best to address her needs. This entire episode would have been recast as a bad day, kind of like this cute story (which happens to be on our bookshelf, courtesy of a local library program). Or she would have become the inspiration for a beloved children's lit character like Ramona Quimby or Eloise.

Black children deserve to be children! Our children deserve the chance to grow up to be fearless and bold, and in the process they deserve to be irrepressible and a little wild. Childhood is a brief moment in the span of a life, and God-willing that a Black child gets to live a full life without fear and trauma. God willing that despite this episode, this little brown-skinned girl grows up to be free.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Remembering B. Smith

I have mixed emotions over the passing of Barbara Elaine Smith, known as B. Smith to most of us who came to regard her as the Black Martha Stewart. I know that description seems diminishing in some respects, as legend has it that Stewart patterned her lifestyle empire on what Smith was doing (but we know how these things go). But either way, B. Smith was special to us. She was one of our first Black supermodels. She was our elegant sister, stylish Auntie, and overall fabulous friend who seemed to do everything with panache. She encouraged us to make use of those fancy serving dishes we inherited in that old dining room curio. Her cookbook gave us low calorie versions and interesting takes of the soul food we would serve on those antique platters and plates (because yeah, we bought her cookbook and actually used it).

To Washingtonians of a certain age, her restaurant at Union Station was the place to go if you wanted to impress out of town visitors or celebrate some momentousness occasion. According to Al Roker, the same was true about her New York establishment. A few years back, the Hub and I ate at the Sag Harbor outpost because we were vacationing there. Along with a few of her friends, we celebrated my Mom's 65th birthday at the Union Station location during its final year of operation. Sadly, it was less than a year later that Smith would reveal her own Alzheimer's diagnosis.

My mixed emotions are not about her transition inasmuch as they are about the way people have responded to her death by renewing their venom against her husband and caregiver, Dan Gasby. It strikes me as a bit ironic that in the wake of Kobe Bryant's untimely death last month, it was too soon to discuss the rape allegations that he had faced in 2003 (or to call him a rapist or to say anything about him that wasn't effusive praise) yet here we are. I know Gasby is still alive, so maybe these are apples and oranges, but in my mind, we are still in the produce aisle.

And folks have opinions on everything. So damn. The man lost his wife. Show some respect.

I read the statement he released, in which thanked the hospice doctors and other friends for their support, and my heart sank at the word hospice. For anyone who knows what that means or who has gone through that process, Smith had apparently been in rapidly declining health in recent weeks. Which means Dan Gasby has been watching his wife die. Let that sink in before you continue to read. I hadn't been paying close attention to the activity on their page lately (shifted to Instagram), so I have no idea if this was a sudden illness or the natural course of things. Having just experienced a hospice situation myself, let me say the death watch/wait is agonizing.

So the first thing anyone needs to say to Dan Gasby and their daughter Dana (yes, her daughter too) is I am so sorry for your loss. And unless you are family or a close friend, then that is all you need to say to Dan Gasby.

Now, what you choose to think about him is your prerogative, and if you decide to share those thoughts on social media, I am going to issue the same missive we dispatched to the folks who were eager to remind the world of Kobe Bryant's past mere hours after he died--STAND DOWN. Now is not the time for you to weigh in with your ill-timed barbs and poison-tipped arrows to strike at a man who just lost his wife. Fuck your feelings about his personal life, which is still none of your damn business. To everyone who already felt the need to bash him in his hour of grief, you suck.

I said my peace on Dan Gasby previously, a little over a year ago in fact, so I will try not to repeat myself too much, but let's real talk this. In the year since he revealed that other side to his personal life, that's all everyone seems to discuss, which is fucked up because there was a LOT more he was sharing than just his bedroom situation. He was telling us that Alzheimer's is not just about the person who receives the diagnosis--it upends the entire family unit. It destroys one life slowly, while simultaneously altering the course of everyone else's lives in the process. Ask me how I know this.

Alzheimer's is an urgent public health crisis, one that will do more damage to more families in the coming years as Baby Boomers and Generation Xers age. Learn the facts for yourself via the Alzheimer's Association. There you will learn that women are more likely to develop this disease, it isn't just memory loss, and that it can strike earlier than what we consider advanced age. B. Smith and my Mom developed early-onset dementia in their 60s. They were both diagnosed at age 64, which is one year shy of retirement age and Medicare eligibility. Right now, while some lawmakers are suggesting that we can bump the age to 67 to account for our longer life-spans, consider the financial hit your family could take without affordable health care insurance. Because Alzheimer's doesn't care if you are a Democrat or a Republican, it is an expensive disease to diagnose and treat, and currently, there is no cure. It is 100% fatal, and despite whatever fish oil/crossword puzzle bullshit you've read, it is not preventable. Let that sink in.

That means, many of us will be caught in a financial tsunami of navigating long-term health care costs, tuition for our kids and/or grandchildren, mortgages, and all manner of deferred dreams that could be affected by an Alzheimer's diagnosis. Then there is the matter of caregiving and how that burden disproportionately falls to women as well. But if we are the ones more likely to be stricken, then that means our caregivers will be our spouses or our children or an underpaid stranger. And if you need to visualize what that means, then Dad will be caring for Mom. Maybe he will have the help of a child (a daughter usually)--someone who has the flexibility to forgo earning potential to be on call. Or if they have the means, he will hire in-home assistance, who might be the same person for the duration of the illness, or several people in and out of the house (with unfettered access to all of Mom's pretty things). Or worst case scenario, Mom will end up in a facility where someone might get around to seeing her once or twice a week.

Back to B. Smith, because I know that I tend to think of her situation and my mother's as the same, but I cannot help but to see the parallels. Her family's choice to be transparent and open about this journey gave me some measure of courage to become more open about my own journey. I am still on it, and in spite of the hardships, I am grateful.

But don't get it twisted--this is not easy. Which was the other truth Dan Gasby was sharing when he opened his life for us to scrutinize. Male caregiving is not the societal norm, and he made some very public missteps in his approach, but bless his heart. It is not easy to watch someone who was so full of life and independence regress into an invisible shell. It is not easy to watch a vibrant woman who could have had up to twenty more years of a fabulous life ahead of her wither away in six years. It is not easy to wake up one day and accept that your quality of life has also irrevocably changed. Friends and relatives stop calling and visiting. It becomes a lonely, monotonous existence. Whether you agree or not, he had a right to maintain some semblance of a life instead of having to rebuild one from the ashes of grief and despair.

I know, his white girlfriend though. Yeah, Karma is a bitch and she is staring at all of us because we all live in glass houses. So instead of hurling rocks at his for what you think he's been doing these six years, why don't you visit that old aunt or grandmother or neighbor with Alzheimer's every week instead of once every blue moon. And stay for longer than 30 minutes to see if that doesn't change your perspective.

I'm done for now. My sincerest condolences to Dan and Dana Gasby, and every other relative and close friend of B. Smith who traveled this journey through Alzheimer's with them. This is a time for mourning, but also celebration. In Smith's honor, I might cook this week and serve it on my wedding china. With style!