Friday, January 20, 2023

Your First BBW Public Service Announcement for 2023

I don't know who needs to see this (and saying that is like nails on a chalkboard for me), but my dear children, please stop posting things you might live to regret on the internet! Don't say anything racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, homo- or transphobic, anti-science, irreligious, pro-fascist, intolerant or hateful. Especially not using your full government name, an obvious nickname or mononyn, portmanteau, or other self-identifying information one can use to respond with a snarky "This you? -->"

Auntie is still hanging out on the Bird app, and prior to the hostile takeover by the Muskrat and The Deplorables, you all know that I found it to be a rather amusing and often inspiring space for various kinds of content. So far this month, I have seen all kinds of egregious acts of tomfoolery and self-destruction; therefore, I feel compelled to make this very important announcement in case anyone needs a reminder at the start of this new year.

Y'all need to be A LOT more discerning. I implore you to heed the wisdom from this scene in The Social Network (2010) where the woman Mark Zuckerburg previously dated dresses him down for having made crude remarks about her in a chat room after they had broken up. In case you decide not to watch the entire clip, allow me to paraphrase the important part: the shit you say on the internet is like writing on a white board with a Sharpie!

It doesn't go away. It may not come up as one of the first few hits on Google, but trust that some over-eager hiring manager or determined potential romantic partner will find whatever you should not have said/done/posted somewhere. Unless you were lucky enough to have been one of those people whose hate speech was inscribed on some old forgotten Geocities blog or an Ask Jeeves bulletin board, trust that everything you say and do can be spun against you.

I know that some of you think that if you go to great lengths to obscure your identity, you can say whatever. You may have a decoy profile or use an alias. And that might work unless and until someone who knows you in real life reveals your Clark Kent alter ego. I've done it inadvertently to a few folks without any nefarious intent, but there is an entire show on MTV called Catfish that unmasks social media pretenders and phonies. I'm just saying that one of the many reasons why you need to be mindful of what you are putting out in the cyber-universe is that somebody, somewhere is going to discover that it was you and put all of your business in these tweets.

For example, if you decide to post one of those Am I The Asshole (AITA) queries on Reddit, I am here to tell you that (a) yes, you probably are and you know it because everyone who actually knows you already said so; and (b) crowdsourcing for affirmation of your shitty behavior in and of itself implies that you are indeed very much an asshole. Now, I am not a subscriber, but because some of the most polarizing queries make their way over to Twitter, I rarely read one where the person and/or behavior isn't totally outrageous. And because some of y'all aren't that clever, I have seen quite a few instances where the original poster is outed because of some random detail they didn't realize was a big NEON clue.

I have been amused and equally scandalized by the posts on Six Brown Chicks for years. I don't remember when I first encountered that account, but it was at some point before all of us began actively developing social media addictions because of the pandemic. (But definitely after they had been on Iyalya, Fix My Life and I am 💀 because how y'all gonna post other people's dysfunctional mess when woah?) I read some wild stuff in those tweets, and initially assumed that it was one of those spot the real story among these five fakes, kind of like the Bluff the Listener segment on NPR's Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me. So color me all the way shocked with pearls clutched when I learned that ALL of the stories submitted are allegedly real! I mean, dayum...

(I hope the names are changed to protect the terminally dumb, because woowee, there are a lot more stupid people in the world than there should be. And some of y'all are definitely repeat offenders.)

Since the pandemic has all of the young people vying for internet infamy on the Click Clock app, I get to see whatever someone re-posts to Twitter, and let me just say how I would have preferred for y'all to have kept much of that to yourselves. I can't even understand half of the language used (such as un-aliving, which appears to annoy my Spell-check as well), but I honestly do not understand why everything has to be revealed like Geraldo Rivera cracking Al Capone's vault. What is the point?

Like why is there an entire genre of videos where y'all opine on how much you hate dating? Here's a thought, just stop. If you believe women only want to eat out on your dime and men only want sex, then umm yeah, that ain't new. That was definitely a consistent theme of dating back when I was out there in the 90s. Therefore, if you are a person who was born at any point in that decade, then I can't credibly ask who raised you since I already know (and I'm so disappointed that we ruined your lives like that). These young adults are our confused, socially maladjusted children, GenXers, born in the era when we went on Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake to air our dirty laundry instead of going to the laundromat and/or getting therapy.

It was also in the 90s that the rules began to change around gender equality, and I was taught that it was acceptable to pay for my own meals, so as not to set up any unreasonable or inappropriate expectations. That came in handy when I was away at college where nobody had much money. As such, there were no existential dilemmas about who paid for what because we were all broke and hungry. On-campus dating was a bootleg video, pizza ordered for everyone on the hallway, and maybe a soda if somebody had extra change. Some of my friends who regularly went on those dorm dates are still married!

In contrast, single folks in the 21st Century are out here in the tweets posting screen shots of pre-date questionnaires sent in lieu of first-date small talk, which is deemed a waste of time. Some of you get really salty about splitting the check for multi-course dinners at The Olive Garden where you ordered and ate 2/3 of the food. Folks are naming and claiming their ideal mate in the name of Jesus and a lot of these self-styled relationship experts you follow are just charlatans selling advice from their cars. No wonder everybody is ruined and confused.

I know I veered off topic a bit (because dangit, that's how my middle-aged brain works these days), but the bottom line is that if your child leaves a thirsty, threatening, and profanity laden voicemail for my daughter, trust that I am going to find them. And if I get arrested, I got bail money. But more importantly, she has a Daddy who grew up in Brooklyn in the 80s, so there's that.

Here is my real point: how many jobs have you lost because of your thoughtless faith in free speech? Don't you know that your viral, racist rants have been viewed by some HR person who decided that the tatted stoner would be less problematic? The late Kevin Samuels gave good advice on personal grooming, and I hope that his undertakers followed through so that his Mama was pleased. Young Sis, these dudes you date ain't isht because they weren't looking to you for any lifelong connections when your profile pic was all boobs and ass. And to that dude with no job who was angry at the woman who didn't immediately respond to his 'WYD' text message because she was on her J-O-B, c'mon Son? The cost of infamy is high like the price of eggs...

Haven't you seen how swiftly social media 'justice' gets dispensed? These folks will find you quicker than the amount of time it takes for me to realize that my reading glasses are on my face! Life comes at you fast, my beloved. And when it does, don't come back on Blue Ivy's internet to decry cancel culture as if the world ought to just let you be an idiot with no consequences. This ain't the 1960s when the only evidence of your inner thoughts might have been some historic photograph...

Years ago, when I was teaching, I showed this photo of Elizabeth Eckford (Black lady in shades, of the Little Rock Nine) in class, and of course someone commented on the faces in the background, including that of Hazel Bryan (the one who appears to be yelling at Eckford). To be honest, I never wondered about that woman or what might have happened to her until the student raised the question in class. In my research for an answer, I learned that the two women had met, reconciled, and had posed for another picture that was intended to demonstrate the power of forgiveness and racial healing. Kumbaya, they were even friends for a while, until...

You can read for yourself about what happened in the aftermath. My assumption of what contributed to the breakdown is exactly the kind of consequences that y'all think you shouldn't face. You think that people ought to forgive you for being young, but youth doesn't change the impact of your actions. I don't know what it must have been like to live with the weight of that photo for all of those years, but I do know that an apology was not the kind of eraser she hoped it would have been. It was just a start on the road to healing.

Take it from someone who wore stirrup pants and acid wash jeans in the 80s, mistakes happen. However, the difference between a mistake and a bad choice is intention. It was a bad choice to ridicule the girl in my class back in middle school to try to look cool to the other kids. I can't undo the harm I caused. If we were to cross paths all of these years later, my feeble apology wouldn't mean much except maybe to assuage my guilt, so I have no right to expect anything, not even a polite acknowledgement. Therefore, the lesson Auntie is offering to you youngins is that when you know you're about to do wrong, for goodness sakes, don't make a permanent record of your foolishness! Or just don't do it.

Dassit, that's the word. As my Daddy used to tell me: A wise man learns from the mistakes of others; the average man learns from his own mistakes; but a fool never learns. If you can't be wise enough not to do dumb things in the first place, then for goodness sakes don't be the fool. Don't immortalize your shit unless you plan to run for Congress as a Republican (and something tells me they gonna drag this one forever, and it won't end well for them either).

Friday, January 6, 2023

Animal House 2023

It is possible that by the time I finish this piece, there will actually be a duly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, chosen by majority vote or some arcane procedural maneuver that will make all of my commentary on the matter seem like unnecessary post-game analysis. Time will tell, but until that day and hour comes, I feel compelled to share some thoughts on this whacky college fraternity party going on at the U.S. Capitol building.

That analogy came to me on Day 2, between votes 5 and 6 when all of the attention had shifted to the Black guy in the GOP Caucus whose name got thrown into the mix as a possible alternative candidate for Speaker. I missed the floor speech that announced his nomination, so it wasn't until later when I saw all of the Twitter discussion about Frederick Douglass and MLK and making history. So we'll come back to that a little later since I need to set up these other visuals. 

As most of you know, I went to an all-girls high school and then to a Black women's college, so I was unacquainted with the dynamics of interracial social interaction until I went to law school. In high school, I never went to any of the after-the-school-dance parties with my white friends and we didn't have a frat house culture in the AUC. It wasn't until law school that I went to my first keg party, so it was there that I became acquainted with this cast of characters, many of whom we've been watching for the past few days: 

The BMOC, leader of the pack with the cool hair: Kevin 'Would-Be Leader' McCarthy

His trio of 'loyal' lieutenants, all of whom will be plotting his downfall: Steve 'Tough Guy' Scalise, Elise 'Good Girl' Stefanik, and Jim 'The Jock' Jordan

The ex-girlfriend who hangs around because they are still hooking up in secret: Marjorie 'Beavis' Taylor Greene

The rival wannabe BMOC, also with cool hair: Matt 'Butthead' Gaetz

The chick he's secretly hooking up with: Lauren 'Pick-Me' Boebert

Everybody else at the party: The GOP Caucus

The Black guy at the GOP party whose name nobody knew, until just now: Byron 'Not Brian' Donalds

Everybody at the other party across campus with the better music: The Democratic Caucus

I hung out with two distinct groups of people in law school: the Black law students (BLSA) and the 'Gang'. As you might imagine, my experiences with BLSA was consistent with what I knew from high school and college, so it was my experience with the 'Gang' that is analogous to what we've been seeing play out on the Hill. I was good friends with a few of the women in The Gang, so I was often invited to their parties. And for the record, I have nothing negative to say about that experience as it gave me insight and access to PWI culture as the other character that deserves an honorable mention here: The Black Girl.

Let me offer this quick paragraph to explain a few of the differences between fraternity culture at HBCUs and PWIs for the unfamiliar, because they are not the same. Most HBCUs only have chapters for the nine National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) Black Greek-Lettered Organizations (BGLOs) on campus, which means typically three to five are active, two are on probation, one is on hiatus, and one is on indefinite suspension. None of our on-campus activities involved alcohol and we didn't have separate fraternity/sorority houses. Our organizations typically rented out space for parties, and most of the hazing went down off-campus. Greek life was definitely a part of our campus experience, but it didn't define it.

In contrast at Tulane, fraternity/sorority culture was huge. There was a fraternity row of houses not far from campus where any and everything went down on any given weekend. I had friends who lived nearby so we often watched a lot of crazy, from drunken rush rituals to street fights to outright riots (but no one called it that because these were just drunk college kids having fun and destroying property). One frat house in particular was the nucleus of bacchanalian excess--in fact they were infamous for it. They were also the only fraternity with one Black member.

I don't know enough about non-BGLO culture to comment on this other than to note that most of the Black people were either members of the BGLOs or unaffiliated. Even in the mid-90s, there weren't that many Black men on campus except for the athletes or law students, so we all knew each of other. However, no one knew this brother because he only hung out with his white fraternity brethren. He was often the subject of speculation because it was so obvious that he avoided all communication with the rest of us. What was his name? Where was he from? Had anyone ever seen him alone or not with any of his fraternity brothers? Where did he get his hair cut? What would happen when his parents came to visit and he didn't introduce them to any Black friends? Who did he date (because this wasn't the most progressive era where interracial dating was common and out in the open)? Did he ever get followed around in stores like the rest of us?

At some point, I learned his name from a member of the Gang who had been an undergraduate member of the same fraternity, but all these years later, I can't remember it, so we'll just call him 'Mike', the Black dude in the white fraternity who never spoke to any of the other Black people on campus. I don't have any specific stories to share about Mike, but I thought of him when Rep. Byron Donalds' name was being tweeted about as the first Black Speaker of the House. And naturally, I was confused because until the other day, I hadn't even known that there was a Black man in line for leadership in the GOP Caucus. (OK, that isn't entirely true...but just like Mike, I didn't know his name until someone else in the Caucus told us.)

I know that I have yet to explain that part about being the Black Girl in the Gang, because there is an interesting social dynamic at play when in groups of white people there are a few people of color sprinkled in the mix. Of course, I have stories about being the Black Girl, but none of those are relevant to my Animal House analogy about what is currently going on in Congress. However, there is a Black Girl who does figure in this insanity: Cori 'Sister Girl' Bush, the outspoken party-crasher.

Now Sister Girl knew there would be nonsense popping off at the GOP Party, and she just happened to be walking by when they were back-slapping and chanting chug chug chug at Byron 'Not Brian' Donalds. So she peeped in and overheard all of the kudos and congratulatory shouts about making history while someone was spiking his drink. And in the classic, outspoken Sister Girl manner of crashing a gathering to which we were not invited, she burst in the room and called them out before it all got too scandalous.

And this is when the action shifted from foolishness to pure fuckery...

Of course, the white frat guys were mad that the Black Girl came in and blew up their party. They knew what was in his drink, but that wasn't the point--she had no right to barge into their private event! He knows the rules, they exclaimed, so it isn't as if he didn't expect that he would end up in a field somewhere, shit-faced drunk with his pants down and a target drawn on his ass. He likes it, right Mikey? Yeah dudes, you know I do! Therefore, to save face, he defended them and then aimed his fire at her.

How dare she feel the need to intervene to save a Black man from making a damn fool of himself?

And this is where I have to suspend the analogy and offer real talk, because I saw his response on Twitter yesterday, and I was livid! I am not a Rep. Cori Bush fan for several reasons, but I understood and agree with her points about the way Rep. Donalds was being used by the renegade faction of the GOP Caucus (because they've moved on to someone else for Rounds 12 and 13). Thus, the very fact that you would lash back at her is both typical and pathetic given that she wasn't the one volunteering to ride shotgun as a stunt dummy with you for three days running.

Sister Girl Rep. Bush didn't question your Blackness or your manhood, Congressman, but you definitely seem to be the one with the doubts about both. You knew that your name wasn't being offered as a real candidate for Speaker, no more serious than the suggestion of the DESPOTUS or that other Rep. Kevin Hern from Oklahoma (who knew not to take the drink and chug, as he has consistently voted for would-be Leader McCarthy). But you saw a chance to make a name for yourself and then accused a Black woman of tearing you down instead of the clowns who were setting you up for disaster. 

The thing about being the outspoken Black Girl, especially in situations like this is that we are resilient. Bush will go on to do or say something else that will garner another round of unwanted attention, but that is what she does, and sometimes that is the price for speaking the truth. She's not desperate to be liked by people for whom she needs to prove her worth. The Congressional Black Caucus approved her membership application, so if you are still waiting on that appeal, you should just go on about your business. She even did you the courtesy of telling you why you can't come to our party, so you needn't act surprised about any of this or how your 'friends' are going to leave you ass out and covered in grease paint when this is all over.

(Final note: I'm posting this as lucky vote #13 is underway, so we'll soon know how this will all end.)

Saturday, December 17, 2022

When Big Mama Dies

A few months back, the movie Soul Food (1997) was in the queue on one of the premium cable movie channels, which meant that for a few weeks, it aired every other night. Because it is one of those bad Black movies that I will stop and watch whenever, I got to see different parts of it a few times. In one of my FB groups, someone else must have done the same, and he started a thread about all of the ways we had misjudged the eldest sister, Teri, portrayed in the film by Vanessa L. Williams.

His shot across the bow--how it was time to have an adult conversation about how Teri was constantly mistreated by her ungrateful family. He argued that her bitterness was justified, and basically that Cousin Faith was lucky that Teri was too smart to actually kill her or whup her ass when she had the chance. He listed various other transgressions, and we had a great discussion of the many ways that her family had taken advantage of her, especially Big Mama Joseph, who presided over the entire dysfunctional mess. I mean, think about how eff'd up it is for your Mama to allow the dude who two-timed you with your younger sister to marry into your family and then eat dinner every Sunday without the constant threat of food poisoning hanging over his head? And that same Mama lets everybody treat you like the Joseph Family Building and Loan, even though she has a stash of cash she's been stockpiling in the house for years?

Yep, it's true. Big Mama Jo was terrible, yet we all cried when she died because that's what we're supposed to do when the family matriarch passes away. We're supposed to forget that she enabled a lot of unhealthy shit because she also was a kind and loving Mother/Grandmother/Auntie/Big Sister who fed all of the neighborhood stray cats. We have watched this movie for years and I have never seen anyone argue that maybe Teri was right to want to sell the house to get some of her money back from her family of freeloaders who were never going to treat her any differently anyway, so why not just be that bitch and finally break free?

The next time you watch that movie, tell me that your eyes have finally opened to see what I saw years ago, but didn't dare speak it lest I be branded a hater. Because I always thought the Joseph family was trash and that the depiction of Teri was too shrill and bitter as if she was just an upper-class snob instead of tired of their broke asses. (Hence why I deem it a bad Black movie, one that is problematic on many levels while still entertaining and watchable.)

At some point, I had an epiphany about another beloved figure in popular culture...I'm not naming anybody just yet, nor will I offer a list of the ways that she was just as bad as the fictional late Big Mama Jo. I will simply suggest that maybe now that she's dead, folks should look more objectively at the terrible shit she enabled and how that might have impacted various members of her family. 

Having lived through the death of a beloved family matriarch myself (around the same time Soul Food was released), I can attest that it blows a gigantic hole in the heart of the family that never refills. My extended family hasn't gathered for a joyous holiday since her death; instead, we have come together for funerals. And at each one, we all sit around at the repast and recall how great things were when we were younger and how we need to get together more often under better circumstances, and then another year passes. Somebody else dies, I skip past their name in my address book, and life goes on. 

Some of us chose to center our lives around a different matriarch. That could be our own mother, and/or some other woman whose mother-like aura has that same magnetic power to draw everyone to her for comfort and refuge. And like the Big Mamas that came before her, she does the best she can to keep her family and the assorted strays together, in spite of the bullshit that goes on in the background. She is polite to the new girlfriend who has replaced the daughter-in-law. She welcomes that troubled grandson who only comes around to borrow money, unannounced and at inopportune times, which she sends to him even though she has promised to stop. She cares for the babies of all the single unwedded women because she knows how hard it is, and she doesn't judge them for continuing to make bad choices with the wrong men. She has co-signed bad loans, hidden unmentionable contraband in her home, listened to every sob story, cooked a lot of comfort food, and keeps on giving and loving for as long as the Good Lord allows.

I want to be clear that I am not poking fun at Big Mama (considering the obvious connection to being a Busy Black Woman), so on general principle, she is not a bad person. She's just very complicated like all human beings. She's giving and loving and strong-willed, which are qualities that not enough people seem to understand these days. If some of y'all had been raised by a Big Mama, I wonder if you would still be such unrepentant jerks. (On second thought, she's the reason why some of y'all are what you are, so carry on.) Some of you reading this are already Big Mamas or in-training without even realizing it. 

I happened to be watching A Raisin in the Sun (2008) recently, and because it is the version with Diddy, it definitely qualifies as a bad Black movie. Watching a few of my favorite scenes reinterpreted by Phylicia Rashad, I saw some of the conflict with different eyes. Her Lena Younger has all of the same overbearing Big Mama presence that made Claudia McNeil so iconic and definitive in this role for so long. However, I noticed how Lena treats her daughter-in-law Ruth (Audra McDonald) like the only other responsible adult in the household. In essence, as her equal, and I missed that for years. As such, it makes so much sense to me why Walter Lee is so resentful and spiteful to his wife as she is the Big Mama in-training. (No worries, we're not going to examine the mother-son relationship nor how it was understood to be a point of contention between role originators Sidney Poitier and McNeil.)

However, the tension captured in the play/movie highlights how Big Mamas occupy a larger-than-life presence in the lives of others, especially their children. Walter Lee Younger is a 35 year-old man whose Big Mama Lena still makes all of the decisions for the family. In Soul Food, Big Mama Jo looms over family conflicts even as she is comatose and dying. Another Big Mama exercised her prerogative to meddle in the lives of her children and grandchildren, which is kind of why everything is so messy right now. Big Mamas mean well, but remember that saying about the road to hell and good intentions?

Like I said, Big Mamas are human. While we should honor and revere them, there comes a point when Big Mama's word isn't sufficient to resolve our problems. While her home can be a place of refuge, it can also become a cage. She can feed our souls, but sometimes she feeds our bad habits and unhealthy indulgences. Big Mama Lena Younger expects her son to act like a man but constantly berated him like a child. Big Mama Jo was clearly a great cook, but she didn't adopt healthier alternatives and it killed her. That other Big Mama kept silent when her voice was needed to silence the viciousness that was aimed at the women who married into her family (probably because the negativity heaped on them contrasted with the praise and honor reserved for her).

Because Big Mama is keenly aware that her time on earth is finite, she often selects an heir. And let me tell you, whew! Sometimes the choice is easy because most women don't want the trouble. It's obvious that Beneatha Younger has dreams beyond taking care of a family. Part of the enmity between two of the Joseph sisters was about who was Big Mama's favorite and heir apparent. Although Teri expected to inherit the mantle with everyone financially indebted to her, second-born Maxine steals earns the role by rekindling the weekly Sunday dinners. In that other family, the lines of succession having already been established, the idea that there was even the need for conflict is one that appears to have been manufactured to sell newspapers...

So, if you hadn't guessed which dearly departed Big Mama I keep alluding to, well here is one last clue: she was THEE Big Mama, even though nobody would have dared to call her that in life. But maybe if the world had regarded her with a little more humanity, then perhaps we wouldn't feel compelled to take sides and make demands regarding what is a very public after-the-funeral squabble that has been going on for these past few months.

I mean, why else do average people in these tweets think they should have a say as to whether one of her grandsons ought to be disinherited because they don't like his wife? Because that is the gist of this--y'all don't like his American wife and feel some kind of way that she didn't much care for how she was mistreated by the British tabloids. So she did what every other self-respecting celebrity does when they want to tell their side of things--she bore her soul to Rich Auntie Oprah.

Which, by the way, is exactly what happens when one feels that their appeals to Big Mama have gone unheard. Somehow, as if out of thin air, a Rich Auntie appears to sprinkle in her special blend of chaos and stir the pot. Mind you, she isn't a rival to Big Mama, just another powerful woman who serves her own important function in family drama. She knows everything Big Mama knows, but with neither the time nor interest in managing petty family business. She's like the therapist who guides you to the breakthrough and then sends you on your way to do the work of fixing your own life.

For all of this self-righteous British indignation over that Oprah interview, it isn't as if she hadn't taken on this same role in this same family in the past. Sarah Fergusen, Duchess of York, gave an interview to Oprah a year before Princess Diana died (and apparently Di was ready to spill the tea as well). And if you pay close attention to that clip, a lot of the stuff Fergie revealed tracks with everything Meghan has said about living in the royal fishbowl and braving the British tabloids (minus the racism). This notion that Meghan should have been made of sterner stuff is utter bullocks considering how the press not only helped to destroy Fergie's marriage and reputation, but some of you forget that Princess Diana developed bulimia as a result of her unhappiness in the Firm.

If Big Mama could have had her turn on the Oprah confessional couch, I'm guessing there is a LOT she would have to say about every last person, from the minor royals to the groupies hanging about the palace. I'm convinced part of the reason she never did was because talking shit about your kids in public is the one thing Big Mamas never do. It is against the Big Mama code, so now you know why she never banished her pedophile son. However, there is a LOT this Big Mama should have done differently, beginning with her failure to protect these unsuspecting women from the tabloid trolls and press ogres. But there's no point in condemning her now that she's dead. Instead, the living need to learn from her mistakes and make better choices. 

In full disclosure, I have yet to watch their Netflix special, pre-order his memoir, listen to her podcast, or binge-watch any episodes of The Crown, so before anyone accuses me of being unabashedly Team Them or Anti-Royal, that isn't the point. This is all about a family and the messy bits that get exposed when Big Mama dies. Since the Royals are too dignified to be caught fighting in the church parking lot after the repast, they dispatched their PR teams to trade barbs. If these were medieval times, William and Harry might have been jousting.

There was a line in The Queen (2006) wherein the fictional Prince Philip referred to all of the drama in the aftermath of Diana's death as a bunch of hysterics who needed help processing their grief, and well...

That 'keep calm and carry on' stuff is a great slogan to put on tee shirts and mugs, but a lot harder to follow in real life in the midst of conflicting emotions and while coming to terms with the inevitability of one's own mortality. Big Mama is no longer around to fix this mess. Somebody needs to man up and not wait until his coronation to declare that certain aspects of his family's lives are off limits. The same press establishment harassed your ex-wife to death, disparaged the physical appearance of your current wife, and referred to your newborn grandson as a chimpanzee. Your majesty, when do the beheadings start??!! Most of the people who claim to care so much about the Firm aren't your friends, Sir, they are friendly to the Crown because it benefits them. Public opinion is fickle and unpredictable, so if it sells more papers, they will rebel like American colonists. Furthermore, when you opened that cage and let those birds fly free, accept that you gave up the right to control their song.

Here are a final few words of benediction over the other Big Mamas, lest I leave the impression that I thought they had more bad qualities than good. Big Mama Younger was right to be suspicious of her son's proposed business venture, but her ability to forgive and ultimately support his other decisions allowed him to feel the dignity he felt had been so elusive. Mama Jo's insistence on keeping her family unified at all costs was something of a double-edged sword, but in the end, it proved to be wise and fortuitous. And hopefully Teri learned that being the Rich Auntie isn't a lesser position in the family--it just comes with a lot less responsibility. To anyone reading this who is herself a Big Mama or one in-training, you already know how much we love you.

Now here's my best hood-Rich Auntie advice to our nephew Prince Harry (even though he didn't ask). Move on. Keep sending Christmas cards and exchange gifts among the children and give your brother a heads up when you're going to be on the same continent. Otherwise, live your best life and perform whatever duties you owe to your Dad as King. You have another Big Mama in your corner for whom it is no imposition or breach of protocol for her to protect your babies and wife. She would gladly lay down her very life for you as well, so let those people across the pond worry about whatever it is the royals do. Big Mama Doria will be here for you as long as the Good Lord allows.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Hello From the Other Side

The results are in and Reverend Senator Raphael Warnock gets to keep his seat for a full six-year term. Herschel Walker can move back to Texas, his son Christian can reactivate his OnlyFans account, and we can focus our attention on something other than saving democracy for the next couple of weeks. But just until MLK weekend...

I had been working on another think piece linking Wakanda Forever to my experiences last month as an Election Protection poll monitor, but let's put that aside for now to address some of the more urgent issues that were raised by this nail-biter of a runoff. Because from this side of the ideological divide, this election should not have been this close.

A lot of folks have memes and jokes and I have a few of my own, but in all seriousness, we need to be very concerned that there was a runoff and that Herschel Walker was still a viable candidate. The man's skeletons had skeletons and all of it was messy AF. While y'all were making jokes about his werewolf and vampire comparisons, he was telling that to an assembled audience of folks who then went to the polls and voted for him. In fact, 1.7 million people did that.

Those of us from the other side are shaking our heads in disbelief, but also praising God that Walker lost. I assume his supporters are taking this hard and are regrouping. Just know that the response will be not to make the same mistake twice, so we've been warned. However, we need to understand how we got here in the first place by dispelling the notion that Herschel Walker was recruited to draw Black voters away from the good Rev. Raphael Warnock. It never mattered to those folks whom we would have supported because they didn't believe our votes were valid in the first place. Never forget that the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol went there to force Members of Congress to invalidate the Black votes from Georgia (along with the Latinx and Indigenous votes from several other states), so that premise was wrong from the outset.

Nor should we be relieved that the more 'respectable' candidate won. They aren't all that concerned about respectability either, given that just five years ago the voters in Alabama nearly sent an alleged pedophile to the Senate. And they are still poised to vote for the Orange Julius Caesar in two years, so don't let any of this talk about restoring American values trick you into believing that their longing for the days of Ozzie and Harriet are wholesome.

It is always about power and keeping it to themselves.

Not that I didn't know that already, but it made so much sense to me during my recent work in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia for the election last month. Someone thought it was a good idea to assign me to a few suburban voter precincts, and let me tell you, the view from the other side is quite different. They got lots of nice stuff out there...

And they want to keep it that way. They don't want Lotti, Dottie and errybody coming up in their exclusive spaces. They immediately feel threatened like we're casing the joint, so they have their security guards, those fancy doorbell cameras, and stockpiles of guns lest we get too close or our fingers too sticky.

For instance, did you know that out in the suburbs, they don't lock the deodorant behind those theft deterrent shields? Apparently, nobody wants to contend with an inconvenienced Karen who just needs to run in to grab a few things on her way to meet her friends for coffee. In the city where I live, the folks at the CVS aren't at all phased about what else I might need to do other than wait for the cashier to find the manager with the key. Where else am I going to go, to a Walgreens with the same setup?

I was stationed in familiar outposts in Northern Virginia, but still far enough away to have been noticeable as an outsider. At the two precincts located just outside of Charlotte in North Carolina, I took lots of mental notes of my surroundings. The first day I was stationed at the Town Hall which was located near an old-fashioned railroad junction. Across the tracks there was a town center anchored by a grocery store with all of the usual retail options such as a nail salon, dry cleaners, and a barber shop. In the shopping center adjacent to the polling place, there was another grocery store. There were landscapers and workers preparing to hang Christmas decorations from the light posts. I greeted the other campaign volunteers who had an entire area reserved for their snacks and coffee. There were even a few actual candidates who spent the bulk of the day meeting voters and exchanging pleasantries. I was literally in a modernized downtown Mayberry where everyone was polite and friendly, just like on TV.

In my hyper-vigilance as a veteran poll monitor, I got suspicious that a police car had driven up and parked at the front entrance of the precinct. I mentioned to one of the campaign volunteers that I was heading over to investigate, and she said "Oh, he's here to make sure that everything is okay" and sure enough, no one was intimidated by his presence. They just kept to their business and after about 30 minutes he left (later I learned that Sheriff Taylor came from the police station across the street). Midafternoon as the line got a little longer, and more than a handful of Black people were gathered (because at that point, it had just been me, myself and Irene), I walked over to get a closer look. I met Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC), and we had a nice chat about the Voting Rights Act, lawsuits over redistricting, and the big barbecue that had been hosted by a local AME church (from which no one brought me a plate, but I digress). 

Just another beautiful day in the neighborhood. One woman I met had brought her dog to spend the day as a campaign mascot for a local candidate. He slept most of the day in her antique convertible that was parked a few yards away, so I found it rather ironic to overhear her complain about the state of the economy and feeling unsafe due to the increase in crime. 

But who am I to judge the economic anxieties of others? What do I know about having to do price comparisons between the Food Lion and the Harris Teeter a mile apart, or the hassle of clipping coupons when it is actually a bigger deal for me to find a grocery store in my parents' neighborhood? Do your worries about crime in your gated community mean that your homeowner's association dues will increase to cover the cost of hiring a security guard? Or is it anything like the gun violence that is a daily feature on the local news in the inner city? 

When I went canvassing by myself in the dark after I completed my poll monitoring shifts, I wasn't all that worried. I was in Davidson, a college community where people literally had their front doors open and possibly their cars unlocked. If anything, I'm shocked that no one called the police on me, not even when I was walking around in the rain down their dimly lit streets. The next day, I did arouse some suspicion from the Black residents on the other side of the tracks who were more concerned about me working on a Sunday. 

I requested to be stationed in Athens for Election Day, which as a college town probably doesn't count as a suburb, but close enough. I had Monday off, so I took a trip down to Atlanta and visited my own college campus. In a comparison between small college towns, Davidson and Athens weren't that different, except that Athens is larger. I have often described my time in the Atlanta University Center as a small college community within a big city. That description is still apt, but we don't have the same imprint in Southwest Atlanta (the SWATS) as the University of Georgia has over all of Athens. While the residential parts of the neighborhood surrounding the AUC have changed dramatically over these past 30 years, the West End commercial strip looks exactly the same, including the Taco Bell that is still there on Lee Street! Davidson and UGA students have access to cute restaurants, bars, and shops; however, we've got the better theme song (because it truly is a different world).

Aside from all of those material differences and distinctions, one of the more pernicious ways of framing the divide in the political parlance is to suggest that what we want is what they have, but how we are undeserving. As in, we have to deserve equal treatment and citizenship, jobs, decent housing, and even clean water. Someone reading that might accuse me of being hyperbolic while failing to recall that just 60 years ago Black people were protesting in the streets for the right to be served coffee and food at Southern lunch counters. Of course, it was always bigger than integrated coffee which is why our other demands for basic dignity have required the same intensity of effort. And with every demand, someone in power is conferring with his colleagues and asking What do these people want now

The same things that have always been touted as the inalienable birthright of every American--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So yeah, a lot more than the kind of superficial integration that elevated Walker to the status of UGA football icon. Winning the Heisman trophy and playing professional football worked out great for him personally, and if that makes him a hero in the eyes of those who voted for him, that's fine. The fact that he has been less than heroic in his personal life is also his business, but problematic for someone who cited his character and faith as his primary attributes for office. That and the fact that he doesn't even live in the state...

Set aside all of those contradictions and what we saw was a contest between two Black men with two different motivations for seeking office. With all due respect to many of my friends who took umbrage to the idea of a less than erudite ex-football player serving in the Senate, I need to point out that there are no qualifications outlined in the Constitution that would have given one man the advantage over the other. They wanted the Buck; we wanted the Preacher. Truth be told, a former professional football player is no different than any other celebrity who has considered politics when being a has-been isn't enough. Some of this country's most beloved politicians were former entertainers.

I was more offended that Herschel Walker had agreed to be the mascot for an agenda that perpetuates the fear among the people who have always had everything that we, the unwashed riffraff, have come to steal from them. You see, Walker left our community a long time ago, not because he went to UGA and then went on to be successful football player. He left us to join the other side when he adopted their trickle down, up by your bootstraps, let them eat cake mentality and never looked back. As long as everything was good for him down at Southfork Ranch, then everything was peachy.

If he had cared about the people of Georgia, then he wouldn't have needed to be enticed to temporarily relocate there for this sham. Take a good look at his campaign biography and show me where he has been working to improve the lives of the people he claims to care so much about. Oh wait, he's a job-creator, so was his company's use of unpaid labor by imprisoned drug offenders an example of his Christian charity? Did Walker express any opinion on SB 202 and how it might have suppressed the youth vote in Athens, where he went to college? (Because it did, and I saw it in operation as a poll monitor on Election Day.)

When we lament how close this election was, we are operating under the delusion that the fears of Walker's supporters should not have compared to our hopes. Now that we know that hope and fear were evenly matched, like I said, they won't make this mistake twice. And we shouldn't be all that relieved by Warnock's margin of victory when his totals in the runoff fell short of the number of votes he received in the general. He received more support when he ran against Kelly Loeffler, so we need to question why more than 960,000 voters stayed home this time.

Finally, because I need to bring this all together, the reference to the conversation I had with Rep. Adams (D-NC) about redistricting wasn't just some random anecdote I included to floss, but a real issue that will continue to impact how we organize and mobilize voters throughout the South. When I tell you that the people who have everything don't think that we deserve anything nice, that includes the ability to elect our own representatives to Congress and to state legislatures. Local and national representation gives us a say over how resources are allocated, and if elected officials from our communities are demanding more equitable distribution of said resources and that results in one less thing for them, then they will draw us into a box and dare us to cross the lines. That's how we got SB 202 and all of its suppressive impact.

And to prove that we're wrong about calling those tactics Jim Crow 2.0, they just overwhelmingly voted for a Heisman trophy to represent them in the U.S. Senate. Even though he lost, they get to forever point to the fact that they supported him the way that so many of them claim they would have marched with MLK in the 60s. But (and here's the rub), they don't want their children to feel bad that their grandparents once opposed going to school with Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes at the same University of Georgia. (I know that's a different issue, but it is all inter-related.)

From the other side, where we see things in color and aren't as covetous as you'd like to think, we wanted someone who would fight for those who have less. Yes, we laughed at a lot of what Herschel Walker said, but we also listened and heard nothing that would improve our lives in the hood. Our families work just as hard for a lot less, so we don't care which spokesperson you choose if the message never changes and the results are always the same. Y'all who drive past our neighborhoods to get to your dog parks, yarn stores, sit-down restaurants, and overpriced sandwich shops, seriously thought that the high price of eggs would be more persuasive than protecting democracy. That's an even bigger joke than Herschel Walker in the Senate. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Irene Cara: We Remember!

This one was rough...normally, I would have just posted a playlist on the Facebook page, but the unexpected death of Irene Cara over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend deserves a more significant remembrance. 

I will be honest and admit that I had recently thought of Cara in passing as I sat through my annual viewing of Flashdance (1983) this summer. As some of you know, I have this ridiculous fascination with that movie, due in large part to the fact that it was HUGE when I was a kid, but it was rated-R so I only saw it for the first time years later in college. And after I saw it, I immediately questioned the hype, so it has become something of a ritual for me to watch and ridicule the absurdity of a movie about an exotic dancer who wanted to be a ballerina without ever having taken any ballet classes!

(And for the umpteenth time, I still shake my head at that premise for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that I actually started taking ballet classes around the time the movie came out, so from experience I can attest that the premise is utter nonsense. Even in the 80s when ballet was still very exclusive to certain types of girls, there were programs that made it available to the masses, such as the School of Performing Arts in New York, which we will address later in this piece. I also questioned the sanity of the elderly ballerina mentor in encouraging such nonsense...)

But I digress because the point here is to appreciate Irene Cara beyond her association with Flashdance. In spite of a steady resume of solid acting work in the 70s and early 80s, she will forever be identified with one of the most overrated of what I call the 80s fad movie genre. Movies like Flashdance, Breakin' (1984), Perfect (1985), White Knights (1985), and even Saturday Night Fever (1977) were all derivatives of Hollywood's tendency to capitalize on the latest pop culture trend with a bad movie. Even the film that brought Cara to the attention of mainstream audiences, Fame (1980), could be included in that group for bringing attention to the performing arts high school; however, as we all know, the pursuit of fame itself is not a fad.

Fame is the road that Cara began traveling as a child. I remembered her from The Electric Company as a member of an early lineup of performers in the Short Circus, the kid singing group that was featured in vignettes throughout the show. However, she had already been a Broadway performer and starred in two feature films by the time I saw her in those EC reruns in the latter 70s. I had also seen her on What's Happening (1977) and in Roots: The Next Generations (1979), so that practically made her Black famous before the rest of the world 'discovered' her in Fame. Until her death, I didn't even realize that Cara was just a teenager in the years before her big breakthrough. 

Therefore, by the time her career had reached its zenith with What a Feeling, it would seem that her Oscar win should have opened every door in the entertainment business. Instead, Cara receded from the scene and was practically forgotten in a few years. Similar artists such as Karen White, Jody Watley, Paula Abdul, Gloria Estefan, Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul, and Janet Jackson (a Fame adjacent alum) filled the void. Assuming that her account of what happened to her career in this clip is accurate and knowing that she had more talent in her pinkie toe than most of those others, it just doesn't make sense that everything just stopped.

Or maybe that is just the price of fame, as Lydia Grant (Debbie Allen) warned in this unforgettable monologue on the matter: You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs...

Since she spent so many years out of the spotlight, one can only imagine what Cara's career should have been in these almost 40 years since Flashdance. Starting with that list of her contemporaries, why didn't Cara enjoy more pop music success? She had the voice like Whitney Houston, and she could dance. She co-wrote What A Feeling, so if given the chance, her songwriting talent should have kept her busy like Patrice Rushen or even Babyface. On the acting side, even if she couldn't carry a mainstream film to box office gold on her own, she could have been in an ensemble film, found steady work on some mediocre sitcom, or been featured in some epic TV miniseries. And for goodness sakes, she started out on Broadway, so why didn't she ever find her way back to the stage?

What happened?

She had the look, the talent, the sparkle. The irony of her starring in two movies about the illusive quest for fame is the realization that for Cara, those attributes had already opened the door and ushered her to the center of the room. By 1980, Irene Cara knew a few things about show business. Yet, why it all fell apart is anyone's guess. A variety of other factors can derail someone's career--a bad combination of hubris, fickle fans, and/or the machinations of the suits who make decisions behind the scenes. In Cara's case, it just never made sense that it all went away. Who didn't dabble in drugs in the 80s? Who didn't make the best choices in choosing film projects? Who upon realizing that their work was undervalued didn't seek to rectify the situation?

Two years ago when we mourned the sudden passing of Chadwick Boseman, I wrote this piece and compared his death to the phenomenon that occurs when a star explodes, a supernova. Now I find myself trying to comprehend the opposite--when a star collapses and creates a black hole. Irene Cara was born a star. She deserves to be remembered as such, not as some has-been actor or a one hit wonderful or some pop tart wannabe, but as a bona fide STAR whose light still shines and bathes us in warmth nearly 40 years after her greatest career triumph. In death, we are lamenting that her light was eclipsed, but it was is still there, as brilliant and luminous as ever.

It doesn't seem right or fair that someone with Cara's prodigious gifts would be discarded over a million dollars. Lesser talents flourished in spite of bad choices; stumbled and rebounded; been hella problematic; and in some cases, committed actual harm to others with minimal career interruption. She couldn't have been the first artist to sue her record label (Teena Marie comes to mind) so how did that manifest in the kind of career-ending audacity that consigned her to doing voiceovers for animated Disney knockoffs and what-ever-happened-to obscurity?

For the sake of argument, even if she did become some kind of diva, hadn't she earned that right by 1983? She wasn't some bright-eyed ingenue, nor was she some naive schoolgirl who could be duped by a con man offering big promises. The mere fact that her career could just evaporate into thin air because she wanted to be paid what she felt she was worth for an Academy Award winning song she co-wrote and performed That's the only reaction I can register because somebody's need for petty retribution robbed us of her talents and prevented her from achieving a career worthy of her extraordinary abilities. 

It is well understood that the person who breaks through concrete and shatters glass ceilings first doesn't escape being harmed in the process. I deliberately waited until this point to mention the -isms lest someone assumes that her race and gender were not factors in her career demise. At some point the elephant in the room must be acknowledged as Irene Cara was the first Black Latina to sing an Oscar-winning song (for Fame) and then to win an Oscar (for What a Feeling). It would be tempting to argue how those achievements were proof that racism and sexism did not stop her career ascent. However, the -isms did hasten its demise, for once she broke down those barriers, it revealed that there were plenty of other promising artists waiting in the wings. She obviously deserved those royalties; instead, her demand to be paid was spun as being too demanding and difficult. The moment some record company executive huffed who does she think she is, Cara became a cautionary tale to other young women in the industry to know their place or be replaced. 

Can you think of another multi-hyphenate starlet with a Golden Globe, two Grammys, and an Oscar who had a similar trajectory? That isn't to suggest that her music career might have run its course, because the follow up to What a Feeling was Hold onto the Dream, a minor hit attached to another terrible 80s movie, DC Cab (1983). A few years later when Janet Jackson was taking Control and transforming the pop music landscape for female artists, Cara released this campy song Girlfriends, from an album that was produced by George Duke and a who's who of legendary hitmaking contributors, but it didn't chart. As for her acting career, she did find work...just not the kind of stuff that was any good like Certain Fury (1985) and Caged in Paradiso (1990). Yeah, I don't know what to make of either of those projects except to shake my head again.

Having spent this time wondering what could have been, perhaps it is fitting to rethink this as an exploration of what Cara gained by peaking too soon. She lived to see how others benefited from her journey and that her struggles had not been in vain. I hope that as she watched those others flourish in their careers, she felt some solace that her fate would not befall them. I want to believe that whatever lingering bitterness had faded, so what remained was appreciation, as can be heard on this duet with Mariah Carey. That instead of regarding the remakes of her iconic work in Fame (2009) and Sparkle (2012) as attempts to erase her legacy, she embraced them as tributes. Movies and record sales can't make someone who was born to shine into a star.

Last year when I was compiling the playlist for The Electric Company's 50th Anniversary, I totally forgot about Hard, Hard, Hard, one of the Short Circus numbers on which Cara sang the lead. I still recall a few of the lyrics that in hindsight were way too mature to be sung on a children's show. I mean, how were elementary age kids supposed to comprehend:

Sometimes I sit and wonder all about life
I know that every day will bring sorrow and strife
Even when you're up and feel you're going to win
The bottom drops right out and then the roof falls in

Ain't it the truth, but DAMN! And damn, Irene Cara belted that song out full throttle with no idea just how prophetic these lyrics would be. I wonder if she reflected on these words because nothing's easy in this life you see...

The secret, my friend is to give it your all
Sometimes you win and then life is a ball!

Rest well. We will remember your name.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Jangled Bells

It's the most annoying time of the year...

Yep, my inner Grinch is back because y'all insist on pushing Christmas on me earlier each year. This year, I swear some Southern radio station was playing Christmas music before Election Day and that isn't even the worst of it. I've been seeing Black Friday deals since September, so yes, it is already way too much too soon. 

Give folks time to eat the rest of the Halloween candy, damn!

Regular readers of this blog already know to expect a lot of bah humbugging from me right around this time of year, so no new ground to cover by writing yet another piece about how much I hate Christmas. So let's go in a different direction by addressing one of the many reasons why I find all of this so ridiculous: Christmas movies.

Specifically, the Hallmark kind that always end with a happy couple kissing in a faux snow-covered gazebo. Or the kind that features a magical appearance by Santa or his wife or an elf or an angel or an abandoned baby or a ghost. I think that covers the gamut of plot possibilities because no one has come up with a new Christmas story so y'all just do a remix of the various themes already out in the universe. And while there are a few Christmas movies that I do enjoy and could watch over and over, those tend to break the formulaic mode because they are comedies or about family dysfunction. If there is an all-day marathon of A Christmas Story (1983), Elf (2003), or The Family Stone (2005) playing somewhere, I am there--just not until after my birthday.

Every year, Hallmark, Lifetime, and now TVOne roll out a new batch of Christmas movies which makes avoiding that aspect of the holiday just as challenging as escaping Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas. I'm pretty sure that other TV networks have taken note and have been working on their own holiday programming, so now might be a good time for me to finally pay for a streaming service. What are the kids binge-watching on Hulu these days?

Having said all of that, the real reason I've brought you here today is to take note of a little article I recently read that explains why one of Hallmark's biggest movie stars, Candace Cameron Bure, suddenly defected to Great American Family network. Now, when this was initially announced back in April, I took a moment and thought, hmm, I guess that means more work for Holly Robinson Peete. And then I realized, yeah it must be nice that Candace can take her toys to her own room so that she won't have to share.

If you can read between the lines, it seems rather convenient that Bure would claim to want to promote more family-friendly holiday fare now that Hallmark has opted to expand the definition of its family offerings to be more inclusive. Not just in terms of racial diversity, but in presenting representations of family that depart from the "traditional" nuclear model. And while that is certainly her right, nothing screams I'M A SANCTIMONIOUS KAREN louder (except maybe writing it in all caps like I just did).

Color me not at all surprised because this script is just as predictable as one of those holiday movies. The former child star had built quite the brand for herself as the face of Hallmark made-for-TV movies. She got to work for about three to four intense months, and then spent the rest of the year teaching Sunday School and baking bread. It was the perfect gig, but then we had to ruin it for her by asking why come she and her other sitcom sorority sisters were the only ones getting cast in those kinds of movies. And then suddenly it was inconsistent with her brand to be seen in the company of the very people she moved to the exurbs to avoid in the grocery store.

I had taken note some time ago that the offerings on Hallmark were very pumpkin spice latte, so I rarely watched anything on that channel other than The Golden Girls or Fraiser reruns. Since I always fall asleep with the TV on, I often woke up to I Love Lucy, which as many of you know is definitely an all-time Busy Black Woman favorite. Like many niche channels, Hallmark fills the spaces between shows with a lot of promos for its own programming. And I began to detect a theme...

I wanted to keep an open mind about what or who I rarely saw. But it was kind of obvious, and despite the appearance of an occasional Black or Asian best friend, some things are exactly what we see as clear as day. Perhaps it could be written off as unintentional that Hallmark had become a refuge for former sitcom actresses, all of whom happened to be white...or maybe it was a choice. Because I could think of several nonwhite sitcom actresses who certainly could use some work but don't ever seem to get any.

The lack of diversity became undeniable to me the Christmas the Hub and I stayed with his sister. I remember that holiday in vivid detail because she LOVES those movies, they were airing 24/7, and I was pregnant. For three days (talk about biblical allusions), I don't know how many of those movies I sat through and actually watched, but if you can believe it, one stood out from the milquetoast fare. It starred Lacey Chabert, whom I knew as the kiss-ass friend from Mean Girls (2004), as a woman who gets wooed by a Prince in A Royal Christmas (2014). I don't remember anything distinct about the love interest, such as how they met or fell in love, but I do remember that his mother was Doctor Quinn Jane Seymour herself. And I thought out loud, well is there a white actress who hasn't been cast in one of these movies yet? When will there be movie starring the daughter from Mr. Belvedere?

No response to my pregnant rantings, so I just sat quietly in my corner. I could either brave the Staten Island Mall two days before Christmas, read one of my SIL's cookbooks, or give in to see if there was anything compelling or redeeming about any of these movies. I choose option C, and while not entirely terrible, it was a lot like spending a sick day at home with my grandmother. In other words, I knew to expect a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup, some saltine crackers, and an intense stare-down with Victor Newman...

The fact that my Nuyorican SIL was unfazed by the predictability of the plots or the homogeneity of the casts, in addition to knowing many sistahs who enjoyed those same movies, it made me wonder why none of the upstart Black cable networks hadn't produced any of their own holiday fare. It wouldn't have meant sacrificing much time on their already packed programming schedule to preempt a few hours of Martin reruns or not to air The Color Purple (1986) one weekend. Who would notice if instead of Danica McKellar, we got Tempest Bledsoe some work for a change? 

Like every other good idea that I was too busy to put into action, someone at TVOne realized that this ain't rocket science. Since practically every Black sitcom had a very special Christmas episode in the vaults that had been inspired by It's a Wonderful Life (1946) or Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, how hard could it be to come up with something, anything other than the sugar cookie cut-outs on the Hallmark channel? I don't know if Merry Wishmas (2018) was the first of their original movie offerings, but they've been pumping out new holiday movies every year which must have caught the attention of the Hallmark suits. Because now they've responded with their own Mahogany line of Christmas movies, along with a VIDA lineup, and methinks that it was only a matter of time before someone pitched the idea of two elderly lesbians kissing under a gazebo covered in faux-snow. And that was just too much for the most wholesome and ever self-righteous Candace Cameron Bure.

That, and having to cede some of her realm to Holly Robinson Peete.

I'm not calling Bure any names, just pointing out that it is really convenient to allude to "traditional family values" as a euphemism for realizing that she was no longer the Queen of the Hallmark Movie Empire. I wouldn't go so far as to call her a bigot; instead, I would argue that this was a rather shrewd move to make in the midst of a white-hot culture war raging in the real world. In a year when there has been legislation introduced in several states that target trans-youth and claims that children are being indoctrinated into the "gay lifestyle" by a storybook about two penguins, yeah Candy Girl you definitely chose a side. And again, that is your right, because there is an audience that prefers to only see stories that reflect what makes them comfortable in their own biases, so go forth and be mediocre!

But please do me a favor and stop using your narrow definition of Christianity as justification for your intolerance. I'm a Christian too Boo, and my Jesus, the one whose birth your crap ass movies are supposed to celebrate, doesn't seem like the kind of person who would have been concerned about tarnishing your brand. He wasn't all that worried about being seen with the wrong kind of people because there was no such thing in His eyes. You don't have to take my word for it because He said so, and I urge you to look it up in one of those $65 bibles you are hawking.

I will come right out and say it: the Hallmark channel got too ghetto for Bure, so she clutched her purse and hurried across the street. By switching to the Great American Family channel, she can lure her fans to the new mall where there is a traditional Santa and no David Sedaris-ian elves. At her new mall, Bure can get her overpriced coffee served in a disposable cup that has CHRISTMAS emblazoned all over it, brewed by an un-unionized underpaid barista working overtime. Her brother's crappy Christmas movie can play in the multiplex and her tee shirts can be purchased in stores where the retail workers are required to wish you a "Merry Christmas" instead of Happy Holidays (because Hanukkah and Diwali aren't for real Americans). The new mall is everything the old mall used to be before everyone got woke...

Because isn't that the reason for the season--for folks to keep buying the illusion that the Cameron siblings have been selling all these years? They want top shelf placement for their stuff, not to be comingled in what they perceive to be the bargain bin with ours. God forbid that someone just might prefer The Drifter's 1954 version of White Christmas to the movie version from White Christmas the film, also released in 1954. And why not add a little José Feliciano in the mix because Feliz Navidad is a jam! The notion that there is only one right way to celebrate Christmas, or that this is about constraining Christianity when it is all about Capitalism is absolutely on-brand for both Candace and Kirk and their ilk--former child stars whose careers were built on nostalgia for realities that only ever applied to them.

I want to end this on a more festive note because Bure did a lot of people a big favor by making such a dramatic exit. As she stated, this gives her an opportunity to help launch a new venture from the ground floor, so that is both admirable and risky. And by leaving an already established network franchise, she has cleared the stage for other actresses to get some of that Hallmark holiday shimmer and shine. Let the Mowry sisters build themselves an empire! My issue was never about the fact that she left (because even though I did write an entire piece on the matter as if I care, I don't); it is with the manner in which her departure was framed, as if she had to run for her life in order to save her virtue.

Although I'm sure her movies won't get any better on a different network, at least she is safe from secularism and the gay agenda. Her values and her fortune secured, Candace Cameron Bure will be just fine. All of you avid Christmas rom-com movie fans now have an additional channel with a new slate of movies, so now I know what to avoid while channel surfing. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Harriet Get Your Gun

For the record, my face is not tight like this over the fact that I missed Homecoming AGAIN...It is like this because I swear, some of y'all really need Jesus.

Let's cut straight to the point--yep, Ye is cancelled, and I don't want to hear anything about his genius or his mental health because none of that has ever been persuasive to me. As far as I'm concerned, he's been done since I wrote this piece back in 2018, but back then I was hoping that some divine intervention might save him from himself. It didn't, and after this very bizarre year of watching him turn every shade of misogynist, anti-Black, and anti-Semite, well, there isn't much else to say. It is above me now...

A few months ago, I had MSNBC on in the background while I was writing and some rapper popped up in a segment with Ari Melber, which wasn't unusual because he is a definitely a hip hop fan boi. Now, I need to say this as a disclaimer because I honestly did not know who his guest was at that time, but I did stop to watch because I used to find those segments kind of entertaining. However, in under one minute, dude insulted Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and the hairs stood up on my neck as I wondered, who the eff is this and did he just say that isht on television? So color me not at all surprised to see how this same ashy dude resurfaced on Blue Ivy's internet to sing the praises of Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) earlier this month.

Before anyone argues that Killer Mike has every right to endorse or vote for whomever, save your breath. I get that. And if he wants to shout it from the rooftops that he would prefer to keep the devil he knows instead of voting for someone else, then that is his business. This is America. Mike doesn't need my permission to vote for anybody. (For what it's worth, I wrote that without rolling my eyes or crossing my fingers while typing.)

But he shouldn't expect not to be called out for it. 

Perhaps he saw what happened when Ice Cube decided to try his hand at being a modern Race Man and introduced a Contract with Black America in the closing days of the 2020 Election cycle. Earlier this week, a clip resurfaced from an interview he did with Graham Bensinger in 2021 that referenced his ill-timed foray into politics. My initial reaction was to think, so you're back for more smoke, huh Ice Water? Because right now, just as we are two weeks away from an election that might determine the future of our democracy, we definitely should be having a conversation about why Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. hasn't reached out to you, O'Shea Jackson, Sr., to discuss your policy proposals for Black America.

Were we supposed to believe that Cube's been waiting by the phone for an invitation to the White House for two years??? That in between performing at NASCAR and building his Big3 League basketball endeavor, he didn't have time to get his COVID vaccine but he had time to wonder why his calls kept going to Biden's voicemail. That when he blew off that meeting with Madame Vice President as if she was some kind of note-taking intern, Dark Brandon was going to forget that? Bye Felicia!

However, as Cube himself pointed out, this clip is a year old and in his own words he's sitting this election out. So for now, I have erased the snarky tweets in my drafts, reserved judgment that nefarious motives are at play, and will simply suggest in the alternative that maybe you should care if and how folks are planning to vote. Because if you were at all serious about implementing policies to improve our community, Ice Man, then you should not have been so easily dissuaded by Black Twitter trash talk.

Because here is the problem--too many people believe that the work of revolution is as simple as writing a solid business plan. If that's all it took, we wouldn't be here teetering on the edge of Armageddon and the Apocalypse. 

In case Killer Mike or Ice Cube come across this blog and see their names written here, I need them to know that I am not arguing that they should just stick to rap music. On the contrary, we don't need them to shut up; we need them to speak up more often. We need more men with platforms of influence to weigh in on the issues that impact our community. Talking amongst themselves in the barbershop isn't enough. We need them to lend a hand, to do some of the heavy lifting, and to stay in the fight, even when things don't go as planned.

When Harriet Tubman went back to her former plantation to rescue her family and friends, she did so at great personal risk. She was a fugitive and under federal law, she would have been returned to enslavement and sold further South if she had been caught. The legend of her threat to shoot anyone who got cold feet on the journey North is an important metaphor for what we face in our community from folks who would rather settle than fight. It wasn't just her life, but the lives of everyone she was trying to save. That is what makes the work she did in her later years so much more inspiring, like when she served as a Union spy and militia leader during the Civil War. She kept on fighting.

If you opt to sit on the sidelines or decide that the status quo is tolerable because you got to eat the scraps off Massa's table, then like Mother Harriet, I'm good with leaving your Black ass behind on the plantation. Or shooting you if you get scared and decide to run back.

Words are my weapon of choice, so yes, I will unleash a few bullets of criticism if I think your choices are more harmful and selfish than helpful. I will point out that your Contract wasn't a bad idea, just a re-packaging of Tavis Smiley's Covenant that includes many of the same legislative policy agenda items proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus. (Historically, similar proposals have been put forth by the Niagara Movement, the Atlanta Student Appeal for Human Rights (1960), the Black Panther Party's Ten Point Plan (1966), and the National Black Political Convention (1972), just to name a few). Sure, Donald Trump took a meeting with you in 2020, but did you follow that up by meeting with Mitch McConnell or anyone else in the GOP Caucus? Have you been calling on them to do more than listen to your concerns since you believe that the other side hasn't? If the GOP regains power in Congress, have they assured you that your Contract will be part of their agenda and that the legislation that has already been introduced and still pending will move forward? 

Or, as you so eloquently twote, do you just not give a fuck?

To my one-time Morehouse brother who has been tweeting a lot, but not telling us much, I've got issues with this Aaron Burr act of yours. When you took that meeting with Brian Kemp and had all of this advice for Stacey Abrams afterwards, you did understand how it benefitted Kemp to pay lip service to Black concerns while promising to do the bare minimum. After participating in that photo opportunity with you, he didn't even need your official endorsement since all he had to do was demonstrate a willingness to sit and talk football or whatever (since in your own words, politics and policy don't matter). Which is great at any other time except for an election year because y'all could have met for some craft beer in 2021 to discuss the finer points of vocational education. 

As for what you said about Rep. Jim Clyburn and the Democratic Party on The Beat with Ari Melber this summer (no I have not forgotten that), that may be why the good Reverend Senator Warnock hasn't been returning your calls to appear on your show. You went on national television and called a civil rights icon a sellout because y'all didn't support the same candidate. Then you assumed that the Senator would not take that kind of insult personally? Now with the tables turned, isn't that why you've been responding to folks on Twitter who have been saying the same thing about you...

I know you have your reasons, and you are under no obligation to disclose how you plan to vote, but you do understand the damage that can be caused by sitting on the fence. If you want to be respected as a kingmaker, the responsibility for safeguarding the crown is equally heavy for the person who performs the coronation. This generation's MLK may very well be a rap artist who is willing to sit down with friends and foes alike, but it might help to clarify who's who.

Furthermore, while y'all are worried about who gets to be a King, armies of Harriets have been busy registering voters, canvassing door-to-door, writing postcards, phone-banking, organizing, and staying otherwise pre-occupied with the work of saving this fragile democracy in less than two weeks. I know this because that's what I've been doing. I don't have the luxury of being able to call up my Spelman sister to offer advice and have it matter. But I have the choice to roll up my sleeves to lend her campaign a hand. I helped to get your Morehouse brother elected two years ago as well, and in gratitude, he's been blowing up my phone with fundraising appeals. Just as Kemp had to seem willing to talk to you, Abrams and Warnock have to play a version of political three-dimensional chess too. 

And here is where I need to break through that third wall because I got caught up with being busy and didn't publish this piece two weeks ago as intended. I am currently in a hotel room in North Carolina, about to head out to do some canvassing for a few hours before I head down to Georgia to work as a poll monitor. Election Day is two days from now.

Since we are just days away, I need to end this rant with a blunt observation for brothers like Killer Mike and Ice Cube because what I'm seeing in these streets is real. The folks that have been in power believe that we are encroaching on their way of life, and they aren't looking to share or lose any ground. They don't regard us as equal participants in this democracy unless we align with them, which does not seek to elevate us as a community, just individuals. This has been the playbook for centuries--and that is what prompted women like Harriet to escape and eventually work to dismantle the entire system. We are no better off if only a few of us are free.