Thursday, October 10, 2019

Salty Pretzels: 30 Minutes or Less

A friend texted me to inquire if I planned to watch the latest episode of Mixed-ish, the sitcom prequel that offers a backstory for Rainbow Johnson, the character portrayed by my imaginary twin sister, Tracee Ellis Ross (because we look and act exactly alike). As usual, I had forgotten what day the show aired, so I put the Kid to bed and tuned in. My friend had intended for me to live-tweet about the episode, but I got distracted, so I turned my focus to the much ballyhooed Girlfriends reunion episode of Black-ish.

(Full disclosure: Even if she hadn't texted a reminder, I would have tuned in to watch Mixed-ish because the show-runner is a classmate of mine from middle school, high school, and college. This will be must-see TV for me whenever I remember to tune in, which will probably be hit or miss, so at some point I will need to watch a marathon on demand to stay current.)

Nevertheless, the episode covered a lot of ground in less than 30 minutes considering the fact that Black hair is such a touchy subject. Touchy as in don't-touch-my-hair-unless-I-am-paying-you-to-do-so, but because I wasn't paying close attention, I'm not sure if that is one of the issues that was addressed. I also don't know how the younger brother ended up with beads in his head like Stevie Wonder from the early 80s, so that's something that might make more sense upon a second viewing. However, I do not need to re-watch the exploration of feminism on Black-ish, which for what it's worth is also a rather weighty topic to attempt to address in less than 30 minutes...

When we were younger, family sitcoms were big on very special episodes, and Black-ish has apparently revived that aspect of the genre. Every episode is very special. Every episode provides timely social commentary. Every episode is meant to provoke deep reflection or provide some epiphany, which is why I often find the show very annoying. Especially this tongue-in-cheek musical number and this Good Times-inspired dream sequence...every episode feels like that sociology class in college I was excited to take until halfway through the semester when the weather got nice. Then I lost interest.

Such was the case with the feminism episode--I was excited for the Girlfriends cast reunion, but once we got halfway through and everything went left, the struggle to see it through to the end got real. I've got lots of notes, so let's begin with my frustration that in an episode about feminism, which certainly started off with promise by centering on Rainbow, her daughters, and her friends, the most poignant and crucial moment occurred in the boys night out subplot. But put a pin in that for the moment...

Rainbow and I are the same age, so we were in college in the 90s when this existential conflict of feminism versus Blackness reasserted itself for our generation. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought we settled this by determining that we can be friends, call ourselves allies, but we also know better...I mean isn't that why Alyssa Milano and Bette Midler get dragged on Black Twitter at least once a month? (And we love Charmed and Hocus Pocus, btw.) So I guess I don't understand how Bow suddenly had this confrontation in her 40s. You mean to tell me that she never had a come-to-Jesus moment with a white feminist? In California? Not with some hippie aunt or ex-bff from the commune? Not even at Stanford? Really???

Ok, if that's what you expect me to believe, then explain why y'all under-utilized Yara Shahidi in this episode. This would have been perfect fodder for a future episode of Grown-ish since her character is in college and probably definitely would have some serious encounter with this topic on campus. Or is that just my unrealistic hope that Grown-ish will eventually tackle something other than Zoey's chronic self-absorption? I know, this isn't A Different World...

And what's up with hyping us up on a Girlfriends reunion that didn't give us any of the classic interplay we expect from this ensemble? Did they even get new character names? Why was the best moment was when Toni expressed relief that Ruby wasn't her Mama? And y'all just threw William in at the end as a tease!


Look, it wasn't a bad episode. It was timely and poignant and typical of Black-ish, with the only notable exception being that one story arch where Dre and Bow separated (which must have come from real-life). But it frustrated me, much like the HBCU episode did because it tiptoed right up to the line, went left, and then neatly resolved the conflict without any lingering fallout. I cannot be the only person left wondering if Bow will be able to make up with her white activist friend, or if we will be treated to more cameos with her Black friends. And how long is this gap year Junior is taking going to last?

As far as this being a typical sitcom take on feminism, I am dissatisfied. The resolution cannot be that each side gathers up her things and goes home. We cannot make progress if we accept that white feminists shouldn't have to consider race, nor should we advance the narrative that being inclusive towards women of color is some kind of hostile takeover. There is a middle ground that takes work to traverse, and the pay off can benefit us all at the moment of truth.

Unless the real intent of the episode was the subplot I referenced earlier, which was Dre's awakening to the idea that white people tend to regard racism with the same disbelief and indifference that men respond to sexism and misogyny. And if that was the point, then that is also classic Black-ish: Dre, the giant man-baby, is the center of attention even when the show isn't supposed to be about him.

Which of course, is precisely why Black women cannot afford to reject feminism. Call it womanism, being intersectional, solidarity, or woke as fuck, we are already on the third or fourth wave of a struggle that goes back at least as far as Harriet Tubman leaving her husband behind for freedom. He'll either catch up or he won't, so stop tripping, sew a satin lining into that pussy hat (we got edges to protect), and let's get to work.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Grace, Mercy, and (In)justice

Several years ago I took a mediation class, and at some point a woman in the class said something or asked a question that sparked some controversy. Folks were heated and upset, and when she tried to dig herself out of the mess, it only made things more muddled. So the instructor paused and sought to allow everyone in the room a safe space to address what the woman had said in an effort to diffuse the tension of the moment. Three people offered perspectives on the incident that I remember: my own (which was not to offer an opinion for the sake of expediency); the person at the center of the drama (who offered what she perceived was an apology); and another woman whose response was, in today's vernacular, GTFOHWTBS!

Allow me to take a step back to offer a little more context--the women who made the offensive gaffe was white and the woman who responded in ALL CAPS was Black. Those details are significant because whatever the first woman said, it triggered all of the racial alarm bells and whistles that many Black people recognize from an early age. And I shall never forget how this lone Black woman, in a class where she was not a minority, felt compelled to call bullshit on what she felt was the familiar manipulative maneuver of deflection. She was insulted that we had taken class time to resolve something the other woman should have known better than to say, and if I am remembering things correctly, her instincts were proven correct in subsequent dealings with Miss Did-I-Do-That.

For whatever reason, that incident resurfaced for me in the immediate aftermath of the trial of Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who was convicted of killing her neighbor, Botham Jean, in another daily episode of Being Black in America. Of course, everyone has an opinion and a perspective on what happened, and I too struggle with finding some resolution. Today, I find myself in the same WTF posture of that sister from that mediation class that I took so many years ago. I am incredulous that this case has become all about the redemption of Amber Guyger at the expense of rendering justice for Botham Jean, the man she killed.


So let me put on my #LawyerLenses and start by addressing anyone who thinks that after all these years of watching Law & Order marathons, you earned some kind of certificate on the criminal justice process. Even with my expensive law degree, I had to pause and wonder aloud about a major element of this case, which is why Guyger was charged with murder, and not manslaughter. Because one of the first things I was taught in law school was the definition of murder. The second concept I learned was how that definition differs from other legal terms that describe the loss of one person's life at the hands of another. If you are so inclined, feel free to peruse Black's Law Dictionary to comprehend those nuances. Then if you have the time, commit a few hours a night to studying the Texas Penal Code and then try working your way through the Texas Constitution to get some insight into Texas Criminal Procedure.

However, let me save you the trouble--Guyger was brought up on charges for causing Jean's death, and there is little dispute that she entered his apartment and shot him. The drama of a public trial was to determine if what she did in killing him warranted some kind of punishment. And after a trial by a duly empaneled jury of her peers, she was found guilty of murder, but given a sentence that was more consistent with a manslaughter conviction.

Now, as I remove my #LawyerLenses and adjust my #ChurchLadyHat atop my head, this is where things begin to look fuzzy. After spending the better part of my life in the church learning the lessons of right and wrong, good and evil, etc., I find that this is one of those situations that isn't as neatly resolved by an Old Testament story or New Testament parable. This is that part of the service when the preacher admonishes us to look inside our hearts to render those virtues of forgiveness and mercy and grace. And while I sit with my eyes closed and my thoughts focused in earnest contemplation, I want a clean heart. So it is natural to empathize and mourn with this family that lost a brother and a son. Therefore, my personal feelings about the brother's decision to offer Guyger some compassion after the verdict are irrelevant. Forgiveness is his prerogative.

At this old school mourners' bench/mercy seat, prayers ain't over until everybody is overcome with emotion, so the preacher digs in and appeals on behalf of the woman who almost got away with killing her neighbor. While I can accept his family's choice to offer public absolution, does that also mean that I must follow the example of my fellow sister in the law Judge Tammy Kemp, by embracing Guyger after the verdict was announced? For all of the Christian sympathy and charity extended to Guyger, should I just forget that she allowed that man to bleed out on his own floor because she was more worried about losing her job? In this instance, am I allowed to be Jacob or must I do what Jesus would do and offer unconditional forgiveness?

Yeah, under the weight of that self-examination, my #ChurchLadyHat has become uncomfortable and heavy. So I take it off and tug at my string of #ClutchedPearls to determine what wisdom, if any, might come. And that's how I was reminded of that incident in my mediation class so many years ago. Knowing what I learned in law school and believing everything I was taught as a Christian, it is entirely appropriate to call cow manure by its rightful name. GTFOHWTBS

Amber Guyger wasn't the victim. She had competent legal representation. She had a fair trial. She was given an acceptable sentence of ten years in prison, which is a lot better than an acquittal or a mistrial. There are no legitimate grounds for appeal. The City of Dallas better be prepared to pay the Jean Family a hefty settlement in the pending civil case. Judge Kemp probably won't lose the endorsement of the police union or the criminal bar association when she runs for re-election. But anyone crazy enough to mount a judicial recall or to support her ouster from the bench over something as benign as a hug better be prepared for the old white dude who will replace her (and trust, he won't be handing out compassion).

For all of the good color-blind white folks who are perplexed about this case (because y'all don't see the racial elements), ask yourselves how much your vision would improve if the roles had been reversed, like it had been in this case from Minnesota. I do not recall that there were any attempts to discredit the innocence of that victim because the very idea of an unarmed white woman being killed by a Black cop is inconceivable in and of itself.

For all of the people who live for the narrative of the healing power in forgiveness, ask why you have yet to call on the Goldman family to extend forgiveness to OJ Simpson. To date, I haven't seen any calls for grace or mercy to be offered to Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby or Dr. Larry Nassar. Some of y'all are still salty that a Black billionaire has forgiven college loan debts he didn't even incur while simultaneously lamenting the fate of Aunt Becky. American exceptionalism is made possible in part by the narrative of Black Christian redemption, yet this country refuses to offer a genuine apology for slavery.

GTFOHWTBS. In my #LawyerLenses, my #ChurchLadyHat, and a strand of #ClutchedPearls, I exhort you not to take up precious time ruminating on the petty details of Guyger's Court TV makeover or what was inscribed in that Bible Judge Kemp gave her. All of that can be included in the Lifetime Movie starring Lindsay Lohan, along with a gospel choir cast as the Jean Family. 

GTFOH Amber Guyger and every other police officer who only claim "blue lives matter" as an affirmative defense in confrontations with Black and Brown citizens. Nobody doubts that police work is dangerous, but that's why there is formal training. That's why police officers get generous benefits and pensions. Respect for the hard job of law enforcement derives from the oath taken to protect and serve the public and the implicit risk of putting one's life on the line in the pursuit of justice. The oath, the training, and the public trust are what separates the police from security guards, club bouncers, and vigilantes--not the colors of the uniform.

Support the Botham Jean Foundation that was established in his memory which serves the St. Lucian community of Caribbean immigrants to this country, among other social services. Vote in the next local election and answer the jury summons when it arrives in the mail. If there is someone in your family who needs a good job, send him/her over to the police academy instead of the post office. If you live in a jurisdiction where there have been bad community relations with the police, insist on better training to reduce incidences of unnecessary officer-involved shootings. Advocate for reforms to the Castle doctrine so that it cannot be used as an affirmative defense by an intruder in someone else's home. Let's do more than just protest and complain on social media about the unfairness of the system.

GTFOHWTBS

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Big Fun With the Wretched

A woman in an online group posted about her child getting into trouble over the weekend and she referenced The Wretched episode of The Cosby Show. It was actually a stray line at the end of her post, but as soon as I read it, I immediately turned to the Hub and remarked how all of us of a certain age knew that reference. We shared a laugh, and my Niece who was nearby asked us to explain, so I pulled up a clip on YouTube. In recalling some of the specifics of the episode, I had gotten a few of the details wrong, so that meant that we watched several clips from different episodes until I realized my lapse in judgment and slammed my laptop shut.

We are still mad at Bill, by the way. So damn...

To the Niece, I was over-reacting. At nine years old, she is aware of the Cosby revelations and his conviction, but she has NO idea how big a deal it is for me to actively avoid watching reruns or even how significant certain episodes are. Maybe this is just my issue (because a friend who listened to my lament told me that I could not wipe out that aspect of our childhood), but I cannot be the only person who gets a little queasy at the thought of Bill leering at the extras in between takes. At some point, I know that won't always happen, but damn.

Before I came to my senses, I told the Niece that Vanessa Huxtable and I were about the same age when that episode aired (thus, Tempestt Bledsoe and I are the same age now). I have vivid memories of being a teenager who came up with some pretty stupid ideas of trying to evade a parental directive. Most of the time, I never got beyond my front door because I didn't have a crew of friends crazy enough to implement those schemes but if I had, I doubt that I would be here today to tell the story. So the most hilarious aspect of Big Fun With the Wretched is why we all remember that line.

We remember that it was a series of totally sitcom-y unfortunate events that led to the unraveling of Vanessa's cover story: the fire on the same block where the best friend lived; that friend's grandmother being interviewed on the local news; flaky Denise suddenly becoming a responsible adult who reads newspapers; the stolen car at a doughnut shop in Wilmington, DE where the cashier remembers Van and Co; getting scammed and stranded in Baltimore; and somehow making it back to New York City alive for the big parental confrontation. Perhaps you don't recall that specific sequence--I thought this was the episode where Rudy provided a shaky cover story that resulted in Claire and Cliff turning the couch around to greet Vanessa when she came home, but honestly, the details don't really matter. What matters was that climatic showdown with Claire repeating the line about Vanessa going off to have Big Fun With the Wretched (in your head, I bet you read that with the same inflection as she did)--and nearly killing her.

And that's why everybody in that online group probably had the same visceral reaction. A laugh or a chuckle or a shudder of a similar attempt to get over on our parents and the inevitable fallout from getting caught. We were all transported back to high school, when we thought that our parents were ridiculously stupid. Or like the woman who posted about her kid, maybe a few of those women recognized their own Claire reaction to some adolescent foolishness. Whichever side of that memory we inhabit, all of us acknowledge the sheer brilliance of that scene.

Which brings me back to this place of being frustrated by this entire shit-uation (yeah, that's my new word for it). It isn't like I can't live without The Cosby Show since I've done pretty well so far, but it just nags at me how that show captured the zeitgeist of my youth so perfectly. I mean, yes, there were plenty of other family sitcoms from that era that featured Black kids with professional parents...nope, Cosby started that. There were other shows with strong mother figures who were loving, but firm with their wayward children, but that also happened after Cosby. Surely there was another show with a similar story line that did not end with dramatic music, hugs and studio audience applause because what other reaction makes sense to lying and sneaking out, getting stranded with no money, and having to be rescued by your parents in the middle of the night?


Such was the genius of The Cosby Show. Sprinkled throughout its run, there were plenty of silly and random episodes such as those with dream sequences, the this-is-your-life-in-a-sitcom throwaways, and all of the celebrity guest stars, but those indulgences could be forgiven. As a lawyer, I still question why Claire would settle for a recording session with Stevie Wonder instead of suing him for side-swiping a car carrying her children, but that wasn't my call. I just know that 30 years ago when Vanessa and I were scheming teenagers, while Theo was secretly living with Justine, after Denise had returned from Africa married to Sandra's date, and while Sandra and Elvin were running a wilderness store and raising twins, the man who portrayed their father was...

Damn. And it's going to take some more time before I can sit with my Niece and my Kid to share that nostalgia without wincing. I just hope it happens before either one of them devises some mad-cap shit-uation that requires me to drive more than 100 miles outside of the city for a late night rescue from Wilmington in my pajamas because they're off having Big Fun With the Wretched.

Monday, September 9, 2019

All Up in the Kool-Aid

If stupidity was a flavor, it would be the ubiquitous red Kool-Aid, and I swear some folks have it coming out of their faucets. Not only do they drink that mess, but they bathe and wash their clothes in it. I guess that explains why they love that red MAGA hat so much, because it goes with everything.

The Kool-Aid seems to flow on full force whenever the topic is race, which is everyday in America, despite what most would prefer to believe. Almost every issue touches that third rail, and even if no one believes this, high voltage is what makes the trains work. We can't run away from race; we have to learn how to work with it.

Last week it was this essay, written by my imaginary BFF Jemele Hill, that suggested a return to HBCUs by Black athletes. Football is not my lane, but anything that supports HBCUs is and so I agree with her arguments in theory, even though I know good and well that train has left the station. It would be nice, but HBCUs just cannot compete with the enticements and amenities offered at the marquee programs.

But can I tell you what train was right on time? The Kool-Aid car full of folks who were drinking full cups of the flavor I like to call Incredulous Red. How dare she make such a suggestion, that Black players segregate themselves by going back to the very schools that used to supply the NFL with its Black gladiators? What good can come from abandoning from The Big State U for a handful of schools located on the other side of the tracks? Martin Luther King would roll over in his grave to hear that some promising young man who has maybe a 5% chance of playing in the NFL would rather attend his alma mater and actually finish with a useful degree. It's racist to even say the word Black in a sentence!

Of course, that is usually the first round of responses brought to us by the same folks who miss the irony of colorblindness as a deficiency, much like tone deafness or talking out the side of your neck. Whenever a bunch of white folks start whining on social media about touching that third rail, just know that train is going nowhere. These are the folks that spot the capitalized B in Black and get triggered. These are the folks that claim hyphens are more divisive than actual racism. These are the "All Lives Matter" crowd, the folks who visit plantations for the architecture.


Right after that train leaves the station, here comes that little hand car that you've seen in the Wile E. Coyote cartoons, being operated by those thirsty black folks (small b) who've added too much extra sugar to their Incredulous Red drink. Folks like our little sister Candace Owens, who had the temerity to come for Hill on Twitter by calling her an insufferable idiot. Mind you, Candace hasn't even finished college yet, but we're talking about Kool-Aid, not spilling tea. Or this dude, Cornel West's evil twin who even had FOX's Laura Ingraham shaking her head in disbelief. And this guy, some comedian who's probably convinced himself that his rant went viral because he's funny...

Yeah, it never fails. But what gets me is their willingness to not only drink the Kool-Aid, but it is also the eagerness to mix it, serve it, and wash those red solo cups for reuse on the next trip. If that subservient description evokes some discomfort, then next time ask them why are they always the loudest and the wrongest ones with opinions.

Is there a special sweetener that they mix into that Incredulous Red that transforms it into Seething Self-Hatred Red? That must be a hard swallow to take on behalf of a bunch of folks who claim not to see color, so why should it matter if a few Black athletes seriously consider Hill's suggestion? Who would notice the difference? Unless the worry is that a significant number of Black players and their parents will do more than consider her suggestion, thus giving HBCUs a chance to be competitive in a system that was built at their expense...

What if it became the norm for HBCUs to win against programs that only play us now for exhibition purposes? What if an HBCU showed up in a primetime bowl game instead of the Celebration Bowl? I bet more of us would actually attend our Homecoming games instead of hanging out at the tailgate. We would have more to brag about than what the band played at the halftime show. And the Kool-Aid flavor we'd be serving--How You Like Them Apples Green.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Billionaire Boys' Club

Shawn Carter is not one of us. Maybe thirty years ago, back when he was still out in these streets, he was a regular person (and I mean that in a semi-good way), but that was before anyone ever heard of Jay Z. Back when he was this dude.

Now that he is this dude: married to Beyonce, Daddy to Blue Ivy and a set of twins, friend of Barack and Michelle, newly designated Black Billionaire who doesn't even bother to record his own music anymore (because why). Jay Z is no longer in our lives like he once was. To be honest, he hasn't been on our level since he and Kanye sawed up a Maybach for a joy ride in a music video. I don't care if it was a prop--who da phuck does that?

So let's break down all of this hand-wringing and public consternation about this NFL deal. Actually, let's focus on the real deal, which has yet to be officially confirmed except as told to TMZ (but they usually get it right). I suggested to the Hub after Jemele Hill and Very Smart Brothas weighed in, that this seems more like an effort to make nice with the owners because Jay probably wants to own a team. Unlike basketball where the owners tend to change regularly, NFL ownership is akin to membership in a private club. They don't let just anybody in, which is why the DESPOTUS is now leader of the free world...

And after you wrap your head around that revelation, team ownership makes a lot more sense than believing Jay wants to lock down a Superbowl Half-Time gig for Solange. Any dude that can rent out the Louvre for a music video isn't really entering into a partnership to provide entertainment that is easily obtained. And the sellout narrative doesn't fit him either since, and I repeat, this is a dude that can rent out the Louvre for his wife's music video. So no, Jay is simply doing what billionaires do, which is the type of shit that the rest of us can't fathom.

This is what Beyonce alludes to in Flawless, why she can work out her anger about his cheating on an entire album, and then go on to have twins with him. She was mad, not crazy. This is why Oprah won't marry Steadman. She did a cost-benefit analysis and determined that she only needs him for special occasions. This is why Robert F. Smith went off script, made an insane promise to a bunch of guys he never met, and has pissed off all those salty white people who have been paying off student loans for all of eternity. This is why Michael Jordan doesn't care that his visage has become the crying man meme because he's laughing on the inside. All of them can say without an ounce of irony what Dave Chappelle has been saying for years.


Billionaires operate on a level where the type of mundane stuff that the rest of us live with on a daily basis is, well mundane. Beyonce isn't clipping coupons for her children's back-to-school supplies. Of course Oprah doesn't know how to pump her own gas. Warren Buffet probably never carries cash, nor has he ever had his credit card declined. Mellody Hobson has a day job because she is just a millionaire married to billionaire George Lucas. If Robert F. Smith and his wife think the young men in the Class of 2019 need custom cuff links to wear with their off-the-rack suits, we won't suggest otherwise.

We expect Black billionaires to demonstrate a higher level of responsibility with their money and influence, which is why folks are seeing this move as a bitch slap to Colin Kaepernick. But don't feel that sorry for him. For all of his self-righteousness, that dude said that he would still play for the NFL if a team expressed interest. This is after he already signed a lucrative contract with Nike for not playing football. This is after he allegedly urged Nike to scrap a certain shoe design that was all ready to go on the shelves (and let's just ruminate on the idea that some dude who isn't selling shoes by playing in them has enough juice to kill another pair of shoes that he wouldn't even be promoting.) Kaep has every reason to be salty, but he's not operating on Jay's level. Billionaires aren't looking for jobs.

Billionaires create more opportunities for themselves to make more money. Oprah is preaching the gospel of cauliflower because she probably owns a farm somewhere. Does anybody actually believe that she eats frozen pizza? Jeff Bezos has convinced people that a trip to the store for basic items is more of a hassle than waiting 24 hours for front door delivery. He knows that we call Whole Foods 'whole paycheck' so while a few items are cheaper since he bought the chain, all of the exotic stuff is still overpriced. The Walton family makes more money per hour off the cheap crap y'all buy at Walmart than you save from shopping there (let that sink in).

Billionaires don't protest injustice the way the rest of us do. That's why Jay can declare that the time for kneeling is over because he doesn't plan on doing that and Beyonce isn't trying to ruin her expensive hosiery. Instead, billionaires use their money to address the world's problems (philanthropy is the fancy name for it), so that's why Bill and Melinda Gates are trying to eradicate certain diseases; why Michael Bloomberg is backing advocacy groups to address gun violence; and how in one grand act, Robert F. Smith has sparked a conversation about massive student debt. Jay might not have knelt or marched in these streets, but as a patron of the arts, he has been backing documentaries that address why folks are kneeling during the Anthem, such as the Kalief Browder story and the Trayvon Martin story. He has used his powers for good, and with the right type of pressure, that can and must continue. 

That doesn't absolve Jay from throwing Kaep under the bus; but let's be honest and finally disentangle ourselves from this righteous boycott/protest narrative. The real issue is not Colin Kaepernick, nor is it disrespect of the American flag. In some cases, kneeling has been in direct protest of the authoritarian posture of the DESPOTUS, which is why athletes in different sports like   Megan Rapinoe and fencer Race Imboden, have joined in solidarity. So we kind of get your point Eric Reid, but how much of your outrage is about your boy not playing, instead of about the deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Philando Castile where it belongs?

Billionaires play these high stakes, ruthless games of 3-D chess. Or poker. Or craps. So I agree wholeheartedly with Jemele Hill and every other smart person who saw through this shuck and jive move by Jay from the beginning. He is helping the league to save face by giving them a pass. In return, his reward will be a financial stake in a franchise, which is a lot more than the traditional 30 pieces of silver we're used to seeing in exchange for one's soul. But that's because he is already a billionaire, and in his world of 99 Problems, a soul ain't one. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

This is America

This started as a statement of annoyance on the Facebook page, but then I added visuals and started using big words and...

Monticello (2019)
I saw this post on Twitter and my initial response was to allude to my recent visit to Monticello, where the updated house tour now includes a more in-depth discussion of slavery. Then I went searching through my new phone to find the pictures that I just took there of the Hemings' slave cabin and the Big House. Then I started on a rant about why these images need to be seen together, regardless of your ethnicity because, for goodness sake, YOU WERE VISITING A DAMN PLANTATION!!!

Then I started on another paragraph about the many trinkets and artifacts that get preserved at those homes for display and how no one ever seems to wonder how those items are kept in such pristine condition considering the people who lived in the house didn't do much work. Maybe the lady of the house kept her trousseau organized--hand washed and ironed her own linen tablecloths and embroidered napkins. Maybe she polished her own silver brushes and handheld mirrors, then carefully wrapped them in tissue paper before storing them in velvet-lined boxes. Maybe she endured the heat of the sun to tend to the antique rose bushes, camellias, and hibiscus. Or perhaps that was the job of her husband, who also rose early every morning to tend to his vast acreage of cotton/sugar/rice/tobacco, which he planted, picked, and prepared for sale all by himself, dressed impeccably in a perfectly antebellum seer sucker or white linen suit.

For example, it is fair to argue that no one goes to Versailles to learn about the people who worked there, so why should anyone care about the people employed on southern plantations? Of course, Versailles is a beautiful palace museum, a showcase to the excesses of the French Monarchy, and we know this because once the servants got tired of going hungry while serving cake, enleves leur tĂȘtes!

Hemings' Cabin (2019)
But again, what does that have to do with visitors to an historic plantation home somewhere in the American South where once upon a time, people were enslaved? Why should you care that Miss Anne compelled her half-sister to serve as her chamber maid? Or that Master Tom worked his own son, whose mother was the head cook (upon whom he forced himself in the hidden places at night after everyone else was asleep), as his coachman? Who wants to hear about all of that depressing shit while on vacation? How dare they make you think about other people's suffering?

After all, your grandparents came to America years after all of that happened via a 'legal' immigration system that excluded Chinese immigrants, for example. Black people were already emancipated, so your Sicilian/German ancestors didn't own any slaves. Instead, they worked hard at those jobs in the industrial North and Midwest in factories, building trades, and shipyards (where the Blacks who had escaped Southern peonage could only secure work as janitors, cooks, and manual laborers). Your ancestors were allowed to fight to defend their adopted country, while Black and American Indian soldiers languished in segregated units or were barred from joining the unions. While it is tragic and unforgivable that 11,000 Germans and less than 2,000 Italians were interned during World War II; between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans (note the hyphen, because many were naturalized citizens) were interned on the US mainland and in Hawaii. After the War, your ancestors took advantage of the GI Bill and moved to suburbs like Levittown, NY and Clybourne Park, IL, while we faced restrictive covenants and redlining.

But by all means, do not allow these pesky facts to ruin your visit to Tara, Twelve Oaks, Nottoway or whatever other plantation you visit during your stay. (Update: I've learned that your Yelp complaint was posted about McLeod Plantation in South Carolina...did you even look at the brochure?) I'm sure that the little old ladies in lace white gloves who maintain these historic homes would rather host an upcoming wedding/vow renewal, prom, debutante ball, etc., than answer hard questions. For decades, they didn't want to talk about the slavery either because their side lost that war, so instead they regaled visitors with alternative tall tales like Gone With the Wind. That's a far more interesting saga than say...the story of why Hattie McDaniel couldn't attend the premiere of the very film that won her an Oscar.

Guess what, we (the Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders) are tired too. We're tired of insisting that our stories are as valid and as important and as significant as others. We're frustrated that the history of slavery and segregation in this country are considered optional, as if racism was no big deal. Because an understanding of slavery makes it a lot harder to ignore the Trail of Tears, the role of Chinese railroad workers in westward expansion, the Bracero Program and migrant farmwork, Hawaii, and the immigration raids in Mississippi. Understanding our history in this country is acknowledging that it is all American History--including how your Sicilian and German ancestors were similarly victimized.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

An Appreciation: Toni Morrison

When I first heard the news, I immediately thought about my Mother and how if she was lucid and able to articulate, she would write a more fitting tribute to Toni Morrison. That is because my Mother was one of Morrison's biggest fans--she read all of her books, taught several of them as well, celebrated her birthday in the same month, etc., while I can admit to having latched onto my Mother's appreciation. Like many of the Black women writers who came into my life in my youth, I loved Toni Morrison because my Mother loved her first.


So as I pondered the type of tribute that my Mother would have written, I decided to visit her. My Dad and I discussed Morrison's transition, but he said that he hadn't told her yet...because to him, my Mom is still very much aware of the world. The Alzheimer's has only made her mechanical existence a challenge, so I went along with his reasoning. Instead of sharing the sad news, I told her how I would download some of Morrison's audio books for us to enjoy together on my next visit. And she smiled.

Then as usual, life intervened, but before the great calamity of technical difficulties and shitty customer service, I had an epiphany via a text message exchange with one of my line sisters. I just learned that she is also a writer, so it seemed rather out of the blue that she would reach out to praise Morrison's well-known accomplishments. I responded with my wish that we could have had the chance to sit at Sister Toni's knee just to inhale her wisdom...but then it occurred to me that is why she wrote and became so celebrated--so that we all could receive her gifts.

I did not formally meet Toni Morrison in the flesh, but in hindsight, it would be inaccurate to say that I never sat at her knee. I heard her speak at Spelman College more than 25 years ago. It was right after she had been awarded the Nobel Prize. She came to Sisters Chapel for a reading that was open to the public, so the gathering was standing room only. Somehow, I managed to find a seat while she stood at the podium and read from Beloved and Jazz (just published). Afterwards, she offered some thoughts on reading and memory and history. I recall being childishly underwhelmed...

That story of my youthful foolishness could be another reason to cede this task to my Mother, who clearly would have had a different, more appreciative recollection. And that is entirely the point--I can't ghostwrite a tribute from my Mother's perspective on her favorite author. I must write from my own collection of experiences and encounters with Morrison's work. I must admit that I never could get through more than half of Beloved, despite several attempts. I must admit that I have only read a few of her books; yet the impact of those was profound. I must admit that I had been hoping to see the film about her life in the present tense before...because I had some sense that this moment was imminent.

My initial encounter with Toni Morrison came in high school. My Mother was teaching The Bluest Eye to her high school students and had accumulated a collection of her other works. I picked up Sula because of the cover art and inhaled that book twice. Then by chance, it was part of our summer reading list for Spelman, so I read it again. Then as we discussed it in our Freshman Composition class, I read it for a fourth time. Because of Sula, I met one of my best friends forever. Because of Sula, I earned a nickname that allowed me to finally appreciate the birthmark above my right eyebrow.

I re-read Sula every so often because it is a profound statement of womanism--the Black woman's assertion of her worth, her value, and of her free, defiant, and unrepentant self. The book was published the year I was born, in a time when society was beginning to debate the roles that were prescribed for women overall, so I am sure that it caused quite the scandal. I imagine that many good church ladies saw themselves in Nel, as many of us continue to do so now. I was always drawn to Sula, so I re-read this book to remind myself that whenever in doubt, I just need to live. And in my mind, Toni Morrison was a real-life avatar of the character she created.

I also read The Bluest Eye, Tar Baby, Song of Solomon, several of her essays and editorials, and her collaborations with her late son Slade on children's books. But whenever I heard Toni Morrison speak, it was as Sula. I especially enjoyed her interviews with unsuspecting journalists who assumed that she should be honored by their attention. She wasn't--why would Sula be flattered by adoration? In hindsight, I understand now why Morrison seemed so unbothered, including the harsh critical reception of the movie version of Beloved. If we didn't get it, that was our fault for expecting it to be easy to read, easy to watch, easy to process...

Easy to assume that a Black woman with (or without) a Nobel Prize somehow needed permission to be free. To be Chloe Wofford. Toni Morrison. Mother. Sister. Elder. Audrey's favorite writer.

By reading her work, we all had the opportunity to meet her. If you have a favorite from her magnificent opus, you had the privilege to sit at her knee. If you have yet to make her acquaintance, lucky you--prepare yourself for a sumptuous feast, prepared lovingly like a Sunday spread.