Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Black Girl Magic is Real - Part I

This began as an omnibus piece that would touch upon a variety of issues, and it still will...just in two parts because I have a LOT to say. Overall, as you can tell from the title, the issue is Black Girl Magic: More Than a Hashtag (that looks like it should be the title of my next TED talk). In this first installment, I will address a few of our outrages of the moment.

Shea Moisture
So let's begin with the Shea Moisture (SM) folks who released this ad featuring one black woman along with several white women. A whole lot of edges curled tight with rage because the Sisterhood of Naturalistas was NOT having it! Within hours, SM issued an apology that only made matters worse when some genius thought it would be okay to reference the company's loyal base as POC (people of color) rather than explicitly acknowledging that most of those folks are/were black women.

As I was writing this and going about my day, a friend shared this information to FB regarding the company's attempt at damage control. And this was my reaction on the BBW page, which speaks to the underlying problem of assuming that this new marketing campaign was somehow benign. Instead, this foolishness is ranking up there with recent gaffes made by Pepsi, United Airlines and anything Steve Harvey says regarding the President.

As a consumer who has used and recommended Shea Moisture products for quite a while, I have not reacted with the same impulse to boycott as many of my sistren because I do understand; yet simultaneously I don't quite understand. On the one hand, SM is looking to expand its market appeal by advertising to non-black women. I'm sure they have all the market research to support that effort and launched what they thought was the appropriate campaign aimed at achieving that objective. And that's where we cue the outrage--this ad implies that women's hair issues are universal. Which they are not.

Which is something we thought the folks at SM understood until this debacle. And judging from the faces of the women identified as in charge of this new campaign, I am guessing that none of them ever accidentally/on purpose wandered down the ethnic hair aisle, let alone bought these products to overcome 'hair hate'...

I already said on FB that the backlash reflects how sensitive we are to the aesthetics, socio-economics, and politics of black hair. We see that ad and not only do we not see ourselves, but we see every effort that has been made throughout history to marginalize our experiences. No offense to the one black actress who is featured, but she should know as well as we do that white women will not buy products marketed to black women (check the MAC counter the next time you're at the mall). So this ad was meant to "include" us while reeling them in. And I won't even point out the problematic colorism issue on display.

So here is how you know #blackgirlmagic is powerful, and if Shea Moisture can save itself: (1) fix your apology to acknowledge that black women supported and helped to build your brand; (2) fix your ad to address hair health, not hate; and (3) fix your personnel department so that you won't do anything like this again!

Stupid Misogynist Memes
Someone posted this meme in a FB group to solicit the usual negative sister-girl denouncements, and I almost added my two cents until I realized, I have at least a dollar's worth of commentary. So I decided to address this fuckery here.

This was shared in a group of Spelman alumnae, which is part of the reason why this post drew my ire (it depicts a group of soon-to-be Spelman alumnae). But even if this were not a picture of my Spelman sisters, it is a picture of black women lined up to do what apparently this person could not, which is graduate from high school (let alone college) judging from the poor grammar. But let me elevate the discourse from the petty and onto the substance of this ignorance: how black women's achievement somehow hinders the progress of the black community.

Naw boo, ignorance hinders progress. And willful ignorance is how we ended up with a reality TV star in the White House, so explain that shit in a clever meme. Explain how a black woman with an advanced degree and a good job who owns her home is not "helping" the community when more than likely she is living in that very community? The tax assessments that she pays along with her mortgage support the local public schools, libraries, parks, and provide various other jobs in that community. The Little League football/baseball/basketball/soccer games she attends are in support of her black sons...and the rest of the incidental expenditures you cite reflect the choices that women with jobs get to make in terms of spending their money.

And with that, I move on to more important matters, which is to acknowledge the fact that this meme was posted on a page dedicated to ridiculing this type of nonsense. And the face peering back at me in that "oh no he didn't/hold my purse and earrings girl" expression made my day. Hallelujah I have found my tribe--other sisters committed to calling out so-called conscious buffoonery! Seriously, because posted on this same page was a meme that attacked Serena Williams' relationship with her gazillionaire boyfriend and another meme that equated white supremacy with black matriarchy...

And the #blackgirlmagic that destroys this nonsense is so powerful, because it is done without saying much. She just posts and allows the ignorance to defend itself. Which it can't and I am so here for that!

Bill O'Reilly
Karma is #blackgirlmagic that you didn't even see coming for you. Karma is that black woman you called "hot chocolate", who kept her cool, and waited until the time was right to tell the world that your racist, sexist, bloviating on-air persona is partially an act because you secretly have a thing for black women. And FOX News couldn't fire you fast enough once that was revealed.

And all of that is because you chose to pick on Auntie Maxine, one of our Busy Black Foremothers, who didn't even bother to waste more than a tweet on you.

You asked for it and got it. BOOM!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Back to Wonderland

We hosted the Toddlersaurus's 2nd birthday party on Saturday and this year, I have no complaints. In hindsight, I accept that last year's party went about as well as could be expected and hereby rescind every negative and frustrated emotion I have attached to that event. Because I have now accepted one of the great lessons of life: Kids just want to have fun. And they will find a way to do so, regardless of the amount of money, time and effort spent.

Yet, it took another visit down the rabbit hole for me to get this. I had been so disappointed by the execution of my whimsical plans last year, so knowing that there was a second literary trip to Wonderland, I decided to revisit the theme. And for the record, I had a good plan: we had craft tables, a photo station, an interactive story time, and plans for a game of kiddie croquet. We rented a community center so that we could have adequate space for kids to move about and play, which also gave us a suitable indoor alternative in case of bad weather.

So of course, it rained. Again. Despite weather reports ALL WEEK that called for rain in the evening, not during day. So it was worth the month and a half of waiting it took for the permit request to be approved, with just two weeks to move full speed ahead. Which was just enough time for the Hub to order the food while I did everything else. However, it was not enough time to see to certain minor details, such as ordering personalized M&Ms in our theme colors to give away as favors. (For perspective, I spent two months obsessing over the same party theme last year and didn't even consider such details.)

So I improvised. Instead of personalized M&Ms, I found an unopened bag leftover from Easter. And my child, who has never had access to that much candy in her entire life, just inhaled them and ran around in circles. Which meant she never made it to the craft tables. However, several of the other kids did participate in the crafts, and none of them minded that the rose bushes I asked the Hub to draw looked nothing like the rose bushes from the Alice in Wonderland template I showed him. I won't say what they looked like before or after the party...

My photo station went unused until one little girl decided to don the Queen of Hearts cape. She also waved around a toy sceptre and proceeded to act the part of some Disney sorceress that I'm sure she's seen a thousand times, which was fantastic! But no one else ventured over to admire any of the cool props I ordered from Amazon. Or to pose with the picture frame I designed with different motifs from the story--the one that the guy at the art store got me to pay a five dollar cutting fee for a job I probably could have done myself with my old x-acto knife. Totally neglected.

I never even got a picture of my child with any of the handmade props I designed because she never broke stride from running around in circles. And as for all of those homemade props and decorations, including the clever arrow signs? Completely unnoticed alongside the reused decorations from last year's party.

The night before the party, I was packing the trunk with the decorations and other things and left it open while I went into the house for something. I guess I took too long because when I went back to the car, some kind asshole had relieved us of the juice boxes and a case of iced tea. Right there in front the house with the front door wide open and with Hub right there in the living room. And me right there in the backyard emptying the dirty water from the cooler that I didn't use because I ran out of time to clean it. Yep.

I could keep on going but because my blissfully hyped daughter spent the entire party running around in circles, followed by an entourage of other happy, restless children including the cousin that she rarely sees, nothing else really matters. Apparently it was everybody's nap time, so those non-personalized M&Ms in the wrong colors worked like a charm to keep them awake and busy until my story lady arrived. By the time she was all set to read, everybody's sugar high had begun to wear down so they had just enough energy to barely pay attention. Of course, my child sat still for exactly 30 seconds before she wiggled herself down from my lap to the floor, where she spent the remainder of the time scavenging for more stray candy and goldfish crackers.

I guess this is why they say the best laid plans of mice and Type-A moms...because the rain never stopped (so no croquet, although it wouldn't have mattered because our balls and stakes had disappeared with the juice boxes). My grand scheme, careful attention to detail--none of it mattered. The children had a great time, as did my Dad, who has texted me at least three times to tell me so. My Mom was able to sit through all of that chaos and not get agitated. I didn't lose my temper with the Hub at all. The rec center guy was kind enough to give us an additional 15 minutes to finish cleaning. I had a great crew of friends who came to help us set up, and another great crew that helped us to clean. The Toddlersaurus received a lot of love from folks who braved the weather just to spend two hours watching a group of kids do what they do best.

As for me, back from my adventures in the rabbit hole, back from the other side of the looking-glass? I'm good. And since we keep getting bad weather, next year's theme will be from the Wizard of Oz...

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The First Day of the Rest of Her Childhood

Today I took the first steps toward signing my soon-to-be-two year old daughter up for summer camp and it was traumatic.

Not because I am anxious about her going away to camp (which is really just four weeks of structured day care), but because I sat in a room with a group of my peers and felt like I was back at law school orientation.

Let me begin this by telling you about the day I declared this child needed something constructive to do this summer...I believe it was a month ago after I had yet another very long day with her that ended with me feeling utterly exasperated. It doesn't matter what happened, but at some point she drove me to the brink and I made that fateful decision.

And it must have been a few days before/after that I received a text from my line sister about swimming classes. And then her follow-up text telling me that the classes were full and that we might have to try for another session. And I am unsure if that happened right around the time the Hub sent in the first permit request for her birthday party (for which we are still awaiting official approval), because we want to avoid a repeat of last year's rain drama. And in the midst of trying to manage her life and development, I have been dealing with a whole lot of other stuff.

So by the time I actually sat down to find an affordable summer camp that takes 2-year olds, I initially thought I wouldn't find anything. But fate intervened and I found a program, submitted the request form, and then got a call the very next day! We were on our way.

Then this morning everything went wrong as soon as the Hub thought he was offering me a compliment by telling me that I looked like a Mom.

The quick details: I left my wallet behind, then sat in traffic, arrived late and sweaty because I couldn't find the entrance, and then left feeling like I had just been through law school orientation. Which you know, I did 20+ years ago, and I remember leaving that session feeling like I had been to my first day of boot camp. I was overstimulated and overwhelmed, only to get to the Babe's play group to hear that we might need to consider getting special services (again).

So I'm sitting here feeling like a failure. I have one job. Actually, I have several jobs, but I am not winning on any of them right now. And just like I felt on my first day of law school/boot camp trying to process how only one of the three of us would make it to graduation, I am in over my head. For the record, I barely made it through law school, but I am here so I guess the same must be true of parenting. Which is not the most encouraging analogy...

Of course, the pressure I feel to meet or exceed certain expectations is largely internal. I just wanted to find something for my kid to do this summer. I also need a little time from her for a few hours a day to focus on my Mom and other aspects of my life that have been neglected. I might dig out my resume and see what is out there. I might make some progress on decorating her room. I may finally clean up my house. I might get to a spa for some of that self-care folks keep talking about.

And she might come back to us with more advanced language, potty-trained, and better disciplined. I could stay in my feelings and question why every other child seems to be progressing just fine with their nannies at the library story-time while my child spends that time running around in circles. Or I can just buck up and let the experts intervene. I can do what I failed to do 20+ years ago in law school and admit that it might all be just a little too much for me to handle by myself. Not because I am not smart or earnest enough, but because I have a lot going on and if my daughter needs to reach certain developmental milestones, then I need to do whatever it takes to ensure that she does.

I am a lawyer, not a child development specialist. That is why we say it takes a village to raise a child, and now is not the time to become the idiot.

Busy Black Blues

Depression really is a thing. I haven't had a lot of conversations with other Busy Black Women about it, but recently when asked about postpartum issues, I realized there is a reason why I've never had such a conversation. Depression is stigmatizing. To admit to having suffered through any form of depression is taboo.

A few weeks ago I posted an ominous FB status that opened a window into my life. I was in a very dark place, and in a moment of desperation and despair, I told the world. The response was unexpected. Several people sent me the usual messages of sending prayers and hugs. Some people inquired and others wanted to reassure me that I was not alone.

One post from a classmate stood out because she acknowledged my fragility and supported my transparency. Her message compelled me to start this piece several weeks ago...

So now I want to address why I never finished that effort and am now writing about how nearly impossible it is for us to discuss our mental health. I have written about my bouts of depression on this blog a few times, but a lot more over at the Cafe. One of the reasons why I use that venue for deeply personal revelations is because this blog is the public persona. Busy Black Women do not admit to spending the better part of a Sunday evening in bed, crying into a pint of double chocolate salted caramel gelato while watching a Tyler Perry movie. Ain't nobody got time for that!

Except...when we ignore every possible sign that we need to relax, recharge and release. I will admit that I often dismiss the notion of self care as a luxury. Not just as a matter of time, but also cost. Who can afford these fabulous girls' only weekends in Dubai? Or these spa retreats in the mountains, folks without children or whose student loans are paid? So I trick myself into believing my nail appointments are really three-hour escapes because paying someone to clip one's toenails is surely a luxury, right? Well, I got my nails done on Friday and I still spent my Sunday evening indoors blubbering under the covers gaining weight and killing brain cells on a really bad movie.

Self care should not look like self pity, but too many of us have to fall down before we sit down.

Heart disease is the number one killer in women. I don't want to cite a bunch of statistics because you can find what you need here, but consider the fact that one of the factors we overlook in our overall physical health is our mental well-being. How many of us self-soothe through poor eating, excessive alcohol or just by doing nothing at all (holding it in)?

I should not be the only person with her hand raised in the air, but if I am, then fine. I have allowed my sadness, lethargy and general desire to detach from everything and everyone to overwhelm me at times. And when asked to discuss it, I have deflected or eaten a cheeseburger. Neither is an adequate coping strategy.

So while I don't actually have a solution, I have resolved that I will speak up more often. I promise not to turn this blog into a online therapy session, but I will acknowledge in some meaningful way that Busy Blackness can be heavy. And I will also make different choices about how to cope, because certain bad habits I have developed lately have done little to lighten my moods. So I will invest more in both the concept and the reality of self-care.

Hopefully that means a child-free beach. Or a massage. Or a happy hour outside of the house. Or perhaps a happy hour on a child-free beach after a massage. In no particular order.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

No Shame in My Game

(I had forgotten I had started this piece after the Super Bowl. Fortuitous in way, given some recent personal developments.)

A friend posted on the Book of Faces that the internet trolls had been body shaming Lady Gaga after her Super Bowl performance!!?? And of course, several of us expressed our outrage and dismay, but then of course, we moved on to decry whatever nonsense #45 chose to tweet about instead of running the country.

Not that anyone needs to read another women's empowerment puff piece or see an airbrushed advertisement campaign encouraging us to love ourselves and our bodies in all of our wonderful shapes, sizes, colors, etc. Especially when we know that those messages are fleeting and conflict with the real life social pressure to lose weight, get cosmetic surgery, or invest heavily in Spanx in pursuit of physical perfection. What does a "real" woman look like anyway?

Let me admit that I noticed Gaga's tummy. Then I happened to look down at my own tummy pouch. And I recalled that at one time my stomach was flatter before I had the Babe; however, I also had some days when I had a visible food baby, fluid retention, monthly bloating, beer belly, or winter weight. In other words, nobody is perfect.

So I decided to take this pic of my 40+ year old pouch:

I was unsure if I was going to post this because it might be considered obscene, especially with the Babe posing just outside of the frame (but we're joined at the hip you know). And I wanted to emphasize the point of this piece: no tummy, just like no body is perfect.

I read that Gaga had suffered with an eating disorder in the past. And as I look down at my own changing body and consider the many reasons why I can't blame it all on the Babe, I want to send the message that body shaming, even in jest, is just bullying with a more politically correct name. I have been guilty of saying unflattering things about other women, and I am ashamed that it took years for me to realize how cruel I sounded. I never anticipated that the day would come when I would stand in front of a three-way mirror, totally mortified by my own imperfect reflection.

My shame is not about not being what I once was...well, yes it is because I once was a skinny asshole. I have been blessed to live long enough to know that beauty is much deeper than appearance, a perfectly sculpted physique, or any of the other superficial measures our society promotes. If you have been blessed to weather life's twists and turns, and have more than a few battle scars to prove it, then you are perfectly beautiful.

Turning the World on With a Smile

(I'm going back to several of my unfinished pieces to belatedly post.)

I did not mean to let so much time go by without paying homage to Mary Tyler Moore, who died recently at the age of 80. I am not much on obituary writing and because I am not a TV critic, I can't write a much of a glowing appreciation, but I can offer up a tribute to one of the women who influenced me and so many others.

When Gwen Ifill suddenly passed a week after the election, it was an absolute shock to my system. Every time I see an accomplished woman of color at the anchor desk, I think of Gwen as if I knew her. But before there was the real-life Gwen to inspire women in journalism, there was the fictional Mary Richards who inspired women in general.

So this is the part where I am supposed to offer up how much the Mary Tyler Moore show influenced me, but I was really young and barely recall any specific episodes. Everything I remember comes from watching reruns many years later. And I probably have a better memory of her turn as Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show because those reruns were on more recently.

However, I know that MTM was a major influence on the lives of so many woman, not just for her pioneering turn as the star of her own long-running sitcom, or as the name on the masthead of a juggernaut TV production company, and not because she was one of the nicest TV personalities next to Florence Henderson that we've lost in recent months. I know how important her show was based on the tributes offered by the likes of Jane Pauley and Leslie Stahl. I might not remember Mary Richards that well, but I remember all of the women who have anchored the local news here in DC or who have had prominent roles on the network news.

I remember that my Mom liked Mary's very hip 70s wardrobe. I remember her bff Rhoda wore head scarves before it became controversial. I remember that her show spawned a spin-off for her boss, Lou Grant (which was not a comedy). I remember that several of her co-stars, including Rhoda (Valerie Harper) went on to have shows of their own. I remember the cat at the end during the credits. I remember the theme song and the iconic hat toss.

From what I remember and all that I have seen by way of tribute to her, Mary Tyler Moore succeeded in creating a beloved character that had far more influence than the actress herself. Often actors hate to be associated with their alter egos once their shows end, but the blessing for MTM might be that she created someone who heralded a new era for working women. And I need to emphasize an important point--she was an unmarried working woman. Opinions on the significance of that might vary, but consider the fact that she was not cast as a librarian, teacher or other surrogate miserable mother figure. She was a career woman, looking to have it all (what woman isn't) and she made it look fabulous.

In the end, Mary Tyler Moore has something far more enduring--a legacy.

April Foolishness, March Madness, Forgotten February

I've allowed too many weeks to pass without posting. It was not exactly was just busyness as usual. I had plans, and instead of going into another lengthy explanation of what had happened, I will offer a summary of the pieces that I had intended to write. Although I was not posting here does not mean I was not writing or planning to write. In some cases, I still hope to try to write some flesh onto the skeleton pieces I started, but in the meantime, here is the list of what was supposed to be:

Black History Month for Dummies - This was supposed to be my follow-up to Going to Meet the Whizard, a piece I started on this blog then decided to post over at the Cafe (back when I was still trying to figure out what content was best for which blog--still an evolving concept). Anyway, the plan was to devote an entire piece to Omarosa Manigault. Sadly, I haven't begun to write it yet, even though I got a second chance when she allegedly started a fight with WH correspondent April Ryan, and then a third chance with the recent incident involving Ryan and WH press secretary Sean Spicer. I am sure that there will be other opportunities, so this goes in the pending column.

Oscars So Chock Full of Busy Black Women - Another piece that was intended as a follow-up, this time to Oscars So Black because right after I finished that piece I realized that there were so many other big black moments that I neglected to mention. And each one related to the presence of black women. I missed the window on this for both the Oscars aftermath and Women's History Month, but because I'm convinced that it was unintentional and unlikely ever to happen again, I will find a reason to post it eventually.

HBCU President's Meeting - Actually, I did not plan to write anything about that nonsense but I feel the need to acknowledge the plain tomfoolery of it as another swipe at Omarosa.

This is Us - I forgot that I wanted to blog about that show, because there was a specific episode that I wanted to highlight. I'm not sure when I wrote this piece on depression during the season, but as anxiety and family pressure have been weighing heavily on me since the beginning of the year, I know that the themes I wanted to emphasize will resurface at some point in the future. And yes, I think it is one of the best shows on TV.

International Women's Day - I started a piece about the Day Without Women and then never really worked out what I wanted to say. I didn't take the day off, but I wrote this on the FB page, wore red that day, and so I think we're good.

Free Melania (Again) - I wrote a quick plea to Lady Ivanka and planned to revisit the issue of Step-Mum...but really do we care? Of course we do, but I think we need something outrageous to happen and so far Melania has been a total class act. I do not intend to join the chorus of folks who critique the First Lady for not living in the White House, despite the hypocrisy and excessive costs to taxpayers. I regard her decision as a private one that she is entitled to make, period.

Nepotism - Don't ask me to explain why I believe Melania is entitled to privacy when Ivanka isn't, but as far as I'm concerned Ivanka is the public figure. So yes, she deserves every bit of scrutiny since she takes full advantage of being the boss's daughter. I just asked this question on the FB page after news of Ivanka's new job became public because there are several big questions, namely: (1) how does nepotism negatively impact women's advancement; and (2) are we harder on the boss's daughter than we are on his sons?

Black Women at Work - I tried to remember if I had been impacted by being a black woman at work, and I was in different ways. I was too young to know how to process certain scenarios, but then there were the times that I was mistreated by other black women for being I am going to leave this one alone for now.

Of course I am looking at this list and realizing that I did a fare amount of writing, just not on the topics that I planned in advance. I have taken more time to write about some of my personal issues (read here), and while all of that is still going on, my hope is to find some humor in this so that I can get back to being my normal Busy Black self. Stay tuned!