Thursday, July 27, 2017

No Defense

It must have been the day after I wrote that piece about discussing sex that the latest R. Kelly scandal erupted. And for the next few days, I read commentary on Facebook and wow, if my only worries about sex education were just about menstruation and age-appropriate magazine articles...

I was initially encouraged by the number of opinions posted by men in condemnation of R. Kelly's behavior, so I'm betting that their daughters probably will not end up in a pop star's harem. One brother boldly declared that he would gladly go to jail if he had to confront the singer, to which he received plenty of Facebook high fives and amens.

So my issue is with the equal number of women who came to Kelly's defense. Now there were plenty of women who condemned his behavior and certainly there were men who didn't see "nuthin" wrong, but I have to take issue with the sisters, especially the one who challenged my comments regarding the support he was receiving. Her position represented the "fans" whose affection for Kelly date back to the time before he was branded a pedophile...and she went on to argue that she could separate the sin from the sinner and still enjoy his talents. And then she finished up with how other artists have done bad things too, and cited the examples of Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby.

Well Sistahgurl, maybe YOU can enjoy his music, go to his concerts and toss your panties on stage, whilst a barely legal woman is sitting backstage in an outfit he chose for her to wear, applauding his performance under the watchful eye of a bodyguard or roadie or lesser accomplice who might report back that her excitement was insufficient, which might very well earn her some kind of kinky punishment (I thought in response). Maybe his alleged behavior is only problematic to me, the mother of a toddler who at present is in no immediate danger of being seduced by his fame, fortune, or talent, but one day she might be given that by the time he's 70, she would be of age...

But I cannot.

I haven't enjoyed R. Kelly's music since his Mr. Big phase that involved a series of collaborations with Ronald Isley, Chante Moore, and Kelly Price. On the way to my first wedding ceremony in 2001, my friends and I sang along to the lyrics like a chorus of eager background singers. Ironically, this was before Kelly had been accused of urinating on a 13 year old girl, but well after his marriage and annulment to Aaliyah (which we knew about since college), who had died literally weeks beforehand in a plane crash.

I don't remember if we danced to R. Kelly music at my second wedding the following year, or if the playlist included Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, Usher, Ronald Isley, or any other artist accused of doing "bad things". But I got her point, that we often enjoy the talents of people whom we don't really know, which could make our fandom seem hypocritical if we judged them all as harshly. And to be honest, I can appreciate her dilemma as a fan, since I just acknowledged my current position on watching Bill Cosby and had a similar crisis of conscience years ago when Michael Jackson was accused a second time of molesting a young boy.

I won't explain how I resolved the MJ conflict, but I will say that the not-guilty verdict certainly helped. And unfortunately, so did his death eight years ago. I could offer many of the same arguments about baseless allegations and folks not actually witnessing anything untoward, and if you called me a hypocrite for choosing to remain an unapologetic fan of Jackson's, then you might be right.

So, instead of questioning anyone's values, I will just offer a few questions. How are we supposed to argue that our children deserve protection from predators if we don't protect them? How do we explain why that creepy old ass cousin who always says inappropriate things is still able to live in the basement of Big Mama's house? What do we tell our nieces when they go off to college and experience an unwanted sexual encounter with the star athlete? Do we encourage that talented cousin to seek out the support of a well-connected mentor like R. Kelly or Bill Cosby, and do we allow her to be "groomed" by either? When we see the cuts and bruises that cannot be masked by makeup on our girlfriend, do we suggest that she should just pray over the situation?

I could keep on asking questions. And perhaps there is reasonable answer for each one until we get to the uncomfortable truth.

I made up my mind about R. Kelly when the urination allegation occurred. To date, there has been no reason for me to reconsider that position, despite the fact that plenty of artists continue to work with him. I cannot speak for them, nor am I in a position to question their choices. So I am left with making my own choices, and I am capable of deciding for myself whether an artist deserves anything from me that I am under no obligation to give.

It is courtesy of this episode of The Boondocks and this speech delivered by Huey Freeman that I pose my last open question:

What the hell is wrong with you people?...You a fan of R. Kelly? You want to help R. Kelly? Then get some counseling for R. Kelly! Introduce him to some older women...hide his camcorder. But don't pretend like the man is a hero!

All Things Local

I imagine that there is/was a Jim Vance in most other major metropolitan areas--a local legendary newscaster known for his authenticity, humanity, and plain-speak. The cool guy who remained that way even as the years brought gray hair, fresher faces, and new technology; yet we continued to look for him because he was the guy we knew and trusted.

Among the various names that are synonymous with growing up in DC--Marion Barry, Donnie Simpson, and Chuck Brown, Jim Vance's name definitely comes to mind. Yet in a more subtle way since he was in the news business, so perhaps it would be more appropriate to name a few of his peers: Tony Kornheiser, Maury Povich (yep), Arch Campbell, Bruce Johnston, J.C. Heywood, Maureen Bunyan, Patrick Ellis, Candy Shannon, Pat Collins, Gordon Peterson, Susan Kidd, Courtland Milloy, Donna Britt, Kojo Nnamdi, Diane Rehm, Joe Madison, and Cathy Hughes.

If none of those names resonates for you, that's okay. You probably aren't from DC or maybe you haven't lived here long enough to know why those names are so significant.

Having grown up in a city that most of the rest of the country does not quite understand (which is a discussion for another time), I just want to remind you that we are a distinct place with a local culture. So your congressman who lives here three days a week and then rails about how hard it is to live in Washington? Nope, he doesn't actually live here. Neither do the folks who move into the White House, so as much as we loved Barack Obama, he only just started living here after his term ended.

Because if you grew up here in DC, or if you have lived in this area for any length of time (more than say, 10 years), then you know why everyone is mourning the death of Jim Vance this past weekend.

I am not an obituary writer and I never knew the man personally, so I could not begin to write anything eloquent enough to shed any light on why his impact was so great on this little city. But I can share an anecdote that might illustrate how he endeared himself to us over the years. It was about 20 years ago that Vance served as the Master of Ceremonies for a benefit concert for my Dad and brothers' high school alma mater. He was super cool and handled the task with aplomb. He strolled to the microphone and introduced the headliner, the incomparable Phyllis Hyman (another DC favorite) and could be seen clapping and dancing along with the rest of us during the show. He served as the MC for the next several years, and we looked forward to seeing him as much as the acts, so the year he didn't MC was the last year they held the benefit.

I can tell you that whenever we saw him outside of the job, maybe on the street or at a local function, he was exactly as normal and down-to-earth as he appeared on television. A little over a year ago we saw him at the inauguration of my alma mater's new president in Atlanta, and at some point he spotted my daughter engaged in some typical one-year old toddler behavior. He seemed quite tickled by her antics, and when we saw him again at the end of the program, he offered us that reassuring smile that all veteran parents give to newbies...too bad I was too frazzled and shy to ask him to pose for a photo with us because I KNOW he would have obliged.

I have read the various tributes and accolades and I am cognizant what his passing means to our community, to his colleagues, to his family and friends, and to his profession generally. In addition to sitting behind the anchor desk for as long as I can remember, he was the last man standing from his era as many of his colleagues and peers faded from the scene due to retirements, management changes, and sadly even death. The last time DC mourned a local newscaster like this it was George Michael, Vance's very good friend who passed away a few years ago. From my recollection, Vance offered up a rather stoic on-air tribute but I remember it being classic Vance--he understood the job that he had and the tone that he need to strike in order to do what must have been the unthinkable. It was well-known that Michael had saved both Jim Vance's life and his career back in the 80s.

Those well-documented personal struggles made him even more like us in ways that perhaps we are only now coming to appreciate. His issues were never airbrushed or spun to be anything other than what they were, which is why we regarded him like that favorite uncle who doled out pearls of wisdom while cracking on his wife, right before asking her to bring him a plate. Because we knew him like that, it was no surprise that his image was chosen for inclusion among the various local faces now immortalized on the mural outside of the historic Ben's Chili Bowl uptown. How did we not think of honoring him like that before now?

Thankfully, he got to see how much his city loved him last month at the dedication of the mural. And so we say goodbye to a pioneer of local broadcast journalism, always dapper, poignant, and an all-around cool dude. Be sure to say hello to a few others that have been missed around this way: Max Robinson, Melvin Lindsey, Glenn Brenner, Tim Russert, and of course your BFF George Michael. Godspeed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Facts of Life

A recent debate on FB has opened my eyes to an eventuality--my child will not remain a child forever. At some point, God willing, she will accept potty-training, then she will be arguing with me about what she wants to wear, then she will be telling me what to buy from the makeup counter, then she will want a phone, and by then I might just throw in the towel and let her raise herself (kidding). But you get my point.

And as I marvel at how quickly the time has already passed from her babyhood to toddlerhood, I also think back to my own childhood and marvel at the same rapid progression of time. If she could articulate it for herself, I imagine my Mom has those same feelings (and it makes me misty eyed to realize that).

One day I am going to have to talk to my daughter about sex. Until this past week, that was probably the absolute last thing I worried about since she is two years old. And you might be reading this and thinking: (a) umm, yeah; or (b) why make such a premature declaration given that she can't even say the right word for whatever she is depositing in her diaper?

It started with a debate over an article in a recent issue of Teen Vogue, but it was another unrelated conversation about menstrual cycles that caused this great awakening panic. As far off in the distance I assumed these developments might be, they are not. I have only about six years before I will need to deal with a pre-tween in my household, but that does not mean that I get to breathe easy as there is the matter of my seven year old Niece.

It was just this Spring when she and I got into a debate at the Target over bras and hipster panties. BRAS AND HIPSTER PANTIES AT THE AGE OF 7!!! Yet, I am the same Auntie that routinely bought her Niece two-piece swimsuits because I thought they were cute, so yeah, serves me right. We compromised, but you get where this is going. Not that long ago she was just a baby too. I am not ready.

But I need to be because if trends in the early onset of puberty hold true, there is a strong possibility that it will be an issue for us soon. And as much as I love my mother, her talk with me about menstrual cycles was, umm...terse. Luckily, there was sex education in school that filled in the blanks, but I was so ashamed of what was happening to me that I never even told her when I first got my period at 11 years old. I don't want a repeat of that history for my girls.

And then there is the controversial article in Teen Vogue about anal sex. Opinions may differ about the appropriateness of it (and I haven't read enough of it yet to make a determination), but let's get real. By middle school, our children will no longer be those sweet-faced little innocents that enjoyed dolls and robots. They will have evolved and we will need to be woke. I am not suggesting that we give them porn, but I don't think that we should assume that saying nothing or shielding them will yield the desired results either. Remember those classmates who became teen parents?

Thus, I plan to be prepared. I will read this TV article and possibly collect a few issues to use for future reference materials. I will pull up the You Tube videos of old Cosby Show and Blossom episodes that dealt with menstrual cycles (both featuring my favorite Busy Black Mama, Claire Huxtable aka Phylicia Rashad). I will answer questions to the best of my ability. I will host sleepovers where we can watch marathons of age-appropriate sitcoms like Full House and That's So Raven. Heck, I might even bake cookies!

And right after I repeat the process for my daughter, they can witness how I handle menopause...

Friday, July 14, 2017

Woke on The Fourth of July

My Dad was woke back before we knew that would be the thing to be...because when we were growing up, his woke-ness was uncool. It was the 80s and as a proud, yet jaded veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, he restricted us from participating in anything he deemed to be counter-revolutionary. So we didn't watch the Dukes of Hazzard or any classic cartoons with racial caricatures (at least, not when he was around). He always belonged to a black bank. Our African names, black dolls, and annual observance of African Liberation/Malcolm X Day were nods to his embrace of pan-Africanism before everyone else caught on in the 90s. And my Dad hates Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Elvis Pressley, and Gone With the Wind.

Of course, like most people, his woke-ness could be inconsistent whenever he hit the snooze button. We couldn't play "Cowboys and Indians" although we were avid Washington football fans (even before Doug Williams). He won't celebrate Kwanzaa. For years he thought OJ was framed. And while we could happily spend the day at the beach, eat barbecue, and shoot off our little fireworks on July Fourth, it was never in celebration of America's birthday. So it made me beam with pride upon seeing how so many of my friends posted Frederick Douglass's powerful speech, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro" last week since Daddy had made me read it years ago as part of his stance against celebrating American Independence.

For the record, my take on July Fourth falls somewhere between my Dad's outright hostility and other folks' unbounded enthusiasm. Which means I have no opposition to celebrating the day for what it commemorates, but I reserve the right to remind folks that the struggle for freedom continues. So no, you probably will not catch me wearing my patriotism on my ass like a cheap pair of American flag leggings (made in China). However, I am happy to wave a few sparklers (also made in China) while I recite the words to Langston Hughes' "I, Too" or Claude McKay's "America" or Maya Angelou's "These Yet to be United States". Or even better, as the Toddlersaurus, my Niece, and I belt out our favorite songs from the musical Hamilton.

Just as my Dad and others were disillusioned by the post-Civil Rights era backlash, I can appreciate how disheartening it is to confront the realities of this post-Obama era. From that race-baiting NRA video to the retreat by the Justice Department from protecting the rights of citizens to outright religious intolerance and hostility, it is easy to understand why folks have lost faith. Unfortunately, hypocrisy is as American as pumpkin pie--literally, ever since those eloquent words of equality and liberty were penned by a slaveowner whose "slave mistress" was his wife's half sister.

Despite the wide gulf between our ideals and reality, we too can celebrate America. We can believe in the hope expressed by both the Declaration of Independence and the Frederick Douglass speech because this is our country too. If we can celebrate both men for their greatness while acknowledging their very human weaknesses (Douglass' extracurricular activities), then we must learn to reconcile our disappointments with American shortcomings to our pride in American progress.

Since I mentioned it earlier, it is the genius of Hamilton that reminded me how we are all inheritors of the American legacy. Only in America could a Puerto Rican rapper write a Tony Award-winning musical on the life of an undocumented Caribbean immigrant who ascends from obscurity to notoriety by aligning with a black/brown George Washington. American History is our story too, so marginalizing or othering us doesn't negate that fact.

And in case you might be wondering, I can celebrate America and stay woke. In the words of the prophet known as James Baldwin, "I love America more than any country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."

The Busy Black Woman Circus Act

I was not a big fan of the circus because I am allergic to animals. When I was a kid there was nothing I could take to relieve my misery, so for years I suffered through our annual family excursion to the DC Armory. I swore just two years ago that I would never go back...only to abandon that position when I was offered free tickets (and because now I have pretty good meds).

After the events of the past seven months, I am actually looking forward to going this year. I want to see my Toddlersaurus all hopped up on excitement and cotton candy, but also because I will be checking to see if there are any job openings for jugglers. Of course the competition would be stiff since every other Busy Black Woman has this same skill, officially known as multi-tasking; otherwise known as getting as much done as can be done before someone tosses in another ball/egg/meeting/knife.

I started writing this yesterday morning before I took my daughter to the circus in the evening. Initially, I was reacting to some of the typical nonsense that I encounter, but after seeing the show last night and noting that there were no juggling acts, I had to reconsider what I could actually offer a circus should I decide to make good and run off to join one day.

Since juggling is no longer a talent and obviously wild animals are not my thing (and rather politically incorrect, I might add), I think that with the right amount of conditioning, I could try contortion. Last night, I saw such unnatural body twisting that at one point, I covered my eyes...until I realized that in my efforts to accommodate the needs of so many, I often manage to twist myself into various odd and abnormal shapes.

I could also try some of the daredevil stuff. Busy Black Women have to be fearless pretty much all of the time. I have alluded to this previously, but when faced with the big decisions, somebody has to make the tough calls. To go in without backup, without a safety net, or with minimal support, especially when no one else wants the burden, so I know that I can could make performing a death-defying stunt look easy.

The modern equivalent to juggling is probably the act which featured performers suspended in air by sheets while balancing objects in their mouths. I can't even explain what they were holding, but whatever it was, it was pretty remarkable to watch how these delicate-looking objects never fell. In the Busy Black Woman context, we might compare it to balancing work and family. Imagine yourself tangled up with everything you have to do at your job while holding up your family by just the skin of your teeth. Doesn't that image reflect how life feels at times?

My daughter's favorite part of the evening was the Afro-Caribbean dancing, which seems easy enough but actually represents the hardest thing for Busy Black Women to do--to just let go and enjoy life. Dance, shake, roll, jump, and shout my sisters! For every amazing feat you successfully execute, do a happy dance. And for those stunts that do not work as intended, try again and then do your thankful dance, or just shake it off and dance. You deserve to enjoy life, even in the midst of all its craziness.

See you next year at the circus!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Camptown Races

Apparently the anxiety that results from over-sleeping the morning of your child's first day of camp is extra. So extra that the Hub moves even slower and acts like you've shot his imaginary dog even though he is the one who insists that it only takes him five minutes to get ready (when it is really more like 15, but whatever).

I could go on and outline every single thing that went wrong this morning, but you already know that I overslept. I did wake up at 3 am but for some dumb ass reason, decided not to retrieve my phone (with the alarms preset) from the downstairs charger. When I woke up at my normal time at 6:27am and there was no lunch packed, no labels affixed to identify her stuff, and no conceivable way that we were going to leave the house in an yeah, I was going to be a tad extra. But we made it on time to deliver our package on her first day without incident.

Instead, I will briefly explain why I had to be so extra this morning: (1) yesterday was busy from 8am to whenever I fell asleep in my clothes; (2) the day before was not as busy, but still a little hectic; (3) the day before that was not as busy or as hectic, but it took an unexpected turn which then set the wheels in motion for the next two days; and (4) I perform better under pressure anyway. Oh and there is a fifth reason--I'm extra so I tend to over-prepare (but you already know that).

And well, we made it on time and since no one called to ask me to come get the kid early, I'm guessing she had a pretty good day. Once her father finally pulled himself together and went to work, I got started on a long overdue project that I hope will be completed by the end of the month when camp is over.

So I get to do this all over again tomorrow, and since lightening doesn't tend to strike in the same place twice, I'm going to plan to be a little less extra in the morning.