Sunday, December 31, 2017

The "Thought" That Counts

My little Christmas tree got decorated on December 23rd. I had hoped to have it decorated by the 15th of the month, but I spent most of December sick with one ailment or another--and I'm still not 100%. I still have Christmas cards to mail. Yet, in these last hours of December 31st, I have decided that I have no more fucks to give in 2017. And it doesn't look like there will be anymore to be harvested, at least not until mid 2018:

I should have put this picture in our Christmas newsletter...the one that I wrote, edited, and printed on December 23rd and then sat up until the wee hours of December 24th preparing to be mailed on December 26th. I did that along with all of the laundry (folded and put away). And the shopping for most of the gifts, all of which I wrapped. And the driving that made it possible for us to arrive only five hours late for Christmas Eve instead of seven.

Earlier this month I had been working on a piece about Santa Claus and how to introduce the concept to the Toddlersaurus in an era of woke parenting, but it hasn't come together yet. Now that it is a few hours before midnight on New Year's Eve, I really don't need to revisit the subject again until November of 2018. And it doesn't matter what she believes about that elaborate photo prop from the mall because in time she will know the truth--it is ALL me.

I'm the one who bought that little tree on clearance several years ago to much ridicule, but we've used it for the last seven years. I'm the one who gave a six-foot tree to the parents so that no one else would have to go out to buy a real one at the last minute. (And I would have finished decorating it, but folks got tired. And it sat there in the middle of the living room with no ornaments for days, even though I brought all of the ornaments up from the basement. And several gifts that I purchased and wrapped, still unopened and unclaimed.)

Yes, dear daughter, it is all me. I am the reason why you will have holiday memories and traditions. I am the reason why you will learn the value of giving thoughtful and meaningful gifts instead of a handful of gift cards all bought at the same store. When you are old enough to drink coquito, it will be my recipe that you inherit. I suspect the same held true for my mother and grandmothers, and also for your aunts. Men don't care about rituals unless they involve drinking or watching a game.

According to my unscientific studies on the Christmas traditions followed by other families, it appears that I am not the only woman who plays Santa for her family. If women did not do the baking, the shopping, the planning, and everything else that makes Christmas what we expect it to be from year to year, then there would be no memories to reminisce about or cherish. Without women, Christmas would be Arbor Day.

I could go on to tell you every single task I completed this year, but that is unnecessary. Because I was sick for most of the month and didn't accomplish half of what I did last year when I did all of this. In popular culture, Mrs. Claus doesn't have a consistent back story, and I don't think anyone wants a treatise on the sexism of Christmas mythology. But let me tell you daughter, you can call me Mrs. Claus because every year at Christmas, I sleigh!

Just Another Crappy Day

(I've had writer's block for more than a week, so this might finally be the first of several completed pieces I post over the next few hours.)

I agreed to give a friend a ride to Baltimore on Friday. He offered to take the train to my neighborhood, which would save me an unnecessary trip into downtown and would help to expedite our departure from the city. All I needed to do was to get ready and wait for his call.

Which I did, but of course as soon as I got myself showered and dressed, I received a strange call from a doctor's office about another friend. She's listed me as one of her emergency contacts, so I had to check in with her to make sure that everything was okay. Minor delay, but I kept things moving. At the appointed meeting time when I expected to hear from my other friend, there was nothing, so I decided to get a few additional things ready for our departure (the kid was coming along for the ride). Because the Hub was working from home I assumed that he could help...and he did help the Toddlersaurus into her fleece while I ran around to get everything else done.

In the meantime, my friend arrives at the station. The mailman is extending holiday greetings and noting how much the kid looks just like me. The Hub isn't wearing any shoes so I have to pack the kid and all of our extraneous stuff into the car. I am now 20 minutes late (of course, he was 20 minutes late first, but that is a minor point). He needs to be in Baltimore in 20 minutes. It takes that long to reach the Parkway. At some point during our ride, I detect a faint odor, but there is nothing I can do about it until we reached our destination.

Another friend calls while we are en route, and knowing that she will need something, I let her call go to voicemail. I deliver my mercurial friend to his appointment 45 minutes late. Just as we pull up to the front door, there is an ominous, yet familiar sound that vibrates the entire car from the back seat. Both of us turn to look at the Toddlersaurus in acknowledgement.

Busy Black Women plan ahead. So there is a change of clothes, extra diapers and wipes, and a puffy winter coat all in the backseat of the car. We are at a hotel, and I find a convenient parking spot in the adjacent alley. But I misjudge the severity of the situation and leave everything but an extra pair of pants and an extra diaper in the car. And to make matters worse, I also leave my ginormous Mom bag behind, so all I carry inside with me is the diaper clutch.

The concierge directs us to the Ladies Room and as soon as we got inside, it is clear that I am ill-prepared. The kid is covered in shit. She is essentially baptized in shit that has permeated three layers of clothing. Shit that didn't even smell, but still, torso to toes SHIT. And while you might think it was lucky that I brought in that extra pair of pants and that extra diaper, well that it was dumb luck since the wipes in her diaper clutch WERE FROZEN! And did I mention that she shit through THREE LAYERS of clothing down to her socks?

Busy Black Women are crisis managers, so with all of my backup supplies in the car; with my friend in the next room full of strangers presiding over a wedding rehearsal that started an hour late; and with a naked kid half covered in shit, I concoct a plan. There are plenty of paper towels on the counter and the water from the sink isn't too cold. The wipes thaw enough under the running water from the faucet for me to wipe the shit from her sensitive areas. She is wearing a clean diaper, a pair of clean pants, and a fleece that can suffice for a quick trip back to the car to deposit the shitty clothes and swap out for the clean extras and another pack of wipes. And we can do this before the car gets ticketed and/or towed (private lot) in fifteen minutes, tops...

Make that 20 minutes after the hotel maid, a couple of guests, and the concierge all poke their heads into the bathroom to inquire about the Toddlersaurus' inconsolable cries. After she refuses to let me open her diaper for a more thorough cleaning. After she collapses to the restroom floor in an unbuttoned onesie, refusing to put on any additional clothes. So I did what any other Busy Black Woman would do in this situation--I drag her half-dressed screaming ass out of the hotel. Damn if I get ticketed/towed because this child insists that she doesn't need to wear anything other than her fleece, an unbuttoned onesie, and a pair of $5 yoga pants from J.C. Penny's in below-freezing weather in fucking Baltimore!

Of course back in the car, Princess Poopsie is all calm while eating her snacks and listening to her Daniel Tiger music. So I return the call of the friend who had called and texted and called me during the bathroom ordeal. She has texted a request for my assistance with something for next week. Then my Dad calls to check in and to make his weekly request that I move heaven and earth, when I find the time. And since I always get turned around when trying to leave Baltimore, I'm hoping that another long drive will put the kid to sleep. It doesn't until four hours later.

Moral to the story: I agree to do shit, but other shit comes up. Shit intervenes and causes delays. Messy shit permeates everything. Shit is complicated, unexpected, and inevitable. Shit never goes according to plan. Shit happens.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

If You Really Want to Protest...

As a woman raised on protest, I was amused by the proposed silent protest some actresses might wage at the upcoming Golden Globes. Like really, whose bright idea was it to suggest that everyone wear black? I got more of a chuckle when I read actress Rose McGowan's response until I realized that she probably wasn't nominated for any Golden Globes, so she doesn't have a designer dog in this fight anyway. Not that it matters because I don't even have a mutt in that fight.

But I am going to offer up some free advice to any Hollywood actress who wants to engage in some kind of symbolic gesture at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony on January 7:
  1. Don't go. Especially if you weren't nominated for anything.
  2. Don't go. Even if you were nominated for something.
Okay, see how easy that is?

Now, I realize skipping the ceremony is the most radical choice to make. For some of you, this might be the biggest moment of your careers so not attending probably isn't an option. Thus, I have better advice for those who need to go but still want to raise a fancy manicured fist against the ills that plague our society (and not just Hollywood).

Go on and wear black, just not some high fashion couture little black dress. Wear a Black Lives Matter tee with your knitted pink pussy hat and a pair of jeans that were made here in the USA. In your acceptance speeches, please remind folk to register and vote in the 2018 midterm elections. And instead of eating that expensive meal during the ceremony that was probably prepared and served to you by underpaid immigrant labor with families who live with the threat of deportation by the current Administration's goon squad aka ICE agents, donate that food to a battered women's shelter. Instead of going to one of the fancy after-parties to booze it up, channel that money towards paying the bail for parents who have been incarcerated for petty offenses but weren't able to get out of jail because the fines are too high.

See, those are just a few of the alternative ways that you can protest that will actually make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society. There are genuine sacrifices you can make that can demonstrate how this moment of reckoning over sexism isn't just a public confessional.

Obviously, your industry isn't the cause of our society's ills. But Hollywood prides itself on being the vanguard of change. It prides itself on representing how art can heal and educate to close divisions in our culture. So this is your grand moment. Give those Hollywood Foreign Press folks something to write about other than fashion hits and misses. Give them real drama to report, and not a glorified Twitter beef among actresses about who knew what, when they knew, and why they waited to come forward.

That isn't to marginalize the scandal, but protest isn't about spitting in the eye of dethroned despots. You don't need to wear designer black dresses to mourn the demise of Harvey Weinstein, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Russell Simmons or any other powerful man who has been outed for his wanton predatory behavior. Save your fancy black cocktail frocks and your Swarovski encrusted safety pins for a benefit to raise money for the people of Puerto Rico still living with NO ELECTRICITY. Or auction it off as a fundraiser for any one of the thousands of political neophytes who are stepping up to answer the call to public service.

Protest is about speaking truth to power. So if you really want to take a stand at the Golden Globes or at any other awards show that congratulates your industry for all of its do-goodness, then speak out against the lack of diversity among the nominees for these awards. Ask yourselves why very little ever changes in terms of representation of and opportunities for people of color at all levels of the industry. Your personal assistant, your nanny, your driver, your security detail, your makeup artist, your personal trainer, and all of the other support staff that help to facilitate your fabulous life might all be people of color, but what do you know about their lives? Did those people all come to Hollywood to serve you...or did they have other dreams?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Red Beans and Rice Mondays: The BBW Christmas Playlist (2017)

I feel like I was such a crank last year and might have given the wrong impression concerning my feelings about this time of year. I don't hate Christmas...that much. Even though I did write this, which was apparently more popular than the follow-up. And I wrote this a few years earlier (and yes, I am also repeating myself).

To avoid being the Grinch again this year, I wanted to write a feel-good post that focused on the good things I enjoy about the season, but I already did that. So instead of repeating myself (again), I am offering up a few suggestions from my Busy Black Woman Christmas playlist (which happens to be a much longer list than my top three most annoying songs I posted to the FB page by the way, so be still my Grinchy heart). 

Silent Night, Temptations
For most of the people I know, if you haven't heard this song at least once a day during the month of December, then Christmas just ain't Christmas. Black radio stations start playing this song the day after Thanksgiving at least once a day, then gradually increase frequency until the week before when it must be played at least once every two hours. I assume those 24 hour Christmas stations play it at least once a day.

Unrelated aside: I was perplexed by the accompanying montage on in, this has to be one of the blackest Christmas songs ever, so where is the black baby Jesus??? Here's one (because you're going to need His image in your head as we continue on with this list) :

The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole
No, it isn't called "Chestnuts" which is what I called it when I was younger. Nat King Cole is absolute perfection.

This Christmas, Donny Hathaway
Again, in the category of Blackest Christmas songs you will ever hear, Donny Hathaway's classic is in heavy rotation on the R&B Christmas playlists. If you prefer anybody else's inferior version, it probably won't revoke your invitation to the ugly sweater party, but maybe it should.

Santa Baby, Eartha Kitt
This is the definitive rendition. Every other version you've heard is trash, especially Madonna's.

Christmas Ain't Christmas, The O'Jays
This is classic brown liquor R&B Christmas music. The kind of song that is playing in the background when the old folks in your family have retreated to the basement to play spades. Stick around if you can, and you'll probably learn several family secrets.

Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, James Brown
This song is the reason why black parents traipse all over town to find the black Santa.

All I Want for Christmas, Mariah Carey
I actually don't love this song at all. It could just as easily go on a list of most annoying songs. But it happens to be a very catchy tune, and if I'm in the right mood, I will happily sing along.

What Christmas Means to Me, Stevie Wonder
There are no good reasons to ever remake a Stevie Wonder song, unless you happen to be Stevie Wonder. He didn't remake this song, which is brilliant, but he did remake Someday at Christmas with  Andra Day, which is a pretty damn good remake.

White Christmas, The Drifters
I love this song. You love this song. Everybody loves this song.

Sleigh Ride, The Ronettes
On the list of confessions I could make about this song, let's start with the fact that I had NO idea that the Ronettes were a black group until ten years ago! Not that it matters because I loved this song enough to download it to my original Christmas play list. In some ways, that proves music is universal and can bridge all kinds of divides...

So speaking of mind-blowing racial revelations (because this topic came up on Facebook and Very Smart Brothas last week), Bobby Caldwell is still white. And though this song isn't technically on the playlist, his duet with Vanessa Williams on Baby It's Cold Outside is one of the superior versions, and yes it is still creepy as f**k.

Behold the Lamb, Kirk Franklin and the Family
I know I just abruptly switched to religious music after faux cursing, but this song gives me chills and makes me cry and it is one of the best Christmas songs ever. I just learned that David and Tamela Mann were the soloists, and I still love it!

Joy to the World, Whitney Houston
It's no shock that this song made the list because it comes from the best-selling gospel album of all time (still holds that distinction after all these years). This is Whitney Houston in her element and it shows.

Unrelated aside: I just watched The Bishop's Wife with Carey Grant, which was just meh, so stick to the Denzel Washington/Whitney Houston remake. And while we're on the subject of black Christmas movies, I just need to highlight Langston Hughes' Black Nativity as an alternative to any Madea Christmas movie you might be tempted to watch as an alternative to any Hallmark movie you might be tempted to watch.

Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration
This is the best song to end this playlist because it truly captures every sentiment of the season--triumphant, inspirational, and joyful...and hopefully it reminds you of the reason why we celebrate this time of year. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Fight on Black Women

This is not going to be another piece that offers high fives and chest bumps to black people for that nail-biter of an election "victory" that occurred in Alabama. Nor is this going to be the piece I intended to write months ago on the "role" of Omarosa Manigault Newman, formerly of the current Administration. This is actually a warning. The events of the last 24 hours have convinced me that if black women are the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to issues involving this country, then your President threw down a gauntlet today.

Admittedly, it has been fun to wonder why Omarosa had a job in the Administration from jump. If we look back to her tenure on the very first season of Trump's reality show The Apprentice, we all remember her as the villainess who sabotaged every teammate, especially Kwame Jackson in the finale. We also know that she went on to appear on several other reality shows where she essentially perfected the persona of the mean black bitch. And then we know that she starred on a single season of her own forgettable reality show, sponsored by Trump, as a knock-off of The Bachelorette. And then she went to divinity school, inherited all of Michael Claude Duncan's money, and then she ended up back at Trump's side as his liaison to black folks during his presidential bid in 2016.

Earlier this year, Omarosa got into a spat with journalist April Ryan (which was supposed to be the subject of the piece I wanted to write about her), and then with the National Association of Black Journalists, and then with the current chief of staff--all of which should have provided credible reasons for her to have been fired. She garnered more press for her shenanigans than for delivering anything of substance. Yet she got dumped within twelve hours of Doug Jones' victory speech. The Trumpet tweeted an odd note of congratulations, and while every black friend I have on FB did a church holy dance, I sat still to wait for the other shoe to drop.

My spidey sense tells me that while we all long ago wrote Omarosa off as merely an ornate vase that couldn't display anything, the Trumpet kept her around because he assumed that she really might have some sway in the black community. As the one recognizable black person who was willing to serve as his emissary, her presence was meant to disprove the alternative fact of his racism. Perhaps even her new husband could work with like-minded brethren to persuade their meager flocks to follow along for the ultimate payoff. But when those election returns showed how 97% of the black women who voted in Alabama yesterday supported Doug Jones, and then were universally applauded for keeping Roy Moore out of the Senate, Omarosa's uselessness became evident.

Men like Trump who have no respect for women, hold the women who have no respect for him in special disdain. Witness how vulgar his statements were about Kirsten Gillibrand, Carmen Yulin Cruz, Frederica Wilson, and every other woman since he flamed Rosie O'Donnell. Knowing that he can't come out and say something truly vile about thousands of black voters, he can strike out at the only black woman in his orbit and allow her fall to represent his first strike against the rest of us. Especially those in power...

Like each of the recently elected mayors of major cities where his Department of Justice sent word that they plan to withhold funds from any of them that declare themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. Any crimes that he can mischaracterize as weakness will be exaggerated  to undermine and de-legitimize them just as he relentlessly trolled President Obama. He will use every opportunity to paint black mothers as failures if any of our children become casualties of street violence. He will never call for police to reform lethal tactics and he will reward departments that move aggressively to contain black protest. There will be no federal legislative action on gun violence prevention as long as he can invoke images of urban unrest and pathology.

Not that he hasn't been setting the groundwork to do all of this and more while Omarosa's stunting azz was sitting over in the Old Executive Office Building giving herself unearned honorifics and ordering crap from Amazon Prime. It doesn't matter if you believe that she was fired or if she resigned because the only difference is the color of the paper upon which the letter was written.

And one last point about this victory lap folks want to take around the state of Alabama...don't be the crowd that lines the sides of the race to cheer on the runners. It is way past time that black women (and black men and other people of color) who live in these states began to strap up. We can be encouraged and cajoled to get out the vote every two to four years to elect somebody else, or we look inside our churches, sororities and fraternities, alumni associations, Mocha Mom and Jack and Jill Chapters, and PTAs to support the folks whom we already know can handle the job. The husband of one of my classmates ran for that same Alabama Senate seat as a long shot--but he ran. My hope is that he will get another chance to serve the people of his community in some significant capacity. And maybe he will be joined by more than a few of those thousands of black women who voted on Tuesday.

And maybe, Omarosa can finally get a real job.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Our Regards to Anita Hill

This morning began with the announcement that the TIME Magazine Person of the Year is actually the group of silence-breakers (mostly women) who have captured our collective attention since October over the issue of sexual harassment/abuse in the workplace. By mid-afternoon, a friend was taking a FB poll to inquire the path forward for embattled Sen. Al Franken amidst more allegations of inappropriate sexual advances.

Y'all, this is not going away.

So I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe to Professor Anita Hill, the woman who brought forth allegations of sexual harassment against her former boss, Clarence Thomas, during his Senate confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court. Her effort was unsuccessful and would have been largely forgotten, but as we now see, it was her public sacrifice so many years ago that has helped to pave the way for this moment.

By the time anyone reads this, it is possible that Franken would have decided to resign his seat. It is also quite possible that by the time a decent number of people have read this, Al Franken would not have resigned, but Roy Moore would have given a defiant and smug victory speech. Or maybe Al Franken would be gone, Roy Moore would have lost, and Melania Trump would have spoken out against bullies and we finally believed her sincerity.

None of that matters, though, because the winds of change are blowing and the days when unacceptable and inappropriate behavior in public spaces is tolerated in order to keep things moving are coming to an end. It might not end tomorrow, or next week, or even by the mid-term elections next November. But change is coming.

I was a college student in 1991 when Clarence Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court. I remember how initially, there was a cautious mood about that choice because President Bush had nominated a black conservative to replace the legendary Thurgood Marshall. I caught the irony of his selection but did not fully grasp the stakes of this maneuver until the allegations came from Professor Hill. And suddenly, it felt like we were caught between the prospect of seeing Marshall's seat go to someone else (white), or have it 'maintained' by a black man even if his ideology was problematic, all because she had the audacity to dredge up the past.

I thought about this situation anew when I responded to my friend's post on FB about Franken. I thought about the fact that there have been plenty of situations where women have been asked to remain silent, or have been told to stay quiet, or it has been demanded that we shut the fuck up. Assign your own historical analogies to each one of those statements, but I distinctly remember how my righteous young Morehouse brethren argued that the seat being vacated by Marshall had to be filled by another black man, regardless of his disturbing flaws. Some questioned whether Hill had been harassed or if this had been an office romance gone bad. Others suggested that she was just mad because Thomas' wife was white.

In hindsight, the seeds were sown. Her complaints would not bear fruit, and we've had all the proof we need that Clarence Thomas was not a worthy successor to Thurgood Marshall. Yet, we know that for every young impressionable woman like me who witnessed her public humiliation and his elevation at her expense and spent the last 25+ years watching this cycle rinse, wash, and repeat; for those of us who have wondered whether our silence/tolerance in fact made things worse for this next generation of young women if nothing has changed; and for the women who realize that every concession made for the sake of keeping the peace, political expediency, waiting our turn, etc. is BULLSHIT--yeah, it's time to clean house.

Al Franken can go. He can endorse a woman to replace him, and then campaign on her behalf. He can write her speeches. He and Garrison Keillor can sit by Lake Wobegon and think up a quirky new show for satellite radio. Save the arguments about taking one for the team, or the unfairness of it all if the President gets to stay in office. This isn't about the Trumpet right now, but trust that his day is coming. This isn't about fairness is about justice.

Anita Hill was seeking justice when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and it was denied to her and every other woman in the workplace until this recent wave. If she had been taken seriously, then powerful men might have known how intolerable certain behavior is and maybe we wouldn't have to endure this painful moment of watching so many fall from grace. Justice for Anita Hill in 1991 might have meant that all these men whose careers we are eulogizing now might have unfolded quite differently.

Anita Hill doesn't need to be featured on the cover of TIME or named the Person of the Year. Justice is so much better.