Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Thousand Words

This picture has already inspired at least a 1000 words and nods in agreement by parents of all stripes because it is so perfect:

Beyonce is giving Blue the look. The look that warns the child(ren) and everyone else in the immediate vicinity that shit is about to pop off if this child/these children don't calm the f*** down. No child is exempt from that look, not even Blue Ivy, dressed in her couture on national TV with her mouth stuffed with animal crackers.

I see a lot more going on in this picture. I see Jay positioned between Bey and Blue as if to call a truce so that he can pay attention to the awards show that was snubbing him. I see his arms crossed as he tries to ignore that his daughter is making a face of mischief and his wife has caught her. I see him sitting there unengaged and thinking about a potential Blake Griffin trade to Detroit.

I see Blue sitting there dressed in white, looking angelic, but quietly plotting a revolt. I see Blue about to whine that she is bored and wants to go home. I see Blue thinking "is any of this about me right now" and then remembering the ice cream Jay promised to get her if she behaves. I see Blue's cheeks puffed up with snack or with air, and if air, she's about to blow out an audible sigh that signals to everyone within earshot that the countdown to meltdown has begun.

I see Beyonce wearing shades, which goes great with her outfit, but that also camouflages the eye bags that have come with having a set of baby twins and a five year old. I see her cornrows and that hat, so I know that she and her stylist decided that since her outfit slays, she could get away with the classic black church lady hat trick. I see her brain plotting all the ways she will make Jay miserable for not stopping this picture:

Because she is thinking, why am I holding the damn snacks? I'm wearing this expensive dress and you are wearing a turtleneck with a tuxedo, the same tux that you've been wearing for years. And wtf, how did you let them take this picture of me? Jay? Jay! Alright...fine! And Blue is thinking, I got my snacks, later I'm getting ice cream because Daddy promised and Mommy said if I don't get dirty, Daddy will buy me another pony, so YAY! Meanwhile Jay is thinking, could I seriously run for President in 2020? Could I beat Oprah? Let me call Barack this week to see what he thinks. Better yet, that's the title of my next album! And Imma get Kendrick on it too.

But take heart Bey, we feel you. The Mom-Diva life is hard work, but you're an inspiration and a pro, so werk!

Black Unicorn

I am going to start calling myself a black unicorn because I am the only black stay at home mother I know. I am the only stay at home mother I know.

Instead of launching into a description of my most recent day from hell (because how interesting and typical would that be), I thought that I would acknowledge the fact that these especially hellish days give me some interesting anecdotes to share. It's as if I have a personal muse who thinks that an insane Charlie Foxtrot kind of day is great material instead of the bane of my freaking existence.

My day began to spiral downhill as I sat across the room from the judgmental corps of ballet moms who never seem to be able to speak to me even though they see me every blessed week. And today would have been another typical day of them treating me like an eyesore, but then something interesting happened...two of the new mothers (with brown children) came over to speak. As if they implicitly understood how I feel by the end of every class.

Telling the Hub about their micro-aggressive behavior is pointless. His suggestion is to let him take the kid to class so that the mean moms can ignore him instead of me...

Being a black unicorn means that people regard you with skepticism because your kid doesn't go to day care. And you feel useless because you once had your own name that didn't end in the word Mom. Or you feel inadequate because not working looks like the real problem might be your inability to multitask since everybody else seems to manage a job. But of course you know that isn't true because your plate includes caregiving. And being that friend who always shows up. Or that sister who takes up the slack so that everyone else can live their lives without feeling any additional pressure.

Being a black unicorn is to know that no one is paying to see you attempt to jump through fiery hoops and end up with your tail singed. If you are going out in a blaze of glory, it had better be because you exploded in a hailstorm of gold glitter, diamonds, and bitcoins.

Being a black unicorn means that you expect to draw attention to yourself, or stated differently, you don't expect that you can just fade into the wallpaper. You stand out all of the time, so you've learned to work with it. Yet, you are an introvert so it takes a lot of energy to show up. And you're always late.

Being a black unicorn is taking a chance on yourself, even if you have to do so by yourself. It is recognizing that the constant doubt, anxiety, and lack of confidence are just accessories. You can take off anything that makes you too self-conscious. You can blend in the makeup so that it looks more natural. With practice, your performance will be better than you thought it would be. And then again, maybe it won't come together so you will just try something else the next time. You always try; you are persistent.

Being a black unicorn means that you are an eternal optimist, in spite of everything. Your daughter will grow out of those annoying collapsing tantrums or she will learn that you will leave her splayed out in the middle of the floor. You are strong enough to haul tons of emotional and physical loads that others have deemed unwieldy. You are that friend, that sister, that chick who can, so that's why you don't work for someone else--you are too busy building your empire. You and your black unicorn filly intimidate those ballet moms, those playground moms, those library moms, and those moms who wear yoga clothes all day.

So tonight you're sharpening your horn because tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hollywood Hunger Games, Take 2

In my last piece, I had just begun to scratch the surface of my Oscar issues, but I was on a self-imposed deadline and had to get it done. But now that the nominations have been announced (which I will address soon enough), I wanted to finish a few of my incomplete thoughts about the pay issue that Mo'Nique raised.

So Mo'Nique is an Oscar winner, not just another nominee. Mo'nique might be a pill to work with, but so far I haven't seen a lot to prove that, other than the fact that she's not working that much these days. And perhaps that is the reason why Netflix wanted to showcase her talents, to give her a chance at a comeback. Yeah...

I am not a Mo'Nique fan (I hated that show The Parkers), but I am big on fairness and what I'm reading and seeing is a lot of unfairness at her expense. I can accept arguments that she is a diva, but so is Mariah Carey and I bet nobody would low-ball her in spite of her spotty performance record of late. So what gives?

Thus, I return to an earlier point that I raised earlier, which is for all the activism and toppling of heads going on in Hollywood these past few months over sexual harassment, the next frontier is pay equity. I cited the recent example of Michelle Williams, but did not get to mention Wanda Sykes because her struggle is actually where the rubber meets the road, in my opinion. Because if a working actress/comedian like Sykes who has name recognition, is currently working on a hit TV show (while doing voiceovers on cartoon shows), and who also happens to be an activist got offered less than this guy to do a comedy special...then we've got a long road ahead.

One of the articles I read in relation to the pay gap issue cited the curious case of Emma Stone, another Oscar winner whose male co-stars have reportedly taken pay cuts on her behalf. There have been recent headlines about the ongoing negotiations involving Golden Globe winner, Tracee Ellis Ross (also on blackish) with respect to her pay. These are not unworthy women asking for something they didn't earn, so again it begs the question--what do these awards mean if women have to go through so many changes to reap financial benefits on par with their male peers?

While dissing Mo'Nique for being messy and loud, we're just reinforcing sexism at its basic level, which is also about limiting a woman's economic determination. In addition to the physical and emotional damage inflicted when a woman stays on a job to maintain a standard of living in spite of hostile working conditions, she is also expected to be grateful for the opportunity to be offered less money than someone else for the same work. So everyone who is out there taking pot shots at Mo'Nique for refusing to compromise for the sake of a paycheck, explain to your daughters and nieces exactly why sexism persists.

BECAUSE WE ACCEPT IT. We rationalize it. We uphold it. And we find any number of ways to discredit the women who fearlessly stand up instead of joining their challenge to the status quo! Y'all are quick to criticize white women's feminism (which is fair game in certain respects, though not in all), but don't recognize the short-comings of our own internalized oppression. Mo'Nique put in the damn work to win that Oscar, and the fact that it was nearly ten years ago does not negate that truth. Remember when Dave Chappelle fled to Africa nearly 15 years ago? But he can make a joke about what he did and it is worth $20 million. Ok.

For the record, I don't have Netflix, so I guess I'm participating in the boycott by default. And I am hopeful that more actresses (and athletes, and CEOs, and women working in Silicon Valley) will speak out against pay inequity like Patricia Arquette did in 2015 (even if it was inartful, clumsy, and self-serving) because that is how the Time's Up message will transcend beyond attire worn on the red carpet, water cooler gossip, and social media activism.

Hollywood Hunger Games

Later this morning, the annual orgy of Oscar speculation will begin and I have several issues to air before the names are officially announced.

Let's start with one of those lists of great-movies-everyone-must-see that popped up on a search engine last week. Ordinarily, I would not have taken note of such obvious click bait, but curiosity compelled me and so down the rabbit hole I went. At first I took note of the fact that I hadn't seen nor heard of half of these films. Then I noted that only one was different than the others (reminiscent of #Oscarssowhite) and I had never heard of that one either.

The other 36 films fit the traditional mode of Hollywood classics: sentimental film buff favorites like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Casablanca; films directed by icons like Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles; and films that featured big name stars like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart. Of course I expect these lists are going to include these usual suspects, and I have nothing against acknowledging their work. But it just seems as if there is an intentional effort by some of these writers to forget that there was significant and ground-breaking work done by people of color that is equal to many of the so-called classics. Perhaps that is just my opinion, so I have posted a list of my choices at the end of this piece.
Then maybe the same day, Mo'Nique started trending on my timeline and wow, what in the world happened to her? Are we really watching her urge for a boycott of Netflix on social media? Did no one on her staff try to dissuade her from touching that third rail AGAIN?

Several of my friends, other fellow comedians, and probably random folks off the street would argue that Mo'Nique has been full of herself for some time and perhaps this offer is appropriate for someone who needs to rebuild her brand as a comic. By the time Luvvie weighed in, I had already come to the conclusion that this was ironic on multiple levels, beginning with the main reason why Mo'Nique is so pissed. She's got an Oscar, which is something those other folks who are being offered millions don't have. In the real world, that gold statuette is supposed to mean something.

And as we find ourselves in the midst of awards season with folks actively campaigning for nominations and votes, it would follow that winning one does mean something. It should mean that someone like Mo'Nique should not be complaining on social media or black radio about a pay discrepancy that is disrespectful to her stature in the Academy. Because if she had accepted that offer, Netflix definitely would have touted her trophy in its marketing and promotions.

Of course the truth is that Mo'Nique has no real status in the Academy. Apparently, she never had enough juice to overcome the self-inflicted damage she caused to her own career by bad-mouthing the likes of Tyler Perry, Lee Daniels, and the Oprah. And unfortunately, we know from the Harvey Weinstein saga that the Hollywood blacklist is real--failing to pleasure him derailed the career of Mira Sorvino, who won in the same category in 1995.

(For the record, may I point out the irony of how Mo'Nique had the nerve to blow up, become a diva, win an Oscar, but can't make salary demands because she pissed off the three most powerful black folks in Hollywood? Marinate on that for a second.)

"It's an honor just to be nominated," we're told when someone is asked how it feels. And I guess that is true, but the honor does not appear to have much impact on the pay scale, which brings me to the next level of irony I noted this past weekend. The Screen Actors' Guild, which aired its award show on Sunday night is a union. And one of the selling points of union membership is collective bargaining for wages. And while a contract awarded to an individual A/B-list actor will certainly exceed the scale that would be offered to an extra nobody like me, the salary offered to stars often becomes public knowledge. Which leads me to question how effective SAG has been in dealing with the inequities of pay involving actresses...

Just last week that we learned that Michelle Williams, a multiple award nominee, got paid a mere pittance in comparison to her co-star, Mark Wahlberg who has not been similarly acknowledged. So while Hollywood is all abuzz with various forms of activism these days, are y'all truly marching to change the system? Because Oscar ain't nothing but a naked gold-plated dude.

Enough of that (for now)...here are the five films I would add to any of those essential movies lists:

Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Carmen Jones (1954)
West Side Story (1961)
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
Sounder (1972)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Be It Resolved

It's a few days after the first of the year, and I want to start on a positive note by setting my aspirations for the New Year (these are not resolutions):

1. Build my brand. I didn't meet a lot of my expansion objectives for 2017 for a variety of reasons, but I did write a LOT and I vamped up my social media presence. I'm proud of the fact that I am building an audience, so instead of trying to branch off in new directions, I will focus on doing what I do best. I have taken some steps to engage offline through merchandise, so maybe a few of you will buy something to keep the student loan sharks happy.

2. Forgive those who have hurt me. There are quite a few folks in this category, so I am going to forgive those who pissed me off in 2017. Forgiveness is not the same as forgetfulness, but I refuse to lose any more sleep or gain another pound from toting around anger and frustration.

3. Sow seeds to bless others. I am not asking for anything in return, nor am I expecting anything, but I have learned that generosity is its own reward (try it and you will see what I mean).

4. Eat better. In order to shed the weight that I gained from being so angry for the better part of 2017, I need to change my eating habits. Since the kid likes fruit and veggies, I guess we will eat more of the same. I just need to trick her into drinking more water. Of course, this means I need to cook more.

5. Regular exercise. Continuing with dance classes has been a challenge with a busy Toddlersaurus, but I can walk. I just need to find the right spots to take the kid. I began my year with a 5k walk on New Year's Day, so I just need to keep up that momentum (and buy more cold weather gear).

6. Make more me time. There is a lot I could say about self-care, and after reading this article by Karen Wilder, I don't need much convincing. But in addition to taking time to relax, I actually need to find a way to disconnect. I never got much of a break from being a parent to a toddler and being a caregiver. This year I've got to do better.

7. Quality time with my parents. I had three friends lose a parent last year. Not that I don't spend a lot of time with my parents as it is, but those losses made me rethink the type of time I spend with my parents, most of which is just sitting around. Mobility had been an issue in taking my Mom places, made more challenging with a rambunctious child. But somehow, I need to figure things out. Even if that means I have to occasionally endure three-hour outings to Red Lobster.

8. Reengage in the good fight. I made some small steps in that direction this fall, and I hope to continue. I miss being involved, but I also need to accept that I don't have the flexibility or availability that I used to have. So that means more focus. It also means that I need to be okay with pulling out my checkbook in lieu of showing up places.

9. Reorganize my life. From top to bottom.

10. Jump in. I was discouraged too many times by looking at updates on Facebook of other people's lives and adventures. The vacations. The parties. The squad goals. Well, my goal is not to be envious of what I see, nor is it to make anyone else envious of my life. The goal is simply to live my life on my own terms. I will make choices according to what I can do, but also according to what I want to do. I've already set my sights on a major travel goal this year, and I will make it happen because life is too short to spend it saving for rainy days that come and go while I gawk at Facebook or Instagram photos.