Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Fried Chicken Wednesday: The Oprah Turns 65!

I should know this date on general principle, and I should be ashamed that I was caught unprepared, but January 29 is a BBW National Holiday. The Oprah, our High Priestess/Fairy Godmother/BFF4L celebrates a milestone birthday and in honor of this auspicious occasion, I decided to provide a top ten list of favorite Oprah moments on the Facebook page. Then as an impulse, I decided to share this list here on the blog, just in time for a revival of our favorite midweek indulgence of fried chicken. In keeping with that theme, here are ten momentous events of her career--boneless chicken fingers served with a special sauce that only the Oprah can serve. 

1. You Get a Car!
Now that the federal government shutdown has been temporarily suspended...I decided to announce the details of my upcoming Busy Black Woman Gift Away (coming in February), so it seemed fitting to highlight this Oprah moment. Because this was Oprah at her Oprest--when she gave every member of her audience a car, for no reason other than their mere presence in the studio that day, and the fact that she was the Oprah:

2. The Wagon of Fat
Oprah's fluctuating weight was one of those constant topics that was integral to the success of her show. It made her seem like an every woman--someone who despite the appearance of success, had regular struggles. It was inconceivable that a public figure could gain weight without it having a negative impact on their career, except Oprah. It only seemed to endear her to her audience. So when she wheeled out that wagon of fat in her Calvin Klein jeans, it was a moment. Then when she gained it all back, we could all relate. Unfortunately, it became the fodder used against her by her detractors, like this skit on In Living Color (for which Kim Wayans later apologized). Her weight issues also contributed to the narrative that she was a modern-day Mammy figure.

While I don't have the capacity to unpack that historical baggage or to confront the sexism implicit in the ridicule Oprah has faced over her weight, let me just return to my initial point. Weight loss and self-esteem are ongoing struggles for most women, which makes her human.

3. The Legends Ball
I am eagerly awaiting the day when Oprah announces a Regular People Ball, but I guess that was the entire point of her talk show. Since I missed that, maybe I will get blessed with a chance to Live My Best Life one of these days, or better yet, maybe I'll get invited to her next Legends Ball instead.

4. Oprah adopts a Village of African Girls
In fact, Oprah did not adopt a village, but she did open a school in South Africa. But honestly, what's the difference?


5. Oprah adopts a College of African American Men
Again, Oprah did not adopt the entire student body, but Morehouse College has been the beneficiary of her philanthropy for 30 years. Here is the tribute the 415 scholars organized in her honor during the final season of her talk show (and I happen to know a couple of those brothers, so this makes me ugly cry too). #Payitforward #HBCUJustGive

6. Auntie Oprah at the Royal Wedding
Meghan Markle may have only had her mother, Doria Ragland, to represent her American family, but Auntie Oprah was there, so it all worked out.

7. Oprah's Theme Song
Depending on how old you were when the Oprah Winfrey Show aired, this was the Oprah music that you came home to. Later there was the saxophone version of I'm Every Woman, a Paul Simon 10th anniversary version, and then the Patti LaBelle version which were all perfectly fine. But then she got it in her head to sing her own song (with a video too)! My DC peeps should recognize this version, a cover by go-go royalty Rare Essence (you hit the big time whenever there is a go-go cover of your song.)

8. Beloved
If no one did it better than the Oprah, no one did it worst than her either. During the initial era of her book club, Oprah often introduced audiences to authors that were not in the mainstream, including such names as Pearl Cleage, Wally Lamb, Barbara Kingsolver, and James Frey. (And in a moment that could stand alone as one of the most painful, here is Frey, forever remembered as the author who had to publicly apologize to the Oprah for fabricating his memoir on her show).

Author Toni Morrison was a particular Oprah favorite, even though she was not an unknown and had won every major literature prize, including the Nobel. Nevertheless, the Oprah had decided to bring Morrison's Beloved to audiences in a film in 1998. In which she would star and produce and hand-select all of the cast. Now maybe that is an exaggeration, but it is true that the movie flopped.

So I have a few confessions to make about this book and movie, beginning with the fact that I, English major in college and daughter of a self-proclaimed Toni Morrison scholar, COULD NOT FINISH THIS BOOK. I haven't even tried since my first three or four attempts. I only saw this film once, and probably will never try again. Those are not necessarily statements about the book or the movie, but perhaps about me. So Please Oprah, don't make me apologize in front of an audience for not living up to your standards.

9. Gayle and Stedman
Oprah's success has meant that we have to tolerate her best friend, Gayle
King. It has meant that we got to tag along with them when they visited Colonial House. It has meant that we learned more about their relationship than we ever needed to know when they traveled across the country together. It has meant that we get treated to a monthly column of Gayle's favorite things in the magazine. Sigh.

In the alternative, we hardly know anything more about her beau, Stedman Graham, than we knew when they were engaged. So we have questions...and other than the occasional red carpet appearance or random detail that Oprah shares about their life together, we get nothing. Where Gayle has been TMI, Stedman has been MIA. This confounds me.

10. Oprah in Baltimore
I actually started this list on January 29, but I got busy doing what I do, and by midnight I was tired and hadn't actually decided on a tenth Oprah Moment. So I went to bed. This morning, as if the Oprah had herself come to me in a dream, I decided that my ultimate Oprah Moment was to be found in the era before she became The Oprah, which was her time in Baltimore.

I was a kid when Oprah Winfrey was on the local news in a city just up the road. Back in those days before cable, we could get Baltimore TV stations here in DC, but other than to see a repeat of a program that we may have missed, I don't actually know why we would have watched their local news. But we did, and in my memory, Oprah was the morning weather lady who later got a gig on a locally produced show called People Are Talking. Then at some point, she left for Chicago and the rest is history.

I have since learned that my memories were slightly off with respect to Oprah being the weather anchor. She was the cut-in reporter during the mornings, which is the person who provides local news updates during breaks from Today Show and Good Morning America. I was right about the talk show although I did not remember that she had a co-anchor. I feel as if we watched it because it was a Black woman on the air back in an era when that was a big deal. In DC, that person was Carol Randolph, who also had her own local talk show. (But in another instance of relying on my childhood memories, Randolph's show was cancelled and replaced by, wait for it--the original syndicated Oprah Winfrey Show!)

And that, Busy Black Folks is a wrap on this list, but I have one more Oprah Moment to share and it comes from the archives of this very blog. The year was 2011 and the Oprah Winfrey Show was winding down its 25th and final season. That was also the first year that I began writing this blog. In particular, there was this piece I wrote the week her show was about to end, which was the same week that my domain name went live. And then there was the recap of the final Oprah sermon which I forgot about...

Before I ramble on too much longer down this memory lane of past writings, (because surprise, I already did a version of this list back in 2011) the great thing about revisiting those old pieces and all of these Oprah Moments is the fact that I am still learning, evolving, and building this Busy Black Woman empire. To think that I almost gave up a few years ago, but here I am. And maybe there you are reading this in anticipation of what is next.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

BBW Tea Party: Kamala Harris

"The perfect is the enemy of the good. The perfect is the enemy of the good. The perfect is the enemy of the good."

Say this mantra to yourself every morning after all of your other prayers and affirmations until Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Then turn on the news/read the paper/check your social media feed for any amount of time, absorb whatever nonsense has been unleashed by this POTUS, breathe slowly, and then repeat:

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Look (and I realize I am jumping in with both feet here by saying this in January 2019, but here goes everything): I am all in for Kamala Harris. PERIOD. I am comfortable putting that out into the universe until such time as the need arises for me to cast a ballot for someone else. But since we are speaking about a vote that I would presumably cast in June 2020, I am the Busy Black Woman and I approve this message.

I believe she is formidable. I believe she is well-qualified. I am inspired by her. I am ready to see this happen while my daughter is still young so that her earliest memory of a President is someone other than the Joker.

I don't have any issues with her record as a prosecutor.
I don't have any issues with her past with Willie Brown.
I don't have any issues with her being an AKA.
I don't have any issues with her non-Black husband.
I don't have any issues with her music playlists or viral dancing to Cardi B.
I don't have any issues with her not completing her first term as a Senator.
I don't have any issues with Kamala Harris running for President.

A Black woman who graduated from law school in the late 80s/early 90s had very specific job tracts. She was either going to work as a prosecutor, as some kind of government bureaucrat, or as a civil rights do-gooder. I went to law school in the mid-90s so just take my word for it. Clearly, she was a woman with ambition, so it is no surprise that Kamala Harris chose to become a prosecutor and excelled at it. We can argue about her record, but it was her JOB to be tough on crime in California during the era of three-strikes. For that, you need to blame the legislature, not her. Once she ascended to higher office and sought to institute systematic reforms (incremental, yes), she continued to excel, which is why we are discussing her as a serious candidate instead of as a person who is running a symbolic campaign to raise issues.

As for her personal life, let's address all of it in this paragraph and then let it be. She dated former California Assembly leader and two-term Mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown while he was married. They both admit to that, and while you are free to clutch your pearls over the morality of that choice, they were consenting adults. She is married now to a man named Douglas Emhoff and that is all I have to say about that. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc...but we've already established that nobody is perfect (oop-skee, in case someone thought I was serious).

And although I did not mention this in my list, I am NOT acknowledging any nonsensical ashy hotepian complaints about the authenticity of her Black experience.

But I did mention that Cardi B video and that music mood list that somehow included Purple Rain and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, which has me looking at her in some kind of way. However, I am granting her a reprieve because we already know that her staff put this list together (just like Obama's millennials did for him).

Finally, I am willing to admit that my initial reaction before the official announcement was to question the wisdom of potentially giving up her historic Senate seat. She is only the second Black woman to be elected to that body, and I definitely watched her performance during the Kavanaugh hearings with an eye towards seeing her wield the gavel one day as the Senate Judiciary Chair. But that is my dream, not hers. And with all due respect to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, who have also announced their candidacies, perhaps Harris is trying to avoid the baggage that comes from tenure. If she's hearing the buzz and has that itch, better to scratch it now than to wait (which is what Barack Obama did). At worst, she stays in the Senate anyway because her seat goes up for re-election in 2022.

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Seriously, I just need to re-emphasize my opening statement, which is we don't need to bake ourselves into this idea of perfection in a political candidate. Ideological purity, emails, and Russian bots convinced a bunch of folks to stay home in 2016 or to vote for Jill Stein (or Ralph Nader if you want to revisit 2000). Candidates have deficiencies and have made compromises that absolutely deserve to be examined, and where appropriate, for which they must be held accountable. If you prefer to vote for Julian Castro, that's cool. But please, for the love of God and country, do not allow a meme or a bunch of ratchet tweets or an edited soundbite or even a well-written blog influence your decision.

Because none of that swayed the voters who are happy with the current Administration...

Monday, January 28, 2019

Till Death Us Do Part

Let's talk about Dan Gasby and B. Smith and his girlfriend. Not in a gossipy way (because that ain't none of our business), but in a real talk way. Like in a who-do-we-think-we-are, weighing in on this family's life with Alzheimer's disease?

I became a fan of B. Smith's after I read about her in Essence magazine, and by the late 90s when I was out of law school, I emulated her as I tried to refine a side hustle as an event planner. Sure, there was Martha Stewart who had cookbooks, a magazine, and her own TV show, but B. Smith was a Black woman managing events like Black woman do. And B. Smith had been a supermodel. And B. Smith owned the restaurant that occupied prime real estate in a tony corner of Union Station. A true Busy Black Woman.

My mother has B. Smith's first cookbook, and it is actually sitting above my head on the shelf in her kitchen where I am writing this. My mother, who is in another room, has Alzheimer's and so does B. Smith. In this particular moment, it is one of those sad ironies of life--women that I idolize, stricken by the same fucking illness in the prime of their lives.

So when Smith appeared on the Today Show with her husband Dan Gasby to share the grim news, I was heartbroken. When B went missing from Sag Harbor, but was found in New York City, it reminded me of that hellacious night my Mom walked from a Georgetown restaurant to a dormitory at Howard University. When I saw B's short gray fro in a recent photo, it recalled the conversation I had with my mother's friend when she suggested shearing off Mom's hair as an alternative to paying to get it done every few weeks at the salon. When Dan and B released a book on this phase of their lives, it made me fantasize about that day when somebody might stumble upon my musings.

But when he posted that picture with his girlfriend...and quoted whackass 50 Cent...and she's white?!?!

I have been understanding. Sympathetic. Protective even. Because while I cannot relate (and as far as I know, neither can my Daddy), I think folks are jumping to all the wrong conclusions about what is happening in their marriage. This will not be a loud defense of Dan Gasby, who is fully capable of speaking for himself (and he's got a much larger platform than mine for doing so). In fact, here is a recent Washington Post article that allows him just that privilege, as well as his podcast, so really there isn't much more I can add to what he has already said. Except, y'all need to leave the man alone.

Recently, someone well-known posted her opinion about Gasby and his girlfriend, to which a lot of her followers offered their sentiments ranging from calling him trash to demanding that he just pack it up with his white woman to leave B her dignity. One brave sister pushed back, and I chimed in with my two cents of agreement. There was more commentary on both sides after that, but one post in particular challenged our assessment of the situation, including the off-handed assumption that everyone who has lived long enough has dealt with Alzheimer's at some point. And that's what hit my raw nerve.

Her assumption is dead wrong. Because until my mother was diagnosed with this fucking disease, I thought I had lived long enough to understand a lot of things. But I hadn't because living with Alzheimer's is not someone telling me about how an Aunt or a grandparent had it. Living with this fucking disease is the perspective offered by a caregiver who can talk about how it completely upends every aspect of his/her life while watching it wreak havoc on and kill their loved one. And once you can relate to that sad reality, then you already know not to judge Dan Gasby.

From my perspective as a daughter, taking care of a parent or grandparent is not the same as caring for a spouse. At some point it was my expectation to care for one or both of my parents because that is the natural order of things. And while it is both sexist and presumptuous to say aloud, that responsibility falls to me as both the eldest child and as the only daughter. What I did not expect was to assume such a daunting undertaking before I reached 40, at a moment when I was trying to figure out my own life.

Alternatively, my Dad never expected to become a caregiver again (after he and my Mom took care of his parents thirty years ago). He has said this many times throughout the course of my Mom's journey. His assumption was that they would grow older, and that if he got sick, she would care for him. It never occurred to him that anything could happen to her, so when it became undeniable and inescapable that the roles would be reversed... Thus looking at how my Dad struggles and manages to get by, I am keenly aware of what Dan Gasby (and his daughter Dana) might be experiencing.

Now sympathy for the man is not the same as assenting to his choices, so let me say a word about how as recent as last week, I thought that Gasby should show more discretion. He is exposing both his wife and his girlfriend to unnecessary scrutiny. However, I've had a change of heart. This fucking disease forces people to live with a lot of guilt and undeserved shame. Caregivers feel guilty about almost every choice and project shame as the outcome from having to make those decisions. And in the long term, neither one of those emotions resolve anything (ask me how I know, better yet, wait for the book).

The most outspoken critics of his choices have been women, because caregiving is typically our domain. We can applaud the man for caring for his wife as long as he denies himself in the process, but once he admits that he has needs and publicly attends to them, we call him trash. And we justify our emotions by telling a faithful Big Mama story, because she was selfless and never complained and did everything without anyone's help and that is exactly why none of us has a damn clue what she went through and how she felt about it!

In his own way, Dan Gasby is fulfilling his vows by taking care of his wife in their home with their money (they were partners in building that empire). We are not privy or entitled to opine about the internal workings of a relationship that no longer exists. We should be outraged that fucking Alzheimer's stole B. Smith from Dan Gasby and will claim millions more as Baby Boomers live longer and get older. His girlfriend is not the affront to B. Smith's legacy, fucking Alzheimer's disease is.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

She Plays Chess

It is no secret that I love and admire powerful women. The defining characteristic is not always the position that a particular woman holds, but it is in the way she wields her influence--how she uses her powers for good, if you will. This admiration is typically nonpartisan and definitely not specific to Black women--in the past I have even gone so far as to allow some non-Black women to be addressed with honorary Busy Black status.

I won't offer an exhaustive list of names, but this week has been a great week for Busy Black Women in Washington. There is Nancy Pelosi, an expert mover and shaker, who deftly handled our Petulant President this week and then there is Kamala Harris, a rising star who has set her sights on relieving him of his Oval Office occupancy in 2020.

I am here for it. 
This is my giddy face.

Of course, I am also keenly aware that my excitement is not universally shared by the rest of the world. I need only turn to social media to see that for every power move these women make, there are beer mugs filling up with the salty tears of men who are feeling some kind of way about having the world change in their lifetime. Men who are fighting back against the injustice of not being able to hear their favorite Christmas song on the radio in Cleveland. Men who are upset that a certain R&B singer has to answer for decades of sexual abuse against young women. Grown ass men who are upset over a razor commercial.

Men who don't like to be out-maneuvered by a woman who has the Constitutional prerogative to decide whether to give the President of the United States the platform to speak in her House. Men who believe it is part of their job to demand that a woman prove her legitimacy for higher office.

Sure, Busy Black Women in positions of great power can and will make costly mistakes that might be their undoing. Theresa May will probably be remembered as the woman who negotiated the world's most disastrous divorce settlement in a botched Brexit. It is ironic when you realize that Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, lauded for her courage as the face of democratic resistance in Myanmar, is now presiding over a genocide. What can I say, we fail bigly too. But that comes with the territory.

For the record, this isn't a gloat because as the title suggests, there are more moves on the board. The game never ends, it stalls and sometimes has to be suspended, but this is just my way of informing the uninitiated that Busy Black Women are serious. The game is chess, not checkers and we play to win. Because anything men can do women can do too--backwards and in heels.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Hard Times, Hard Choices

This government shutdown has gone on for a full month and judging from the rhetoric, it's foolhardy to make any predictions. Last week when I started to write this piece, it was because I felt a little guilty about going to the nail salon...

The last time I got my nails done was in early December on my birthday, but when the shutdown started, I decided to wait until everything was resolved. Then two weeks became three, then four and even though I knew that it was neither urgent or necessary, I walked into the salon last week. Then I walked down to the Sephora and bought some new eyeliner. And since I'm in the mood for confessing, I have also bought four pairs of pantyhose, a new bra, lipstick, brunch, and a cocktail when it wasn't Happy Hour.

My rationale excuse for all of that non-essential spending has been that small and local businesses are also adversely impacted by the shutdown, so my modest patronage is a form of support. Thus, I am helping to keep the local economy pumping (and the nail technicians from remaining idle in an empty salon). My makeup purchases are just a demonstration of the lipstick effect. But let's not discuss what is going on with my hair...

However, at the end of week five with no end in sight, my guilt returns. Not because I've spent money on little extras but because the situation for others has gotten more serious, dire even. Eviction notices are going out next week. Mortgage and tuition payments are overdue. Gas money is light, but some people still have to commute to jobs without receiving pay. Yet the Secretary of Commerce wonders aloud why people just don't apply for loans at their credit unions instead of going to the local food bank. This Administration's chief economic advisor commends his staff for their volunteer efforts. The President believes that grocery stores allow customers to run tabs and his daughter-in-law says that this is all for a worthy cause.

The Speaker of the House refers to furloughed federal employees as hostages, which is a great analogy on one hand, but the visual image that conjures up doesn't appear to move the needle much. Her colleagues on the Senate side voted down two bills that would have opened the government. On social media, opinions reflect the polarization of the electorate while the job approval polls reflect the public's growing anxiety. Sympathetic stories have been broadcast everywhere, but nothing has changed.

Next week those idle nail technicians, the hair stylist, the retail salesperson, the lunch counter server, the bank teller, the delivery guy, the bartender, the waitress, the car mechanic, and all of the other people who don't work for the government have bills that will come due. Maybe they'll be okay for a while, because surely those people don't live paycheck to paycheck and they recognize that this is all for the greater good, but what happens later on in the month when their bosses feel the pinch? What then?

What happens when the food banks and the diaper banks and all of the organizations that usually rely on the generosity of federal employees to help others are forced to ration because their resources are stretched beyond capacity? What happens when this shutdown goes into its seventh or eighth week and heating bills, medical bills, and credit card bills begin to pile up? What happens when parents can't afford daycare and the daycare can't afford to stay open because too many parents can't pay?

For people who live in other parts of the country where this pain is familiar (because anyone who lives in company towns surely knows the ripple effect that can occur when that company closes shop), please tell us what happens next in month three, and then what happens when month six comes. Tell us how to make the hard choices that come from just trying to live.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Of Allies and Friends

Thanks to this never-ending government shutdown, the Hub and I went out on a child-free date to the movies recently. I cannot say when we last did that, but clearly it had been so long ago that I forgot that he is typically lying when he claims not to want any popcorn. Anyway, we saw Vice, the movie about Dick Cheney and it was quite interesting. But since I don't do movie reviews, let's move along to the reason why this movie inspired me to write, which was its portrayal of the women in Dick Cheney's orbit.

It wasn't much of a stretch to believe the depiction of Mrs. Lynne Cheney as a Lady Macbeth-styled puppeteer, nor that hard to see her eldest daughter Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as her eager heiress apparent (ironic, but not unbelievable). Conservative women make no apologies for their beliefs or political leanings, with very few exceptions even for family. So my curiosity was piqued by the sympathetic treatment of younger daughter, Mary Cheney who is a lesbian. For some reason, I made the foolhardy assumption that she might represent some latent humanity in the Cheney family bloodline...but alas, I was wrong. My superficial research revealed Mary to be no champion of political moderation, just accommodation for her civil rights. She's cut from the same conservative cloth as the other Lady Cheneys.

That same mistake in judgment describes my reaction to the status update a friend posted last week that posited the key to winning the White House in 2020 was to cultivate moderate Republican women. She then dared folks to challenge that assertion, which I did with my usual points about it being the 21st Century version of the Lost Cause. My friend countered with arguments about coastal elitism and common ground, and again, I responded with a more detailed reiteration of my Lost Cause theorem. Then I let it go because, well, we're friends and even though she was absolutely WRONG, there was no point in taking it personally (and please, if you happen to read this, it still isn't personal, Sis).

But, you're still wrong. This idea that there are enough moderate GOP women who can be wooed to vote against the current White House occupant is both provocative and hopeful, but in my experience, about as probable as impeachment. It could happen. It should happen. But in all seriousness, it won't happen which is why our focus is aptly aimed at the nomination process for a viable challenger. I have no opinion on the prospects of any of the likely contenders because I am a true believer in the vetting process. The entire point of a primary is to have all of the options spread out for us to review qualifications, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and then decide who gets our vote.

But that is not a choice that should be made to appease a voting bloc that has demonstrated time and time again that they are unreliable.

There are certain assumptions that come to mind when I try to conjure up an ideal GOP moderate woman, even as I am skeptical that such a voter still exists in this hyper-partisan world. I would like to believe that such a woman chose not to vote in the 2016 election after all of the pussy-grabbing talk, or that she voted for Gary Johnson. I would like to believe that such a woman is the nice lady who works at the gift shop at the Shrine or perhaps she is the owner of a small business like the plumbing contractor we hired recently. I want to believe that those classmates who long ago moved from the suburbs to the exurbs could possibly be swayed to vote for someone who did not insult Gold Star military families, rile up crowds with boogey man nightmares about immigrants, or use the word disgraceful to describe everything but his own behavior.

But I know better. I know that these women vote their economic interests and aspirations above everything else. These women vote for the protection of their status in society. They will extol the virtues of standing by their men, and will eagerly lead the charge. That when faced with the choice to vote for another like-minded woman over a man, they will choose the man because they trust his judgment. They don't identify as feminists even though they benefit from affirmative action, family leave, and choice in reproductive health care. But they will decry activism like #metoo as counter-intuitive and The Women's March as destructive to families. They will complain that diversity efforts unfairly limit the opportunities for their sons and brothers. They will love their brown grandchildren, nieces, and nephews as much as they love their pedigreed pets. They will openly question what type of woman wants to run an empire while they dominate local school boards, admire and emulate Martha Stewart, and take their daughters to see Taylor Swift.

THESE WOMEN ARE NOT OUR ALLIES. They may be our co-workers and neighbors and maybe even someone we might call a friend, but they are not allies that we can trust when it comes to dismantling inequality. Or reclaiming our country from a lunatic. Or standing up for other women.

In popular culture, these woman are represented by the likes of Edith Bunker, Jill Taylor, Debra Barone, Lilith Sternin Crane, and Roseanne Connor. We all love Edith Bunker and laud her friendships with Louise Jefferson and Beverly LaSalle as proof of her open-mindedness despite the fact that she was married to Archie. Because Jill Taylor tolerates the Toolman's misogynist persona and Debra Barone tries to get along with her in-laws, we sympathize. But Lilith will always defend her son Frederick, even when he starts to sound and dress like Tucker Carlson. And we already know what happens to Roseanne and why she voted the way she did in 2016.

BECAUSE (and yes, I am actually shouting this) THESE WOMEN ARE NOT ALLIES! Allies make a big point of knitting pussy hats and wearing safety pins and black dresses to the Golden Globes and while we eye-roll all of that as superficial, at least those are real acts. Allies engage in social media activism and then follow up with donations to causes like bail reform and support for migrant children. Allies hit the campaign trail for Stacey Abrams. Allies intervene, like when those two Black men were getting arrested at Starbucks, and then support Starbucks' decision to close for diversity training. Allies apologize when they mess up and don't consider that a weakness.

ALLIES SHOW UP FOR OTHERS, so you cannot expect a woman who counters your Black Lives Matter statement with All Lives Matter to empathize. Moderate GOP women did not show up for Claire McCaskill or Heidi Heitkamp, moderate Democrats from red states who campaigned aggressively for their votes. How many moderate GOP women in Alabama almost allowed Roy Moore to become their Senator? Hell, they didn't show up to keep Mia Love in Congress, but somehow they sent Mitt Romney to the Senate from the same state.

Because at the end of the day, Mary Cheney still loves her family and will vote accordingly. Jill Taylor might have been an activist in her youth, but she has three grown sons. Debra Barone has twin sons probably just out of college. Why should those women trust Christine Blasey Ford's account of a drunken teenage romp if she didn't get raped and didn't press charges? So why should we trust them...ever?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The BBW Tea Party: The Color Purple Revisited

I just did this for another movie, but I feel the need to revisit a classic of Black cinema, The Color Purple. Specifically, I want to bring this scene to your attention:

Watch this one pivotal scene closer to understand why this film was so significant and powerful, and why it continues to resonate to this day. If you have seen this movie as many times as I have, you can probably recite it by heart, but have probably only focused on the line where Miss Sophia threatens to "kill him dead" if her husband continues to beat her.

Normally, I would dispatch a quick mini-blog to the Facebook page to make my point, but the moment dictates that I make the following long-form argument to be preserved for posterity: BLACK WOMEN HAVE BEEN SPEAKING UP AGAINST SEXUAL VIOLENCE FOR YEARS. But some of y'all are just starting to listen.

When Alice Walker wrote the novel that later became the book that eventually became the play, she was telling the story of a woman who had endured decades of sexual violence. It began with her impregnation by the man she thought was her father and continued with the man she was married off to as a child bride. The book was released in 1982; the film was released in 1985. I was a child during that time period, but I remember very well the controversy that was stirred up by both. I recall that the book was denounced as illicit and was banned, but I was in elementary school at the time, so I had no first-hand knowledge of the particulars until years later. When the film was released, the backlash honed in on Steven Spielberg as the director, and the portrayal of 'Mister' by Danny Glover as an unrelentingly cruel avatar of Black manhood.

Unfortunately whenever a work of art is overtly and unapologetically feminist, folks get really uncomfortable and defensive. The pro-family fundamentalists are offended by challenges to patriarchal norms while some Black men regard negative depictions as destructive to the community. Then because some of the detractors are also anti-Semitic and conspiratorial, the seminal value of the work gets derailed by the whining of a petulant, but vocal minority. The Color Purple becomes perennially maligned as a work with a perverse, immoral, and disparaging agenda instead of an empowering story of resilience and fortitude.

Despite those protestations, the movie endures and has become a staple of lazy Sunday afternoon viewings. I remain baffled that the most vociferous ire was expressed over the depiction of Mister than in sympathy for the horrific atrocities that were committed against Celie: no outrage that she was raped and impregnated twice by her step-father, no uproar over her being married off as a child bride, and no umbrage over the physical abuse and humiliation she endured for years.

Sadly, I learned from some of the ridiculous responses and reactions to that documentary about the abuses and excesses of a certain R&B singer that some of you would rather defend a Mister than to stand up for a Celie, Nettie, Sophia, Shug Avery, or any other woman. Some of you are just like Celie in accepting (and sometimes recommending) abuse because you don't recognize your worth. Or maybe you are lucky like Nettie to escape it, or clever like Shug Avery to avoid it, but they both accepted sexual violence as normal. That's why Sophia stands out--she talks back, she fights back, and when she has had enough, she leaves. Sophia declares to the world that it can be unsafe for women within their own families, yet we missed that message for 30 odd years or more.

Hopefully by now you've had an Oprah aha moment where you get mad that it took you this long to realize what you already knew. Or you will get angry that you needed to see/hear it to believe. Perhaps some of you will finally open your eyes to how abuse gets perpetuated and passed down to subsequent generations. The rest of you might wonder why I sometimes take two seemingly unrelated topics and try to connect them like this (I like to challenge myself).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Can We Talk?

We need to address this. I know that we prefer to move onto the Golden Globes and the government shutdown and how Ellen thinks she speaks for all LGBTQ people, but we need to address this. I know that some people are upset that there hasn't been a Weinstein/Moonves/Lauer documentary yet; that Woody Allen still gets to make the same film over and over again; that the POTUS still gets to preen in front of the world daily; that since Bill Cosby is sitting in jail, this is just another part of the ongoing black feminist agenda to attack Black men. But we need to discuss this.

I am not talking about the documentary. I am not talking about his music. I am not talking about the parents or the money they were paid or the rumors or the ex-wife. I am not talking about that man. I won't even call him by name.

We need to talk about sexual violence in our families. We need to talk about terrible family secrets that destroy young lives. We need to talk about how our children are sexualized too early in life, before they even reach puberty. We need to talk about how our daughters develop bodies that give grown ass men excuses for inappropriate behavior. We need to talk about the kisses and hugs that happen when we are not around. We need to talk about how hurt people go on to hurt other people. We need to talk about why parents should not allow the earning potential of their talented offspring to blind them to real-life danger. We need to talk about why so many people feel more comfortable using social media to tell their stories of trauma.

We need to talk.

We need to talk about an industry that has allowed the exploitation of young girls to become part of its lore (we can call the names, but those are the ones that we know). We need to talk to our children and not assume that our sons are any safer than our daughters. We need to talk about abuse that occurs outside of the home committed by other adults that our children are told to trust. We need to talk to our children so that they know that they can talk to us.

We must not allow this moment to pass with a shrug. We must not argue that a tormented soul should be forgiven for his abusive behavior because of his musical genius. We should demand respect for the victims. We should not be dismissive of their trauma.

We need to talk about these folks who have been downloading more of his music in response to the documentary. We need to talk about those artists who worked with him in the past and have remained silent. We need to talk about the companies that profit from and protect him. We need to talk about the folks on his payroll who have known about his depravity for years. We need to talk about guilty consciences, strange bedfellows, sycophants, and attention-seekers.

We need to do more than express our outrage over social media. We need to do more than delete his catalogue from our playlists. We need to do more than demand that his songs no longer play on the radio. We need to do more than just talk among ourselves.

We need to talk.
We need to talk to our sons.
We need to talk to our daughters.
We need to talk to our sisters and brothers.
We need to talk to our cousins.
We need to talk to our nieces and nephews.
We need to talk to our grandparents.
We need to talk to our aunts and uncles.
We need to talk to our bonus children.
We need to talk to our godchildren.
We need to talk to our parents.
We need to talk in our churches.
We need to talk in our schools.
We need to talk in our organizations.
We need to talk to our friends.
We need to talk to a therapist.
We need to talk, even if it dishonors the dead.
We need to talk, even if it disgraces the living.

I'm here to listen.

Judge Your Mama

My worst parenting meltdown occurred yesterday. I am guessing this is just a foretaste of all that I have to look forward to as my daughter gets older, so maybe I need to find a therapist now for the both of us (or a criminal defense attorney).

The circumstances that led to the meltdown: typical kid acting like a kid in public without a coat and with one boot on her foot as it began to rain. As the situation continued to escalate and I got more desperate, it occurred to me that the neighborhood where all of this was going down has changed enough that the cops might be called. We were literally a block away from my church, but Jesus didn't come when I called out to Him for help. Instead, He showed up to keep this child from getting herself killed...right on time as the old folks would say.

Those same old folks would advise me to whoop that ass, but this headstrong daughter of mine isn't one to be deterred by physical discipline. She requires a much more dramatic oh-shit-Mommy-ain't-playing demonstration of power, kind of like this:

My problem is that I can only destroy the planet once...

So I took away all of her toys. That meant she had a conniption at bath time last night, so I guess we're showering for the rest of the month, but that's fine with me. I took away all of her favorite books, all of her stuffed animals, all of her new dolls, and I have forbidden her father from taking her to McDonald's for the rest of the month. She tried it again this morning, so we didn't make it to church, but that's okay too because God knows my heart.

If need be, we will all be on punishment because we are not raising a spoiled brat. My daughter will not be one of those children that y'all post videos of on social media. She will not be on camera sassing and trashing because she didn't get her three-year old way. And no, you won't be posting a meme or gif of me administering any kind of public spanking because I am determined to find better ways of instilling discipline. Not because I think that I am so enlightened (because there are times when the rod cannot be spared), but as I have already conceded, my child doesn't respond with shock or compliance at being spanked.

And as I have also learned, the general public would rather judge parents than support them. As my child ran down the street past at least three groups of onlookers, NOBODY tried to intervene. So if she had gotten hurt, I would have been at fault for not being a better parent because only a bad mother would chase after her child with a coat in January.

And right here is where I need to make a confession: I began this piece a few hours after the meltdown, when I was still very much in my feelings. I was distraught and ashamed that I was unable to manage my child's behavior, which had already begun to deteriorate prior to us getting out onto the street. I was worried what people who witnessed this must have been thinking. I had indicted myself as inept and lacking. When a similar brouhaha began this morning, I reacted and as usual worried if my anger was somehow to blame for my daughter's inability to control her emotions.


On my way to a brunch date with a friend this afternoon, I suddenly had my epiphany--I am what I am, which is emotional and dramatic. I am a lot of things that this child will have to address with that therapist one day. But the one thing I am not is a bad mother.

I am not perfect, but perfection isn't in the job description. I am present. I am patient. I am mindful. I want to encourage her creativity and support her dreams. I will try to provide her with every opportunity and advantage that I can to get her started in life. But I am not her friend. I am not willing to make excuses for her bad behavior. I am not going to be that parent who gives an interview in which I swear on a stack of Bibles that my daughter was always an angel who never ran off down the street in one boot and without a coat.

My job is to protect her, but there will be times when I won't be able to save her from herself. She might have to get hurt in order for her to learn. For the rest of this month, that pain will come in the form of not having any toys or entertainment. We will adjust; I might de-clutter. If I have to make everyone in this house miserable...such is life. Just like life requires that I must endure the stares of gawkers with camera phones who would rather judge my ineptness than to assist me. Yeah, phuck them too.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The BBW Tea Party: Revisiting Classic Movies

One night the week before Christmas, the Hub and I happened to be watching Breakfast at Tiffany's. Right around the point when Holly (Audrey Hepburn) got arrested and Paul/Fred (George Peppard) was attempting to secure her bail, I updated my Facebook status with the observation that the iconic film was a lot more problematic to me at 45 years old than it had been at any previous viewing. And wow, my friends' reactions were...interesting.

In the past several years, I have re-watched many classic films and had to shake my head at the various significant details that had flown right over my naive little head. Like the fact that Dorothy and the Lion got lured into a poppy field in The Wizard of Oz; and how in The Wiz, that same the poppy field was re-imagined as a Studio 54-themed brothel. Granted, I made the connection between "poison poppies" and their hallucinogenic effects years ago, so those aren't the best examples. (However, it was a bigger deal to realize that the Bad video and this subway scene were probably filmed on the same set. And also, upon watching the full video for the first time in years, MJ was heavily influenced by The Wizard of Oz, but that is another piece for another time.)

Contrary to what you might think, I didn't clutch my imaginary pearls over any belated revelations about Holly Golightly's 'profession'. I have known what she did and don't consider it all that scandalous in the grand scheme of things. While most of us have condemned Mickey Rooney's unfortunate cameo as a bad joke that has just gotten worse with time, we haven't thrown the entire movie away. No, it was the appearance of Buddy Epsen's Doc, the cuckolded husband that really opened my eyes. I'm guessing that most people were sympathetic to him: the simple country man who had taken in a poor waif and her brother, only to be abandoned by her when she left him for the bright lights of the big city. Except we overlooked one crucial detail--he married her when she was a 14 year old girl!

Oh, and he had been stalking her for some time until Paul confronted him in the park. Which means he knew where she was, what she had been doing, and somehow thought that he was rescuing her from debauchery and perversion. By no means does this revelation suggest that anyone should question whether this movie ought to be seen, lest we provoke another unnecessary culture war. I'm just saying that there were probably myriad reasons why Holly might have run away from that life.

And that is one of the clever things about movies. There is always more to see than what we tend to pick up in a casual viewing. For instance, I am sure that Star Wars fans have conveniently overlooked the incestuousness of Luke Skywalker's initial attraction to his twin sister. Or how it really makes no sense that Danny Russo's mother packs them up to move across the country to take a job as a restaurant manager in the original Karate Kid movie. In The Sound of Music, the Captain must have gotten busy with one of the governesses he fired because the Mother Superior tells Maria that he had been widowed for seven years; however, his youngest child says she is five. Everybody I know can quote lines from Coming to America, but how many of us took notice of all its sexism, like the swimsuit competition at the Black Awareness Rally? Shall we even discuss those early gratuitous Spike Lee movies, and can we finally admit that as much as we love Purple Rain, Prince is a misogynistic asshole throughout?

My status update was never intended to admonish folks for loving their favorite films. It was merely an observation that we all see what we want to see on screen. I love Pretty Woman, and Vivian certainly has a heart of gold, but we never question Edward's manipulative use of his money to control everyone and everything in his orbit. Does anybody who loves Gone With the Wind ever wonder what Mammy and the other former slaves got paid for their continued service and loyalty to Miss Scarlett after emancipation? Are we only mad at Mickey Rooney for his bad Asian caricature, while forgetting that he, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, and other major stars performed in blackface? And we should probably throw West Side Story in the mix for casting one Puerto Rican star in a film that was supposed to tackle racial tensions among immigrants.

Yet, I will continue to watch these movies with my 45 year old sensibilities in 2019 and beyond because I accept that art is a product of its time. I like Italian Renaissance paintings even though I am clear that their depictions of Jesus are inaccurate. As much as I love both the book and the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, I am intrigued by the prospect of a staged version that gives more voice to the peripheral Black characters. I think The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a masterpiece that kids need to read unedited in order to understand its brilliance. Our modern interpretations of those artworks don't detract from their value or significance...sometimes our updated perspective enhances the original work.

In fact, my 45 year old sensibilities allow me to appreciate Holly Golightly as a self-determined woman whose choice to escape her arranged childhood marriage is far more revolutionary than I previously realized. Maybe that was always the intention--for us to see a woman taking charge of her life on her terms instead of acquiescing to the choices made for her by others. In that respect, Breakfast at Tiffany's can be forgiven for some its more egregious transgressions. We just need to look beyond the iconic black dress.