Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Grandma's Hands

I don't recall if Sam Jackson '72 even called out Spike Lee's name initially because all I heard was 'Da House and the entire Spelman-Morehouse (SpelHouse) universe erupted in a Hallelujah/Amen chorus.

It was a beautiful moment. For those of us who have been salty with the Academy ever since Do the Right Thing lost to Driving Miss Daisy 30 years ago, and saltier since Malcolm X was not even nominated in 1992, and saltiest that 4 Little Girls didn't win for Best Documentary in 1997, this was a big exhale of relief. Instead of continuing to overlook his genius, which has been apparent for more than 30 years, the Academy finally bestowed an Oscar on one of the most prolific and unabashed film directors of our time. Sho'nuff!

In our SpelHouse Family, Spike '79 (only one name necessary) is our famous brother, our conscious and woke uncle, our crazy shit-talking cousin. He's that weird dude who was really quiet and observant during his freshman year, so no one realized how talented and insightful he was until he decided to step up and got recognized during his sophomore year. By junior year, people could tell whenever he had worked on a particular project, so by senior year, folks already knew that they would one day brag about having known him. He is so quintessentially Morehouse: a preacher, a businessman, a philanthropist, and arrogant AF. We claim him, we love him, we support him, so we ride for Spike in a way that most people just would not understand. (We also ride for Sam and John David Washington '05, and we dare anyone to say something!)

Of course a certain Petty POTUS did have something to say, so just wait until 2020, ya dig?

Spike's acceptance speech never mentioned the Troll King--he just exhorted people to turn out to vote in the next election. He paid homage to fellow Morehouse brother, the late great Bill Nunn '79, by invoking one of their most iconic character collaborations from Do The Right Thing, Radio Raheem, in urging voters to choose love over hate. He shouted out his other alma mater, NYU, specifically Tisch School of the Arts, where he earned his masters' degree and is a tenured professor. And he thanked his grandmother, Zimmie Shelton Retha '29, my Spelman sister who paid his way through school.

For all of the obvious reasons, the Spelman side of the family got equally emotional over that anecdote. As much as we love our Morehouse brothers and are always happy for their achievements and accomplishments, we bleed blue and ride harder for Spelman. The irony is never lost on us that there are many unsung Spelman Women who have supported Morehouse Men throughout our intertwined histories.

Nor do we forget how often our current successes were made possible by our praying grandmothers (matriarchs).

I was blessed to have both grandmothers during my childhood. They took care of me. They celebrated me. They disciplined me. They advised me. They took me to church ALL of the time. They gave me everything they could. While my paternal grandmother did not live to see me graduate from high school, I have always believed that she guided my steps to Georgia where she was born, and as such to Spelman. And while my maternal grandmother did not live to see me graduate from law school, I have always believed that she guided my steps back here to DC (because she did not like the fact that I lived so far away from home).

I learned so much from the examples they set. I learned humility and grace by emulating them. I learned the value and importance of education from their encouragement. I learned that there is honor in sacrifice from listening to stories from their youth. I learned practical life skills. I learned caregiving at an early age from helping to care for my paternal grandmother and from watching my maternal grandmother care for others. Despite the fact that they both have been gone for more than half of my life, their impact has been profound.

Grandma Hawkins was a dental hygienist. Grandma Wheeler was a nursing assistant. Grandma Hawkins liked to garden; Grandma Wheeler liked to cook. Grandma Hawkins only had one child, so she could dote on her three 'grands' as she called us. Grandma Wheeler had eight children and had ten grandchildren by the time I was born, but she never made any distinctions among us. Both were old-school Baptist Deaconesses who taught us to trust in Jesus, which we didn't learn how to do until many years later, so they stood in the gap for us. My grandmothers were Busy Black Women before I knew that was a thing.

In the Bill Withers song that gave this piece its title, he refers to his grandmother as someone he loved more than anyone at one time in his life, and maybe that is the other reason why I got so moved by Spike's tribute to his grandmother. Losing my grandmothers was painful each time, and in the years since they have been gone I have been acutely aware of their physical absence. It hurts not to have a grandmother's reassurance when life gets uncertain. But when Spike invoked his grandmother's name and spoke of her sacrifices for him, it dawned on me in that instant just how all of our grandmothers' hands shape us whether they are here in the flesh or in the spirit.

Those hands that worked in kitchens, in fields, in factories, in classrooms, and in segregated facilities. Grandma's hands, the ones that came home after a full day shift and started another one of cooking, cleaning, sewing, soothing, healing, and somehow managed to save the scraps and bits and pennies that allow us to be a little better off today.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Live from Wakanda

Two years ago I wrote a piece on the Cafe blog called Oscars So Black, which I had intended to supplement with a piece about the Oscars being so estrogenated as well (but I never got around to writing that) and here we are, a few minutes before midnight and the Oscars are over, and y'all they finally gave one to Spike Lee!

And once that happened, I surmised that the Black winning streak was over for the night, but then Green Book rose from the ashes of controversy to put some serious wins on the board, including a second Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali. I don't know why I was so shocked especially since they flew Rep. John Lewis in to introduce the segment that highlighted that film for Best Picture, because that is Hollywood's way of telling us that just like Starbucks, they can solve their racist past by giving away Oscars to everybody Black who doesn't already have one or maybe needs another one.

Lest we forget it was during the Golden Era of the Obama Administration that Hollywood managed to produce several all-white award show cycles, so the Cynical Black Woman in me wonders if all of this diversity will last once a certain person gets impeached, resigns, or sent out to pasture. Ya dig?

(Ok, I fell asleep last night, so now we pick up where that thought bubble trailed off. However, before I try to tackle that question, let's recap some of the Blackest moments from last night):

The Supremes
Regina King. Ruth E. Carter. Hannah Beachler. #BlackGirlMagic

HBCU Excellence at the Oscars
Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer for Black Panther (as well as several other films) is an alumna of Hampton University. And I think everybody knows after that incredible shout out last night that both Sam Jackson and Spike Lee graduated from Morehouse College. Chadwick Boseman, who was not nominated (but who gets honorable mention because we know it is just a matter of time or the next biopic) is a graduate of Howard University. Maybe that doesn't matter to anyone else except other HBCU alumni, but since we're broadcasting from Wakanda, I just thought you should know...

Black Don't Crack
I just need everyone to recognize that Cicely Tyson is 94 years old and it has been 45 years since she was nominated for Sounder. Sam Jackson is 70 years old and is still the hardest working actor in that town. Spike Lee still looks, dresses, and talks like Mars Blackmon, a character he created 35 years ago. Regina King still looks like Brenda Jenkins, the teenager she played 30+ years ago on 227. It doesn't even matter how old Mahershala Ali is because he won't look any older the next time y'all call him up to the stage.

Billy Porter
I gasped when I saw Billy Porter's tuxedo dress by Christian Siriano. And that is the only reason why I believe he came--to slay us all with his epic fabulousness:

John Lewis at the Oscars
When Selma, the film that actually featured the story of a young John Lewis was passed over for an Oscar nomination in 2014, it helped to make #Oscarssowhite go viral. Maybe this was just a nice gesture a few years after the fact, but he was also just at the Superbowl so now I'm worried that he's checking off bucket list items or something...

I could stop right there to bask in the afterglow of all that Blackness--and all of the positive energy that was shared to celebrate immigration and women and Freddie Mercury...but then a certain person sent this tweet early this morning about Spike Lee. So the answer to the question that I was pondering last night is yes. These grand gestures that showcase diversity in all of its glorious hues and textures are definitely about neutralizing the stench that currently emanates from the White House.

But gestures are meaningless if they are only reserved for rare and unique cultural moments. I mentioned earlier that Cicely Tyson was nominated for an Oscar back in 1973, but she is just now receiving recognition by the Academy. In those 45 years, the bulk of the awards that have gone to people of color were given in the last 25 years, and that has typically occurred in response to complaints about the lack of diversity in the process. It should not take hashtags to get people to understand the importance of telling diverse stories (nor should it require a billion dollars in ticket sales). I know movie-making is still a business, but it doesn't make sense that it took the success of Bridesmaids (2011) to get us Girls' Trip (2017).

Wakanda might not be a real place, but it was brought to life by the imaginations of two Black women. What other glorious sights, sounds, textures, and stories are we missing by only seeing the white light instead of the colors it produces?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

February is Still On!

Friends, this has been one Hell of a month. In all of my years, I cannot remember a February that has been this tumultuous and unsettling (and y'all know I'm getting up there...I'm practically dead in cat years). But this has been one of the most bizarre and disturbing months of the Trumpacalypse which is a pretty big deal considering every month, week, day, hour, etc., since this nightmare began has been insane.

But there is something extra disrespectful about this February. I don't know if it was another New England Superbowl win, that JLo tribute to Motown, or the fact that the weather cannot decide if we're getting an extra six weeks of winter, but it has been cray cray up in here! What is going on Universe? There are some things that are supposed to be immune from cosmic calamity!!!

Like Black History Month, dangnabbit. We are supposed to be honoring and revering ancestors. We are supposed to be teaching our children great Black facts. Everybody is supposed to be wearing their best clothes and shoes, have memorized their speeches/dances/presentations, and eagerly awaiting that moment when our names are called for us to stand before the assembled masses to give the performances we spent all month preparing. THIS IS THE MOMENT!

Instead, we're too distracted by tomfoolerly and whatnot. Blackface. Sexual assault. Career suicide. Another Madea movie. Bernie Sanders. We have one more week in this month, then as you know, we get the blur of Spring, a week of summer vacation, and then after Halloween I'm back to complaining about Christmas. This year is already over.

Not if I have anything to say about it! That is the entire point of Black History Month--to honor those who came before us, those who had less than nothing and still held on. You want this month to be all about those who triumphed, but that isn't even half of the story. We need to also remember those who survived.

Sure, we want everyone to celebrate the great names in Black History. But we need to take time to remember those slave women who took the scraps of fabric and fashioned them into quilts. Sewn and stitched by hands that had spent the daylight hours picking cotton or tending to children who weren't theirs. There was love sewn into those quilts that recorded family stories, but there were also messages that communicated to runaways where they might find safety along the journey.

We need to remember that slaves were illiterate, but they were not stupid. It was illegal to teach slaves to read, but teaching them to obey according to an abridged bible was acceptable and encouraged. So they interpreted those messages of obedience as hope that if God could deliver Daniel, then why not every man. They recognized the parallels of their bondage to the Children of Israel, so they sang of Moses. And even if they would never escape the trials of this life, they would get to Heaven anyhow.

I know, we don't want to think about slavery because we're supposed to be ashamed of that past. We're supposed to be angrier at our African brothers who sold us into bondage, because the only thing the Europeans did was carve up the entire continent and teach you that your ancestors were savages. We're supposed to think like Killmonger, that it would have been preferable to perish in the ocean. But if we had done that, would there have been soul food or jazz or hip hop? We wouldn't see the vibrancy of African cultures re-imagined in Caribbean island paradises. There would never have been a Harlem Renaissance or a Black Arts Movement.

Now I get it. You want Wakanda, not Chocolate Cities that are quickly becoming Latte Cities. You would rather complain about our displacement instead of standing your ground. You like those low prices at Walmart. You aren't going to support HBCUs that can't seem to properly manage their affairs. You would rather attend the megachurch with the celebrity pastor who drives a Bentley than the historic Baptist that was built by slaves. I see what you want for your Black History Month.

That's why y'all are crying all over social media that the month has been ruined. Because Katy Perry put out an ugly pair of shoes. But apparently, you don't know how your grandmother walked for miles in uglier shoes to work in someone's kitchen to put her kids through school. You think boycotts are a waste of time because they're inconvenient, so you went back to watching the NFL because what else are you supposed to do on Sundays, read a book? You forgot that you had relatives in Montgomery who stayed off of segregated public transportation for more than a year.

You mad because Jussie Smollett's hate crime story unraveled faster than a ball of yarn? We're all upset about that, but he wouldn't be the first Black man to tell a tall tale. Read some Zora Neale Hurston and you'll see what I mean. Apparently, Megyn 'Jesus-is-white-and-Santa-too' Kelly was right about blackface being cool among white kids in the 80s. So what? Did you actually believe that post-racial sweetener they were serving at Starbucks was real sugar?

You want Black History Month to be a celebration of all the isht you never had to experience. You want the film version that has a happy ending. You forgot that in between the paragraph on slavery and the page about the Civil Rights Movement, our people still lived in this country and went through hell. It was living through that hell that gave us the triumphs we want to trumpet. That's why you need to listen to all three verses of Lift Every Voice and Sing because it was the God of our weary years, the God of our silent tears...who brought us here. We don't get from February to February on the highlights and the trivia. We make it through the struggle.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Who Does She Think She Is?

I have been revisiting some themes from my past and updating old blog posts. One old post that came to mind in recent weeks is this piece from the Cafe, which I wrote after I saw The Devil Wears Prada at the movies. That was a full lifetime ago in a way, since I worked for the person at issue in that piece a full twenty years ago this month!

There is a lot I should say about that experience now that has been literally a lifetime ago and I am no longer bitter (especially since Devil has become one of my favorite lazy day movies). And maybe one day I will take the time to unpack the emotions of my 30-something self who was looking back on her 20-something self in reaction to a reality that my 40-something self now realizes set the stage for so much of who I am and have been in that span of time. But I will quickly dispatch that old piece by saying this: the Busy Black Woman exists, in part, because of the 50 weeks I worked for her.

I chose to open this piece by revisiting that old piece because of what I have been noticing in the media coverage of the women who currently serve in some powerful capacity--whether as Members of Congress, Governors, or as Senators with ambitions to become President. In one way or another, it seems as if there has been a concerted effort to minimize the accomplishments of these women in a manner that would be considered petty if the same standards were applied to their male counterparts. In subtle and overt ways, the question underlying all of this 'vetting':

Who does she think she is?

For example, any affiliation with the Ivy-League would be an asset for a man, but for a woman it becomes a gaudy piece of costume jewelry. Elizabeth Warren taught for 20 years at a certain highly coveted Ivy, but instead of it being lauded as an asset, it feeds this narrative of her as out of touch. Ignore the fact that she championed the creation of and headed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, because it is far more important to lampoon her mistaken belief that she had Native American ancestry. (Mind you, she did grow up in Oklahoma and it isn't as if half the Black people you know don't make similar claims.)

The all-American mythology of charting a path to success by hard work and determination is praiseworthy for men; for women, it is something else entirely. A woman who chooses to follow the traditional political path from prosecutor to public office like Kamala Harris did gets blasted as opportunistic. And because she put too many Black men in jail and married a white man, she's not Black enough despite the fact that she was raised in Oakland in the 60s and went to Howard University. Nah, she can't be Black because her Daddy, who was born in Jamaica and her Mama, who was born in India, didn't descend from American slavery...and at 54 years old, she has no idea what discrimination is.

Mean bosses can make life absolutely miserable, but so can allegedly nice bosses who can't figure out what they want. Thus, in order to be effective, it is the combination of staff who can do the job and having a boss who knows what h/she wants. Legions of men have been hard/bad/lecherous bosses, but let one woman show up with very definite ideas and opinions about how she wants things done, and she gets bad press that questions her ability to lead. Amy Klobuchar won't get to become President by being Minnesota nice (a lesson she probably learned from Eugene McCarthey, Hubert Humphrey, and Walter Mondale).

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, John McCain, Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan, Strom Thurmond and countless other men all held elected office over the age of 70. But Hillary Clinton lacks stamina because she had to take a few days off while battling pneumonia. Nancy Pelosi should give up all of the seniority she's earned and turn over her congressional leadership position to a bunch of youngins merely because they think she is too old and polarizing. Meanwhile, women are just getting bathroom parity in the U.S. Capitol.

Who do they think they are?

Governor Gretchen Whitmore (D) gives an important address about the State of her State (Michigan), but receives more attention for her dress. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have their every word dissected for hints of possible sympathy for terrorist insurrection against the United States, despite the fact that both women are American citizens (Tlaib was born and raised here; Omar became a citizen in 2000). Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is idealistic, young, brash, and outspoken just like any other ambitious 29-year old.

Who are these women, who have the nerve to be dissatisfied with the status quo? Who are they, women with the audacity to defy the conventional roles that other women have accepted without complaint? Where did they get the bright idea that they could disrupt the power structure? Who do they think they are and what are they trying to do?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

NYFW Black in Fashion Fall 2019

As I attempt to juggle several balls in the air for Black History Month this year, I promised myself (and you) that I would revisit and update this series for New York Fashion Week. Here we are, and ironically in the midst of a scandal that makes it all the more timely that we highlight a few current Black designers and fashion influencers. With all due respect to Spike Lee, who called for a boycott of Gucci and Prada over their recent blackface debacles, how about we cancel those labels and focus on building the brands of a few of these Black designers?

It is just a one-day miniseries this year, so here is the index of designers who are presenting at NYFW (February 6-13) and who are also featured on the Busy Black Woman social media pages today.



Harlem's Fashion Row

Jason Rembert (Aliette)

LaQuan Smith


Studio 189


Virgil Abloh

I'm adding one designer as an Honorable Mention this year:
Christian Siriano

Friday, February 8, 2019

Black on Broadway (Intro)

Whenever Black History Month comes around, I feel the impulse to produce a project or write a report, like I always had to do when I was growing up. I would select some notable(s) to highlight and then spent the month immersing myself in their life story. Right now, several of my Facebook friends are engaging in a similar exercise based on a theme for the month, such as HBCUs, famous Black women, Blacks in STEM (which once featured my Dad a couple of years ago, so that was cool), etc. The great thing about these social media Black History Month presentations is that they can reach a much broader audience than just our peers.

Last year on the blog, I revived that practice when I posted my first mini-series Blacks in Fashion on the contributions of African American models, designers and fashion influencer. My "project" was inspired by a random tweet I saw about the life of fashion designer Ann Lowe and the coincidence of New York Fashion Week taking place at the same time. There will be a another installment of that series as well, but in the meantime, I decided to put together another series that I am calling "Black on Broadway".

The impetus for this series was the recent death of singer and actress Carol Channing last month. In her memoir published in 2002, Just Lucky I Guess, Channing revealed that her father was Black, a fact that was ignored or downplayed in many of the obituaries that honored her last month. I thought that was odd...and while I still wonder why so many so-called respected news outlets (like NPR and the New York Times) chose not to address that aspect of her life, it also made me wonder about her contemporaries who could not pass.

I haven't read the book, so I only know about this late-in-life revelation from interviews, like this one she gave to Larry King that was recounted in The Root. Well, my reaction isn't to claim her with wide open arms because this was not some surprise she encountered late in life, but something she learned as a teenager. And then she went on to pursue a career on Broadway as a white woman! Am I the only person who is frustrated by that???

In order for people to truly appreciate my frustration, when Pearl Bailey reprised the role of Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly in 1968, the breakout role that made Channing nationally famous in 1964, it was in an all-Black production. It was common for certain works to be race-recasted (my word for revivals that feature a cast of one racial or ethnic group), but in this clip where Channing introduced Bailey's performance at the Tony Awards, she made no mention of her own ethnicity:

Instead, Channing continued to live with her secret and the privileges that came with it. By the time I was introduced to her on children's TV shows such as Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, opportunities for Black actresses had expanded. But by waiting to talk about her father's ethnicity until she had reached the twilight of her career, she escaped the racism and limitations that had been placed on her contemporaries. Lena Horne (whom I also encountered on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show before seeing her bring down the house in The Wiz) comes to mind as one of the primary examples of an actress who was courageous enough not to pass--and whose career reflects the realities of that choice.

So for this month's series, which will run on the Busy Black Woman social media pages, I will highlight several of the Black women who had careers on Broadway during Channing's time, but also several who are making names for themselves currently. It will run on Wednesdays starting next week (because this first week of Black History month has been crazy) for the remainder of this month and next so that we can also make use of both Black History and Women's History Months. The index with all of the links will be posted at the end of the series.

In the meantime, let's go out on a high note (pun intended). Enjoy this clip of Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey performing "Hello Dolly" together:

Throw It All Away

Well this Black History Month is off to an auspicious start...

Thank you Ralph Northam and Mark Herring for your youthful blackface shenanigans.
Thank you Liam Neeson for sharing your latent racist impulses to kill random Black men.
Thank you Kevin Hart for ruining the Oscars.
Thank you Rachel Dolezal for starring in a YouTube braiding tutorial.
And thank you Justin Fairfax for dashing our hopes and dreams for your political future.

I am referring to the sexual assault allegation made against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-VA) by Dr. Vanessa Tyson. Here is her account of what happened between them. Here is his statement about their encounter.

These allegations are unfortunate and disturbing. When I first heard the story my heart sank. And then I breathed a sigh of relief when the next sentence assured me that the allegations were uncorroborated (which registered in my brain as unfounded). Because then, he could go on to become the second Black governor of Virginia...

But then I felt uneasy, and then ashamed.

Not less than six months ago, I heard the news of an anonymous allegation made against a certain Supreme Court nominee. I didn't experience any heartbreak then. Last month when a six-part documentary aired that outlined the exploits of a certain R&B artist, my heart didn't skip a beat. When the verdict was announced against a certain philanthropic comedian, I shrugged. As name after name of powerful men were suddenly linked with #MeToo, including some that I admired, my reactions varied, but I never second-guessed the accounts the women offered. Until this one.

Now I am disillusioned. Why the cautious and careful statements of support for both parties? I thought the lesson of the past year was to believe women, so what gives? Do we only believe the women who speak up against monsters or weirdos or lotharios or men whose politics we dislike?

Rarely is there evidence to corroborate these types of accusations because intimate sexual encounters are always between two people. Memories are not synchronized to recall the same set of details or to highlight the same specific events. The choice to believe one person's version over the other is the choice to recognize what one person has to gain or lose by lying.

In the interest of full disclosure, I made a campaign contribution to Fairfax's campaign but I don't know him or Vanessa Tyson. I don't live in Virginia nor am I familiar with Tyson's scholarship. Yes, the timing and the source are reasons to be skeptical. My opinion on this matter is based entirely on my belief that there is very little for Vanessa Tyson to gain by lying. Who wants their private life exposed to this type of scrutiny? Why become yet another face in the #MeToo lineup now that people are more inclined to criticize her for taking down a promising young Black politician than to celebrate her courage?

I don't have the wisdom of Solomon to split this baby. And I don't know what type of investigation is supposed to take place to determine who is telling the truth. Realistically should every past sexual partner of the Lt. Governor be questioned to determine if there is a pattern and who conducts those interviews? Could this be the conversation about the nuances of consent that we've been reluctant to have (because we'd rather argue what she should have expected by her presence alone with him)? And what does he tell his young children? What do we tell our children? Yes, I am sympathetic to his plight as well because he won't emerge from this unscathed. There remains the possibility that this is a misunderstanding...

Let's not throw it all away just yet.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Y&R Generation

It was the first news article on my timeline the other day, and sadly because the source was TMZ, I feared it was not a hoax. And just as soon as I confirmed the news from another site, I posted an article along with my quick commentary about it being such a shock, then friends began to weigh in with their memories of having watched the actor Kristoff St. John on The Young and the Restless.

And I think I would have just left it alone with that Facebook post, but then I saw all of the mentions later on Twitter that lamented his loss only with respect to Y&R. Which, on the one hand, makes sense as he had been a fixture on that show since 1991. But on the other hand, St. John had been someone whose work I had known since my childhood. In fact, since our childhood because he literally grew up with my generation on camera.

Thus, the shock of his death feels personal, like we've lost a cousin that we used to play with when we were kids, hung out with as teenagers and maybe even as young adults, but once we got to that stage when paths diverge to make way for careers, children, and other pursuits, we only saw each other on special occasions. Like on those days when we're home from work and the channel just happens to be tuned around noon to Y&R.

Before I address the magnitude of his nearly 30 year role on that iconic show, I need to emphasize the point that St. John had a career before he joined that cast. He was a child actor whose first credited role was on That's My Mama in 1975. My first recollection of him was on Roots: The Next Generation as a young Alex Haley. He had other roles in TV movies and shows, including guest appearances on The Cosby Show and A Different World. By the time he starred on Generations, a short-lived but ground-breaking interracial soap opera, he was a show biz veteran.

Come to think of it, with the exception of Janet Jackson and Kim Fields (and maybe a few others), I don't recall that there have been too many well-known Black actors who successfully made the transition from childhood to adulthood on screen without serious issues. As far as I know, until the tragedy of his son's death a few years ago, St. John avoided the pitfalls of drug use and fast living. He was as straight an arrow as the character he portrayed on Y&R, Neil Winters.

As I read through the various tributes on social media, everyone recalled getting hooked on the soaps with their grandmothers, aunts, or older babysitters (for me it was my grandmother). Back then there were only three networks that aired soaps during the day, typically after the midday news and before the afternoon talk shows. Dedicated soap fans typically watched all of the shows that aired on one network, and my grandmother was a CBS fan, so that meant Y&R, As The World Turns, and Guiding Light. There were also at least two half-hour shows that I remember before The Bold and the Beautiful occupied that slot: Search for Tomorrow and Capitol. Over the years, I maintained my dedication to Grandma's shows, with some deviations, until I gave them up for good about fifteen years ago.

In one significant deviation, I began watching the ABC soaps (All My Children in particular) the summer that my older cousin babysat for us. That also happened to be the in the midst of the Angie and Jessie storyline, who were the first Black super couple on daytime TV. I eventually made my way back to Y&R, just in time for college and the introduction of a Black storyline that centered on a young man named Neil Winters. However, before Neil, there was Adam Marshall on Generations.

For anyone who watched these shows prior to the premier of Generations (with the aforementioned exception of Angie and Jessie), there were very few Black characters of significance on any show. Our grandmothers watched them faithfully, even when the only Black characters who appeared on screen were in the background or were the maids...which is typically how those younger Black characters were introduced. Generations was the first show to have a Black family prominently featured, even though my recollection and ultimate frustration with that show was its limited run and the Marshall family's very marginalized story.

Enter Neil Winters, who arrived in lily white Genoa City for a corporate job. And in 1991, with the paradox of companies being called upon to diversify their workplaces, while affirmative action in education and hiring was being litigated, his appearance was a big deal. He wasn't the mail clerk or the local street guy turned cop (like Nathan Hastings) being given a chance at redemption. He was a college educated Black man with an executive J-O-B...and he was fine!

Nowadays, Black characters are a dime a dozen on whatever soaps are left. Times have changed, with a range of daytime television options and a generation of kids whose grandmothers probably aren't available during the day anymore. Kristoff St. John was a pioneer, not just for that particular character, but for the era his character ushered in with respect to representation on television. Thus, his death is personal, because it isn't just Neil Winters who died (and I am sure the show will find a respectable way to deal with this, which means I may have to tune in for the next few days).

As I stated earlier, St. John was my contemporary, so the realities he dealt with in his personal life parallel where my peers and I are in life--marriages, children, career inertia, and tragedy, we can relate to it all. He managed to keep most of those personal struggles off camera until the loss of his grown son to suicide a few years ago. And that is perhaps the point where this catches me without the ability to adequately communicate just how unnerving the news of his death has been. For some of us, there might be that moment when the world becomes too much to bear...

Not too long ago, a friend and I were talking about the Michael Jackson Pepsi commercial, and she thought the moonwalking kid was Kristoff St. John (when it was really another former child actor contemporary of ours, Alfonso Ribeiro). She sent me this clip of St. John on a sketch segment from the Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour called Lou Effy and Moreen and it became a great walk down memory lane. And that is how I need to remember him and us--in a simpler world and time when we still watched corny sketch shows and soap operas with Grandma.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Whose Child Is This?

This tweet appeared on my timeline and agitated my soul.

Whose child is this? To what ring of Hell has our society descended when someone's 22 year old daughter with no credit history thinks her opinion matters with respect to paying taxes and how that translates into someone else's salary? Some girl whose apparent job is to talk shit on social media believes she has more worth than the person whose job it is to prevent bombs from boarding airplanes with your emotional support animals. And then had the audacity to tweet that nonsense...while posing in that damn red hat.

That hat. The one that proclaims the exact opposite of what it states. Last week it was worn by that child at the Lincoln Memorial who insisted on his right to stare down a Native American Marine veteran. Then he convinces a national audience to sympathize with him because his class trip got ruined, so now he gets to return and visit the White House. Let my child touch a makeup display, and y'all get extra, but let some kid in that red hat goad folks into a needless confrontation and they will get a lawyer and a PR firm to justify their behavior.

Who do these insolent children think they are?

But this isn't just about those hats (even though that only intensifies my disgust). Nor is this another Black Mama rant about how my child would never be afforded the benefit of the doubt. Pointing out the double and triple standards of systematic inequality is an exercise in futility. Yet, I am going to say what I have to say anyway, because it must be said (even if it isn't heard):


While the impact of the government shutdown was felt across the economic spectrum of the Washington area, the face of that disruption became the Black workers who were standing on food lines, not the white workers who were dipping into their IRA accounts. Both situations were frustrating examples of how people's real-life hardships had very little influence on lawmakers and Administration officials. Those visuals were all the more uncomfortable when it became clear that there was almost no sympathy for the people who were being forced to work without pay.

So the very idea that Little Miss MAGA felt entitled to suggest that anybody's job was to bow and scrape to the likes of her just stirred up all the antebellum rage I could contain. A similar kind of ire was provoked by Little Mr. MAGA, who wanted us to believe that he would have the right to stare down his Vietnam vet grandfather or great-uncle with that smug smirk. (And I know, Nathan Phillips was a problematic victim; I read the article and I'm sensitive to his misrepresentation issues. But he sure was swiftly and conveniently discredited...)

Maybe it is because we've seen this behavior before. We've seen the smug faces, the sense of entitlement, the disdain for the other. The indifference some people have expressed over children being separated from their parents at the border is the same indifference shown to slave families on the auction block. The same self-satisfied visage has been captured on the face of every lynch mob participant gathered around a smoldering body. Taunting crowds similarly harassed children who sought to integrate schools. So no Miss MAGA, we are not amused by your attempt to diminish TSA workers the same way people used to refer to all Pullman Porters as George.

These aren't kids being kids when they blatantly disrespect people of color with impunity. These are your bad eggs. God help you when those chickens come home to roost.