Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Over-Policing Our Babies

My head and my heart hurt from this video footage of a six-year old being arrested in Orlando (the incident occurred back in September, but the recording was recently released). She apparently had a violent tantrum at school due to some underlying health issues, so the police were called.

On an unrelated, yet in a similar vein, a tweet from Moms Demand reminded me that it has been eight years since Trayvon Martin was gunned down in his Dad's gated community by a vigilante (whose name I refuse to acknowledge). The wannabe neighborhood watchman initially called the police because Martin looked suspicious, and sadly we all know the tragic result of that encounter. I'm sure that if I keep digging, I will find other incidences to depress me--like the video footage from the arrest of a family after their four-year old held onto a doll from a dollar store in Phoenix. Or I could invoke the memory of twelve-year old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland playground, but wound up dead because the police officer thought he was a threat.

I can tell you that as a Black mother, my worst fears are always realized whenever I read about these instances where our children don't elicit the same empathy as abandoned pets. Where our children are held accountable for their own demise. Where our children are not allowed to be curious or misbehave without it becoming a referendum on our parenting (or our culture).

Recently in the Atlanta airport, my daughter had a tantrum over a toy that we refused to buy and the intensity of her behavior escalated to the point where I got nervous that we might get into trouble. As in we-need-to-speak-to-you and yeah-you-might-miss-your-flight kind of trouble. Maybe it was an irrational fear, but in an era of ubiquitous security and cell phone cameras, who knows. Because public discipline of a Black child in mixed spaces can have untold consequences beyond viral video infamy. So I carried her off to the bathroom for a 'talk' which was indeed just a talk...

Welcome to the reality of constantly walking that tightrope between damned if you do/damned if you don't--that purgatory where your child is deemed a risk to public safety for existing and you feel constantly judged and impotent as a parent.

I don't know what caused that girl in Florida to lash out in such a rage at school, but whatever it was, it disheartens me. That could just as easily have been my daughter on a bad day when I have deprived her of something she wanted. Like the day we threatened to leave her on the beach when she refused to stop playing in the sand. Or the other day when I told her that she could not have an ice cream bar, so she screamed and flailed and cried for 20 minutes straight. You might be reading this and thinking spare the rod, spoil the child, and all manner of old-school parenting responses.

And that's part of the problem. Old school parenting doesn't work anymore. It causes more harm than good according to studies and outcomes. Enough of us live with the trauma of abuse to know that beating our children into submission will only make them more resentful than obedient. So we rely on more creative punishments, rationalization, prayer, wine...because failure could mean that I end up talking to my child through several layers of glass on a prison phone. Or I'm selecting a coffin.

Maybe this is just my scream into the void. But it cannot be acceptable that, at least with respect to our children, our shortcomings as parents come with the threat of police intervention. That successful Black motherhood (in addition to surviving childbirth) and fatherhood are judged by not having your children arrested or killed prior to reaching the age of 18. That instead of a village that nurtures and supports our families, we live in a police state.

Why was it deemed necessary to call the police on a child? And if that was the appropriate protocol to bring a volatile situation under control, then what were the next steps taken to keep the child safe? When the officer arrived on the scene, the child was calm. The child became hysterical again when told that she was being arrested, but she did not respond with violence. So was the point here to frighten her into more acceptable behavior? Might that have been accomplished without arresting her and subjecting her to that trauma? The officer lost his job, but was he a scapegoat for a system that would have otherwise applauded his actions absent the public outcry? And what about the child--what services will she and her family receive? Obviously she needs help...

So yeah, I'm going to say it because if she had been WHITE, none of this would have happened. Her behavioral issues would have been identified and diagnosed. She would have been at a special school where administrators would have known how to diffuse her outbursts. Her parents would have been called (not the police), and there would have been meetings to determine how best to address her needs. This entire episode would have been recast as a bad day, kind of like this cute story (which happens to be on our bookshelf, courtesy of a local library program). Or she would have become the inspiration for a beloved children's lit character like Ramona Quimby or Eloise.

Black children deserve to be children! Our children deserve the chance to grow up to be fearless and bold, and in the process they deserve to be irrepressible and a little wild. Childhood is a brief moment in the span of a life, and God-willing that a Black child gets to live a full life without fear and trauma. God willing that despite this episode, this little brown-skinned girl grows up to be free.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Remembering B. Smith

I have mixed emotions over the passing of Barbara Elaine Smith, known as B. Smith to most of us who came to regard her as the Black Martha Stewart. I know that description seems diminishing in some respects, as legend has it that Stewart patterned her lifestyle empire on what Smith was doing (but we know how these things go). But either way, B. Smith was special to us. She was one of our first Black supermodels. She was our elegant sister, stylish Auntie, and overall fabulous friend who seemed to do everything with panache. She encouraged us to make use of those fancy serving dishes we inherited in that old dining room curio. Her cookbook gave us low calorie versions and interesting takes of the soul food we would serve on those antique platters and plates (because yeah, we bought her cookbook and actually used it).

To Washingtonians of a certain age, her restaurant at Union Station was the place to go if you wanted to impress out of town visitors or celebrate some momentousness occasion. According to Al Roker, the same was true about her New York establishment. A few years back, the Hub and I ate at the Sag Harbor outpost because we were vacationing there. Along with a few of her friends, we celebrated my Mom's 65th birthday at the Union Station location during its final year of operation. Sadly, it was less than a year later that Smith would reveal her own Alzheimer's diagnosis.

My mixed emotions are not about her transition inasmuch as they are about the way people have responded to her death by renewing their venom against her husband and caregiver, Dan Gasby. It strikes me as a bit ironic that in the wake of Kobe Bryant's untimely death last month, it was too soon to discuss the rape allegations that he had faced in 2003 (or to call him a rapist or to say anything about him that wasn't effusive praise) yet here we are. I know Gasby is still alive, so maybe these are apples and oranges, but in my mind, we are still in the produce aisle.

And folks have opinions on everything. So damn. The man lost his wife. Show some respect.

I read the statement he released, in which thanked the hospice doctors and other friends for their support, and my heart sank at the word hospice. For anyone who knows what that means or who has gone through that process, Smith had apparently been in rapidly declining health in recent weeks. Which means Dan Gasby has been watching his wife die. Let that sink in before you continue to read. I hadn't been paying close attention to the activity on their page lately (shifted to Instagram), so I have no idea if this was a sudden illness or the natural course of things. Having just experienced a hospice situation myself, let me say the death watch/wait is agonizing.

So the first thing anyone needs to say to Dan Gasby and their daughter Dana (yes, her daughter too) is I am so sorry for your loss. And unless you are family or a close friend, then that is all you need to say to Dan Gasby.

Now, what you choose to think about him is your prerogative, and if you decide to share those thoughts on social media, I am going to issue the same missive we dispatched to the folks who were eager to remind the world of Kobe Bryant's past mere hours after he died--STAND DOWN. Now is not the time for you to weigh in with your ill-timed barbs and poison-tipped arrows to strike at a man who just lost his wife. Fuck your feelings about his personal life, which is still none of your damn business. To everyone who already felt the need to bash him in his hour of grief, you suck.

I said my peace on Dan Gasby previously, a little over a year ago in fact, so I will try not to repeat myself too much, but let's real talk this. In the year since he revealed that other side to his personal life, that's all everyone seems to discuss, which is fucked up because there was a LOT more he was sharing than just his bedroom situation. He was telling us that Alzheimer's is not just about the person who receives the diagnosis--it upends the entire family unit. It destroys one life slowly, while simultaneously altering the course of everyone else's lives in the process. Ask me how I know this.

Alzheimer's is an urgent public health crisis, one that will do more damage to more families in the coming years as Baby Boomers and Generation Xers age. Learn the facts for yourself via the Alzheimer's Association. There you will learn that women are more likely to develop this disease, it isn't just memory loss, and that it can strike earlier than what we consider advanced age. B. Smith and my Mom developed early-onset dementia in their 60s. They were both diagnosed at age 64, which is one year shy of retirement age and Medicare eligibility. Right now, while some lawmakers are suggesting that we can bump the age to 67 to account for our longer life-spans, consider the financial hit your family could take without affordable health care insurance. Because Alzheimer's doesn't care if you are a Democrat or a Republican, it is an expensive disease to diagnose and treat, and currently, there is no cure. It is 100% fatal, and despite whatever fish oil/crossword puzzle bullshit you've read, it is not preventable. Let that sink in.

That means, many of us will be caught in a financial tsunami of navigating long-term health care costs, tuition for our kids and/or grandchildren, mortgages, and all manner of deferred dreams that could be affected by an Alzheimer's diagnosis. Then there is the matter of caregiving and how that burden disproportionately falls to women as well. But if we are the ones more likely to be stricken, then that means our caregivers will be our spouses or our children or an underpaid stranger. And if you need to visualize what that means, then Dad will be caring for Mom. Maybe he will have the help of a child (a daughter usually)--someone who has the flexibility to forgo earning potential to be on call. Or if they have the means, he will hire in-home assistance, who might be the same person for the duration of the illness, or several people in and out of the house (with unfettered access to all of Mom's pretty things). Or worst case scenario, Mom will end up in a facility where someone might get around to seeing her once or twice a week.

Back to B. Smith, because I know that I tend to think of her situation and my mother's as the same, but I cannot help but to see the parallels. Her family's choice to be transparent and open about this journey gave me some measure of courage to become more open about my own journey. I am still on it, and in spite of the hardships, I am grateful.

But don't get it twisted--this is not easy. Which was the other truth Dan Gasby was sharing when he opened his life for us to scrutinize. Male caregiving is not the societal norm, and he made some very public missteps in his approach, but bless his heart. It is not easy to watch someone who was so full of life and independence regress into an invisible shell. It is not easy to watch a vibrant woman who could have had up to twenty more years of a fabulous life ahead of her wither away in six years. It is not easy to wake up one day and accept that your quality of life has also irrevocably changed. Friends and relatives stop calling and visiting. It becomes a lonely, monotonous existence. Whether you agree or not, he had a right to maintain some semblance of a life instead of having to rebuild one from the ashes of grief and despair.

I know, his white girlfriend though. Yeah, Karma is a bitch and she is staring at all of us because we all live in glass houses. So instead of hurling rocks at his for what you think he's been doing these six years, why don't you visit that old aunt or grandmother or neighbor with Alzheimer's every week instead of once every blue moon. And stay for longer than 30 minutes to see if that doesn't change your perspective.

I'm done for now. My sincerest condolences to Dan and Dana Gasby, and every other relative and close friend of B. Smith who traveled this journey through Alzheimer's with them. This is a time for mourning, but also celebration. In Smith's honor, I might cook this week and serve it on my wedding china. With style!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Playlist Project: Brandy

There are two personally indulgent reasons why Brandy Norwood, born February 11, deserves a Busy Black Woman playlist.

Before I divulge those reasons, take a look at this old picture of me from more than 20 years ago. I am wearing braids, and since I look a little younger than my actual age, I was often told that I was a doppelganger for Brandy. At the time, she was starring on Moesha and she had a budding music career. Our alleged resemblance becomes an important factor in this story:

One summer during an outing in Manhattan, the then-boyfriend (now Hub) and I ended up near Central Park at a Gap. I don't remember why we went into the store, but we were there for about five minutes when I spotted Luther Vandross. Yes, THE Luther Vandross. As this was the era before cell phone cameras and smartphones, it was just my best guess that this tall guy who looked just like Luther was in a Gap with his nephew trying on clothes. Luther freaking Vandross!!!

Meanwhile, he seemed a bit perplexed by our presence, which we assumed was us violating the New York Celebrity Code of noticing, but not drawing attention to someone famous. So we went about the business of fake shopping (because whatever I thought I might have been looking for at that point was irrelevant). We also noticed that the sales people in the store seemed to be acting weird towards us, so I picked something out and asked to be shown to a dressing room in another part of the store.

It was then that the salesman helping me revealed the source of all the nervous energy. Apparently, another sales person thought I was Brandy and she had alerted the others via walkie talkie to that fact. Even Mr. Vandross wondered if I was Brandy, so his stares were part of his attempt to determine what I was shopping for at the Gap with some dude he thought was my body guard. Meanwhile, no one else had noticed that the actual famous person in the store was Luther freaking Vandross buying jeans with his nephew. While we were discussing this, Vandross had left, and all of us (including several other sales associates) shared a laugh at what could have been the plot of a very special mistaken identity episode of Moesha. And to this day, I am amazed that a Brandy look-alike caused a bigger stir than Luther freaking Vandross buying jeans for his nephew.

Whew. I have been waiting to spill that tea for years. That is a 100% true story of how I am always fame-adjacent and reason number one why Brandy gets a playlist. She is my doppelganger imaginary younger sister.

Reason number two: she is one of the few R&B singers from the 90s whose career has managed to survive. Brandy was a legit child star who was also a singer. But not in the way that every other Disney starlet was a wannabe singer, but the real deal. She transitioned into adulthood in spite of the various associated pressures and without the same career-derailing growing pains as some of her peers.

On her birthday, I posted this clip of Impossible, from Cinderella in which she starred alongside her mentor, the great Whitney Houston in 1996. It was in tribute to both of them, as that was the same day that Houston died back in 2011. Even now, there are times when I still see Brandy as this precocious young girl, despite the fact that she and I are only a few years apart in age. Or I look back and marvel at how she held her own singing with another iconic diva, Diana Ross, on Love Is All That Matters in the film Double Platinum (1999). And we've already established that she was the star of her own sitcom, Moesha, for six years.

Brandy also popped up on my radar recently as tributes to Kobe Bryant included the memory of them having gone to the prom together. And that made me think of Brokenhearted (1994), which she sang with Wanya Morris from Boys II Men and that got me to thinking about that crazy story Adina Howard told in her Unsung episode. And that got me to thinking about how Alicia Keys and Boys II Men performed that beautiful impromptu tribute to Bryant at the Grammys, which was soooo much better than their last award show appearance. And just how damn, the 90s...

Brandy was big in the 90s. And for that other young woman pictured above, the 90s was her coming-of-age decade, so any excuse to look back fondly to that uncomplicated time is welcome. Here are a few of my favorite early Brandy hits:

I Wanna Be Down (1994) and the Remix

Baby (1994)

Sitting Up In My Room (1995)

Have You Ever (1998)
Almost Doesn't Count (1998)

The Boy Is Mine with Monica (1998)

In the 2000s, life changed for both of us. I got married and Brandy had a child. She had some troubles, but appeared to rebound from them out of the spotlight while her brother became a more ubiquitous presence on reality television (which reminded me a lot of how my parents also made me take my younger brother along with me as boy repellent). She released a couple of albums, but fewer hits:

What About Us (2002)

Full Moon (2002)

Who Is She 2 U (2004)

Because her creative output in the last two decades has been mostly as an actress, I've been thinking of a third reason for Brandy to receive this tribute. Now that she is a fully grown woman, it's time to give her the chance to become a fully realized talent. That doesn't mean that she should walk away from the music business, but maybe she should leave the purgatory of reality television to her less talented brother. It is time for her to be given broader opportunities, in line with her run on Broadway as Roxie Hart in Chicago in 2015 and 2017. She has so much more to offer, and where else would her talents as both an actress and a singer receive the attention she rightfully deserves?

And perhaps maybe we can accidentally run into each other in New York City to see if we still favor. Now that I have shared that Luther Vandross story, I need a better anecdote and pictures.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Playlist Project: Roberta Flack

You know how there are singers that have been in your life for so long that you take them for granted? As in, you know their music and that they had significant influence, but the fact that they have been so familiar for so long means that you know better than to pay tribute to their work with a hasty belated birthday tribute...

To be clear, Roberta Cleopatra Flack, who was born February 10, 1936, is a different kind of musical diva--not the most prolific or beloved like some of her peers, but definitely not the kind of unsung artist that merits an hour-long documentary. On the contrary, she's one of those musicians that most people are unaware that they know. A lot of her music has been covered by multiple artists, and I think that for a lot of my peers, she is better known for her duets with similarly understated R&B balladeers. To some, her music might be disregarded as the kind of background white noise that one might hear in a department store or in a waiting room, To others, Flack's music is the embodiment of romantic love, a pure and almost naive emotion to build one's career around; yet, in her prime, Roberta Flack sang love songs because once upon a time, people used to fall in love.

Her classic well-known solo hits were all released in the 70s. Often they were covers of previously released songs such as Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (1972). This was one of the first big hits written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, originally performed as a faster-tempo doo-wop song by The Shirelles in 1960. King released it as a ballad on her iconic Tapestry album in 1971, and in 2004 Amy Winehouse released a version that definitely demonstrates her respect for doo-wop, pop, and Flack's soulful version. (If you want an interesting nod to the original, check out Leslie Grace's 2018 release.)

Flack recorded the original version of Feel Like Makin' Love in 1974, but it was also covered several times that same year. I like these two instrumental takes by Roy Ayers and Bob James, as well as this funkier version released by Marlena Shaw. But I have to be honest--this this pop version released by George Benson in 1983 is meh, even though it sounds a lot like something Flack and Donny Hathaway might have recorded as a duet. D'Angelo planned to record a duet with Lauryn Hill that never materialized, but his 2000 neo-soul version is a perfect nod to the original.

It was fascinating to learn that Flack's version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (1971), was originally a folk song that had been written in 1957 for Peggy Seegar (yes, she is related to Pete). It was recorded several times, most notably by Peter, Paul and Mary and gospel duo Joe and Eddie (1963). While I can clearly hear those influences, hers has become the definitive cover upon which others are based. Compare these two versions by Isaac Hayes and Johnny Cash, as well as this modern take by Celine Dion.

Finally, Killing Me Softly (1973) is probably her best known hit, a classic ballad that has aged like fine wine. I remember hearing it regularly on the Quiet Storm until this Al B. Sure remake in 1989, which then was remade in 1996 by The Fugees. Both versions are dope, and that is not my nostalgia speaking (okay it is). So color me surprised to learn that Nancy Sinatra (released in 2013) and Perry Cuomo (1992) both recorded this song, which reminded me of the Anne Murray (1973) easy listening version that I recall from 70s AM radio. Also, I was fascinated to learn about this bizarre history of the song's original singer, Lori Lieberman (1971)...

I posted It Might Be You (1994) to the Facebook mini playlist, because I was looking for a more contemporary release. I recall this version from Waiting to Exhale, which referenced the fact that it had been featured in Tootsie (recorded in 1982 by Steve Bishop). Patti Austin's spare version on her 1992 live album is simply beautiful.

And speaking of songs from movies, who remembers Flack's Just When I Needed You from Bustin' Loose (1981)? Or what about the theme song to Valerie/The Hogan Family? Anybody? Just me? Ok...


I did not include any duets on the Facebook playlist in order to highlight that Flack had been a respectable solo artist in her own right. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that some of her best work was in collaboration with other artists, most notably the late Donny Hathaway (1945-1979). Here are a few gems from their catalog:

You've Got A Friend (1971)

Where Is the Love? (1972)

The Closer I Get To You (1978)

Back Together Again and You Are My Heaven (released in 1980)

After Hathaway's tragic death, Flack teamed up with Peabo Bryson, and they released a few respectable hits in the early 80s, the biggest of which was Tonight, I Celebrate My Love (1983). They also recorded a version of If Only For One Night in 1980, before it became a hit for Luther Vandross in 1985 (which was originally written and recorded by Brenda Russell in 1979).

Speaking of the late Luther Vandross, who worked with Flack and several other artists as a backup singer in the 70s, he wrote You Stopped Loving Me, which appeared on both of their albums in 1981 (her version was included on the Bustin' Loose soundtrack). But can I be honest that I was more excited to find their collaboration on this jingle for Löwenbräu beer? I am SO Eighties right now...

One last thing I wanted to share--while compiling this playlist I learned that Flack was scheduled to be honored at the most recent Grammy Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Since suffering a stroke back in 2016, her public appearances have been rare. However, in preparation for the telecast which aired on February 26, she gave interviews to The Guardian and the New York Post. She was also the subject of this comprehensive feature on NPR's Turning the Tables on her birthday, which offers more insight into her career and her life. I didn't watch the Grammys, but I saw that she appeared on the red carpet, so perhaps it is fortuitous to get this opportunity to honor her work in this moment.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

BBW Tea Party: Bryant, Leslie, King and Associates

This has been an interesting few weeks. On Sunday, January 26 the news came that Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time was killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others. Since then, there have been all kinds of public discussions about the appropriate amount of grief to express (and by whom), as well as the timing of certain discussions about his very public life.

In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, shock and grief were to be expected, so when some opted to hone in on the rape allegation mere hours later, the clapback was swift. A reporter from The Washington Post was suspended for retweeting an old article, and while her colleagues lobbied for her reinstatement, she was criticized by others for what was perceived as insensitivity. My own immediate reaction (as soon as the sad fact that his daughter Gianna died with him), was to write a piece that paid homage to her as a Daddy's Girl. On the Facebook page, I offered a few thoughts, but thought it best not to address the 2003 allegations at that time. Instead, I re-posted a piece I wrote a couple of years ago in the wake of Sen. John McCain's death wherein I called for a cooling off period to allow for mourning before the airing of grievances.

Then the matter of this Gayle King interview with WNBA veteran Lisa Leslie expedited my timetable. I happened to be scrolling through Twitter midweek when I came across this video King posted (here is part 2). Then I saw a clip from the actual interview on Instagram. I only heard about the first Snoop video, which I won't post...

I said my peace, and that would have been the end of it for me until I saw how insane the reactions had become. Before I sat through all nine minutes of this video by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, there was a video posted by comedian Ricky Smiley (20 minutes long) that added to the poop pile dumped by Snoop, who had issued this non-apology clarification. Awesomely Luuvie weighed in while BFF Oprah got emotional on the TODAY show. The fact that Bill effing Cosby felt the need to align himself with Snoop in decrying the system that, in his words, uses "successful Black women to tarnish the image and legacy of successful Black men" should open everyone's eyes to how absurd this has become. But apparently not, since the ADOS (rebranded as Foundational Black Americans) fauxteps rose up on Twitter and other parts of social media to savage another more successful Black woman they love to hate. Once former Ambassador Susan Rice jumped into the fray to clap back, I found myself in utter amazement that y'all are angrier at a journalist for doing her damn J-O-B than you are at the United States Senate for acquitting the DESPOTUS!

However, before I delve any deeper into all of that booshay, I went back to my archives to see what, if anything, I had written about this case when it was headline news back in 2003. I was not yet blogging, so whatever I might have written is on some ancient external disk somewhere or perhaps handwritten in a long forgotten notebook. I most certainly had an opinion about the incident at the time, because I remember enough about it to have become disillusioned by the entire athletic industrial complex and the mistreatment of women. Instead, I found a piece I wrote about the Duke Lacrosse team sexual assault case back in 2006 (in fact, it was a two-parter). I won't link to any of the numerous pieces I have written on this blog about sexual assault and abuse, but I will admit that it has been a hot button topic for me.

I also have a somewhat more nuanced opinion about the case now. I found this article that addresses the matter as well as the statement he issued before the civil settlement. I have also taken note of the public persona he took on since that time. And without rehashing the scenario, I will link to this article that I read two years ago after Bryant won the Oscar for his animated short film and this article written by the same author two weeks ago when he died. Judge for yourself. It is undisputed that something went down that night, and since that time Kobe Bryant suffered limited consequences for his role. And in spite of the #MeToo societal reckoning that felled plenty of equally powerful and beloved public figures, he won an Academy Award before Spike Lee did.

So it was a FAIR question. Somebody had to ask about this, and if not Gayle King or some other Black journalist, then who? Who thinks a white journalist would have been as respectful? Who believes that one of his male peers would have been more forthright about offering a perspective on the incident than Leslie? And how does asking questions that were deftly deflected, in spite of King's prodding, tarnish Bryant's legacy or show disrespect to his family? How was this exchange any more disrespectful than Bryant's family learning about his death as breaking news on TMZ before there was official confirmation?

And when did y'all get so protective of Vanessa Bryant? Need I remind you that when his indiscretion occurred, Kobe Bryant bought his wife a $4 million baby-I-need-you-back ring, and there were debates about whether she deserved such extravagance. Then when they separated back in 2011, she was branded as a gold digger. I must be mis-remembering the chatter I've read over the years...maybe now that's she a widow and lost her child, she's finally earned some respect?

How did y'all pivot from your doting #girldad posts (a hashtag started by Elle Duncan, a Black woman, btw) to canceling Gayle King, and by extension the Oprah? Some of you were so proud of yourselves on social media, so in the real world, how hard are you willing to press for changes so that your daughters will face a more egalitarian society? How strong are you willing to push back against sexist attacks on Black women by petty dudes like 50 Cent and his ilk? And when the hell did Snoop Dogg become the spokesmodel for fake respectability politics disguised as misogyny?

Too many of you profess to love Black women until you don't.

Furthermore, if folks really gave a hot damn about how women were treated...but let's stick to sports. Then WNBA legitimacy would not be dependent on the support of high profile NBA players like Bryant and LeBron James. Their league would be better respected and there never would be a question whether Bryant's basketball legacy could have been carried forth by his daughter instead of a son.

But here is the catch--I'm going to extend some grace so that you can become better men, like you believe Kobe did. I won't dwell on his past conduct, but not because it serves no purpose. I disagree with Lisa Leslie and everyone else who prefers the more convenient version of his life story, where his denial and now his death close the book on that chapter forever. Most of our heroes are/were flawed humans, and death does not change the truth. If he changed after that 2003 incident, then acknowledging that past is his legacy. If that was the catalyst for the greatness you mourn, then include that in his story too. Adoration without reflection is idol worship, and idols are false gods.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Road to Perdition

The current occupant of the White House (whose name shall not be written here), did something last week that was beyond vile, even for him. So I am going to pray for him.

Yep, you read that right. I won't call him out by name because God knows my heart, but I will write his initials at the bottom of my weekly prayer list. From now on, I will whisper a quick #BeBest whenever I encounter his orange scowl glaring back at me. I might even go to the Shrine to buy myself a rosary. Yes, my beloved, he finally did something to earn my sympathy for his wretched and venomous soul--he mocked God. He took to the stage at the National Prayer Breakfast to crow about his acquittal, and then had the temerity to publicly proclaim that Nancy Pelosi, a devout Catholic mother of five and grandmother of nine, was lying when she said that she prays for him.

And y'all, he didn't drop dead on the spot.

I tweeted about this because his hubris is what my Great Aunt Sarah would have called the living gall. That this man, who sounds like he needs extensive practice in even invoking God without accidentally, on purpose saying who me used the occasion of a prayer breakfast to attack the faith of someone else is contemptible. That this modern-day King Nebuchadnezzar would suggest that he has been through Hell because he was being investigated for doing what he did, and then stacked the deck so that he could get away with it is laughable. That this thin-skinned, gold-plated phony would form his lips to question the faith of others, knowing this his hope is built on nothing less than lies, spray tan, and the fear he riles up in his followers is Machiavellian. The living gall.

I am not a Catholic, but my Dad is a devout Catholic and I went to parochial school for six years. I don't personally know Nancy Pelosi, but I did come into contact with her on a regular basis when I worked on the Hill twenty years ago. Of course I am an admirer, but I can confidently make this observation based other Catholic women I've known, like my Great Aunt Sarah--Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro Pelosi from Baltimore is the real deal. So a man who once had his own beliefs called into doubt by the Pope (and rightfully so in hindsight), is in no position to analyze someone else's faith.

Let me break this down for you--Catholic women, who incidentally are very much like the Black Protestant women I know and have known, pray for everybody. EVERYBODY. The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13), which gets a daily recitation by most Catholics in some form or another, includes the line: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. That's not a throwaway phrase. During Mass, the priest makes a point of reminding the congregation that it is the duty of the faithful to forgive even our enemies. Forgiveness is a central component of Catholic dogma.

Thus, every day that Pelosi and every other Christian utters the words of that prayer, we are interceding for him. As far as I am concerned, attacking her like that as she was seated on the dais less than 50 feet away from him was an attack on Catholicism, and by extension Christianity itself. Of course, that isn't even the bottom for this President, who has no respect for anyone or anything. He also attacked Mitt Romney, whose faith I know a lot less about, but am no less convinced of his sincerity. So it should worry everyone that our country is being led by a craven, remorseless, haughty reprobate, and we are headed for much worse than a collapse of the American empire.

We are in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). The question is not whether we will be recovered unscathed or unsinged from the flames. The question is whether this evil king will repent or go mad. We know that he won't repent in the short-term, as his lust for vengeance never quenches. He gleefully destroys norms and lives for sport. He openly mocks and rejects the notion of forgiveness, and that's why we must pray for him. Not for the ill will he deserves, but that a measure of grace might cause him a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion before it is too late and his unending quest for retribution consumes him.

Mind you, praying for our enemies does not mean that we won't fight against them. It is because we pray for them that we have the ability to stand and resist. Praying women like my Great Aunt Sarah, my Black Baptist grandmothers, Speaker Pelosi, and Ann Romney (yeah, I'm including her in the prayer circle too) weren't/aren't easily cowed by the bluff and bluster of megalomania. Some of these women have faced much worse than tough talk and insults--fire hoses, riots, chronic illness, personal tragedy, raising children, etc...

Which is why it is important to note that we end the Lord's Prayer with the plea to deliver us from evil. What that deliverance looks like is entirely up to God, and we accept that it might not come in the manner that we would like, but we continue to make the request. This DESPOTUS might believe that his acquittal was a deliverance of some kind, but that was entirely too easy. And one thing praying women know is that troubles don't last always, and blessings and miracles are worth the wait.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Playlist Project: Sam Cooke

On January 22, I considered it a privilege and an honor to pay tribute to the legendary, incomparable Sam Cooke. Of course, there was a quick tribute posted to the Facebook page, but there is so much more...

I can't say for sure what song it was, or how many years ago it was exactly, but it doesn't matter because Sam Cooke's voice is unmistakable. He could switch effortlessly back and forth between the sacred and the secular, so whenever I hear his lilting wo-o-o-o-o-ah, I am transported back to some memory.

When I hear Sam Cooke on a Sunday morning, it takes me back to one of those Saturday mornings when we didn't get to watch our cartoons. To anyone who didn't grow up with a Grandma or Auntie who spent most of her time going to church, being in church, or recovering from church...allow me to set the scene while you listen to Nearer My God to Thee (1955), one of the classic songs from the old-time gospel radio:

The old mothers of the church are dressed in stiff white uniforms while the old men are dressed in contrasting black suits. I am about eight years old, and that morning I had pancakes and bacon or biscuits and sausage. I am wearing a pair of black patent leather shoes and carrying a little church purse that contains my Gideon New Testament. I am mixed in with a brood of grandchildren ranging in age from 12 to 5, and we are attending some never-ending church basement revival with our Grandma Wheeler. Like our young adult and teenaged cousins who went before us, it is now our turn to participate in the 'Juvenile' auxiliary of the Benevolent Association.

I don't remember if my Mom or if one of my uncles drove us to this random church, or if Grandma marched us up the street to the bus stop. Our 'parts' have been over and done with for hours, and as my mother demanded, I recited mine from memory even though she was conveniently not there to witness it. The woman who organizes these programs, the one who always called me Yolanda, praises me for doing a good job. Now we're all lined up in a pew seated next to Grandma, who is perched on the aisle. It is hot and stuffy and all of the adults are standing, swaying, moaning, and humming along while someone offers a rambling testimony or calls out for a hymn that drags on forever.

My brother and my cousins are asleep, but I am the curious granddaughter who stays awake to absorb everything. Why Grandma has all of us out so late is unclear (it gets dark early in the dead of winter). I am hungry and tired. There had been food, but kids aren't big fans of chicken salad macaroni seasoned with too much paprika and raw onions served with stale crackers. I can't stand those chalky butter mints, so I don't have a stash hidden away in my little church purse like my cousin does. Ten minutes ago Grandma promised that it would be over soon, so I can't ask her how long soon will be again while her friend, the blind lady with the deep raspy voice, is still praying. 

Any old song from the Gospel According to Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers has that same transportive power:

Peace In the Valley (1951)

I'm So Glad (Trouble Don't Last Always) (1955)

Must Jesus Bear That Cross Alone (1956)

He's So Wonderful (1956)

Touch the Hem of His Garment (1956)

Were You There (1957)

That's Heaven to Me (1960)

The Last Mile of the Way (1964)

Likewise, that same voice on any day other than a Sunday brings to mind another set of cherished memories--particularly of my Mom singing along to one of his secular hits on the oldies station. I recall laughing at her insistence that she had once been a teenager, hanging out with friends, Having A Party (1962), and Twistin the Night Away (1962)...

In spite of having been exposed to Sam Cooke's music at an early age, it was not until college that I was touched by the beauty of his voice. During the climatic buildup to Malcolm X's assassination in the 1991 film, Spike Lee used A Change is Gonna Come (1964) as the prophetic, haunting omen. It was mesmerizing and after listening to that song dozens of times, and perhaps a hundred more times since, it is absolute perfection. That may be my bias, but listen to his golden voice on a few of his other hits, and let me know if I'm just starstruck:

You Send Me (1957)

Wonderful World (1960)

Chain Gang (1960)

Cupid (1961)

It's All Right (1961)

Nothing Can Change This Love (1962)

Bring It Home To Me (1962)

To this very day, it is impossible for me to listen to Sam Cooke without pausing to catch my breath. The man could sing anything. ANYTHING. The same magical quality in his voice that was the perfect balance of the sacred and the secular, also gave it the power to be both timeless and dated, sanctified and sexy, strong and subtle, and eternally unforgettable. I am convinced that's why it has the power to conjure up such vivid and detailed memories from the past. I can clearly see my Grandma standing with her sisters in white, sharing a testimony of God's goodness. My Mom, rendered mostly mute by her advanced Alzheimer's, flashes a smile of recognition upon hearing his voice...and dances along. What more is there to say except to ask Ain't that good news?