Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Quid Pro Quarantine

I had a not so good moment yesterday. I unleashed a profanity-laced tirade on Facebook after watching Monday's White House press briefing. I know better--not only to keep my cool because you never know who is reading your posts, but also not to watch masturbatory propaganda in the midst of a global crisis. In a normal disaster, one would expect that the President would offer comfort and reassurance...

But this ain't normal. Especially when the My Pillow guy takes to the podium to thank God for the 2016 election results during a PUBLIC HEALTH briefing. Hours after the Governors of Maryland and Virginia, and the Mayor of DC all announce coordinated mandatory shelter in place orders that effectively put our entire region on lock-down through May. And life still has to go on in the shadow of an unseen enemy that could take any one of us down and/or out with barely a moment to catch our breath.

So, no. I am NOT okay. But I do feel better about getting all of that off my chest.

I am not angry or offended or even remotely interested in the political affiliations of those who stand up to volunteer the man-power of their now-shuttered factories and plants for the effort against this virus. I know that they will be handsomely rewarded for their sacrifice...and I hope that at the very least, their employees will receive adequate compensation for putting their lives at risk. I hope that, unlike the Instagram and Amazon CEOs who were not invited to participate in that public fellatio, the My Pillow guy doesn't lobby for exemptions that deem his workers are essential, and as such, exempt from applicable labor laws. That in these uncertain times, when many people depend on the at-will gig-economy to make ends meet, that his factory won't be so callous as to rev up production without basic provisions for employee health and safety.

I would love to believe in the altruism of these corporate efforts. That for example, the auto industry is stepping up because they care, and not to avoid the public relations nightmare of being called out by this President on Twitter. However, in this moment of crisis I will save my skepticism.

For what it's worth, I find it grating that we're not supposed to be offended that the My Pillow guy was invited to the White House, whereas fashion designer Christian Siriano was not. Last week when the Governor of New York was issuing a desperate plea for medical equipment, Siriano volunteered his services, as did several other fashion designers. I haven't seen any official acknowledgement of those fulfilled promises from this President; instead, we've seen him question the integrity of the medical personnel who needed the face masks. We've seen him attack journalists who ask him legitimate questions about his decision-making and his contradictory public statements. We've seen him denigrate duly elected public officials who are on the front lines of this disaster. We've seen him abuse the public trust conferred by that podium and that presidential seal to shamelessly prevaricate. We've seen him do everything to heighten our fears and angst because it brings him ratings.

So when the My Pillow guy got on national television during a daily public health briefing on the day that the U.S. death toll from this virus topped 3,000 to proselytize the bullshit gospel of a capitalist messiah, yeah, I lost it. And I don't regret a single fucking word.


For the last two to three weeks since the Democratic Primary all but ended, I have been watching the chatter on Twitter, and now that my profanity filter has malfunctioned, I'm going to cuss about that shit too. Because somehow we're engaged in an existential crisis that threatens to doom all humanity if the trumpet gets re-elected. It really isn't that hard--one guy has more delegates and the other guy doesn't. At one point there were 25 candidates, and it was all fair until now. Really? And we're going to implode because the guy who succeeded in pushing the party to become more progressive has deluded himself into thinking that he's Joshua and not Moses.

And, because I want to be on record, yeah I know about the Tara Reade allegations and that shit pisses me off. If you know me, then you also know that I am inclined to believe her allegations, and so it sucks that Uncle Joe is a creep. It sucks that at this critical moment, we are once again learning that men we admire and laud can be terrible people. That power deludes these old assholes into believing they can and should get their way with any woman in their wingspan.

None of that changes my mind about voting this orange pestilence from office though. I would rather vote for a flawed man than continue to abide under the regime of a truly horrible man. I support that investigations are necessary and accept that there will be consequences as a result...and all of that can take place after the election.

As the My Pillow guy and those self-righteous Hobby Lobby folks have been fond of invoking God's return since November 2016, it has been rather biblical since that golden escalator ride--the moment the golden calf was forged. It has been an unrelenting, perilous journey through Hell in an asbestos suit...

So this isn't Sophie's choice or a crisis of conscience for me. It is a moral imperative:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land. -- 2 Chronicles 7:14

Sunday, March 22, 2020

For The Birds

The first week of this virus pandemic has given me a newfound respect for those true-believing home-schooling parents...this ain't my ministry y'all. (I already knew this, but I'm not sure if that was common knowledge or if I was thoroughly convinced; now I am.) I appreciate all of you who have open kitchens with islands and new appliances and clean granite countertops. I appreciate those folks on TV who are doing their own hair and makeup. I appreciate all of these small businesses who are still selling stuff that I don't really need, but my civic sense of obligation compels me to buy candles, winter hats, party supplies, and baby gifts. I appreciate all of these talented people who are using their gifts to bless the masses on social media.

In the alternative, there is a lot that I do not appreciate, but instead of boring you with a list of specifics, I will offer you a dramatic rendering of sorts. For the love of God, try to refrain from being these kids, all of whom will probably land jobs on MTV or become Instagram influencers when this is all over because life ain't fair:


Also, if you can, do your best to avoid watching, listening to, or believing anything this guy has to say because it is a LIE, and a RACIST lie to boot:


By all means, listen to this guy, although I'm guessing he won't be around much longer:


And that was from Friday. All week it has been one never-ending reminder that y'all voted for that orange nincompoop because of an irrational hatred for her and the undeleted spam in her AOL account:


Meanwhile, the Real Leader of the Free World is honest and frank:


As a side note, can we all just agree that either one of these guys will suffice as a replacement come November?


When I sat down to write this piece, it was with the intent to poke a little fun at folks for their hysteria. As I am a repository of random pop culture references, I thought of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds. In a pivotal scene, various people from the town are gathered at a diner discussing the events of the past 24 hours. There is an elderly woman who studies birds, an ornithologist, who initially doubts the stories of coordinated bird attacks. In the midst of a bird swarm, a man who is pumping gas causes a fiery explosion after he drops his lit match onto spilled gasoline. The woman pictured below is a mother with two children whose distress leads her to shriek that Melanie (the protagonist) was a witch whose presence provoked the bird attacks. This is her face right before Melanie slaps her:


If ever there was a scene in cinematic history that could represent the range of reactions to the current situation--experts who can't offer reasonable explanations for what is happening; people who spread hearsay and gossip as credible sources of information; the blame cast on a mysterious stranger for unexplained havoc; blithely unaware folks who engage in intentionally risky behavior; and then those frantic people who overreact. I had often wondered about the origin of this film, so in my research I learned that the movie was based on a short story with the same name, written by British author Daphne du Maurier (1952). Now that I've read that, I'm not so sure that a little panic isn't unwarranted...


I said a little panic. Not full-out bunkering akin to The Day After-like nuclear holocaust (again, another one of my random pop culture references):


The anxiety is palpable because we need real information, not propaganda or gaslighting. That instead of folks believing unverified claims by random people who know people who work with people, that we get our news from trustworthy sources. Which is almost impossible under this Regime, so maybe we should just hunker down and pray for the best.

Of course it sucks. I live with a four year old who doesn't understand why she can't see her friends. I have vulnerable parents and relatives (essential employees) and I have to trust that they will all be safe. I have friends that live alone. I am sure that I have gained more weight this week than I did while pregnant. I am still grieving and trying to get my shit together and hoping that I accomplish something this year. In a matter of days, I have seen all kinds of life plans altered and upended.

Out of nowhere, it feels as if Nature has turned on humanity and we are at Her mercy. Or in our imperial arrogance, we brought this on ourselves through recklessness and hubris (too much single use plastic). Until this point, we have never faced this kind of widespread disruption. We typically watch disasters strike other people on television or at the theater. Now we actually have to live through the kind of fictional doomsday scenarios that used to entertain us.

It is never explained why the birds attacked the town of Bodega Bay, nor do we learn of Melanie's fate after the last savage bird attack leaves her catatonic. I would guess that she lives, chastened by her experience and more mindful of her choices. In every post-apocalyptic film, there are survivors who must adjust to what becomes the new normal. Therefore, the point is to make it through this ALIVE. If people heed the warnings to stay inside seriously, the sooner we get through this. We are resourceful enough to find some creative and unique ways to remain engaged. This isn't that hard. And God forbid if this is the end of the world, then:

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Playlist Project: Be Optimistic

We're in our first week of social distancing, which is the new age term for stay the f%$# inside your house until further notice...and I'm guessing folks are getting a little anxious. You're stress eating, binge-watching stuff that you've already seen, and possibly reconsidering certain life choices. But do not fret!

Like a virtual USO tour, famous musicians like John Legend and Chris Martin are giving mini-concerts on Instagram, Josh Gad (Olaf) is out there reading to our children, and Debbie Allen is out there teaching dance class. I thought to pull together a feel good effort of my own--the Busy Black Woman's Be Optimistic playlist to help you get through the days ahead, for getting through the current crisis or something else at some other point in time. I posted most of these songs to the Facebook page, so this is an index of those selections as well as some additional material. It covers a few musical genres, so there is something for most people to enjoy.

Prince - Let's Go Crazy (1984)
Of all the apocalyptic Prince songs that I could have chosen, this is the one that makes the most sense to recommend while we're all on lock-down. We would love to party like it's 1999, but we can't go anywhere so this song perfectly describes what it might feel like by the end of this week. But don't go Delirious, dance it out of your system, then turn your attention to something more positive.


For the Entire Family

A few of these songs are on regular rotation in my household because they make the Kid happy, while a few of the others make her Busy Black Mama happy.

Pharrell Williams - Happy (2013)
I love this song, even though it can be annoying and inescapable. It came out before the Kid was born, so if you can believe this, the person who was obsessed with it back then was my Dad! He watched every single video, including all of the international covers (here is a shorter compilation) and the Weird Al Yankovic's Tacky (2014).

Justin Timberlake - Can't Stop The Feeling (2016)
I took the Kid to see Trolls in the theater, which of course she loved. Then once she saw a video on YouTube, she had to watch it constantly (because she is her grandfather's grandchild)--but I won't torture you with the different versions. Just know that there are Storm Troopers and Spider-man involved and I don't really know why.

Katrina and The Waves - Walking on Sunshine (1983)
You know the song from commercials and possibly from this scene in Look Who's Talking (at 1:55) released in 1989, but I honestly never heard of this group until now. Now I know that they were a one-hit wonder stateside, but had other hits abroad that included Love Shine a Light (1997), which seems like a benign enough addition to this playlist.

American Authors - Best Days of My Life (2013)
This song is so corny and the video so ridiculous...but as someone commented, it isn't like I found it by accident. I've heard this song a thousand times, and the point is for it to bring some joy in the midst of chaos, so I see no need to explain myself.

Deee-Lite - Groove Is In The Heart (1990)
I don't know if the Kid could ever love this song as much as her Mama, but if there was an adult equivalent to Happy, this is it.

Tony! Toni! Toné! - Feels Good (1990)
This is another one of my happy songs from freshman year of college...definitely a less anxious time and place.

Tupac Shakur - Keep Ya' Head Up (1993)
Yeah, I know this isn't a kid-friendly song, but it comes from two songs that are, so we're going to use what Tupac did here to educate and uplift. First of all, his song is intended as an ode to single mothers at a time when a lot of rap music was awash in misogyny. Second, this song includes two classic samples that reinforce the positive message--Be Alright by Zapp (1981), and Ooh, Child by the Five Stair-Steps (1970). Third, now I know who sang the latter song, and that Nina Simone also recorded it in 1971. I did know that it had been re-recorded by gospel artist Donnie McClurkin in 2004.

Journey - Don't Stop Believin' (1981)
I have a playlist of power ballads still in the works, so of course there is more Journey ahead. If there ever was a Boomer anthem, this is it.

Jackie DeShannon - Put A Little Love In Your Heart (1968)
Last summer due to something tragic that happened in the news, I posted this song and some history I uncovered about it on the Facebook page. Now seems like a good time to remind people that we are all in this situation together, so in addition to this original, the 1988 remake by Al Green and Annie Lennox (from Scrooged), I can now add this 2002 version by Mary Mary (from Stuart Little II) to our rotation.

Stevie Wonder - Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing (1973)
How I overlooked this song on the Facebook playlist is beyond me, but this is the JAM. The Kid loves this 2016 version by Tori Kelly from the Sing movie soundtrack. One of my favorite versions is by Incognito (1992); however, mad props go to the reigning Sexiest Man Alive, John Legend, who definitely brings it on this 2005 version from the Hitch soundtrack.


Undefeated 

Technically, a few of these are the kind of songs one might send to a friend in the aftermath of a traumatic breakup, but since folks aren't hooking up right now, we might as well re-purpose these as the kind of songs we'll enjoy once this is all over.

Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive (1978)
In addition to this being our testimony on the other side of this nightmare, Mother Gaynor has given us permission to adapt the song as a challenge to others to wash their hands.

Destiny's Child - I'm a Survivor (2002)
Let's hope that Debbie Allen will choreograph a flash mob for this song once this virus has passed.

Kelly Clarkson - What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger) (2011)
I am pretty confident that this song is on every Peloton, Zuumba, and Soul Cycle playlist right now, so keep going!

Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive (1977)
Enough said. This is the goal folks!


Reggae

Bob Marley - Three Little Birds (1977)
If you read the title and didn't know otherwise, you might wonder why I would include a song about birds. For years, I thought the name of this song was Don't Worry About a Thing, which is the point--we must believe that everything will be alright. Here's a lullaby version from Renee and Jeremy (2007) for the kiddies...or for whomever needs it.

Jimmy Cliff - I Can See Clearly Now (1993)
I feel like I only hear this song in commercials, which is unfortunate. Because it is much better as an uplifting song of hope and optimism, perfect for a movie like Cool Runnings. It was written by Johnny Nash (1972), and became a hit for Ray Charles in 1978.

Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry, Be Happy (1988)
Much like the aforementioned Happy, this song was the earworm of my youth. People loved it because it was quirky and catchy and we were all amazed by McFerrin's abilities. It isn't reggae, but it has that feel. People have been commenting recently how this song is still comforting more than 30 years later. It was McFerrin's one big hit, but if you poke around YouTube to see what he's been up to, it appears that things worked out for him quite nicely. Plus, he is immortalized on the theme to the fourth season of The Cosby Show.

 

Gospel

Of course, there is a gospel music section. In times like these, you've got to get your praise on!

Hezekiah Walker - Better (2016)
This is one of the Kid's favorite songs, and the fact that the video features people all over the globe makes it perfect for this list.

Kirk Franklin - Smile (2011)
This song reminds me of when my Niece was my daughter's age. She sang this to me in the car one day, and it lifted my spirits. Now the Kid loves this song too (well, because Mary Mary are featured in the video, and if y'all don't already know this, my child LOVES her some Mary Mary).

Sounds of Blackness - Be Optimistic (1991)
They are so 90s, which means I love them. This group was one of the pioneers of the secular gospel sound, so most people who heard it daily might not associate it with having a religious message. A couple of their other secular-ish songs have similar messages: Everything Is Gonna Be Alright (1994) and Hold On Change is Coming (1997) featuring Roger Troutman of Zapp.

Yolanda Adams - The Battle Is The Lord's (1993)
This one is for when you need to go to church because this can all get overwhelming. Afterwards, if you yearn for more hard-core gospel, I'm including For Every Mountain (2006) by the Kurt Carr Singers. In case you didn't know in advance, the tears are going to fall so let it go--you probably need to release some of these emotions.


Easy Listening

This is the cool down section--because after listening that gospel section, here is your virtual church fan.

Ledesi - Alright (2007)
This video version includes her hit In the Morning as the intro. Very mellow. Legend has it that she was about to quit the music business when this song hit.

Blessed - Jill Scott (2011)
This sounds like a song that was written on the fly, but they fixed it up in production and then made a crazy video, so what's not to love?

Bill Withers - Lovely Day (1977)
This song is absolute perfection. So Jill Scott (2011) had to bring it, and so did Jose James feat. Lalah Hathaway (2018). Let's face it, no one can mess this song up so enjoy these additional covers by Anthony David (2018) and Gerald Albright feat. Michael McDonald (2016).

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly - Golden Time of Day (1978)
This might be a less conventional choice than say Happy Feelings (1977), which is probably a bigger hit for most fans of Maze, but I think Golden is vastly underrated. Of course this could be the subject of an intense Saturday-night-in-the-basement-playing-spades-and-drinking-brown-liquor family debate since we've settled that Frankie Beverly is only Black-famous. As far as I am concerned, so is Kem (2009), and as his cover isn't as soporific as most of his music, this is a pleasant surprise.

Earth, Wind & Fire - Keep Your Head to the Sky (1973)
This was the song that inspired this list (and I just re-discovered this fantastic 2002 cover by Maysa). For some reason, this song came to mind as I was trying to sort out a few ideas for how to make the best use of this time. There is something very soothing and reassuring about this song, so I hope it blesses you in some way.

I hope this list brings a little joy to soothe and calm some of the anxiety.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Seeds in the Ground

The Busy Black Woman has had enough of the bickering and whining and back-stabbing and hysteria! So Mother is going to share some advice with you, which you will need in the coming weeks. First of all, WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS WITH SOAP. They still have plenty of that at the store. I know, it dries out your skin and makes everything ashy and hard so you look like you've been playing in flour, but just do it. Because the revolution cannot afford to lose you to some preventable disease. Besides, antibacterial hand gel will not work against a virus.

Second, I had another great epiphany the other day (a lot of those lately, I know) wherein I realized that the 60s were to our Boomer parents and grandparents what the 90s are to us Generation Xers. Because it was 30 years ago this month that House Party was released, which technically makes Freaknik our Woodstock! Therefore, accepting that one of the perks of middle age is that I'm right about most things, I am gonna give a lecture just like my parents and their friends used to give us whenever we thought we knew more than they did.

So let's get down to discussing a few political realities. You might have to vote for someone you didn't intend to come November. Either it will be a vote for the status quo (in which case, why are you even reading this blog), or it will be a vote for the other status quo. Choose the latter and keep it moving. Okay?

In case you forgot, the Busy Black Woman taught American History and Government online in a past life, so this lecture will consist of some outside readings, a few bad jokes, and at least two stories from my past. I promise the glaze that overcomes your eyes will subside in time, so to give you some perspective on what is happening right now, we must first take a trip back to 1988.

Picture it, Atlanta, in the middle of the summer, there was a convention in town, and the goal was to select a candidate who could beat the current Vice President, George Bush the First (only then we had no idea that he would be the first Bush to occupy the Oval Office). The Democrats had been humiliated in the previous election against Ronald Reagan, so you would think that the effort to choose an electable candidate would have yielded a better result than Michael Dukakis, whose cousin was and is still better known...

Back then, the most prominent Black leader was the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He had been a candidate in 1984, so this was his second run for the White House in the Democratic primary. (Ordinarily, I would pause right here to share a story about his first run and how that was the first time I wrote a political opinion piece back in the sixth grade, but another time.) At my conservative Catholic high school, most of the institutional support was for Bush, so the primaries were only of interest to the Black students (another story, but for another time). The field included a certain Uncle Joe Biden (DE), who was making his first bid for President until he had to withdraw due to an embarrassing plagiarism allegation. The other choices included Sen. Al Gore (TN), Sen. Paul Simon (IL), Sen. Gary Hart (CO), Rep. Dick Gephardt (MO), and the aforementioned Gov. Mike Dukakis (MA).

Now, to move this story along, your first homework assignment is to read up on the convention machinations later, and then note that Jackson delivered one of the greatest convention speeches until Barack Obama's keynote at the 2004 convention. Despite coming in second place, Jackson was not chosen as Dukakis' running mate and they lost. While it was naive of us to assume that America was ready for a Black man in the Oval Office in 1988, it took us twenty years of working through the party system to get us to that reality in 2008. It was the seed that was planted by Jackson's historic run, one that was ready to bloom once the stars aligned accordingly. (Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Shirley Chisholm...keep reading.)

After you have read Jackson's speech (seriously, the speech is required reading), you will note that after a typical Baptist preacher intro, in which he names and thanks his family and friends, he offers a formal greeting to former President Jimmy Carter, elder statesman of the Democratic Party as well as a nod to fellow civil rights activist Mayor Andrew Young. Ironically, ten years earlier, Cater had fired Young as Ambassador to the United Nations; now he was the mayor of what would become the capitol of the new South. Jackson then went on to invoke the names and places from civil rights events that laid the groundwork for his journey to that stage. Specifically, he calls the names of those who were denied a seat at the 1964 Convention (thus, your third reading is Fannie Lou Hamer's famous testimony and the shenanigans President Johnson attempted to keep her out of prime-time).

So marinate on that for a moment--Jackson got to reap the seeds that had been sown just twenty-four years earlier by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. And Obama got to reap what Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition had sown twenty years later. So my beloved, your time is coming. The seeds are in the ground.

I know how hard it is to wait and see what the end will be, but impatience is a vice, not a virtue. Some people do not live to see the harvest of their labors, which can be unsettling and disheartening. But you need to have faith. (OK, that veers into sermon territory, which I am not equipped to give, so let's get back to the lecture.) If you want to see some tangible proof of how progress works, then look at how Jackson's speech invokes several themes that have become synonymous with the Democratic Party. This speech references a multi-hued coalition, support for the working class, unfettered access to the ballot, universal health care, a living wage, LGBTQ and women's equality, common-sense gun control, and affordable housing. Here is one key line in that speech:
Progress will not come through boundless liberalism or static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival.
Progress [through] the critical mass of mutual survival. Not from the extreme poles of ideology, but on common ground. Because Jackson repeated that sentence and that theme, I am tempted to believe that this was some prophetic wisdom he saw fit to impart to future generations. We won't get very far unless we find a way to work together as a united party with a mission to serve the common good. Kinda like the current Democratic Party platform.

Oh, and here's a footnote to fill in a few gaps. When Jackson ran in 1984, he was the second African American to seek the Presidency in the 20th Century (Frederick Douglass did not seek the office, but he was nominated in 1872). One hundred years later in 1972 Rep. Shirley Chisholm (NY) was the first to seriously seek the office. When she ran, she was dismissed by both the nascent Black political establishment and the polarized women's movement. I encourage you to listen to this excerpt from her campaign announcement and see if anything sounds familiar.


When Chisholm died in 2005, it was before Barack Obama was elected and before Hillary Clinton was nominated. She did not live to see the harvest, but she still planted the seeds in the ground. The disappointment some of us feel by the choices we have now, having lost the four women from the U.S. Senate as candidates is real. But when we look back to when Chisholm ran in 1972, to when Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY) was the first woman to be nominated for Vice President in 1984, we see the evidence of the seeds they planted. Our time is coming.

Those of us who have been around long enough to remember these past battles know how frustrating it is to trade idealism for realism. But we have watched the incremental changes that have brought us to this moment and know that while pragmatism wins the battles, idealism fuels the fight. In my lifetime, we almost elected a woman to succeed a Black man who had previously lost a congressional campaign in 2000. So from what had been the most diverse field of rising political stars in my lifetime: a Latinx former Cabinet Secretary and big city Mayor (Castro); a Black State Attorney General and U.S. Senator (Harris); a Harvard professor, U.S. Senator, and creator of a federal agency (Warren); another big city Mayor and U.S. Senator (Booker); a gay naval intelligence officer and mayor (Buttigieg); an Asian American venture capitalist (Yang); and two other women in the U.S. Senate (Klobuchar and Gillibrand)--yeah, it's a blow. But our time is coming.

There is a place for idealism in politics; it's just not always in the seat of power. Thus, from that collection of former candidates there could come a Vice President, future Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices, Governors, Senate leadership, etc...if y'all get over your feelings. The shortcomings of an imperfect leader can be overcome by a good team.

Therefore, if your preferred candidate doesn't get to accept the nomination this summer, you do not have the luxury to stay home to sit this election out. This country cannot survive another four years of this moronovirus incompetence. Nor shall you vote third party in protest. Those folks never truly intend or desire to be President. Show me what Lenora Fulani, Ralph Nader, and Jill Stein have done for this country after they lost and I will remind you how we ended up in a never-ending land war in Asia with a fake-tan pussy-grabbing reality TV show wannabe dictator.

I know, you wanna cancel folks over past mistakes that had unforeseen and catastrophic consequences. Like this 1988 interview on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Yeah, she deserves to be dragged for unleashing this pestilence on the land, but I assure you that everyone has committed major regrettable acts. I think a certain well-meaning, but tone-deaf person should regret recording this album. But living long enough has given us the hindsight and wisdom to know better for the future. Not all seeds are good, so be careful what you plant.

A few closing thoughts: I was never at Freaknik and no one saw me there. Through the years, I may have regretted my choices, but never regretted making the effort to vote. For the record, I was not old enough to vote in 1988 nor was I born in 1972. Yet and still it feels kind of liberating to be to be so unbothered about being old enough to remember things that I can incorporate into a lecture. So no, the readings are not optional, and maybe I can still dance like they did in House Party. The final this fall will be whether you choose to tend this garden so that good seeds can grow and flourish, or if you prefer to bulldoze the plot to make way for a big beautiful border wall. That's the lecture--choose wisely and wash your hands.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Sun Rises on All of Us, Not Just You

I happened to be watching a Sex and the City marathon this weekend, which I tuned into during the very sequence of episodes that a friend and I were discussing last week about how I need to get my shit together to publish a book (yeah because so many people already don't read my blog)...and I noticed certain random characters for the first time. And that led to this epiphany:

Y'all don't see us. We're there, but unless there is a specific reason for you to acknowledge our existence, we don't count. (Yes, this will be a rant that addresses race, gender, and other marginalized categories. If you are uncomfortable, then I am definitely talking about you.)

Of course, most of us barely notice the various people who exist on the periphery of our personal galaxies. I know my mailman's first name because he told me, and I recognize most of my neighbors well enough to exchange pleasantries. But honestly, the most I know about anyone's life is based on what they post on social media, so if you aren't my Facebook friend, I think it is safe to question whether you actually exist or are a figment of my imagination.

It was my stray realization that there were random people of color sprinkled throughout all of those based-in-NYC shows that we were very critical of for lacking diversity during the 90s. They just weren't germane to the plot of the show. Thus on a show like Friends, there was the Black barista who worked in the coffee shop, but she didn't have a name or say anything so only those of us who went to school with her and were excited to see her on-screen every week cared that was Tanika Ray. Or how we recall that the only people of color on Seinfeld were the gay Puerto Rican guys, the Japanese tourists that Kramer housed in a chest of drawers, the muffin stump/bathroom book lady, the exterminator, and Jackie Childs. On SATC, there was that one episode I hate about Samantha dating the Harlem chef's brother, and that minor storyline that had her dabbling in lesbianism with Sonia Braga; otherwise, no one else stood out.

However, this is not a re-visitation of old sitcoms, but an examination how the failure to see others has real world implications. How your discomfort in addressing immutable characteristics such as race and ethnicity impacts your ability to understand what others experience, even when you claim to be allies or to have empathy. How even your so-called neutral behavior has prejudicial undertones. It might not be racist to leave all of your trash on the table after you've eaten at a casual fast food place, but it is inconsiderate and trifling to assume that it is the Latinx busboy's job to know that you couldn't be bothered to walk the three feet to the trash can yourself. I bet if I did that at the suburban Chick-fil-A you would have all kinds of opinions about my lack of home training.

So yeah, I found it rather puzzling to learn that some of y'all have nothing better to do than to take offense at a 30 second commercial about a product line created to clean our lady parts. Are your feelings really hurt that a Black woman expressed pride in having her merchandise sold at a major retailer? During BLACK HISTORY MONTH???

Are you one of those people whose knee-jerk response to Black Lives Matter is to claim that you have a Black grandchild? Do you think Obama was a racist because his mother was white, but he still married a Black woman? Do you go to ethnic restaurants and tell them how to adjust the spice? Do you get nervous that the janitors at your office who converse with each other in Spanish are talking about you? Did you hear your female colleague make a suggestion, repeat it, and then take all of the credit as if it was your original idea? Do you think that the athletes who kneel during the anthem are overpaid ingrates, but women wearing American flag bikinis are sexy patriots? Do you think it is perfectly fine to call the police on children selling water on the street without a permit, but never question the Girl Scouts? Are you more afraid of a woman wearing a burka or hijab than you are of a nun dressed in full habit wielding a yardstick?

Do you realize that in every one of those examples, you might not be seeing the others as fully evolved people? As in, you were fine with their existence until they stepped out of line, until they asserted some right that you had not granted. Took up space. Centered themselves in front of the camera. Got uppity.

Like this bitter lemon who went after Meghan Markle. Lady Pettyboots wasn't defending the Queen--she and the rest of the haters (including Meg's dreadful Daddy) think that the Duchess ought to show more deference and gratitude. That she should have been happy to have tea with the Queen instead of serving it to her...

Yeah, I said it.

Because even when we are gracious and deferential and respectable and appreciative and behave ourselves, you still want to define our right to exist. You want to tell us how to be. And then mete out punishment when we chafe or resist.

You want the Dixie Chicks to shut up and sing. You're uncomfortable with the NYT 1619 Project which framed that pivotal year in terms of the injustices heaped upon indigenous peoples and the enslaved. You disagree with the DESPOTUS about Parasite winning the Best Picture Oscar, but you don't get the deal with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag (and you enjoy plantation weddings and Gone With the Wind). You want to brag about being a #GirlDad but then complain about Title IX's impact on men's college wrestling. You believe rules are rules, so if the young lady in the modified track uniform didn't make her request for a waiver in advance, then her disqualification was fair.

I believe you when you tell me that you would have marched with MLK, and I'm glad you voted for Obama. However, when your six year old snotty-nosed son demanded that I tell my daughter and niece to let his friends play on the see-saw, you stood there and did not correct his impudence. Or when you were busy telling me how much better we could all get along if I just (fill in the blank), you thought you were being conciliatory instead of patronizing. The nerve of me to get offended...

I know, you just want to watch those reruns of Friends and Seinfeld and SATC without having to feel any guilt about homogeneity and privilege. After all, Ross did date two non-white women, and Elaine thought she was dating a Black guy at one point. You probably didn't even get why I used a gif of Whoopi Goldberg as the symbol of my revelation, and you won't unless you reconsider why you liked her so much in Ghost. It isn't that hard once you open your eyes to really see.