Friday, May 29, 2020

We Can't Breathe

The people in Minneapolis are NOT rioting.
The people in Minneapolis are NOT rioting.
The people in Minneapolis are NOT rioting.

The people in Minneapolis are ANGRY.
The people in Minneapolis are ANGRY.
The people in Minneapolis are ANGRY.

The people in Flint, Michigan have been drinking bottled water for years because their tap water is contaminated. There are people in Louisville, Kentucky who gathered to demand justice for an EMT who was killed in her home by police officers. There are people in Brunswick, Georgia who cannot leave their homes for a jog through their own neighborhoods without arousing suspicion.

Meanwhile in Michigan and Kentucky, there are other people who have stormed the State Houses armed for battle. And in Georgia, there are people who have heaped praise on their Governor for his swift calls to action...but those people are not demanding clean water or justice. They just want hair cuts.

In the midst of this crisis when front line medical workers were begging for more personal protective equipment to shield them from the possibility of contracting this disease, there were protestors gathered in Denver to yell and scream at them. That was in April, just a month into the global shut down. At no point were any of those protesting the inconvenience of sheltering-in-place turned away with tear gas. No one got arrested. The police presumably had more than enough protective gear and face shields. No shots were fired.

But this week when a Black man got his throat crushed on tape and folks got angry about that, y'all are more upset that a Target got looted.

I used to ask the same naive, self-righteous questions about looting and burning shit down in our own neighborhoods. Never got a satisfactory answer, until I thought long and hard about my own lived experiences. My parents lived through the '68 riots, and they lamented the damage that was done in certain parts of the city--economic and physical blight that remained for decades until the gentrifyers came. Then I witnessed the Atlanta Riots in 1992 (an offshoot of the Los Angeles riots that captivated the nation). I was forced back behind Spelman's gates by an angry boyfriend and then cussed out by an angry Grandmother, so I was indoors when my friends took out their frustrations on our conjoined campuses. I still remember the stench of tear gas.

I was years removed from New Orleans by 2005, where I had lived in the late 90s. I had lived through a flood my first year of law school that trapped me in my third floor apartment for a day or two. But in 2005, I saw the Black people whom I had known to clean hotels, serve food, work the tables at the casinos, and who proudly lined the streets during Mardi Gras to cheer on their babies...I saw them drowning while abandoned pets were ferried away from the city on air-conditioned buses.

Thus while grandparents lay dying alone in nursing facilities, while under-paid essential workers are compelled to expose themselves daily, while the unemployed are trashed by public officials as lazy, while small business owners wade through mountains of bureaucracy for pennies, the DESPOTUS worries more about his ability to prevaricate and incite his followers on social media.

The people in the Twin Cities are NOT rioting. Nor are the people in Phoenix, Denver, Memphis, Columbus, or Louisville. The people in the Twin Cities, Phoenix, Denver, Memphis, Columbus, and Louisville are ANGRY.
We are NOT rioting. We are ANGRY.

We burn shit down in our communities because we can't get across town to burn your shit down. We are surrounded. We are caged in and confined to impoverished or chronically underserved red-lined neighborhoods. Those invisible boundaries are enforced by over-policing. We can't march to the State House or to the Governor's mansion with tiki torches and assault rifles without encountering armed resistance and violent suppression. The jobs in our neighborhoods pay less than unemployment insurance. We can't vote without encountering time-consuming and discouraging barriers. We drink lead-poisoned water, eat processed foods, drink cheap liquor, die younger, assume that our white overlords can't continue to ignore our pleas, and our air is so polluted that we can't breathe.


I heard a pundit say this morning that his ability to empathize with the protestors was slipping away as the violence continued; apparently, we need his consent to express our outrage in more respectable ways. Does it matter if I write down my grievances on this blog instead of taking to the streets? Did the anger of my parents in 1968 result in better jobs and economic investment in the inner cities? Did the frustration of besieged college students in 1992 produce more freedom for the residents of the West End community or did that merely hasten their displacement? Do you even remember why Los Angeles was on fire back then, or have you reduced Rodney King to a soundbite, pleading for calm (instead of crying out for justice...can we all just get along)? As New Orleans flooded again during this pandemic, did you mourn the loss of Ellis Marsalis and the 100,000 others who perished this spring, or did you lament the cancellation of your summer plans?

Spike Lee's brilliant 1989 movie Do the Right Thing illustrates the precise moment when the powder keg of communal rage ignites. We've spent years debating the morality of the scene when Mookie hurls the trash can into the window of Sal's Famous. But we've missed the point of it all if we judge his actions without recalling everything else that led to that moment. If that was a weekday, how come nobody was at work? Why weren't the kids in camp or at the pool? How were the patrons being treated at the businesses in their neighborhood? How come nobody seemed to know that the guy in the Larry Bird shirt had bought a brownstone (and why didn't he seem to know any of his neighbors)? Why did the police come twice to protect white property owners, but were gone when the mob was set to turn their attention to the Korean store owners? Do you know why they were chanting Howard Beach? Is this the first time you have contemplated any of these questions?

Dr. Martin Luther King once said, "a riot is the language of the unheard." I'm sure that someone has already countered with a quote about his commitment to nonviolence, because the pacifist MLK is more palatable for shaming us into believing our rage is unfounded. Surely, his peaceful protests never devolved into disproportionately violent encounters with the police...

Frederick Douglass once said that power concedes nothing without a demand. He didn't say how that demand should be presented: on a silver-plated tray served by a tuxedo-clad butler, in a strongly worded letter to the editor, by calling the manager and shedding a few strategic tears, with a bayonet or an assault rifle, or by burning shit down when the other approaches fail to make the point.



Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Land of the Free

When I woke up on Memorial Day 2020, I scrolled through my phone for a few minutes and came across some video footage on Twitter of a group of protestors in Kentucky. I don't wish to write another piece about the absurdity of protesting against public health and safety pronouncements made for the benefit of the common good--so I won't. Instead, I will write to educate you about the imagery and the symbolism and the historical significance of what happened outside of the Governor's mansion. Don't forget I taught American History in a previous life...

I have never been so naive as to assume that there are no depths to the depravity that is synonymous with certain displays of patriotism. While there are some who question the morality of that stunt--what about the children who saw that, I wonder if that same question was ever asked when there was a real human being swinging from a tree while supposedly good, respectable folks posed for the cameras. Did anyone deign to ask that question with concern for the children of the man or woman who had been strung up? Were their frightened offspring safer hiding in the bushes, or under a car seat, or were they curled up under a bad or in the back of a closet? When the angry mobs swarmed to claim Black soldiers dressed in their uniforms to slaughter them for the crime of existence, who expressed outrage and disgust as the flag and flesh burned together?

Mind you, Governor Andy Beshear's children were watching that spectacle from behind lace curtains in a mansion. That was not their actual father who was strung up in that tree, but his image was affixed to a symbolic black body. Take a closer look, and don't you dare look away or try to rationalize it.

Look straight at the recycled totems of terror visited upon one of your own. Sure, be outraged and horrified because it is disturbing. It is sickening. These men are probably good people (see how that phrase suddenly feels like a dagger to the gut). Good people who just want to proclaim that they are free. And to prove it, they played Lee Greenwood in the background because nothing signifies good old-fashioned American freedom quite like that gawd-awful self-righteous bullshit anthem.

A little over 100 years ago, Charles Lewis wanted to live free too. He was a veteran of World War I, and after being discharged he returned home to Kentucky. I'm sure he expected that his military service would afford him the rights guaranteed in that Constitution y'all love to swear we don't read. So when he was accused of a crime, resisted arrest, was pursued and then jailed, never given a trial, and then executed all without due process in his uniform...yeah, good people, free to kill.

So it is not at all ironic that on what was once known as Decoration Day, a day that formerly enslaved people and white missionaries initially organized to bury Union soldiers, a few good men chose to rile up the passions of the inconvenienced mob. It is fitting that for this Memorial Day weekend, a day after a roll call of nearly 100,000 names was published listing all of the American casualties of this pandemic, we crowded beaches and boardwalks because we, the living, are free. It is entirely appropriate on this Memorial Day that a picture of a public figure wearing a protective mask is the object of ridicule; whereas, the choice to armor up to buy a soggy sandwich is peak patriotism.

We take great pride in placing little flags beside the headstones of our honored dead that are buried in military cemeteries. We live for the pomp and circumstance of draping coffins with flags. Because of them we are free, we proclaim.

We are free to hunt down suspicious looking joggers in broad daylight.
We are free to kill unsuspecting citizens in their homes.
We are free to take land that belongs to others because we covet their resources.
We are free to disparage our neighbors who wear hijabs or speak in languages we don't care to understand.
We are free to kill mass numbers of people at work, at concerts, at movie theaters, at churches, at schools, or wherever, with a constitutionally-protected personal arsenal.
We are free to demand that a wall be built along our Southern border, but not along the Northern one.
We are free to poison children with contaminated water and to choke them with industrial particulates in the air.
We are free to call the police to escalate petty confrontations into deadly encounters.
We are free to demand that some people ought to die because they are weak or deemed worthless.
We are free, unless we are Black or Brown or Indigenous or Muslim or Queer or Imprisoned or Impoverished or Differently-Abled or Elderly or otherwise disposable.

YOU are free because WE wear the masks.

When the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar penned those words, he had no idea that we would still need to wear metaphorical masks more than a century later. Not just to hide our contempt for the hypocrisy of liberty as exercised by good people, but in order to survive. We've had to camouflage our beautiful Black, Brown, Indigenous, Muslim, Queer, Imprisoned, Impoverished, Differently-Abled, Elderly selves just to be regarded as halfway human.

This Memorial Day 2020 weekend should have been a solemn time of reflection, perhaps even prayer--after all, the DESPOTUS had already declared the imperative for churches to re-open. Instead, those good people in Kentucky thought it was a better idea to resurrect imagery of domestic terror to combat their idea of government tyranny. They must have been encouraged by the praise heaped on the good people who had attempted to storm the State Capitol in Michigan several weeks ago. They also brandished Confederate flags, so imagine the shouts and cheers when the next group of good people burns a cross on Independence Day...

Because they're free.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Fried Chicken Wednesday: Cue the Blacklash

I don't know what day we're on and I'm sure that today isn't still Wednesday, but dammit, I'm pissed. I have been posting similar rants on my Facebook page over the foolishness and stupidity of others during this pandemic, and it gets more frustrating with each passing week.

I don't understand why it is so hard to convince people that this is a deadly virus. Don't quote annual flu statistics or car crash fatalities when there have been more people to die of this virus in this country in three months than the number of American casualties recorded from the Vietnam War. It is NOT a badge of honor to lead the world in fatalities. And it isn't just your local coffee shop or nail salon that was impacted but it has been EVERY coffee shop and EVERY nail salon on the entire planet, save that one combo unit in Antarctica, that have all been impacted! EVERYBODY has to start over from scratch.

I don't know how else to say it. So I will consult my Google translator and say Coronavirus has shut down the world in other languages to see if it becomes clearer:

Coronavirus het die wêreld gesluit. (Afrikaans)
Karōnābhā'irāsa biśbakē bandha karē diyēchē. (Bengali)
Koronavirusŭt zatvori sveta. (Bulgarian)
Coronavirus har lukket verden ned. (Danish)
Coronavirus heeft de wereld gesloten. (Dutch)
Koronavirus on sulkenut maailman. (Finnish)
Le coronavirus a fermé le monde. (French)
Coronavirus hat die Welt geschlossen. (German)
A koronavírus leállította a világot. (Hungarian)
Coronavirus ha chiuso il mondo. (Italian)
Koronauirusu ga sekai o heisa shita. (Japanese)
Kolona baileoseuga sesang-eul dad-assseubnida. (Korean)
Koronavirusot go zatvori svetot. (Macedonian)
Coronavirus har strengt verden. (Norwegian)
Koronawirus zamknął świat. (Polish)
Coronavirusul a închis lumea. (Romanian)
Coronavirus apagó el mundo. (Spanish)
Coronavirus funga dunia. (Swahili)
Coronavirus dị pid taw lng lok. (Thai)
Coronavirus dünyayı kapattı. (Turkish)
Koronavirus zakryv svit. (Ukranian)
Coronavirus đã đóng cửa thế giới. (Vietnamese)
Koronavirus hat farmakhn di velt. (Yiddish)
Coronavirus ku aye. (Yoruba)

And if it still doesn't make sense to you then I guess I could try some universal language like Morse code, pig Latin, American sign language, or the NATO phonetic alphabet (but I don't have time for any of that shit), so to sum up:

And yes, I know American sign language isn't a universal language. That isn't the point; however, coronavirus is a Charlie Foxtrot or in Busy Black Woman parlance, chicken fried poop.

My other point is that I have complied with the stay at home orders issued by my local government, neighboring jurisdictions, and acting-President Andrew Cuomo. I have been supporting local restaurants by eating their over-priced take out. I have put on a cheerful face during my daughter's daily community meetings even though I would much rather be doing anything else. I am still laminating lessons that the Kid may or may not feel like doing because free-range Montessori children are special like that. I have done my part to keep the economy going by shopping online, and I have been recycling all of the excessive packaging too. I plan to start a garden. I might even join a CSA to get more variety in my produce until my aforementioned garden bears fruit. I have donated to all of the worthy causes that my friends have asked me to support because I know that needs are acute right now.

I am doing what was asked of me to help flatten the curve. I have been wearing a mask and maintaining my social distance from my parents and other family. I'm not asking for a medal, but dammit my nails look like they haven't been done since March. We won't even discuss the state of my hair or my marriage. 

So when I follow the directives and only venture so far as to take a leisurely stroll through my neighborhood and see that almost no one else is wearing a mask, that angers me. It upsets me that people take their kids with them on errands and don't have their faces covered, while my Kid looks like a cartoon gunslinger in her bandana. This entitled heifer's entire existence irritates my soul--like what medical condition does she have that prevents her from wearing a mask, debilitating arrogance? Why isn't this human gem not the subject of an eyewitness news segment reporting how her ass got beat down by an angry mob? Amid human interest stories of the people who've lose their lives and livelihoods, we're treated to this self-involved and unapologetic bullshit, eloquently dismantled and exposed for its chicanery by the always on point Very Smart Brothas. And then there is this fuckery right here from Miss Anne's great, great, great granddaughter who was raised not to see color:

I am so tired. But I don't own a gun and let's face it, I'm Black so any kind of confrontation I might attempt to won't end well. If I could be so cavalier as to assume that I am safe simply because no one I know has died yet...but I can't because I know of several people who have lost family in that ever increasing number, including a cousin. So yeah, I hate you people. I hate your smug sense of entitlement. I hate your hypocrisy. And I know, I can't do anything about this except seethe and rail against you on this blog or or my Facebook page.

I don't wish you any ill will though. I refuse to repay your oblivious narcissism with the requisite wish that you learn first-hand what it must be like to lose someone in this pandemic and then have it shrugged off like the way you would swat a fly. I bet if dogs were dying of COVID-19, y'all would care. I know, people die everyday and if you have ever uttered those words in response to someone else's loss during this crisis, I pray that you never experience the sting of having that sentiment spat back at you from some similarly insensitive prick.

This is the point where I am supposed to wrap up my little sermonnette with a hymn of forgiveness for the crimes and sins you have committed, but absolving you will not set me free. No thank you, but I don't drink bleach. I refuse to believe that in all of this, there is some silver lining that will result in a better world...for you. I refuse to accept that a return to your normal is what's best.

We will not be reverting to the state of passively acquiescing to your double and triple standards for evading accountability. We've seen how you regard our sons and daughters as threats, declared guilty for the crime of merely existing; then in order to receive justice, we must redeem our dead as innocent and worthy of life itself. We see how some of you have been more than willing to sacrifice your own parents to this virus because well, death is inevitable. We have lived for centuries with your sadism and refuse to descend to that level. We will not participate in this existential debate--this Morton's fork (yes, there is a use for philosophy in practical life) where a face mask is deemed more threatening than an assault rifle.

Coronavirus has brought an end to the world as we knew it. Period. I won't be translating that for you because you already know it to be true, but in case you're in doubt, here is a visual aid:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Blackest Weekend of This Pandemic (So Far)

In recognition of the weekend that just passed, I am going to offer a book review, television criticism, reflections on an interview, point out some important obituaries, and offer a few thoughts about some music I heard. None of these matters qualify as bleak (in case you misread my headline), all of it was produced by Black people, and yes, I think it is quite the coincidence that it all took place over the biggest holiday weekend for Black people other than Thanksgiving. Because in case you didn't already know this, Mother's Day is even blacker than Kwanzaa, the MLK holiday weekend, and the entire month of February combined. It is the highest of Black holy days on the calendar.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
I ended up with an Audible account because my Kid sometimes presses random buttons on my tablet, so in addition to buying the entire Llama Llama book series and a Mexican bible, this is her 'gift' to me. Instead of immediately canceling, I've spent the better part of a year wondering what to buy and when I would get to listen to it. When I decided it would be a great way for me to share audio with my Mom of her favorite books, it was then a matter of which book and the fact that I had credits set to expire. But then COVID happened, so I got this book after seeing all of the acclaim over its release and Reynolds's appointment as an Ambassador for Young Adult Literature at the Library of Congress.

Although the book is geared to a younger audience, I thoroughly enjoyed both my first Audible experience and this selection. I listened in between laundry and dishes, and to repeat its disclaimer without spoiling anything, this is NOT a history book. There was some Amen-shouting and a little head-scratching (because it isn't a history book), so if you do share this with a young person under the age of 30, then make sure they know something first. We need them to have some context before they delve into criticizing historical figures. That would be my only quasi-critique/spoiler--nobody is spared. And I won't say who emerges as a clear heroine, (it's her ) but you didn't get that from me.

GirlTrek Conversation with Angela Davis and Nikki Giovanni
I missed this initially (went to bed with a headache)...and then it took me a few days to get through the entire interview. Not for lack of interest, but partially due to technical issues and life disruptions, and maybe some green-eyed haterade on my part (because well damn, I would LOVE to have an audience with either one of these great women).

Of course my envy was momentary because it was WONDERFUL that these two sisters, Vanessa Garrison and Tanya Morgan Dixon, had the chance to bring these two icons of unapologetic Black radical womanism together. And for once, the reason this happened wasn't due to some crisis, us mourning over a fallen sister, or the need to charge us up to burn shit down. Well, technically they did that too, but this conversation was organized to help usher in a spirit of honoring our mothers and in the process, I hope some of you got your life. I hope you saw how women can come together, build each other up, have infinite patience with each other (because there was a lot of fan-girling, although I won't lie and say I would not have been doing the most too), and generally demonstrate everything I have been telling you about sisterhood for at least a year...

But in all seriousness, it was a reaffirming experience, and I encourage you to connect with Girl Trek to plug into their mission and to tune in this coming Friday when the guests will be Bernice King and Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughters of Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz respectively.

Jilly from Philly v. Erykah the Bad
So I will accept all of the flogging I deserve for missing the GirlTrek conversation in real time, while making it front and center and for all three hours of this 'battle' between these two R&B divas. Me and 750k of my closest friends, including Michelle Obama, spent a very chill Saturday night before Mother's Day vibing to the energy created by real artistry and sisterhood. What had been set up to be a clash was really more like two sisters ribbing each other over who makes the best potato salad (summer BBQ) or mac and cheese (potluck family dinners). Since both sisters can throw down in the kitchen, the preference for one over the other might be situational, meaning one dish is closer to your plate for serving seconds. Or maybe it is the musical equivalent of that eternal argument--sugar or salt on the GRIIIIIIITTTTTTSSSSS...

Either way, it was like shea butter for the soul.

Typically I would not give a review of a TV show, let alone mid-season, and I promise not to spoil anything; however, now that I am finally caught up and based on where things stood at the end of the most recent episode, I can't help myself. I knew from the season premier where this was heading, but I fell off the wagon for four weeks straight because keeping track of days and when TV shows air in a pandemic was hard. Thank goodness for content on-demand.

A - I posted some of these thoughts on Twitter, but I really need for folks without children who have friends with children (the ones that y'all oohed and ahhed about before they got here or when they were still babies) to take notice of the fact that we live with parenthood 24/7. I think people forget that fact (I'm sure I did before I had a child) and that we deal with all kinds of stuff that shades our interactions with the rest of the world. Like, we miss TV episodes in real time because we fall asleep after reading four bedtime stories to a wired kid who has been trapped inside her house for 8 weeks and counting. Some of us really tried to make Mommy friends to spare you from the misadventures of potty training, but...and after that failed effort, we didn't come back to you like some chick who got dumped (ok, maybe we did). But it would be nice if you understood.

B - Similarly, even among friends who don't have a new baby or new man as an excuse for shit getting weird between them, it would be nice if we could find a way to handle our disagreements and/or disconnectedness without making mountains out of mole hills. Please re-read the paragraph above, because sometimes relationships evolve and change due to circumstances beyond our control. We know that people go through things and don't always share every single detail for whatever reason, and instead of taking it all personal and assuming that a person means you harm or is being selfish, maybe it ain't all about you. And that is, in Insecure vernacular Vague As F***, Hella Vague, Vague-Like, and Low-Key Vague as I can be without spoiling the plot.

C - Yes, that is still my favorite meme to come from this show.

Miscellaneous Blackness
There were a few other reasons why this was no ordinary Mother's Day weekend, aside from the pandemic which kept all of us out of church on Sunday (unprecedented, and worse than missing Easter). Michelle Obama's documentary version of her best-selling memoir Becoming started streaming on Netflix. Uncle Kenny pulled out his guitar, grabbed three of our play cousins, and dedicated A Song for Mama on SNL. And if that didn't make you cry, then it was the back to back to back losses of Andre Harrell, Little Richard, and Betty Wright on Saturday--three distinctly Black musicians from three distinct genres who just crossed over.

All of that in three days. And I think Beyonce sneezed and ended up on the Billboard charts that are slated to come out this weekend, so between that, birthdays for Stevie Wonder and Janet Jackson this week, regular Club Quarantine with D-Nice and Questlove, and Prince concerts from the Purple Rain era streaming on YouTube for the next few days, I think that means we're about to snap up every weekend in May, including Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to Black Music Month, we also own June.

You're welcome.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Audrey's Daughter

Long-time readers of this blog know that I've declared my disdain for Mother's Day for many, many years. It took the combination of Alzheimer's disease, the birth of my daughter, and being stuck in the house for 8 weeks for me to finally come around.

I don't hate Mother's Day anymore.

This will be short because I have been emotional about everything lately. Could be hormonal or maybe this tough girl exterior of mine is starting to wear down in middle age. It could also be that being in the house for all of this time without seeing my Mom has made me miss her more than words, so just the thought of spending another tomorrow away from her makes me ache.

I won't promise not to make anyone cry, but I am mindful of mortality and my eyes are on the invisible clock that sits above all of our heads as we go through this life. Because it is invisible, none of us knows how much time is on it...we only know how much time has passed. And even then, we only know a mere window of what that represents with respect to our parents, since there was time that existed before we knew them. The point--I know that there are a lot of people reading this who no longer have a mother in this realm of existence. And given the advanced stage of my mother's illness, I am ever mindful that our time is finite.

Of course, the same is true for me. I have a clock above my head that I can't see, so I don't know what the future will hold. I know that my own daughter is far too young to understand if anything happened that would suddenly cause my clock to stop...

I am my Mother's only daughter. I am her first child, the reason why she became a mother. I am the inheritor of all her quirks. I bear the scars of her mistakes. I carry the crown of her accomplishments, but I don't dare try it myself on because I can't wear it. I am her imperfect copy.

She was hard on me. I used to hate her for being mean, but high expectations and a willingness to express disappointment were how my Mother's generation knew how to make us strong. They didn't give participation trophies because showing up didn't earn them any prizes. You are supposed to show up, she would say. She accepted second/third place or honorable mentions through gritted teeth because she knew her shit was better, but she would show them next time (and she always did).  She expected excellence. She had scores of students who did great work, of which she was very proud, but of me, she expected more.

For years, I assumed that I didn't make her proud because she tended to be more affectionate towards my brothers. Then I realized her affection for me was never expressed in kisses or hugs. It was in exposing me to the theatre. It was in sharing her love of literature and Black women writers. It was in allowing me to wear her clothes because at one point we wore the same size (then I lived down in New Orleans for 3 years and she never let me forget that she could still wear a size 8). It was in sending me an allowance every month when I was in college when she could have used that money on herself. It was in traveling to different parts of the world to take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that have taught me to pursue my own happiness and fulfillment (because men...shoot). It was in demonstrating that a mother who didn't wear an apron or bake cookies could be just as loving as a mother who wore high heels and worked out at 5am.

As Zuri's mother, I am much different than Audrey. I apologize when I react to my child in ways that might harm her spirit. I give kisses and hugs. I gave her dance, but if she chooses baseball I guess I will accept that. Of course, I am convinced Zuri will still end up in therapy with issues, or she will find another way to see and accept me for what I am/was. She will have memories of our house being less than pristine, of me yelling at her to do simple things because I said so, and maybe a few memories of me creating some masterpiece on this broken laptop. Hopefully one day she will recall how we traveled the world together because there aren't too many places I want to go where I would leave her behind. I only have Zuri, who came to me later in life, and I know from watching Audrey's fight against the darkness of dementia that there is a clock above our heads...

If your mother is no longer here, honor her in some way. Find something she cherished--an object, a passion, a person, etc., and put it to good use, show some love. If you are not a mother, find a way to share your time with someone else in some meaningful way. If you are a mother, smile and cherish the flawed gestures of love that your child offers you. If you are someone whose hurt is too deep to do anything, then find a way to love yourself in an intentional manner.

Yes, love yourself as much as your mother loved you. Or if need be, love yourself even more. I no longer hate Mother's Day because I clearly see Audrey in me. I see Audrey in Zuri. And seeing Audrey and Zuri means I need to look more lovingly at Ayanna.

Mother's Day will always be another day on the calendar for me. I say that now, but five years in and then 46 years later, along with ten years of Alzheimer's and eight weeks of social distancing...honestly every day is a blessing. Every single day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

BET at 40

Since the start of this pandemic, I have spent way too much time in front of the TV, so that has given me a chance to notice that this is a milestone year for Black Entertainment Television. And well, that deserves a celebration!

I want to start out by saying that 40 years ago, I was a kid who lived with parents who did not believe in cable television. And I was young enough not to have known if I was missing anything. The year Robert Johnson got a $15,000 loan to launch BET, my parents might have just bought their first color television. We were still very much living in a VHF/UHF world. Our orbit revolved around the three major networks, two syndicated channels, two public television stations, and access to local affiliates from Baltimore (which gave us two chances to watch all of the same programming).

Still, I was aware that there was a Black TV channel, especially by the time I reached the higher grades of elementary school. By that point, there were two distinct groups of kids--those who had cable and those who didn't. According to my understanding of things, we should have had cable because my parents could afford it, but that argument went nowhere. So I tried the peer pressure angle: so-and-so's parents have it and...that was all I ever got to say before my feelings were hurt.

Whenever I went to visit a friend who had cable, I don't recall that I was missing anything special, at least not at first. With the access to the channels we got for *free* I saw everything that was important in the 80s--The Cosby Show, Fame, Soul Train, soap operas, reruns of sitcoms, and most importantly, I saw the Thriller video (on network TV when it aired). I saw Motown 25, the American Music Awards and the Grammys, and pretty much everything else of significance from that era, so apparently what I was missing out was the right to brag about what I could have been watching. Which was mostly movies without commercials, but we had a VCR (VHS when everybody else had Betamax), so again, I wasn't missing anything yet. These were the early days of both MTV and BET just as everything we understood about music was about to shift.

My recollection of the complaints about MTV at that time was that they wouldn't air music videos by Black artists until the Thriller video debuted in 1983. That was also true of shows like Friday Night Videos, which aired on network television. I had to sneak to stay up late to watch that show and it often went weeks at a time without showing any videos by Black artists. Before anyone goes there, let me state for the record that most of my peers were cool with watching Madonna, Boy George, and Phil Collins videos and we are as nostalgic for those artists as we are of New Edition and Atlantic Starr. However, we wanted to see ALL of our favorite artists.

If we wanted to see videos by the artists who were popular on urban radio, our options were limited to shows like Soul Train, that might air one video per episode. For a few years locally, we had a video show called the Music Video Connection which offered us more of the content we wanted, but again, that meant staying up late on the weekends to tune in. (Side note, I had to dig deep to find evidence that this show existed, so enjoy this brief intro and video by  Cherelle). I can only imagine the slim pickings for those in other communities outside of major urban areas. If all they had was Soul Train, imagine how disappointing it was to want to see the latest LL Cool J video, but end up with Maze featuring Frankie Beverly instead (no disrespect, but that reflects the generational dynamics of the time). As hip hop was blowing up thanks to the mainstream success of movies like Beat Street (1984) and Krush Groove (1985), there were niches within niches of musical programming that helped the stars align for BET's early success.

While this only frames the importance of the network with respect to its popular music programming, over the years, it has been clear that BET served and still serves as an outlet for Black entertainment and information. Where else could we find shows like Teen Summit? What Christian broadcasting channels would have given a platform to a traditional gospel music show hosted by Bobby Jones? Who else would take the time to tell little Black girls that they Rock? How many other networks employed as many Black executives, producers, audio/visual technicians, and on-air talent? Who remembers when BET published magazines like Heart & Soul and Emerge (and this haunting cover story about Kemba Smith)?

To those who question the necessity of an all-Black television network as somehow racist or exclusionary, it is important to emphasize what you choose to ignore about mainstream representation. And that is, unless there is a need for Black talent (and/or Latinx, Asian American, LGBTQ, etc.), we tend to be marginalized by limited opportunities with just a few openings for individuals to break through. As with every other institution that we have established, it was to fill a need and to provide a space for Black talent to be nurtured and groomed. Where other channels would have considered a daily airing of We Are the World every couple of hours as progress, BET did so much more.

BET helped to facilitate the integration of Black music and culture into the mainstream. It took the Thriller video for MTV to take notice even though our cultural impact had always been significant and transformative. For example, even though Yo! MTV Raps (1988) preceded BET's Rap City (1989) by a year, rap videos had already been in rotation on BET since 1983. Both HBO's Def Comedy Jam and BET's Comic View started in 1992, within months of each other. One might assume that that these four shows occurred within a Black cultural moment (it was the late 80s and early 90s after all), but would any of that have been possible without the existence of BET?

Of course, being a pioneer meant BET was an easy target for scrutiny. By the time I finally got cable (as an adult) in 2005, the network was a mess. I saw plenty of what had been offered over the years, and there was a significant change in programming that occurred in the early 2000s, coinciding with its acquisition by VIACOM. I can recall the intense criticism levied at BET for reflecting what was thought to be the worst of Black popular culture. Ironically, a special on Vh1 (its sister network) amplified several of those critiques, as did statements made by one of its own founders, Sheila Johnson. I had my own issues, which was why I initially preferred TV One, a competitor network launched by Cathy Hughes in 2004. (And just to insert another historical connection here, Hughes and Bob Johnson both got their start as media moguls here in DC.)

In hindsight, it was unfair for BET to bear the brunt of that criticism--somebody had to create that trifling content (audio only)... Anybody who watched reality television in the 2000s (and that was most of us) should remember that some of the most egregious crap aired on other networks, most notably Vh1 and MTV. In fact, the show that led to my denouncement of the genre altogether aired on BRAVO, a network that underwent its own transformation in recent years. However, I do believe it was fair to expect better of BET and our complaints eventually yielded positive results.

Today in the midst of this pandemic, I am more likely to turn to BET for a reprieve from the constant churn of the 24 hour news cycle. I used to lament the absence of news programming on the network since the departures of Ed Gordon and Jacque Reid; instead I can escape to an old movie. If I need to get caught up on the crazy, I can tune into programs hosted by any number of Black journalists from Joy Reid on MSNBC to Don Lemon on CNN or Harris Faulkner on FOX. I am more likely to find reruns of my favorite old sitcoms on BET than on any of those other networks that air retro shows (although you can stop running Martin, thanks). If I want to watch less controversial reality programming, I can tune into BET Gospel with my Kid. As a writer, I appreciate the written word and would love to read an engaging, well-researched long-form magazine article...but I am in the minority there, and a televised documentary on Trayvon Martin is accessible to more people.

Sherry Carter  
I call it the new and improved Black Entertainment Television. For those of us who have grown up with the network, we can look back on periods of our lives when we made some questionable choices. (Yes, that is a throwback to Sherry Carter's  wacky 1990 New Edition interview, because if growth was an outfit...)

Sure there is always room for improvement, but I think that it is the folly of expecting one media company to be all things to all people. Past criticisms of BET occurred in a world where it stood alone whereas now, there are additional channels on the spectrum such as Aspire and Bounce that also provide programming aimed at Black audiences. Healthy competition has made it necessary and possible for BET to mature.

While researching this piece I fell down a rabbit hole of local DC programming history that unfolded alongside the birth and early stages of development for BET. While that is a entire topic for another piece, I will tease with this picture of the legendary Donnie Simpson--any tribute to BET must include a reference to DC's own Green-Eyed bandit. He was already a fixture on local radio and as one of the earliest faces on the network, he represents the many people seen in front of the camera as well as those behind the scenes that made this idea of a Black entertainment network into a reality.

Happy 40th Birthday BET and hopefully, many more to come!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Life, Death, and Love in the Time of COVID-19

This hasn't been the best week. I will admit at the outset that I am being overly dramatic and ominous, but I want to be transparent and open with my feelings. From someone who is usually very guarded and cautious with my words, I am just going to come out and say that I am scared, exhausted, overwhelmed, and angry.

If you follow me on Facebook, either as my friend or as a reader of the blog (thank you, btw), this revelation shouldn't be all that shocking. I have been cussing up a storm and have been much crankier than normal on my personal page, whenever I take to that particular soapbox to opine. This week's rant was about the Executive Order to keep meat processing plants open. I read/heard about that the previous evening, but I must have awakened to some fresh realization that the fuckery and chaos wrought by this DESPOTUS just continues on, unchallenged. I keep wondering if the reporters are just there to earn a check, because it is only the rare occasion when some brave soul comes within moments of shouting WHAT THE ENTIRE FUCK--REALLY MR. PRESIDENT??!!

Or maybe, that is just me. I stopped watching the briefings, but every now and then, I leave the TV on MSNBC and right on time, that bullshit express comes roaring through...

I don't know if I took time to properly call out the ass-holery of Drs. Oz and Phil yet (so put a pin in that for now), but last week during the middle of the day, I caught a whiff of the FOX News hour hosted by Harris Faulkner. None of that booshay was in the mix as reporters and news readers alike openly questioned the DESPOTUS's bizarre suggestions about UV light and/or chemical cleaners as some kind of miracle fix. Perhaps only in the metaphorical sense is daylight a disinfectant against ignorance since their analysis was consistent with what was being addressed on the other networks. Even Karl Rove made sense in his rational discussion about the role of federalism, states' rights, and social distancing.

Yeah, so with all due respect to the remarks made by Oprah's favorite things...

Donning face masks and maintaining a six-foot wing-span of distance between people aren't attacks on your liberty. You can quote Patrick Henry all you want, but he's dead and I doubt he would compare coronavirus to a tyrannical King George III. You can kill people if you insist on going about uncovered in public. And we got laws against reckless endangerment. So if MC Karl Rove knows that and the anchors at FOX News (who even appeared in a promo that encouraged social distancing) know that, then what is the damn problem? Oh, that's right...Karen needs her haircut.

(Allow me to pivot from the political to the personal by sharing this article I found on emotions based on the movie Inside Out. The graphic helps to illustrate why our emotions appear to be all over the place.)

Personal emotions tend to be more complicated for me to express: I am anxious and scared. Anger is easier for me because that serves a public function. Anxiety and fear are more internal. During this pandemic, I've been guzzling a mixed cocktail of these emotions daily. Add in some lethargy and loneliness, and you've got Busy Black Woman Blue on the rocks (shaken, not stirred).

I'm not the only person who is feeling this way. I heard an NPR story about an increase in the number of calls to mental health hotlines. There was that emergency room doctor who committed suicide. There are folks who were stuck in difficult situations that are now in serious crisis. I'm guessing that for all of the productivity that has kept some people fired up, the depression that engulfs some of us has become much deeper. I haven't reorganized anything. Even people who are immune to stress, like my Dad, are showing signs of strain and weariness. He appears resigned to an inevitability--not that he feels endangered or at risk, but that he's fine with not seeing us if he can keep us safe. And I'm like don't you have that backwards, and wait, you seriously don't miss us??? That is the closest thing to crazy I've ever heard him say.

Ever since our roles reversed years ago, it has been my job to keep them safe, which is the main reason why I haven't forced my way over there. I'm sure that at some point on a necessary outing, I have already been or am at risk at being exposed. And I take into account the fact that I live with a free-range Montessori kid in pre-school--the same child who gave me the flu in March 2019 and skipped around here with no symptoms. I miss them even though my Dad drives me crazy.

So no, it is not an acceptable risk to endanger the lives of my parents because you say so, Ben Shapiro, you heartless fuck.

Now that I'm speaking in angry Black Womanese again, the Ben Shapiros, the Karens, Drs. Quick and Quack, the Troll King, and his Prince of Fails act like getting sick is no big deal since they all have the means to avoid exposure, and then have access to better care as necessary to treat the disease. They have made it clear that the old people dying in nursing homes, the essential food workers and delivery people, and the front-line medical personnel are all expendable. The danger is primarily to people who are out of sight and out of mind. That's why it is perfectly acceptable to allow the Postal Service to fail, to force people off unemployment, and to pit states against each other Gladiator-style for medical equipment.

Thus, the Kid has been in this house and this is where she'll stay until the coast is clear. In an ironic twist, her Over-Protective Papi seems to think that summer camp is a go, so I am trying to keep the peace by not going full Clare Huxtable in asking if he drank any Presidential bleach. Sure it would be nice to send her to camp; I could use a break from these daily homeschooling tantrums. I was the stay-at-home parent for three years before she went to school, so I will endure a few more months of upheaval as long as you keep my wine subscription going, homie. I can find other uses for the money you would have spent on those summer vacation plans because we're not going to be at anybody's beach house either. You had your beach vacation in February.

If I knew how to edit gifs, this would say STAY home.

Am I being irrational? Maybe. Oh ye of little faith? Yeah, you can quote Bible verses to me from six feet away while wearing a mask. Foolhardiness is not an ordained ministry.

Furthermore, I don't have the emotional bandwidth or the mental space sufficient to handle the illness or potential death of a relative or loved one from a virus that seems to be situated in the places where we all live. I am unprepared to deal with ramifications of having someone I know contract this disease from some careless asymptomatic Becky on the beach. I am not willing to allow my child to be a test case for social distancing pre-schoolers.

I have had enough tragedy shared on my timeline. In some form or another, I have been in mourning since this year began, and it is all too much. Enough that the death of an actor is just as difficult for me to process as the death of a family friend, the news of both revealed on the same day. Neither were COVID related, but at this point, does it matter, especially when there is no meaningful way to say goodbye?

And then finally, I am going way beyond my comfort zone in sharing that Busy Black Women get weary and lonely too. It would be nice if I didn't feel like the world assumed that I can do fine all by myself. I wish I could get some encouragement, some emotional support, some reassurance that I am on the right path. That what I do has value on some level. After years of uncertainty, I know that writing is my calling and that this isn't a frivolous hobby. I think about that a lot as folks are enjoying live dee-jays, live music, TED talks, book readings, tutorials, and virtual gallery tours on social media. What am I doing in this pandemic, I ask myself as I finish off another playlist that gets a few clicks or a piece that gets read by a handful of people. I know to encourage myself, even if no one shows up, but I will be honest and admit that it can be hard to stay motivated. It has been this way for years; yet, I know art is never a wasted endeavor. It has value. It brings joy.

This is the joy I contribute to this bleak world. It may not be much bigger than the light from a candle in the dark, but this is my light.