Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The Devil in the Green Dress

This is one of those pieces where I can't provide a map or a key to tell you where I am headed, you just have to trust that it might all make sense by the end. Initially I thought I might write this in two parts, but that is not how it is unfolding. So follow me on this meandering journey through the personal and professional reactions to the noteworthy topic du jour. Because I've seen so many different takes on the Slap and since I've already had my say on that, I want to talk about Jada. 

Somehow, a fight between two men is her fault...because she made a face after a comment that was a joke made at her expense. She's at fault (checks notes): for not stopping her husband, for not following her husband to the stage to stand in between his open hand and another man's face, for being bald, for having an entanglement with a man who kissed and told, for addressing the matter publicly on her internet talk show, for dating Tupac back when they were in high school, for convincing Will that Wild Wild West was going to be a hit...

I'm sure I left something out, but it is absolutely crazy to me how Jada Pinkett becomes Helen of Troy and takes all of the blame for how two grown ass men acted up on national television.

How is that personal? Well, it isn't because I am friends with Jada. In fact, I am not even a fan of hers, since I believe her addition to the cast of A Different World is the precise point when the show jumped the shark. Her character was terrible and annoying, and with rare exceptions, I have yet to see Jada take on any role that isn't some derivative of Lena James. 

It sure is convenient that Jada became the Devil in the Green Dress that Denzel Washington alluded to when he sought to comfort Will Smith after the Slap. In our attempts to make sense of what set him off and made him forget where he was and how many people were watching, the only logical explanation was he got possessed. An evil spirit inhabited that man's body and forced it to act out on national television. And in the tradition of Adam blaming Eve for his choice to bite the apple, the world settled on Jada.

Why do y'all hate Jada so much? For anyone who has been paying attention to the Smiths for any amount of time, how did it escape your notice that while Will has continued to have a rather high-profile, yet consistent career that has ebbed and flowed, hers has been practically dormant for a minute. She started hosting an internet-based talk show with her Mama from her basement before the pandemic. Jada worked steadily in the 90s, up until she had her first child with Will. She found work here and there, but after their daughter was born, Jada went ghost for a while. She fronted a band, she had a short-lived TV show, she voiced the Hippo on Madagascar (with Chris Rock), co-produced a sitcom with Will, and she had periodic cameos in various movies. Will has been on a hot streak of summer blockbusters, intense dramas, and being a Hollywood mogul. Their son Jaden got to be the Karate Kid and daughter Willow got to be a rockstar for an entire summer. Jada got to stand on the sidelines with her spiked coffee to cheer everyone on.

I don't know why y'all never noticed that Will has always treated his family like employees. I remember that the Smiths hosted the BET Awards show together in 2005 and this promo captures my belief that Will has been trying to push guide his children's careers from birth. He and Jaden co-starred in a disastrous movie (one that I actually paid to see in the theater) and it included some truly painful moments of father-son tension that were not acting. Not too long ago, Willow opened up about the pressure she felt from her father to pursue a music career after the success of her Whip My Hair video. How it took her refusal to continue with a tour for him to accept that he had been forcing her into something that no longer seemed fun. She was 12.

Will has confessed on quite a few occasions that he does the most. Before he wrote his book, he gave plenty of interviews in which he outlined his I-think-therefore-I-am-Legend philosophy, and every single time, I have come away feeling drained by his intensity. The man is consumed by the pursuit of success, and every move he makes is about being Will Smith, the man with the multi-million dollar brand name. I wish more of you took the time to psychoanalyze him instead of Jada, who has been his ride or die all along. Every movie premier. Every twist and turn. Every career high and low.

Until August whatever his name told everyone about his puppy love affair with Jada, NOBODY had a clue how unhappy, unfulfilled, tired, and generally sick of Will's shit she was. Sure, the rumors about them have always alluded to them being about as real as the Fendi bag you bought from someone's trunk, but you wear it anyway. What man hasn't been called gay in Hollywood and shrugged it off because that is the rumor about everybody? And who cared if she went a few years without working if he was bringing home $20 million per film?

I have said this several times and will say it again for everyone in the cheap seats--Will isn't anybody's cuckhold. He's had dalliances and at some point Jada said bet, what's good for the goose is good for the gander and she got her some. But her non-disclosure agreement wasn't as airtight, so when her little boy toy got in his feelings about Mrs. Robinson cutting him lose once she had her fun, everybody is out here clutching pearls and denouncing Jada as if...

As if marriage ain't complicated and messy AF for everybody. Beyonce wrote a whole album in response to Jay-Z's extra-curricular activities, and I swear that is only because she knew fucking one of his friends wasn't worth it. And how we found out about that was because Solange couldn't believe that shit and threw hands in an elevator.

I mentioned to a friend recently how people are being way too dismissive of Jada's alopecia. I saw where someone questioned if it is any more or less traumatic than men going bald in their 20s and that was the moment when I realized how desperately y'all want to salvage Will's reputation and career. Did you know that there is a support and advocacy community for people that suffer with alopecia (and I know this because I'm on their mailing list)? When you dismiss it as a milder auto-immune disease than lupus or multiple sclerosis, is that because you know from personal experience, or just don't think it is a big deal for someone to suddenly be disfigured or have their appearance altered by something they can't control? As if the stress of being Mrs. Will Smith didn't finally get to her? Have y'all forgotten Michael Jackson's vitiligo?

Here is where I get personal. I have this birthmark on my forehead, which I've had since I was a child. This picture is one of the earliest appearances of it (the faint shadow you see in the upper left corner). In my teens, I had a dermatologist who provided options if I wanted to have it removed, and because I had been teased relentlessly about it for my entire life at that point, I considered it. This was the late 80s though, so the methods for removal sounded like torture--having it frozen, burned, or cut off. And get this, I did have portions of my birthmark cut off to get it biopsied for skin cancer and it grew back! That was the risk I faced including discoloration or some kind of disfiguring scar that would have been no different than the mark itself.

For years, I was very self-conscious and never felt safe from the ridicule of my peers or some adults. Once a substitute teacher cracked that it looked like I had a third eyebrow, that became the default insult for the remainder of my elementary school days. In middle school, I was declared ugly and diseased. By high school, I thought people had outgrown the taunts, but I later learned by accident that someone whom I thought was my friend had talked about me and the ridiculous splotch on my forehead.

Yeah, kids are cruel and teenage girls are mean and boy are stupid. All of that. And though I am used to the stares and the awkward questions from children, every now and then, someone makes a bad joke, so I recognize the look Jada gave in response to Rock's quip. I can tell you how I have accepted my birthmark and how I chose not to have it removed because I came to see it for something greater than a flaw. I can tell you that I don't care if people whisper behind my back about that thing on my forehead. But I can also tell you that I would NEVER intentionally sit on the front row at a comedy show...

I can tell you that it was a few years ago in San Francisco when an unhoused man made me feel like that ugly middle school kid again after he harassed me for not giving him money. He started out by hitting on me, then he asked me for money, and then completely turned into an asshole when I honestly told him that I did not have any cash. I haven't wanted to go back to San Francisco because of that encounter.

So yeah, I feel a personal connection to Jada over the fact that she had an honest here we go again moment and everyone is calling it the look that launched a hundred angry steps. You want to know why she didn't jump up to stop Will? Because she was in shock like the rest of us!

I haven't read Will's book and honestly, I won't since we all need a break from their never-ending drama to focus on other issues. I didn't have to write this, but I felt compelled to say something in Jada's defense after seeing how folks have either written her out of the narrative or reframed it to cast her as Tituba from the Salem witch trials who set this all in motion with her evil feminine wiles (midlife crisis). A lot of Hollywood couples had extramarital entanglements, and not all of them were discreet (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn come to mind). Even some of the long-haulers had non-traditional marriages. You'd be surprised.

So please stop. Miss me with all of your amateur expertise in relationships when we spend a great deal of time on social media trying to understand why some men think paying for a date is some kind of conspiracy by women to drain their souls. When we've got dudes offering advice from their cars in the parking lot of McDonald's before their weekend visitation starts. When there are women bragging about how well they take are of men who haven't married them so they've been playing house for 15 years. Water your own lawn!

A final word on why I took the time to defend Jada--because I see her. I see this woman living her life like the rest of us, dreams deferred and answered prayers and everything else in between. Maybe she is terrible and this is that moment in Mean Girls when she gets hit by a bus, or maybe she is a much better actress than we realize. Just because she is comfortable with her bald head that doesn't mean she is immune to the sting of a bad joke. Y'all think everything is fair game and it isn't. Words do hurt people, and as a friend pointed out, we know when someone is hitting below the belt. Poking fun at a woman's appearance walks a very fine line and is often just mean. 

And slapping somebody on live television is stupid. Will Smith has been telling us for YEARS what kind of person he is and now he's shown us. Chris Rock has been telling us that he's kind of a jerk too, but with more self-awareness. So again, how did this narrative shift in 24 hours to Jada being the Instigator, Geppetto the Narcissist Puppeteer? Incredible. That's a whole semester on Freud that most of you skimmed from a YouTube video, so now you think you know something? You only know what you saw, and no one saw Jada slap anybody. So stop smacking her around and if you can't say anything respectful about her, then keep her name out of your mouth.

Monday, March 28, 2022

We're Not Talking About Bruno

About last night...

I shouldn't even take up your time with my Monday quarterbacking because I've already seen the back and forth on social media, so I know nobody is all that interested in my long-winded opinionating. But come on, y'all this is what I do. So let's get into this.

I went onto the Facebook page to post my initial reaction, but I hit the wrong button and it all disappeared. I logged on again this morning with the intention of posting my quick thoughts but trying to distill everything about that telecast into a few paragraphs is impossible. And that actually has nothing to do with Will, unless you are talking about Will Packer.

Because that man is the real star!

I spent half of the day trying to help my daughter with a school project. Thankfully, it was not the kind that required a mad dash to the store for supplies, but it did involve some last-minute Type A Busy Black Momming (which is a topic we will revisit later). Therefore, I was exhausted by 8pm and briefly tuned into the Oscars telecast during the opening monologue. I had not planned to watch the show at all because I assumed that I hadn't seen enough of the films. I switched the channel right after the joke about three hostesses being paid less than a single male host. So forgive me, but that means I missed Beyonce...

I switched back just in time to see Ariana DeBose accept the first statuette of the evening for Best Supporting Actress. It was a moment for me, and I was so moved by the trajectory of her career in such a short period of time. Just a few years ago, she was a chorus dancer in Hamilton! I half-watched for the next half hour and then got all gooey again when Troy Kotsur, a deaf actor, won for Best Supporting Actor. It was moving to see the presenter, Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung, who won the Best Supporting Actress award last year, sign his name before announcing it. Then his speech got me all emotional, and I thought, wow, this is how Hollywood is supposed to look.

I do not recall the exact sequence of subsequent events, but I know that there were tributes to White Men Can't Jump, the James Bond franchise, and The Godfather. I wondered if Al Pacino and Robert De Niro were okay with having gotten dressed just to walk out on-stage and not say anything. I did not notice that Wesley Snipes wasn't wearing pants. I did not tweet out which Bond was my favorite (Sean Connery, but I grew up with Roger Moore so he's always a sentimental fave). I'm glad Tiffany Haddish didn't have to wear that same white dress again. I don't know why Regina Hall called Tyler Perry to the stage for that COVID test bit because I didn't think we were checking for him like that. But we are checking for Simu Liu. 

I think all of that occurred before the slap. After the slap, Questlove won an Oscar. I think we need to applaud that because that brother is so multi-talented and so incredibly unassuming about it. Like, yeah, I directed a documentary that won an Oscar, and that was my first time trying that. I am going back to work tomorrow on the Jimmy Fallon Show right after I spin a Prince set of B-sides on my IG live. Did I mention that I have another book coming out on Friday? Does that dude sleep?!

The In Memoriam segment was wedged in there, and I don't think folks were ready for that level of Blackness. Because we don't do sad when people die. Black people have elaborate rituals that celebrate life, and literally hours earlier, I was joking with a friend about this tweet and how only on Black Twitter would this even be a debate (whether the food is better at a baby shower, a wedding, or a repast).

So now, let's go back to deal with the slap. My immediate assumption was that it was just another corny Oscar bit. The way Chris Rock stood there during Smith's approach was just too calm for me to think otherwise. And even though the sound went out and we could only read Will's lips, I still assumed that this was a bit because in true live performance fashion, the show went on. Rock shook his head and regained his composure like that scene in the Terminator 2 when dude's head re-forms and casually announced Questlove's award. 

Leave it to Diddy to reveal that it wasn't an awkward bit. That and the fact that the rest of the world outside of that room saw the unedited clip and folks were posting it on social media. Thus, for the remainder of the night and all day today, that was all we were talking about. 

This was supposed to be Will Smith's night, but it was Will Packer's night first. And CODA's night. And everybody who got a cameo in the live performance of We Don't Talk About Bruno. After the week we just had, no, that was not the way to #protectBlackwomen on a national stage and expect that folks would accept that as an explanation. Was that really about Jada's bruised pride or about Will's over-inflated ego? Because I know for damn sure that he never would have rolled up on Jimmy Kimmel for making a similar bad joke. And it wasn't cool to suggest that this was all an exercise in Method acting, as if the spirit of Richard Williams (who is very much alive) took over and decided that all of the disrespect his daughters faced since they were children needed to be unleashed on Chris Rock's face. 

No sir. 

It was a bad joke. I don't know whether Chris Rock intended to poke fun of Jada Pinkett Smith's alopecia, and I agree that people make all kinds of cheap jokes at women's expense. We are easy targets, and as we know from last week, the expectation is that we sit there and take the abuse with a smile. Jada rolled her eyes and stiffened back in her seat, so we know her body language was saying F-you Chris, I'll see you in the alley behind Roscoe's when this is over. Instead, Will decided to expedite the timeframe. According to published reports, these dudes aren't friends anyway, dating back years to a few barbs taken at the Smiths' expense, so unless we get the tea at the next Red Table Talk...

Everything is open to interpretation starting with why the Hollywood Black Avengers (Denzel Washington, Tyler Perry, Sam Jackson, etc.) immediately closed rank around Will as if he needed protection. Chivalry ain't dead, but don't tell me that West Philly Willy, Baltimore Jaida, and Brooklyn-born Chris all suddenly forget this wasn't the alley behind Roscoe's after too much Henny. And color me surprised by some of the other folks who have rallied around Smith in this such as Tiffany Haddish and Iyanla Vanzant. I've noted how many white people have expressed sympathy for Rock, and I know it was Amy Schumer who probably called the cops. He declined to press charges, so all is well in La La Land until somebody suggests they revive the Source Awards...

My good friend Ol' Hobbs has already opined on the incident, but for once, we must disagree on a few points. In recent weeks, there have been several incidents on social media where Black women have been discussing what happens whenever Black men intervene on our behalf. In particular, there was this message posted by a concerned husband and father about a certain IG chef who had tried to doxx the man's wife over some drama on social media. The context of that drama is way too involved to recount here, but part of the side commentary on the matter came from the frustration that the issue only got quashed when the husband stepped in. Part of Hobbs' argument is that a Man sometimes has to shut shit down, and when it comes to standing up for one's wife, Mama, daughters, or other women in his wing-span who are considered vulnerable, a real man will risk it ALL.

I'm not offended by that. But Chris Rock has daughters too, as well as an ex-wife, a Mama, and a few other women he might very well defend under similar circumstances. But he is a comedian, and without knowing that he intended to jab Jada like that, it was a bad joke. As for the jokes from the previous Oscars, I said, Will would never have run up on Jimmy Kimmel that way and I stand by that statement.

Black women do get disrespected, but last night wasn't the right venue to avenge four centuries of slights, not when Ariana DeBose had just claimed her space. It was not the night to lose it when two of the three hosts were Black women who were killing it. The past president of the Academy is a Black woman, as is a past president of the network. So my question is this: where have you been, Fresh Prince? Because we could have used that energy to make change a long time ago!

Follow me here, because Will has been calling the shots in his career since his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days. He has had the power to make moves that many others in Hollywood have not. This is the same dude that has given full-chested Tony Robbinesqe lectures about personal success and drive, but we're supposed to believe that he snapped over a stupid joke? This dude who had a veteran actress, Janet Hubert fired from their show while she was pregnant, a move that kept her ostracized for years in Hollywood (but now she's praising him, so go figure). This dude who has been the subject of speculation for years for a variety of reasons ranging from his sexual orientation to whether he is a Scientologist. 

Willard Carrol Smith II, who had to know that all bets were on him winning that hardware because of the momentum going into this awards season, chose to risk it ALL over Pookie from New Jack City?

Black women have needed this kind of support forever. We've needed brothers to go to the mattresses for us the way we take to the streets when one of our sons gets killed by the police or in a drive by. We've needed Black fathers help in raising their kids. We've needed that Uncle Phil energy to pull a young brother aside for one of those life lectures on personal responsibility and taking care of one's family. We've needed a few good Black men in positions of power in Hollywood, Congress, and the C-Suite to prop the door open so that more of us could enter those corridors without having to fight as hard as they did.

To his credit, Will Smith has been that brother, which is why he felt compelled to tell Richard Williams' story. We poke fun at Smith for his epic failures, but he keeps going. That $20 million per film supports his family, but it also funds various projects such as the 2014 Annie remake and To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018). What some called nepotism when Will starred alongside his children in various film projects was him providing work and exposure to other young actors of color in a town that only seemed to notice pretty blond ingenues. He saw some young man's vision on YouTube and gave us the sitcom reboot we needed instead of more empty nostalgia. So no, I'm hoping he didn't squander everything by slapping Chris Rock.

The more I think about what happened, I don't think it was Smith that risked it all. It was Christopher Julius Rock.

Black Hollywood ain't that big. At some point, most of these guys have worked together on-screen or behind the scenes, very much like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but probably more like than Three Degrees of Samuel Jackson. If memory serves, Pinkett, Smith, and Rock all arrived in Hollywood about the same time, within a few years of each other. Chris Rock has worked with Jada on the Madagascar movies and his brother Tony worked with Will on All of Us. Both Rock and Smith had a couple of years of overlap on the UPN/CW network before they dumped all of their Black sitcoms. Both Rock and Smith have come a long way from their humble beginnings, each very successful in their own right. However, the Smiths have moved into a position to greenlight projects whereas the Rock brothers are more likely to be in a position to pitch ideas. Whether that is the source of conflict is a wild guess, but we know that some folks are good at smizing with clenched teeth. Haters gonna hate. And as the Rock brothers are also stand-up comedians, the Smiths provide a lot of material.

In other words, methinks the back story to the slap is a lot more complicated than a few bad jokes told at Jada's expense. Methinks Will and Chris have had words in the past, and this was one of those fuck-around-and-find-out moments. Chris must have forgotten or he got froggy, in either case, Will made good on a past promise to slap the taste out of his mouth. And what got me a little twisted is the fact that Tiffany Haddish, a stand-up comedian herself, is #TeamWill while Wanda Sykes, who worked with Rock on Pootie Tang hasn't said anything. This incident has folks taking sides like the 2020 election or going neutral like Sweden.

I don't have answers and I've done exactly what I told myself I would not do--spend all day thinking and opining about this incident. They were both wrong. End of discussion.

However, I still need to know why we aren't talking about Bruno. Seriously, I haven't watched Encanto yet, but the Kid has seen it and of course she loves everything her Tio Lin-Manuel does (yeah, I've decided we're kin now). I have read where some parents were upset about the live performance because of Megan Thee Stallion's appearance and how she added lines that were not in the original song. But I checked my TL to see when I got all exuberant and tweeted about it, and umm, it was almost 10pm. Why were your children still awake and was that before or after the slap? You couldn't just TiVo it for them to watch later? This was the Oscars, not a Disney channel sing-along!

I've taken up enough time already, so let's end with this observation that has nothing to do with the slap. I know that some folks like seeing the technical awards, but most of us don't. I'm just being honest because the show on went for three hours without them and whether you agree or not, the point of a telecast is to entertain. The Oscars ain't for everybody, but last night for a moment in time, they were. They were for the queer Afro-Latinx dancer who started in the chorus; for the deaf actor who wants to teach the President of the United States how to curse in sign language; for the crazy cat-lady makeup artist; for the computer geek who likes to play around with animation; for the weird guy with the giant Afro who plays the drums; and even for Bruno, whom we aren't discussing. The Oscars are for biopics about interesting people who live fascinating lives like Tammy Faye Baker and Richard Williams. The Oscars are for celebrating the arts in all their vibrancy and diversity. So when I say this was Will's night, I mean Will Packer because this was his vision and I wish I had spent more time praising his show than analyzing that 3 minute confrontation.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Performance Evaluations

One word got me twisted: performance. When I first heard it, I reacted with incredulity. Her performance, Senator?! You mean, how she sat there and didn't flinch while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) yelled at her about the Kavanaugh hearings from 2018? Or how she attempted several times in vain to respond to Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) badgering? Or when she said that she couldn't provide a biological definition for what a woman was, anticipating that it might very well become a constitutional question before the Court? 

Or were you moved by that single tear she could no longer contain, so it spilled down her face while Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) offered her words of comfort?

That one word got me riled up with the kind of righteous anger that immediately knows how futile it is to argue when someone's mind is made up. The kind of profound disappointment one feels when despite having done everything right, something goes awry and all you can do is stand there in disbelief. 

I could think of a hundred or more hypothetical examples to illustrate how it must feel in a moment to have your hopes and dreams dashed. Perhaps the most analogous to the present moment is of Hillary Clinton the morning after her election loss to Donald Trump in 2016. All indications were that she would win because the notion of a game show reality star con man President was so unimaginable. So in the days and weeks leading up to the election, while everybody was focused on his Access Hollywood interview and whether he should apologize to his wife (but not the actress he hit on), the Clinton campaign didn't see how they could possibly lose to that fucking guy (TFG). They campaigned in states where Democrats traditionally under-performed. They ordered the fancy confetti, extra balloons, and the expensive champagne for the Election Night celebration. 

They told us to wear our pantsuits to the polls and to take our daughters so that they could witness the history of the moment when Hillary Rodham Clinton would finally crack the glass ceiling. And like so many, I did just that. I dressed my Toddlersaurus in a gray outfit that matched my gray pantsuit, and I proudly took this video of myself outside of my parents' polling place.

I haven't thought back on that day in a long time, but it is instructive in this moment. We all got caught up in the prospect of making history. But what happens if the other side has figured out a way to deny us that chance? What are we prepared to do then? 

The vote hasn't taken place yet, so maybe it is just my anxiety and frustration talking here, but my spidey senses tell me we would be wise to prepare for battle. Our jubilation is premature until Judge Jackson is sworn in as Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Nothing is assured. A third of the Senators currently serving are seniors. A Senator had a stroke in February and came back to work a month later (risking a relapse IMHO). The oldest serving Member of the House of Representatives died on a plane last week! Another variant of COVID is circulating in the United States. The strategy for getting this nomination through is that Madame Vice President would provide a tie vote, assuming that there would actually be a 50-50 split.

Y'all, the lap you are running is not for victory. It is the warm-up, so save your energy. 

Nobody pays me for advice, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I got stuck on the word performance and it nagged at my spirit. As a political junkie, I have heard reporters who have covered Mitch McConnell throughout his career say that he never minces words. He doesn't misspeak. Thus, when he said that his decision to vote against Judge Jackson was based on her record and her performance, I understood that he was communicating something specific to his base. He was signaling them to take notice of her demeanor and to make a value judgment that justifies disqualifying her from this lifetime appointment. 

He called her Uppity. A nasty woman with table manners.

Somebody reading this is going to react and say that he didn't use those exact words; somebody else is going to say that I am reaching; and someone else will accuse me of playing that race card game we never win. But he said what he said. And all this week, every person of color who watched this hearing with me saw a lot of signaling and subliminal messaging because our eyes and ears are trained by years of enduring various microaggressions.

NOBODY thought Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was going to vote for Ketanji Brown Jackson to assume a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. I am more surprised that he waited an hour after the testimony concluded to make that announcement. He probably needed to finish his lunch. I realize that alluding to the amount of time it took for him to release a statement conjures up the ghosts of Southern juries convicting Black defendants or acquitting white mobs and that is fraught with all kinds of historical baggage, but yeah, I am putting it out there. Same energy.

But let's be very clear, his opposition isn't about her race or her gender. It is about ideology, so as he conceded the finer points of her qualifications and fitness for the job, he understood that he needed to provide cover for his Caucus to reject her. So he told his staff to find him a word that could skirt past her race and gender and hit her where she least expected. Because she had behaved. She dressed the part. She didn't roll her neck or cut her eyes or raise her voice. She comported herself exactly as others before her had done. However, by labelling her appearance before the Committee as a performance, McConnell could infer that she was too poised, too restrained, too dispassionate. Rehearsed.

Arrogant. Proud. Haughty. Insensitive. Cold.

As opposed to Eleanor McCollum, the sweet Grandma Judge Jackson accused of badgering wanton women on the sidewalks in front of abortion clinics in Massachusetts. That nice little old lady who simply handed out her cards and offered to bake cookies and serve tea for these lost girls, if only they would reconsider their choice to kill their unborn fetuses. Mind you, Judge Jackson wasn't even in the hearing room, but the contrast was stark. Aunt Bea's homemade apple pie versus Annalise Keating's store-bought key lime pie. And guess who wins every time?

But I said this wasn't about race so as proof, allow me to dredge up the nomination of Janice Rogers Brown and how she was mistreated by the Democrats almost 20 years ago. (Both sides can go tit-for-tat and round-for-round with the partisan shenanigans, by the way.) If you recall, in February Sen. Cruz invoked Judge Brown's failed nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals as an example of Democratic racism. Sen. Graham picked up where his Colleague left off, but then conceded that Judge Brown's nomination failed due to ideological differences, thus signaling how he might justify not voting for Judge Jackson this time...because all is fair in love and politics. But that doesn't explain why the successful confirmation of Judge Ada E. Brown rarely enters the conversation.

I assume my Spelman Sister performed to Mitch McConnell's satisfaction in 2019 when she became the first of two Black women TFG nominated to the federal bench. Hence my challenge to McConnell and the rest of the GOP is to #SayHerName when the next appeals court vacancy opens up on her circuit.  

I'm not taking any bets or holding my breath. McConnell has shrewdly calculated that he still wins even if he loses this round. And he has nothing to lose, since Judge Jackson will merely replace her former boss, so the ideological balance of the Court remains intact. Furthermore, she won't be seated in time to weigh in on the current docket of cases, which includes affirmative action (so her pre-emptive recusal was unnecessary). Most importantly, November is coming, so he has a campaign issue for which he can raise a ton of money and turn out a lot of votes, regardless of the outcome in the Senate. None of his minions are up for re-election this cycle anyway.

If we learned anything from TFG's upset win in 2016, it is that a man with nothing to lose is always willing to risk it all. In order to get Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed, what are we willing to risk? That is how we need to approach this--EVERYTHING is at stake. Like I've already said, we're still warming up. Getting her nomination out of Committee and onto the floor is just the first leg of this relay. We've got three more laps until 2024. And then the marathon continues.

Instead of focusing on the prospect of making history, we need to fight. The battle isn't just about Ketanji Brown Jackson, but about this system and the arbitrary way powerful men like Mitch McConnell abuse power. Again, this isn't only about race, so trust that when Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) announces his intention, it will be just as impassioned and emotional as Sen. Cory Booker's effusive praise. Never forget that Merrick Garland was also supremely qualified.

How hard are we willing to fight? For Judge Jackson, for Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and at least three more seats in the Senate, for Stacey Abrams (D-GA), for redistricting maps that haven't been gerrymandered, for clean drinking water, for the safety of our children in school, for access to affordable healthcare, for better wages, for the right to vote? As Frederick Douglass said, power concedes nothing without a demand! And well-behaved women seldom make history. For Black women, our composure and grace under fire aren't indicators of good behavior--these are acts of defiance and resistance. Understand that as you lace up and stretch for this race.

Are you warmed up yet? Because I'm ready to give Mitch McConnell a performance he will never forget!

Friday, March 25, 2022

Supremely Qualified

The previous piece began as a rant against the absurdity that Madame Vice President was incompetent. While writing it, I learned that the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson were scheduled to begin at the beginning of this week. So where I could, I took breaks to try to finish that piece while also tuning into the hearings. If I can take a moment to brag, this picture I posted to the Facebook page on Tuesday morning, which my friend Ol' Hobbs reposted, went viral like an old school Fabregé Organic shampoo commercial...

Now at the conclusion of all that, it is fair to declare that everyone saw what they saw, as well as what they wanted to see. Those Senators who went into these proceedings with a mind to oppose her nomination magnified and exaggerated whatever small controversies they could to justify that choice. Other Senators who have yet to tip their hand will let us know in due course. And the Senators who understood the assignment, rose to the occasion.

A few weeks ago before Judge Jackson was announced as the nominee, I already knew this would be another partisan freakshow with plenty of clowns and stupid human tricks. I have been watching Supreme Court confirmation hearings since Robert Bork, and would not be surprised if somebody ended up butt naked and dancing on the tables if that's what it would take to get them the media attention they crave. And more than a few folks delivered this time. No need to offer any recaps of their antics because even if you weren't watching, you already know who did what and why. 

Yesterday when I was just about ready to publish the previous piece, I read that Senate Majority Leader McConnell had issued a statement in opposition to Judge Jackson's nomination. Not unexpected, but my curiosity led me to listen in to the portions of his floor speech where he offered his reasons. After a grueling four days, in which everyone had to be both physically and emotionally drained, he came out and made his pronouncement as if this was the elimination round of American Idol. In what can only be described as uncharacteristic of the Busy Black Woman that you all know and love, I was momentarily unable to string together the best combination of adjectives to express just how angry his statement made me feel, so here is one: dashed.

Earlier in the day, Wade Henderson from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, whom I've known and worked with for years, testified on the panel and offered remarks in support of Judge Jackson's confirmation. His support was also not unexpected, and he offered this keen observation that perfectly and forever frames my frustration: we can be prepared, we can be ready, we can be qualified, but someone will always find a reason to claim none of that is good enough. So then, what is good enough?

Of course, that is the rhetorical question for a lifetime.

I am usually not given to despair. But in a moment of vulnerability, I began writing my thoughts in what was intended to be a strategy email to my Social Justice Ministry team:

This has been an emotional week...for reasons that I shared with some of you who tune in to the 7am Prayer Call, and for a few other reasons that have caught me off guard. I knew a few weeks ago that this would be a difficult process, but I did not anticipate having such a personal reaction to the disrespect I witnessed.

While the vacancy on the Court at this time will not impact the current balance, it does have symbolic meaning beyond the mere fact that Judge Jackson would be the first Black woman. Judge Jackson would be only the third African American in the history of the Court. Judge Jackson would be the second woman of color on the Court. Judge Jackson would be the 6th woman confirmed since 1981. Judge Jackson would be the first defense attorney on the Court. Judge Jackson, whose career has followed the same trajectory as others on the federal bench, has more substantive legal experience than most of the current sitting Justices.

Judge Jackson is supremely qualified. Yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement that he would not support her nomination based on her "performance" in front of the committee. Unbelievable.

Judge Jackson never lost her temper. She didn't respond to the taunts with a raised voice or by losing her composure. Meanwhile, I watched a Senator who once chaired this Committee and who voted for her preciously have a complete meltdown and storm out of the hearing room twice because of his disagreements with the Chairman. This same Senator insisted at the outset of these hearings that Judge Jackson would be treated fairly and that no one would be able to accuse his side of racism.

Yet, because there were a handful of cases where a couple of Senators disagreed with the sentence that she imposed--after accepting GUILTY pleas or having found the defendants GUILTY, these Senators went to great lengths to paint the Judge as too lenient. For her work as a public defense attorney, Judge Jackson was accused of insensitivity to the rights of victims or for having sympathy for accused terrorists. One Senator demanded an apology from her for having imposed a sentence below the prosecutor's recommendation, as if Judge Jackson had herself committed the crime.

I watched Judge Jackson become the living proxy for the ongoing culture wars that certain Senators believe is a winning political strategy for them to regain political power. How else does it make sense to expect for a potential Justice to weigh in on a rhetorical proposal to expand the Court? Why accuse someone serving on the board of a local private school of promoting critical race theory when she is not an educator or curriculum writer? Why insist that her choice not to answer a question that might potentially be brought before the Court is evasive when similar precedent had been established by other previous nominees?

Thank goodness for Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), with righteous assists from Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Jon Ossoff (D-GA). Thank goodness Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as well as former Sen. Carol Mosely Braun (D-IL) who, appalled by what they saw take place when another Black woman had been verbally abused and insulted by this same Committee 30 years ago, had the audacity to run for the Senate in order to change the optics and history. Thank goodness that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) was present as Judge Jackson's true peer and ally, a woman who has also had to fight back sexism to take her rightful seat in that Committee room. 

Thank goodness for the Brown and Jackson families. As Sen. Booker said, we look at Mr. and Mrs. Brown and see the pride. We look at Dr. Patrick Jackson and see a man who unapologetically loves his wife lauds her every accomplishment. We look at their beautiful daughters and see young women who will be inspired to aim high. 

That was before the fatigue and mental exhaustion set in. It wasn't until this morning when I went back to hit send that I realized that I hadn't gotten to the action items, let alone the point after eight extemporaneous paragraphs. Clearly, I needed to vent...

Before the point gets lost again, I want to return to the query Wade Henderson made, in essence, how much more does it require? How can any of us expect to be treated fairly in this so-called colorblind system when we see daily examples of the hypocrisy that proves there are double and triple standards when it comes to our advancement? It was ironic to note that Keisha Russell, the lone Black woman called to testify as an opposition witness merely had to affirm the accusations that Judge Jackson is a proponent of critical race theory. No one probed Russell for deeper analysis, no one insisted that she provide any concrete specifics from Judge Jackson's body of opinions. Because they heard what they wanted to hear, Russell's five minutes of hand-me-down talking points was more convincing than two days of testimony and the intense questioning of the Judge! 

That is beyond infuriating. It reminded me of a question I asked years ago when I was in college. I had just read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) for the first of three times that book would surface in my studies. Years earlier, I had read Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and knew that Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists of the day credited that fictionalized work as having been a catalyst for the Civil War. I had also read Frederick Douglass' Narrative (1845), so in my understanding of the historical timeline, a few things didn't make sense. How was I just reading Incidents for the first time? If there were other contemporaneous narratives that offered first-hand accounts of the cruelty and inhumanity of enslavement, how were they less persuasive than Stowe's novel? How did Stowe's book get credited with starting the war, and then why did it go on to inspire minstrel shows and create this enduring offensive imagery that we can never quite transcend or escape?

I did not get the answer I wanted. But I understand, having lived long enough and seen this play multiple times. Our admittance into the echelons of power isn't up to us, no matter how impeccable our credentials or much we accomplish. If Mitch McConnell and Co. have pre-determined that Ketanji Brown Jackson isn't qualified for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, but Amy Coney Barrett is, then they will act accordingly. I can underline, highlight, CAPITALIZE, bold, italicize, and spell out the h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y, but it won't make any difference. Therefore, the "performance" that didn't win McConnell over wasn't how calmly she sat there and took the abuse from his minions. What he wanted was for her to concede, which she refused to do. You can never expect the Man to bestow his blessing or favor without giving him what he wants. (And I've got a whole other theory about that, so stay tuned.)

What happens next is the actual battle to vote on this confirmation without any delays or procedural shenanigans. When the score is this close, one team will try to run down the clock. I am not that savvy with sporting metaphors, but I know that we're not even at the halftime. Somebody has a few tricks to pull out of his a$$ because there is an election coming and some folks are counting on this nomination to help them shift the balance of power to their advantage. We need to play chess and think several moves ahead. No premature celebrations (remember the Falcons overtime loss to the Patriots in 2017). We're not even close.

That does not diminish Judge Jackson or the possibility of the role she is poised to take. On the prayer call that I referenced, I quoted from Galatians 6:9, "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." I recall that another recent nominee also cited a related passage of scripture from Hosea 8:7, " For they have sown the wind, and shall reap the whirlwind," as a warning. Quite the paradox, using the same metaphor to communicate both foreboding and hope. (Somebody will get that--how two people can read the same verse, or statute, or case history and have different interpretations of its meaning). In the meantime, I choose hope.

Myth of the Black Subpar Woman

At the same time that Black women are finally ascending to positions of influence and authority in society, there are suddenly all of these hints and suggestions that we are incompetent. Correction: It is outright declared as the Gospel truth that we can't do the jobs that we have taken on, whether it is Madame Vice President Kamala Harris, Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, New York Attorney General Letitia James, or the rest of us over-worked and under-paid Black women in the workplace. We really aren't anybody's superwomen...

This isn't a new insinuation. As soon as Black people began to insist on inclusion and equality, the counter-argument has been to raise the question of competence. White women who were offended that the 15th Amendment did not include them openly questioned the intellectual competency of the formerly enslaved to participate in political affairs. A century later when Black people were suing to gain access to public safety jobs that were filled primarily by white ethnic minorities, suddenly there were written entrance examinations to weed out incompetent applicants. The President of the United States nominates a Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court and folks are seriously demanding to see her standardize test scores from thirty years ago to attest to her competence.

Madame Vice President Kamala Harris has served just over one year on the job and people are calling her incompetent even though her only *real* job is to stay alive. Last I checked, she ain't dead. There is no constitutional job description for Vice President, except to advise and support the President. Her tweets are all grammatically correct. She laughs at his jokes. She dresses well, never wears too much makeup, and doesn't upstage the First Lady at formal events. She looks happy to be at work, which is more than can be said for many of us. She is Biden's actual work wife--a job that no one cared about, not even when Condi Rice was lying to the United Nations to justify unnecessary wars on behalf President Bush. But because Uncle Joe doesn't treat Kamala Harris like a wind-up doll and actually consults with her as an equal, that has folks triggered. Even Harris' safe and boring unremarkable fashion choices have managed to piss off some lady named Lynda, most recently for not wearing her hair in a dignified chignon. And as we all know, if she can't be bothered to use a hairpin, then how are we ever going to trust her to do anything serious?

Isn't that right Meghan McCain? We must be able to take the Vice President of the United States more seriously than this:

At least as seriously and as thoughtful as we took Sarah Palin, but that is such an old and tired joke. So perhaps someone like Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who tweeted how impressed she was by the Vice President's lack of knowledge about everything, and well that's not quite the insult she thought it would be. But it does track the general theme of the GOP talking points that Harris is ill-suited for her job, for no real reason except that they don't like her. 

Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has all of the requisite qualifications and then some to serve on the high court, but folks are still twisting themselves into pretzels in order to justify their opposition. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who supported her just a year ago for the seat she currently occupies on the DC Circuit, criticized her Harvard credentials. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is suspicious because she wouldn't drink his Communist Cuban coffee (because I'm sure she's seen The Princess Bride enough times to know better). We already know Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will try to slow walk the process the same way he prevented a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland back in 2016. And because there isn't an ounce of courage in the GOP Caucus, I am not expecting any kind of unity or solidarity from Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or Susan Collins (R-ME) to urge for an expedient process.

Not that it matters, because plenty of Black women are ready to go to the mattresses if need be. 

I must qualify that by saying plenty for I know full well that there is a distinct and vocal chorus of skinfolk haters who have and will speak out against any and every Black woman who deigns to deviate from their definitions of so-called acceptable Black womanhood. The hoteps denounce Black women with non-Black partners as bed wenches. The old guard patriarchs regard the social advancement of Black women in the workplace as a tool of white supremacy and feminism intended to destroy the Black family. The row of dowager deaconesses agrees as they cut their eyes and grit at any hint of non-conformity with passé norms of behavior. (Did you see her hair, is she wearing a slip?) Some of us do a better job of blocking progress than racism alone...

In the 80s and 90s, we considered it a victory to redefine Black Womanhood on our own terms, free from the stereotypes and caricatures of a docile Mammy, a tragic mulatto, and a shrill Sapphire. Black women recognized our power and began blazing trails into areas of American life that had been previously inaccessible. Spaces that were never built for us, off limits except for our grandmothers and aunties to clean after hours, we walked in with our loud, colorful selves and scared the hell out of everybody.

The downside of breaking through these glass ceilings is that the scars from the shards are permanent and disfiguring. Even after the glass is swept away, we're still walking on eggshells. We don't get to make mistakes. Less than two years after she won an Oscar for Best Actress, Halle Berry won a Razzie and her career has never recovered. Meanwhile, Tyler Perry's career is thriving. Wearing the wrong color nail polish put Meghan Markle on the bad side of the Royal protocol police. Sometimes it works out, like it did for Oprah and her afro in Baltimore; still, every now and then some Black news anchor will receive hate mail for wearing braids on air.

There are the never-ending petty criticisms. Jewelry that is considered too ethnic, accents that are too thick, bodies that are too curvy, attitudes that need to be adjusted. Voices that are too loud, especially when speaking out against injustice. Mothers that work too hard and neglect their children. Mothers that don't work, so they impart the wrong values. Young women that dress/dance too provocatively so why should anyone treat them with respect? Girls whose bodies begin puberty at 10, so they are expected by the age of 12 to know how to fight off grown men who should know better. Women with too much education and who make too much money to be desirable spouses. 

Black women are reminded on a daily basis that we are too much for this world to handle with care, so we are abused and are expected to smile through the trauma. 

This is particularly the case for Black woman in high-profile political offices. Black District Attorneys and Attorneys General are expected to be tough, not reform-minded. Yet, if they are tough on the powerful (i.e., AG Letitia James in New York or DA Fani Willis in Atlanta), then they are power hungry bitches. When Kim Foxx, Cook County State's Attorney in Illinois, called this out amid complaints that she had not been tough enough on actor Jussie Smollett, she was accused of playing the "race card," a most reliable deflection. Every Black woman who has or is serving as a big city mayor in recent years is to blame for every urban problem that she hasn't managed to clean up six months or less into her tenure. My Mayor, Muriel Bowser, was ridiculed for attending the ribbon cutting of a Starbuck's in an economically underserved community. The Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, was criticized for not wearing a mask in photos taken of her at a Mardi Gras dinner (by several people who weren't wearing masks themselves). Y'all even went after former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over a picture of her mac 'n cheese on Instagram.

We've erected monuments to Shirley Chisholm in honor of her historic run for President in 1972, but she didn't live to see any of this adulation, nor was the praise this effusive until after she died. Perhaps this delayed veneration is understandable given that Chisholm was 50 years ahead of her time. Yet, it doesn't square with the way some of y'all talk shit about Madame Vice President while praising Michelle Obama...makes me wonder how much progress has really been made. How would history have been different if Michelle had the audacity to pursue a political career instead of Barack? It would have upended the narrative of the perfect nuclear Black family if she hadn't stood by her man, so we don't talk about the career she gave up in order to support his run for POTUS. Lest we conveniently forget, she was his mentor. She was the breadwinner. But let's save that conversation for later.

When I started this piece, it was before the confirmation hearings had begun for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (so stay tuned for my take on that fiasco). I began writing in response to the criticisms lobbed at the Vice President during her trip to Poland and the constant insinuations of her incompetence by her political opponents. It was incredible to me that someone as dimwitted as Lauren Boebert felt entitled to belittle another woman based on alleged deficits of her intellect, because in a contest of anything other than beer pong...

I know, when they go low, blah blah blah. But it is hard to suppress the urge to clapback. It takes a special kind of fortitude and resolve to sit in calmness and with grace while someone is berating your very existence. It is fucking exhausting to watch, let alone experience on a regular basis. How are we incompetent, unqualified, not taken seriously, disrespected, maligned, discriminated against, looked down upon, mistreated, diminished, disregarded, overlooked, underpaid, and YOU are still breathing?

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Sport of Kings

Some days, my people can be really exhausting. The day it was announced that Ralph Lauren would be releasing a limited-edition capsule collection of fashion inspired by the HBCU experience, I immediately got tired that morning and stayed lethargic for the rest of the day.

I wrote an abridged initial reaction on the Facebook page that covered the basics--yes, this is a good thing. No, it isn't better than celebrating a collaboration with a Black independent designer. Maybe, it would be great if other schools were featured other than Spelman and Morehouse. Yes, this is a good PR move for the Polo brand and for the young concept designers. No, that does not absolve Ralph Lauren for its decades of contributing to the lack of diversity in the fashion world. No, the scholarships aren't that big. Yes, I plan to mention #HBCUJustGive, again.

I have a lot to say.

No, I do not plan to buy a Polo-inspired Spelman letter sweater or another over-priced canvas bag or a plaid wrap skirt to wear around town with knee high socks and penny loafers at my age. However, I am always on the hunt for a nice white dress. And after two years on lock-down, I will definitely need a new one. Because of this collaboration, I might buy one from the Ralph Lauren section. 

If I see a great white dress from an independent Black designer that I can afford, I will probably buy that one too. The good thing about being a Busy Black Woman is that I have sorority functions that also require white attire. Of course, I am conscious of labels and want to look good when I step out into the world. However, with a soon-to-be 7 year-old whose legs are almost as long as mine, I do not have the luxury of spending her future Spelman tuition on clothes that aren't ready to wear. And that Georgia sun is HOT in May, so I don't want to ruin a one-of-a-kind designer dress with sweat stains.

I have a few indie label frocks from Black designers that I scored thanks to a few good sales at Lord & Taylor and their mass market collaborations with Target. I got particularly excited over those Target collabs, even when I was less than enthusiastic about the actual dresses once I received them. As I write this, I am staring at a very loud and colorful dress I bought last summer that I did not get to wear because we were still on lockdown. I'm guessing I can wear it to brunch at Twelve Oaks and flirt with the Tarleton Twins...

My point is that there are many of us who buy Black whenever we can. Upon learning that the concept designer of this collection is a young Black man means that I will be adding his name to my list of designers to watch in the next installment of #BlackinFashion. It reminds me that many of these indie designers cut their first patterns for the big-name fashion houses, so we may have already been supporting other up-and-coming Black designers without knowing it. For example, the late designer Virgil Abloh, artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear and founder of his own label Off-White, began his meteoric rise as an intern at Fendi just over ten years ago.

It is true that this is not an entirely original concept. I have now been introduced to a few other brands thanks to the reactions to the Ralph Lauren line such as Chicer Collegiate. Alumni with that coin can support everyone. Folks like me will do what I can, when I can. I still want a Sergio Hudson belt to wear with my jeans and tee shirts. I would settle for a buckle, since a floor-length duster to go over all of these custom tees I buy to support your side hustles is out of the question until somebody pays me for my eloquent musings. But for those of you that vacation on the Vineyard annually, I look forward to seeing your pictorials.

James Jeter is a Morehouse alumnus. The story that has been shared is that he worked his way up from the retail floor at the Georgetown store to a corner office at Ralph Lauren HQ in New York City. During the first year of the pandemic and the summer when folks were marching for Black Lives in response to George Floyd's death, Mr. Polo was addressing his staff before heading off to a weekend in the Hamptons and offered the corporate version of Black Lives Matter--let's revive an old campaign with Tyson Beckford, but find a picture where he looks angry, yet sexy. Then Mr. Jeter stood up and gave the kind of speech that would make Dr. Anne W. Watts (retired Professor of Public Speaking) proud. He was passionate, persuasive, and persistent that more was called for in this moment than a billboard. Mr. Polo told Jeter to write up the specifics by Monday morning, and the rest is history.

Here is where I break character and speak directly to the SpelHouse HATERS. Because y'all are the reason why I am so tired of repeating myself when it comes to acknowledging these kinds of accolades. STOP the hate and shut the FUCK up!

I am serious about this point, because some of y'all have been complaining NON-STOP these last couple of years on social media. I have come to this blog on several occasions to make the case that ALL of our institutions need support from alumni and that call has not changed. As some of you gleefully pointed out, there are moldy dorms, old buildings, and disgruntled faculty at every HBCU. And in case you hadn't noticed, some very rich people have heard your pleas and have been blessing our schools with multi-million dollar guilt love offerings. These blessings have been constant from Mackenzie Scott, who has made philanthropic revenge spending a thing, so we are here for it. Not to be outdone several other corporate philanthropists have also been very generous, as have rich HBCU alumni who have quietly amassed FORTUNES without anyone noticing. Hell, even the Department of Education found some money to offer HBCUs more protection in the wake of these fake bomb threats that have disrupted classes throughout this school year.

But some of y'all are on Blue Ivy's internet sulking that whenever Kamala Harris, Phylicia Rashad, and Ta-Nahesi Coates, all Howard University alumni, get mentioned in the press (good and bad), that allegedly sucks up all of the oxygen from: Meharry Medical School receiving $20 million dollars; North Carolina A&T University cutting the ribbon on a $90 million engineering complex; or Shaw University being featured in one of the best Coca-Cola commercials since Mean Joe Green?!?!

Pinky Cole, a Clark Atlanta University alum is out here expanding her empire of plant-based burgers that folks stand on long lines to try because the buzz is just that hype. Coach Neon Deion is out here pissing off the NCAA and the ESPN analysts off with every recruit he snatches away from the Big Name Universities and signs at Jackson State. I'm betting on Norfolk State University to upset Baylor just because that's what we do every year during March Madness whenever an HBCU makes the tourney. We root for everybody Black! 

Nobody and I mean N-O-B-O-D-Y from the HowardSpelHouse community (I saw that on Twitter) ever talks shit when these kinds of announcements and accolades come to other institutions and their alumni. In fact, we applaud and circulate the news. I have never seen a tweet from one of us go out that whines about how we could have used the money that Mackenzie Scott bestowed on some other HBCU. We don't catch feelings that our athletics never become the stuff of national debates over social equity. We know that there are wonderful things happening at every school and that makes us all proud.

It didn't used to feel this personal, but then I see posts on social media that tear us down whenever something positive happens on our campuses. It hurts to know that whenever someone says something disparaging about one of your schools, the HowardSpelHouse community gets ready to rise up and fight, but that energy isn't always reciprocated. I don't like to generalize and say that it is Everybody vs. Us, because many HBCU alumni aren't that petty. But some of y'all...

Therefore, I will repress the urge to clapback because in the grand scheme of things, it accomplishes nothing but to sour feelings in unproductive ways that don't benefit any of us. At the end of the day, and I say this constantly, none of us are as well off as these PWIs that can give each student a laptop, their own bedroom with a private bathroom, and other amenities that would have been off-campus grad school luxuries for most of us. As a recruiter, I have had to tell parents the honest to God truth that most students who need financial aid to matriculate at Spelman will get a loan package because only a few students receive scholarships. And trust, it is painful to watch the gleam go out when a parent counters by telling me how other schools put more on the table than just a prominent brand name.

I never bash when one or more of those other schools are HBCUs. I would never suggest that someone was making a mistake by not choosing to attend Spelman.

Shall we talk about this $2 million that we're getting from Ralph Lauren? Or should I remind you that we did this a few years ago when Beyonce wrote a check for that same amount and after all was said and done, it only paid a year's worth of tuition for one student...

Instead, let's talk about how the real winner here is Ralph Lauren. He'll still be the default designer for First Ladies and the American Olympic team. He will still promote his aesthetic of yacht club leisure and country club brunch as quintessentially Americana. In a few years when this collaboration has been forgotten, his people will quietly call the booking agent at Wilhelmina and tell them to send over their most American looking models for his latest campaign. And no one will call him out because all of the other fashion houses and magazines will claim that diversity on the runway is out and homogeneity is in.

That is my cynical take, but my eternal optimism is that it won't matter what Mr. Polo will be doing in a few years. When I get that coveted invitation to attend the Harlem Fashion Row NYFW show, I will be more concerned about clinking glasses of CAU alum Donae Burston's La Fête du Rosé with Ruth Carter (Hampton), Oscar winner Aunjanue Ellis (I'm claiming it Tougaloo), and Will Packer (FAMU). And when Beyonce leans over to inquire where I got my badass ensemble, I will say Target darling, but my hair was styled by a sister from Hampton and my shoes were designed by my Spelman Sister Tori Soudan, with ALL of the confidence and swagger that one expects from a proud HBCU alum.