Friday, September 30, 2022

The Most Septembering September

It's been a long while since I wrote one of these kinds of whew, Lawd pieces, but y'all...

I knew September was going to be a busy month, but I had no idea just how hectic and insane it would be. So today, I am sitting here surveying the damage in gratitude that I am still here to live and tell the story. My goal in sharing this is not to elicit pity (since I know some of you are thinking, well you DO call yourself the Busy Black Woman). It is simply to exhale and brace myself, because the rest of the year isn't really trying to let up. 

Come to think of it, this summer was just as hectic. I can't even begin to tell you how it feels like we time warped from May to October in a matter of weeks and all of it is a dang blur. Like, did I celebrate Mother's Day this year? I do recall Memorial Day weekend (because that is a story like you would not believe), but after that, what happened? Did I do anything significant this summer except for buy my Kid a pair of tap shoes for two weeks of camp? And does she even know where those shoes are, or will I find them when it is time to put away the Christmas tree in February?

Y'all where does the time go? How did I go from driving to North Carolina in the middle of August to it being Halloween in a few weeks? Where are we having Thanksgiving dinner? Are we getting together as a family this year after these past couple of years staying socially distant? There have been three babies born in my family since the panini, but I am unsure of their actual ages because one of them might have actually been born before the panini and I just don't remember. He is probably 5, but just short for his age.

Speaking of short, all of the leggings in my child's wardrobe, even the ones I just bought her in August.

Because several of my friends have been over-sharing details about their hot flashes, I am now paranoid about having them and I am not okay. The other day all I did was walk upstairs to my daughter's dance class, but when I got to the door it felt like I had entered the 5th ring of hell, and it took everything in me not to burst into tears (or flames). Like WHAT??? It lasted for about 3 minutes, but worse, I conveniently had a fan in my purse that no one thought was at all strange. 

That same day, I mislaid a pen that I had just been using and this caused an absolute meltdown. I put myself in time-out by staying inside the car by myself because no, I didn't feel the need to explain to the Hub how I needed that pen, and not some generic rollerball that he'd been chewing on. This man has been married to me for almost 21 years and I swear there are days when If You Don't Know Me By Now blares in my brain. For the most part, it's the Simply Red version, which means that I'm willing to shrug it off as not worth the energy, but if it switches to the Teddy Pendergrass of yet, I haven't added the Seal version to my mental playlist. And I just remembered that there is a Patti LaBelle version, but that might be too dangerous.

But back to how this year is practically over and my mind is still stuck on how it was just June last week. It was the last few days of the school year, and I was lamenting to my brother about how the school year had dragged on and then he proposes that I might want to relax with a trip to Disney with my daughter and the Niece at the end of July. That is exactly how it went down--he made this suggestion and the next thing I know, I am standing on line for some Goofy rollercoaster ride. And I swear, I will finally finish writing that piece before I take down the Christmas tree in February.

Before the Disney trip, there was our annual beach vacation to Bethany, DE that I barely remember because I feel like we were there for less than a week. Things felt off because we were there over the July 4th holiday and we were staying in a different rental. Thus, not much excitement, so let's go back a few weeks to that crazy Memorial Day weekend when we inadvertently spent the night in an occupied Air BnB. It took every ounce of self-control not to go full DMX on the host who didn't seem to think it was at all unusual to expect that a FAMILY of 3 might feel slightly uncomfortable staying in an apartment bedroom on an air mattress in Brooklyn!

(Side note, because this is tangentially related to what happened on Memorial Day: I have a whole other piece in my drafts about how we are exactly those parents who have already exposed the Kid to drag queens and the gay agenda, so if you need somebody to judge...)

If you read the previous piece, you know that I saw my college roommate and her darling son last month. The following weekend was my road trip to North Carolina, but what happens in the boonies among friends on a farm in the middle of the night stays there. A week later, I was back-to-school shopping and planning a surprise birthday/anniversary tribute to my parents, not taking note that the date coincided with the weekend of the Classic. But being Thee Busy Black Woman, I declared and decreed that I would make it all work! 

Again, this is not to brag because I was doing laundry the other day and saw clothes that hadn't been washed since Bethany Beach way down at the bottom of the hamper. At least I unpacked the suitcase.

I was talking to my line sister last week about how insane this September has been. Like in the middle of all our life stuff (specifically our children returning to school), the Queen of England dies and now half the state of Florida is under water! Somebody mentioned Mercury being in retrograde, and I don't even want to understand how astrology interacts with real life, but every single time y'all say that it's like that song in Hamilton, The World Turned Upside Down

Therefore, to reiterate, I am writing this piece because today it all hit the crescendo. I can't take No More Drama. Family, friends, church, school, advocacy, is all tew murch. I had moments this month when I felt like I should have rolled myself up in a ball, but acting on the advice of Elizabeth Taylor, I poured myself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pulled myself together. I'm not sure that my liver appreciated that level of determination. Maybe next month, I can have a day or two when I won't bother to fake it and push through. Please. Because I can't sit in my car for hours without arousing suspicion of a mental break. I don't have a driveway or a garage, and I'm not a podcaster. 

I'm just a writer who likes to make clever use of all the useless pop culture references that fill her head, so I'm going to take a nap soon, and you can Wake Me Up When September Ends.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

HBCUs vs. Everybody

It is Fall, so that means Homecoming season is upon us. For those who can't say anything nice about certain institutions, now is your chance to talk all the trash you want until November. For those multiple HBCU graduates and homecoming attendees, now is the time to submit your leave slips, get those booster shots, and start hydrating over the next few weeks. After what feels like YEARS of being on lockdown, this October is about to be LIT!

A few of us got a warm-up two weeks ago at the highly anticipated return of the Morehouse vs. Howard HBCU New York Football Classic. The match-up, which had been an annual tradition for years, is one of several classic HBCU football rivalries, such as the Real HU Showdown and the Bayou Classic. These games are more about bragging rights than anything, and this revived Morehouse vs. Howard game had been known as the Nation's Classic ten years ago when it was last played locally at RFK Stadium. Someone decided to move it to New York City, so the true-believers like me who rarely make it down to Atlanta for Homecoming, made the trek up north and had a blast.

A few days afterward, I saw some buzz circulating about a dance team from the University of Southern California (USC) modeled after HBCU dance teams, framed by all of the stupid arguments that often follow about cultural appropriation and gate-keeping of Black culture. So with a hand on my hip, reading glasses on the tip of my nose, dressed in my best Auntie caftan, and head wrapped in a turban, I'm watching all of this and wondering why y'all are so damn sensitive about isht that really ain't at all that deep.

I put that visual out there to emphasize the fact that in embracing that level of Auntie-ness, I am in the unique position of offering some personal history that might put some of this in perspective. You see, way back in 1990, this was me --->

And every Fall, also at this time of year, this photo and a few others from this era of my life resurface on Facebook. Until this past summer, it was something that brought the requisite amount of cringe mixed with nostalgia, much like imagining that my parents could have been Soul Train dancers in the early 70s. 

I got a rude reminder of just how Auntie I have become a few weeks ago when I was attending a birthday celebration for my college roommate. While talking to her teenage son about his college choices, I thought it would be cool to show him a picture of me from my marching band days. Y'all, that child recoiled in HORROR at the sight of me, and I swear I am still recovering from his reaction...because damn, I thought I was cute!

Well, that was almost 30 years ago, once upon a time when I was cute enough to go bra-less and high-step in go-go boots in a MILES-long parade route. Also relevant to this march down memory lane is recalling that this was the same year that the Morehouse Dance Team was re-branded as Mahogany in Motion, which was modeled after the famed Jackson State University dance squad known as the Prancing J-Settes. And because I feel like bragging on myself, I am one of the Founding Members (even though in real life, I was just the tall Banner Girl). 

Yes, that is the comedian Sinbad.

I won't take you all the way off course with old marching band stories, but it is important to point out that many of the HBCU dance teams and marching bands copied each other back then, and still do. Having just watched the dueling halftime performances between Morehouse and Howard, I can assure you that neither program is doing anything all that unique (even if I am eternally biased towards Dear Old Morehouse). If you've ever seen Drumline (2002), then you get that it is all just a show and at the end of the game, most of us only care about the tailgate.

As for this USC dance team stealing from HBCU culture...that's a reach in an era when everything is accessible on YouTube. This isn't like Bring It On (2000) with a bunch of suburban white girls spying on and stealing moves from an inner-city Black cheerleading squad. These are a bunch of Black girls who probably grew up watching movies like Drumline and Bring It On, so they already knew the deal. They have seen that step team episode of A Different World as many times as their mothers have reminded them that there were dorm step team competitions when they were in college. Even if no one in their immediate family attended an HBCU, it isn't like the "culture" is copyright protected against use by other Black people!

Like, do y'all understand that a lot of what you want to claim as HBCU-specific is actually an adaptation of other dance and musical traditions that have nothing to do with attending college? Seriously, watch a Lindy Hop dance number, a Second Line funeral procession, or go to one of these old store-front churches and watch the ushers march down the aisle during the collection. And then come back and argue with me about who appropriated what.

Of course, I didn't need to write a whole piece about why this is not or should not be a thing. Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. As we know from watching the evolution of rock 'n roll and hip hop, everybody samples, interpolates, remixes. This isn't to justify the way it often plays out, with somebody getting paid or becoming more famous than the originator, but I'm pretty sure that NOBODY who chose to attend USC over an HBCU did so because of the dance team. So listen to your Auntie YaYa: this ain't the hill to make your last stand.

Instead (and yes, I am headed there), I need the HBCU students and alumni who are so vocal on social media about USC's dance team to pay closer attention to other matters that are more urgent at our institutions. Do our dancers and band members have on-campus housing? Are they food secure and are their balances paid? Because if not...

Thus, I will say and emphasize for the folks in the cheap seats: AIN'T NOBODY CHOOSING USC OVER AN HBCU BECAUSE OF THIS DANCE TEAM! They are choosing USC because there are programs and resources available to them that are not accessible at most HBCUs. Off-hand, I don't happen to know what all of those amenities are but knowing a little bit about the program budgets at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), I am going to start by assuming that their dance team didn't have to hand-sew their own costumes like we did in 1990.

That doesn't mean that we aren't legitimately salty that these young ladies got a feature segment on the new Jennifer Hudson Show. I'm not sure that the J-Settes ever got that kind of exposure, except via this old reality show from 2014 on the Prancing Elites from Mobile, AL. More insulting is that even after all of this ruckus, all of the attention being paid to Jackson State isn't even about the dance team or whether the students have access to clean water.  It is about whether their larger-than-life football coach, Neon Deion Sanders is going to stay on the job for another season.

So why are we really mad? 

Don't worry, I've got a few words for all of you Black PWI alumni who get some kind of weird glee at watching HBCU students/alumni engage in online foolishment. Ask yourselves why you need to replicate these cultural experiences on your campuses? The grass may be greener on your side of the fence, but you don't seem to be having nearly as much fun over there. We see you hanging out at our Homecomings wearing those HBCU-ish shirts like we don't know y'all are crashing the party.  

Because this BYU dance team clip also resurfaces every Fall, I need folks to recognize that PWI bands have gotten hip and can play Cameo's Talking Out da Side of Ya Neck too. (OK, not at all the same...but that's the point. You know what's been up since Dreamgirls in 2006.)

Which is why I am here to tout the message that you already know needs to be shouted from the rooftops: HBCU Just Give!

  • Pay the damn tailgate fee like you paid that $40 parking fee at MetLife stadium.
  • Participate in whatever corny Homecoming challenge your school devises as a backdoor fundraising effort.
  • Buy a pennant from your campus bookstore to send to school with your child(ren) for their guidance counselor to put on display.
  • Stock up on new gear from an HBCU alumni-owned vendor, because you know none of that stuff sold at Sam's Club or FanDuel is all that unique.
  • Donate to a local food bank near the campus.
  • If you are living HBCU-ish at a PWI, we're not disinviting you to the festivities. But you can't leave with a plate and try to pass it off like you made the mac n' cheese. Give credit where it is due.

I'm not saying anything you haven't read on this blog in the past. The issues facing our institutions are bigger than who got booked on a talk show, especially when that same host also gave a national platform to the new Fisk University gymnastics team. An HBCU is attempting to build a program that could produce Olympic-level Black athletes like Simone Biles and Gabby Douglass, but y'all are arguing on social media about who gets credit for twerking on television...

Don't raise Auntie's pressure with that nonsense. Put your money where your mouth is and just give.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Choice Is Yours

I had to come up with an intriguing opening for this one...therefore, we start with a musical throwback.

In the 90s this was the title of a very popular party jam from the group Black Sheep and whenever it played, the dance floor got hype! Upon hearing that bass riff and the background chant (this or that, this or that) it was like the build-up to some kind of ultimate dance off. Folks would take imaginary sides, and we were 'beefing' over our freshman dorms, our sorority/fraternity affiliations, potential love connections, or hometowns. If we were off-campus or at a post-game after-party, we were repping our schools. To this day, depending on where I am or what is happening when that song comes on, I'm signifying that you can get with this (because I'm the prize) or that (some random mess across the room).

Interesting how I see that song as a metaphor for the ongoing Sussex vs. Cambridge/Wales #RoyalNewsYouCantUse saga, now headed into its fourth season. And yes, that is absolutely because someone is the black sheep...

As I stated in the previous piece on the Queen, I didn't really pay close attention to this summer's Jubilee. I saw the pomp and pageantry online and thought, how nice, everyone is all together. And almost as soon as that thought bubble popped, I saw the tweets on social media and the polarization was un-freaking-believable! I mean, the woman walked into a church on her husband's arm and folks were critiquing everything from whether her outfit was intended to upstage the others to whether the boos that were heard from the crowd were for her or the disgraced soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister

Then when I got curious as to why I kept seeing dueling #SussexSquad and #TeamCambridge hashtags, that was a regrettable rabbit hole. Between the tweets that accused Prince William of infidelity to the tweets that branded Duchess Meghan as an insatiable attention whore, the question that I kept asking myself was why this had to be so polarizing. Why was there a need to choose sides if there are clear roles that were essentially defined at birth for these two brothers (the heir and the spare)? And why is the alleged rift between them being framed as a royal catfight between their wives? You can get with this (Princess Catherine), the future Queen consort; or you can get with that (Duchess Meghan) the American bitch. 

Let's declare at the outset that there is NO NEED to choose. You can like both women or not. You can decide that their lives are so far removed from your reality as not to care. You can prefer one woman over the other because you think she'd be more fun to drink with at a tea party. You can also recognize that there is a lot of money to be made by selling the public on the notion that these women are bitter rivals. And just like we care if Beyoncé is about to drop another album, apparently the Brits care which one of these women was truly favored by the late Queen.

Then of course, there is no reason for me to even write about this if I'm making the argument that taking sides is unnecessary, right? In the alternative, the choice that I would like for everyone to reconsider is not between the Princess and the Duchess. From what I can tell, most of the opinions on Meghan Markle have been influenced by what has been said about her instead of what she actually said or did. And a lot of negative opinions have been shaped from this alleged accusation that she called the Queen of England a racist, which is the exact opposite of what she said. I know this because I watched the Oprah interview and I have paid close attention to the various efforts Markle has made to demonstrate her affection for the late Queen. She named her daughter Lilibet for goodness sakes! Nevertheless, all of this ire towards her points to what all Black women eventually come to understand about navigating this thing called life--if folks can't control you, then they will try to control how others see you.

This or that.

This: Markle got all kinds of shit in the British press from the instant she and Harry recessed down the aisle of St. George's Chapel as husband and wife. I saw that happen in real time as some bitter lemon curdled commentator remarked that her dress was not as refined and classic as Princess Kate's. I did a double-take and thought hmm, an expensive ass couture wedding gown isn't refined and classy in this shriveled prune's snooty opinion? That: Or was it a swipe at the bride? As the subtle jabs kept coming over the course of the next few months, it became clear to me what was happening.

The tone shifted to nasty when Meghan and Harry attended his cousin's wedding. Stateside, folks weren't all that excited and the press was preoccupied with speculation that there was a baby Sussex on the way (which there was). I even joked at the time that Princess Eugenie must have felt like Monica from Friends, being upstaged on her big day by a baby bump. Little did we know until the Oprah interview just how spot on that observation was--there was something about Meghan, and while we were trying to be polite in not calling it out, we knew.

This or that, this or that...

I won't rehash the bombshells of the Oprah interview because as far as I am concerned EVERYTHING has been proven with receipts. Furthermore, there is no need to debate whether the Royal Family has allowed the tabloids to tar and feather this woman because no one has taken any steps to intervene on her behalf. I mean, maybe it was beneath the Queen to place a simple phone call to Piers Morgan and order him to leave the Duchess alone, but then someone else would have to take the heat. Therefore, would it be better for the discussion to center on this:

  1. Prince William and his alleged mistress
  2. Prince Andrew and his underage girlfriends
  3. Boris Johnson and his COVID day-drinking
  4. Idris Elba being cast as the next James Bond

Or that: the B-list American actress who had the nerve not to understand that her place in the royal pecking order was not to outshine the others. Who's the Black sheep, here's the Black sheep...

The ever-crumpled Boris Johnson getting tossed out of office was merely a matter of time given the man was as popular as colonoscopy prep. These snowflakes can't handle a Black mermaid, so we're not going to stand for any Idris Elba hatred (besides, he's not interested). However, we will take it to the mattresses for Regé-Jean Page. The gossip of Prince William's mistress was intriguing, until I saw the term 'pegging' and made the mistake of delving in to learn more, and ewww. So that leaves just one other possibility.

Is it just a coincidence that a certain other black sheep of the Royal Family has been guarded on the subject of the American Duchess? For it was her daughter's wedding that got upstaged. It is her ex-husband who stands accused of being a pedophile. And though she was invited to their wedding in 2018, watching the press take cheap shots at Harry and Meghan somehow allows Sarah Fergusen to slip back into the spotlight so that it could be known that she would inherit the late Queen's corgis.

This or that, this or that, this or that, this or that...

See how ridiculous and reckless it is to make up shit about people out of thin air and then write it down in a publication as truth? Full stop, I have no idea nor do I care about Fergie, but that is the same type of foolishness I've seen printed about Meghan Markle in the tabloids. In the past several days I have seen all kinds of unhinged musings from demands to know why the Sussex children weren't in London for the funeral to insinuations that Meghan was a bad mother for leaving them unattended for a week. And then the venom was aimed at Markle's mother, because should she be trusted based on the terrible job she did in raising her own daughter?

Mind you, Mama Doria ain't the parent who went on television to give interviews about her daughter. She's not the one who was paid to pose for pictures prior to the wedding, nor has she done anything to take advantage of or profit from her connection to the Royal Family. Just enter her Dad's name in a search engine. Then, if you are still on Al Gore's internet questioning what kind of person prioritizes the privacy and care of her grandbabies over attending the funeral for the Queen of England...

This or that.

So that we're clear, it isn't racist for you to dislike Meghan Markle. We all know that there are people in the world who can be aggravating for unexplained reasons, like Ray J and Amy Schumer. As has been the theme of this piece, the choice is yours, like her or loathe her. However, if your dislike of her is based on this misperception that she disrespected the Queen and lured Prince Harry to America away from his loving family, ask yourself why that is such a compelling narrative. 

Why is it easier to believe that in the Disney villain version of their story, Prince Harry was tricked and charmed by an evil temptress instead of making decisions for himself? This man has been telling us for YEARS that he doesn't trust the press ever since his mother died. This man felt that when his wife's mental health was at risk, his concerns for her sanity were not taken seriously, so he packed up his family and bounced. This man insisted that his grandparents did not pose the insulting question about his unborn child's skin color. And for all of the talk about him not wanting to fulfill his royal obligations, this man who happened to be in Europe when his grandmother died, jumped right back into the royal fray and followed along with all of the protocols. Even after the petty booshay over his military uniform that his Daddy, the King, allowed?

This or that. The narrative of a hen-pecked husband or the picture of strength and duty, even in the face of grief. 

And because I feel the need to say this, it is not okay to accuse the newly designated Prince and Princess of Wales of being racist just because they may be on the outs with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Look, they won't be the Awesome Foursome, but that was a given once the tabloids pitted the two women against each other like rival heads of sorority houses. We don't know why the couples aren't close and speculating about what went down is what brought us to this place. 

Like I said in the intro, that song comes on and we go hard on the dance floor, repping this or that, this or that. Sussex or Wales, Meghan or Kate. Instead of making this a choice between these two brothers, the Red Queen or the White Queen, sunny California or rainy London, let's go hard for the truth. Family dynamics are complicated enough without the flashbulbs and clickbait headlines. What these people really need is a bit of compassion. The choice is yours.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Time to Mourn; A Time to Dance

We have now come to the END of the longest televised funeral in human history. I waited a respectable amount of time to start in on what I have observed, but now that the body is in the ground (or the crypt or whatever), is time for me to put on my Busy Black spectacles and get to writing. Because I got a LOT to say!

This summer, I was probably too distracted to take any real notice of the Queen's Jubilee other than what was reported on Twitter and on the news. I read a lot of interesting takes on the events, a lot of tabloid speculation about relations among the family, and I saw a frail elderly lady in her 90s do her best not to tell folks to go home because she was bloody tired. As always, the British put on a good show and did a lot of whispering out loud, so my initial intent was to write about my thoughts on the Jubilee as an American observer. However, now that the Queen has passed on, I think that it will make more sense to share those as part of an overall observation of the monarchy and its meaning.

For all intents and purposes, the stoic era of British monarchy as we knew it, died with Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month. A lot of us Americans, who really aren't interested in any of the remaining European monarchs, are more curious than eager about the new King. Speaking for myself, I can't imagine a less compelling person than King Charles, except for maybe his son William. The most interesting thing either of them has done was to get married. Well until last week when King Charles had a tantrum over getting ink on his hand. I'm thinking that somebody got demoted to walking the Royal Corgis or worse.

I kid, but his outburst reminded me of a scene in The Madness of King George (1994) where it was implied that the servants to the monarch are a rather disposable lot. As in here today, gone tomorrow because no one really cares who gets the privilege of refilling the royal ink wells (and we've advanced to the point where a nice Mont Blanc is more practical). The King has been more mindful of the cameras, but too much, in my opinion. However, I am not British, so my predictions and opinions are just noise. That doesn't mean that I wish any ill will to him. I just think that after 70 years with a Queen, having a King feels super retro and so very 20th Century.

There is a lot more I could say about Charles in particular as the new monarch, and perhaps a lot of that will depend on whether I am proved wrong in the coming weeks and months. But in my humble opinion, nobody is really feeling him but for the fact that they have to accept him, at least in the short term, as a placeholder for what may come in the future. I could be wrong, since he did survive two bouts of COVID. He's no spring chicken, and his father did live 99 years. Charles probably has at least 10 to 15 years in him, despite the shortcomings of the National Health Service...

But look, long life to him and all that other stuff he'll vow to do at his coronation.

Of course, I have a lot of thoughts on the Queen, and at the risk of annoying some of the folks who expect for me to show some respect, Imma have to show you the door. Because this entire notion that she was above criticism or that she didn't represent some pretty reprehensible aspects of imperialism and colonialism is, as y'all say, bollocks. Now is the absolute appropriate time to assess the legacy of your Queen. Not that I expect for any of you to listen, empathize, or change. But the truth needs to be spoken.

I personally admired the idea of a Queen. As a woman in a world where female leadership is often regarded as unstable and untrustworthy, it has been rather remarkable to live during an era when a woman sat atop one of the most powerful empires on the planet. I found that impressive to the extent that everything done in the name of that empire was done on her behalf. This is a point I need to emphasize later because folks want to front like she was just the face on their currency. Nah, she WAS the living embodiment of everything your country represented. I should also note that when I became aware of that fact, Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher was the UK's first woman to serve as Prime Minister. Meanwhile, in this country, we were talking about Nancy Reagan's clothes and her psychic friends. Thus, as I was beginning to view the world from a rather early feminist vantage point, it was kinda badass to look across the pond at two women defying the notion that we were just arm trophies in stately gowns.

Side note: I also must point out that Queen Elizabeth's last official act was to greet and give her consent to the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss. Tradition of course, but way more than just regal symbolism since we now know she was actually dying. But what an important moment, for the dying Queen to welcome her third woman as PM. Ever aware of her lighting and always hitting her mark.

In time, I learned that Margaret Thatcher was a rather horrible person and that the Queen was a really over-bearing meddlesome mother. Those assessments are intentionally exaggerated, but the point is that sometimes strong women work in service to the patriarchy. Thatcher was a Tory, and that will always mean that she stood up for a government and traditions that I find objectionable. For her part, the Queen literally sat down with a catalog and ordered an unsuspecting well-bred virgin bride to sacrifice to her awkward eldest son.

Critiquing the Queen is not the same as dancing on her freshly dug grave. It is fair to marvel at the changes that occurred during her reign and give her credit for keeping the same job for 70 years. As we all learned from watching The Queen (2006), she kept true to the vow to dedicate her entire life in service to her people, and that meant she simply needed to smile and wave, no matter what was going on around her. As three of her children got married to the wrong people, she kept smiling. When her son was caught on tape wishing he was a tampon, and another son got accused of being a pedophile, she kept smiling. When her ex-daughter-in-law died in a fiery crash, and she was forced to show some emotion, after a rough couple of days of bad press QE2 was forgiven for being too distant and she went back to just smiling. When she traveled to visit her realms, and took meetings with the heads of state, she kept smiling as the natives entertained and amused her. Not sure what she ever did other than gaze on them approvingly, but she kept up the visits because that ensured that their resources continued to enrich her Empire. 

So don't tell us that she was just another Lady Eloise, some powerless figurehead on the fancy packaging. If that's all she was, then make amends by granting all remaining British colonies their independence. Apologize for the very British way of "resolving" international conflicts that were instigated by their colonialism. Return all of the Crown jewels. King Charles doesn't look like the kind of dude who needs a diamond pinky ring...

Furthermore, let's not act as if the media pre-empted a week's worth of global news because the Queen was just some rich old lady with a lot of nice hats. The President of the United States flew to London for her funeral while one of our own colonies got pummeled by a hurricane. He certainly wouldn't be the first American President to forget that we fought two wars against the British and haven't been subjects of the Crown for more than two centuries.  

So why we needed all of this nonstop media attention is beyond me. Why did American news anchors need to wear black as if they were in mourning? Admittedly, I am always fascinated by pomp and pageantry, and I love a good funeral, but even I felt after the third or fourth historic procession and ceremonial tributes that this all went above and beyond the bounds of decency. I mean, why did we need to speculate about what might have been said to Prince Harry before he got to Balmoral because his grandmother was already dead? Why did we need to know that there were intense negotiations behind the scenes over protocol? Why were there body language experts on television analyzing whether the wives were still not speaking to each other? Maybe we should have just given them the space to grieve, because damn!

Perhaps, and this is just my thought, if there had not been all of this wall-to-wall death chamber to burial coverage of the Queen, we wouldn't need to think of any of that other stuff at all. We could have focused on the more mundane issues that often go through people's mind when attending a funeral such as what are they serving at the repast? And will there be liquor?

As someone who knows a thing or two about family dynamics around death, shit gets messy even when folks get along. So if brothers still aren't speaking over a callous question about a baby's skin color and their Daddy ain't of a mind for mediating conflicts because he's too busy worrying if his consort will get the same title as his Mummy--yeah. A royal pile of horse manure.

Which brings me to the point where I alert you to the fact that I have yet to offer any commentary about Meghan Markle because this ain't about her. Some of y'all practically accused the woman of being the one who smothered Her Majesty in her sleep! But I said what I said, that this ain't about Meghan, so you'll have to check back for that piece later.

However, let's circle back to some of the other issues raised by the Queen's death. As soon as the news broke, I posted an announcement on my page and several of my friends posted notes of condolence. Some others took issue with those expressions, as if there had been a meeting where it was decided that no self-respecting Black person should feel anything other than contempt. That definitely made me feel some kind of way because people should be allowed to have different reactions. Even negative ones, such as the comments of Carnegie Mellon professor Uju Anya, as well as the alleged gleeful reactions on Irish Twitter. Death is complicated and there are no universal emotions. 

Which brings us to the title of this piece, because there is a lot of truth to the passage from Ecclesiastes 3 (or if you are more familiar with the song by The Byrds). Not everything is appropriate at any given time. I get that not everyone had love for the Queen, and those are valid sentiments. No one has ever dedicated a week of televised mourning to the millions who died in conflicts instigated under her reign, so to call out that hypocrisy is fair. My quibble is with the timing, because if Anya loses her job, then she would simply become another casualty of this empire. 

Yet, I am mindful that Anya's comments sparked a necessary assessment of the Queen's legacy, one that might not have otherwise taken place. I don't know if she had ever spoken out against the empire in the past (I'm guessing that she had), but her one tweet seemed to unleash a thousand bitten tongues. A lot of British subjects throughout the Commonwealth where the sun still shines tolerated the Queen as a person, but they are rightfully questioning whether that relationship should continue. Several Caribbean nations signaled their intent to become republics, and I don't know what that means to the notion of Commonwealth, but it must be significant if Canada and Australia are considering that as well. 

My own personal feelings are also complex, and I offer no apologies for having a personal admiration for the late Queen while also believing that her empire has run its course. As an American with a lot of conflicting opinions about my own country, I am vocal in advocating against its hypocrisy and see a lot of the same incongruities across the pond. The Queen lived a long and prosperous life because the system she represented was based on the idea that hereditarian monarchy was some kind of divine assignment. People born into privilege often believe that by virtue of their wealth, they deserve more than just the best things. They deserve adoration, to be feared, and to set the standard by which all others are judged. This is literally why the British still "own" colonies. I don't know if the Queen personally felt this way, but a lot of the commentary about her life suggests that had been the point of all this--that we, mere commoners, could never measure up to whatever it was she represented.

Perhaps that is the best argument for letting the monarchy go, because near perfection it is an impossible standard to meet and uphold. King Charles has spent the last 70+ years proving that he's human and fallible just like the rest of us. And what is the point of elevating someone to such an exalted place if they are just as fucked up as we are? Hopefully, the question of what happens next will be answered by the British people--all of them, from the maids-a-milking to the lords-a-leaping and the ladies dancing.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Fear of a Black Princess

I'm still writing the piece from my adventures at Walt Disney World and another piece about Meghan Markle (that I started before the Queen died, so revisions are underway) and yet more unfinished pieces about several other topics that I hope to publish before the end of the year.

But I felt compelled to weigh in with a little extra emphasis on a topic that has been upsetting a bunch of folks on social media regarding the recasting of The Little Mermaid with actress Halle Bailey. Because y'all really need to chill.

I get it. You grew up with the original movie and loved Ariel because of her red hair. You saw yourself in a girl that was half fish whose best friend was another fish named Flounder. You understood exactly how frustrating it was to be followed around by a meddling Jamaican nanny crab named Sebastien. In your youthful naiveté, you too struck a Faustian deal with your Dad's nemesis in order to run away with some dude whom you hadn't actually met, because adolescent love at first sight always works out. 

Having just visited the Magic Kingdom this summer, here are a few things you ought to know about your beloved princess. It pains me to inform you that Ariel went back to being a mermaid, so I'm not sure that things worked out with Prince Eric. I didn't see her featured in the midday parade, but I did see where she and Flounder have settled into a nice grotto in the Fantasyland section of the park, which must be the retirement community for forgotten characters. I offered to stand on line, but the girls were uninterested in stopping in for a visit, so I can't say if Ariel is actually a red-headed mermaid or if she was just some girl wearing a Wonderbra, a fish tail, and a wig.

So let's dispense with all of the wailing and moaning about how much you loved the original character. Of course you did, as did I more than 30 years ago when the film debuted. I was in high school, but I had a baby cousin, so when the movie was released on VHS, we bought it to watch with her. Something I learned then from babysitting (but forgot when my own daughter was born) was that little kids can watch the same movies and TV shows over and over and over. Therefore, for a time, Ariel was on a constant loop until other movies came out. Eventually she was replaced by Belle from Beauty and the Beast (1991), Jasmine from Aladdin (1992), and so on. Clearly, Ariel set the mold for the thoroughly modern 90s heroines, as the drama centered on her pursuit of happiness instead of being thrust into some calamity and having to wait to be rescued by some random hero. 

Yet, when Disney re-branded their modern animated heroines as Princesses in the mid 2000s, Ariel was not chosen as the Queen Bee. Disney went back to its vaults to tap their classics: Cinderella, Snow White, and Aurora (blonde in pink from Sleeping Beauty). They promoted Belle (yellow) to a princess even though that's not how her story ended, and it was the four of them who were the original faces of the campaign. The nonwhite princesses like Jasmine and Tiana appeared in the supplemental marketing. Mulan, who had also not been a princess in her story, was featured on the side, along with Ariel who appeared in her human form. In some marketing, they included Pocahantas, and eventually other heroines were invited to join the lineup, including Merida (Brave), Rapunzel (Tangled), and Moana. Of course, when Frozen came out in 2013, it was all about Elsa and Anna.

You can call it a slap in the face to all of the ginger girls who were annoyed that blondes had more fun (even though Anna and Merida both have red hair). Or you can call it a shrewd marketing gimmick to entice middle-class Black mothers into buying more princess crap. But to deride this reboot as "woke" is how, colloquially, I know you effing lying! Are you seriously out here on Blue Ivy's internet whining about the original intent of a centuries old fairy tale that didn't even end with the "princess" finding her happily ever after because she dissolved into seafoam?

Okay Jan.

I won't go into all of the ways you look and sound ridiculous, but if some of y'all really started a white Christian nationalist Facebook group to protest the film, I honestly can't waste the bandwidth to explore how pathetic that is. I also will not gush too much about how precious it was to see the TikTok compilation videos of all the little girls who were in awe after seeing the trailer, because it might trigger my Fall allergies. But I will point out how one little girl asked if that was Whitney Houston, and yes, that really did touch my Maleficent heart!

My 7 year-old daughter will probably be just as enthralled by Halle Bailey in this movie as she was a few weeks ago when she saw Brandy in the 1997 production of Cinderella (and actually saw the late Whitney Houston in action as the fairy godmother). My daughter was also quite taken by Camila Cabello in her 2021 adaptation of Cinderella. She loves watching The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Wiz (1978) as well as Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). When she watched the upcoming Mermaid trailer, her reaction was the same as the others that have been shared. And you wanna know why?

BECAUSE SHE IS A KID! What did I say about them watching their favorite stuff on repeat a few paragraphs ago? I'm guessing that the unicorn phase we're in now will give way to a mermaid phase next year. And once she finds out that her favorite uncle Lin-Manuel Miranda contributed to the soundtrack...

As a former little Black girl who grew up with NO representations of Black princesses, fairies, superheroines, or space aliens, I have to question the sincerity of all you so-called purists. Anybody old enough to complain about having grown up on the original movie hasn't been a child for quite some time. Which is the reason for the reboot--y'all are in your 30s! I am almost 50. Thus, in my best impression of Leon inhabiting the spirit of David Ruffin--ain't NOBODY making pilgrimages to Walt Disney World to see a middle-aged mermaid sitting in a cave singing to her pet fish!

Disney tapped Halle Bailey because she's an It-girl. She's also very talented and beautiful. In the past when they've cast actresses for live-action versions of their movies and televised specials, they sprinkled their fairy dust on the likes of Julie Andrews, Mary Martin, Leslie Ann Warren, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby, Hillary Duff, Lindsey Lohan, Kiera Knightley, and Anne Hathaway. I bet you didn't even question the logic of casting grown women to portray the boy who never grew up (Peter Pan), but let's not conflate issues here. The point is that you never raised an eyebrow when all of those white women got opportunities to become major stars. In fact, never in my lifetime have I heard where some white actor declined a role in an all-white production on the grounds that there was not enough diversity. Y'all barely took notice when a trending hashtag called out the disparities. 

A better argument is the call for Disney to produce more original stories with nonwhite leads, and you'll get no pushback from me on that. The success of animated films like Coco (2017) and Encanto (2021) support that very point. It would have been great if that had become the norm when The Princess Diaries was introduced 20 years ago. Whitney Houston was one of the executive producers, Shonda Rhimes wrote the sequel, and perhaps if they could have convinced the powers that be to cast a young up-and-coming Black actress instead of Anne Hathaway, this debate might not be happening. I would have loved for Patti LaBelle to have been Kyla Pratt's royal grandmother. Looking back on that era, it was a big deal for Pratt to star in her own cartoon as Penny Proud.

But this isn't an either/or demand for opportunity since calls for more diversity and representation pre-date the election of a Black President, a social media hashtag, and the protests after the death of George Floyd. This is a struggle that has been ongoing since before the original Little Mermaid film debuted in 1989. If it can be called progress that it took more than a decade to go from Brandy as Cinderella in 1997 to get to Princess Tiana in 2009 and then almost another 15 years to get to a Black mermaid in 2023, then this visceral backlash is exactly what we say it is. Because what else describes booshay like this and this 'fixed' trailer and this horrible picture?

Yeah, your racist slips are showing. 

The world is changing, and I guess it has been quite the culture shock to realize that whiteness is no longer the standard by which everything else is measured. How awful must it be for your daughters to go to the Disney store and have their costume choices include Tiana, Moana, Mulan, and Rapunzel instead of being limited to the classic four princesses. However will your darlings cope with the realization that anyone can be a Princess (and again, I will simply mention that I will have a lot more to say about Meghan Markle in the coming weeks), but yeah, especially if you marry the right Prince?

As for your false equivalencies and double standards, those arguments are trash and you know it. Do you honestly think it would be "fair" to cast Carrie Underwood as Princess Tiana in some implausible live action version of The Princess and the Frog because in the entire pantheon of the Disney characters, one was reimagined as Black? Is that how you win the fight against wokeness--by demanding that a story that was itself an adaptation written to give little Black girls a princess should be recast? And are you intent to stake your flag and die on the hill that mermaids are of European origin because those are the stories that were published? Really now, because it isn't like colonizers have never profited from the stuff they stole from other cultures...

Too soon? Well, that's okay because that is another conversation altogether and Mami Wata is definitely not some lovelorn teenager. 

Here is the bottom line: see the movie and judge it on the merits. Or don't see the movie, and blast it on social media because you're a racist or one of the former Disney cast members who spent half the day sitting alone in a cave hoping for a few visitors. Either way, inclusivity is not a fad, so I can't wait to see your reaction to the Latina Snow White.